Heideggerian Marxism

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The Frankfurt School philosopher Herbert Marcuse (1898–1979) studied with Martin Heidegger at Freiburg University from 1928 to 1932 and completed a dissertation on Hegel’s theory of historicity under Heidegger’s supervision. During these years, Marcuse wrote a number of provocative philosophical essays experimenting with the possibilities of Heideggerian Marxism. For a time he believed that Heidegger’s ideas could revitalize Marxism, providing a dimension of experiential concreteness that was sorely lacking in the German Idealist tradition. Ultimately, two events deterred Marcuse from completing this program: the 1932 publication of Marx’s early economic and philosophical manuscripts, and Heidegger’s conversion to Nazism a year later. Heideggerian Marxism offers rich and fascinating testimony concerning the first attempt to fuse Marxism and existentialism.
These essays offer invaluable insight concerning Marcuse’s early philosophical evolution. They document one of the century’s most important Marxist philosophers attempting to respond to the “crisis of Marxism”: the failure of the European revolution coupled with the growing repression in the USSR. In response, Marcuse contrived an imaginative and original theoretical synthesis: “existential Marxism.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780803283121
  • Publisher: University of Nebraska Press
  • Publication date: 11/28/2005
  • Series: European Horizons Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 228
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard Wolin is Distinguished Professor of History, Political Science, and Comparative Literature at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He is the author of, among other works, Heidegger’s Children: Hannah Arendt, Karl Löwith, Hans Jonas, and Herbert Marcuse and The Seduction of Unreason: The Intellectual Romance with Fascism from Nietzsche to Poststructuralism. John Abromeit is an assistant professor in the Social Sciences Collegiate Division at the University of Chicago. He is the coeditor, with W. Mark Cobb, of Herbert Marcuse: A Critical Reader.
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Read an Excerpt

Heideggerian Marxism

By Herbert Marcuse

University of Nebraska Press

Copyright © 2005 University of Nebraska Press
All right reserved.


What Is Heideggerian Marxism?

Richard Wolin

The relatively late and then very rapid reception of Marcuse's work has allowed a historically inaccurate image of him to emerge: the older strata of his development remain unrecognizable. Marcuse's 1932 book, Hegel's Ontology, remains essentially unknown. I suppose that one would find few among Marcuse's contemporary readers who would not be completely surprised by the Introduction's concluding sentence: "Any contribution this work may make to the development and clarification of problems is indebted to the philosophical work of Martin Heidegger." I don't know what Marcuse thinks about this sentence today; we have never spoken about it. But I think that phase of his development was not simply a whim. Indeed, I believe that it is impossible to correctly understand the Marcuse of today without reference to this earlier Marcuse. Whoever fails to detect the persistence of categories from Being and Time in the concepts of Freudian drive theory out of which Marcuse [in Eros and Civilization] develops a Marxian historical construct runs the risk of serious misunderstandings. Jürgen Habermas (1968)

Since Habermas first wrote these words some thirty-five years ago, more information concerningMarcuse's youthful Heideggerian allegiances has come to light. But confusions and misunderstandings persist. By collecting the philosopher's early, proto-Heideggerian writings in one volume, we hope to shed additional light on what remains a fascinating and underresearched chapter of twentieth-century intellectual life: an encounter between two schools of thought-philosophical Marxism and fundamental ontology-that soon proceeded in opposite directions.

In retrospect it is clear that Marcuse's political worldview was shaped by the key events of his youth: the traumas of world war and, above all, the failure of the German Revolution of 1918-19. At the age of twenty Marcuse was elected as a Social Democratic deputy to one of the Soldier's and Worker's Councils that mushroomed throughout Germany during the climax of World War I. He resigned, he later claimed, when he noticed that former officers were being elected to the same bodies. He bid an unsentimental farewell to Social Democratic politics following the vicious murders of Spartakus Bund leaders Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht by Freikorps troops acting at the behest of the newly installed Social Democratic government in January 1919.

During the early years of the Weimar Republic Marcuse underwent a type of self-imposed "inner emigration." After completing a dissertation in 1922 on the German artist novel, which was heavily influenced by the early aesthetics of Georg Lukács, he returned to his native Berlin to work in an antiquarian bookshop. During this time, he compiled a detailed Schiller bibliography, steeped himself in the early Marx, and read two classic texts of Hegelian Marxism that would have a profound influence on his future philosophical development: Lukács's History and Class Consciousness and Karl Korsch's Marxism and Philosophy, both of which had appeared in 1923.

