Marcuse, H.: "The New Forms of Control"

Marcuse, H. (2003). The New Forms of Control. In R. Scharff & V. Dusek (Eds.), Philosophy of technology (pp. 571-577). Malden,  MA: Blackwell Publishing.

Opening paragraph:

"A comfortable, smooth, reasonable, democratic un-freedom prevails in advanced industrial civilization, a token of technical progress. Indeed, what could be more rational than the suppression of individuality in the mechanization of socially necessary but painful performances; the concentration of individual enterprises in more effective, more productive corporations; the regulation of free competition among unequally equipped economic subjects; the curtailment of prerogatives and national sovereignties which impeded the international organization of resources. That this technological order also involves a political and intellectual coordination may be a regrettable and yet promising development" (405).

"Independence of thought, autonomy, and the right to political opposition are being deprived of their basic critical function in a society which seems increasingly capable of satisfying the needs of individuals through the way in which it is organized" (405).

Distinguishes between the initial freedoms (encompassed by free enterprise) which allowed the freedom to starve and the newer freedoms, those beyond necessity (405). The promise of technology would enable the possibility of true individual autonomy (utopian view). Argues, however, that the reality is contrary:

...the apparatus imposes its economic and political requirements for defense and expansion on labor time and free time, on the material and intellectual culture. By the virtue of the way it has organized its technological base, contemporary society tends to be totalitarian. (406)

Claims that political power is asserted through power over machine process and technological organization of the apparatus (406, close para). Since machines are more powerful (physically?), they are most "effective political instrument" (406). Recognizes the potential for creation of a new freedom, but presently does not see this as case.

Argues that the new freedoms must be reconceived as freedoms from: from the economy (economic), from politics (political), from public opinion (intellectual).

Distinguishes between true and false needs.

  • false needs: "those which are superimposed upon the individual by particular social interests in his repression: the needs which perpetuate toil, aggressiveness, misery, and injustice....most of the prevailing needs to relax, to have fun, to behave and consume in accordance with the advertisements, to love and hate what others love and hate, belong to this category of false needs" (406407). They are determined by external powers over which individual has no control.

Explains that the only needs that have "an unqualified claim for satisfaction" (407) are vital needs--food, clothing, shelter at most basic. Needs should be judged by priority. 

In the last analysis, the question of what are true and false needs must be answered by the individuals themselves, but only in the last analysis; that is, if and when they are free to give their own answer. (407)

Marcuse argues that the more rational the repressive administration of a society becomes, the harder it is for individuals to imagine freedom (407). Sees that the advanced industrial society 'suffocates' those needs which demand liberation. "The range of choice open to the individual is not the decisive factor in determining the degree of human freedom, but what can be chosen and what is chosen by the individual" (407). "Free election of masters does not abolish the masters or the slaves" (408).


Observes that this is often placed on the indoctrinating power of the media (408); argues that "preconditioning" didn't start with the mass media--humans preconditioned socially/historical--but what has happened is a "flattening" (the boss and the worker watch same tv programs, e.g.). "...if they all read the same newspaper, then this assimilation indicates not the disappearance of classes, but the extent to which the needs and satisfactions that serve the preservation of the Establishment are shared by the underlying population" (408). "The rational character of its [advanced industrial civ's] rationality...The very mechanism which ties the individual to his society has changed, and social control is anchored in the new needs which it has produced" (408). 

But in the contemporary period, the technological controls appear to be the very embodiment of Reason for the benefit of all social groups and interests--to such and extent that all contradiction seems irrational and all counteraction impossible." (408)

'Private' spaces broken down by mass production and mass distribution. Progress--> Reason --> Submission. Ideology absorbed into reality.

The products indoctrinate and manipulate; they promote a false consciousness which is immune against its falsehood. And as these beneficial products become available to more individuals in more social classes, the indoctrination they carry ceases to be publicity; it becomes a way of life. It is a good way of life--much better than before--and as a good way of life, it militates against qualitative change. Thus emerges a pattern of one-dimensional thought and behavior in which ideas, aspirations, and objectives that, by their content, transcend the established universe of discourse and action are either repelled or reduced to terms of this universe. They are redefined by the rationality of the given system and of its quantitative extension. (409)

Cites Bridgman-- operationalizing society leads to a reformatting of thought that prohibits using "tools in our thinking concepts of which we cannot give an adequate account in terms of operations" (410).


Western, Eastern, "Free world," socialistic-- "in both camps, non-operational ideas are non-behavioral and subversive. The movement of thought is stopped at barriers which appear as the limits of Reason itself" (410). While limitation of thought existed before, mitigated by the visual social reminders of injustice, coupled with an ability to escape the established state of affairs. Now, with this escape valve being shut off, greater self-limitation of thought.