Eros and Civilization
Cover of the first edition
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Eros and Civilization: A Philosophical Inquiry into Freud (1955; second edition, 1966) is a book by the German philosopher and social critic Herbert Marcuse, in which the author proposes a non-repressive society, attempts a synthesis of the theories of Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud, and explores the potential of collective memory to be a source of disobedience and revolt and point the way to an alternative future. Its title alludes to Freud's Civilization and Its Discontents (1930). The 1966 edition has an added "political preface".
One of Marcuse's best known works, the book brought him international fame. Both Marcuse and many commentators have considered it his most important book, and it was seen as an improvement over the previous attempt to synthesize Marxist and psychoanalytic theory by the psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich. It helped shape the subcultures of the 1960s and influenced the gay liberation movement, and with other books on Freud, such as the classicist Norman O. Brown's Life Against Death (1959) and the philosopher Paul Ricœur's Freud and Philosophy (1965), placed Freud at the center of moral and philosophical inquiry. It has been suggested that the work reveals the influence of the philosopher Martin Heidegger. Marcuse has been credited with offering a convincing critique of Neo-Freudianism, but he has also been criticized for being utopian in his objectives and for misinterpreting Freud's theories.
- 1 Summary
- 2 Publication history
- 3 Reception
- 4 See also
- 5 References
- 6 External links
This section may need to be rewritten entirely to comply with Wikipedia's quality standards. (December 2018)
In the "Political Preface" that opens the work, Marcuse writes that the title Eros and Civilization expresses the optimistic view that the achievements of modern industrial society would make it possible to use society's resources to shape "man's world in accordance with the Life Instincts, in the concerted struggle against the purveyors of Death." He concluded the preface with the words, "Today the fight for life, the fight for Eros, is the political fight." Marcuse discusses the social meaning of biology — history seen not as a class struggle, but a fight against repression of our instincts. He argues that "advanced industrial society" (modern capitalism) is preventing us from reaching a non-repressive society "based on a fundamentally different experience of being, a fundamentally different relation between man and nature, and fundamentally different existential relations". He contends that Freud's argument that repression is needed by civilization to persist is mistaken, as Eros is liberating and constructive.
Marcuse starts with the conflict described by Freud in Civilization and Its Discontents — the struggle between human instincts and the conscience of repression (superego), which is self-repressing trying to follow the society's mores and norms. Freud claimed that a clash between Eros and civilization results in the history of Man being one of his repression: "Our civilization is, generally speaking, founded on the suppression of instincts." Sex produces the energy, and it is repressed so the energy can be channeled into progress — but the price of progress is the prevalence of guilt instead of happiness. "Progress", for Marcuse, is a concept that provides the explanation and excuse of why the system has to continue; it is the reason the happiness of people is sacrificed (see also "pleasure principle").
Marcuse argues that "the irreconcilable conflict is not between work (reality principle [life without leisure]) and Eros (pleasure principle [leisure and pleasure]), but between alienated labour (performance principle [economic stratification]) and Eros." Sex is allowed for "the betters" (capitalists and others in power), and for workers only when not disturbing performance. Marcuse believes that a socialist society could be a society without needing the performance of the "poor" and without as strong a suppression of our sexual drives: it could replace "alienated labor" with "non-alienated libidinal work" resulting in "a non-repressive civilization based on 'non-repressive sublimation'".
Marcuse's argument depends on the assumption that instincts can be shaped by historical phenomena such as repression. Marcuse concludes that our society's troubles result not from biological repression itself but from its increase due to "surplus repression" which is the result of contemporary society. Marcuse also discusses the views of the philosophers Immanuel Kant and Friedrich Schiller, and criticizes the psychiatrist Carl Jung, whose psychology he describes as an "obscurantist neo-mythology".
Eros and Civilization received positive reviews from the philosopher Abraham Edel in The Nation and the historian of science Robert M. Young in the New Statesman. The book was also discussed in 1961 by Susan Sontag in The Supplement to the Columbia Spectator and in 1997 by the art critic Roger Kimball in The New Criterion. In Choice, it received discussions from H. N. Tuttle, R. J. Howell, and M. A. Bertman.
