Quote Origin: Not Every Kind of Problem Someone Has with a Girlfriend or Boyfriend Is Necessarily Due To the Capitalist Mode of Production

Herbert Marcuse? Bryan Magee? Apocryphal?

Quote Investigator®
3 min readSep 4, 2023

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Aeroplane Factory from Birmingham Museums Trust

Question for Quote Investigator: It is tempting to view the world through the prism of an all-encompassing sociocultural stance, e.g., Marxism, Freudianism, or existentialism. However, this distorted vision reduces one’s life to a didactic parable. Here is a humorous remark about this obsessive reductionism:

Not every problem someone has with his girlfriend is necessarily due to the capitalist mode of production.

This statement has been attributed to the prominent German-American philosopher Herbert Marcuse, but I have been unable to find a citation. Would you please help me?

Reply from Quote Investigator: In 1978 Herbert Marcuse was interviewed by U.K. philosopher and broadcaster Bryan Magee for the BBC. A transcript appeared in the BBC magazine “The Listener” of London. Magee asked Marcuse about Marx’s conception of the alienation of labor. Marcuse replied that it was a complicated subject. Boldface added to excerpts by QI

According to Marx, alienation was a socio-economic concept, and it meant (this is a very brutal abbreviation) that, under capitalism, men and women could not, in their work, fulfil their own individual humane faculties and needs, that this was due to the capitalist mode of production itself , and could only be remedied by radically changing this mode of production.

Marcuse commented on the misuse of the term alienation:

Today, the concept of alienation has been expanded and extended to such an extent that this original content is almost entirely lost — an extension all too easy, which I consider not only premature, but also wrong. For example, not every kind of trouble or problem someone has with his girlfriend or boyfriend is necessarily due to the capitalist mode of production.

“The Listener” magazine repeated and highlighted this statement in a simplified pull quote:²

‘Not every problem someone has with his girlfriend is necessarily due to the capitalist mode of production’

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

The quip was memorable enough that the simplified version appeared in the 1982 collection “Morrow’s International Dictionary of Contemporary Quotations” compiled by Jonathon Green:³

HERBERT MARCUSE
German philosopher
The Listener 1978

Not every problem someone has with his girlfriend is necessarily due to the capitalist mode of production.

In 2000 “Random House Webster’s Wit & Humor Quotationary” edited by Leonard Roy Frank included this entry:⁴

HERBERT MARCUSE (1898–1979). German-born American political philosopher

Not every problem someone has with his girlfriend is necessarily due to the capitalist mode of production.

In conclusion, Herbert Marcuse deserves credit for the quotation printed in “The Listener” magazine in February 1978. The magazine also printed a slightly inaccurate simplified version of the quotation. This simplified instance later appeared in quotation reference works.

Image Notes: Manufacturing Spitfires at Castle Bromwich Aeroplane Factory. Picture from Birmingham Museums Trust in England via Unsplash. The Image has been cropped.

Acknowledgement: Great thanks to Justin DeSimpliciis whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. DeSimpliciis helpfully found a citation in a book which pointed to “The Listener” magazine. Unfortunately, the citation specified an incorrect date. Many thanks to researcher Stephen Goranson who precisely located the 1978 citation in “The Listener” and obtained page scans.

[1] 1978 February 9, The Listener, Volume 99, Number 2546, Herbert Marcuse on the need for an open Marxist mind, (Interview of Herbert Marcuse by Bryan Magee; Edited transcript from third program of the series “Men of Ideas: Creators of Modern Philosophy” BBC2), Start Page 169, Quote Page 170 and 171, The Listener Magazine BBC, London, England. (Gale Cengage — The Listener Historical Archive)

[2] 1978 February 9, The Listener, Volume 99, Number 2546, Herbert Marcuse on the need for an open Marxist mind, (Interview of Herbert Marcuse by Bryan Magee; Edited transcript from third program of the series “Men of Ideas: Creators of Modern Philosophy” BBC2), Start Page 169, Quote Page 170, The Listener Magazine BBC, London, England. (Gale Cengage — The Listener Historical Archive)

[3] 1982, Morrow’s International Dictionary of Contemporary Quotations, Compiled by Jonathon Green, Topic: Revolution, Quote Page 303, William Morrow and Company, New York. (Verified with scans)

[4] 2000, Random House Webster’s Wit & Humor Quotationary, Edited by Leonard Roy Frank, Person: Herbert Marcuse, Quote Page 168, Random House, New York. (Verified with scans)

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Quote Investigator®

Garson O'Toole specializes in tracing quotations. He operates the QuoteInvestigator.com website which receives more than 4 million visitors per year