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Herbert Marcuse

A German -American philosopher and social theorist Marcuse was associated with the Frankfurt School. He developed his own version of critical Marxism which attempted to update the Marxian theory in response to the changing historical conditions from the 1920s through to the 1970s.His first published article attempted a synthesis of phenomenology, existentialism and Marxism. He also published in 1932 the first major review of Marx's 'Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts' of 1844 and attempted to revise interpretations of Marxism from the standpoint of the works of early Marx. His first major work in English, Reason and revolution demonstrated the similarities between Marx and Hegel. His Eros and Civilization attempted an audacious synthesis of Marx and Freud and sketched the outlines of a non-repressive society. He published a critical study of Soviet Union in Soviet Marxism and a wide ranging critique of both advanced capitalist and communist societies in One Dimensional Man. This book theorized the decline of revolutionary potential in capitalist societies and the development of new forms of social control.

Important Books:

  • An Essay on Liberation
  • Counter-revolution and Revolt
  • The Aesthetic Dimension

Notes on Herbert Marcuse

The regressive compulsion would lose much of its biological rationale as suffering and want recede the nirvana principle may become reconciled with the reality principle. It is the surplus repression that makes exploitation possible that makes civilization so regressive. Under new historical circumstances surplus repression can easily be abolished. This would enable man to live with pleasure and happiness. He gives man the strength to believe that the death instinct can easily be conquest if he has given fullest opposition to gratify his sexual urges. Man is not violent and aggressive. He does not want to kill himself. His life is so meaningful and charming that he need not escape from life from the death instinct and need for punishment.

Herbert Marcuse accepts the Freudian notion of death instinct. Death instinct can easily be talked with if the eros is strengthened. The defense against aggressive is necessary but in order to be effective the defense against aggression would have to strengthen the sex instincts for only a strong eros can effectively bind the destructive instincts and this is precisely what the developed civilization is incapable of doing.

Marcuse is not ready to accept the fundamental duality between the pleasure principle and the nirvana principle. The fact that pleasure principle is frustrated by the reality principle forces man to regress to the inorganic stage. If man is lost in the pleasure principle the unity between life and death would be established. If the instincts basic objective is not the termination of life but of pain, the absence of tension the paradoxically in terms of instinct, the conflict between life and death is more reduced, the closer life approximates the state of gratification. Pleasure principle and nirvana principle than merge. Eros free from surplus repression would be strengthened. The urge to die or destructiveness is a social fact –cultural and social factors are important to be examined. If this sociological analysis is denied in the name of biological impulses the result would be a kind of pessimism.

Karen Horenv finds the theory of death instinct extremely harmful. This theory is sufficient to paralysis any effort to change the society. Cultural implication of theory is harmful. It must lead anthropologists to assume that whenever in a culture they find people friendly, peaceful hostile reactions have been oppressed. Such effort paralyses any effort search in the specific cultural conditions for reasons which make for destructiveness. If man is inherently destructive and consequently unhappy why strive for a better future.

Fromm believes in man's ability to make this life really worth living. For Fromm man's destructive impulses are by no means primary they are secondary and their reasons are to be sought in modern consumer society. This kind of society makes man so alienated that he is bound to be brutal, violent and aggressive.