One-Dimensional Man

Drux Flux

One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society’ is a 1964 book by philosopher Herbert Marcuse. The work offers a wide-ranging critique of both contemporary capitalism and the society in 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.

Marcuse 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.

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’ 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. 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.

Marcuse strongly criticizes consumerism, arguing that it is a form of social control. He suggests that the system we live in may claim to be democratic, but it is actually authoritarian in that a few individuals dictate our perceptions of freedom by only allowing us choices to buy for happiness. In this state of ‘unfreedom,’ 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. 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 or her 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 other 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.

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