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Saturday, July 30, 2022


My son, Patrick, sent me this link to a 1978 Brian McGee interview with Herbert Marcuse.  I just watched it and it is so perfect for my purposes that I will assign it in my course. It was great fun seeing Herbert again. If you read along the text at the bottom of the picture you can see all the places where they get his words wrong, which fits perfectly with the story I will tell of the first time I met him.


Tony Couture said...

There are many more shared resources on Herbert Marcuse located on YouTube, such as this 1964 audio only interview with Marcuse about the book One-Dimensional Man itself.

Marcuse was a celebrity so he left many records in media before his death in 1979.

The book called The Essential Marcuse (2007 anthology) edited by Andrew Feenberg and William Leiss, also contains important texts such as "Repressive Tolerance" and "The Foundations of Historical Materialism" (Marcuse's 1932 review of Marx's Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844) which explains his version of neo-Marxism in accessible terms.

The editors of The Essential Marcuse claim also that another selection, Remarks on a Redefinition of Culture (1965), "summarizes many of the arguments of [One-Dimensional Man] in more accessible language" (p 13 ). Their anthology also contains an important 1977 interview with Marcuse about his relations with Heidegger and Heidegger's politics.

Marcuse confesses that he "believed there could be some combination between existentialism and Marxism, precisely because of their insistence on concrete analysis of the actual human existence, human beings and their world. But I soon realized that Heidegger's concreteness was to a great extent a phony, a false concreteness, and that in fact his philosophy was just as abstract and just as removed from reality, even avoiding reality, as the philosophies which at that time had dominated German universities, namely a rather dry brand of neo-Kantianism, neo-Hegelianism, neo-Idealism, but also positivism" (p 117).

Marcuse wanted to write more authentically than Heidegger, but many of the primary sources that Marcuse is quoting and re-interpreting are written in obscure philosophical jargon, so his whole creativity is pointed towards breaking through the jargons that turn us into happy slaves and distract us from social realities. Dysfunctional language games must be replaced by more authentic and truthful social communication.

Students today are more likely to listen to an audio interview or watch a video clip involving Marcuse than to read a difficult text written by a former German philosophy professor trying to make sense to the Sixties rebel generation. After watching the video or listening to the audio, my students become more interested in struggling with their reading and taking notes or reacting to the arguments. It is a multimedia process and "mash up" process of mixing together many ways of understanding arguments that is needed in higher education, many links and no more chains of copyright limiting student access.

s. wallerstein said...

The possibility of Nancy Pelosi visiting Taiwan and a possible strong Chinese reaction has been in the news here, but I see it less in the U.S. media, although I don't really follow the U.S. media with much attention.

Folks here see a possible military crisis resulting and that the U.S. (the Biden administration) is baiting China as they did Putin before the Ukraine invasion. What do you people think of what's happening?

Ed said...

For aaall and Anonymous:

A Refutation of Mearsheimer:

aaall said...

Thanks, good article. This is deranged:

s.w., the ridiculous anti-communist hysteria of the cold war never stops paying dividends. Abetting the warlord Chiang Kai Shek's fiction that the rump government on Taiwan was China hasn't worked out well. They should have declared independence in the late 1940s.

Of course the PRC like its antecedents is, like Russia, a land empire and land empires are inherently evil (back in the day I used to join in protesting at the PRC consulate in L.A. over Tibet).

I don't think blinking would be a good idea.

Jerry Brown said...

I am glad I watched the interview. To be honest, I wanted to take a nap, and when McGee began, I figured it was a sure thing I would be sleeping in no time. But not at all. Suddenly I find that this Marcuse is articulating both my vague criticisms of Marxists and also where I think Marx was mostly right. It is a rare day when you find out you might be a frankfurter.

Well, thank you for posting this, and thanks to Patrick by extension.

LFC said...


"Folks here see a possible military crisis resulting and that the U.S. (the Biden administration) is baiting China as they did Putin before the Ukraine invasion. What do you people think of what's happening?"

I'm sure WaPo and NYT have covered this but my knowledge comes from PBS NewsHr's coverage.

