Herbert Marcuse
(Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )

Philosophy of History
Philosophy of Society

  • Analysis of the operation of mass societies
  • Analysis of the unhappiness caused on the individual by the operation of mass societies
  • Marx's analysis of socio-economic inequality + Freud's analysis of human psyche
  • Consumer society is sustained by sexual repression
  • Western (liberal capitalistic) society is inhuman and oppressive
  • One-dimensional thought
  • Technocratic societies exploit the illusion of individual liberty to enslave their citizens
  • Whether capitalist or communist, the worker remains a slave of the instruments of production
  • We are living in a perverse loop in which humankind produces more than is needed, and enough to create a utopian society
  • Release from subjection to the economic sphere is the only true revolution
  • One-dimensional thought
  • The true revolution is a reconciliation of technological rationality and individual happiness
  • This revolution can come only by rejecting the attempts by technocratic society to colonize the individual's daily life
  • Hippie ideology
  • Eros = instinct of life, desire
  • Thanatos = instinct of death, suicidal impulse
  • Logos = repressive reason
  • Eros must be freed from Logos (love)
  • Thanatos must be channeled into art instead of aggression (peace)

"One Dimensional Man" (1964)

Marcuse begins by noticing that the very threat of a nuclear catastrophe serves to protect the advanced industrial societies that are creating that danger. Marcuse does not use the plural though, and only focuses on one of the two cold-warring sides, the one that is getting richer and better at perpetuating that danger, i.e. the Western capitalist society (the other one was the communist society, which was hardly getting any richer in 1964). Therefore the apparent irrationality of the Cold War originates from the perfect rationality of the advanced industrial society.

Political power in the adanced industrial society asserts itself through the control of technology: technology, so much more powerful than any individual can be, has become the most effective political instrument in a society organized around technology. The "free" Western capitalist society is also a form of "totalitarian" society whose mechanisms preclude the emergence of an effective opposition. Mass communication and brainwashing are no less powerful than totalitarian regimes at suppressing dissent. Mass consumption creates an illusory euphoria. Being free to elect one's master does not mean that one is no longer a slave.

The rationality of the irrational can also be viewed in the production and consumption of luxuries beyond what is necessary, a process which creates the new needs that will further enslave people. Consumerism is irrational but it actually serves the very rational purpose to keep the economic and political system going. This self-sustaining loop leads to one-dimensional, self-validating thought. Marcuse sees a closing of the universe of discourse.

The totalitarian universe of technological rationality arises from a "harmony of freedom and oppression" that creates the illusion of freedom in the masses while oppressing them. The process of domination has changed from the pre-technological society to the technological society but it has remained a process in which humans dominate over other humans. The difference is that now that process is mediated by a productive apparatus. The origin of this process lies in the very concept of science as a neutral objective discipline. That definition removes any ethical factor: ethics is not scientific enough to be considered by science. Science was developed to control nature and the scientific method led to ever more effective domination of nature. That method, infiltrating in all spheres of culture and society, indirectly created ever more effective forms of domination of humans via the domination of nature. The project of science was and is domination. The fact that science progresses and continuously reinvents itself is illusory: the fundamental project remains the same and indirectly guarantees a degree of order and stability to society.

(Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )