One-Dimensional Man

One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society is a 1964 book by the philosopher Herbert Marcuse, in which the author offers a wide-ranging critique of both contemporary capitalism and the Communist society of the Soviet Union, documenting the parallel rise of new forms of social repression in both these societies, as well as the decline of revolutionary potential in the West. He argues that "advanced industrial society" created false needs, which integrated individuals into the existing system of production and consumption via mass media, advertising, industrial management, and contemporary modes of thought.[1]

One-Dimensional Man
Cover of the first edition
AuthorHerbert Marcuse
CountryUnited States
SubjectsCapitalism, democracy
PublisherBeacon Press
Publication date
Media typePrint
ISBN0-415-07429-0 (2. ed.)

This results in a "one-dimensional" universe of thought and behavior, in which aptitude and ability for critical thought and oppositional behavior wither away. Against this prevailing climate, Marcuse promotes the "great refusal" (described at length in the book) as the only adequate opposition to all-encompassing methods of control. Much of the book is a defense of "negative thinking" as a disrupting force against the prevailing positivism.[1]

Marcuse also analyzes the integration of the industrial working class into capitalist society and new forms of capitalist stabilization, thus questioning the Marxian postulates of the revolutionary proletariat and the inevitability of capitalist crisis. In contrast to orthodox Marxism, Marcuse champions non-integrated forces of minorities, outsiders, and radical intelligentsia, attempting to nourish oppositional thought and behavior through promoting radical thinking and opposition. He considers the trends towards bureaucracy in supposedly Marxist countries to be as oppositional to freedom as those in the capitalist West.[1]

One-Dimensional Man made Marcuse famous.[2]


Marcuse strongly criticizes consumerism and modern "industrial society", which he claims is a form of social control. Marcuse argues that while the system we live in may claim to be democratic, it is actually totalitarian. A form of technological rationality has imposed itself on every aspect of culture and public life, and has become hegemonic. Our identification with this hegemonic ideology of modern industrial society, this ideology does not represent a form of "false-conscious", but rather has succeeded in becoming reality.

Modern industrial societies have furthermore created an "affluent society", which in increasing comfort have disguised the exploitative nature of the system, and have therefore strengthened means of domination and control. Modern "affluent society" therefore limits opportunities for political revolution against capitalism.

In modern consumer societies, Marcuse argues that a small number of individuals are empowered to dictate our perceptions of freedom by providing us with opportunities to buy our happiness. [3] In this state of "unfreedom",[4] consumers act irrationally by working more than they are required to in order to fulfill actual basic needs, by ignoring the psychologically destructive effects, by ignoring the waste and environmental damage it causes, and by searching for social connection through material items.[5]

It is even more irrational in the sense that the creation of new products, calling for the disposal of old products, fuels the economy and encourages the need to work more to buy more. An individual loses his humanity and becomes a tool in the industrial machine and a cog in the consumer machine. Additionally, advertising sustains consumerism, which disintegrates societal demeanor, delivered in bulk and informing the masses that happiness can be bought, an idea that is psychologically damaging.

There are alternatives to counter the consumer lifestyle. Anti-consumerism is a lifestyle that demotes any unnecessary consumption, as well as unnecessary work, waste, etc. But even this alternative is complicated by the extreme interpenetration of advertising and commodification because everything is a commodity, even those things that are actual needs.

In a 1964 letter to The New York Review of Books, Georg H. Fromm, William Leiss et al. outlined the major themes of the book as follows:[6]

(1) The concept of "one-dimensional man" asserts that there are other dimensions of human existence in addition to the present one and that these have been eliminated. It maintains that the spheres of existence formerly considered as private (e.g. sexuality) have now become part of the entire system of social domination of man by man, and it suggests that totalitarianism can be imposed without terror.
(2) Technological rationality, which impoverishes all aspects of contemporary life, has developed the material bases of human freedom, but continues to serve the interests of suppression. There is a logic of domination in technological progress under present conditions: not quantitative accumulation, but a qualitative "leap" is necessary to transform this apparatus of destruction into an apparatus of life.
(3) The analysis proceeds on the basis of "negative" or dialectical thinking, which sees existing things as “other than they are” and as denying the possibilities inherent in themselves. It demands "freedom from the oppressive and ideological power of given facts."
(4) The book is generally pessimistic about the possibilities for overcoming the increasing domination and unfreedom of technological society; it concentrates on the power of the present establishment to contain and repulse all alternatives to the status quo.


The critical theorist Douglas Kellner wrote in Herbert Marcuse and the Crisis of Marxism that One-Dimensional Man was one of the most important books of the 1960s and one of the most subversive books of the twentieth century. Despite its pessimism, represented by the citation of the words of Walter Benjamin at the end of this book that "Nur um der Hoffnungslosen willen ist uns die Hoffnung gegeben"[7] ("It is only for the sake of those without hope that hope is given to us"[8]), it influenced many in the New Left as it articulated their growing dissatisfaction with both capitalist societies and Soviet communist societies.[1]

The philosopher Stephen Hicks argues that the book's popularity marked "a strong turn towards irrationality and violence among younger Leftists."[9]

The philosopher Ronald Aronson wrote that One-Dimensional Man is more prescient than Marcuse could have ever realized and that it is more relevant today than ever.[10]

See also


  1. Kellner, Douglas (1991). "Introduction to the Second Edition". Herbert Marcuse, One-dimensional Man: Studies in Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society. London: Routledge. pp. xi. ISBN 978-0-415-07429-2.
  2. McLellan, David (1975). Marx. Glasgow: Fontana. p. 81. ISBN 0-333-63947-2.
  3. Marcuse, Herbert (1991). "Introduction to the Second Edition". One-dimensional Man: studies in ideology of advanced industrial society. London: Routledge. p. 3. ISBN 978-0-415-07429-2.
  4. Marcuse, Herbert (1991). "Introduction to the Second Edition". One-dimensional Man: studies in ideology of advanced industrial society. London: Routledge. pp. 1, 7. ISBN 978-0-415-07429-2.
  5. Marcuse, Herbert (1991). "Chapter 1". One-dimensional Man: studies in ideology of advanced industrial society. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-07429-2.
  6. Georg H. Fromm, William Leiss, John David Ober, Arno Waserman, and Edward J. Wilkins, et al. In response to: The Threat of History from the February 20, 1964 issue.
  7. W. Benjamin, Goethes Wahlverwandtschaften, Gesammelte Schriften I.1, Frankfurt am Main 1991, p. 201.
  8. Marcuse, Herbert (1991). One-dimensional Man: Studies in Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society. New York: Routledge. p. 261. ISBN 978-0-415-07429-2.
  9. Hicks, Stephen (2004). Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault. Scholargy Press, p. 166
  10. Aronson, R. (2018, November 15). Marcuse Today. Retrieved from
  11. Ushev, Théodore (2008). "Drux Flux". Animated short. National Film Board of Canada. Retrieved 29 December 2009.
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