- Birthday, Books, Politics, Quotes, Reading, Writing

Herbert Marcuse on Art, Politics, Technology, and More


Happy birthday, Herbert Marcuse! Here are some quotes from the philosopher, sociologist, and political theorist:


“The truth of art lies in its power to break the monopoly of established reality to define what is real.”


“[Art] can speak its own language only as long as the images are alive which refuse and refute the established order.”


“Art breaks open a dimension inaccessible to other experience, a dimension in which human beings, nature, and things no longer stand under the law of the established reality principle…The encounter with the truth of art happens in the estranging language and images which make perceptible, visible, and audible that which is no longer, or not yet, perceived, said, and heard in everyday life.”


“The happy consciousness is shaky enough—a thin surface over fear, frustration, and disgust.”


“Reason…contradicts the established order of men and things on behalf of existing societal forces that reveal the irrational character of this order—for ‘rational’ is a mode of thought and action which is geared to reduce ignorance, destruction, brutality, and oppression.”


“The liberating force of technology—the instrumentalization of things—turns into…the instrumentalization of man.”


“Culture should be taken out of the hands of the dollar chasers. We need a national subsidy for literature. It is disgraceful that artists are treated like peddlers and that art works have to be sold like soap.”


“[N]o free society is imaginable which does not…make the concerted effort to reduce consistently the suffering which man imposes on the animal world.”


“At this stage, the question is no longer: how can the individual satisfy his own needs without hurting others, but rather: how can he satisfy his needs without hurting himself, without reproducing, through his aspirations and satisfactions, his dependence on an exploitative apparatus which, in satisfying his needs, perpetuates his servitude?”


“Free election of masters does not abolish the masters or the slaves.”


“The pure form of servitude is to exist as an instrument, as a thing. And this mode of existence is not abrogated if the thing is animated and chooses its material and intellectual food, if it does not feel its being-a-thing, if it is a pretty, clean, mobile thing.”


“The distinguishing feature of advanced industrial society is its effective suffocation of those needs which demand liberation—liberation also from that which is tolerable and rewarding and comfortable—while it sustains and absolves the destructive power and repressive function of the affluent society. Here, the social controls exact the overwhelming need for the production and consumption of waste; the need for stupefying work where it is no longer a real necessity; the need for modes of relaxation which soothe and prolong this stupefaction; the need for maintaining such deceptive liberties as free competition at administered prices, a free press which censors itself, free choice between brands and gadgets.”


“Technological rationality reveals its political character as it becomes the great vehicle of better domination, creating a truly totalitarian universe in which society and nation, mind and body are kept in a state of permanent mobilization for the defense of this universe.”


“The so-called consumer society and the politics of corporate capitalism have created a second nature of man which ties him libidinally and aggressively to the commodity form. The need for possessing, consuming, handling, and constantly renewing the gadgets, devices, instruments, engines, offered to and imposed upon the people, for using these wares even at the danger of one’s own destruction, has become a ‘biological’ need.'”


“The means of communication, the irresistible output of the entertainment and information industry carry with them prescribed attitudes and habits, certain intellectual and emotional reactions which bind the consumers to the producers and, through the latter to the whole social system. The products indoctrinate and manipulate; they promote a false consciousness which is immune against its falsehood…Thus emerges a pattern of one-dimensional thought and behavior.”


“By virtue of the way it has organized its technological base, contemporary industrial society tends to be totalitarian. For ‘totalitarian’ is not only a terroristic political coordination of society, but also a non-terroristic economic-technical coordination which operates through the manipulation of needs by vested interests.”


“[T]hose who devote their lives to earning a living are incapable of living a human existence.”


“Obscenity is a moral concept in the verbal arsenal of the establishment, which abuses the term by applying it, not to expressions of its own morality but to those of another.”


