Postmodernism, Part 24: Communist Manifesto

What is postmodernism? Is it a problem?  The following continues a series of posts explaining postmodernism.  It is based on the excellent Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, by Prof. Stephen Hicks.  (Additional support includes Socialism, by Ludwig von Mises; and Freedom and Organization by Bertrand Russel.)

Previous posts:

Enlightenment and Darkness

Rousseau’s Revolutionary Politics

Right Collectivism

Left Collectivism

Erstwhile

Marxist postmodernism seeks to overthrow modernism.  Modernism’s political philosophy proposes reason, individualism, liberal democracy, and free markets.  Postmodernist philosophy is based on the metaphysical nihilism of (Nazi) Martin Heidegger.

jean-rousseauJean Rousseau

Postmodernism’s radical left politics don’t flow naturally from Heidegger’s subjectivist philosophy.  Postmodernism’s leftist political philosophy is explained by twentieth century Marxists’ crisis of faith in the face of undeniable Marxist catastrophe.  Postmodernists took refuge in an earlier totalitarian collectivist, Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Rousseau’s ideas and Napoleon’s conquests inspired the German Counter-Enlightenment thinkers (Kant, Herder, Fichte, Hegel).  They gave Rousseau a German twist, including hero worship, state worship, totalitarianism, and dialectical history (with German supremacy).

Left Collectivism has roots in romanticism (inspired by Rousseau).  Romanticism was both an aesthetic and a value system.  It valued passion, sympathy, poverty, nature, violence, and radicalism.  It devalued social consequences and conventional morality.  Lord Byron was prototypical.

engelsFriedrich Engels

Left Collectivism has roots in the problems of our industrial past.  Families struggled to survive crowded filthy “third world” slums, malnutrition, epidemics, long hours, unsafe work, misery, crime, societal breakdown, and uncaring government.  Revolution seemed imminent.

Left Collectivism has roots in “utopian socialism”.  Marx and Engels claimed their “scientific socialism” was Gospel.  They scoffed at the “utopian socialist” heretics, such as Robert Owen (the idealist) and Charles Fourier (the absurd French fabulist).

Marx and Engels became Communists.  Marx went to Paris (a hotbed of radicals) then Brussels.  Communist groups joined together in the Communist League.  They asked Marx and Engels to write their Manifesto.

Communist Manifesto

“A specter is haunting Europe – the specter of Communism.  All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this specter,” Marx opens.

Marx is referring to the Holy Alliance, including Prussia.  They had been busily stamping out liberal revolutions, and hounding radicals (like Marx).

Prophecy

It is inevitable that capitalism will be replaced by socialism, then communism.  (This is the presupposed destiny of Marx’s dialectic.)

  • Conflict.  History is solely the struggle between oppressors and oppressed (class struggle).
  • Historical materialism.  Society is nothing but the inevitable product of economic facts (production and capital).  This means every human aspect: political, moral, social, artistic, scientific, literary, legal (every thought, concept, institution, or notion).  Society serves the oppressor.
  • Evolution.  Society is the product of a series of revolutions.  Capitalist society evolves, so that two classes remain: bourgeois and proletariat (slaves).
  • Contradiction.  Capitalism sows the seeds of it own destruction.  It is international.  (It uses technology to join the world, under its yoke.)  Its unsustainable business cycles create ever more proletariat.  (Free markets are barbarous.)  Finally, the proletariat rise (and society falls).

Communist theories are not inventions, says Marx.  They reveal the movement of history.  (This is not invention, but revelation.)  The great songwriter and lyricist, John Lennon, will walk us through the rest.

Imagine there’s no countries

Countries inevitably disappear, says Marx.  Communism finishes the job that capitalism started.

  • “The working men have no country,” says Marx, “We cannot take from them what they have not got.”
  • The proletariat must first acquire political supremacy of the nation.
  • National differences “are daily more and more vanishing” under capitalism.
  • “The supremacy of the proletariat will cause them to vanish still faster,” he says.
Nothing to kill or die for

When nations disappear, there will be world peace.

  • Emancipation of the proletariat, Marx says, will end “exploitation of one nation by another”.
  • Then, he says, “the hostility of one nation to another will come to an end”.
And no religion, too

For the proletariat to rise, society must fall, says Marx.   Law, morality and religion are bourgeois prejudices.

  • “The ideas of religious liberty and freedom of conscience” are needed only because of class antagonisms, Marx said.
  • The idea of “eternal truths” (freedom, liberty, justice, morality) disappear when class antagonisms disappear.

In a classless society, there’s no need for false morality (oppression).

Imagine no possessions

“The theory of the Communists may be summed up in a single sentence,” Marx wrote, “Abolition of private property”.

  • The proletariat will “win the battle of democracy”, says Marx.
  • “The proletariat,” he says, “will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie”.  They will put all “production in the hands of the State”.
  • In the beginning, he says, this will require “despotic inroads on the rights of property, and … necessitate further inroads upon the social order”.
  • Communism abolishes only “bourgeois property”.  (Property was always common.)
  • Communism abolishes only “bourgeois freedom” (the freedom to buy and sell).
  • Communism abolishes only “bourgeois individuality” (the power to subjugate others).
  • Communism abolishes only “bourgeois family” (a form of slavery and prostitution).
I wonder if you can

Marx imagines how to abolish private property:

  1. Land confiscation.  Abolish land ownership.
  2. Taxation.  Adopt a heavy progressive income tax.
  3. Abolish inheritance.
  4. Property confiscation.  Confiscate all property of emigrants and rebels.
  5. Central banking.  Centralize all credit in a State bank.
  6. Nationalization.  Nationalize communication and transport.
  7. Central planning.  All manufacturing and agriculture will be centrally planned.
  8. Mandatory labor.  “Establish industrial armies,” Marx wrote, “especially for agriculture”.
  9. Resettlement.  Population will be redistributed according to plan.
  10. Public education.  Education will be social education.
No need for greed or hunger

The “modern laborer”, says Marx, “sinks deeper and deeper” into poverty.  Once the proletariat rises up, property will be redistributed to the “nine-tenths of the population” who have no property.

A brotherhood of man

When class distinctions disappear, Marx said, “we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all”.

