Scientism and Marxism

Robert Peter Burns rburns at chaph.usc.edu
Tue Nov 28 00:12:14 MST 1995


My complaint on this subject was, in a nutshell:

1> Some marxists adopt scientism when it suits them, and drop it when it
doesn't.  Sometimes it suits them to scorn the possibility of genuinely
philosophical, non-scientific knowledge--i.e. knowledge gained not via the
methods of science, but via rational philosophical reflection as such.  So
when it suits them, these marxists say dismissive things about
"metaphysics" and proclaim their adherence to a "scientific world-view". 
But sometimes this scientistic attitude doesn't suit them--e.g. when they
want to adopt "dialectical materialism" as a philosophical world-view--a
metaphysical view if ever there was one.  *Not* that there is anything
wrong with metaphysics per se.  Nor can metaphysics really be avoided. 
What is important is to do metaphysics while abiding by the norms of
rational inquiry.  One of these is consistency.  A proper understanding of
dialectics does not sanction the kind of inconsistency apparent in this
sort of to-ing and fro-ing on the issue of scientism. 

2> Some marxists look to philosophical methods of knowing in the area
where they are least apt for yielding knowledge --namely, knowledge of
physical reality.  In the areas where they are most apt, namely, in the
areas of reason, mind and value, they reject them. 

James Miller, responding under the heading "religion", manages to say
precisely nothing about these issues. He simply and completely ignores
them, and then accuses *me* of evasiveness.  He instead opts for
speculative ramblings about the state of my mental life.  He adds that
Catholicism is dying.  Yeah, that's what they keep saying about marxism
too.  The fact of the matter is--whether one views it favorably or
not--that far more people attend Mass and other religious services than
attend meetings devoted to revolutionary socialism or marxism.  So if
Catholicism is dying, what does that say about *those* "isms"? 
Predictions of the end of Christianity have been around for a long time,
and have no better a record of success than predictions about the Second
Coming of Christ.  There is no fruit to be gained by indulging in these
predictions.  Instead of antagonizing religious believers, socialists
should be inviting them to come aboard a common project.  The tactical
superiority of this approach over the antagonistic approach would, I'm
confident, be pretty evident.  Communists in Cuba and in South Africa are
ditching the antagonistic approach, and I am now informed that priests and
nuns are welcome in the CP USA <not that I think of that organization as
the best political option contemporary marxism has to offer.>  Face
it--it's time to get over the political fruitlessness of militantly
antagonistic approaches to religious *belief* <which does not mean
abandoning political criticism of the *churches as social
institutions*--many *Catholics* are doing just that all the time.>

Of course the Catholic Church is a social institution which has often
presided over travesties of the Christian ideal.  But self-styled marxist
regimes have presided over travesties of marxism.  I think I am honest
enough to accept the facts about both sorts of travesty.  I am also
interested in struggling against history repeating itself "as farce"
following upon tragedy.  I hope others on the list feel the same way. 

Finally, 2 further points in response to James.  I have always said on
this list that I view belief in God's existence as reasonable, while
accepting that others reasonably differ. This is not a "demotion" of God
to being just an issue.  It is a simple recognition of the fact that
whether one explains reason, mind and value theistically or not, they are
not adequately accounted for by "orthodox" marxists, including some on
this list.  Secondly, Jesuits don't "get money from the church".  We earn
most of our money through our work as professional academics,
schoolteachers, social activists with our own and other non-profit
organizations, counsellors, etc., though some of our income does indeed
come from the alms of the faithful, as Marx recommends in "The Civil War
in France". 

Peter 
rburns at scf.usc.edu








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