One-Dimensional Man offers the reader a wide-ranging critique of both contemporary capitalism and the Soviet model of communism, documenting the parallel rise of new forms of social repression (both public and personal) in both these societies as well as the decline of revolutionary potential in the West. He argued that "advanced industrial society" created false needs, which integrated individuals into the existing system of production and consumption via mass media, advertising, industrial management, and contemporary modes of thought. This results in a "one-dimensional" universe of thought and behaviour in which aptitude and ability for critical thought and oppositional behaviour wither away. Against this prevailing climate, Marcuse promotes the "great refusal" (described at length in the book) as the only adequate opposition to all-encompassing methods of control. Much of the book is a defense of "negative thinking" as a disrupting force against the prevailing positivism.
Marcuse also analyzed the integration of the industrial working class into capitalist society and new forms of capitalist stabilization, thus questioning the Marxian postulates of the revolutionary proletariat and inevitability of capitalist crisis. In contrast to orthodox Marxism, Marcuse championed non-integrated forces of minorities, outsiders, and radical intelligentsia, attempting to nourish oppositional thought and behavior through promoting radical thinking and opposition. He considered the trends towards bureaucracy in supposedly-Marxist countries to be as oppositional to freedom as those in the Capitalist west. Considered by some to be the most subversive book of the twentieth century, it was severely criticized by both orthodox Marxists and academic theorists of various political and theoretical commitments. Despite its pessimism, it influenced many in the New Left as it articulated their growing dissatisfaction with both capitalist societies and Soviet communist societies.
In this work Marcuse describes the idea of repressive desublimation.