Heidegger & Marx: Marcuse’s Dialectic

marx and heidegger

In this piece republished by CSS, Feenberg develops concepts of liberation within the Heideggerian and Marxian framework as developed by Marcuse. While the Center has found much of Marcuse’s theses to be either unfinished or flawed, it is in the process of understanding the questions posed that the contribution to the literature and the corpus, on the whole, can be found.

Feenberg approaches Marcuse as a ‘Left-Heideggerian’, a category which Abromeit disputes, and instead places Marcuse within the Marxian tradition. The relevance or utility of the need to categorize Marcuse as one or the other is, at first passing, irrelevant. But it is through an understanding of the deep problems within Western academia, censorship, its funding sources, and ‘personality contests’ between the men that academia attracts, that we find the real reasons.

It echoes the treatment and categorization of Nietzsche by Walter Kaufman – the well-known scholar who translated and annotated critical English language versions of works like ‘On the Genealogy of Morals’ and ‘Ecce Homo’. His aim is to sanitize Nietzsche, to misrepresent Nietzsche’s views on Rome and Judea, to present Nietzsche as either anti-science or anti-nature, and the core purpose of his ostensible philosemitism.  Yet his introduction of Nietzsche to the Anglophone world defined its interpretation for several generations. But Kaufman’s revisioning of Nietzsche was justified within its paradigm.

How so? If Nietzsche and Heidegger are going to be categorized as worthy subjects of study for their insights and revealed truths, and not as examples of mistakes, Western academia finds itself in the position of also having to categorize them as something other than how they were understood by political actors in the last century.

In the case of Nietzsche, it is increasingly impermissible in Western academia to embrace his call for a transvaluation of values without first changing the real content of his other, though related, ideas. Rather than an apologia, we find a rewriting of the real meaning and historical record.

In the case of Marcuse, Abromeit’s ideological and career commitments in light of the above described conditions prevailing in academia, force a position in which he concludes the best contributions of Marcuse have a lineage traced through the acceptable Marxian tradition and not from its Heideggerian foundation. It is, as we can see not surprising, that Marcuse’s work – the nature of its flawed or incomplete conclusions despite the posing of valid and new questions – also a reflection of the purpose of the Columbia University Institute for Social Research (known also  as the Frankfurt School), which may have influenced or predetermined these errors.

The Center reproduces these for the public without alteration, towards a broader and more meaningful public discourse in this exciting and revolutionary post-academy age.

[Originally titled ‘Marcuse’s Dialectic’ – Forthcoming in Transvaluation of Values & Radical Change: Five Lectures]

by Andrew Feenberg


old-english-calligraphy-alphabet-this is how Marcuse began his lecture at the famous “Dialectics of Liberation” conference in London in July, 1967:


I believe that all dialectic is liberation…and not only liberation in an intellectual sense, but liberation involving the mind and the body, liberation involving entire human existence…. Now in what sense is all dialectic liberation? It is liberation from the repressive, from a bad, a false system — be it an organic system, be it a social system, be it a mental or intellectual system: liberation by forces developing within such a system. That is a decisive point. And liberation by virtue of the contradiction generated by the system, precisely because it is a bad, a false system. I am intentionally using here moral, philosophical terms, values: “bad,” “false.” For without an objectively justifiable goal of a better, a free human existence, all liberation must remain meaningless — at best, progress in servitude. I believe that in Marx too socialism ought to be. This “ought” belongs to the very essence of scientific socialism. It ought to be; it is, we may almost say, a biological, sociological and political necessity. It is a biological necessity in as much as a socialist society, according to Marx, would conform with the very logos of life, with the essential possibilities of a human existence, not only mentally, not only intellectually, but also organically. (Marcuse 1968, 175-76)

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