The Essential Marcuse Edited by Andrew Feenberg and William Leiss Background

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The Essential Marcuse
Edited by Andrew Feenberg and William Leiss

  1. The Proposal

  2. The Introduction

  3. Introductory Notes to the Selections

The Essential Marcuse
Edited by Andrew Feenberg and William Leiss

Herbert Marcuse was one of the leading figures in Western Marxism, achieving world renown in the wake of the movements of the 1960s. He criticized both Soviet communism and American capitalism in the name of a “pacified society” freed from mind manipulating propaganda and the competitive struggle for existence. Not only was Marcuse a politically influential intellectual in a time of world-wide turmoil, he was also a profound philosopher, trained by Heidegger in the period before the rise of Nazism. His contribution to the Frankfurt School of Horkheimer, Adorno, and Benjamin was of fundamental importance in the period leading up to World War II. After the War, Marcuse remained in America while Horkheimer and Adorno returned to Germany. Their paths diverged widely, especially in politics. In Frankfurt the Frankfurt School drifted to the right, eventually rejecting the German student movement. Meanwhile, Marcuse moved to California and became more and more involved with the student, black and feminist movements of the day. His books Eros and Civilization and One-Dimensional Man became required reading on the left. These books retain a surprising relevance today as do Marcuse’s more strictly philosophical contributions from his earlier period.

Interest in Marcuse declined immediately after his death but recently there has been a revival. Among the books belonging to this trend are:

Herbert Marcuse: A Critical Reader, J. Abromeit, and W. M. Cobb eds., Routledge, 2004.

Heidegger and Marcuse: The Catastrophe and Redemption of History, Andrew Feenberg, Routledge, 2005.

Herbert Marcuse: Heideggerian Marxism. J. Abromeit, and R. Wolin eds. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2005.

Herbert Marcuse: Towards a Critical Theory of Society, D. Kellner, ed. Routledge, 2001.

Herbert Marcuse: The New Left and the 1960s, D. Kellner, ed. Routledge, 2005.

Most of Marcuse’s books remain in print and Douglas Kellner has recently issued the first two volumes of Marcuse’s collected writings in a series with Routledge. These books include many unpublished and hard to find essays and will certainly reshape our image of Marcuse in the years to come.


William Leiss and Andrew Feenberg were among Marcuse’s last doctoral students. They have written extensively on social theory under Marcuse’s influence over long and distinguished academic careers. Leiss is currently a professor at the University of Calgary and Feenberg at Simon Fraser University. They propose to edit a volume of Marcuse’s writings to be entitled “The Essential Marcuse.” This book will offer a new generation of readers a sampling of Marcuse’s work. Essays on philosophy and social criticism will be included, as well as chapters from the important books Marcuse wrote in America.

The Essential Marcuse will not duplicate any existing collection. The Abromeit and Wolin collection with the University of Nebraska Press consists entirely of early essays written under the influence of Heidegger. Much material in Kellner’s thematically organized collections with Routledge is primarily of scholarly interest. The Essential Marcuse is intended to interest readers unfamiliar with Marcuse’s work and to serve usefully as a classroom text in courses in social and political thought.
Relevance for today:

Herbert Marcuse became a household name around the world only in 1968 – when he was already seventy years old! – in the double context of first, the growing resistance against the war in Vietnam and second, the “cultural revolution” represented by the student rebellions on university campuses and the streets of major cities. For those who knew him one of the most remarkable features of his transformation into a leading figure of oppositional social movements was the contrast between his position and that of his former colleagues in the Frankfurt School, Horkheimer and Adorno, who nervously hunkered down inside their office building in Frankfurt and tried to distance themselves from those in the streets who were rallying in their name.

