Postmodernism, Part 26: French Revolution Redux

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 1848: Year of Revolution, by Michael Rapport.)

Previous posts:

Enlightenment and Darkness

Rousseau’s Revolutionary Politics

Right Collectivism

Left Collectivism

Revolutionary Disappointment

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.  Instead, their politics flow from twentieth century Marxists’ crisis of faith (in the face of undeniable Marxist catastrophe).  The postmodernists took refuge in the earlier collectivist Rousseau.  Rousseau’s ideas inflamed the French Revolution and Reign of Terror, and culminated in Napoleon’s conquests.

Right Collectivism has roots in the German Counter-Enlightenment (Kant, Herder, Fichte, Hegel).  They gave Rousseau a German twist, including hero worship, state worship, totalitarianism, and dialectical history (plus German supremacy).

marxKarl Marx

Left Collectivism has roots in the German Counter-Enlightenment, romanticism, and early industrial working conditions.  Romanticism valued passion, violence, radicalism, and revolution (morality, not so much).  Deplorable (“third world”) industrial working conditions were (truly) breeding revolution.  The Communists, Marx and Engels, thought this the new normal.  Their “scientific socialism” prophesied a Communist destiny.  In 1847, the Communist League published their Communist Manifesto.

Revolution was imminent.  The Revolutions of 1848 would be a big letdown.  They were driven by hunger (crop failures), nationalism (growing cultural and ethnic identities), and economics (growing industrialization).  The Communist Manifesto resonated little.  Marx and the radicals would be impatient and disappointed.

Revolution of 1830

I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I’ll get on my knees and pray
We don’t get fooled again

Before the French Revolution of 1848, came the Revolution of 1830.  The 1830 Revolution began (as French Revolutions often do) with Paris uprisings.  They overthrew conservative King Charles X (the Bourbon nephew of Louis XVI, who had been beheaded in the 1789 Revolution).

France became a constitutional monarchy.  King Louis-Phillipe (of the house Orleans) now sat on the throne.  Louis-Phillipe expanded the vote (but still limited the vote to rich bourgeois).

Revolution’s Parisian supporters (who shed blood in the streets) felt disappointed. “The 1830 Revolution,” wrote French legislator Frederic Bastiat, “promised nothing, but did effect some notable tax relief.” However, he wrote, “in peaceful times, they retract their concessions and march on to new conquests”.  Any tax relief was quickly consumed by higher prices (driven by protectionist tariffs).

louis-phillipeLouis-Phillipe

Louis-Phillipe focused on economic matters that benefited the rich (landowners and the growing bourgeois). He expanded roads and highways.  French industrialism benefited.  The betrayed revolutionaries were angry that the Revolution had been stolen by the rich.

Frustrated, republicans led Paris uprisings again, in 1832 and 1834. Louis-Phillipe violently crushed the revolutions, leaving simmering resentments. Cycles of violence and repression followed.  Attempts were made to assassinate the King.

Radicalism worsened. Radicals plotted revolution and authoritarian rule of their own. They led a failed uprising, in May 1839.  Even with the vote only for the rich, Leftist radicals gained power in the Chamber of Deputies.

Revolution was (again) in the air.  “It will fall, this royalty,” declared revolutionary historian Alphonse de Lamartine, “Be sure of that … And after having had the revolution of freedom and the counter-revolution of glory, you will have the revolution of public conscience and the revolution of contempt.”

February Days

The change, it had to come
We knew it all along
We were liberated from the fold, that’s all
And the world looks just the same
And history ain’t changed
‘Cause the banners, they are flown in the next war

bastiatFrederic Bastiat

In January 1848, Alexis de Tocqueville felt revolution stirring. “I believe right now we are sleeping on a volcano … the earth is trembling,” he warned the Chamber of Deputies, “The wind of revolution is in the air”.  Bastiat smelled it, too, but cautioned, “Seeking relief through revolution is an illusion.”

In Paris, political outsiders (wanting their share of the spoils) and republicans demanded reform.  In February, protestors marched on the Chamber of Deputies (as they had in 1789, in the run up to the Reign of Terror).  This time, they were pushed back by the National Guards.  Crowds threw stones at the Municipal Guards.  They counterattacked, killing rioters.

guizotFrancois Guizot

Louis-Phillipe was in horror.  To appease the mobs, he sacked his hated Minister Francois Guizot. (When protestors had complained that only the rich could vote, Guizot had arrogantly replied, “Get rich!”)  Sacrificing the despicable Guizot wouldn’t be enough.  (In the 1789 Revolution, appeasement only encouraged worse radicalism.)  A mob marched on Guizot’s lodgings (celebrating his sacking).  Troops panicked and fired on the crowd.  This set off a chain reaction of mob protests, throughout Paris.