Edel credited Marcuse distinguishing between what portion of the burden repressive civilization places on the fundamental drives is made necessary by survival needs and what serves the interests of domination and is now unnecessary because of the advanced science of the modern world, and with suggesting what changes in cultural attitudes would result from relaxation of the repressive outlook. Young called the book important and honest, as well as "serious, highly sophisticated and elegant". He wrote that Marcuse's conclusions about "surplus repression" converted Freud into an "eroticised Marx", and credited Marcuse with making a "devastating attack" on the views of the neo-Freudian psychoanalysts Erich Fromm, Karen Horney, and Harry Stack Sullivan. Though maintaining that both they and Marcuse confused "ideology with reality" and minimized "the biological sphere", he welcomed Marcuse's view that "the distinction between psychological and political categories has been made obsolete by the condition of man in the present era."
Sontag wrote that together with Brown's Life Against Death (1959), Eros and Civilization represented a "new seriousness about Freudian ideas" and exposed most previous writing on Freud in the United States as irrelevant or superficial. Kimball identified Eros and Civilization and One-Dimensional Man (1964) as Marcuse's most influential books, and wrote that Marcuse's views parallel those of Norman O. Brown, despite the difference of tone between the two thinkers. He dismissed the ideas of both Marcuse and Brown as false and harmful. Tuttle suggested that Eros and Civilization could not be properly understood without reading Marcuse's earlier work Hegel's Ontology and the Theory of Historicity (1932). Howell wrote that Eros and Civilization had been improved upon by C. Fred Alford's Melanie Klein and Critical Social Theory (1989). Bertman wrote that Eros and Civilization was exciting, and had much to do with Marcuse's influence in the 1960s and 1970s.
Mattick credited Marcuse with renewing "the endeavor to read Marx into Freud", following the unsuccessful attempts of Wilhelm Reich, and agreed with Marcuse that Freudian revisionism is "reformist or non-revolutionary". However, he wrote that Freud would have been surprised at the way Marcuse read revolutionary implications into his theories. He noted that Marcuse's way of overcoming the dilemma that "a full satisfaction of man’s instinctual needs is incompatible with the existence of civilized society" was Marxist, despite the fact that Marcuse nowhere mentioned Marx and referred to capitalism only indirectly, as "industrial civilization". He argued that Marcuse tried to develop ideas that were already present in "the far less ambiguous language of Marxian theory", but still welcomed the fact that Marcuse made psychoanalysis and dialectical materialism reach the same desired result. However, he concluded that Marcuse's "call to opposition to present-day conditions remains a mere philosophical exercise without applicability to social actions."
Whitfield noted that Marcuse considered Eros and Civilization his most important book, and wrote that it "merits consideration as his best, neither obviously dated nor vexingly inaccessible" and that it "was honorable of Marcuse to try to imagine how the fullest expression of personality, or plenitude, might extinguish the misery that was long deemed an essential feature of the human condition." He considered the book "thrilling to read" because of Marcuse's conjectures about "how the formation of a life without material restraints might somehow be made meaningful." He argued that Marcuse's view that technology could be used to create a utopia was not consistent with his rejection of "technocratic bureaucracy" in his subsequent work One-Dimensional Man (1964). He also suggested that it was the work that led Pope Paul VI to publicly condemn Marcuse in 1969.
Reviews in academic journals
Eros and Civilization was reviewed by Paul Nyberg in the Harvard Educational Review in 1956. In the American Journal of Sociology, the book was reviewed by the sociologist Kurt Heinrich Wolff in 1956 and received a mixed review from Barbara Celarent in 2010. ("Barbara Celarent" is a pen-name).