“Inasmuch as art preserves, with the promise of happiness, the memory of the goal that failed, it can enter, as a ‘regulative idea,’ the desperate struggle for changing the world. Against all fetishism of the productive forces, against the continued enslavement of individuals by the objective conditions (which remain those of domination), art represents the ultimate goal of all revolutions: the freedom and happiness of the individual.”


“Remembrance of the past may give rise to dangerous insights, and the established society seems to be apprehensive of the subversive contents of memory.”


“Technology serves to institute new, more effective, and more pleasant forms of social control and social cohesion.”


“Political freedom would mean liberation of the individuals from politics over which they have no effective control.”


“The revolution is for the sake of life, not death.”


“Bourgeois political economy…never gets to see man who is its real subject. It disregards the essence of man and his history and is thus in the profoundest sense not a ‘science of people’ but of non-people and of an inhuman world of objects and commodities.”


“In conditions of private property…’life-activity’ stands in the service of property instead of property standing the service of free life-activity.”


“Man is a thinking being. His reason enables him to recognize his own potentialities and those of his world. He is thus not at the mercy of the facts that surround him, but is capable of subjecting them to a higher standard, that of reason.”


“Man alone has the power of self-realization, the power to be a self-determining subject in all processes of becoming, for he alone has an understanding of potentialities and a knowledge of ‘notions.’ His very existence is the process of actualizing his potentialities, of molding his life according to the notions of reason.”


“The historical world, in so far as it is built, organized, and shaped by the conscious activity of thinking subjects, is a realm of mind. But the mind is fully realized and exists in its true form only when it indulges in its proper activity, namely, in art, religion, and philosophy.”


“Understanding finds nothing but itself when it seeks the essence behind the appearance of things.”


“We return to our analysis of qualities. Something preserves itself throughout this flux, something that passes into other things, but also stands against them as a being for itself. This something can exist only as the product of a process through which it integrates its otherness with its own proper being.”


“Being is continuous becoming.”


“The real field of knowledge is not the given fact about things as they are, but the critical evaluation of them as a prelude to passing beyond their given form. Knowledge deals with appearances in order to get beyond them….The concept of reality has thus turned into the concept of possibility. The real is not yet ‘actual,’ but is at first only the possibility of an actual.”


“The will is a unity of two different aspects or moments: first, the individual’s ability to abstract from every specific condition and, by negating it, to return to the absolute liberty of the pure ego; secondly, the individual’s act of freely adopting a concrete condition, freely affirming his existence as a particular, limited ego.”


“When capitalism is negated, social processes no longer stand under the rule of blind natural laws.”


“An integral part of totalitarian control is the attack on critical and independent thought. The appeal to facts is substituted for the appeal to reason. No reason can sanction a regime that uses the greatest productive apparatus man has ever created in the interest of an increasing restriction on human satisfactions—no reason except the fact that the economic system can be retained in no other way.”


“The total victimization of the individual that takes place is encouraged for the specific benefit of the industrial and political bureaucracy. It therefore cannot be justified on the ground of the individual’s true interest.”


“Either one defines ‘personality’ and ‘individuality’ in terms of their possibilities within the established form of civilization, in which case their realization is for the vast majority tantamount to successful adjustment. Or one defines them in terms of their transcending content, including their socially denied potentialities beyond (and beneath) their actual existence; in this case, their realization would imply transgression, beyond the established form of civilization, to radically new modes of ‘personality’ and ‘individuality’ incompatible with the prevailing ones. Today, this would mean ‘curing’ the patient to become a rebel or (which is saying the same thing) a martyr.”


“By virtue of the way it has organized its technological base, contemporary industrial society tends to be totalitarian. For ‘totalitarian’ is not only a terroristic political coordination of society, but also a non-terroristic economic-technical coordination which operates through the manipulation of needs by vested interests.”


“The capabilities (intellectual and material) of contemporary society are immeasurably greater than ever before—which means that the scope of society’s domination over the individual is immeasurably greater than ever before. Our society distinguishes itself by conquering the centrifugal social forces with Technology rather than Terror, on the dual basis of an overwhelming efficiency and an increasing standard of living.”


