Conclusion: Marcuse’s Unfinished Legacy

  • Douglas Kellner
Part of the Contemporary Social Theory book series


Marcuse’s work is frequently presented as falling into three distinct stages: (1) his early ‘Heideggerian Marxist’ stage from 1928 to 1933; (2) his orthodox ‘critical theory’ stage from 1933 to 1941, which adhered to the version of Hegelian Marxism developed by the Institute for Social Research in exile; and (3) his post-Second World War writings, in which his work took on a distinctly ‘Marcusean’ cast.1 There are some problems, however, with this conventional way of interpreting Marcuse. Although the first two stages are relatively unified and constitute a coherent programme of social theory with political intent, the post-Second World War writings contain a series of ruptures and novel departures. Consequently, depiction of the post-1950 writings as a unified stage attributes a false unity to what is really a heterogeneous body of work.


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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    See Steigerwald, Herbert Marcuses ‘dritter Weg’; Lucien Goldmann, ‘Understanding Marcuse’, Partisan Review, 38, 3 (1971) pp. 247–62Google Scholar
  2. Jürgen Habermas, ‘Psychic Thermidor and the Rebirth of Rebellious Subjectivity’, Berkeley Journal of Sociology, vol. XXV (1980) pp. 1–12.Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    Schoolman claims in The Imaginary Witness that Marcuse is a ‘Mind Not be Be Changed by Place or Time’, pp. 162ff, and various Marxist-Leninists, like Steigerwald, criticize Marcuse for his ‘vacillations’.Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    On the concept of ‘prefigurative politics’, see Beyond the Fragments, by Sheila Rowbotham, Lynne Segal and Hilary Wainwright (Boston: Alyson, 1981).Google Scholar
  5. 4.
    On the ‘Crisis of Marxism’, see note 7 in the Introduction, and on capitalist crisis theories, see note 62 in Chapter 8 and Jürgen Habermas, Legitimation Crisis. Stanley Aronowitz suggested looking at the ‘crisis of Marxism’ as a periodic occurrence in the history of Marxism at a conference at the University of Illinois in July 1983.Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    Karl Korsch, cited in Chapter 4, note 87.Google Scholar
  7. 6.
    Conversation with Arthur Mitzman, Austin, Texas, October 1980.Google Scholar
  8. 7.
    Marcuse, ‘Theorte und Praxts’, in Zeit-Messungen, pp. 21–36.Google Scholar
  9. 8.
    See Kellner, ‘Frankfurt School Revisited’, on the Institute’s later distancing from Marxism.Google Scholar
  10. 9.
    Leszak Kolakowski has joined the ranks of those who denounce Marcuse’s utopianism. See Main Currents of Marxism: The Breakdown, vol. 3, (New York: Oxford, 1978) where Kolakowski presents a crude and sometimes grotesque caricature of Marcuse’s thought as a ‘totalitarian Utopia of the New Left’, pp. 396ff. He claims that Marcuse is ‘a prophet of semi-romantic anarchism in its most irrational form’ and dismisses him as ‘the ideologist of obscurantism’ who promotes a ‘totalitarian myth’ (pp. 415, 420). It is curious that the anti-Stalinist Kolakowski echoes Stalinist attacks on Marcuse; compare Steigerwald, Herbert Marcuses ‘dritter Weg’. Global dismissals of Marcuse shift from those who attack him for his pessimism to those who criticize him for his excessive utopianism. Both types of critique are one-sided and fail to explicate the many-sided complexity of Marcuse’s thought, which eludes traditional categorization.Google Scholar
  11. 10.
    See 8.2.4 and 10.2 below.Google Scholar
  12. 11.
    The term ‘romantic anti-capitalism’ is used by Ferenc Feher, among others, to characterize the early Lukács and Bloch. See Feher’s ‘The Last Phase of Romantic Anti-Capitalism’, New German Critique, 10 (1977) pp. 139–54.Google Scholar
  13. Characterizing the work of Lukács and Bloch as the last phase of romantic anti-capitalism fails to anticipate the work of Marcuse and segments of the New Left. ‘Romantic anti-capitalism’ seems to be, like ‘scientific Marxism’, a recurrent ideal-type within the history of Marxism. Compare Alvin W. Gouldner, ‘Romanticism and Classicism’, and Paul Breines, ‘Marxism, Romanticism, and the Case of Georg Lukács’, Studies in Romanticism, 16/4 (Fall 1977) pp. 473ff.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 12.
    On the concept of an ‘unfinished legacy’, see Ernst Bloch, Erbschaft dieser Zeit.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Douglas Kellner 1984

Authors and Affiliations

  • Douglas Kellner
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of Texas at AustinUSA

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