  • Public power will lose its political character because (so called) “political power” is class oppression.
  • Proletariat supremacy will disappear because class will disappear.

This is a utopian classless society.  The State disappears, in the “withering away of the state“.

And the world will live as one

Communism is an international movement.  They are not a separate party.  They represent the proletariat, as a whole.

  • They represent the proletariat parties of every country.
  • They push the parties forward because the Communists have the best understanding of the proletarian movement.  (They are the revolutionary vanguard.)

The Manifesto identifies some political allies (various Social-Democrats and Democratic-Socialists).  They target Germany for revolution.  (Marx would be the ideological leader of the German Socialist Party).

Finally, Marx closes in dramatic style:

“The Communists disdain to conceal their views and their aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.

‘Working men of all countries, unite!’”

Commentary

The Communist Manifesto plainly states Marxism’s goal: to overthrow society.  It lays out the Marxist themes echoed by the postmodernists:

  • History is conflict between oppressors and the oppressed.
  • Society is oppression, every human aspect: political, moral, social, artistic, scientific, literary, legal (every thought, concept, and institution).
lennon-johnJohn Lennon

John Lennon‘s lovely tune, Imagine, is (indeed) a musical rendition of The Communist Manifesto. “There is no real Communist state in the world,” Lennon said, “You must realize that.”  (This is the usual denial, that true Communism is ideal Communism, never actual Communism.)  “The Socialism I speak about … [is] not the way some daft Russian might do it, or the Chinese might do it,” he said, “That might suit them.” (One doubts that the tens of millions of victims of the Soviets and Maoists thought it “suitable”).  “Us, we should have a nice … British Socialism,” he said.  Lennon didn’t grasp that Marxism is a disaster, across times and cultures.

beatles-taxman

Lennon’s hypocrisy is quite remarkable.  The wealthy Lennon had fled punitive British taxation, settling in the U.S.  This heavily progressive taxation was the product of the socialist Labour Party.  Lennon fled Marxian taxation, then penned an homage to Marx.  (It’s a pretty song, though.)

 Next

Revolution is in the air.  Next: Part 25, Revolutions of 1848.

Postmodernism, Part 23: Marx and Moses

What is postmodernism? Is it a problem?  The following continues a series of posts explaining postmodernism.  It is based on the excellent Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, by Prof. Stephen Hicks.  (Additional support includes Socialism, by Ludwig von Mises; and Freedom and Organization by Bertrand Russel.)

Previous posts:

Enlightenment and Darkness

Rousseau’s Revolutionary Politics

Right Collectivism

Left Collectivism

Erstwhile

Marxist postmodernism seeks to overthrow modernism.  Modernism’s political philosophy proposes reason, individualism, liberal democracy, and free markets.  Postmodernist philosophy is based on the metaphysical nihilism of (Nazi) Martin Heidegger.

jean-rousseauJean Rousseau

Postmodernism’s radical left politics don’t flow naturally from Heidegger’s subjectivist philosophy.  Postmodernism’s leftist political philosophy is explained by twentieth century Marxists’ crisis of faith in the face of undeniable Marxist catastrophe.  Postmodernists took refuge in an earlier totalitarian collectivist, Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Rousseau’s ideas and Napoleon’s conquests inspired the German Counter-Enlightenment thinkers (Kant, Herder, Fichte, Hegel).  They gave Rousseau a German twist, including hero worship, state worship, totalitarianism, and dialectical history (with German supremacy).

Left Collectivism has roots in romanticism (inspired by Rousseau).  Romanticism was both an aesthetic and a value system.  It valued unthinking passion, sympathy, virtuous poverty, idyllic nature, danger, violence, and radicalism.  It devalued social consequences and conventional morality.  Lord Byron was prototypical.

engelsFriedrich Engels

Left Collectivism has roots in the problems of our industrial past.  Families struggled to survive crowded filthy “third world” slums, malnutrition, epidemics, long hours, unsafe work, misery, crime, societal breakdown, and uncaring government.  Revolution seemed imminent.

Left Collectivism has roots in “utopian socialism”.  Marx and Engels claimed their “scientific socialism” was “Gospel”.  (Marx prove to be a jealous and vengeful god.)  They scoffed at the “utopian socialist” heretics, such as Robert Owen (the idealist) and Charles Fourier (the absurd French fabulist).

Unlike Fourier, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were serious fellows.  Revolution was in the air.

Karl Marx
karl-marxKarl Marx

Karl Marx was a deep thinker.  He grew up in the German Rhineland (like Engels).  He was born Jewish, but was raised Protestant.  As a university student, he studied law, philosophy, and the works of Hegel.  (Hegel was dead, by then.)

Marx became one of the Young Hegelians (a group of assorted radicals, who didn’t actually call themselves that).  Their ideas were an eclectic mix of Hegel plus Fichte minus God and country:

  • History is dialectical.  It evolves through contradiction and conflict towards some presupposed destiny.  (The dialectic is a circular argument that presupposes the destiny it claims to prove.)
  • Reason is subjective.  (This is a lazy shortcut refutes any counter-arguments.)
  • Freedom is slavery.  (The universe is evolving towards inevitable destiny.  We have no freedom, but duty to achieve that destiny.)

The Young Hegelians disagreed with Hegel over destiny.  Hegel was a Prussian conservative.  They were radicals, that presupposed different destinies:

  • Hegel presupposed a German Christian destiny.
  • The radicals, not so much.

They generally agreed that religion must go.  They argued over why:

  • Some argued that state power (and all laws) are based on religion. (So, get rid of religion.)
  • Marx argued that the state hides behind religion.  (So, get rid of religion.)  He argued that state power is based on production and capital.

To be fair, they had lots of baggage from medieval days.  There was no “separation of church and state”.  They blamed the church for medieval ignorance.  They blamed the church for medieval evil.  (Church and state had been joined at the hip, and done many terrible things).

Marx Gets Religion
hess-mosesMoses Hess (Zionist)

One Young Hegelian, Moses Hess, mixed Hegelianism with Communism.  He helped convert Marx and Engels to Communism (oops).

Hess later regretted this, saying, “Thus did I spread devastation”. (Hess was a Jewish Zionist.  Marxism and its progeny were disastrous for the Jews – an important idea, later.)

