Review: Reason and Revolution

by Herbert Marcuse

Marcuse outlines Hegel’s thought and suggests how it informed the later rise of social theory and critical theory. The book is a fine exposition of Hegel and Marx. It suffers, however, by rarely attaching the two. Therefore, the subtitle should actually read “Hegel + The Rise of Social Theory.”

For Hegel Reason functions as an acid-drip, dissolving all historical forms, leading to the liberation of nature. As Marcuse says, it is a “task,” not a fact (Marcuse 26). While many repeat Hegel’s famous dictum that the Real is the Rational, Marcuse points out that reason will dissolve social orders via its inherent negativity, which will then usher in new forms of the rational.

The progress of thought begins when we try to grasp the structure of Being. But when we do this, Being dissolves into many quantities and qualities, which are actually a totality of antagonistic relations. This is the essence of Being. Therefore, Being is antagonistic. Indeed, Being is *violent.*

Hegel’s thought allows a visible dynamic between reason, externality, and alienation (as famously seen in Marx). Through labor man overcomes the estrangement between the objective world and the subjective world. Man is alienated when he is subordinated to abstract labor. Mechanization facilitates this alienation.

Since Hegel could see man as a self-creation/creator (creation of reasonable social order through free action), Marx could take this idea and see man as a result of his labor (115). Thus, Hegel’s Master-Slave dialectic is rooted in a specific social relation.

Bondsman:  bound to objects that aren’t his, yet he cannot sever himself from them.  These objects begin to shape his own consciousness.

The object is now the “objectification of a self-conscious subject” (117).

Alienation of the person: the person externalizes himself and becomes an object. I can sell my time and labor. Marcuse, like Marx earlier, sees that many of Hegel’s conclusions, lead to antagonisms and clashes in society (196). However, in Hegel’s society, as Marx would later note, people participate and share only on the basis of Capital, which itself will create more inequalities (205).

Key argument:  Since the individual, on either Hegelian or Marxian lines, is a “Universal,” then the proletariat can only exist “world-historically;” therefore, the communist revolution is necessarily a world-revolution (292).

The second half of the book is a skillful analysis of Marx and later sociologists. This has been covered in depth by other writers, so there is no need to review it here. The book succeeds as an excellent analysis of Hegel, yet it seems about 100 pages too long.


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