But those who knew his biography were less surprised. After all, he was the only one of the Frankfurt School’s leading thinkers who had “been there” before, specifically, in the streets of his native Berlin in the failed uprising of 1918.
It is not only the uncanny resemblance between those times and our own, with respect to the growing resistance to another US military adventure, this time in Iraq, that suggests the continuing relevance of Marcuse’s thought and deeds. For it is also arguably the case that, unlike his former colleagues, throughout his life he had always struggled – across an astonishing span of six decades –to bridge that notorious gap in Marxism between “theory and practice.” He took seriously Marx’s dictum about the point being to change the world rather than merely understand it. But unlike the more numerous ranks of unreflective revolutionaries, Marcuse added a caveat: the point is not only to change the world, but to make quite sure that one was changing it for the better. And to accomplish that mission, one had to analyze new and appropriate for the future the intellectual heritage of civilization.
Since 1968 the oppositional fervour in the West appears to have vanished. But it would be hard for anyone to maintain the fiction that the issues of injustice, inequity, repression, and domination, both within the West and across the divide separating rich and poor nations, have similarly vanished. The social theory that underpinned Marcuse’s passionate commitments is dead (Long live the theory!); but the issues that stirred those commitments in him are alive and well. As is the demand for a concerted intellectual effort to forge both a new theory, adequate to the times, as well as a new conception of the relation between theory and practice.
Those who respond to this challenge could do worse than to examine carefully the results of Marcuse’s six decades of labor on precisely these themes. In our view no other twentieth-century thinker wrestled for so long, and so consistently, with this challenge, or did so with a greater degree of intellectual honesty. His books and essays are marvels of philosophical discourse, breathtaking in their range and scope and astonishing in the new insights brought to bear on very old issues in the intellectual heritage of the West.
Some of the resulting propositions he advanced will withstand neither the test of time nor thoroughgoing critique. He was a good enough philosopher to realize that those who come after can develop their own reasoning skills in part by confronting the errors of their predecessors. But those who accept the proposition that the divide between theory and practice must be confronted anew could find no better resource for whetting their own skills than the writings of Herbert Marcuse.

An outline of the book follows.

The Essential Marcuse
“Introduction: The Critical Theory of Herbert Marcuse,” by Feenberg and Leiss
Part I. Political Critique

  1. “The Individual in the Great Society”

  2. “Freedom and Freud’s Theory of Instincts”

  3. “Remarks on a Redefinition of Culture”

  4. “Repressive Tolerance”

Part II. Marxism and Existentialism

  1. “A Note on Dialectic”

  2. “The Foundations of Historical Materialism”

  3. “Heidegger’s Politics: An Interview with Herbert Marcuse”

  4. “Sartre’s Existentialism

Part III. Philosophical Critique

  1. “Philosophical Interlude”

  2. “The Affirmative Character of Culture”

  3. “Nature and Revolution”

The Essential Marcuse

Introduction: The Critical Theory of Herbert Marcuse

Andrew Feenberg and William Leiss

Part I: The Education of a Revolutionary Philosopher1


Herbert Marcuse was born in 1898, eldest son of a Berlin merchant. The Marcuses were Jewish but this was largely a matter of indifference during his childhood, a time of rapid assimilation. In fact Marcuse used to joke that on Friday evenings one could hear mothers calling out “Siegfried, Brunehilde, Shabat!”

Marcuse’s adolescence took place in the period leading up to World War I. Germany was pulled in opposite directions by contradictory tendencies during this time. As in England where Victorian rectitude was beginning to give way to a freer, more experimental attitude toward life, so in Germany spiritual turmoil was rife especially among the youth and the artistic community. Meanwhile business prospered and, just as Marx had predicted, the working class expanded rapidly in numbers and political assertiveness in lockstep with the success of capitalism. It was no doubt impossible to foresee where all these tendencies would lead. Where they did in fact lead was to war, the greatest most destructive war in human history to that time.

The pointless cruelty of this conflict remains as its lasting memorial. In the trench warfare tens of thousands of soldiers were sent directly into machine gun fire. Ordinary young men were treated as mere cannon fodder by arrogant military leaders who had not yet understood that war could no longer be fought as before against modern technological means of destruction. Between 1914 and 1918 an incredible 9 million people were killed and an additional 23 million injured. Yet no one looking back on the conflict has been able to explain convincingly why it had to take place.

In 1916 Marcuse was drafted into the German army. He was fortunate in being assigned to a rearguard unit and so did not see fire. But he suffered the disillusionment that was the main spiritual consequence of the war. Europe could no longer brag about its high level of civilization now that its appalling barbarism was apparent for all to see. In Germany, the traumatic loss of faith embraced the entire political system, not only the governing parties but also the socialist opposition which had supported the war enthusiastically at the outset. By the end, with millions of working people dead on all sides, it was clear that this was worse than a mistake, that it was a profound betrayal of everything for which the socialist movement stood.

