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Herbert Marcuse (Berlin, July 19, 1898 – Starnberg, West Germany, July 29, 1979) was a Jewish philosopher and sociologist of German and American nationality, one of the leading figures of the first generation of the Frankfurt School.
He was born in Berlin, son of Carl Marcuse, a manufacturer of textile products of Jewish origin from Pomerania and Gertrud Kreslawskyun.
Herbert served as a soldier in the First World War and participated in the German revolution of November 1918.
After completing his studies at the University of Freiburg im Breisgau, obtaining a doctor degree in 1922, he returned to Berlin where he worked in a bookstore and publishing house. In 1924 he married Sophie Wertheim. In 1928 he returned to Freiburg to continue his philosophy studies with Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger. He admired Heidegger for his “concrete philosophy,” but at the same time criticized his individualism and his ahistorical approach. He wrote a thesis on Hegel’s ontology and the theory of historicity. His purpose in 1929 was to obtain with this subject his habilitation (postdoctoral dissertation to obtain permission to practice university teaching and apply for a teaching position) in Freiburg, under the direction of Heidegger. The project did not prosper due to Marcuse’s differences with Heidegger, mainly due to the fact that the latter initially maintained a positive opinion of National Socialism, but the work initially prepared as a dissertation was published as an essay in 1932.
In January 1933, the same month of Hitler’s seizure of power, Leo Löwenthal (1900-1993) put Marcuse in contact with Max Horkheimer and his collaborators at the Institute for Social Research, including Theodor W Adorno and Erich Fromm Due to the difficulties to continue with the project under the Nazi regime because of his Jewish status, Marcuse emigrated to Switzerland and in that year he managed the branch of the Institute in Geneva, which brought together those who had emigrated from Frankfurt. Meno. He continued on his way to Paris, now a leading theoretician at the Frankfurt School.
In 1934 he moved to the United States and continued working in New York, at Columbia University, which had made available a new headquarters for the Social Research Institute. He obtained US citizenship in 1940. During the Second World War he worked for the Office of Strategic Services of the United States (US Office of Strategic Services), forerunner of the CIA, analyzing strategy reports on Germany (1942, 1945, 1951).
In 1952 he began a teaching career as a political philosopher, first at Columbia University and Harvard, then at Brandeis University from 1958 to 1965, where he was professor of philosophy and politics, and finally (already retired), at the University of California, San Diego. Working as a professor in this university, he participated actively in the sociopolitical debates of the 1950s and 1960s, when he achieved such notoriety that the 3Ms were mentioned: Marx, Mao and Marcuse. He was a friend and collaborator of the sociologist and historian Barrington Moore Jr. and the political philosopher Robert Paul Wolff. After the war, he was the most politically explicit and leftist member of the Frankfurt School, due to his dedication to applying policies of emancipation, such as the liberation of women or youth ideologies to the first Critical Theory. He begins to be aware of the main practical limitations of the first school in Frankfurt, and of the need to outline the theses on culture and society, identifying himself as Marxist, socialist and Hegelian. It was also a theoretical reference for youth protest movements, such as the hippie movement.
Marcuse died on July 26, 1979, after having suffered a stroke during a visit to Germany. The theorist Jürgen Habermas, of the second generation of the Frankfurt School, took care of him during his last days.
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