Marx shuffled off to Paris, in 1843.  (Prussian censorship had ended his brief journalism career.)  Paris was (as usual) a hotbed of radicalism.  Socialist ideas were in vogue (Fourier and the retrograde Saint-Simon).

bakunin-mikhailMikhail Bakunin (Anarchist Communist)

In Paris, Marx met Engels (his future pen pal).  Engels (already a Communist) was headed to England (on business, sent by his father).  In England, Engels would write his book on working conditions.

Marx also linked up with Mikhail Bakunin.  Marx and Bakunin were both Communists, but had big disagreements.  (It’s hard to imagine a bunch of bearded radicals agreeing on much, other than a common enemy.) Bakunin and Marx would be bitter rivals (discussed later).

In 1845, Marx got exiled from Paris.  The pesky Prussians were after him, again.  (Marx got exiled, a lot.)  He packed his bags, and shuffled off to Brussels.

In Brussels, Marx spread Communist propaganda.  (In those days, Communist propagandizing paid poorly.  Today, it pays poorly unless you get tenure or a comedy news show.)  Engels bankrolled Marx.  (Marx was almost always broke.  Engels bailed him out, a lot.)

Marx worked with Communist groups (from different countries).  They formed the Communist League.  In 1847, the Communist League got tired of skulking about.  They decided to come out of hiding, and announce themselves to the world.  They asked Marx and Engels to do the writing.

This was the Communist Manifesto.

Commentary

The Manifesto would be the unalterable Gospel of Communism.  It is a prophecy.  It is revealed truth.

It’s key to note that Communism is a prophecy.  It is a prophecy, based on the dialectic.  The dialectic presupposes an inevitable destiny (in this case, the “Workers Paradise”).

Communism is revealed truth (like a religious text).  History reveals itself to Marx and Engels through the dialectic.

This helps explain Communist faith and zealotry.

 Next

Marx and Engels reveal the Communist Gospel.  Next: Part 24, Communist Manifesto.

Postmodernism, Part 22: Fourier’s Fairy Tales

What is postmodernism? Is it a problem?  The following continues a series of posts explaining postmodernism.  It is based on the excellent Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, by Prof. Stephen Hicks.  (Additional support includes Socialism, by Ludwig von Mises; and Freedom and Organization by Bertrand Russel.)

Previous posts:

Enlightenment and Darkness

Rousseau’s Revolutionary Politics

Right Collectivism

Left Collectivism

Erstwhile

Marxist postmodernism seeks to overthrow modernism.  Modernism’s political philosophy proposes reason, individualism, liberal democracy, and free markets.  Postmodernist philosophy is based on the metaphysical nihilism of (Nazi) Martin Heidegger.

jean-rousseauJean Rousseau

Postmodernism’s radical left politics don’t flow naturally from Heidegger’s subjectivist philosophy.  Postmodernism’s leftist political philosophy is explained by twentieth century Marxists’ crisis of faith in the face of undeniable Marxist catastrophe.  Postmodernists took refuge in an earlier totalitarian collectivist, Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Rousseau’s ideas and Napoleon’s conquests inspired the German Counter-Enlightenment thinkers (Kant, Herder, Fichte, Hegel).  They gave Rousseau a German twist, including hero worship, state worship, totalitarianism, and dialectical history (with German supremacy).

Left Collectivism has roots in romanticism (inspired by Rousseau).  Romanticism was both an aesthetic and a value system.  It valued unthinking passion, sympathy, virtuous poverty, idyllic nature, danger, violence, and radicalism.  It devalued social consequences and conventional morality.  Lord Byron was prototypical.

Left Collectivism has roots in the problems of our industrial past.  Families struggled to survive crowded filthy “third world” slums, malnutrition, epidemics, long hours, unsafe work, misery, crime, societal breakdown, and uncaring government.  Revolution seemed imminent.

Left Collectivism has roots in utopian socialism.  “Utopian socialism” is a label concocted by Marx and Engels to promote their own “scientific socialism”.  Utopian socialists, such as Robert Owen, were heretics.

Before delving into more serious minds, we must take a (necessary) detour into Fairy Tale Land.  Behold, the salacious French Mother Goose, Charles Fourier.

Fourier’s Fairy Tales
fourier-charlesCharles Fourier

Fourier just wanted everybody to have fun.  Work was boring, but so is sitting around with nothing to do.  So, Fourier figured it out.  The problem isn’t work (itself), but social arrangements (how we’ve organized society).  The answer was simple: reorganize society so that workers can interchange occupations, at will.  (Tired of flipping burgers? Be a brain surgeon, a poet, or a rocket scientist!)  Then, work will be fun! (N’est-ce pas?)

When work is fun, we will all be inspired by un sentiment de rivalité joyeuse ou de noble émulation (“a feeling of joyous rivalry or noble emulation”), said Fourier.  Our energy will double in un acharnement passioné au travail (“a relentless passion at work”).  Work will be made a joy, instead of toil.  Mankind will move to the next level.

phalansteryFourier’s Grand Hotel

Erotic pleasures awaited us at his phalanstères (“Grand Hotels”), Fourier promised.  We would reorganize society into self-sustaining Grand Hotels (utopian communities of 500-2000 people).  Each would include agriculture, industry, schools, ballrooms (the works).  Fourier invented “feminism” that freed women from oppressive marriage and offered sexual abandon (no self-interest, there, no sirree Bob).  His Grand Hotels promised orgiastic delights (lesbianism, homosexuality, pedophilia, bestiality, fetishism, incest). (Now, who’d be doing the work, then?)

Fourier fantasized a fairy tale world where animals would serve us.  Dangerous beasts would be replaced by helpful beasts (anti-lions, for example).  Anti-whales and anti-hippopotami would pull ships and boats.  Anti-beavers would fish for us.  Wondrous anti-horses would pull our carriages.  Why no anti-fish (or anti-fish-and-chips, for that matter)?  Why no candy cane forests or seas of swirly twirly gum drops? 

Okay, then

Commentary
womens-liberationWomen’s liberation (Soviet-style)

Needless to say, Fourier’s Fairy Tales were profoundly influential.  Marxists took up many of his themes: the “joy of labor” meme, a socialist paradise where we evolve into the “new man”, and (of course) sexual liberation.  (Jihadists’ seventy-two virgins have nothing on these guys.)

