The Silence (One-Dimensional Person), 2018



The ‘one-dimensional person’ is a crucial concept approached by Herbert Marcuse of his investigation into the ideology of advanced modern industrialised society, which in turn indicates the ability of an ordinary person who should have a two-dimensional structure of thought: the positive and the negative. The positive dimension of thinking contributes to the stability of society, that is, to the affirmation of the existing social order; and negative dimension refers to advancing social progress that is generated through negating and criticising the structure of society. In this sense, ‘one-dimensional person’ suggests that the alienated people in the advanced capitalistic society are suppressed and paralysed by the structural power in several aspects such as politics, thoughts, linguistic system, et cetera. Hence, their criticalness, negation and transcendence are gradually mislaid, enduring only the one-dimension thought of affirming existing social order, which is what Marcuse perceived “the unparalleled affluence of the consumer society and the apparatus of planning and management in advanced capitalism had produced new forms of social administration and a ‘society without opposition’ that threatened individuality and that closed off possibilities of radical social change.” (Marcuse, 2008: xxv). A group of Marxist theoreticians (Frankfurt School) think that capitalism in the twentieth century is already late capitalism (Adorno, 1968), yet there is still a lack of revolutionary resistance against the irrational capitalistic society, the reason that causes this phenomenon is the emergence of modern technology by Marcuse’s account.

Science and technology act a significant function in industrial production in modern society, but at the same time implement the functions of ideology, which have never been value-neutral, in fact, with explicit political intentions inside the common mode whether common belief apprehend it or not. To illustrate science and technology’s service function for the capitalist ideology by a perspective of retelling Marxist commodity fetishism, it could be recognised that the mass production of commodities is actually attributed to the development of science and technology which in turn paralyse people who immerse in the socially constructed ‘false needs’ in many aspects, making them indulge in material enjoyment, maintaining stability in a capitalist society.

The technical apparatus of the production and distribution, which accompany increasing automation constituents of mechanical development in the contemporary developed industrial society does not function as a whole of pure instruments detached from its social and political effects, instead, as a mature system that not only determines the products of the machinery a priori, but also commands the implementation process of the service and the augmentation of the products. On this account, the tendency toward shifting to a totalitarian productive apparatus in existing society appears which in a way definitively defined the professions, abilities and attitudes that society demands, also restricts the demands and aspirations of the individual (In a totalitarian society, governmentality is based on the assumption that people can be thoroughly regulated because they are merely a functional role which is assigned by a higher natural or historical power). Therefore, it eliminates the opposition between private and public, individual needs and social needs, in a sense, technology has enhanced an effectively supplementary form of social governance and social solidarity for existing institutions. (Marcuse, 2008). By revealing the appearance of these totalitarian features of the accomplice-like technology that be alienated through the social construct, the conventional notion of “neutrality” that argued root essentially in the technology has been destructed — shaped a technological society with totalitarian characteristic in which a dominating system that originated and designated by the concept and structure of technology, and vice-versa.

In order to detailedly decipher the science and technology has already functioned as an ideology that been conducted and generated by the existing society, a theoretical framework of ideological state apparatus will be depicted in the following section. Karl Marx argues that the state is the repressive apparatus, which allows the ruling class (including the bourgeoisie) to sustain authority and control over the working class and ensure that the dominance hierarchy dominates the process of exploiting surplus value. The state apparatus is not merely maintained by the polices, the judiciary, the courts, the prisons but also the military which is constituted by the employed proletariat and mobilised in the most severe circumstances, furthermore, Marxism-Leninism has primarily defined the bourgeoisie’s coherently continuously-sustained domination upon the proletariat as the function of the state. To cite the Russian Revolution in 1917 as historical support, Louis Althusser claims that there is a necessity to distinguish between state power and state apparatus, mentioning that no matter how the state power is disturbed, the state apparatus can subsist without any improvement. (Althusser, 2014). Moreover, Althusser endeavoured to embody Marx’s theory of state further, except distinguishing state power from state apparatus he established a genus under the latter – the ideological state apparatuses, which to subdivide the state apparatus into two types (repressive state apparatuses and ideological state apparatuses). Differentiate from repressive state apparatuses which are unified organisations function by violence the ideological state apparatus are pluralist, including the legal system, politics, education, trade alliance, media and communication, family, religion, culture and other contemporary capitalist social formation. Every aspect of those contains its ideological state apparatus meanwhile they are not remarkably explicit, visualise, and detectable. Besides, the repressive state apparatus mainly represents in the public domain, and the ideological state apparatus emerges in the private domain, precisely, it tightly grasps the individual’s consciousness and actions. Althusser proposed a core issue which unveils the obligation to utter about the state apparatus — a question about how to maintain the relations of production. For Marx, the solution relies on the legal-political and ideological superstructure, alternately, Althusser believes that to maintain the relations of production which is inevitable to rely on the operation by state power through the embodiment of state apparatus — including repressive state apparatus and ideological state apparatus. Repressive state apparatus manipulate force to provide political conditions for the reproduction of production relations to ensure that the exploitation relationship continues. The repressive state apparatus reproduces itself as well as utilises suppression to renders the conditions for the operation of the ideological state apparatus. The ruling ideology assumes a role in sustaining a harmonious relationship between repressive state apparatus and ideological state apparatus as well as plural ideological state apparatuses to secure the reproduction of the relations of production.

