This secondary source begins by introducing the Frankfurt School and Marcuse’s differentiation from earlier thinkers. It continues as an analysis of Marcuse’s thought, especially as outlined in On Dimensional Man, with comparison to the works of Adorno and Horkheimer in particular. It is broken down into the following subsections:
From the Authoritarian Personality to Negative Dialectics,
Marcuse and One Dimensional Man,
Ideology, Surplus Repression, and One-Dimensional Language,
Prospects for Emancipation: The Question of Technology
The introduction begins by explaining that Adorno and Horkheimers “gloomy diagnosis” of the inevitability of totalitarianism from rationality (in both overt and non-overt ways) was both thought out to its fullest consequence and challenged with “glimmerings of hope” by Marcuse’s One Dimensional Man. Marcuse’s ability to hope stems from his commitment to emancipator, critical, dialectical reason, and his belief that it continues in the imaginative unconscious of a repressed society. Marcuse’s differentiation is optimism in scientific and moral rationality, in the ability of subject and object to coexist maintaining their integrity.
From Authoritarian Personality to Negative Dialectics: This section summarizes the work of the Frankfurt School prior to Marcuse. It includes an overview of the characteristics on the “F-scale” and posits that the as the Frankfurt school progressed, it became increasingly abstract, equating all social formations, political, economic, or ideological, as totalitarian. This abstraction is a break from Marxism, and was further marked by Adorno’s “seeking refuge in asthetic contemplation”. His attention to art formed a fixation on problems of communication that are picked up by Marcuse.
Marcuse and One-Dimensional Man: This begins by explaining the necessity of a negative dialectic understanding of subject and object rather than a positivist one. Only then can both retain their individuality. Where Adorno dealt with aesthetics and utopia, Marcuse attempts to apply this to an advanced industrial society. He explains “soft totalitarianism” as the pleasurable, consensual domination of a society, aided by anti-communist paranoia and increased standard of living that masks disparity. Sexuality is brought up as a main tool of repressive sublimation, keeping people producing and consuming waste, overworking, and dissatisfied, in a technological age that doesn’t require such unhappiness.
Ideology, Surplus Repression, and One-Dimensional Language: This line of thought is continued in Marcuse’s examination of priority, that is what are true needs of individuals, and what are false needs. Yet this analysis can only come after an individual has recognized his or her own subjugation in society. He analyzes specific ways in which the very language that is used to describe freedom and people’s needs is repressive in nature. His solution to this is outlined in a criterion for transcendent analysis of rational language.
Prospects of Emancipation: The Question of Technology: This last section deals with considering the liberating potential of technological advancement. It proposes that if technology (which is conceived neutrally) could be used apolitically to take away the need for labor (this is a return to Marxist principles) and leave people free to pursue intellectual and artistic betterment. This change could hopefully lead to a respectful interaction between subject and nature. The article closes by pointing to Habermas as the next critic to really engage these issues.