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.
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.”