Marxism and philosophy

Louis N Proyect lnp3 at columbia.edu
Fri Jan 27 11:48:48 MST 1995


On Fri, 27 Jan 1995, Marshall Feldman wrote:

> Rorty, who calls himself a pragmatist, is NOT a marxist:
> he's an arch conservative

Louis Proyect:

I don't know how I could have made the egregious mistake of calling Rorty
a Marxist.  I think I had Frederic Jameson in mind, but somehow my neural
synapses got short-circuited and I got the 2 confused. I definitely knew
that Rorty was some kind of neopragmatist, but only know him through
various attacks on him in places like New Left Review.

The question of the role of pragmatism in American politics is an
interesting one. I would argue that Rorty is not the source of the
problems in Chicago that Marshall Feldman alluded to. I think that in a
more general sense pragmatism is the offical American philosophy. John
Dewey and his cothinkers have had an enormous influence on American
education and politics in the same way that the Utilitarians affected
English politics.

Getting back to the more germane question, which was the focus of Justin
Schwartz's post: does philosophy matter? I think that it does and I think
that although the audience for Marxist philosophy is nowhere near as broad
as it was in the 1930's or the 1960's when Herbert Marcuse could speak to
thousands of students on campus, there's still a big potential.

The key is to learn to speak to people in concrete, unpedantic terms. The
type of history that Howard Zinn specializes should inspire us.
There's no reason why the philosophy of Marxism can't be popularized.
It's instructive to read those musty old texts from Monthly Review press
and see how it's done. Read anything by Leo Huberman and you'll come away
with some terrific examples of how to clarify basic ideas of Marxism to a
mass audience.

The only thing that I find disturbing about the "philosophizing" that
goes on in this list is that seems to be blissfully unaware of how arcane
it is to someone even like myself. I have 57 credits toward a PhD in
philosophy from the New School where I studied under Aaron Gurewitsch,
Hans Jonas and a number of other phenomenologists and existentialists
who were forced into exile from Nazism. Once upon a time I read and
understood Hegel, Kant et al. But when the war in Vietnam began to force
me to re-evaluate everything I had believed, the philosophy department
at the New School began to seem totally irrelevant.

I suppose this is besides the point to many of the people on this list
who read and contribute to academic journals out of professional
necessity. And, after all, the Internet e-mail lists, in some sense,
exist as a way for pedagogues to collaborate professionally. Whenever I
burst into the type of chit-chat that typifies this list, I feel a little
like a buildings and grounds worker crashing a faculty cocktail party.

Louis Proyect

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