“The distinction between true and false consciousness, real and immediate interest still is meaningful. But this distinction itself must be validated. Men must come to see it and to find their way from false to true consciousness, from their immediate to their real interest. They can do so only if they live in need of changing their way of life, of denying the positive, of refusing. It is precisely this need which the established society manages to repress to the degree to which it is capable of ‘delivering the goods’ on an increasingly large scale, and using the scientific conquest of nature for the scientific conquest of man.”


“The category ‘society’ itself expressed the acute conflict between the social and political sphere—society as antagonistic to the state. Similarly, ‘individual,’ ‘class,’ ‘private,’ ‘family’ denoted spheres and forces not yet integrated with the established conditions—spheres of tension and contradiction. With the growing integration of industrial society, these categories are losing their critical connotation, and tend to become descriptive, deceptive, or operational terms. An attempt to recapture the critical intent of these categories, and to understand how the intent was cancelled by the social reality, appears from the outset to be regression from a theory joined with historical practice to abstract, speculative thought: from the critique of political economy to philosophy. This ideological character of the critique results from the fact that the analysis is forced to proceed from a position ‘outside’ the positive as well as negative, the productive as well as destructive tendencies in society.”


“If the individual were no longer compelled to prove himself on the market, as a free economic subject, the disappearance of this kind of freedom would be one of the greatest achievements of civilization. The technological processes of mechanization and standardization might release individual energy into a yet uncharted realm of freedom beyond necessity. The very structure of human existence would be altered; the individual would be liberated from the work world’s imposing upon him alien needs and alien possibilities. The individual would be free to exert autonomy over a life that would be his own.”


“All liberation depends on the consciousness of servitude, and the emergence of this consciousness is always hampered by the predominance of needs and satisfactions which, to a great extent, have become the individual’s own.”


“Under the rule of a repressive whole, liberty can be made into a powerful instrument of domination. The range of choice open to the individual is not the decisive factor in determining the degree of human freedom, but what can be chosen and what is chosen by the individual.”


“The spontaneous reproduction of superimposed needs by the individual does not establish autonomy; it only testifies to the efficacy of the control.”


“We are again confronted with one of the most vexing aspects of advanced industrial civilization: the rational character of its irrationality. Its productivity and efficiency, its capacity to increase and spread comforts, the extent to which this civilization transforms the object world into an extension of man’s mind and body makes the very notion of alienation questionable. The people recognize themselves in their commodities; they find their soul in their automobile, hi-fi set, split-level home, kitchen equipment. The very mechanism which ties the individual to his society has changed, and social control is anchored in the new needs which it has produced.”


“In the most advanced areas of this civilization, the social controls have been introjected to the point where even individual protest is affected at its roots. The intellectual and emotional refusal ‘to go along’ appears neurotic and impotent. This is the socio-psychological aspect of the political event that marks the contemporary period: the passing of the historical forces which, at the preceding stage of industrial society, seemed to represent the possibility of new forms of existence. But the term ‘introjection’ perhaps no longer describes the way in which the individual by himself reproduces and perpetuates the external controls exercised by his society. Introjection suggests a variety of relatively spontaneous processes by which a Self (Ego) transposes the ‘outer’ into the ‘inner.’ Thus introjection implies the existence of an inner dimension distinguished from and even antagonistic to the external exigencies—an individual consciousness and an individual unconscious apart from public opinion and behavior. The idea of ‘inner freedom’ here has its reality: it designates the private space in which man may become and remain ‘himself.’ Today this private space has been invaded and whittled down by technological reality. Mass production and mass distribution claim the entire individual, and industrial psychology has long since ceased to be confined to the factory. The manifold processes of introjection seem to be ossified in almost mechanical reactions. The result is, not adjustment but mimesis: an immediate identification of the individual with his society and, through it, with the society as a whole. This immediate, automatic identification (which may have been characteristic of primitive forms of association) reappears in high industrial civilization; its new ‘immediacy,’ however, is the product of a sophisticated, scientific management and organization. In this process, the ‘inner’ dimension of the mind in which opposition to the status quo can take root is whittled down. The loss of this dimension, in which the power of negative thinking—the critical power of Reason—is at home, is the ideological counterpart to the very material process in which advanced industrial society silences and reconciles the opposition. The impact of progress turns Reason into submission to the facts of life, and to the dynamic capability of producing more and bigger facts of the same sort of life. The efficiency of the system blunts the individuals’ recognition that it contains no facts which do not communicate the repressive power of the whole. If the individuals find themselves in the things which shape their life, they do so, not by giving, but by accepting the law of things—not the law of physics but the law of their society.”


