One-Dimensional Man, One-Dimensional History: Re-reading Herbert Marcuse

In: Journal of the Philosophy of History
Ethan Kleinberg Class of 1958 Distinguished Professor, College of Letters, History Department, Wesleyan University Middletown, CT USA

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In this article I revisit Herbert Marcuse’s 1964 work One-Dimensional Man with the goal of reactivating Marcuse’s critique of one-dimensional society but in regard to the current practice and discipline of history. On my reading, it is in the field of history that the dangers of one-dimensionality are felt most acutely today. Especially in the ways that historians and philosophers of history continue to render history as a mausoleum to warehouse an entombed and inactive past. In what follows, I offer a willful and intentional reading of the role and place of philosophy of history in One-Dimensional Man in order to demonstrate the ways that history and historians have now become key proponents of one-dimensionality. I then marshal Marcuse’s analysis, though shorn of the speculative teleology that characterizes the two-dimensional history of Marcuse’s dialectic, in order to reactivate history as a multi-dimensional force to enact change in the future.

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