One-Dimensional Man:
A New Science?

Herbert Marcuse

At the advanced stage of industrial civilization, scientific rationality, translated into political power, appears to be the decisive factor in the development of historical alternatives. The question then arises: does this power tend toward its own negation—that is, toward the promotion of the “art of life”? Within the established societies, the continued application of scientific rationality would have reached a terminal point with the mechanization of all socially necessary but individually repressive labor (”socially necessary” here includes all performances which can be exercised more effectively by machines, even if these performances produce luxuries and waste rather than necessities). But this stage would also be the end and limit of the scientific rationality in its established structure and direction. Further progress would mean the break, the turn of quantity into quality. It would open the possibility of an essentially new human reality—namely, existence in free time on the basis of fulfilled vital needs. Under such conditions, the scientific project itself would be free for trans-utilitarian ends, and free for the “art of living” beyond the necessities and luxuries of domination. In other words, the completion of the technological reality would be not only the prerequisite, but also the rationale for transcending the technological reality.

This would mean reversal of the traditional relationship between science and metaphysics. The ideas defining reality in terms other than those of the exact or behavioral sciences would lose their metaphysical or emotive character as a result of the scientific transformation of the world; the scientific concepts could project and define the possible realities of a free and pacified existence. The elaboration of such concepts would mean more than the evolution of the prevailing sciences. It would involve the scientific rationality as a whole, which has thus far been committed to an unfree existence and would mean a new idea of science, of Reason.

If the completion of the technological project involves a break with the prevailing technological rationality, the break in turn depends on the continued existence of the technical base itself. For it is this base which has rendered possible the satisfaction of needs and the reduction of toil—it remains the very base of all forms of human freedom. The qualitative change rather lies in the reconstruction of this base—that is, in its development with a view of different ends.

I have stressed that this does not mean the revival of ”values,” spiritual or other, which are to supplement the scientific and technological transformation of man and nature [4]. On the contrary, the historical achievement of science and technology has rendered possible the translation of values into technical tasks—the materialization of values.

Consequently, what is at stake is the redefinition of values in technical terms, as elements in the technological process. The new ends, as technical ends, would then operate in the project and in the construction of the machinery, and not only in its utilization. Moreover, the new ends might assert themselves even in the construction of scientific hypotheses—in pure scientific theory. From the quantification of secondary qualities, science would proceed to the quantification of values.

For example, what is calculable is the minimum of labor with which, and the extent to which, the vital needs of all members of a society could be satisfied—provided the available resources were used for this end, without being restricted by other interests, and without impeding the accumulation of capital necessary for the development of the respective society. In other words; quantifiable is the available range of freedom from want. Or, calculable is the degree to which, under the same conditions, care could be provided for the ill, the infirm, and the aged—that is, quantifiable is the possible reduction of anxiety, the possible, freedom from fear.

The obstacles that stand in the way of materialization are definable political obstacles. Industrial civilization has reached the point where, with respect to the aspirations of man for a human existence, the scientific abstraction from final causes becomes obsolete in science's own terms. Science itself has rendered it possible to make final causes the proper domain of science. Society,

“par une élévation et un élargissement du domaine technique, doit remettre à leur place, comme techniques, les problèmes de finalité, considérés a tort comme éthiques et parfois comme religieux. L'inachévement des techniques sacralise les problèmes de finalité et asservit l'homme au respect de fins qu'il se représente comme des absolus.” [5]

Under this aspect, “neutral” scientific method and technology become the science and technology of a historical phase which is being surpassed by its own achievements—which has reached its determinate negation. Instead of being separated from science and scientific method, and left to subjective preference and irrational, transcendental sanction, formerly metaphysical ideas of liberation may become the proper object of science. But this development confronts science with the unpleasant task of becoming political—of recognizing scientific consciousness as political consciousness, and the scientific enterprise as political enterprise. For the transformation of values into needs, of final causes into technical possibilities is a new stage in the conquest of oppressive, unmastered forces in society as well as in nature. It is an act of liberation:

«L'homme se libère de sa situation d'etre asservi par la finalité du tout en apprenant a faire de la finalité, à organiser un tout finalise qu'il juge et appré cie, pour n'avoir pas a subir passivement une intégration de fait. » . . . «L'homme dépasse l'asservissement en organisant consciemment la finalité . . .» [6]

However, in constituting themselves methodically as political enterprise, science and technology would pass beyond the stage at which they were, because of their neutrality, subjected to politics and against their intent functioning as political instrumentalities. For the technological redefinition and the technical mastery of final causes is the construction, development, and utilization of resources (material and intellectual) freed from all particular interests which impede the satisfaction of human needs and the evolution of human faculties. In other words, it is the rational enterprise of man as man, of mankind. Technology thus may provide the historical correction of the premature identification of Reason and Freedom, according to which man can become and remain free in the progress of self-perpetuating productivity on the basis of oppression. To the extent to which technology has developed on this basis, the correction can never be the result of technical progress per se. It involves a political reversal.

Industrial society possesses the instrumentalities for transforming the metaphysical into the physical, the inner into the outer, the adventures of the mind into adventures of technology. The terrible phrases (and realities of) “engineers of the soul,” “head shrinkers,” “scientific management”, “science of consumption”, epitomize (in a miserable form) the progressing rationalization of the irrational, of the “spiritual”—the denial of the idealistic culture. But the consummation of technological rationality, while translating ideology into reality, would also transcend the materialistic: antithesis to this culture. For the translation of values into needs is the twofold process of (1) material satisfaction (materialization of freedom) and (2) the free development of needs on the basis of satisfaction (non-repressive sublimation). In this process, the relation between the material and intellectual faculties and needs undergoes a fundamental change. The free play of thought and imagination assumes a rational and directing function in the realization of a pacified existence of man and nature. And the ideas of justice, freedom, and humanity then obtain their truth and good conscience on the sole ground on which they could ever have truth and good conscience—the satisfaction of man's material needs, the rational organization of the realm of necessity.


4. See chapter I, esp. p. 18.

5. “through a raising and enlarging of the technical sphere, must treat as technical problems, questions of finality considered wrongly as ethical an sometimes religious. The incompleteness of technics makes a fetish of problems of finality and enslaves man to ends which he thinks of as absolutes. “Gilbert Simondon, loc. cit. p. 151; my italics.

6. “Man liberates himself from his situation of being subjected to the finalty of everything by learning to create finality, to organise a “finalised” whole, which he judges and evaluates. Man overcomes enslavement by organising consciously finality.” Ibid., p. 103.

SOURCE: Marcuse, Herbert. One Dimensional Man (Boston: Beacon Press, 1964), Chapter 9: The Catastrophe of Liberation, extract, pp. 230-235.

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