Celarent considered Eros and Civilization a "deeper book" than One-Dimensional Man (1964) because it "addressed the core issue: How should we live?" However, Celarent wrote that Marcuse's decision to analyze the issue of what should be done with society's resources with reference to Freud's writings "perhaps curtailed the lifetime of his book, for Freud dropped quickly from the American intellectual scene after the 1970s, just as Marcuse reached his reputational peak." Celarent identified Marx's Capital: Critique of Political Economy (1867–1883) as a source of Marcuse's views on production and labor markets, and described his "combination of Marx and Freud" as "very clever". Celarent credited Marcuse with using psychoanalysis to transform Marx's concept of alienation into "a more subtle psychological construct", the "performance principle". In Celarent's view, it anticipated arguments later made by the philosopher Michel Foucault, but with "a far more plausible historical mechanism" than Foucault's "nebulous" concept of discourse. However, Celarent considered Marcuse's chapter giving "proper Freudian reasons for the historicity of the reality principle" to be of historical interest only, and wrote that Marcuse proposed a "shadowy utopia". Celarent suggested that Eros and Civilization had commonly been misinterpreted, and that Marcuse was not concerned with advocating "free love and esoteric sexual positions."
Discussions in Theory & Society
Jay described the book as one of Marcuse's major works, and his "most utopian" book. He maintained that it completed Marcuse's "theory of remembrance", according to which "memory subverts one-dimensional consciousness and opens up the possibility of an alternative future", and helped Marcuse advance a form of critical theory no longer able to rely on revolutionary proletariat. However, he criticized Marcuse's theory for its "undefined identification of individual and collective memory", writing that Marcuse failed to explain how the individual was in "archaic identity with the species". He suggested that there might be an affinity between Marcuse's views and Jung's, despite Marcuse's contempt for Jung. He criticized Marcuse for his failure to undertake experiments in personal recollection such as those performed by the philosopher Walter Benjamin, or to rigorously investigate the differences between personal memory of an actual event in a person's life and collective historical memory of events antedating all living persons. Jay suggested that the views of the philosopher Ernst Bloch might be superior to Marcuse's, since they did more to account for "the new in history" and more carefully avoided equating recollection with repetition.
Chodorow considered the work of Marcuse and Brown important and maintained that it helped suggest a better psychoanalytic social theory. However, she questioned their interpretations of Freud, argued that they see social relations as an unnecessary form of constraint and fail to explain how social bonds and political activity are possible, criticized their view of "women, gender relations, and generation", and maintained that their use of primary narcissism as a model for union with others involves too much concern with individual gratification. She argued that Eros and Civilization shows some of the same features that Marcuse criticized in Brown's Love's Body (1966), that the form of psychoanalytic theory Marcuse endorsed undermines his social analysis, and that in his distinction between surplus and basic repression, Marcuse did not evaluate what the full effects of the latter might be in a society without domination. She praised parts of the work, such as his chapter on "The Transformation of Sexuality into Eros", but maintained that in some ways it conflicted with Marcuse's Marxism. She criticized Marcuse's account of repression, noting that he used the term in a "metaphoric" fashion that eliminated the distinction between the conscious and the unconscious, and argued that his "conception of instinctual malleability" conflicted with his proposal for a "new reality principle" based on the drives and made his critique of Fromm and Neo-Freudianism disingenuous, and that Marcuse "simply asserted a correspondence between society and personality organization".
Alford, writing in 1987, noted that Marcuse, like many of his critics, regarded Eros and Civilization as his most important work, but observed that Marcuse's views have been criticized for being both too similar and too different to those of Freud. He wrote that recent scholarship broadly agreed with Marcuse that social changes since Freud's era have changed the character of psychopathology. Maintaining that part of this change is an increase in the number of narcissistic personality disorders, he credited Marcuse with showing that narcissism is a "potentially emancipatory force". However, he argued that while Marcuse anticipated some subsequent developments in the theory of narcissism, they nevertheless made it necessary to reevaluate Marcuse's views. He maintained that Marcuse misinterpreted Freud's views on the process of sublimation, though he considered this inevitable given Marcuse's purposes, and noted that aspects of Marcuse's "erotic utopia" seem regressive or infantile, as they involved instinctual gratification for its own sake. Though agreeing with Chodorow that this aspect of Marcuse's work is related to his "embrace of narcissism", he denied, following Grunberger and Chassesguet-Smirgel, that narcissism serves only regressive needs, and argued that "its regressive potential may be transformed into the ground of mature autonomy, which recognizes the rights and needs of others." He agreed with Marcuse that "in spite of the reified power of the reality principle, humanity aims at a utopia in which its most fundamental needs would be fulfilled."