The King deployed troops to clear the streets. National Guards were reluctant to fight the mobs (who had armed themselves).  Some troops retreated to defend the royal palace. Others (in French Revolutionary turncoat fashion) joined with the mobs.  The King escaped the palace, vacated his throne, and escaped to Britain.  (Louis-Phillipe had no wish to share the fate of the beheaded Louis XVI.)  After fierce fighting, insurgents captured the royal palace.  They celebrated, taking turns sitting on the throne.

A provisional government was announced. This would be the short-lived Second Republic.

Radicals demanded the “red flag” as the new national banner.  The republican leader Lamartine rejected their demands.  He tried to tamp down radicalism, fearing another another Reign of Terror.  Once again, the radicals wanted to export revolution (as they had in 1789, leading to the dictatorship of Napoleon).  French paramilitary bands marched off to “liberate” disputed territories (only to face defeat or capture).

June Days

There’s nothing in the streets
Looks any different to me
And the slogans are replaced, by-the-bye
And the parting on the left
Are now parting on the right
And the beards have all grown longer overnight

Leftist Paris radicals had begun organizing themselves as “democratic socialists”. They demanded “a guaranteed right to work”, “an assured minimum for the worker and his family in sickness”, and “the organization of labor” (worker management of wages, hours, and working conditions).  (A century later, Hitler would organize workers this way, ending in forced labor.)

blanc-louisLouis Blanc

Socialist Louis Blanc took charge of the government labor commission. (Blanc was famous for demanding equalization of wages, coining the phrase “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”).  Blanc introduced “National Workshops”, that offered the poor employment in public works projects. (Blanc’s end goal was a system of worker-owned co-operatives.)

Meanwhile, the government had a budget crisis. It raised taxes on property owners (including struggling rural peasants). This pitted urban leftists against struggling rural conservatives. In the elections, conservatives and moderates dominated.

Radical violence broke out (as always). In April, militia fired on a radical leftist insurrection, in Rouen. In May, Paris radicals took to the streets and invaded the National Assembly (in their usual fashion). The government decided that Blanc’s National Workshops were breeding an army of Paris radicals (over one-hundred thousand strong).  In June, the government closed the Workshops, and ordered the unemployed into the army or to public works far from Paris.

french-revolution-1848Paris 1848

Radical violence broke out, again. In Paris, radicals and the unemployed protested in the streets, demanding work.  Thousands marched in the streets, chanting “Bread or lead! Bread or lead!” Karl Marx (who was in Paris, at the time, fomenting German revolution) thought this was a setup (that the Workshops were closed to provoke violence, so that the government could crush the workers).  On June 23, eight thousand protestors gathered at the Bastille, chanting “Liberty or Death!” Insurgents gained control of the streets.

The government had no interest in an another Reign of Terror.  The National Guards attacked.  Bitter fighting ensued. Socialist Louis Blanc pleaded with the government to negotiate with the insurgents. “One doesn’t reason with insurgents, one defeats them!” they replied.  Troops violently crushed the insurgency, arresting their leaders (“social democrats” who demanded that “the worker receives the product of his labor … which is at present taken away from him by the man who provides the capital”).

Alexis de Tocqueville saw the June days as class conflict. “The whole of the working class was engaged in the fight,” he wrote, “the spirit of insurrection circulated from one end to the other of that vast class … like blood in a single body”. The was not a political uprising, he said, “but a class conflict”. Marx agreed, saying, this was “tremendous insurrection in which the first great battle was joined between the two classes … a fight for the preservation or annihilation of the bourgeois order”.

Nevertheless, Marx’s communism resonated little with the French.  France lagged in industrialization (the prerequisite for socialism, according to Marx).  The unemployed wanted work. The poor wanted food and shelter.  Blanc’s utopian socialism offered them dreams.

Marx would die, impatiently waiting for his ideas to bear fruit.