Fourier’s ideas influenced the postmodernist Herbert Marcuse (another Frenchman, the “Father of the New Left”).  This carried Fourier into the 1960’s and feminism that liberated young women from their bras (and panties).  “Free love”, don’t ya know?  (No agenda to see here!  Move along!  This is not the dirty old man you were looking for.)

 Next

Socialism gets serious.  Next: Part 23, Marx and Moses.

Postmodernism, Part 21: Owen’s Heresy

What is postmodernism? Is it a problem?  The following continues a series of posts explaining postmodernism.  It is based on the excellent Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, by Prof. Stephen Hicks.  (Additional support includes The Communist Manifesto, by Marx and Engels; The History of Western Philosophy, by Bertrand Russell; Freedom and Organization by Bertrand Russel.)

Previous posts:

Enlightenment and Darkness

Rousseau’s Revolutionary Politics

Right Collectivism

Left Collectivism

Erstwhile

Marxist postmodernism seeks to overthrow modernism.  Modernism’s political philosophy proposes reason, individualism, liberal democracy, and free markets.  Postmodernist philosophy is based on the metaphysical nihilism of (Nazi) Martin Heidegger.

jean-rousseauJean Rousseau

Postmodernism’s radical left politics don’t flow naturally from Heidegger’s subjectivist philosophy.  Postmodernism’s leftist political philosophy is explained by twentieth century Marxists’ crisis of faith in the face of undeniable Marxist catastrophe.  Postmodernists took refuge in an earlier totalitarian collectivist, Jean-Jacques Rousseau.  Rousseau’s ideas inflamed the French Revolution and gave rise to Napoleon.

Rousseau’s ideas (and Napoleon’s conquests) inspired the German Counter-Enlightenment thinkers (Kant, Herder, Fichte, Hegel).  They gave Rousseau a German twist, including multiculturalism, moral relativism, indoctrinating education, hero worship, state worship, totalitarianism, and dialectical history (with German supremacy and destiny).  This partly explains totalitarian collectivism (and German nationalism).

Left Collectivism has roots in romanticism (inspired by Rousseau).  Romanticism was both an aesthetic and a value system.  It valued unthinking passion, sympathy, virtuous poverty, idyllic nature, danger, violence, and radicalism.  It devalued social consequences and conventional morality.  The romantic Lord Byron had a profound influence.  He was an aristocratic rebel who espoused rebellion, amorality, hero worship, militarism, and revolution.

Left Collectivism has roots in the problems of our industrial past.  Families struggled to survive crowded filthy “third world” slums, malnutrition, epidemics, long hours, unsafe work, misery, crime, societal breakdown, and uncaring government.  Revolution seemed imminent.

Left Collectivism has roots in utopian socialism, as well.

Utopian Socialism
karl-marxKarl Marx

“Utopian socialism” is a label concocted by Marx and Engels.  They needed their brand (“scientific socialism”) to be distinct from the off-brand (“utopian socialism”).  Their brand of theoretical sausage was “science” (crunching numbers in a dialectical meat grinder.)  Those others were just starry eyed dreamers in Cloud Cuckoo Land.

Those utopian socialists paint “fantastic pictures of future society”, Marx scoffs, “the abolition of the distinction between town and country, of the family, … the proclamation of social harmony”.  They “are of a purely Utopian character” that “lose all practical value and all theoretical justification”.  Their “disciples have, in every case, formed mere reactionary sects.  They hold fast by the original views of their masters … [and] still dream of experimental realization of their social Utopias”.  (Some people never learn.)

Utopian socialism is dangerous heresy.  “Their fanatical and superstitious belief in the miraculous effects of their social science,” Marx thunders, “can only result from blind unbelief in the new Gospel”.  (Those other guys are superstitious fanatics!)

Who were these heretics?  We begin with the courageous idealist Robert Owen.

Owen’s Heresy

Robert Owen was a social reformer and experimenter.  He was influenced by classical economics.  He had some success with practical reforms.  His controversial ideas undermined attempts at larger reforms.  Undeterred, he financed an unsuccessful communist experiment.  It seemed people were the biggest obstacle to socialism.

Socialism has roots in classical economics.  The 19th century economist, David Ricardo, formulated the labor theory of value (Marx’s “law of value”).  This theory said that the economic value of a good or service is based on the cost of labor required to produce it.  (This rings true, but is oversimplified.)

English Socialist Thomas Hodgskin took this theory and equated profit with theft.  That idea undermines private property.  “Their notions of property look ugly,” objected utilitarian philosopher James Mill, “they seem to think it should not exist … The fools, what they madly desire would be such a calamity to them as no hands but their own could bring down on them”.

robert-owenRobert Owen

These ideas influenced Robert Owen.  He had married into ownership of a manufacturing mill (in New Lanark, Scotland).  An innovator, he improved management, working conditions, machinery, sanitation, and productivity.  With the help of investors, he added a school (and nursery school).  He helped provide for workers in bad times.  Owen was a success and became world famous.  (Future Tsar Nicholas even paid him a visit.)

Owen had many ideas.  He tried to push through practical reforms (like reforming child labor).  His groundbreaking idea (pun intended) was a way to deal with unemployment and poverty: agricultural communism.  Owen wanted to put the unemployed into self-sustaining agricultural communes.  They would work the soil together and live together.  He promised universal happiness – no more war, crimes, or prisons.

Owen ran into trouble over his controversial ideas.  He had nontraditional family ideas.  He objected to marriage (seeing it as ownership).  (His followers became free love types.)  He had nontraditional religious ideas.  He blamed religion for man’s problems.  (In Victorian England, that was a poor way to win friends and influence people.)  Owen was ridiculed and attacked.

new-harmonyNew Harmony’s pretty labyrinth

Owen struck out to prove his “New Moral Order” could succeed.  He purchased a settlement at Harmony, Indiana.  Owen renamed it New Harmony.  He invited “any and all” to join him.  He attracted a “collection of radicals, enthusiastic devotees to principle, honest latitudinarians, and lazy theorists” plus assorted “crackpots, free-loaders, and adventurers”.  (New Harmony’s anti-Christian stance caused recruiting troubles in America.)  They tried “every conceivable form of organization and government” but had major disagreements over organization, cooperation, and management.  The more people they had, the more trouble they had.  (Struggling with your group project?)  His experiment failed, after two years.