Later in the decade there occurred a publication "event" that lured Marcuse back to the university: the 1927 appearance of Heidegger's Being and Time. At the time Germany's philosophy seminars were still dominated by staid and familiar prewar approaches: neo-Kantianism, neo-Hegelianism, and positivism. For the younger generation, however, the horrors of World War I represented a point of no return: the worldviews and perspectives that had predominated prior to 1914 seemed entirely delegitimated. As Marcuse noted time and again, Heidegger's thought seemed to offer something that the conventional academic "school philosophies" lacked: a "philosophy of the concrete." Reflecting some fifty years later on the excitement generated by the publication of Being and Time, Marcuse observed "To me and my friends, Heidegger's work appeared as a new beginning: we experienced his book [Being and Time] (and his lectures, whose transcripts we obtained) as, at long last, a concrete philosophy: here there was talk of existence [Existenz], of our existence, of fear and care and boredom, and so forth. We also experienced an 'academic' emancipation: Heidegger's interpretation of Greek philosophy and German idealism, which offered us new insights into antiquated, fossilized texts." Marcuse's testimony concerning Heidegger's pedagogical prowess conforms with that of the philosopher's other prominent students during the 1920s: Hannah Arendt, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Hans Jonas, and Karl Löwith. All five affirmed that what they found unique in Heidegger's approach was his capacity to revivify antiquated philosophical texts in light of present historical needs and concerns. The leitmotif of Heidegger's courses seemed to be Augustine's mea res agitur: "my life is at stake"; in them, doing philosophy ceased to be an exercise in disembodied, scholarly exegesis. At issue was a momentous, hermeneutical encounter between the historical past and the contemporary being-in-the world. By proceeding thusly, Heidegger was only being self-consistent: he was merely applying the principles of his own philosophy of Existenz to the subject matter of his lectures and seminars. Two of the central categories of Being and Time's "existential analytic" were "temporality" and "historicity." Both notions addressed the way that we situate ourselves in time and history. In Heidegger's view, one of the hallmarks of "authentic" being-in-the-world was a capacity to actualize the past in light of essential future possibilities. Conversely, inauthentic Dasein (das Man) displayed a conformist willingness to adapt passively to circumstances-an existential lassitude that bore marked resemblances to the inert being of "things." Heidegger's ability to fuse the discourse of "everydayness" with the demands of "rigorous science" he had imbibed during his youthful apprenticeship with the founder of the phenomenological movement, Edmund Husserl, distinguished his thinking from the Lebensphilosophie or "philosophy of life" that flourished among popular writers (e.g., Oswald Spengler and Ludwig Klages) at the time. Thus, in view of the conservative approaches to scholarship that predominated among the German mandarin professorate during the 1920s, one can readily imagine the genuine excitement Heidegger's philosophical radicalism must have generated, especially among the "lost generation" of the postwar period. In a colorful 1929 letter, Marcuse described his initial impressions of Heidegger (whom he recalled from his previous stay in Freiburg as a PhD student in the early 1920s) as follows:

Concerning Heidegger: it is hard to imagine a greater difference between the shy and obstinate Privatdozent who eight years ago spoke from the window of a small lecture hall and the successor to Husserl who lectures in an overflowing auditorium with at least six hundred listeners (mostly women) in brilliant lectures with unshakeable certainty, talking with that pleasant tremor in his voice which so excites the women, dressed in a sports outfit that almost looks like a chauffeur's uniform, darkly tanned, with the pathos of a teacher who feels himself completely to be an educator, a prophet and pathfinder and whom one indeed believes to be so. The ethical tendencies found in Being and Time-which aim at philosophy becoming practical-really seem to achieve a breakthrough in Heidegger himself, although, to be sure, in a way that is somewhat alienating. He is all in all too rhetorical, too preachy, too primitive.... In the large lecture on German idealism and the philosophical problems of the present he has so far treated the dominant tendencies of contemporary philosophy as anthropological tendencies and metaphysics.

Part of Marcuse's attraction to Heidegger's brand of Existenzphilosophie was spurred by the so-called "crisis of Marxism." For Marcuse's generation hopes for a radical regeneration of the existing political order-one which seemed responsible for so much pointless social suffering and injustice-were rudely dashed with the collapse of the short-lived Council Republics (Räterepublik) in Bavaria and Hungary following World War I. In his eyes, by brutally crushing the German Revolution, social democracy had merely compounded its sins of August 1914, when, by voting for war credits, it had forsaken the ideals of international socialism in favor of jingoistic militarism. Moreover, it is safe to assume that the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 harbored few attractions for him. Marcuse undoubtedly accepted Rosa Luxemburg's trenchant critique of the authoritarian implications of Lenin's vanguardism. In fact, most European socialists viewed Lenin's voluntarism as inappropriate for Western and Central Europe, where a more advanced and experienced proletariat existed.

Yet, concomitant with the political crisis of Marxism, there existed an epistemological crisis; in Marcuse's view, the two were necessarily linked. For under the tutelage of Engels and Karl Kautsky, the Second International had espoused a resolutely antiphilosophical, mechanistic interpretation of Marxism. This approach was predicated on an unreflective scientism (see Engels's The Dialectics of Nature) as well as an antiquated theory of capitalism's automatic collapse. Correspondingly, its leading theoreticians displayed a willful indifference to the "subjective" factor of working-class consciousness. Conversely, it was a willingness to address such questions directly and unapologetically that made Lukács's History and Class Consciousness seem so refreshing-it stood as a beacon of illumination in the midst of a bleak intellectual and political landscape.