I disagree w your statement above on a couple of counts:

1) The Biden admin does not control Pelosi in these matters and I strongly suspect the Biden State Dept wd prefer she not go. So this is not the Biden admin "baiting China."

2) I also don't think I wd say that the Biden admin baited Putin before the Ukraine invasion.

3) separately, on aaall's point, the US has a one-China policy, which means that since the US established diplomatic relations w the PRC, it has not "abet[ted] the fiction" that Taiwan is China. It does have defense ties w Taiwan, but that's a separate issue from the issue of recognition.

LFC said...

I watched the first 20 mins. or so of the Marcuse interview. I might see the rest, not sure.

s. wallerstein said...


Since you are interested in U.S. foreign policy, I imagine that the viewpoint of non-U.S./non U.K. media interests you, in this case, of Raul Sohr in CNN-Chile, that is, in Chilean mainstream media.

Sohr, who is CNN-Chile's international affairs expert, does not buy the story that Biden cannot control Pelosi, which is not to say that he controls her entirely, simply that he has the means to stop her from visiting Taiwan.

In my experience, as someone living in Chile, the viewpoint of non-Chilean media on our
reality may miss some details that Chilean media will never miss, but on the other hand,
their big picture view offers a valuable perspective that Chilean media at times do not see or pretend not to see. There are always many perspectives on any event, some are distorted or false, but many others are fairly accurate, just seen from another standpoint.

LFC said...


Well, it's true that in these matters there are often differing views each w some elements of accuracy. I actually don't know whether Biden cd prevent her from going (I suspect not) or how much he cares about this. I do know that Susan Shirk (I think that's the name), a China specialist interviewed not long ago on the NewsHr, thinks a Pelosi visit to Taiwan, in view of both the intl situation and the domestic situation in China, wd be a bad idea.

s. wallerstein said...


Even Thomas Friedman, hardly an anti-imperialist, says it's not the time to "poke China"
(his words).

Tony Couture said...

Herbert Marcuse was a creature of his times and found his Guru of the New Left identity in that mortal cage of time from 1898-1979, particularly in his migration to America and continuing tension between his traditional German habits of writing obscure philosophy systematically and his attraction to American habits of pragmatism in writing and direct action which undermines all systems.

Where can you find context to explain Marcuse to present-day students of radical philosophy? In books such as The Sixties (1987) by Todd Gitlin. Here is Gitlin's narrative for Marcuse as inspiration for protests:

"One Lower East Side cluster, formed in thee fall of 1967, became movement legend. Their name alone guaranteed it: Up Against the Wall, Motherfuckers, taken from a line in a poem by beat-turned-black-nationalist LeRoi Jones. (The next line was: "This is a stick-up.") Cultural revolutionaries weren't content to name themselves as a Committee "for" This or That--"for" something out there, separate from themselves; they wanted to embody direct statement. Their theoretical inspiration was a hybrid of European anarchism (especially the idea that there is no higher principle of organization than free association) and the Marxism of the Frankfurt School, whose best known exponent was Herbert Marcuse, according to whom mass entertainment distracted attention from the "one-dimensional" closure of society, while high art had sunk into an affirmation of the status quo. The Motherfuckers' core idea was organizational: the "affinity group," "a street gang with an analysis." In theory, "armed cadres at the centers of conflict" during "the revolutionary period itself," intimations of the new society after the revolution" (p 239).

Then Gitlin identifies Marcuse with the summer of 1967:

"We were drawn to books that seemed to reveal the magnitude of what we were up against, to explain our helplessness. Probably the most compelling was Herbert Marcuse's One-Dimensional Man, with its stark Hegelian dirge for the Marxist dream of an insurgent proletariat: a book of the Fifties, really, though not published until 1964 (paperback 1966). Gradually its reputation swelled among the New Left for its magisterial account of a society that, Marcuse argued, had lost the very ability to think or speak opposition, and whose working class was neutered by material goods and technology. Some unimaginable radical break, some "Great Refusal," was apparently impossible but deeply necessary. Impossible and necessary: that is how we felt about our task" (p 246). All quotes are from the 1993 revised edition.

Jerry Fresia said...

