Date of Award

Spring 1991

Document Type



Political Science & International Relations


People in the United States cherish freedom. Because we place such a great emphasis on freedom, many of us reject claims that we are not really free. However, there is a group of social theorists who claim that our freedom is largely an illusion. This group is called the Frankfurt School, and they are concerned with restoration of individual liberty in advanced industrial societies. Herbert Marcuse, a Frankfurt theorist, opens the initial chapter of One-Dimensional Man with the following statement, “A comfortable, smooth, reasonable, democratic unfreedom prevails in advanced industrial civilization, a token of technical progress” (Marcuse 1964). The kind of “unfreedom” to which Marcuse is referring does not correspond to the vision of oppression held by most people. He does not intend to imply that Americans suffer under physical coercion of the type exhibited by the police states of Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia. Marcuse claims that domination in our society is much more subtle and therefore more effective.

Most of the work by Frankfurt theorists regarding domination of the individual in advanced industrial societies is influenced by the social and political works of Max Weber and Karl Marx. Consistent with Weber’s theories, they agree that this domination results from the expansion of instrumental rationality. Consistent with Marx’s tenets, they also believe that social revolution is the only way to overcome this domination.