It was too late for the official socialist party to gain the trust of skeptical youth. Like many other young people Marcuse was radicalized by the war and turned to the left splinter groups that split off from it. However, his enthusiasm was moderated by an experience at the end of the war that gave him pause. Revolution broke out in Munich and the military command lost control of the army in Berlin. Elected to the revolutionary soldiers’ council in the capital, he watched with dismay as the rebellious troops re-elected their old officers to lead them. From this experience he drew the conclusion that the most radical of the new left groups, Rosa Luxemburg’s Sparticist League, was doomed to defeat. German workers were not ready for revolution.

After the war, Marcuse attended the University of Freiburg. While there his teachers included the founder of the phenomenological school of philosophy, Edmund Husserl. He graduated in 1922 with a doctoral dissertation on novels about artists in conflict with society.

Marcuse’s approach in this thesis was strongly influenced by the early literary criticism of Georg Lukács. Lukács, a Hungarian who wrote primarily in German, was an important figure in the cultural world of Germany in this period. His early pre-Marxist writings expressed a kind of desperate utopianism that appealed to Marcuse and many others who experienced the war as the end of an era. Lukács applied Georg Simmel’s idea of the “tragedy of culture” in a theory of the novel which emphasized the conflict between the energies of the individual and the increasing weight of social conventions and institutions in modern society. The individual is rich in potential for creativity and happiness but society threatens to confine the “soul” within empty “forms.” In novels in which the protagonist is an artist, the conflict of art and life in bourgeois society exemplifies this theme. Overcoming or mitigating this conflict was to remain Marcuse’s great hope, reappearing in his mature work in the concept of imaginative fantasy as a guide to the creation of a better society.

After completing his studies Marcuse worked for several years as a partner in an antiquarian book store in Berlin. The turn to a literary or in this case a quasi-literary career was not unusual for the sons of Jewish businessmen. Cultural aspirations were standard equipment in this rapidly rising stratum of German society. But all was not well in Germany. As he worked in his bookstore, the young Marcuse felt a profound dissatisfaction not only with the chaotic post-war status quo in Germany, but with the philosophical currents of the time which failed to address the meaning of the events he had witnessed. A society capable of the monumental stupidity and inhumanity of European capitalism deserved to be overthrown. But by whom? And with what alternative in view?
The Attraction and Failure of Marxist Socialism

The answer seemed obvious to many young people of Marcuse’s generation and background: Marxist socialism. In the nineteenth century, Marx had formulated his theory in the context of the reality of a new capitalist-industrial system, one in which men, women, and children alike were forced by the threat of starvation to work as much as eighty hours a week in dangerously unhealthy factories for pitifully small wages. It was a system that responded to the formation of labor unions, set up to improve wages and working conditions, by arrests, murder, and violent intimidation. The socialist movement in Europe and North America that sprang up in response advocated seizing the “means of production” – the factories and natural resources – from the hands of their capitalist owners and operating them under the direction of the workers.

The ideological basis of the brutal exploitation of labor under early capitalism was the theory of so-called “free markets”: the individual worker was free to sell his or her labor to the factory owner, or to decline to do so; the capitalist was free to offer whatever level of wages he wished, irrespective of the needs of the worker and his family, and also to have sole control over working conditions at the factory. Moreover, the owner had no responsibility for the deaths or injuries the workers might suffer, and the workers’ families had no claim on compensation. There was no moral or ethical basis to the relation between worker and owner, no sense that the disparity in wealth and social power between the two sides was anything but a “fact of nature,” no recognition that this disparity in power and wealth corrupted from the outset the very notion of freedom that it pretended to celebrate.

These were the historical circumstances in which Marx formulated his theory in the mid-nineteenth century, and to a great degree those conditions had not changed much by the 1920s. After making some gains in the late nineteenth-century, the working class was reduced to desperation and poverty once again in the aftermath of the First World War. With some exceptions there was still no adequate “social safety net.” Violence and intimidation directed against labor unions, and especially against union organizers, both by corporations and governments, was still common.

Marx’s ideas still seemed relevant for there was a sense that things were still pretty much the same as in Marx’s day. For many, the notion that the capitalist-industrial system was irredeemable was an evident fact, and so for them the idea of replacing it root and branch with a radically different socio-economic order was alive and well. The means of achieving this was to be socialist revolution by the oppressed working class once conditions were ripe, industry developed, and capitalist leadership of society discredited.