Discussions in other journals
Eros and Civilization was discussed by the philosopher Jeremy Shearmur in Philosophy of the Social Sciences, the philosopher Timothy F. Murphy in the Journal of Homosexuality, C. Fred Alford in Theory, Culture & Society, Michael Beard in Edebiyat: Journal of Middle Eastern Literatures, Peter M. R. Stirk in the History of the Human Sciences, Silke-Maria Weineck in The German Quarterly, Joshua Rayman in Telos, Daniel Cho in Policy Futures in Education, Duston Moore in the Journal of Classical Sociology, Sean Noah Walsh in Crime, Media, Culture, the philosopher Espen Hammer in Philosophy & Social Criticism, the historian Sara M. Evans in The American Historical Review, Molly Hite in Contemporary Literature, Nancy J. Holland in Hypatia, Franco Fernandes and Sérgio Augusto in DoisPontos, and Pieter Duvenage in Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe. In Zeitschrift für Kritische Theorie, the book was discussed by Shierry Weber Nicholsen and Kerstin Stakemeier. In 2013, it was discussed in Radical Philosophy Review. It received a joint discussion from Arnold L. Farr, the philosopher Douglas Kellner, Andrew T. Lamas, and Charles Reitz, and additional discussions from Stefan Bird-Pollan, and Lucio Angelo Privitello. The Radical Philosophy Review also reproduced a document from Marcuse, responding to criticism from the Marxist scholar Sidney Lipshires. In 2017, the book was discussed again in the Radical Philosophy Review by Jeffrey L. Nicholas.
Shearmur identified the historian Russell Jacoby's criticism of psychoanalytic "revisionism" in his work Social Amnesia (1975) as a reworking of Marcuse's criticism of Neo-Freudianism. Murphy criticized Marcuse for failing to examine Freud's idea of bisexuality. Alford criticized the Frankfurt School for ignoring the work of the psychoanalyst Melanie Klein despite the fact that Klein published a seminal paper two years before the publication of Eros and Civilization. Beard described the book as an "apocalyptic companion" to Life Against Death, and wrote that between them the books provided "one of the most influential blueprints for radical thinking in the decade which followed." Stirk reexamined the book by drawing on scholarship on the relationship between reason and instinct. He argued that Marcuse's views were a utopian theory with widespread appeal, but that examination of Marcuse's interpretations of Kant, Schiller, and Freud showed that they wrere based on a flawed methodology. He also maintained that Marcuse's misinterpretation of Freud's concept of reason undermined Marcuse's argument, which privileged a confused concept of instinct over an ambiguous sense of reason. Weineck credited Marcuse with anticipating later reactions to Freud in the 1960s, which maintained in opposition to Freud that the "sacrifice of libido" is not necessary for civilized progress, though she considered Marcuse's views more nuanced than such later ideas. She endorsed Marcuse's criticisms of Fromm and Horney, but maintained that Marcuse underestimated the force of Freud's pessimism and neglected Freud's Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920).
Cho compared Marcuse's views to those of the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, writing that the similarities between them were less well known than the differences. Moore wrote that while the influence of the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead on Marcuse has received insufficient attention, essential aspects of Marcuse's theory can be "better understood and appreciated when their Whiteheadian origins are examined." Holland discussed Marcuse's ideas in relation to those of the cultural anthropologist Gayle Rubin, in order to explore the social and psychological mechanisms behind the "sex/gender system" and to open "new avenues of analysis and liberatory praxis based on these authors' applications of Marxist insights to cultural interpretations" of Freud's writings. Hammer argued that Marcuse was "incapable of offering an account of the empirical dynamics that may lead to the social change he envisions, and that his appeal to the benefits of automatism is blind to its negative effects" and that his "vision of the good life as centered on libidinal self-realization" threatens the freedom of individuals and would "potentially undermine their sense of self-integrity." Hammer maintained that, unlike the philosopher Theodor W. Adorno, Marcuse failed to "take temporality and transience properly into account" and had "no genuine appreciation of the need for mourning." He also argued that "political action requires a stronger ego-formation" than allowed for by Marcuse's views. Evans identified Eros and Civilization as an influence on 1960s activists and young people.