Re the LFC-SW discussion:

Paraphrasing Julian Assange, the point of US foreign policy is not to foment war but to foment endless war. Thomas Friedman's warning that it is not the time to "poke" the China bear implies that there is a right time, and it may be around the corner.

LFC said...

I happened to learn yesterday, in the sort of thing that link-following has made somewhat easy, that Franz Neumann's son wrote a memoir about that Up Against the Wall... group.

Anonymous said...

Somewhat to do with intellectual/political fashions and the passage of time (and on US-China relations):

and an extending response

Free Julian Assange—happy to see you reference him, Jerry F.—whose only ‘crime’ has been to reveal some of the truth about the system these two arguments call into question. I guess repressive tolerance was failing to do the job.

aaall said...

LFC, Taiwan is a ball of worms but the PLAN didn't exist in the late 1940s/early 1950s, ambiguity and foresight should have resulted in independence.


s. wallerstein said...


Your link looks like a selection from the complete works of J. Edgar Hoover.

Marc Susselman said...

Given how China has treated Hong Kong, suppressing dissent and jailing protesters, I can understand that Taiwan and its people are nervous about China’s intentions. Why should Nancy Pelosi, or any American, care that China does not want any American politician to visit Taiwan, sending a message of support. After Chiang Kai Shek escaped to Taiwan, and left China to the control of Mao Tse Tung, the mainland Chinese did not fare particularly well. If the U.S. made threats to foreign diplomats about their visiting Cuba or Venezuela, everyone would denounce the U.S. for its imperialism. Just because China views Taiwan as its property, what right does it have to tell foreign diplomats that they had better not visit Taiwan?

s. wallerstein said...

No one here has justified China. However, some, including Thomas Friedman, not exactly an apologist for the far left, believe that "we" shouldn't be poking (his word) China at this moment, since first of all, "we" are already engaged with a conflict in Ukraine and second, because the Chinese have so far been very cooperative in not actively supporting Russia in Ukraine, but that could change if "we" poke them.

aaall said...

Actually Hoover was a dummy who got his start with the Palmer raids and never got past that. He lasted because he had files on everyone who could fire him.

The KGB pdf lays out what every nation with the chops does. If it wasn't so dangerous, the penetration of the various organs of the American Right would be funny. Always keep in mind that they never got all the Americans.

If Russia holds its phony referendums in eastern Ukraine and the PRC recognizes them then maybe a similar but legitimate referendum in Taiwan? Nancy may just slip in out without fanfare.

Back in the 1960s I knew an exchange student from Hong Kong. In various discussions it came out that he has a lot of anger over the Opium Wars. Back in the Ming Dynasty China screwed up big time by trashing its Navy. Long memories. Now that it again has a real navy and air force Taiwan makes a cool carrier.

Marc Susselman said...


Your writing style reminds me of Walter Winchell speaking.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting, aaall, that you phrase it as China "trashing its Navy." Long ago I heard someone--I think it was Immanuel Wallerstein, but I'm probably wrong--telling the story of how China put together a massive fleet of ships and went exploring as far as, I think, Africa. But then sailed home again and decided that the attempt to dominate distant parts of the world wasn't for them. As you can tell from my telling, the lecturer was comparing the Chinese actions very positively in comparison to the Western/ European/American tendency to dominate others in distant places.

aaall said...

Good Evening Mr. and Mrs. America, and All the Ships at Sea:

Anon, because of the problems around Confucian scholasticism, the prevailing faction in the court made a world class blunder. Whatever the reasons, scrapping what was arguably the world's best navy just as European nations were figuring things out was going to end one way.

Domination didn't have to be the goal. They could have done well just trading. Certainly couldn't have done worse then the Portuguese, Spanish, or Dutch. Just as I don't idealize Ukraine, I certainly don't idealize any dynasty or emperor. As I have previously pointed out land empires are evil.

LFC said...

Chiang wasn't interested in independence, was he? He was interested in maintaining that his regime represented the legitimate govt of all of China.

I frankly grow a little weary of a certain ahistorical quality of assertions to the effect that X should have resulted in Y, when the relevant actors were ideologically and politically opposed to Y. Foresight probably should have resulted in a lot of things, but I'm not sure that means that Taiwan's declaring independence now wd be a sensible step. I'm strongly inclined to think it wd not be.