These seemed to be precisely the conditions prevailing in Germany at the end of World War I, and yet the revolution had failed. The socialists and communists offered no convincing explanation for that failure, hence no hope of better success in the future. They continued to rely on an economic interpretation of Marxism that did not correspond with the spirit of the time. Marx, who subtitled his major work, the three-volume Capital, “a critique of political economy,” often presented his thought as a rival economic theory of industrial society superior to the established theories in both explanatory and predictive power. But for many of those who had been through the war and its aftermath, the idea of an economically motivated revolution missed the point. The crisis of German society was at least as much spiritual and cultural as economic. A new concept of revolution was required by this unprecedented situation.

The spiritual chaos was a breeding ground for artistic creativity. No longer optimistic about socialist revolution, Marcuse was excited by various revolutionary aesthetic currents emerging in this period, but they offered no realistic prospect of moving the masses. Meanwhile the political situation in Germany gradually degenerated in the long prelude to the Nazi takeover.

It was in this context that in 1927 Marcuse read a much discussed book by Husserl’s former assistant and successor, Martin Heidegger. In Being and Time, Heidegger transformed Husserl’s phenomenological method into a remarkably delicate instrument for investigating the most basic human experiences and commitments. This book changed Marcuse’s life. It seemed to promise a way out of the dead end of traditional Marxism, a way forward to a new concept of revolution. Marcuse returned to Freiburg to take up his studies again, this time with the intention of entering the German university system as a professional philosopher. To understand his excitement, it is necessary to explain briefly in what phenomenology consists both in its original Husserlian and its Heideggerian versions.

Husserl and Heidegger

The early 20th century was a time of fantastic cultural innovation in science, art, literature and philosophy as well. William James in America, Bergson in France, and Husserl in Germany all struggled to break with the dominant assumptions of the philosophical tradition in pursuit of a more “concrete” grasp of life.

Husserl for example proposed a return “to the things themselves,” by which he meant a philosophy of immediate experience. This marked a break with the main schools of neo-Kantian thought in Germany which were primary concerned with epistemology, the theory of knowledge. The overestimation of science called forth a reaction which appeared justified in the wake of the war. The question of science receded before a crisis of civilization that demanded an explanation of an entirely different sort. Husserl provided the method that would be employed for this purpose by phenomenologist and existentialists such as Heidegger, Sartre, and Merleau-Ponty.

Husserl called his approach “phenomenology” because he was interested in describing as accurately as possible the “phenomena” of experience. Consider for example our perception of an object such as a table. As we walk around it, we see it from different angles. Each perception is a presentation of the self-same table, but each is different.

We assume normally that the perceptions are held together by the “fact” that they are all attached to a real table out there in the world. Husserl did not entirely disagree, but he argued that this assumption made it impossible for us to appreciate the actual process of organizing perspectives and holding them together in our consciousness. To gain an understanding of the mental process in which consciousness perceives the table in and through its perspectives, we need to suspend the “natural attitude” and attend to the “immanent” structure of experience.

What is then revealed is the “intentional correlation” of acts of consciousness with their objects. What appears on the one side as an act such as knowing is essentially bound up with an object, the known, and so also for seeing and the seen, remembering and the remembered, and so on. From the phenomenological standpoint acts of consciousness create meaning in experience. The multiple perspectives on the table come together as what we call a “table” and constitute it as such.

Husserl’s phenomenology led him beyond these initial considerations to a startling paradox. We usually think of consciousness as “in” the mind. In our everyday common sense understanding, the mind is an object in the world which is connected somehow to another object, the body. On this objectivistic model, we explain our encounter with objects such as the table as an interaction between two things in the world, light rays striking the retina. But, Husserl claimed, this causal account does not get us to experience itself. That requires the suspension of the natural attitude with respect to mind and body as well as things.

Today we might explain Husserl’s insight in terms of the difference we sense between a robot detecting the presence of the table and moving aside, and a human consciousness of the table. The robot operates very much like the objectivistic model of perception, but it has nothing we would want to call experience. Indeed it needs none and neither would we humans if we were simple creatures of reflex without a world.