“Ideas, aspirations, and objectives that, by their content, transcend the established universe of discourse and action are either repelled or reduced to terms of this universe.”


“Non-operational ideas are non-behavioral and subversive. The movement of thought is stopped at barriers which appear as the limits of Reason itself.”


“The tangible source of exploitation disappears behind the façade of objective rationality.”


“The slaves of developed industrial civilization are sublimated slaves.”


“This is the pure form of servitude: to exist as an instrument.”


“This mutual dependencies no longer the dialectical relationship between master and servant, which has been broken in the struggle for mutual recognition, but rather a vicious circle which encloses both the master and the servant. Do the technicians rule, or is their rule that of the others, who rely on the technicians as their planners and executors?”


“Man today can do more than the culture heros and half-gods; he has solved many insoluble problems. But he has also betrayed the hope and destroyed the truth which were preserved in the sublimations of higher culture. To be sure, the higher culture was always in contradiction with social reality, and only a privileged minority enjoyed its blessings and represented its ideals. The two antagonistic spheres of society have always coexisted; the higher culture has always been accommodating, while the reality was rarely disturbed by its ideals and its truth. Today’s novel feature is the flattening out of the antagonism between culture and social reality through the obliteration of the oppositional, alien, and transcendent elements in the higher culture by virtue of which it constituted another dimension of reality. This liquidation of two-dimensional culture takes place not through the denial and rejection of the “cultural values,” but through their wholesale incorporation into the established order, through their reproduction and display on a massive scale.”


“As the great words of freedom and fulfillment are pronounced by campaigning leaders and politicians, on the screens and radios and stages, they turn into meaningless sounds which obtain meaning only in the context of propaganda, business, discipline, and relaxation. This assimilation of the ideal with reality testifies to the extent to which the ideal has been surpassed. It is brought down from the sublimated realm of the soul or the spirit or the inner man, and translated into operational terms and problems. Here are the progressive elements of mass culture. The perversion is indicative of the fact that advanced industrial society is confronted with the possibility of a materialization of ideals. The capabilities of this society are progressively reducing the sublimated realm in which the condition of man was represented, idealized, and indicted. Higher culture becomes part of the material culture. In this transformation, it loses the greater part of its truth.”


“To live one’s love and hatred, to live that which one is means defeat, resignation, and death. The crimes of society, the hell that man has made or man become unconquerable cosmic forces.”


“In the form of the oeuvre, the actual circumstances are placed in another dimension where the given reality shows itself as that which it is. Thus it tells the truth about itself; its language ceases to be that of deception, ignorance, and submission. Fiction calls the facts by their name and their reign collapses; fiction subverts everyday experience and shows it to be mutilated and false.”


“Domination has its own aesthetics, and democratic domination has its democratic aesthetics.”


“Entertainment and learning are not opposites; entertainment may be the most effective mode of learning.”


“The avant-garde and the beatniks share in the function of entertaining without endangering the good conscience of the men of good will.”


