Herbert Marcuse Biography

Herbert Marcuse, a German sociologist, philosopher, and political theorist, was a key figure in the renowned Frankfurt School. Forced to flee to the United States due to the Nazi movement, Marcuse’s Marxist and Freudian critiques greatly influenced the leftist student rebellions of the 1960s. His notable works, including ‘One-Dimensional Man’ and ‘Eros and Civilization,’ continue to be regarded as significant literature of the Frankfurt School. Known as the “Father of the New Left,” Marcuse’s impact on socialist and academic thought remains enduring.

Quick Facts

  • German Celebrities Born In July Died At Age: 81
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Erica Sherover (m. 1976), Inge Neumann (m. 1955–1972), Sophie Wertheim (m. 1924–1951)
    • Father: Carl Marcuse
    • Mother: Gertrud Kreslawsky
    • Children: Peter Marcuse
  • Born Country: Germany
  • Sociologists
  • Philosophers
  • Died on: July 29, 1979
  • Place of death: Starnberg, Germany
  • Ancestry: German American
  • Notable Alumni: Humboldt University, University Of Freiburg
  • Cause of Death: Stroke
  • City: Berlin, Germany
  • More Facts
  • Education: University Of Freiburg, Humboldt University

Childhood & Early Life

Herbert Marcuse was born in Berlin, on July 19, 1898, to Carl Marcuse and Gertrud Kreslawsky. His parents were German Jewish. In 1916, he joined the German army but instead of fighting in World War I, he worked in horse stables in Berlin. Marcuse then joined a ‘Soldiers’ Council’ and took part in the socialist Spartacist uprising. In 1922, he completed his PhD in German literature at the ‘University of Freiburg.’ His thesis was on the German Künstlerroman. He then worked as a bookseller in Berlin. In 1928, he went to Freiburg to study with Edmund Husserl. During this time, he wrote a habilitation with Martin Heidegger, which was published as ‘Hegel’s Ontology and the Theory of Historicity’ in 1932. It laid stress on Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s ideas. His academic ambitions came to a halt due to the rise of the Third Reich in 1933. Soon, he joined the ‘Institute for Social Research,’ better known as the ‘Frankfurt School.’

Emigration to the United States

In 1934, he accompanied the ‘Institute for Social Research’ to ‘Columbia University’ in the United States. In 1940, he acquired the citizenship of the United States. He did not go back to Germany to live, but continued to remain one of the major theorists of the Frankfurt School, along with Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer. Soon, he published ‘Reason and Revolution’ (1940), a thorough study of Karl Marx and G. W. F. Hegel.

World War II

During World War II, Marcuse joined the US ‘Office of War Information’ (OWI) whose prime agenda was to work on anti-Nazi projects. In 1943, he joined the ‘Research and Analysis Branch’ of the ‘Office of Strategic Services’ (OSS), which was the origin of the present ‘Central Intelligence Agency’ (CIA). It was founded by William J. Donovan. Under the directorship of ‘Harvard’ historian William L. Langer, the branch was the largest American research institute in early 20th century. In March that year, Marcuse joined Frankfurt School luminary Franz Neumann at R & A’s ‘Central European Section.’ There, he worked as a senior analyst.

After the War

In 1945, the ‘OSS’ was dissolved. Following this, Marcuse joined the ‘US Department of State,’ as the chief of the ‘Central European’ section. He worked there till 1951. Marcuse stepped into his teaching career in 1952, working as a political theorist at ‘Columbia University’ and then ‘Harvard University.’ From 1958 to 1965, Marcuse worked at ‘Brandeis University.’ He then joined the ‘University of California San Diego’ and worked there till his retirement. While working at ‘Brandeis University,’ he wrote ‘One-Dimensional Man’ (1964), which remains to be his most famous work. The book was his criticism of the advanced industrial society, especially the one he had seen in the United States. He wrote that Americans consumed products only because they were available.

Revolution and the New Left

Marcuse joined the ‘University of California’ in San Diego in 1965. The same year, he released his essay ‘Repressive Tolerance,’ which stated that the United States was repressive. During this time, he also collaborated on ‘A Critique of Pure Tolerance’ (1965). It was a time of turmoil and student uprisings, which eventually led to the French students’ revolt in May 1968. This led Marcuse to openly speak for the revolts. In July 1968, he disappeared from California after receiving a threat from the ‘Ku Klux Klan.’ In October 1968, his opposers launched a campaign to remove him from his teaching post. His open views on sex were criticized by Pope Paul in 1969. His ‘An Essay on Liberation’ (1969) was written prior to the French students’ revolt. Marcuse supported the revolts as an avenue of fighting the industrial society. In 1970, his ‘Five Lectures: Psychoanalysis, Politics, and Utopia’ was published. In 1972, his work ‘Counterrevolution and Revolt’ was released. The same year, ‘Studies in Critical Philosophy’ was published. It was a study of authority. In 1978, he wrote ‘The Aesthetic Dimension: Toward a Critique of Marxist Aesthetics,’ focusing on Marx. Some of his other works were the article ‘Remarks on a Redefinition of Culture’ in ‘Daedalus: Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ (1965), ‘Negations: Essays in Critical Theory’ (1968), ‘Art and Revolution’ in ‘Partisan Review’ (1972), ‘Marxism and Feminism’ in ‘Women’s Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal’ (1974), ‘The Obsolescence of the Freudian Concept of Man’ (1989), and ‘Philosophy and Critical Theory’ in ‘Critical Theory and Society: A Reader’ (1989). He also spoke about how nature and man were inseparable, in ‘Ecology and the Critique of Modern Society.’

Family, Personal Life, & Death

In 1924, Marcuse got married to mathematician Sophie Wertheim. They had a son, Peter, in 1928. After Sophie’s death in 1951, Marcuse got married to Inge Neumann in 1955. Inge was the widow of his friend Franz Neumann, who had died in 1954. After Inge’s death in 1973, Marcuse got married for the third time, to Erica Sherover in 1976. Erica was a former graduate student and was 40 years younger than him. Marcuse breathed his last on July 29, 1979, at 81, following a stroke while on a visit to Starnberg, Germany. His ashes were unearthed in the United States in 2003 and then interred in the ‘Dorotheenstädtischer Cemetery’ in Berlin. Peter Marcuse later became a professor of urban planning at ‘Columbia University.’ Irene Marcuse, Marcuse’s granddaughter, is a novelist. Harold Marcuse, his grandson, works as a professor of history at the ‘University of California, Santa Barbara.’

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