Husserl concluded that experience is not a state of a mind-thing or brain, relative to human limitations, but an independent and irreducible realm of being he called “pure consciousness.” Pure consciousness is a “field” coextensive with the world of objects in which those objects take on their meaning. So radical was Husserl’s claim to the discovery of this new realm that he argued that God himself cannot grasp objects immediately but must perceive them perspectivally just like humans. In sum, there is no “view from nowhere”; all encounters with reality are in principle first person encounters from out of a specific situation in the reality that is observed.

So far there is little about phenomenology to excite a young revolutionary intellectual. But Heidegger applied Husserl’s method in a new way that bared not just ordinary perception but our human existence as persons. This proved a rather more interesting enterprise. Heidegger began by criticizing Husserl’s continual reliance on the language of consciousness. The subject of experience is no kind of mind, even in Husserl’s modified formulation. Rather, it is an existing individual, a whole acting self, essentially engaged with a world of objects it encounters in use. Meaning emerges in these encounters.

The intentional correlation now holds together human being and world in a unity Heidegger called “being-in-the-world.” Note that “world” in Heidegger’s sense does not refer to nature but rather to something like our notion of a “world of the theatre,” a “Chinese world,” or the “way of the world.” There can be many such worlds, none merely subjective or private, but none absolute and unique either. These worlds are each a meaningful context of action rather than the sum of existing things. Significantly, world in this sense cannot be understood without reference to an acting and understanding subject whose world it is.

Heidegger went on to argue that our way of being in the world is fraught with tension. The things of experience are not simply “out there” waiting for us to find them. For them to be “revealed” as meaningful, we must be drawn to them, preoccupied from out of our concerns. Worlds are thus a function of the future we project for ourselves and the salient objects that emerge on our path to that future. But we are not absolutely wedded to any one future, to any one world. Insofar as we are persons, we are necessarily in a world, but there is no ultimate reason why we are must be in this particular world rather than another one with different meanings and structures.

This indeterminacy is a source of metaphysical anxiety, a kind of existential doubt. There is a gap between self and world into which questions can slip. We are capable of interrogating our world and ourselves. This is no mere accident of our being but is our essential defining characteristic. It is a necessary precondition for having a world in the sense of an organized whole of meaningful experience rather than a mere sequence of reflexive responses to particular situations.

This precondition is related to the still deeper fact that our experience always leads back in some sense to ourselves. Our experience is, precisely, ours. Or rather, my experience belongs to me and is inseparable from my being. I cannot exist outside of the world of experience and experience is marked by its relation to me as a subject and actor. Experience has “mineness” about it. As for Husserl, so for Heidegger the first person standpoint is interpreted as the opening of a realm of meaning.

Heidegger went on to argue that these phenomenological truths are obscured in average, everyday experience. Ordinarily, human existence is sociable and conformist. This “inauthentic” relation to self and world tends toward a leveling down and forgetfulness. Individuals neither doubt nor affirm their own experience but act according to what “they” normally do. They say this, they do that, and so say and do I. I forget that I am a questioning being, a being to whom experience belongs personally and inseparably.

This is not wholly bad; socialization takes place through participation in “the they” (das Man). But “authentic” individuality is also possible at moments in which the individual becomes conscious of the limit death places on life. In such moments the individual can become aware of his or her individuality beyond any and all mindless conformism. In the light of death true action can give meaning to life as the individual lays claim to his or her own existence.

This account shows how far Husserl and Heidegger had traveled from the consensus of their day according to which the main task of philosophy was to ground the sciences. In fact, despite important disagreements, both Husserl and Heidegger hold that individual experience is an ontological foundation more basic than the nature of natural science. Knowledge in all its forms is derivative not merely in the sense that its claims are validated in experience, but more fundamentally, in that the very act of making claims presupposes the subject’s belonging to a meaningful world. Both Husserl and Heidegger thus deny that a naturalistic explanation of reality can account for the totality of being. There will always be a vital remainder, the very fact of a meaningful world revealed in experience. Marcuse accepted this heritage of phenomenology and challenged the hegemony of science in modern culture, and its practical basis which he called “technological rationality.”
Marcuse’s “Heidegger-Marxismus”

One can see from this very sketchy description of Heidegger’s complex theory why he came to be called an “existentialist” despite his rejection of this title. Like Kierkegaard and Nietzsche he promised philosophical insight into the most fundamental problems of personal life. Heidegger’s work, Marcuse wrote at the time, “seems to us to indicate a turning point in the history of philosophy: the point where bourgeois philosophy transcends itself from within and opens the way to a new ‘concrete’ science.”2

Marcuse applied this “concrete science” to understanding the passivity of the working class in the revolutionary situation at the end of the war. What is more, the idea of authenticity suggested a way of completing Marxism with a new theory of revolutionary consciousness. Traditional Marxism had failed because it relied on the motivating force of economic self-interest when in fact revolutions are not made for simple economic reasons. Marcuse now had a far more powerful instrument for analyzing the “radical act” in which individuals “exist” through transforming their world.

