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70 of 75 found the following review helpful:
A Prophet of the New LeftDec 23, 2003
Leftist thinking underwent a dramatic change during the Sixties. After fifteen years of unprecedented prosperity, the class issues that had bedeviled the old left seemed moot. The working class, instead of being immiserated and ripe for revolution, was now contendedly (seemingly) partaking in the general boom and as far from revolution as one could imagine. Already by 1950 C. Wright Mills had coined the term "liberal-labor establishment" to disparage the conservative turn in the labor movement (specifically, the CIO). This seeming repudiation of Marx's predictions fostered a great deal of thinking by members of the Frankfurt School, which included Marcuse, about how marxism should be revised and where it went wrong. One Dimensional Man is Marcuse's brilliant attempt to answer this question.
Why is Marcuse so upset about prosperity? Following in the foot steps of Marx, Marcuse is not simply worried about economic exploitation. His basic concern is liberation--a liberation he sees receeding ever further into the distance as modern industrial society (both capitalist and communist) buys off almost all potential opponents through increased abundance. He views modern society as a treadmill where workers are kept enslaved to their jobs by the desire to purchase newer and ever more products produced by their labor. Rather than seeking for liberation, workers willingly put up with the indignities of working for their capitalist (and socialist) masters in hopes of greater material, as oppossed to spritual abundance.
Yet this society is, at its core, irrational, according Marcuse. Written at during the height of the Cold War, Marcuse views the prepartions for World War III as especially telling of the insanity of the current system.
In the first four chapters Marcuse shows how modern society is able to contain and absorb its contradictions. Marcuse is in despair that the "machine" seems to be inescapeable. With the demise of working class opposition, the "machine" seems capable of carrying on indefinitely; unless, of course, it anihilates itself in a nuclear holocaust. Readers may find chapter 3 especially interesting for its Freudian analysis of modern society.
The next four chapters are devoted to philosophy. Marcuse seeks to show how modern scientific thinking (which made modern society possible) is part of a "historical project" aimed at "domination." As opposed to this "positive thinking" (i.e., postivist) Marcuse proposes "negative thinking," i.e. dialectical thinking which includes the contradictions and negations of the thesis in the form of the antithesis. These chapters can be some rough sledding at points, but Marcuse explicates his ideas well enough that most readers will be able grasp his basic argument.
Finally, after a chapter discussing why liberation is still possible, and how it might be achieved, he wraps up in a conclusion that would seem to be a manifesto for the New Left. Having given up on the working class, Marcuse invests his hopes for revolution in people of color, whether in the U.S. or in the third world.
For understanding why the left took the turn it did during the sixties this book, along with the Port Huron Statement, is a necessity. Before plunging into One Dimensioal Man, however, the reader might do well to first read Reisman's _Lonely Crowd_ and Whyte's _Organization Man_. These books form an essential backdrop to Marcuse's thinking. (He mentions his debt to these works in his preface.)
46 of 57 found the following review helpful:
An Insightful CritiqueApr 18, 2000
By A Reader
Marcuse offers a brilliant critique of advanced industrial society that fuses dialectical thought, Freudian theory, Marxist perspectives, and even a bit of existentialism here and there. It provides a comprehensive critique of our technocratic social order, as it has become, that is reminiscient of the works of later French poststructuralists, like Deleuze and Foucault. Ultimately, Marcuse founders on the contradiction between short-term and long-term interests, explicitly critiquing the Welfare State while implicitly, it could be argued, advocating it. However, "One-Dimensional Man" is the best basis for critique yet, with much of the insight that later emerged in the French intellectual fast track, but without the ambiguity of poststructuralist alternatives. Marcuse is both entertaining and brilliant, a must-read for specialists, and an eye-opening classic for the general educated public.
7 of 8 found the following review helpful:
Some of the best of the '60'sAug 27, 2009
By not a natural
Herbert Marcuse was one of the original members of the Frankfurt School of critical theory. Along with like-minded colleagues, when Hitler came to power in Germany, Marcuse emigrated to the United States where he taught at a number of universities, including New School for Social Research, Brandeis, and the University of California at San Diego.
Marcuse and the other members of the Frankfurt School, such as Benjamin Nelson, Max Horkheimer, and Theodor Adorno, were profoundly influenced by the work of Karl Marx, including his early work, particularly the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844. In addition, however, they were indebted to Hegel, Freud, and Max Weber. This helps to explain their interest in culture as a vehicle of domination and exploitation.
During the 1960's and early 1970's, Marcuse was the most influential New Left philosopher in the U.S., and probably throughout the world. He voiced the suspicion, however, that he was much more often cited than he was actually read. It seems unlikely that he would be pleased to be remembered as one of the three M's: Marx the prophet, Marcuse his interpreter, and Mao his sword. This sort of mindless slogan mongering was sharply at odds with Marcuse's commitment to rigorous scholarship in the pursuit of truth.
After 40 years, I remember One-Dimensional Man best for two relatively simple but paradoxical notions: rationality is never neutral or disinterested, and freedom can be oppressive and contrary to the development of human potential.
