Marx’s critique is powerfully moral, not in the sense of establishing rules of right and wrong conduct but in the older sense of describing what it is for humans to be able to flourish, to be able to realize themselves fully. It was also cynical about the very idea of morality, or rather of what it had come to represent. For Marx, the concept of alienation, and of human flourishing, could not be wrenched away from the project of social transformation, of the overthrowing of capitalism itself.
…’The claim of Marxism to be a morally distinctive standpoint’, argues Alasdair MacIntyre, for many years a Communist Party member, ‘is undermined by Marxism’s own moral history’. Whenever ‘Marxists have had to take explicit moral stances’, they have ‘always fallen back into relatively straightforward versions of Kantianism or utilitarianism’. There is in Marx, MacIntyre suggests, an absence of thought about the moral underpinnings of social transformation. Marx excoriated the moral consequences of capitalism. He wrote of how human nature might flourish under communism. But he wrote little of the norms by which revolutionary social movements should be judged. One result was the wrenching apart of politics and morality in those movements and societies influenced by Marx. Social change came to be seen purely in political terms and its moral content defined solely in terms of the success of its political ends. The moral case for any action was that it furthered the cause. As a result, MacIntyre suggests, there is a moral hollowness to Marxism that could only be filled by looking elsewhere for moral answers, in particular to utilitarian ideas that the revolutionary means were justified by the revolutionary ends.
…By 2008, however, the possibility of change (at least in the way that Marx would have understood it) had become negligibly small. The depth of the economic crisis led to talk of a ‘crisis of capitalism’. And yet there was no political challenge to capitalism. Workers’ organizations had been destroyed, the left had imploded, as had the idea that there could be an alternative to the market system. The resurrection of Marx challenged none of this. Those who turn to Marx these days look upon him not as a prophet of capitalism’s demise but as a poet of its moral corruption. But to what extent does a moral critique that is explicitly hitched to a social critique remain meaningful when the possibilities of acting upon that social critique seem so to have faded? That, perhaps, is the most difficult question to be asked of Marx’s thought.
February 17, 2015 @ 9:30 pm
Disturbing and challenging questions.
The only "alternatives" to capitalism that seem visible in the world today are based on frightening (and exciting! to 19 year olds at least) religious fascisms.
February 18, 2015 @ 12:27 am
"I don't think anyone believes in politics to that extent anymore."
Maybe this is one of the underlying problems with the SJW debates? They want to BELIEVE so badly, but being moderns they can obly focus this want on such…trivial…things? Hence the fervor and yes, excommunications…that Freddie discusses!
February 18, 2015 @ 12:03 am
Yeah. Which makes it even more interesting to me that, when I read one biography of Marx, I came away primarily impressed by what struck me as his, well, religious-style fanaticism. I don't think anyone believes in politics to that extent anymore.
It's interesting to consider, if you like searching for recurrent patterns in history: Christianity's moral vision outlasted its original context, which was the expectation of the world's imminent end. Many of Jesus's ideal virtues only make sense when you aren't trying to build any kind of stable, lasting society.
And yet, the world didn't collapse, and Christianity had to adapt to institutional power, while its otherwordly values likewise adapted and infiltrated Western culture. They may not have produced the radical new world that Christianity originally promised, but today, even secularists and atheists hold to what were once bizarre moral innovations as if they've always been self-evident.
Perhaps Marxism, which in many ways was merely the Sermon on the Mount dressed up in economic and political language, will have a similar effect over time even though the actual analysis was majorly flawed and the utopia promised by its founder never came to pass.
February 18, 2015 @ 12:45 am
The especially relevant part starts with the line, "So, I’ve noticed that the people who usually object to or try to censor fantasy stories tend to also be fervent believers in ideological stories."