In 1928 Marcuse became Heidegger’s assistant as Heidegger had been Husserl’s. He published a series of essays that drew critically on Heidegger’s thought and attempted to synthesize it with Marxism. Marcuse’s fundamental objection concerned Heidegger’s basic concept of world. Heidegger had attempted to uncover ultimate structures of the world as such, leaving the particulars of specific worlds to the side as sociological details. When in the later parts of Being and Time Heidegger did refer to these details, he raised them to a higher plane by identifying specific worlds with national communities of meaning, carriers of tradition.

Marcuse argued that in so doing, Heidegger obscured the divisions within communities. Indeed, from a Marxist standpoint, class divisions are ultimately more significant than nationality since modern capitalism destroys tradition and replaces it with a society based on self-interest. Authenticity in this situation becomes a matter of seizing the historical moment along with one’s class in the affirmation of human possibilities against the deadening routines of the existing society.

While working with Heidegger, Marcuse went on to write a second thesis on Hegel that was to qualify him to teach in the German university. This thesis, entitled Hegel’s Ontology and the Theory of Historicity, was published in 1932.3 It is a remarkably rich and complex interpretation of Hegel strongly influenced by Heidegger. But it also departs from Heidegger in addressing the issue of history primarily in terms of Hegelian and Marxist notions of labor as the human power to produce worlds.

In Hegel’s text labor is for the most part only loosely and metaphorically related to actual work in the usual sense of the term. Labor is understood as the act of negating the given reality in the creation of objects or institutions that reflect various aspects of human reality. But despite the vagueness of Hegel’s reference to labor, Marx made the most of it and saw in him an important predecessor. Marcuse’s appreciation of this Marxist take on Hegel is implicit throughout his thesis, but he gives it a Heideggerian twist.

This is plausible because labor also plays a role in Being and Time. An initial analysis of tool use forms the background to the notion of being-in-the-world. And like Marx enthusiastically appropriating and narrowing Hegel’s concept of labor, Marcuse appropriated Heidegger’s concept of worldhood for his own Marxist approach. The world created by labor is in fact the Heideggerian world of experience awaiting and preparing the authentic act of the human subject whose world it is.

Marcuse’s interpretation of Hegel was also influenced by Heidegger’s theory of history as is apparent from the Heideggerian term “historicity” in his title. Heidegger established the central significance of time in the constitution of worlds. It is the reference to an anticipated future that gives order and meaning to the present. But Heidegger worked out his theory of temporality most fully in relation to the individual human being and failed to explain clearly and persuasively how history is constituted at the collective level.

Here Hegel and Marx offer an important complement and corrective to Heidegger. For them the future is a collective project that emerges from social tensions that themselves reflect different projects borne by different social groups. The progressive projects realize potentials in the present which reflect developing human capacities. This notion of potential became the basis for Marcuse’s later theory of the “two dimensions” of society, the dimension of everyday facts and the dimension of transcending possibilities that lead on to higher stages of historical and human development. With this reinterpretation of Hegel, Marcuse prepared his new concept of revolution adequate to the crisis of 20th century German society.

Astonishingly, this interpretation of Hegel came close to anticipating aspects of Marx’s own early unpublished writings. In 1932 a previously unknown text emerged from the archives. These Economic-Philosophical Manuscripts revolutionized the image of Marx. Here in 1844 Marx argued that capitalism was not simply an economic system. Capitalism alienated workers from their essential nature as creatures capable of building a world through labor that “objectifies” their needs and powers. But this world does not belong to them. Instead it is appropriated by the capitalist and turned against its creators, perverting their whole existence into a debased struggle for survival. Marx attacks the destruction of the “human essence” in an economic system which reduces the worker to nothing but the abstract capacity for “labor-power” – abstract because in the early factory system labor was stripped of all particular qualities of skill and creativity and was measured solely in quantitative units of time.