 Commentary

Tocqueville and Marx thought this a class revolution.  Frederic Bastiat contended with Louis Blanc and the radicals.  Blanc and company were (in fact) disciples of Rousseau (who had inspired the Reign of Terror).

Next

Next: Part 27, Bastiat, Rousseau, and Revolution.

Postmodernism, Part 25: Revolutions of 1848

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 1848: Year of Revolution, by Michael Rapport; Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, by Friedrich 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.

Postmodernism’s radical left politics don’t flow naturally from Heidegger’s subjectivist philosophy.  Instead, their politics flow from twentieth century Marxists’ crisis of faith (in the face of undeniable Marxist catastrophe).  The postmodernists took refuge in the earlier collectivist Rousseau.  Rousseau’s ideas inflamed the French Revolution and Reign of Terror, and culminated in Napoleon’s conquests.

Right Collectivism has roots in the German Counter-Enlightenment (Kant, Herder, Fichte, Hegel).  They gave Rousseau a German twist, including hero worship, state worship, totalitarianism, and dialectical history (plus German supremacy).

marxKarl Marx

Left Collectivism has roots in the German Counter-Enlightenment, romanticism, and early industrial working conditions.  Romanticism valued passion, violence, radicalism, and revolution (morality, not so much).  Deplorable (“third world”) industrial working conditions were (truly) breeding revolution.  The Communists, Marx and Engels, thought this the new normal.  Their “scientific socialism” prophesied a Communist destiny.  In 1847, the Communist League published their Communist Manifesto.

Revolution was imminent.  (It would be a big letdown.)

Revolutions of 1848

In 1848, Europe was swept with revolutions.  These were liberal (democratic republican) revolutions.  Three major drivers were:

  • Hunger,
  • Nationalism, and
  • Economics

These were not Marxist revolutions.  (Marx was impatient and frustrated.)

Europe was dominated by five great powers: Austria, Prussia, Russia, France, and Great Britain.  Great Britain was a constitutional monarchy.  France had a constitutional monarchy (having exiled Napoleon).  These constitutional monarchies denied most people the right to vote.

metternichMetternich

The three other powers (Austria, Prussia, Russia) were absolute monarchies.  Russia (a repressive police state) was ruled by Tsar Nicholas I. (He had already put down a reformist uprising).  Prussia was ruled by King Frederick William IV.  (He had not delivered promised political reforms.)  The sprawling Austrian Empire was ruled by (mentally challenged) Emperor Ferdinand I (“Ferdy the Loony”).  The power behind the throne was the reactionary Chancellor Metternich.

Hunger

People were hungry.  The Potato Famine had killed 1.5 million.  Grain harvests had failed.  Food prices skyrocketed.  There were food riots and hunger marches.

Nationalism

Nationalism was a big driver of the Revolutions of 1848.  The Austrian Empire (Austria, Hungary, Italy, German states) was rife with ethnic tensions and surging nationalism.  For our purposes, nationalism is not the focus, except for the cases of Germany and Italy.

Economics

Continental Europe lagged in industrialization.  Marx’s “scientific socialism” states (as a law of nature) an economic evolution: from agricultural feudalism to petty industry (crafts and trades), then to industrialization (capitalism), then to socialism, then to communism.  In this scheme, the British were ripe for revolution.  Continental Europe should not be (because they lagged in industrialization).

The British were the most industrialized in Europe.  Engels wrote his book about their deplorable working conditions.  (This is what Marxism is based on.)  Marxism states that capitalism inevitably gives rise to deplorable working conditions that inevitably give rise to revolution (socialism, communism, and so on).

Continental Europe was lagging in industrialization.  They were transitioning from petty industry to capitalism.  (The prerequisite deplorable working conditions would not yet exist.)  Craftsmen and workers would organize and fight over economic concerns (their livelihoods) and social reforms.  The Communist Manifesto wouldn’t resonate much.  (Marx and the Communists would be frustrated).

Commentary

Marxists were (and are) always an impatient and frustrated lot.  They would never be patient enough for their “scientific” prediction to unfold.  (If it’s inevitable, what’s the hurry?)  When their “scientific” predictions would fail, they’d never question the “science”.  They would revise their theories, and remain impatient, frustrated, and faithful.  (Then, the self-anointed “political vanguard”, inevitably, tries to give the future a big, hard shove from behind.)

Next

France revolts again.  Next: Part 26, French Revolution Redux.

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 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.