Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Marcuse’s optimism, that the alienating effect of commodification could be overcome, greatly influenced the 1960s counterculture


By Peter Thompson

The Guardian, UK
April 15, 2013 – When the student generation took off in the 1960s across Europe, in Germany at least it was Herbert Marcuse who had the greatest influence. This is because whereas Adorno, with his highly pessimistic philosophical statements about historical development, could talk about a negative progression of humanity from the "slingshot to the megaton bomb", Marcuse continued to maintain a more optimistic view of what could be achieved. Indeed, when 1968 happened, Marcuse said that he was happy to say that all of their theories had been proved completely wrong. Also, Marcuse wrote in a far more accessible way about the ways in which philosophy and politics were intertwined.

Whereas the French structural Marxist philosopher Lois Althusser had been at pains to draw a clear dividing line between early and late Marx, Marcuse maintained that the themes of the early works of Marx, concerned as they were with estrangement and alienation, were carried over and indeed deepened in the later, more economic texts. As he puts it: "if we look more closely at the description of alienated labour [in Marx] we make a remarkable discovery: what is here described is not merely an economic matter. It is the alienation of man, the devaluation of life, the perversion and loss of human reality. In the relevant passage, Marx identifies it as follows: ‘the concept of alienated labour, ie of alienated man, of estranged labour, of estranged life, of estranged man.’"