Marcuse Publishes Foundational New Left Works Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Herbert Marcuse gave the fragmented leftist liberation movements of the 1960’s common ideological ground with One-Dimensional Man, his incisive critique of capitalist technological society, and other writings in critical social and cultural theory. Although he dismissed the moniker, Marcuse was considered by many the father of the New Left.

Summary of Event

Herbert Marcuse, a German Jew born in Berlin, studied philosophy under Martin Heidegger at the University of Freiburg, where he received his doctorate in 1922 with a dissertation on Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s philosophy of history. Marcuse escaped the Nazis in 1933, worked at the Institute for Social Research (home of the so-called Frankfurt School of neo-Marxist philosophy and critical theory) of Columbia University in New York City from 1934 to 1941, became a naturalized American citizen in 1940, and served as an intelligence officer in the U.S. State Department from 1941 to 1950. He held faculty positions at Columbia from 1951 to 1952, Harvard University from 1952 to 1953, Brandeis University from 1954 to 1965, and the University of California, San Diego, from 1965 to 1976. Marxism One-Dimensional Man (Marcuse)[One Dimensional Man] Negations (Marcuse) Counterrevolution and Revolt (Marcuse) Essay on Liberation, An (Marcuse) New Left, the Philosophy;humanist Marxism [kw]Marcuse Publishes Foundational New Left Works (1964-1972) [kw]New Left Works, Marcuse Publishes Foundational (1964-1972) Marxism One-Dimensional Man (Marcuse)[One Dimensional Man] Negations (Marcuse) Counterrevolution and Revolt (Marcuse) Essay on Liberation, An (Marcuse) New Left, the Philosophy;humanist Marxism [g]North America;1964-1972: Marcuse Publishes Foundational New Left Works[07900] [g]United States;1964-1972: Marcuse Publishes Foundational New Left Works[07900] [c]Philosophy;1964-1972: Marcuse Publishes Foundational New Left Works[07900] [c]Civil rights and liberties;1964-1972: Marcuse Publishes Foundational New Left Works[07900] [c]Literature;1964-1972: Marcuse Publishes Foundational New Left Works[07900] [c]Government and politics;1964-1972: Marcuse Publishes Foundational New Left Works[07900] [c]Social issues and reform;1964-1972: Marcuse Publishes Foundational New Left Works[07900] Marcuse, Herbert Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Marx, Karl Nietzsche, Friedrich Sartre, Jean-Paul Farber, Jerry Heidegger, Martin Davis, Angela Hoffman, Abbie

In 1941, Marcuse’s first major work, Reason and Revolution: Hegel and the Rise of Social Theory, Reason and Revolution (Marcuse) made his reputation. He followed this work with two groundbreaking studies: Eros and Civilization: A Philosophical Inquiry into Freud (1955), Eros and Civilization (Marcuse) which anticipated many of the utopian values of the 1960’s counterculture, and Soviet Marxism Soviet Marxism (Marcuse) (1958), which argued that Leninism, Stalinism, and, by implication, Maoism were untrue to Karl Marx’s own collectivist and antistatist principles. These three books prepared the way for Marcuse’s use of Hegel, Sigmund Freud Freud, Sigmund , and Marx as the foundation of modern leftist thought.

Marcuse’s most original and influential book, One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society, appeared in 1964. Its thesis was that through the technological “pacification of existence,” citizens of affluent nations have become anesthetized with creature comforts and no longer have much incentive to correct injustices, improve social conditions, or behave ethically toward their fellow human beings. Technology creates a counterfeit “happy consciousness,” encourages conformity, and closes the “universe of discourse.” This book instantly rang true with those who had felt alienated from society since the 1950’s. It soon earned Marcuse the title “father of the New Left,” which he rightfully disclaimed. The New Left began before One-Dimensional Man was published. Its paternity more properly belongs to no individual in particular, but belongs jointly to the Beat generation of the 1950’s, the Port Huron Statement of 1962, the budding antinuclear movement, and several other phenomena. Marcuse is named its father only because he was the first writer to lend this multifaceted opposition a degree of intellectual coherence.

Marcuse was largely responsible for injecting Hegelian philosophy into the leftist movements of the 1960’s. Through Marcuse, Hegel became a pervasive but almost invisible element of New Leftist ideas. Hegel’s ideas had influenced Marx, who used the basic structure of his thought for his own work. Without ever mentioning Hegel in his essay “The Student as Nigger,” "Student as Nigger, The" (Farber)[Student as Nigger, The] Jerry Farber, teaching at California State University, Los Angeles, analyzed the typical teacher-student relationship in terms of Hegel’s master-slave dialectic. Published in 1967 in the Los Angeles Free Press, an underground newspaper, this essay soon became a key document of the New Left.

In 1965, Marcuse’s essay “Repressive Tolerance” "Repressive Tolerance" (Marcuse)[Repressive Tolerance] appeared in the collection A Critique of Pure Tolerance. He argued that if a government allows free speech even to the extent that rebels can preach revolution from the capitol steps, then that government effectively stifles dissent, since without police or legal action, or the creation of martyrs, people are unlikely to take antigovernment speech seriously. Collection contributor Robert Paul Wolff Wolff, Robert Paul became one of Marcuse’s strongest allies. Wolff’s essay “Beyond Tolerance” "Beyond Tolerance" (Wolff)[Beyond Tolerance] claimed that capitalist, democratic pluralism and its inherent tolerance are “blind to the evils which afflict the entire body politic” and thus ensure that the status quo will persist as diversity is accepted and injustices remain unchallenged.

