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One-Dimensional Man: Celebrating Fifty Years of a Classic Text

Herbert Marcuse with Angela Davis in 1970 (Nancy Chase for Newsweek)
Herbert Marcuse with Angela Davis in 1970 (Nancy Chase)

July 19th marks the 116th anniversary of the birth of Herbert Marcuse, the German-born university professor and internationally celebrated social theorist, philosopher, and political activist who went on to become one of America’s most influential intellectuals in the 1960s and 1970s. His analysis of capitalist consumerism and social repression ignited the New Left, inspiring such radical scholars and activists as Abbie Hoffman, Kathy Acker, and Angela Davis, who notably claimed that “Herbert Marcuse taught me that it was possible to be an academic and an activist, a scholar and a revolutionary.”

One-Dimensional_Man_published_in_1964This year also marks the 50th anniversary of Beacon’s publication of Marcuse’s most famous work, One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society. One-Dimensional Man resonated with the ideas of the vociferous student left of the 1960s and earned Marcuse the nickname “father of the New Left.” In the book, Marcuse critiqued both capitalist society and the disappointment of Soviet communist society. To honor the 50th anniversary of One-Dimensional Man, the International Herbert Marcuse Society will hold a special conference, celebrating its publication and exploring its cultural legacy.

But the publication of Marcuse’s landmark treatise almost never happened. A decade had passed since Beacon’s publication of Marcuse’s Eros and Civilization in 1955, which the New York Times called “the most significant general treatment of psychoanalytic theory since Freud himself ceased publication.” There were fears, however, that One-Dimensional Man lacked a discernable market, and, in some quarters, concern over Marcuse’s far-left politics.

Former Beacon editor Arnold Tovell was ultimately responsible for bringing Herbert Marcuse back to Beacon after a decade’s absence—an act that bore fruit in more ways than one.

“We had this very good working relationship,” remembered Tovell of his years with Marcuse. “What is much more important is that Herbert became a fundamental advisor to me about others. And it is because of Herbert Marcuse that Beacon has published Barrington Moore and Jürgen Habermas. I went to Germany . . . in ’69, and got together with Habermas, and proceeded to commit Beacon to publishing seven books.”

'The Essential Marcuse' edited by Andrew Feenberg and William LeissPublishing One-Dimensional Man was a risk that more than paid off. Though it originally sold modestly, within a few years it was selling 50,000 copies a year. Marcuse’s subsequent works for Beacon were An Essay on Liberation (1969), Five Lectures (1970), Counterrevolution and Revolt (1972), Studies in Critical Philosophy (1973), and The Aesthetic Dimension (1978). That most of Marcuse’s books remain in print is evidence of his extraordinary foresight and vision, and of the dedication and faith of his colleagues and supporters.

Helene Atwan, the director of Beacon since 1995, agrees. “Marcuse, Habermas, and Moore all remain in print with Beacon all these decades later. We were proud to issue a new volume, The Essential Marcuse, just a few years ago. His work is amazing, really an invaluable legacy.”