portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article reposts global

corporate dominance | political theory

Herbert Marcuse: The One-Dimensional Man`

"Manipulation of needs" is one of the control instruments. Rulers change needs through manipulation. False needs are needs imposed from above like the need for production and consumption of useless things. The need for freedom as a vital need no longer exists in a large part of the synchronized population in developed capitalist countries. While individuals are manipulated and indoctrinated, they should be able to distinguish false and true needs.

By Jan Schuttler

[This reading sample of the 2003 study is translated from the German on the Internet, www.grin.com/document/16050.]

1. Introduction

In his 1964 book "The One-Dimensional Man. Studies on the Ideology of the Advanced Industrial Society," [1] the German-American philosopher Herbert Marcuse calls us to a critical understanding of language. He urges rejecting the anonymous repression-mechanisms of society and energized the American student movement.

The central term in this book is "one-dimensionality" that insists there is only one dimension. However, nothing one-dimensional occurs in nature. One-dimensionality lacks a dimension... At the same time, one-dimensionality can also mean limitation to a given reality.

While Marcuse grapples with other important aspects of a one-dimensional society, this study focuses on language since language is an important element and presupposition of all social life. The chapter "The language of total management" presupposes an understanding of the one-dimensional society.

2. Total Management and its Effects in Language

2.1 The "Totally Managed Society"

For Marcuse, the "language of total management" [2] assumes we live in a "totally managed" society. Marcuse calls this society an "advanced industrial society." [3] In "The One-Dimensional Man," Marcuse criticizes that advanced industrial society can prevent a qualitative change for the foreseeable future. Forces and tendencies exist that can "break society" [4]

Why and how can industrial society prevent a qualitative change in Marcuse's opinion? What is a qualitative change? Qualitative change means the possibility of a better lifestyle for all members of society. Again and again, Marcuse points to a possible "total automation" [5] that could lead to no person doing "alienated work." [6] This is considered an impoverishment of the quality of life. According to Brunkhorst and Koch, "the speed of social change accelerates... Everything is changeable." [7]

Social change should be prevented because this puts in question or even overturns the given rule structures. Society uses certain means to prevent this change. Marcuse calls them the "forms of social control." [8]

2.2 The Instruments of Social Control

The "manipulation of needs" is one of the control instruments.

Marcuse assumes that needs are historical, in other words changeable in the socio-historical context. [10] This can happen firstly through social structural change - for example, "being satiated in today's society."

"The need for freedom as a vital need does not exist or no longer exists in a large part of the synchronized population in developed capitalist countries," [11] as Marcuse explained in a 1967 lecture at the Free University of Berlin.

Instead, other needs exist like the need for a certain living standard. The rulers changing needs through manipulation is another possibility. So needs can be "made" today - by industry and advertising.

False and true needs can be distinguished. [12] False needs are needs imposed from above; called "repressive" needs by Marcuse like the need for "production and consumption of useless things." [14] Although people identify with these needs, they are still means of repression since they reproduce the repressive society in individuals. [15]

A person should be able to distinguish false and true needs.

Marcuse argues here that the individual is a manipulated and indoctrinated being. [16] This refers back to the influence of mass media that were already "receivers "even before the mass production of radio and television. [17] This can be understood on two different planes.

Firstly, this statement can refer to the temporal context. Mass diffusion by the television was just beginning at the moment when "One-Dimensional Man" was written. However, looking back on the wartime, the effects of a functioning manipulation can be seen in the framework of propaganda spread through radio, movies, billboards and newspapers.

Secondly, this "indoctrination" into consumers is clear in the individual development of every child. From childhood, the child gets to know and imitates the parents' consumer behavior and assumes the role of the model consumer when he or she should act in a consumer-critical way.

Through these mechanisms, the transformation of social needs into individual needs has become so effective that seeing differences is hard. [18] When does television change suddenly from a harmless information- and entertainment medium into a manipulation- and indoctrination instrument? A newspaper is a kind of manipulation since only selected news is reported. This is easily forgotten.

The needs for gaining freedom are repressed by society. [19] So limiting oneself to the satisfaction of "true needs" becomes virtually impossible.


