Sociology Index

Herbert Marcuse

Among distinguished sociologists, trained at the universities ot Berlin aud Freiburg, Marcuse was influenced by the phenomenological sociology of E. Husserl and Martin Heidegger. In 1934 he joined the Frankfurt School in exile at Columbia. Approaching Marxism via phenomenology and critical theory, his central concern has been the possibility of authentic existence in industrial capitalism; One-Dimensional Man argued that modern societies generate artificial needs, giving the working class a false consciousness.

Believing that Marxism had failed to conceptualize the individual, Marcuse turned to Sigmund Freud to provide an analysis of sexuality, which resulted in Eros and Civilization. His interpretation of Freud was challenged by E. Fromm on the grounds that Freud was a conservative, not a revolutionary thinker. Marcuse's critical views on American liberal democracy were reflected in An Essay on Liberation, but he was equally critical of Soviet society in Soviet Marxism. Marcuse is also known for his controversial studies of philosophy in Reason and Revolution and of sociology in Negations.

When the French structural Marxist philosopher Louis Pierre Althusser drew a clear dividing line between early and late Marx, Marcuse maintained the themes of the early works of Marx, like estrangement and alienation. Herbert Marcuse linked economic exploitation and the commodification of human labour with concern about the ways in which generalised commodity production was creating a surplus of wealth and an acceleration of the process of reducing humanity to the level of a mere cog in the machine of that production.