Hite identified the book as an influence on Thomas Pynchon's novel Gravity's Rainbow (1973), finding this apparent in Pynchon's characterization of Orpheus as a figure connected with music, memory, play, and desire. She added that while Marcuse did not "appeal to mind-altering drugs as adjuncts to phantasy", many of his readers were "happy to infer a recommendation." She argued that while Marcuse does not mention pedophilia, it fits his argument that perverse sex can be "revelatory or demystifying, because it returns experience to the physical body". Duvenage described the book as "fascinating", but wrote that Marcuse's suggestions for a repression-free society have been criticized by the philosopher Marinus Schoeman. Farr, Kellner, Lamas, and Reitz wrote that partly because of the impact of Eros and Civilization, Marcuse's work influenced several academic disciplines in the United States and in other countries. Nicholas endorsed Marcuse's "analysis of technological rationality, aesthetic reason, phantasy, and imagination."
Evaluations in books, 1955–1986
The classicist Norman O. Brown commended Eros and Civilization as the first book, following the work of Wilhelm Reich, to "reopen the possibility of the abolition of repression" in Life Against Death (1959). The philosopher Paul Ricœur, in Freud and Philosophy (1965), compared his work to Eros and Civilization. Paul Robinson credited Marcuse and Brown with systematically analyzing psychoanalytic theory in order to reveal its critical implications in The Freudian Left (1969). He believed they went beyond beyond Reich and the anthropologist Géza Róheim in probing the dialectical subtleties of Freud's thought, thereby reaching conclusions more extreme and utopian than theirs. He found Lionel Trilling's work on Freud, Freud and the Crisis of Our Culture (1955), of lesser value. He saw Brown's exploration of the radical implications of psychoanalysis as in some ways more rigorous and systematic than that of Marcuse. He noted that Life Against Death and Eros and Civilization have often been compared, but found Marcuse's book less elegantly written. He concluded that while Marcuse's work is psychologically less radical than that of Brown, it is politically bolder, and unlike Brown's, succeeded in transforming psychoanalytic theory into historical and political categories. He deemed Marcuse a finer theorist than Brown, writing that he provided a more substantial treatment of Freud.
The philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre criticized Marcuse for focusing on Freud's metapsychological theory rather than on psychoanalysis as a method of therapy in Marcuse (1970). He believed that Marcuse followed speculations that were difficult to either support or refute, that his discussion of sex was pompous, that he failed to explain how people whose sexuality was unrepressed would behave, and uncritically accepted Freudian views of sexuality and failed to conduct his own research into the topic. He criticized Marcuse for his dismissive treatment of rival theories, such as those of Reich. He also questioned whether Marcuse was successful in reconciling Freudian with Marxist theories, suggested that the two modes of explanation might be incompatible, and, comparing Marcuse's views to those of Ludwig Feuerbach, argued that by returning to the themes of the Young Hegelian movement Marcuse had retreated to a "pre-Marxist" perspective. The gay rights activist Dennis Altman followed Robinson in criticizing Marcuse for failing to clarify "whether sexual repression causes economic subordination or vice versa" or to "connect his use of Freud's image of the primal crime with his ideas about the repression of nongenital and homosexual drives" in Homosexual: Oppression and Liberation (1971). Though influenced by Marcuse, he commented that Eros and Civilization was referred to surprisingly rarely in gay liberation literature. In an afterword to the 1993 edition of the book, Altman added that Marcuse's "radical Freudianism" was "now largely forgotten" and had never been "particularly popular in the gay movement." The social psychologist Liam Hudson suggested in The Cult of the Fact (1972) that Life Against Death was neglected by radicals because its publication coincided with that of Eros and Civilization. Comparing the two works, he found Eros and Civilization more reductively political and less stimulating.