[1] Dubiel, Helmut: Demokratie und Kapitalismus bei Herbert Marcuse. In: Kritik und Utopie im Werk von Herbert Marcuse (hrsg. vom Institut für Sozialforschung). Frankfurt am Main 1992. S. 61 - 73
[2] Marcuse, S. 104
[3] ders., S. 17
[4] ebd.
[5] vgl. Marcuse, z.B. S. 36
[6] Marcuse, Herbert: Das Ende der Utopie. S. 37
[7] Brunkhorst, Hauke / Koch, Gertrud: Herbert Marcuse zur Einführung. Hamburg 1990. S. 87
[8] Marcuse, S. 29
[9] Marcuse, S. 23
[10] vgl. Marcuse, S. 24
[11] Marcuse, Herbert: Das Ende der Utopie. Berlin 1967. S. 15
[12] Marcuse, S. 25
[13] ebd.
[14] ders. S.27
[15] vgl. Das Ende der Utopie. S. 15
[16] vgl. Marcuse, S. 26
[17] ders. S. 28
[18] vgl. Marcuse, S. 28
[19] vgl. ders. S. 27


By Juliane Scholz

[This reading sample for the 2006 study is translated from the German on the Internet, www.grin.com/document/66388.]

1 Introduction

Herbert Marcuse's work "The One-Dimensional Man" published in 1964 in the US was a kind of manifesto for the rising student movement and the 1968-generation of leftist intellectuals [1]. In the middle of the Cold War, Marcuse saw a world full of weapons of mass destruction. A false, happy consciousness is evoked in people in the course of production and consumption that undermines and veils important historical and economic connections of society.

In "The One-Dimensional Man," Marcuse combines themes of his earlier works like "Reason and Revolution" [2] and "Drive-structures and Society." [3] He was very disappointed by the missed 1917/1918 German revolution... After the 1921 murders of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, [4] "there seemed no one with whom he could identify." Finally, he resigned from SPD membership after a year and declared his revolutionary-Marxist position. The publication of Marx' "Economic-Philosophical Manuscripts" [5] was an important source of inspiration. His work can be interpreted as a continuation of Marx' alienation theory.

In exile, the influences of the Frankfurt School and Adorno's and Horkheimer's work "Dialectic of Enlightenment" were vital. Marcuse hearkened back to many ideas of this work and described the facets of the cultural industry. This was reflected in the three-part division of "The One-dimensional Man" which criticized society, particularly the language and thinking of the new positivist-empiricist philosophy and simultaneously showed possibilities and alternatives.

Marcuse was also influenced by Heidegger, Hegel's dialectical method [7], Sartre, and Freud. Communication theories like Brecht's radio theory also flowed into his contemplation. An oppositional attitude resulted that regarded revolutionary forces as a possibility of democracy and attempted to discover manipulations inherent in society. Marcuse described a society in which the logic of rule, capitalist power relations and media influence were embedded in the bloc oppositions of the Cold War. This advanced industrial society creates prosperity through production of weapons of destruction legitimated in the culture of fear. Capitalist production could be used instead for everyone's well-being. In his Preface of Opposition, Marcuse acknowledged a "paralysis of criticism" and described the "society without opposition" [8] as one-dimensional. Marcuse was a seeker of alternatives.

2. The One-dimensional Society - The New Forms of Social Control

In his Foreword, Marcuse describes the present state of society where a permanent threat in the Cold War is maintained and peaceful production is inferior to weapons of destruction and workers are intellectually crippled and brainwashed and the paradox of constantly increasing arms production in a highly developed capitalist culture is not admitted. [9]

Marcuse sees the organization of society connected with the causes of danger. He asks about the feasibility and realization of excluded utopias. For him, the advanced industrial society in itself is irrational and paradoxical since it joins growing productivity and growing destruction, prevents social change and undermines opposition. [10] New totalitarian forms of social control are created in culture, politics and the media system and generate a false consciousness through false values and false needs.

While the "cultural industry" [11] represented a growing popular culture for Horkheimer and Adorno and phenomena of mass media were pejoratively characterized as institutions taking possession of the culture, [12] Marcuse describes the processes for rationalizing leisure and criticizes the capitalist production method and the technocratic spirit. He combines his criticism of the positivistic spirit that is no longer capable of negative and critical ideas with Hegel's dialectic and ultimately urges the identity of culture and civilization.