Return to preceding text about the science and technology functions as ideology, in an extent, the affirmative (positive) function of science and technology is utilised by the ruling class of the capitalist society through plural ideological state apparatuses in which the science and technology embedded as fundamental character in order to suppress and paralyse the public, especially the resistance consciousness in the proletariat. In detail, Marxists believe that capitalism contains seeds of self-denial and self-destruction, but to produce positively radical social transformations, a necessary premise is a massive gap between the working class and the bourgeoisie. However, due to the advancement of science and technology, people’s living standards and enjoyment methods have regularly converged and homogenised through a large number of campaigns, advertisements, entertainment TV dramas in such an ideological state apparatus — mass media to manipulation of people’s hobbies and needs — watch the same shows, travel to the same places and consume the same commodities and so forth notwithstanding the gap between rich and poor shows no sign of narrowing, the assimilation of needs does not indicate the disappearance of class. Instead, The feasibility of protesting in the name of unfair social distribution is narrowing. When people enjoy certain items to a certain extent, they are more eager to enjoy life harmlessly. If people want to enjoy more products, they need to work hard and make more investment; likewise, they become a fragment of the re-approval and re-recognition of existing production relations (capitalism with totalitarian characteristic) because of their input. Science and technology have played an ideological role, deaden people’s thought toward the boundaries and opposition between classes, losing the possibility and enthusiasm for conceiving a radical social change. Modern science and technology based on modern science functions as ideology and the technological rationality which the derivate from alienated science and technology protect the legitimacy of the rule, while the rational instrumentalist perspective manifests a rational totalitarian society. Since science and technology are widely used in various fields of production, the integration of the working class and capitalism is further promoted, the working class as a negative power toward capitalism are now transformed into affirmative power in Marcuse’s view. In another way of representation, the structure power of capitalistic society, the dominant social discourse, the logic of consumer society, the material enjoyment people attained, all these elements have combined together forcing the obliteration of negative dimension of thought, makes people intentionally or unintentionally support capitalist society and weaken the edge and strength of the resistance, forming a typical one-dimensional structure of thought.

The alienation of science and technology arises when the science and technology that people develop for survival, in turn, obliterate the criticality of humanity and as an ideological tool used to ‘enslave’ people. Although modern science and technology have indeed raised living standards, they have also brought about repression and destruction, creating a world in which the anthropocentric dominant upon nature and the social slavery of the human being simultaneously existing and proceeding. The philosophical manifestation of this distorted science and technology is positivism, especially the operationalism in the physical sciences and the behaviourism in the social sciences that all shared a common feature that reviewing concepts through an empirical methodology, which the meaning of concepts is limited to peculiar actions and the appearance of and behaviours, and these philosophical doctrines oppose all concepts that do not have a ‘positive’ meaning. What is worse, positivism advocates tolerating all values and encouraging no restrictions on a value judgment, which affect a reactionary consequence. Likewise, hypothesising the predominance of this empirical ideological attitude resulting in the society to become a one-dimensional person society which is the victim of false consciousness — although most people recognise this social system, it still does not make this social system more rational. On account of this social system hollowing out the critical content of the opposite, it can assimilate all kinds of opposites without causing harm to itself. It can satisfy a broad number of human needs, but all needs are false in themselves, which is the profit-seeking exploiter imposed on individuals in order to perpetuate injustice, poverty and aggression. The improvement of the living standards of the ordinary people does not mean the disappearance of hierarchy and class oppression, but only that ordinary people are being manipulated by false needs and lose their ability to criticise, dissipating the negative dimension. “The slaves of developed industrial civilization are sublimated slaves, but they are slaves, for slavery is determined” (Marcuse, 2008: 36). Governance has become comprehensive with the technological progress, the individual who has lost the ability to rationally criticise social reality is the so-called “one-dimensional person”.


Reference List:

Adorno, T. (1968). Spätkapitalismus oder Industriegesellschaft. (Late Capitalism or Industrial Society?) Address to the 16th Congress of the German Sociological Association. Translation published in Volker Meja, Dieter Misgeld, Nico Stehr (eds.) (1987) Modern German Sociology. New York: Columbia U. Press. Available at <> (Accessed 17 January 2019).

Althusser, L. (2014). On the Reproduction of Capitalism: Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (G. M. Goshgarian, Trans.). London: Verso.

Marcuse, H. (2008). One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society. London: Routledge.