The critic Frederick Crews argued in Out of My System (1975) that Marcuse's proposed liberation of instinct was not a real challenge to the status quo, since, by taking the position that such a liberation could only be attempted "after culture has done its work and created the mankind and the world that could be free", Marcuse was accommodating society's institutions. He accused Marcuse of sentimentalism. The psychoanalyst Joel Kovel described Eros and Civilization as more successful than Life Against Death in The Age of Desire (1981). The psychotherapist Joel D. Hencken described Eros and Civilization as an important example of the intellectual influence of psychoanalysis and an "interesting precursor" to a study of psychology of the "internalization of oppression" in the anthology Homosexuality: Social, Psychological, and Biological Issues (1982). However, he believed that aspects of the work have limited its audience. The sociologist Jeffrey Weeks described Marcuse's views as "essentialist" in Sexuality and Its Discontents (1985). Though granting that Marcuse proposed a "powerful image of a transformed sexuality" that had a major influence on post-1960s sexual politics, he considered Marcuse's vision "utopian".
The philosopher Jeffrey Abramson credited Marcuse with changing the way he looked at the world and revealing "the terrible bleakness of social life" to him and forcing him to wonder why progress does "so little to end human misery and destructiveness" in Liberation and Its Limits (1986). He compared Eros and Civilization to Brown's Life Against Death (1959), the cultural critic Philip Rieff's Freud: The Mind of the Moralist (1959), Ricœur's Freud and Philosophy (1965), and the philosopher Jürgen Habermas's Knowledge and Human Interests (1968), writing that these works jointly placed Freud at the center of moral and philosophical inquiry. However, he argued that while Marcuse recognized the difficulties of explaining how sublimation could be compatible with a new and non-repressive social order, he presented a confused account of a "sublimation without desexualization" that could make this possible. He described some of Marcuse's speculations as bizarre, and suggested that his "vision of Eros" is "imbalanced in the direction of the sublime" and that the "essential conservatism" of his stance on sexuality had gone unnoticed. The philosopher Roger Scruton criticized Marcuse and Brown in Sexual Desire (1986), describing their proposals for sexual liberation as an "another expression of the alienation" they condemned and an attempt to "dress up the outlook of the alienated individual in the attributes of virtue." The anthropologist Pat Caplan identified Eros and Civilization as an influence on student protest movements of the 1960s, apparent in their use of the slogan, "Make love not war", in the anthology The Cultural Construction of Sexuality (1987). In the same work, Victor J. Seidler credited Marcuse with showing that the repressive organizations of the instincts described by Freud are not inherent in their nature but emerge from specific historical conditions. He suggested that this area of investigation should have appealed to Foucault, but that Foucault was prevented from taking account of it because he was "trapped in his idea that individuality is itself constituted through discourse."
Evaluations in books, 1987–present
The philosopher Seyla Benhabib argued in her introduction to Marcuse's Hegel's Ontology and the Theory of Historicity (1932) that Eros and Civilization continues the interest in historicity present in that earlier work and that Marcuse views the sources of disobedience and revolt as being rooted in collective memory. Stephen Frosh found Eros and Civilization and Life Against Death to be among the most important advances towards a psychoanalytic theory of art and culture in The Politics of Psychoanalysis (1987). However, he considered the way these works turn the internal psychological process of repression into a model for social existence as a whole to be disputable. Kenneth Lewes endorsed Marcuse's criticism of the "pseudohumane moralizing" of neo-Freudians such as Fromm, Horney, Sullivan, and Clara Thompson in The Psychoanalytic Theory of Male Homosexuality (1988). Joel Schwartz identified Eros and Civilization as "one of the most influential Freudian works written since Freud's death" in the anthology Confronting the Constitution (1990). However, he argued that Marcuse failed to reinterpret Freud in a way that adds political to psychoanalytic insights or remedy Freud's "failure to differentiate among various kinds of civil society", instead simply grouping all existing regimes as "repressive societies" and contrasting them with a hypothetical future non-repressive society. Kovel noted in History and Spirit (1991) that Marcuse studied with Heidegger but later broke with him for political reasons and suggested that the Heideggerian aspects of Marcuse's thinking, which had been in eclipse during Marcuse's most active period with the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research, reemerged, displaced onto Freud, in Eros and Civilization.
