The human being has always been a gregarious being who tends towards collectivity, and throughout history we have seen how as the number of human beings grows we tend to generate increasingly complex structures and societies. And this development does not take place in a linear and unitary way, but rather different environments and cultures have generated their own systems of organization and management.

The way societies have developed has been the subject of debate and research over the centuries, with authors such as Marx being some of the best known. Another of the most relevant, this one from the last century, is Herbert Marcuse. And it is about this author that we are going to talk in this article; we will see a brief biography of Herbert Marcuse in order to better understand his thought.

The biography of Herbert Marcuse

Herbert Hermann Marcuse was born on July 19, 1998 in the city of Berlin. He was the first son and first of three brothers of the marriage formed by the merchant Carl Marcuse and Gertrud Kreslawskyun, who was the granddaughter of a factory owner.

The family, of Jewish origin, had a prosperous and affluent socio-economic position, something that would allow their children to have a good education.

Formation and First World War

With the arrival of the First World War, and with only sixteen years old, Marcuse joined the army . He first worked in the care and maintenance of horses, in Berlin itself. In addition to this he would serve as a soldier on the front, and would become a member of both the soldiers’ council of the city of Berlin and the Social Democratic Party of Germany.

After the war, Herbert Marcuse became interested in academic life and decided to study Economics, Philosophy and Germanistics at the University of Berlin . He then enrolled at the University of Freiburg, where he studied literature. In 1922 he received his doctorate in the same discipline, with a thesis devoted to the study of the foundations of German literature. He also left the Social Democratic Party after the assassination of Rosa Luxemburg.

After finishing his doctorate, he returned to Berlin, where he worked in a bookstore. In 1924 he would marry Sophie Wertheim in Berlin. In time, specifically in 1928, the author decided to return to the University of Freiburg to study philosophy with authors such as Heidegger, whom he admired and who would prove to be highly influential in his existentialist thinking.

During this period he began to be interested in the field of sociology, being influenced by and reading the theories of Marx and Weber.

He tried to qualify and enter the University as a teacher together with Heidegger , but the growing rise of Nazism and the initial position of the latter on this issue made the author unable to do so. He produced one of his first works, a monograph entitled “Hegel’s Ontology and the Theory of Historicity”, and also published and even edited journals such as Die Gesellschaft .

Institute for Social Research and World War II

In 1933 Marcuse came into contact through Kurt Riezler with the Institut für Sozialforschung or Institute for Social Research, then directed by Max Horkheimer.

The author moved to Frankfurt and became part of what would end up being called the Frankfurt School, where, together with Horkheimer and other researchers, he would analyse social elements such as the role of families, social movements and the revision of Marxist theories. He also criticised the orthodoxy and positivism that underpinned capitalism and communism .

He would begin to integrate and make his own the Critical Theory, as well as work on the search for an integrative perspective of the praxis and theory of Hegel and Marxism. Already at this stage the author began to make a name for himself, elaborating different investigations.

The arrival of Hitler and Nazism to power made Marcuse, of Jewish origin, decide to leave Germany . He passed through Paris and Geneva, where he would become the director of the branch of the Institute, but would end up emigrating to the United States.

Professional life in the United States

There he would work and continue his research at Columbia University, where a branch of the Institute was opened. In addition, he collaborated until the end of World War II with the United States Office of Secret Services to overthrow the Nazi regime and the other fascist regimes. He managed to nationalize himself as an American in 1940.

Later, he would start to teach political philosophy. He first worked at Columbia University itself, and then at Harvard (where he also worked with the Russian Research Institute, although he was fired in 1958 because of differences in his research and approach).

In 1954 he also started teaching at Brandeis University. During this vital stage and after having been interested in Sigmund Freud’s theory, he theorized about the repression in society even within the democratic and unconscious level, whether it is capitalist or communist.

He wrote Eros and civilization (published in 1955) and The malaise of culture , and in them we can see how the author proposes that even immersed in oppression and repression both consciously and unconsciously, we tend to seek freedom and development.

He wrote one of his best known works, El hombre unidimensional , in 1964. In this work he developed the ida that even in democratic societies we can find oppression and a tendency to force homogeneity and unidimensionality, something that hinders development to the point that practically only the most marginal elements of society are capable of generating change.

Last years, death and legacy

During the 1960s and 1970s the author began working at the University of Berkley, at a time when large student movements and revolts began to emerge. The author supported the student movement, becoming a figure critical of the established and of liberalism and a strong influence on the social movements of the time.

The author sought to generate a society that did not exercise repression and the elimination of the alignment and domination of consumer societies. He also had a great interest in art, especially in the final stretch of his life, as an instrument to lead us to a freer society.

In 1979 Herbert Marcuse travelled to Germany to make some speeches. However, during his stay in the city of Starnberg the author suffered a stroke that finally ended his life on July 26, 1979.

Herbert Marcuse was an intellectual of great prestige and renown, whose philosophy has served as inspiration especially for socio-political movements and for analysing from a critical perspective and with the purpose of change the functioning of different types of societies and their way of acting on the population.

Bibliographic references:

  • Kellner, D. (1984). Herbert Marcuse and the Crisis of Marxism. London: Macmillan.
  • Mattick, P. (1972) Critique of Marcuse: One-dimensional man in class society Merlin Press.