Sunday, July 29, 2018

Communism Idealism vs Facts

Yes, Communism Is Idealist, And That's Why It Leads To Mass Murder

I’ve been puzzling for some time over the continuing hold of Communism on the minds of America’s intellectuals. How could a system fail so completely for so long, in so many different variations, leaving a trail of death and suffering in its wake—and still be regarded as “idealistic”?

The answer is that Communism is “idealist” in the strict philosophical sense. And that’s not a good thing.

I realized this while reading the latest paean to Marx in the New York Times, which has spent the last year struggling mightily to rehabilitate Communism. Previously, I had tried to explain why the Communist dream won’t die by looking at its moral appeal—the desperate urge to cling to the ideal of collectivized selflessness, even when it turns out to look like gulags and starvation. But this latest entry reveals an even deeper explanation: the refusal to adjust one’s ideas in response to reality is itself a crucial foundation of Communism.

I called this new piece a paean to Karl Marx, and that’s not an exaggeration. The title is: “Happy Birthday, Karl Marx. You Were Right!” You see, this Saturday marks 200 years since Marx was born. So Jason Barker, an associate professor of philosophy at a university in South Korea—he might want to take a stroll farther north—congratulates Marx on getting everything so amazingly right.

On May 5, 1818, in the southern German town of Trier, in the picturesque wine-growing region of the Moselle Valley, Karl Marx was born….
Today his legacy would appear to be alive and well. Since the turn of the millennium countless books have appeared, from scholarly works to popular biographies, broadly endorsing Marx’s reading of capitalism and its enduring relevance to our neoliberal age.
In 2002, the French philosopher Alain Badiou declared at a conference I attended in London that Marx had become the philosopher of the middle class. What did he mean? I believe he meant that educated liberal opinion is today more or less unanimous in its agreement that Marx’s basic thesis—that capitalism is driven by a deeply divisive class struggle in which the ruling-class minority appropriates the surplus labor of the working-class majority as profit—is correct.
Here, as I understand it, is the timeline. In 1818, Marx is born. In 2002, a French philosopher declares him to be right. Did, um, anything relevant happen in between those dates? Barker’s answer, incredibly, is “no.” The following is the entirety of what he has to say about the history of Communism in the 20th Century.

The idea of the classless and stateless society would come to define both Marx’s and Engels’s idea of communism, and of course the subsequent and troubled history of the Communist ‘states’ (ironically enough!) that materialized during the 20th century. There is still a great deal to be learned from their disasters, but their philosophical relevance remains doubtful, to say the least.

In the twentieth century, we had states that called themselves “Marxist,” based their economic systems on Marx’s teaching, and made generations of schoolchildren memorize Marx’s writings. Then those systems failed spectacularly, both as economies and as societies compatible with human life and happiness.

They’re still failing, with people starving and in concentration camps today, this moment, as you read this. But move along, nothing to see here. A hundred years of death and destruction has “doubtful philosophical relevance.”

When it is used to describe a school of philosophy, “idealism” does not mean a passionate commitment to a moral ideal. It means something closer to “idea-ism”: the notion that ideas take precedence over facts, that ideas come first and reality has to adjust to match them. Can there be any more thorough statement of “idealism,” in this sense, than declaring the bloody ideological conflicts of the twentieth century “philosophically irrelevant” because you don’t want to doubt Marx’s theory?
This is the hallmark of the defense of Communism—and of the contemporary Left as a whole. Western intellectuals strenuously denied and covered up the famine in Ukraine and Stalin’s rein of terror, and up to the very end, they outdid Baghdad Bob in their insistence that things were going just fine under Communism, and the Soviets were going to surpass us any day. Today, they are so committed to philosophical idealism that they will perform radical surgery to mutilate a person’s body to match his or her delusion of what it ought to be—and instead of calling it “reassignment,” they call it “confirmation.” You see, the idea in the person’s head determines his true physical reality, not the other way around.

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