The economist Richard Posner maintained in Sex and Reason (1992) that Eros and Civilization contains "political and economic absurdities" but also interesting observations about sex and art. He credited Marcuse with providing arguments that made his work a critique of conventional sexual morality superior to Bertrand Russell's Marriage and Morals (1929), but accused Marcuse of wrongly believing that polymorphous perversity would help to create a utopia and that sex has the potential to be a politically subversive force. He considered Marcuse's argument that capitalism has the ability to neutralize the subversive potential of "forces such as sex and art" interesting, though clearly true only in the case of art. He argued that while Marcuse believed that American popular culture had trivialized sexual love, sex had not had a subversive effect in societies not dominated by American popular culture. The historian Arthur Marwick identified Eros and Civilization as the book with which Marcuse achieved international fame, a key work in the intellectual legacy of the 1950s, and important in shaping the subcultures of the 1960s, in The Sixties (1998). The historian Roy Porter argued in the anthology Debating Gender, Debating Sexuality (1996) that Marcuse's view that "industrialization demanded erotic austerity" was not original, and was discredited by Foucault in The History of Sexuality (1976).
The philosopher Todd Dufresne compared Eros and Civilization to Brown's Life Against Death (1959) and the anarchist author Paul Goodman's Growing Up Absurd (1960) in Tales from the Freudian Crypt (2000). He questioned to what extent Marcuse's readers understood his work, suggesting that many student activists might have shared the view of Morris Dickstein, to whom it work meant, "not some ontological breakthrough for human nature, but probably just plain fucking, lots of it". Posner suggested in Public Intellectuals: A Story of Decline (2001) that "1960s radicals", influenced by Marcuse, claimed that "sexual promiscuity would undermine capitalism" but have been proven wrong by the spread of both sexual promiscuity and capitalism. Anthony Elliott identified Eros and Civilization as a "seminal" work in Psychoanalytic Theory: An Introduction (2002). The essayist Jay Cantor described Life Against Death and Eros and Civilization as "equally profound" in his introduction to Brown's The Challenge of Islam: The Prophetic Tradition (2009).
The critic Camille Paglia wrote in Provocations (2018) that while Eros and Civilization was "one of the centerpieces of the Frankfurt School", she found the book inferior to Life Against Death. She described Eros and Civilization as "overschematic yet blobby and imprecise".
The gay rights activist Jearld Moldenhauer discussed Marcuse's views in The Body Politic. He suggested that Marcuse found the gay liberation movement insignificant, and criticized Marcuse for ignoring it in Counterrevolution and Revolt (1972), even though many gay activists had been influenced by Eros and Civilization. He pointed to Altman as an activist who had been inspired by the book, which inspired him to argue that the challenge to "conventional norms" represented by gay people made them revolutionary.
Rainer Funk wrote that the psychoanalyst Erich Fromm, in a letter to the philosopher Raya Dunayevskaya, dismissed Eros and Civilization as an incompetent distortion of Freud and "the expression of an alienation and despair masquerading as radicalism" and referred to Marcuse's "ideas for the future man" as irrational and sickening.
The gay rights activist Jeffrey Escoffier discussed Eros and Civilization in GLBTQ Social Sciences, writing that it "played an influential role in the writing of early proponents of gay liberation", such as Altman and Martin Duberman, and "influenced radical gay groups such as the Gay Liberation Front's Red Butterfly Collective", which adopted as its motto the final line from the "Political Preface" of the 1966 edition of the book: "Today the fight for life, the fight for Eros, is the political fight." Escoffier noted, however, that Marcuse later had misgivings about sexual liberation as it developed in the United States, and that Marcuse's influence on the gay movement declined as it embraced identity politics.