In 1968, Marcuse published Negations: Essays in Critical Theory, a collection translated from his German works of the 1930’s. Throughout his life, even after he began writing mostly in English, Marcuse continued to write and publish in German. Several of these works, such as “Das Ende der Utopie,” a lecture from 1967 first published in Psychoanalyse und Politik Psychoanalyse und Politik (Marcuse) (psychoanalysis and politics) in 1968, were not promptly translated as a whole into English during this time, but still influenced leftist movements in Europe. Some of these essays were translated into English in the 1970 collection Five Lectures: Psychoanalysis, Politics, and Utopia. Five Lectures (Marcuse)

At the height of his political activity from the mid-1960’s to the early 1970’s Marcuse’s articles, critiques, polemics, and letters appeared in leftist periodicals such as Praxis, Peace News, New Left Review, Partisan Review, and Monthly Review. He was a fervent agitator, but unlike several wings of the New Left, he did not condone violence. He was not a thoroughgoing pacifist but was closer to the principled pacifism of Marxist Staughton Lynd than to the situationist pacifism of philosopher Bertrand Russell.

In 1969, Marcuse published the ninety-one-page booklet An Essay on Liberation, Essay on Liberation, An (Marcuse) which attempted to fuse in general terms some of the central themes of Eros and Civilization and One-Dimensional Man. It was written for students and street revolutionaries rather than professional scholars. In addition to the essays in Five Lectures, another book, Counterrevolution and Revolt (1972), capped this era in Marcuse’s publishing career.

Several of Marcuse’s students became well known in the New Left. Abbie Hoffman majored in psychology at Brandeis, graduating in 1959. Just before Angela Davis became involved with the Civil Rights movement, she was Marcuse’s student during her senior year at Brandeis. After two years as a philosophy graduate student in Germany, she went to San Diego in 1967 to earn a master’s degree under his direction. On his recommendation, she enrolled at Humboldt University in East Berlin for her doctorate.


The New Left was not a single movement but was a loosely affiliated international faction of antiestablishment intellectuals, students, and activists, consisting mostly of militant blacks and discontented young middle-class whites. They were unified by their opposition to the Vietnam War, their advocacy of racial and economic justice, their commitment to ideals of free speech and assembly, their distrust of organized religion, and, especially, their belief that any viable social order must include a strong, perpetual, well-informed, and radical opposition to government. The purpose of this opposition was to ensure that governments never oppressed the people, but instead remained true to their primary mission to provide for the people’s welfare and cultural development. This essential gadfly quality of the New Left distanced it from monolithic state communism and checkmated its critics who claimed that it was a tool of the Soviet Union.

The New Left derived its inspiration mainly from an eclectic mix of philosophers, artists, novelists, and poets rather than from grassroots politics. Marx was foremost among these admired theorists, but not all the intellectual heroes of the New Left were Marxists. Some, such as Friedrich Nietzsche and Russell, were clearly non-Marxist. Marcuse and Jean-Paul Sartre were the two most important Marxist fountainheads of New Left thought. Marxism One-Dimensional Man (Marcuse)[One Dimensional Man] Negations (Marcuse) Counterrevolution and Revolt (Marcuse) Essay on Liberation, An (Marcuse) New Left, the Philosophy;humanist Marxism

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Abromeit, John, and W. Mark Cobb, eds. Herbert Marcuse: A Critical Reader. New York: Routledge, 2004. A collection of interpretive essays by sixteen scholars, including Angela Davis, Andrew Feenberg, and Douglas Kellner.
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    xlink:type="simple">Feenberg, Andrew. Heidegger and Marcuse: The Catastrophe and Redemption of History. New York: Routledge, 2005. A comparative analysis of Marcuse and Heidegger, two of the most severe critics of modern technology.
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    xlink:type="simple">Gitlin, Todd. The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage. New York: Bantam Books, 1987. Memoirs of a veteran of the New Left, describing the historical context of Marcuse’s influence.
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    xlink:type="simple">Herbert Marcuse Official Web Site. An excellent site maintained by Marcuse’s grandson Harold. Includes a full bibliography of Marcuse’s writings, some full texts, details on the Marcuse family, and a bibliography of secondary works.
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    xlink:type="simple">Kellner, Douglas. Herbert Marcuse and the Crisis of Marxism. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984. Sympathetic account of the intellectual background of Marcuse’s thought.
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    xlink:type="simple">MacIntyre, Alasdair C. Herbert Marcuse: An Exposition and a Polemic. New York: Viking Press, 1970. A benchmark study by an opponent of Marcuse.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Marcuse, Herbert. The New Left and the 1960’s. New York: Routledge, 2005. A collection of Marcuse’s political papers and letters with a preface by Angela Davis and an introduction by Douglas Kellner.
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    xlink:type="simple">Steigerwald, David. The Sixties and the End of Modern America. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995. A scholarly account of the rise and fall of countercultural leftism in the 1960’s.
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    xlink:type="simple">Wolin, Richard. Heidegger’s Children: Hannah Arendt, Karl Löwith, Hans Jonas, and Herbert Marcuse. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2001. Examines how Heidegger’s students, especially Arendt and Marcuse, pushed his philosophy toward the Left.

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Categories: History