Technology, War and Fascism by Herbert Marcuse

Technology, War and Fascism by Herbert Marcuse. Specifically it will contain a book report on the book. Marcuse wrote these essays in the 1940s and 1950s, and they have gathered together into a collection by his son. Marcuse was a liberal philosopher, famous in the 20th century for his liberal thought and understanding. This book outlines his philosophy on war, and growing technology in the U.S. And the world at the time. It is also a detailed look at Germany before, during, and after the war, and so, it is an important historic work.

In the Introduction to this work, editor Douglas Kellner spells out Marcuse’s importance to the world of philosophy and political thought. He writes,

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The insights into fascism, the trends of advanced industrial societies and the emancipatory potential of critical social theory and art present in Marcuse’s 1940s work continues to be of importance today, as new technologies transform every aspect of life and various fascist and rightwing movements persistently prey on the insecurities and fears of our epoch. (Marcuse 1).

This is the thesis of this collection of papers, letters, and reports written by Marcuse as he attempted to help the U.S. government make some sense of the Nazi takeover in Germany, and then recreate Germany after World War II. Marcuse’s understanding of the German culture and thought helped the government immensely, but his work encompassed more than that, as this volume clearly illustrates. His work is still important today, and reading these works helps give a greater understanding of our modern world, including the need for many countries to dominate others in the name of democracy and freedom.

Marcuse began his career as a philosopher in Frankfurt Germany at the Institute for Social Research (also called the “Frankfurt School”). This is where he developed much of his liberal philosophy and began writing about it. When Hitler took power, Marcuse left Germany and finally established a division of the school in the United States, where he did the rest of his writing during his career.

Marcuse’s first essay discusses technology and its use in a modern world. Marcuse’s definition is just as relevant today as it was 60 years ago when he wrote this work. He notes, “Technology, as a mode of production, as the totality of instruments, devices and contrivances which characterize the machine age is thus at the same time a mode of organizing and perpetuating (or changing) social relationships, a manifestation of prevalent thought and behavior patterns, an instrument for control and domination” (Marcuse 41). Technological advances today are indeed instruments for “control and domination,” from computers to weaponry and automobiles, technology makes life easier, but also controls the world and how people live. Marcuse notes, “The average man hardly cares for any living being with the intensity and persistence he shows for his automobile. The machine that is adored is no longer dead matter but becomes something like a human being” (Marcuse 47). In another example, computers have become so commonplace in homes, schools, and businesses, that recent studies indicate most children no longer need to write in cursive script, and in fact, many teachers do not even teach it in their classrooms. Technology is changing the way we communicate, and it dominates many aspects of our lives. Cell phones are now a “necessity” for communication, and thousands of cell phone users violate the privacy of others by talking wherever they are, no matter the surroundings or the content of their conversation. Technology makes life better, but it also controls aspects of our lives, and this is the point of Marcuse’s essay. He also believes technology creates a society of like people, rather than encouraging individuality.

Marcuse also defines “technics” in this essay, and establishes it is not the same thing as technology, and he equates Hitler’s oppressive Third Reich as a form of “technocracy,” that combines technology with power and manipulation (Marcuse 41). He believes technology leads to power and control over others, from giant business monopolies (think Microsoft), to government and reason. This is extremely apparent in our society today, where many mega-corporations such as Wal-Mart, have developed a major global presence based on the technology available to move their goods and services around the world. Those with technology can dominate the world, whether it is with nuclear weapons such as North Korea, or retail goods, such as Wal-Mart. Technology has allowed these interests to grow and prosper whether they are good or bad for individuals and the world. Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of Marcuse’s theory is that humankind accepts this technological domination without question, and allows technology to rule their lives and their reason.

Marcuse’s next essay discusses National Socialism, a factor in Hitler’s domination of Germany in the 1930s. He writes that National Socialism comprises state and society, and blends them. “These phenomena induce us to see in National Socialism the absolute rule of the state over all private and social relationships, and the absolute repression of the individual with all his rights and abilities” (Marcuse 70). There was no room for individualism in the Third Reich – Hitler dominated the country so completely there was no acceptance of dissent or creative thought. He equates the German state to a machine, and a dominating force in the lives of all Germans.

Next, Marcuse tackles social change in a series of essays. He discusses the history of social change (later sociology), and the origins of philosophical thought as well. Plato, Aristotle, and many others play into this history, which continues with Marxist thought and then Marcuse’s own theories on social change. His final thoughts on social change are, “The very fact that moral progress lies far behind material progress is an index that society has not yet reached the level of free and consciously controlled self-development in all spheres of culture” (Marcuse, and Neumann 136). Thus, even today, we have failed to reach self-development because modern moral progress is still far behind material progress in this society.