Thus, Marcuse believed that Heidegger's Being and Time represented a potentially valuable ally in the struggle against the reified social continuum of advanced industrial society. He conjectured that Heidegger's philosophy of existence possessed the conceptual means required to counteract an inverted social world in which, according to Marx, "social relations between men assume ... the fantastic form of a relation between things." In part, Marcuse read Heidegger's philosophy as an ontologically veiled critique of reification: an indictment of the way in which oppressive social circumstances militate against the possibility human self-realization. It seemed that, like the critical Marxists Lukács and Korsch, Heidegger strove to surmount the fetishization of appearances that characterized the shadow-world of bourgeois immediacy. Like Lukács and Korsch, in Being and Time Heidegger strove concertedly to break with the deterministic worldview of bourgeois science, in which human being or Dasein was degraded to the status of a "thing among things." After all, this was the main point behind Heidegger's critique of Vorhandenheit or being present-at-hand as a mode of inauthenticity. In Marcuse's view, the critique of "everydayness" in Being and Time, division 1, in which Heidegger delivers a powerful indictment of inauthentic being-in-the-world via recourse to concepts such as "falling," "idle talk," "publicness," and "the they," represents a welcome ontological complement to the discussions of reification in Capital and History and Class Consciousness. As Marcuse formulates this insight in "On Concrete Philosophy":

The world in which this Dasein lives is also evolving to an ever greater degree into "business" [Betrieb]. The things encountered in it are viewed from the outset as "goods," as things that one must use, but not in the sense of using them to meet the needs of Dasein. Instead, they are used to occupy or to fill an otherwise aimless existence, until they actually do become "necessities." In this way more and more existences are consumed simply in order to keep the "business" operational. The form of existence of all classes had to hollow itself out in such a way that it has become necessary to place existence itself on a new foundation.

By proceeding positivistically, contemporary social science fetishized the standpoint of the "object" or "things." Methodologically speaking, it treated "persons" like "things"-as objects of administrative manipulation and control. The breakthrough achieved by Heidegger's philosophy of existence was that, proceeding from the standpoint of Dasein, it placed human reality rather than "objectivity" or "thinghood" at the center of its phenomenological perspective. It was this practice that provided it with the conceptual leverage to overcome the reifying orientation of traditional science. As Marcuse explains:

The ontological historicity of Dasein must ... assume decisive significance for the methodology of the "social sciences." Social arrangements, economic orders, and political formations together constitute the happening of Dasein and must be viewed from the perspective of this existence [Existenz]. If they are investigated from the outset as "things," with an eye toward their structure, their relationships, and the laws of their development, the observations (most likely undertaken with the model of the natural sciences as their mistaken ideal) that result will be such that the meaning of these constructs cannot even appear. ("On Concrete Philosophy," 39)

In the "Theses on Feuerbach" (1845) Marx had praised Hegel for having developed the "active side" of the dialectic, a dimension unknown both to the materialism of the high Enlightenment as well as nineteenth-century positivism. "The chief defect of all hitherto existing materialism-that of Feuerbach included-is that the thing, reality, sensuousness, is conceived only in the form of the object or of contemplation, but not as human sensuous activity, practice, not subjectively. Hence it happened that the active side, in contradistinction to materialism, was developed by idealism (but only abstractly, since, of course, idealism does not know real, sensuous activity as such)." That Heidegger, whose existential ontology seemed to be motivated by an analogous antiscientific animus, could be enlisted as fellow traveler in the Hegelian Marxist cause was the wager that Marcuse laid in 1928 when, as a twenty-nine-year-old, he followed Heidegger to Freiburg. At the time, Marcuse optimistically described the potential of Heidegger's 1927 masterwork as follows: "Being and Time ... seems to represent a turning point in the history of philosophy: the point at which bourgeois philosophy unmakes itself from the inside and clears the way for a new and 'concrete' science." Marcuse was also favorably impressed by the Freiburg sage's efforts to break with the paradigm of German idealism. The "transcendence of German idealism": here was a project that seemed to unite Heidegger's existentialism and Marxism in a common cause. In keeping with the spirit of the age, thinkers in the second half of the nineteenth century transformed neo-Kantianism into an epistemological vindication of philosophy of science or positivism. The noumenal dimension of Kant's ethics-for example, the regulative idea of humanity as a "kingdom of ends"-had been banished as an atavistic, metaphysical excrescence. From the standpoint of a young philosopher in the 1920s, it seemed impossible to redeem Kant as a genuine critic of the historical present. A similar fate of terminal irrelevance had apparently befallen Hegel's system. For it seemed that, with the exception of Dilthey's work, Hegel scholarship had degenerated into a type of neoscholasticism-an incessant, abstract clarification of the Master's impressive conceptual edifice as propounded in the Science of Logic and other works. Since a critical thematization of "lived experience" played such a prominent role in Heidegger's fundamental ontology, at the time Marcuse surmised that it might provide the philosophical stimulus necessary to revivify an orthodox Marxist discourse that had lapsed into advanced senescence.


Excerpted from Heideggerian Marxism by Herbert Marcuse Copyright © 2005 by University of Nebraska Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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