He ended his days as an eccentric spiritualist.

Commentary

Robert Owen was fearless and self-sacrificing in his idealism.  He practiced what he preached.  He was no “limousine liberal”.  He didn’t “virtue signal”.  He put his money where his mouth was, talked the talk, and walked the walk.

Owen’s utopian experiment was named New Harmony.  The word “soviet” also means harmony.  Owen’s experiment suggests that the biggest obstacle to harmony is people.

Next

Utopian socialism gets utterly silly. Next: Part 22, Fourier’s Fairy Tales.

Postmodernism, Part 20: Labor Pains

What is postmodernism? Is it a problem?  The following continues a series of posts explaining postmodernism.  It is based on the excellent Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, by Prof. Stephen Hicks (with support from The Conditions of the Working Class in England, by Frederich Engels).

Previous posts:

Enlightenment and Darkness

Rousseau’s Revolutionary Politics

Right Collectivism

Left Collectivism

Erstwhile

Marxist postmodernism seeks to overthrow modernism.  Modernism’s political philosophy proposes reason, individualism, liberal democracy, and free markets.  Postmodernist philosophy is based on the metaphysical nihilism of (Nazi) Martin Heidegger.

jean-rousseauJean Rousseau

Postmodernism’s radical left politics don’t flow naturally from Heidegger’s subjectivist philosophy.  Postmodernism’s leftist political philosophy is explained by twentieth century Marxists’ crisis of faith in the face of undeniable Marxist catastrophe.  Postmodernists took refuge in an earlier totalitarian collectivist, Jean-Jacques Rousseau.  Rousseau’s ideas inflamed the French Revolution and gave rise to Napoleon.

Rousseau’s ideas (and Napoleon’s conquests) inspired the German Counter-Enlightenment thinkers (Kant, Herder, Fichte, Hegel).  They gave Rousseau a German twist, including multiculturalism, moral relativism, indoctrinating education, hero worship, state worship, totalitarianism, and dialectical history (with German supremacy and destiny).  This partly explains totalitarian collectivism (and German nationalism).

Left Collectivism has roots in romanticism (inspired by Rousseau).  Romanticism was both an aesthetic and a value system.  It valued unthinking passion, sympathy, virtuous poverty, idyllic nature, danger, violence, and radicalism.  It devalued social consequences and conventional morality.  The romantic Lord Byron had a profound influence.  He was an aristocratic rebel who espoused rebellion, amorality, hero worship, militarism, and revolution.

Left Collectivism has roots in the slow and painful Industrial Revolution.  The state and society struggled with market forces in the painful birth of a new order.

Marx’s Sidekick
engelsFriedrich Engels

It’s easy to take for granted the benefits of modernity (health, wealth, knowledge, science, technology, medicine).  Those benefits came at a cost (still do and always will).

Our ancestors paid a lot of our bill.  We often hear complaints about the unequal distribution of economic benefits and costs (including pollution).  This feels unfair and can cause problems (even catastrophic problems).  We don’t appreciate how easy we have it, compared to the problems of our industrial past.

Marxism arose out of the problems of our industrial past.  Karl Marx often gets the spotlight.  (Maybe, it’s that legendary beard.)  Marx’s sidekick, Frederich Engels, seems like “that other guy” in the musical duo.  That’s so not true.  Engels had a budding solo career, before Marx.  Engels wrote a book that caught Marx’s eye – a book about the problems of our industrial past.  Engels (aged twenty-four) explored and studied these horrendous problems.

Engels went to England, sent by his “fanatical and despotic old man”.  His father ran a textile business, in the German Rhineland.  Germany lagged England in industrialization.  So, Engels’ father sent him to learn English business methods (and to get him away from his radical friends).  Engels was awed by English industry.  He found the working conditions revolting (and thought the workers should be revolting, too.)

Labor Pains

We’d call these working conditions “third world”.  There was economic dislocation.  Industrial areas were crowded and filthy.  The food supply was unhealthy.  Healthcare was lacking.  Workers endured long hours and unsafe working conditions.  They struggled to survive business cycles.  They competed against cheap immigrant labor.  Family and society were collapsing.  Government seemed unresponsive.

There was economic dislocation.  Global markets replaced local markets.  Large farms replaced small farms.  Factories replaced craftsmen.  Workers and families flocked from rural areas and villages to growing industrial towns and cities.  Once, they had been able to provide for themselves (at least a meager subsistence).  Now, their only option was “wage slavery” – industrial labor or (worse paid) agricultural labor.

slumSlum life

Industrial areas were crowded and filthy.  Workers needed housing near work.  The grimy worker slums were suffocating mazes of filthy narrow streets and winding alleys.  Whole families shared single rooms (and single beds).  Families shared closets (empty of furniture) or crowded in attics and cellars (rank with sewage).  Sanitation and clean water were inadequate or lacking.  Streets were clogged with refuse, excrement, and live animals.  Rivers and streams were stagnant, foul, and reeking.

The food supply was unhealthy.  Swindlers cheated hungry workers, selling them tainted meat, spoiled vegetables, and adulterated food.  Some workers could afford meat, others sparingly, and some, not at all.  (The Irish lived on potatoes.)  Workers and their families were malnourished.  Many starved to death.  Protectionist laws made food (and other things) more expensive.

Healthcare was lacking.  In those days, even the best medicine was poor.  Quacks preyed on the workers or sold them patent medicines (that were ineffective, dangerous, or addicting).  There were rampant epidemics of typhus, cholera, smallpox, and scarlet fever.  Cancer and tuberculosis were common.  Injuries (work-related or otherwise) caused infection, tetanus, gangrene, or death.

child-laborChild labor

Workers endured long hours and unsafe working conditions.  Whole families (men, women, and young children) worked long hours (up to twelve hours).  Young boys and girls worked in coal mines.  Working mothers left babies and the young with caretakers, who drugged them (with laudanum).  Children died from poisoning, accidents, burns, and mishaps.  Industrial accidents were commonplace.  Industrial diseases were emerging (“black lung” in coal miners, scrotum cancer in chimney sweeps).