In “The New German Mentality,” Marcuse gives a frightening picture of the German people under Hitler’s rule, and speculates why the people were so quick to follow the ruthless dictator. Early in the essay he notes, “A thorough knowledge of the new mentality and the new language is a prerequisite for the effective psychological and ideological offensive against National Socialism” (Marcuse 141). This understanding of the German mentality helped Marcuse in his service with the U.S. government and helped with decisions on how to rebuild Germany after the war. His insights include comparing the German technocracy with “large scale industry” (Marcuse 145), and the “shifting of traditional taboos” (Marcuse 146), which may help to explain the German anti-Semitic feelings that led to concentration camps and the slaughter of millions of Jews. He also claims Germans supported the war in Europe because they regarded it as a business proposition that could bring high rewards if it ended well. He also notes that the Nationalist Socialist movement in Germany even created their own new language to help society adjust and adapt to the new way of thinking. He writes, “In its syntactical form, the National Socialist language shows a pervasive verbalization of nouns, a shrinking of the synthetical structure of the sentence, and a transformation of personal relations into impersonal things and events” (Marcuse 150). He also notes German culture is far different from western culture, especially in America, and that is why a dictator such as Hitler could rise to power in the country so apparently easily. All of this discussion paints a distressing picture of Germany during the war. He writes, “Indeed, the Nazis showed themselves true masters in the art of achieving the impossible only there where they actually hated, namely, in their extermination of the enemy within, in their persecution of the helpless and feeble, in their ghettos and concentration camps” (Marcuse 188). They were masters, and Marcuse explains much of their philosophy in way that makes it more understandable and more frightening at the same time.

After discussing Germany in such detail, the book outlines three projects Marcuse worked on while he worked for the U.S. State Department. These projects all dealt with German subjects, mostly German civil affairs and the disillusion of the Nazi Party after the war. At the time they were written, these were all classified documents. Marcuse notes that he did all the writing for these projects, while he had aides that helped gather and interpret data. He also notes a variety of publications used in evaluating the data. This section shows how involved the U.S. was in restoring Germany to its former democratic state and how experts such as Marcuse (and many others) helped them formulate plans in this regard. This is a small section of the book, but it is an important glimpse into history, and creates more impact for the overall reading of the book.

The next essay takes a totally different view of philosophy from an artistic standpoint. After all the discussion of Germany, Socialism, and technology, this essay almost seems out of place in this work. However, Marcuse equates political art to “revolutionary” art, and feels it is an important, even vital part of any culture. He writes, “The most revolutionary work of art will be, at the same time, the most esoteric, the most anti-collectivistic one, for the goal of the revolution is the free individual” (Marcuse 203). By the end of the essay, its inclusion makes sense, because Marcuse neatly ties in his beliefs about philosophy and society with the use of art as a means of expressing revolution or revolt. This section also includes quite a bit of French poetry, which was not translated, and this helped take away from the overall meaning of the piece. A translation would have given this essay even more impact.

The final sections of the book include notes of thirty-three theses Marcuse was working on or had worked on, and letters to two of the philosophers who helped found the Frankfurt School. He did not always agree with these men, and the letters show that there were differences between some of them that could not be overcome. In fact, Marcuse’s son Peter said re-reading some of the letters was painful for him, because he remembered strained relationships between his father and others. However, the letters here show a cordial, learned man who communicated well with others and took his work seriously. Including them in the book made it a bit more personal and appealing, while showing how important work was to Marcuse.

Clearly, the editor of this book knew Marcuse and his work quite well, and chose many essays to illustrate the scope of Marcuse’s thoughts on technology, war, and fascism. These essays were all unpublished before this book was available, and they give great insight into the author, his beliefs, and what was happening in the world at the time. In fact, many seem as relevant today as they were when Marcuse first wrote them, which is the mark of fine writing and a good mind as well. As for researching the work, Kellner had to weed through thousands of documents in order to find just the right ones to include in this work, and his choices are enlightening and thought provoking.

In conclusion, this book may be over the head of many readers, but it is a fascinating look at technology and how it adds to war in the author’s opinion. It is also interesting to note that many of the essays were written 50+ years ago, but are still relevant today. It seems there will always be nations and leaders who want to take advantage of others, and there will always be strife in the world. History proves this, and so do Marcuse’s essays.


Marcuse, Herbert, and Franz Neumann. “Theories of Social Change.” Technology, War, and Fascism. Ed. Douglas Kellner. Vol. 1. London: Routledge, 1998. 107-137.

Marcuse, Herbert. Technology, War, and Fascism. Ed. Douglas Kellner. Vol. 1. London: Routledge, 1998.

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