Rationality in the service of specific interests at the expense of others is manifest in out-sourcing, down-sizing, internationalization, and technological development, all means of reducing labor costs to benefit capital and at odds with the interests of labor. Rationally calculable pursuit of profit, in other words, is thoroughly irrational from the standpoint of labor.
The oppressiveness of freedom can be seen in modern industrial society's capacity to provide immediate material and sensual gratification, contributing to the creation of cultural shallowness and single-minded pursuit of the pleasures of consumption. The creation of new needs renders us prisoners of capital's productive apparatus and ideological tools.
If he were alive today, one wonders if Marcuse might have entertained the idea that our credit crisis is really a product of the contradiction between diminished purchasing power and the ever-more-effective manipulation of the culturally engendered need to consume. At this juncture the most we can say with certainty is that if Marcuse wanted to develop this idea he would not have written a polemic -- his commitment to rigorous scholarship was much too strong.
28 of 37 found the following review helpful:
Still relevant todayFeb 18, 2003
Marcuse was very perceptive about the nature of our technological society.Some of his ideas still have relevance today. He saw how the state and power elites were using technology to control people's lives. This has created a new form of totalitarianism. People are massively controlled and manipulated by technology.Our freedom today is to simply to walk about in our cages and choose the wallpaper. Marcuse points out that inner freedom or private space has been invaded and whittled down by technology reality. The media is especially at fault, and things are much worse than when he wrote in 1964. False needs are so pervasive that most people are not aware of the situation. Marcuse also shows how ideas and thinking processes are being used to limit our perceptions. Marcuse is heavy going, but he has many challenging ideas. My criticism of Marcuse is that he was a materialist himself, therefore could not offer a viable way out. He did not see that the real problem was a moral collapse, and this is destroying our materialist system from the inside.If Marcuse had a spiritual outlook, he would have found the answers in a new set of non-material values.
17 of 23 found the following review helpful:
Is our society one-dimensional?Feb 13, 2005
By Panayotis ZAMAROS
With this work, Marcuse aims to construct a critique of society and to show that our society is one-dimensional, he seeks to tease out the dialectical relations between two hypotheses. On the one hand, that `society is capable of containing qualitative change' (p. xlvii). On the other, the idea that `forces and tendencies exist which may break which may break this containment and explode the society' (ibid.). To achieve his critique, Marcuse uses two criteria, namely, that human life is worth living (in the Kantian sense), and that there exist opportunities for betterment i.e. to improve human life. In consequence, he first discusses the one-dimensional society, next the one-dimensional thought followed by the chances of alternatives.
As far as the one-dimensional society is concerned, Marcuse aims at showing that plural social praxis tends to be eroded. If the ultimate aim of freedom of enterprise has been the exertion of autonomy and competition in the sense of constantly proving one self, Marcuse pushes this logic to the point where such need is no longer required. Technology does have a crucial role in this respect as it can release `individual energy into a yet uncharted realm of freedom beyond necessity' (p. 2).
But to reach such a point (if at all) one needs to become aware of the current societal realities. In particular, not the disappearance of classes, but rather, their amalgamation in that they all share a drive to preserving the establishment. Marcuse explains this phenomenon by means of the concept of "introjection" which denotes the tendency of replicating societal forms of control at the individual level.
The prevailing societal forms of control are technological in the sense of an instrumentality of reason that qualifies social production in a vicious cycle that encloses dual identities in a pure form of servitude. This is on grounds that the `progress of technological rationality is liquidating the oppositional and transcending elements of culture ... as they succumb to the process of desublimation' (p. 56). For Marcuse technological reality limits the scope of sublimation as well as the need for it by upsetting the channeling of socially unacceptable impulses towards (aesthetic) activities regarded as more socially acceptable. Under such conditions one is preconditioned for the spontaneous acceptance of whatever is offered thereby contributing to the acceptance of established general repression. Ultimately, as he puts it, `an unfree society makes for a happy consciousness which facilitates acceptance of the misdeeds of this society. It is the token of declining autonomy and comprehension' (p76).
Language and its manipulation under the guise of unified functionality seems to have exacerbated the phenomenon because it is `irreconcilably anti-critical ... anti-dialectical ... and anti-historical' (pp. 97-98), considering that critical thought and language are essentially judgmental.
Concerning one-dimensional thought, Marcuse attempts to show that plural thinking tends to be undermined. In particular, he brings forth the contrast between formal and dialectical logic - the former being based on the unified functionality of language that fixes meaning in its attempt to construct quantitatively objective descriptions of the world. In arguing that `the objective world, left equipped only with quantifiable qualities, comes to be more and more dependent in its objectivity on the subject' (p. 148), Marcuse argues in favor of a dialectical logic since it is able to undo the abstractions of formal logic.
What is at stake here then is `preserving and protecting the right, the need to think and speak in terms other than those of common usage' (p. 178), which is, for Marcuse, the main task of philosophy - but not of analytic philosophy.
Finally, Marcuse offers some indication on how the alternatives mentioned in the previous two sections need to be considered with an overall focus on plurality, in particular linguistic and aesthetic following a technological rationale pushed to its extreme.
Overall, a powerful book that has lost none of its appeal and relevance to contemporary societal issues, whether political, economic, cultural or technological, despite the fact that some aspects of the discussion have evolved since. One-dimensionality seems to be here with us!
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