Anonymous said...

So, aaall, the Portuguese, the Spanish, and the Dutch were merely traders? Domination wasn't what they were into. I'm sure many places in the world would be very surprised to hear that. You're certainly right on one point, however: they couldn't have done worse.

Anonymous said...

I’ve just come across this review by Raymond Geuss, someone who occasionally gets a mention on this blog (and who did write a book on critical theory —that’s my acknowledgement of the Marcusean theme of this thread). It’s quite amusing and informative. And it includes a photo of a cat.

Here’s how it ends (which would seem to cast, if only indirectly, a negative light on Marcuse whom so many seem to regard as obscure):

"In contrast to most books about political philosophy, Brand’s actually engages
with facts that we can recognize as part of our everyday lives and has a remarkable
number of concrete political suggestions, such as dismantling any corporation with
a revenue larger than the GNP of the smallest state in the world (81), limiting the
lifespans of corporation (225–39), re-localizing food production (86), prohibiting
private security arrangements (113–16), cancelling private debt (92–7, 171–3), creating
co-ops (240–50), decriminalizing drug-use, and so on. I confess that I hadn’t really
registered Brand’s existence until his book came out, but when I read it I was
surprised to find it an absolute treasure trove of keen observations. So, let me end
with one of these:

"We know ... that the dismantling and privatisation of the NHS is not for the benefit of us, the people who use it. It benefits the government that proposed it and the companies that are purchasing it. Nobody voted for it because nobody would be stupid enough to give us the option. (124)" "

Tony Couture said...

Herbert Marcuse's most relevant essay for present-day students of radical philosophy is "Repressive Tolerance" (1965) which speaks directly to the rebel students and American public of the Sixties and yet also resonates with the apparent interests of the more vocal students or militant academics in higher education in 2022. It attacks political liberalism as a dying philosophy which uses the value of tolerance to preserve the capitalist status quo rather than protect dissent against its domination of our lives, so if they are trying to decide between a stable constitutional liberal democracy which can be reformed and a more experimental, authentically liberated democracy which is self-correcting rather than self-validating, it will still make sense.

A careful (micro-)dose of illiberalism is supposed to cure the flawed individualistic liberty system and its inequalities, so a shock method is needed to "break the concreteness of oppression" (p 33, in The Essential Marcuse version of the essay). Marcuse is making an argument for methodological radicalism in philosophy, and moving away from the abstract fairness ideals of Rawls in his meta-philosophy that we can call methodological conservatism by contrast to Marcuse. The revolutionary jargon of Marcuse in 1965 is eerily the same as the dissenting student academic jargons of 2022, as if nothing had changed or progressed from a radical perspective.

Politicized or impure tolerance is not perverted tolerance according to Marcuse (as it is for Rawls) but the right form for culture war to take concretely. Tolerance is not to be treated as an end in itself any more, it is to be bent to our liberated political agenda. Students are to resist by losing all tolerance of "the privileged position held by the predominant interests" (p 35). Marcuse was worried about nuclear war when he wrote: "But society cannot be indiscriminate where the pacification of existence, where freedom and happiness themselves are at stake: here, certain things cannot be said, certain ideas cannot be expressed, certain policies cannot be proposed, certain behavior cannot be permitted without making tolerance an instrument for the continuation of servitude" (p 37). Contemporary resistance says the same thing about nuclear war, and adds climate change denial to what cannot be tolerated.

Purity of heart (as idealized by Rawls or others) and politically neutral interpretation have to be abandoned in order to "break the established universe of meaning (and the practice enclosed in this universe) in order to enable man to find out what is true and false" (p 43). Students today need a carefully reversed bias, "information slanted in the opposite direction" (p 44). Students need to be shocked by philosophy, their normal world ruptured in Marcuse's jargon: "This rupture--prerequisite and token of all freedom of thought and of speech--cannot be accomplished within the established framework of abstract tolerance and spurious objectivity because these are precisely the factors which precondition the mind against the rupture" (p 44).