Workers struggled to survive business cycles.  Recurring booms and busts made it almost impossible for workers to save or own property.  Those who managed to save during a boom, were left penniless in the busts.  There was little social safety net to speak of.  Debtors prison was abolished, but the Poor Laws provided meager support to the needy.  In bad times, churches and charities were overstretched.

irish-famineIrish famine

Workers competed against cheap immigrant labor.  Irish arrived by the boatload, to escape dire poverty back home.  They were illiterate and spoke no English.  The Irish competed for the lowest paid, most backbreaking labor.  Barefoot and dressed in rags, they worked for next to nothing, and crowded together in the foulest dens (with their pigs).  They were infamous as drunks and brawlers.  (For them, meager wages and England’s worst slums were an improvement.)

Horrid living and working conditions were corroding family and society.  Husbands, wives, and children all worked.  There was little “home” or “family” to speak of.  Children barely knew their parents.  Promiscuity, prostitution, and illegitimacy were rampant.  Alcoholism was epidemic.  The slums were hives of abuse, violence, crime, and moral decay.

chartist-movementWorker protests

Government seemed unresponsive.  Protests and violence had forced political reforms that excluded most workers.  (Men had a minimum property requirement to vote.)  Reform enfranchised the middle class (merchants and employers), but not most workers.  Employers coerced the workers that could vote.  (There was no secret ballot.)  Workers and the poor were politically powerless.  There was growing anger and unrest, protests, and mob violence.

As always, the revolution seemed imminent – the rise of the proletariat.

Commentary

Economic dislocation.  Workers had been (quite literally) separated from the “means of production”.  Farmers were forced off land they didn’t own (with ownership concentrated in a landed aristocracy.)  Small farms couldn’t compete with large farms.  Craftsmen couldn’t compete with factories.  Feudalism followed by industrialization left most with little means to sustain themselves.

Industrial housing.  The feudal past, again, made things worse.  High property demand in industrial areas made property expensive.  Some factory owners forced workers into woeful company housing.  Modern landlord-tenant laws were yet to develop.

Landlords had economic disincentives to build and maintain adequate housing.  Landlords leased property or owned it temporarily (in the English tradition).  They would lose their housing investments when property reverted to the “true owner” (so to speak).  This creates incentives to minimize investments (in shoddy housing).

Food.  Food safety regulation was inadequate and poorly enforced.  The better off had fewer problems and more reliable sources (bigger markets with better prices).  The workers had to make do.  Poor enforcement meant that scofflaws would simply skip town, when caught.

Healthcare.  Crowding and poor sanitation made bad medicine worse.  Engels’ writings reflect the prevailing medical theory. (“Miasma theory” reckoned that disease was caused by “bad air”.)  Germ theory wouldn’t take hold until the end of the 19th century.  Medicine frequently involved liquor and opiates (or worse).

Wages and working conditions.  Revolution was a powerful threat.  Trade unionism also emerged as a force to reckon with.  Trade unions and moral outrage would prevail.  Laws would be passed, banning child labor, shortening work days, mandating wages, and improving safety (in a slow process).

Business cycles.  The lack of a social safety net was tragic.  Business cycles seem inevitable.  Engels blamed chaotic competition, and saw central planning as the cure.  In practice, central planning’s cure was worse than the disease.

Engels correctly described other culprits: credit-fueled “speculation” and imperfect information.  Credit-fueled market “bubbles” remain a problem, today.  (These are arguably worsened by central banks and misguided monetary policy.)  However, imperfect information proved a far worse problem for central planners.  (Marxist theory predicted perfect information – not even close.)

Immigrant laborEnglish tyranny drove Irish poverty and immigration. England had colonized Ireland.  Irish Catholics were denied political participation (could not vote or hold political office).  They were denied economic participation (could not own land, obtain education, or enter professions).  English laws were “well fitted for the oppression, impoverishment and degradation of a people, and the debasement in them of human nature itself,” wrote Edmund Burke, “the perverted ingenuity of man”.

Societal decay.  “Capitalist” institutions (the state, society, markets) slowly evolved to address many of these problems.  Interestingly, Engels discovered the “patriarchy” (a favorite of later neo-Marxists).  Some wives were forced to become the main provider (where the husband was injured or disabled).  Seeing this, Engels realized that the family arrangement was false, tyrannical, and oppressive.  (The “patriarchy” was the family, itself.)

Government.  Workers slowly gained greater participation, which helped to bring reforms and new laws.  Archaic English courts evolved to provide greater access to justice.

However, Engels would never forgive the bourgeoisie (employers, merchants, the middle class) for their betrayal of the proletariat (working people).  (The bourgeoisie and trade unions helped themselves, first.)  The enemy of the proletariat was the bourgeoisie (not just the rich).

Revolution.  Hegel and Marx need no forgiveness for caring about the misery of the powerless and downtrodden.  They can be forgiven for always thinking that proletarian revolution was imminent.  (Sometimes, revolution was imminent.)  Their economics was another matter.

doomsday-prophet
Nostradamus was a doomsday prophet, too

Economic theories seek to model and predict human behavior.  Good science is hard to do.  Bad science is much easier.  Good science includes theories that are falsifiable and have predictive value.  Good economics suggests a somewhat valid model of human behavior.

Marxism is dubious “science” (in no small part) because its predictive value is so poor.  (It is more polemics than economics.)  To be fair, much economic theory is dubious science (better lending itself to faith).

Marxist theory would become a secular religion (a veritable doomsday cult).  Marx and Hegel boasted that their “scientific socialism” was superior to “utopian socialism” because it was scientific.  Like a doomsday cult, they perpetually awaited the end days (pushed ever out into the future).  Their followers grew impatient and tossed aside the shabby cloak of science.  Marxism revealed itself: the True Faith of utopian socialism.

Next

The utopian roots of socialism.  Next: Part 21, Owen’s Heresy.

Postmodernism, Part 19: Basic Economics

What is postmodernism? Is it a problem?  The following continues a series of posts explaining postmodernism.  It is based on the excellent Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, by Prof. Stephen Hicks (with support from Maps of Meaning, by Jordan B. Peterson).