In this text Marcuse discovered a Marx who was more than an economist, who spoke to the contemporary crisis of modernity as a whole. What is more, he found remarkable similarities to his own rather creative interpretations of Heidegger and Hegel. In a number of passages Marx makes surprising claims that distinguish his concept of nature from that of the natural sciences and bring it closer to the phenomenological concept of experience. Marcuse did not have to stretch the point in treating Marx’s affirmation of the unity of human being and nature as an intentional correlation of subject and object, a kind of being-in-the-world. What is more, like Husserl and Heidegger, Marx grants this experiential unity a supreme ontological significance. But unlike these phenomenologists, Marx’s version of being-in-the-world has a radical historical character. He argues that the objectification of human faculties through labor under socialism creates a humanized nature in which human beings can finally be at home.

Marcuse emphasized these aspects of the Manuscripts and made of this early work of Marx the culmination and turning point of his own phenomenological education. His lengthy review, which can be read among the selections in this book, is the basis of his later thought.
The Decisive Break

We have now followed Marcuse up to 1932, a crucial year during which the political situation in Germany became increasingly threatening. Socialists and Communists were still deeply divided just as the right came together around Hitler. In the elections of 1933, the Nazi party emerged with over a third of the vote and powerful allies who gave it total control of the government. Then suddenly it was announced that the widely revered teacher, Martin Heidegger, was to be the first Nazi rector of the University of Freiburg. Marcuse had not seen it coming and the shock sent him reeling.

There has been much discussion of Heidegger’s fateful decision to join the Nazi party. Was his philosophy itself a National Socialist doctrine? Was Heidegger guilty of anti-Semitism not only in his official capacity but more significantly in concealed references in his philosophical writings? Was Being and Time a dangerous book?

The answer to these questions is not obvious. Heidegger was by no means alone in making the leap from Mandarin indifference to misguided political enthusiasm. Nietzscheans and Kantians, even Thomists, rallied to the Nazi banner.4 The post-World War I crisis affected everyone in Germany, not only young leftists like Marcuse. Many in the academy turned to the right rather than the left for a solution.

The right drew its strength from the widespread sense of the exhaustion of the heritage of the Enlightenment, indeed of Western culture itself. Perhaps his students knew that Heidegger shared such sentiments but this by no means identified him as a Nazi. The further leap from fairly routine culture-critical pessimism to Nazism required the belief in a new era of authoritative traditions and leaders. And one could hardly qualify as a Nazi without condemning the Jews, considered as carriers of corrupt modernity, and supporting their expulsion from normal social intercourse. Apparently, these were not views reflected in Heidegger’s lectures and conversations before the rectorship.

The Heidegger “case” cannot be decided here. Deep ambiguities in Heidegger’s abstract formulations facilitated the misunderstanding that led to Marcuse’s remarkable invention of his so-called Heidegger-Marxismus. Indeed, so obscure and difficult are Heidegger’s radical new ideas that after the fact it was also possible to see in them the sources of his disastrous political turn.

But it is significant that Heidegger had four Jewish students who were later to become prominent social philosophers of liberal or leftist persuasion. Hannah Arendt, Hans Jonas, and Karl Löwith all found themselves in the same position as Marcuse, shocked by their teacher’s sudden political commitment and bereft of normal career prospects. That his Jewish students could have been so thoroughly mistaken about their teacher suggests that his thought was not as deeply tainted as many contemporary critics have argued.

The whole German world was falling apart but Marcuse had a more personal problem: he needed a job. He appealed to his old teacher Husserl who obtained for him an interview with Max Horkheimer, the head of the Institute for Social Research. The Institute was a group of academic Marxists who possessed some exciting new ideas and, just as important in this historical juncture, an endowment. These Marxists had applied their method to the study of class attitudes in Germany. The results worried them so much that they moved their money and operations to Switzerland before the Nazi seizure of power. Thus they were not only interesting interlocutors for the unorthodox Marxist Marcuse, but also possible employers.

In 1933, Marcuse moved to Switzerland to work with the Institute in exile. From there, the Institute moved to Paris and eventually to the United States where Marcuse remained for the rest of his life. The Institute’s famous “Critical Theory” and Marcuse’s contribution to it are described in the next section.

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