“In its relation to the reality of daily life, the high culture of the past was many things—opposition and adornment, outcry and resignation. But it was also the appearance of the realm of freedom: the refusal to behave.”


“Society can afford to grant more than before because its interests have become the innermost drives of its citizens.”


“A whole dimension of human activity and passivity has been de-eroticized. The environment from which the individual could obtain pleasure—which he could cathect as gratifying almost as an extended zone of the body—has been rigidly reduced. Consequently, the ‘universe’ of libidinous cathexis is likewise reduced. The effect is a localization and contraction of libido, the reduction of erotic to sexual experience and satisfaction.”


“Technical progress and more comfortable living permit the systematic inclusion of libidinal components into the realm of commodity production and exchange. But no matter how controlled the mobilization of instinctual energy may be (it sometimes amounts to a scientific management of libido), no matter how much it may serve as a prop for the status quo—it is also gratifying to the managed individuals, just as racing the outboard motor, pushing the power lawn mower, and speeding the automobile are fun.”


“The range of socially permissible and desirable satisfaction is greatly enlarged, but through this satisfaction, the Pleasure Principle is reduced—deprived of the claims which are irreconcilable with the established society. Pleasure, thus adjusted, generates submission.”


“Freed from the sublimated form which was the very token of its irreconcilable dreams—a form which is the style, the language in which the story is told—sexuality turns into a vehicle for the bestsellers of oppression. This society turns everything it touches into a potential source of progress and of exploitation, of drudgery and satisfaction, of freedom and of oppression. Sexuality is no exception.”


“Institutionalized desublimation thus appears to be an aspect of the ‘conquest of transcendence’ achieved by the one-dimensional society. Just as this society tends to reduce, and even absorb opposition (the qualitative difference!) in the realm of politics and higher culture, so it does in the instinctual sphere. The result is the atrophy of the mental organs for grasping the contradictions and the alternatives and, in the one remaining dimension of technological rationality, the Happy Consciousness comes to prevail.”


“The people are led to find in the productive apparatus the effective agent of thought and action to which their personal thought and action can and must be surrendered. And in this transfer, the apparatus also assumes the role of a moral agent. Conscience is absolved by reification.”


“When the whole is at stake, there is no crime except that of rejecting the whole, or not defending it. Those who identify themselves with the whole, who are installed as the leaders and defenders of the whole can make mistakes, but they cannot do wrong—they are not guilty. They may become guilty again when this identification no longer holds, when they are gone.”


“This organization of functional discourse is of vital importance; it serves as a vehicle of coordination and subordination. The unified, functional language is an irreconcilably anti-critical and anti-dialectical language. In it, operational and behavioral rationality absorbs the transcendent, negative, oppositional elements of Reason.”


“This language controls by reducing the linguistic forms and symbols of reflection, abstraction, development, contradiction; by substituting images for concepts. It denies or absorbs the transcendent vocabulary; it does not search for but establishes and imposes truth and falsehood.”


“Functional communication is only the outer layer of the one-dimensional universe in which man is trained to target—to translate the negative into the positive so that he can continue to function, reduced but fit and reasonably well. The institutions of free speech and freedom of thought do not hamper the mental coordination with the established reality. What is taking place is a sweeping redefinition of thought itself, of its function and content. The coordination of the individual with his society reaches into those layers of the mind where the very concepts are elaborated which are designed to comprehend the established reality. These concepts are taken from the intellectual tradition and translated into operational terms—a translation which has the effect of reducing the tension between thought and reality by weakening the negative power of thought.”


“It is the sphere farthest removed from the concreteness of society which may show most clearly the extent of the conquest of thought by society.”


“Operational analysis cannot raise the decisive question whether the consent itself was not the work of manipulation—a question for which the actual state of affairs provides ample justification. The analysis cannot raise it because it would transcend its terms toward transitive meaning—toward a concept of democracy which would reveal the democratic election as a rather limited democratic process. Precisely such a non-operational concept is the one rejected by the authors as ‘unrealistic’ because it defines democracy on too articulate a level as the clear-cut control of representation by the electorate—popular control as popular sovereignty.”