Previous posts:

Enlightenment and Darkness

Rousseau’s Revolutionary Politics

Right Collectivism

Left Collectivism

Erstwhile

Marxist postmodernism seeks to overthrow modernism.  Modernism’s political philosophy proposes reason, individualism, liberal democracy, and free markets.  Postmodernist philosophy is based on the metaphysical nihilism of (Nazi) Martin Heidegger.

jean-rousseauJean Rousseau

Postmodernism’s radical left politics don’t flow naturally from Heidegger’s subjectivist philosophy.  Postmodernism’s leftist political philosophy is explained by twentieth century Marxists’ crisis of faith in the face of undeniable Marxist catastrophe.  Postmodernists took refuge in an earlier totalitarian collectivist, Jean-Jacques Rousseau.  Rousseau’s ideas inflamed the French Revolution and gave rise to Napoleon.

Rousseau’s ideas (and Napoleon’s conquests) inspired the German Counter-Enlightenment thinkers (Kant, Herder, Fichte, Hegel).  They gave Rousseau a German twist, including multiculturalism, moral relativism, indoctrinating education, hero worship, state worship, totalitarianism, and dialectical history (with German supremacy and destiny).  This partly explains totalitarian collectivism (and German nationalism).

Left Collectivism is partly rooted in romanticism (inspired by Rousseau).  Romanticism was both an aesthetic and a value system.  It valued unthinking passion, sympathy, virtuous poverty, idyllic nature, danger, violence, and radicalism.  It devalued social consequences and conventional morality.  The romantic Lord Byron had a profound influence.  He was an aristocratic rebel who espoused rebellion, amorality, hero worship, militarism, and revolution.

Left Collectivism was also rooted in the process of industrialization.

Basic Economics

To understand “capitalism”, it’s useful to understand some basic economics.  For our purposes, this includes three concepts: markets, the state, and society (no math or mumbo jumbo).

“Capitalism” (so to speak) is not one monolithic entity.  It has several moving parts (actors that play different roles).  These include market economics (the markets), liberal democracy (the state), and society (individuals, families, and private institutions).  These different actors have related and competing interests, but don’t move in lockstep with each other.

Market economics is a system for allocating scarce resources, based on voluntary exchange and price.  Resources are scarce.  (We can’t turn water into wine.)  The price of wine is a “signal” that incorporates a mind-boggling amount of information (past and present, across the globe).  Nobody knows or can know how to calculate the “correct price” for wine or anything – no genius and no AI.  (The economy is too complex to model, measure, and predict.)  The price mechanism distributes this complex calculation (of mind-boggling information), across the globe, into a single data point – price.  Market economics is the worst system in the world (except for all the rest).

Liberal democracy is the state.  All states feature coercion and sanction.  The state holds a monopoly on coercion (the power to compel involuntary action).  The state uses the power of sanction (its monopoly on violence) to give force to law.  Liberal democracies give individuals some participation in representative government.  They grant some rights (interests that trump other interests), such as speech, association, religion, and property.  They give individuals some access to courts to seek justice. Liberal democracy is the worst system in the world (except for all the rest).

Society is the individual and voluntary associations of individuals.  Society is not the state.  (Society lacks sanction and coercion.)  Society is voluntary.  (There is no opting-out of the state.)  Society includes friends, families, communities, churches, charities, etc.  Society is a source of values (competing values, including competition with state-endorsed values).  Society voluntarily provides education, assistance, training and support.

Industrial Development

This is a modern conception of “capitalism”.  These ideas have evolved over centuries and continue to evolve.  These institutions don’t evolve at the same pace.  Sometimes they (like us) look forwards, sometimes back, sometimes blind, sometimes drunk.  They (like us) have one foot in yesterday and the other in tomorrow.  It’s far from perfect.

The Industrial Revolution was a slow process.  These institutions were moving from agricultural medieval feudalism towards modernity.  The institutions were changing.  The arrangements were changing.  Values were changing.  There was a revolving door of winners and losers.  There were crooks and liars, idealists and charlatans, saints and sinners.  It was (and is) a long and painful process.

Commentary

“If I have seen further than others,” wrote Isaac Newton, “It is by standing on the shoulders of giants”.  We should be mindful of that perspective.

An idea is hiding there.  Newton’s metaphor stands on an older one, “a dwarf standing on the shoulders of a giant may see farther than a giant himself”.  Each of us is “a dwarf”.  What is the giant?

The giant is a tower of bones.  In the sweeping valley of chaos, lie heaps of debris and ruin.  In its center, is a ghastly mountain of rubble and bones.  Atop that, looms a structure, a tower of bones, lashed together with  sinews of the long forgotten dead.  At its base, the bones are bleached white; at top, fresh with blood.  The tower is ornamented with faded banners, broken relics, and skulls of the once wise and mighty.  The giant tower is our civilization and culture.

“Something we cannot see protects us from something we do not understand,” writes psychologist Jordan B. Peterson, “The thing we cannot see is culture … The thing we do not understand is the chaos that gave rise to culture.”  Our giant tower of culture was built upon hard lessons by the dead.  We climbed and built this giant, step by painstaking step.  When we fall, we plummet into a merciless abyss.

Marx and Engels stood atop a giant that shuddered violently, as machines roared to life, belching smoke and fire.  These men marveled at this power and thought themselves giants.  They claimed to see to the end of history.  They thought themselves brilliant scientific engineers of human destiny (who could design and build a bridge to paradise).

Their disciples dismantled the scaffolding upon which they stood to raise an altar to their genius.  They raised armies to enslave and slaughter, to build their ghastly bridge to oblivion.  It creaked and groaned, then shattered of its own weight.  Men and debris scattered in the howling winds of chaos, and tumbled to the floor, below.  They lie there still, mute testimony to hubris and folly.

Next

Industrialization helps lead to socialism.  Next: Part 20, Labor Pains

Postmodernism, Part 18: Antichrist

What is postmodernism? Is it a problem?  The following continues a series of posts explaining postmodernism.  It is based on the excellent Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, by Prof. Stephen Hicks (with support from Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy.)

Previous posts:

Enlightenment and Darkness

Rousseau’s Revolutionary Politics

Right Collectivism

Erstwhile

Marxist postmodernism seeks to overthrow modernism.  Modernism’s political philosophy proposes reason, individualism, liberal democracy, and free markets.  Postmodernist philosophy is based on the metaphysical nihilism of (Nazi) Martin Heidegger.

