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Especially as self-described socialists gain attention , it is once again time for a reckoning on the Marxism of Marx. Marx was not an advocate of reform, however radical. But that is not the conclusion of mature Marxism. Rousseau, for all his other faults, provides a much more humane and convincing alternative to the pathologies of commercial society. They, unlike Marx, tried to moderate—and calibrate—class struggle in the name of justice and the common good.

Marx thus cannot provide the intellectual foundations of a decent, moderate, or responsible Left in our democratic societies. To suggest otherwise is to engage in wishful thinking and the worst kind of philosophical and historical revisionism. Some, like the distinguished Catholic philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, think Marx became relevant again, in fact, ever more relevant, after the fall of European communism. On this account, the Marxism of Marx no longer has to carry the noose of Soviet communism around its neck.

Marx thus becomes a cipher or symbol for any and all reservations about capitalist modernity. Marx, a thoroughgoing modernist and cosmopolitan, would be appalled. Marxism has become the last refuge for assorted fools, frauds, and scoundrels, and apologists for totalitarianism in the academy. Unlike the neo-communists, MacIntyre to his credit takes moral virtue seriously and thus refuses to justify the unjustifiable.

His indulgence towards Marx is consequently all the more mysterious, perhaps a residue of the anti-bourgeois ire that inspired him as a young Marxist theorist and activist. Anti-bourgeois ire can unite the Stalinist activist and the communitarian romantic without relativizing or identifying the two stances.

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It is at a minimum one legitimate and even predictable outcome of the Marxist project. In that work, Voegelin accused Marx, with some justification, of refusing to allow certain questions to even be asked. Can we call such an unrelieved dogmatist a philosopher open to the truth of things? We have here a portent of the nationalization of the mind that would be the fate of human beings under actual socialism. The essential human questions asked by religion and philosophy were banned by the ideocratic state.

Marx bears a heavy responsibility for the closure to the life of reason that marked every communist society in the 20th century. As we see, multiple roads lead from the Marxism of Marx to the tragedies of the 20th century. Can we still learn from Marx? Of course we can, despite everything. But we do not want to imitate Marx in closing off these questions prematurely. Every student of politics and political philosophy must spend time with Marx, even if only to learn what to avoid.

Norton, remains the most accessible and comprehensive collection of these writings. Daniel J. About the Author. It is no exaggeration to say that Marx is probably the most consequential Western political thinker since Plato and Aristotle.

And despite these horrors, the sheer fact that Marx continues to appeal to a large number of Western philosophers and political thinkers demonstrates that there is a great deal to be learned from him and that establishing the errors of his thought is anything but simple. The same is true of the critical theorists of the Frankfurt school and others particularly Foucault who are routinely dismissively disparaged by conservative writers when their work contains much of value, the refutation and even criticism of which is no easy task.

Second Thoughts

This is a good essay. There is, however, one other important teaching that conservatives can learn from Marx. It is the solvent of tradition. Eventually, capitalism even destroys the bourgeois institutions and practices e. As Lenin put it, communists will just kick in the rotting door. Corporations today that work with the radical left in undermining traditional mores and practices are only proving Marx right, and sealing their fate. You completely misconstrued what I wrote. Aron believed that Marx was often insightful as an economist and social observer.

And then there is the matter of his refusal to countenance any philosophical or religious challenges to Communism. Voegelin is right: Marx is not worthy of being called a philosopher because he angrily and dogmatically closed off fundamental human questions. Whether Marx is properly titled a philosopher is beside the point.

Marx often employed a highly polemical style in service to his 11th thesis on Feuerbach. Deny him the title of philosopher and his influence on human and thought is not thereby diminished. Hobbes could be acerbic in style and unequivocal in substance; is he also not a proper philosopher? As for the devastating impact of his thought, this was exactly my point, exactly why I rank his importance to political thought as I do. Marxian Utopias were constructed all across the globe on a grand scale and they all failed spectacularly, but absent that demonstrated failure, it would be impossible to refute his contempt for bourgeois liberty and markets or to pronounce as illusory his idea that human nature could be fundamentally changed.

Capitalism stumbles on and on.

How to change the world : reflections on Marx and Marxism / Eric Hobsbawm - Details - Trove

Socialism fails and fails. Ad hominem is an honored tactic and has its important place when the strategic purpose is victory over the pernicious ideals and forces of an enemy. As Eric Hoffer has taught, a True Believer is beyond the pale of reason. Like I said above, treating something seriously and giving it your approbation are two different things. To try to understand something is not to defer to it, nor to debate it except within your own thinking nor to respect it in the sense of approbation.

I did not say and you know I did not say or imply that the threat of Marxism or National Socialism or of Marxists or Nazis should not be taken seriously.

I did say that in some ideological cases, Marxism most infamous among them, the intellectual theories that once filled the heads and still fill the heads of the perpetrators then and now of that threat are no longer deserving of the intellectual exchange or debate which you appear prepared to grant them. Those who threaten my country with Marxism and they are legion are uninterested in debating about its theories. Defending my country against its enemies, I feel the same way.

Please learn what you will from Marx and debate with whom you will about his vacuous notions. I am not among your participants in that ridiculous enterprise. The events of thus did three things. They made Marx famous—one of many historical ironies, given that he had been deeply ambivalent about the Commune before it collapsed his classic essay on the subject appeared only after its demise —and turned the International into a bourgeois bogeyman.

Third, anarchists inaugurated the era of internationally coordinated antiterrorism, as Russian, French, and English secret policemen established contacts, sent their agents undercover, and developed often deeply dubious modes of combating the threat of the revolutionary left.

Among the least savory such methods were smear campaigns, guilt by association, the fomenting of anti-Semitism, and the use of agents provocateurs. What exactly was anarchism, and why should it matter to us today—more, perhaps, than Marxism itself? With hindsight, some basic distinctions are relevant.

How to Change the World: Reflections on Marx and Marxism

All revolutionaries disliked the state in the form in which they found it; some nevertheless acknowledged the necessity for working through it to get to the utopia they envisaged. Only the followers of Bakunin, Proudhon, and those who thought like them resisted any engagement with the state on principle. That said, hostility toward the state was in itself not enough for coherence. If anarchists, then, were split among themselves — increasingly over the issue of violence—they were also part of a broader revolutionary left rather than a distinct movement of their own.

Reflections on Marxism

This schism was clear in its implications, but too much can be read into it. As for the term anarchist , it did not really take off until scaremongering conservative journalists picked it up as a widely used pejorative in the s. Bakunin in particular stood for the idealization of community—especially among working men and peasants—and a readiness for insurrection and violence. Marx could seem deliberate, bloodless, overintellectual, and almost fatally quiescent. Many anarchists shared his willingness to appeal to the authority of science to back his findings, and to use science to support his ethical and political goals—but this affinity did not necessarily warm them to him.

How could they not be, when education and experience alike forced them into this position?

Their studies, but even more their political activism, had led them to rely on networks of support, on far-flung communities of the like-minded. The life of the political radical in the late nineteenth century was increasingly one of persecution, flight, and dependence on the kindness of strangers. After , the government of the new French Republic exiled to New Caledonia most of the Communards who survived the bloody massacres that crushed their movement.

Other surviving Communards chose to exile themselves, by fleeing abroad. After fighting for Slavic independence against the Ottomans in the Balkans, and assassinating the chief of the Saint Petersburg police, the leading Russian revolutionary Sergey Kravchinsky fled to England and ended up, as Kropotkin would, in bourgeois respectability in the London suburbs.