1] Geboren 19.7.1889 in Berlin und gestorben 29.7.1979.
[2] Die Schrift erscheint 1941, verbindet Hegels Dialektik mit marxistischen Ideen und prägt den Begriff der kritischen, also auch negativen Ideen und Theorie. Vgl., Marcuse, Herbert, Vernunft und Revolution. Hegel und die Entstehung der Gesellschaftstheorie, 21968 Neuwied am Rhein.
[3] Vgl. Marcuse, Herbert, Triebstruktur und Gesellschaft. Ein philosophischer Beitrag zu Sigmund Freud, 161990 Frankfurt /Main. 1955 in Deutschland erschienen.
[4] Vgl. Habermas, Jürgen / Bovenschen, Silvia, Gespräche mit Herbert Marcuse, Frankfurt /Main 1978, S. 10.
[5] Besonders die von Marx begründete Entfremdungstheorie und die ganzheitliche Betrachtung des Menschen und die Beschreibung der modernen bürgerlichen Gesellschaft, jenseits starrer nationalökonomischer Kategorien, beeinflussten Marcuses Denken stark.
[6] Kulturindustrie beschreibt Tendenzen der aufkommenden Massenkultur und der Massenmedien, die von der Hochkultur Besitz ergreifen. Das Kapitel im Buch „Dialektik der Aufklärung" über die Kulturindustrie kritisiert die Populärkultur und die Verdummung der Massen, die regelrecht süchtig nach Unterhaltung und Vergnügen werden.
[7] Dialektik als Aufzeigen von der Einheit der Gegensätze.
[8] Vgl. Marcuse, Herbert, Der eindimensionale Mensch, 81979 Neuwied und Berlin, S.11-20.
[9] Diese Argumentation folgt der Marxschen Totengräberthese, in der die Bourgeoisie ihre Totengräber selbst produziert. Gleichzeitig produzieren in die Arbeiter ihre Entfremdung stetig selbst durch Reproduktion des falschen Bewusstseins.
[10] Vgl. Marcuse, Herbert, S.14f.
[11] Vgl. Adorno, Theodor W. / Horkheimer, Max, Dialektik der Aufklärung. Philosophische Fragmente, Frankfurt Main 2003. Kritisiert werden unter anderem seichte Soap- Operas, Jazz-Musik und Werbung.
[12] Vgl. ebd., 129-135.
[13] Die Herrschaft trennt demnach die Vernunft der Wissenschaft von der Kunst, diese Unterscheidung verbleibt also als Nicht-Identität. Der Zusammenhang beider bleibt für die Menschen verschleiert, als verbindendes Element dient das Bewusstsein, welches die Diskrepanz zwischen Möglichkeit und Wirklichkeit offenbaren könnte. Vgl. Marcuse, Herbert, Bemerkungen zur Neubestimmung der Kultur S.147 bis 173, in: Marcuse Herbert, Kultur und Gesellschaft 2, Frankfurt / Main 1965.


By Yvonne Rudolph

[This reading sample of the 2005 study is translated abridged from the German on the Internet, www.grin.com/document/41768.]

Herbert Marcuse's social criticism in "The One-Dimensional Man" (1964) is vital today. The sociologist strives... to "improve the human situation." [1] "In some areas, the described tendencies do not yet rule. I offer hypotheses, nothing more." [1]

This study presents the central arguments in Herbert Marcuse's "One-Dimensional Man" and asks how far Marcuse's concrete solutions could improve the social situation. Can Marcuse's description of the industrial society of the late 1960s be transferred to today's conditions or did Marcuse propagate an overly pessimistic and ideologically-colored view under the pressures of the Cold War and the National Socialist dictatorship that forced him to emigrate in 1933? Marcuse did not only "describe tendencies" and formulate harmless "hypotheses."

Marcuse's ideas about the individual and his rule in late industrial society seem corroborated by Claus Daniels' "The Leveling of the Heroic Subject" [3]

2.0 The "One-Dimensional Man" in the "One-Dimenstional Society"

Marcuse applies the term one-dimensionality both to characterize the individual of modern industrial society and this society and its way of thinking... Marcuse broadens the Marxist position on the political, economic, psychosocial and philosophical plane through his observations and arguments which makes him so interesting. The subtitle is "Studies on the Ideology of the Advanced Industrial Society."

"Ideology" is mostly understood as something negative, a particular worldview and life form that is declared reality. Industrial society, according to Marcuse, is a society with a specific ideology. Ideology has a specific meaning as the "ideology of advanced industrial society." According to Ritsert, Berger and Luckman (1967), society internalizes its objective social reality produced daily by individuals so it changes suddenly into an ideology, from "objectification" to "reification," so to speak.

"At what point do ideologies come in? Objectification and reification are different. Men and women unavoidably produce, reproduce and consciously transform an objective social reality day by day... " [5]

The objective reality produced by humans, "their own product," is subject to an "increasing objectification," [6] the so-called "reification" as a predominant way of thinking. This reality can assume a repressive character and affect the producers. As a result, the individual's possibilities of developing and acting are restricted. The nature of ideologies is that they are "one-dimensional" forms of thinking and relating that allow no other social interpretations...

Oriented in philosophy of history, Marcuse explains societies can change their behavioral norms and insights in all areas.