Postmodernism’s radical left politics don’t flow naturally from Heidegger’s subjectivist philosophy.  Postmodernism’s leftist political philosophy is explained by twentieth century Marxists’ crisis of faith in the face of undeniable Marxist catastrophe.  Postmodernists took refuge in an earlier totalitarian collectivist, Jean-Jacques Rousseau.  Rousseau’s ideas inflamed the French Revolution and gave rise to Napoleon.

jean-rousseauJean Rousseau

Rousseau’s ideas (and Napoleon’s conquests) set the German Counter-Enlightenment on fire.  Kant espoused a sort of feudalistic militarism.  Johann Herder argued for multiculturalism, moral relativism, and nationalism.  Johann Fichte argued for public education as indoctrination, and German nationalism and destiny.  Hegel added to Rousseau his dialectical view of history, divine totalitarianism, and German supremacy.

This partly explains totalitarian collectivism (and German nationalism).

Now, we explain Left Collectivism (socialism) and its roots in romanticism and industrialization.

The Noble Monster

Romanticism was an artistic reaction to the Enlightenment.  (The Counter-Enlightenment was a philosophical and political reaction to the Enlightenment.)  Rousseau was inspirational to both and linked them together.

Rousseau appealed to sensibility (passion, unthinking emotion, especially sympathy).  Sensibility assigned virtue to the poor and enshrined idyllic nature.  Rousseau (an itinerant drifter) embodied this aesthetic.

frankenstein-monsterThe noble monster

The Romantic aesthetic favored the radical and dangerous (rejecting prudence and safety).  It scorned money-grubbing industrial economics (as beneath us).  It preferred violent emotion and stormy nature.  Romantics yearned for an idyllic legendary (medieval) past.

German Sturm and Drang (associated with Herder) was an early romantic movement.  It celebrated German myth and folklore.  It expressed itself in music, art, literature, and philosophy.

Romanticism is a moral value system (not just an aesthetic).  It values passion (love, hate, pride, jealousy, fury, contempt) and passionate action (violence, murder, revenge) irrespective of the social consequences.  Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is an example.  Her noble monster wants to be loved, but society rejects him, driving him to hatred and murder.  The monster was above morality because his passion drove his murders.  (We sympathize for the killer, not the victims.)

Antichrist
lord-byronLord Byron

The romantic Lord Byron was an aristocratic rebel. He championed the rebellious anti-hero.  He idolized Napoleon, lamenting his defeat.  Byron had a profound impact on Germany.  He inspired revolutionary heroism.

Byron was an aristocratic rebel.  He felt shunned by an aristocratic society that he wasn’t born into.  Byron inherited his estate (after a childhood in squalor) and came from a “bad family” (with a lawless reputation).  He was self-conscious, limping from a foot deformity.  Byron was bisexual and engaged in scandalous love affairs.  He cultivated the persona of a great sinner (likening himself to Satan).

Byron championed the rebellious anti-hero.  His heroes were rebels, vengeful villains, such as his pirate in “The Corsair”:

“He knew himself a villain – but he deem’d,
The rest no better than the thing he seem’d;
And scorn’d the best as hypocrites who hid
Those deeds the the bolder spirit plainly did.”

He rejected Christian morality.  He fancied himself above contemptable mankind’s hypocritical morality.

Byron idolized Napoleon, lamenting his defeat.  His “Ode to Napoleon Bonaparte” evoked Satanic imagery.

“’TIS done—but yesterday a King!
And arm’d with Kings to strive—
And now thou art a nameless thing:
So abject—yet alive!
Is this the man of thousand thrones,
Who strew’d our earth with hostile bones,
And can he thus survive?
Since he, miscalled the Morning Star,
Nor man nor fiend hath fallen so far.”

He likens Napoleon (who strewed the earth with bones) to Satan (the Morning Star).

“The Desolator desolate!
The Victor overthrown!
The Arbiter of others’ fate
A Suppliant for his own!
Is it some yet imperial hope
That with such change can calmly cope?
Or dread of death alone?
To die a prince—or live a slave—
Thy choice is most ignobly brave!”

He hero worships a Satanic vision of Napoleon (the Desolator), echoing Milton’s Paradise Lost (“Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven”).

Byron had a profound impact on Germany.  Many Germans saw Napoleon as an Antichrist who threatened the German nation.  Prussian Chancellor Bismarck saw Napoleon as an Antichrist to be imitated.  Napoleon was Hegel’s “world-historical individual”.  He was Nietzsche’s Superman.  Byron helped infuse Germany with hero worship and amoral militarism.

Byron was a revolutionary.  He is considered a hero of the Greek War for Independence against the Ottoman Empire.  He raised money for the revolution, helped finance the war, and provided humanitarian aid; then, fell sick and died in Greece.  Byron inspired future revolutionaries, including Italian nationalist Giuseppe Garibaldi.

Commentary

Byron was profoundly influential.  He inspired the collectivist Left and Right.  His admirers included the hero-worshiping Thomas Carlyle (who unwittingly inspired Nazi hero worship).  Byron’s romantic aesthetic inspired revolutionaries.  His romantic amorality and careless contempt for humanity inspired ideologies that caused terrible carnage.

Romanticism’s aesthetic has a stirring and enduring emotional appeal (especially to rebellious youth).  Romantic morality seems appalling and absurd.  Consider a hypothetical.  Your neighbor, Byron, is an aristocratic rebel:

  • It is okay to kill Byron because you are jealous of his fame.
  • It is okay to kill Byron because you envy his wealth.
  • It is not okay to kill Byron to steal his gold.

As an individual ethic, romantic morality might be appealing (rebellious adolescent fantasy, freedom from moral constraints to act with reckless abandon).  As a community ethic, it has been catastrophe (anarchy, murder, rape, violence, societal collapse, economic collapse, famine, disease, untold suffering) – not in theory, but in historical fact.

First world anarchists (cozy and safe from such horrors) enjoy the luxury of fantasy.  The present victims of such horrors wish for better.  The past victims (men, women, children) did also.

Next

Industrialization helps lead to socialism. Next: Part 19, Basic Economics.