According to P. D. Casteel, Eros and Civilization is, with One-Dimensional Man, the work Marcuse is best known for.
- Marcuse 1974, pp. xi, xxv.
- Marcuse 1974, p. 5.
- Young 1969, pp. 666–667.
- Marcuse 1974, p. 182.
- Marcuse 1974, pp. 147, 192, 239.
- Marcuse 1974, p. iv.
- Edel 1956, p. 22.
- Sontag 1990, pp. ix, 256–262.
- Kimball 1997, pp. 4–9.
- Tuttle 1988, p. 1568.
- Howell 1990, p. 1398.
- Bertman 1998, p. 702.
- Mattick 1956.
- Whitfield 2014, pp. 102–107.
- Nyberg 1956, pp. 87–88.
- Wolff 1956, pp. 342–343.
- Celarent 2010, pp. 1964–1972.
- Sica 2011, pp. 385–387.
- Jay 1982, pp. 1–15.
- Chodorow 1985, pp. 271–319.
- Alford 1987, pp. 869–890.
- Shearmur 1983, p. 87.
- Murphy 1985, pp. 65–77.
- Alford 1993, pp. 207–227.
- Beard 1998, p. 161.
- Stirk 1999, p. 73.
- Weineck 2000, pp. 351–365.
- Rayman 2005, pp. 167–187.
- Cho 2006, pp. 18–30.
- Moore 2007, pp. 83–108.
- Walsh 2008, pp. 221–236.
- Hammer 2008, pp. 1071–1093.
- Evans 2009, pp. 331–347.
- Hite 2010, pp. 677–702.
- Holland 2011, pp. 65–78.
- Fernandes & Augusto 2016, pp. 117–123.
- Duvenage 2017, pp. 7–21.
- Nicholsen 2006, pp. 164–179.
- Stakemeier 2006, pp. 180–195.
- Radical Philosophy Review 2013, pp. 31–47.
- Farr et al. 2013, pp. 1–15.
- Bird-Pollan 2013, pp. 99–107.
- Privitello 2013, pp. 109–122.
- Marcuse 2013, pp. 25–30.
- Nicholas 2017, pp. 185–213.
- Brown 1959, p. xx.
- Ricœur 1970, p. xii.
- Robinson 1990, pp. 148–149, 223, 224, 231–233.
- MacIntyre 1970, pp. 41–54.
- Altman 2012, pp. 88, 253.
- Hudson 1976, p. 75.
- Crews 1975, p. 22.
- Kovel 1981, p. 272.
- Hencken 1982, pp. 127, 138, 147, 414.
- Weeks 1993, pp. 165, 167.
- Abramson 1986, pp. ix, 96–97, 148.
- Scruton 1994, pp. 350, 413.
- Caplan 1987, pp. 6, 27.
- Seidler 1987, p. 95.
- Benhabib 1987, pp. xxx, xxxiii–xxxiv.
- Frosh 1987, pp. 21–22, 150.
- Lewes 1995, p. 130.
- Schwartz 1990, p. 526.
- Kovel 1991, p. 244.
- Posner 1992, pp. 22–23, 237–240.
- Marwick 1998, p. 291.
- Porter 1996, p. 252.
- Dufresne 2000, pp. 111–112.
- Posner 2001, p. 303.
- Elliott 2002, p. 52.
- Cantor 2009, p. xii.
- Paglia 2018, p. 421.
- Moldenhauer 1972, p. 9.
- Funk 2000, p. 101.
- Escoffier 2015, pp. 1–4.
- Casteel 2017, pp. 1–6.
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- Altman, Dennis (2012). Homosexual: Oppression & Liberation. St Lucia: University of Queensland Press. ISBN 978-0-7022-4937-2.
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- Table of contents, with links to full texts of preface, 1966 preface, introduction, chapter 1, epilog, and index (at marcuse.org)
- Citations of numerous reviews in 6 languages, with links to on-line texts
- Review by Paul Mattick
- Review by Robert M. Young