So radicals cancel culture instead of tolerating it: they demand "the withdrawal of toleration of speech and assembly from groups and movements which promote aggressive policies, armament, chauvinism, discrimination on the grounds of race and religion, or which oppose the extension of public services, social security, medical care, etc. Moreover, the restoration of freedom of thought may necessitate new and rigid restrictions on teaching and practices in the educational institutions which, by their very methods and concepts, serve to enclose the mind within the established universe of discourse and behavior--thereby precluding a priori a rational evaluation of the alternatives" (p 45).

Tony Couture said...

Part 2 of argument:

The big question according to Herbert Marcuse: "By whom, and according to what standards, can the political distinction between true and false, progressive and made and its validity justified?" (p 47). This distinction "can be made rationally on empirical grounds" (p 48) by a subversive elite (philosopher-anti-kings) that has developed truthful consciousness distinct from "the false consciousness that has become the general consciousness" (p 51). This means more censorship in order to make freedom progress: "To be sure, this is censorship, even precensorship, but openly directed against the more or less hidden censorship that permeates the free media" (p 51). Marcuse's methodological radicalism is supposed to "provide the Archimedean point for a larger emancipation" (p 52).

But has he really explained "the existence of demonstrable criteria for aggressive, regressive, destructive forces" (p 57), or simply presupposed those crucial criteria for all future looking social critics? Does his whole argument hang on the claim to moral superiority of those resistance elites that dissent and lead forward? "Repressive Tolerance" is much more accessible to present-day students of radical philosophy than anything else Marcuse wrote with his impurity of heart methods.

Anonymous said...

Great and insightful

aaall said...

"Moreover, the restoration of freedom of thought may necessitate new and rigid restrictions on teaching and practices in the educational institutions which, by their very methods and concepts, serve to enclose the mind within the established universe of discourse and behavior--thereby precluding a priori a rational evaluation of the alternatives" (p 45)."

How is this different then what DeSantis is doing in Florida? I often see arguments like the above on far right sites.

Anon, I was referencing China as your take from the lecture seemed to be either conqueror or abandon overseas adventures.  Apologies if that wasn't clear.  Back in the day there were investigations by the Portuguese and Spanish Courts on how the early expeditions behaved and they were often scathing ("we're all going to hell," etc.  Las Casas is an example in the New World).

China traded all the way to India and Africa.   They has advanced metallurgy.  They could have been contenders.  Instead they got a century of humiliation.

LFC, I'm sure the nation that made Guatemala safe for United Fruit and helped make Iran safe for UK oil interests could find a way to deal with a Chinese warlord.

As I recall Taiwan had ceded to Japan by treaty. A little foresight should have resulted in a slightly different occupation after the Japanese surrender. Analyzing screw-ups should result in better decisions going forward.


Viva la Quince Brigada

s. wallerstein said...


"How is this different then what DeSantis is doing in Florida? I often see arguments like the above on far right sites."

Since we never agree about anything, I wanted to note that here I agree with you.

Anonymous said...

Hello Professor Wolff, I am enjoying immensely your lectures on Ideological Critique. I will be reading In Defence of Anarchism. Also with Adam Smith's An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. I think that all should make for quite a good system.

-Giovanni Tamburino

LFC said...

I don't have time or inclination right now to continue our historical conversation/argument. We'll agree to disagree.

Achim Kriechel (A.K.) said...

Finally, it becomes very tight when the "philosopher-anti-kings" appear and are supposed to explain to the masses where tolerance is allowed to turn and where not. I don't know exactly what meaning the term "subversive elite" has in the USA, here where I live, in Germany, there were people at the end of the 70s who felt called to this throne and who put an end to what they called "false tolerance". They were called the Baader-Meinhof Group or RAF (Red Army Faction).

It is perhaps too little and perhaps even for all time too little, but it could be that the truth in a "truthful consciousness" is like milk, which one must tread every morning, so long until it has become butter. I mean, not even Kant could indicate where "the moral law in me" should come from.

I remember that Hannah Arendt in an interview rejected the term political philosopher as a designation of her profession. She said succinctly that this had always gone wrong since Plato.

RidiculousIcculus said...

But does voting in presidential elections actually matter? See, e.g., Mike Huemer from Colorado here:

RisiculousIcculus said...

Whoops, wrong thread, pardon!

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