Individualism in Marx

Sam Pawlett rsp at
Mon Aug 30 11:41:41 MDT 1999

Chris S:

  Would you agree that there is a strain of radical individualism in
Marx?  I have in mind Alasdair Macintyre's critique of individualism in
his fascinating book (which I otherwise disagree with) After Virtue.
Macintyre argues that *all* political theories have failed, including
the most convincing one:Marxism, because there is no way of
philosophically grounding the moral foundations of these theories.
Consider the following passage:

"Secreted within Marxism from the outset is a certain radical
individualism. In the first chapter of Capital when Marx characterizes
what it would be like when the practical relations of everyday life
offer to man none but perfectly intelligible and reasonable relations'
what he pictures is a 'community of free individuals; who have freely
agreed to their common ownership of the means of production and to
various norms of production and distribution. This free individual is
described by Marx as a socialized Robinsoe Crusoe; but on what basis he
enters into free association with others, Marx does not tell us. At this
key point in Marxism there is a lacuna which no later Marxist has
adequately supplied. It is unsurprising that abstract moral principle
and utility have in fact been the principles of association which
Marxists have appealed to, and that in practice Marxists have
exemplified precisely the kind of moral attitude which they condemn in
others as ideological" AV, p261


" means of Marxism the notion of human autonomy can be rescued from
its original individualist formations and restored within the context of
an appeal to a possible form of community in which alienation has been
overcome, false consciousness abolished and values of equality and
fraternity realized." AV, 261

Macintyre argues that, ultimately, Marxism collapses into either Kantian
ethics or utilitarianism which is why it fails. According to M, we must
return to Benedictine times.
Any comments?
Sam Pawlett

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