“The world of immediate experience—the world in which we find ourselves living—must be comprehended, transformed, even subverted in order to become that which it really is.”


“If man has learned to see and know what really is, he will act in accordance with truth, Epistemology is in itself ethics, and ethics is epistemology.”


“The philosopher subjects experience to his critical judgment, and this contains a value judgment—namely, that freedom from toil is preferable to toil, and an intelligent life is preferable to a stupid life. It so happened that philosophy was born with these values. Scientific thought had to break this union of value judgment and analysis, for it became increasingly clear that the philosophic values did not guide the organisation of society.”


“In the human reality, all existence that spends itself in procuring the prerequisites of existence is thus an ‘untrue’ and unfree existence. Obviously this reflects the not at all ontological condition of a society based on the proposition that freedom is incompatible with the activity of procuring the necessities of life, that this activity is the ‘natural’ function of a specific class, and that cognition of the truth and true existence imply freedom from the entire dimension of such activity. Society still is organized in such a way that procuring the necessities of life constitutes the full-time and life-long occupation of specific social classes, which are therefore unfree and prevented from a human existence. In this sense, the classical proposition according to which truth is incompatible with enslavement by socially necessary labor is still valid.”


“For thought and speech are of a thinking and speaking subject, and if the life of the latter depends on the performance of a superimposed function, it depends on fulfilling the requirements of this function—thus it depends on those who control these requirements.”

Who is, in the classical conception, the subject that comprehends the ontological condition of truth and untruth? It is the master of pure contemplation (theoria), and the master of a practice guided by theoria, i.e., the philosopher-statesman. To be sure, the truth which he knows and expounds is potentially accessible to everyone. Led by the philosopher, the slave in Plato’s Meno is capable of grasping the truth of a geometrical axiom, i.e., a truth beyond change and corruption. But since truth is a state of Being as well as of thought, and since the latter is the expression and manifestation of the former, access to truth remains mere potentiality as long as it is not living in and with the truth. And this mode of existence is closed to the slave—and to anyone who has to spend his life procuring the necessities of life. Consequently, if men no longer had to spend their lives in the realm of necessity, truth and a true human existence would be in a strict and real sense universal. Philosophy envisages the equality of man but, at the same time, it submits to the factual denial of equality. For in the given reality, procurement of the necessities is the life-long job of the majority, and the necessities have to be procured and served so that truth (which is freedom from material necessities) can be. Here, the historical barrier arrests and distorts the quest for truth; the societal division of labor obtains the dignity of an ontological condition. If truth presupposes freedom from toil, and if this freedom is, in the social reality, the prerogative of a minority, then the reality allows such a truth only in approximation and for a privileged group. This state of affairs contradicts the universal character of truth, which defines and “prescribes” not only a theoretical goal, but the best life of man qua man, with respect to the essence of man. For philosophy, the contradiction is insoluble, or else it does not appear as a contradiction because it is the structure of the slave or serf society which this philosophy does not transcend. Thus it leaves history behind, unmastered, and elevates truth safely above the historical reality. There, truth is reserved intact, not as an achievement of heaven or in heaven, but as an achievement of thought—intact because its very notion expresses the insight that those who devote their lives to earning a living are incapable of living a human existence.”


“Nobody really thinks who does not abstract from that which is given, who does not relate the facts to the factors which have made them, who does not—in his mind—undo the facts. Abstractness is the very life of thought, the token of its authenticity.”


“To the degree to which they correspond to the given reality, thought and behavior express a false consciousness, responding to and contributing to the preservation of a false order of facts. And this false consciousness has become embodied in the prevailing technical apparatus which in turn reproduces it.”


“The apparatus defeats its own purpose if its purpose is to create a humane existence on the basis of a humanized nature.”


Leave a Reply