"The way a society organizes the life of its members includes an original choice between historical alternatives defined by the conventional lives of material and intellectual culture. The choice itself results from the play of ruling interests. Special ways of changing and utilizing the person and nature are selected and others are rejected." [7]

As soon as a design becomes "exclusive" and "autocratic" and permanently anchored in certain "institutions" and "relations," it tends to define the whole society. [8] For Marcuse, late industrial society represents the completion of a historical process realizing the perfect control of nature. Following Adorno and Horkheimer, Marcuse sees history as a history of rule and subjugation of nature by technology (or with Adorno as a process of the "demythologization"). [10] This is structurally similar to Karl Marx who defined history as a series of class struggles in the "Manifesto of the Communist Party." [9]

"As a technological universe, the advanced industrial society is a political universe - the latest stage in realizing a specific historical draft or design - namely the experience of redesigning and organizing nature as the material of rule." [11] ...

Marcuse's thesis is that the society of the late 1960s reached a state where natural elective possibilities were no longer accessible. The social system became hermetic and "one-dimensional" so no opposite interests or critical voices are heard any more because the necessity of a change is not recognized or refractory opinions are leveled. Marcuse discovered "totalitarian characteristics" in industrial societies of the late 1960s. Technicization brings about an intellectual uniformity of society that he brands "enforced political and intellectual conformity." He remarked ironically: "that this technical order brings about a political and intellectual conformity and yet could be a promising development." [13]

2.1 The Leveling of the Subject

Marcuse sees the leveling of the subject as one of the causes of one-dimensionality in that people no longer distinguish subjective needs and social (objective) demands. They adjust to the objective economic realities of late industrial society oriented in technology, efficiency, rationality and profit so much that their own personality and their humanitarian interests threaten to disappear or cannot develop. Marcuse speaks here in Marxist-sounding terminology. He says the "production apparatus" (called the "means of production" by Marx) strives to absolutize its interests so far that it manipulatively determines the language- and thought patters, feelings, desires and conduct of individuals or adjusts human behavior so much he becomes part of the productive apparatus and reached the peak of "de-emotionalization."

"In this society, the production machine tends to become totalitarian since it defines individual needs and desires and not only socially necessary activities, skills and attitudes. It also levels the opposition between individual and social needs." [14]

The leveling of the subject in late capitalist society is the tendency to disparage the development of the ego as a principle of autonomy and spontaneity. [15]

Marcuse's argument appeals to psychoanalysis that assumes the individual psyche, thinking and behavior is subject to increasing objectification. Instrumentally-rational, social and abstract interests (objective reality) are internalized so no distinction exists any more between subjective will or interests and objective goals. This must lead to a dissolution of identity since it is only grounded in foreign-determined interests and themes that were not originally their own. (... )


[1] Siehe Marcuse, Herbert: „Der eindimensionale Mensch", Soziologische Texte, Band 40. Hrsg. von Heinz Maus und Friedrich Fürstenberg. Neuwied / Berlin 1967, S. 12.
[2] Ders., S. 20.
[3] Daniel, Claus: „Die Einebnung des heroischen Subjekts (Einige Motive bei Adorno und Marcuse)"
In: „Theorien der Subjektivität. Einführung in die Soziologie des Individuums." Frankfurt am Main/ New York 1981.
[4] Bernhard Schäfers (Hrsg.): Grundbegriffe der Soziologie", UTB Opladen 1986, S. 127.
[5] Ritsert, Jürgen: „Models and concepts of ideology" Amsterdam/Atlanta 1990, S. 9-10.
[6] „Versachlichung" als Vorgang der Rationalisierung heißt, dass im Prinzip alles den Charakter einer Sache oder Ware annimmt. Hiervon sind auch zwischenmenschlichen Beziehungen , Arbeitsverhältnisse u.a. nicht ausgenommen. Dazu ausführlicher auf S. 17-19 dieser Hausarbeit.
[7] Marcuse (1967): „Der eindimensionale Mensch", S. 18.
[8] Siehe ebd.
[9] Siehe Marx, Karl / Engels, Friedrich: „Das Manifest der kommunistischen Partei (1848).
[10] Siehe Adorno, T.W./ Horkheimer, M.: „Dialektik der Aufklärung" 15. Aufl., Frankfurt am Main 2004.
[11] Marcuse (1967): „Der eindimensionale Mensch", S. 18.
[12] Z.B. in: Adorno, T. W./ Horkheimer, M. „Dialektik der Aufklärung." 15. Aufl., Frankfurt am Main 2004. und Adorno, T. W.: „Minima Moralia Reflexionen aus dem beschädigten Leben." Gesammelte Schriften, Band 4, Frankfurt am Main 1980.
[13] Marcuse (1967): ,,Der eindimensionale Mensch", S. 21.
[14] Marcuse (1967): ,,Der eindimensionale Mensch", S. 17-18.
[15] Daniel (1981): „Theorien der Subjektivität", S. 126.

homepage: homepage: http://www.freembtranslations.net
address: address: www.academia.edu