[Marxism] Islamist, Socialist revolutions do not mix

Haines Brown brownh at hartford-hwp.com
Sat Oct 6 08:41:21 MDT 2007

> Well, sorry if this hijacks the thread,

I really don't think it does.

> it appears to me that the Enlightenment and Marxism are very tightly
> coupled.

That may be a common view, and some do support it actively, but here
I'm disagreeing. The issue is important, I believe, and I hope we can
shed more light on it.

> Basically, the points at which I think this is sharpest, are the
> perfectability of man and the world, the capability to utilize
> reason in order to find truth and plan the future, and the very idea
> of planning itself (as opposed to heuristic or random forms of
> development).

There's an interesting issue here: what really defines the
Enlightenment? I suspect we would have to engage in a lot of
discussion to come to some agreement over that. But perhaps a basic
difference is that I think of the Enlightenment as an ontology, a
philosophy of science, while you are viewing it in terms of, say,
historical development.

But to keep things simple, let me take your three points and play with
them a bit. My aim is not to build a counter argument, but simply to
suggest that things may not be simple or warrant a hasty conclusion.

1. Perfectibility of man and the world. If this is a characteristic of
   modern life, then socialism would share that feature with
   Enlightenment Europe, not because Marxism inherited the idea from
   the Enlightenment, but because the perfectibility of man and the
   world is simply a characteristic of modern life thanks to
   technological development.

   Everything inherits something from the past, and so it is
   inevitable that late 19th century working-class ideology will
   inherit from Enlightenment ideology. But your "tight coupling"
   seems to imply more than that, that Marxism is an instance or
   development of Enlightenment thought, and it is this with which I
   disagree. That is, while it inherits much, I feel it is also a
   break with the Enlightenment at a fundamental level, and I don't
   even much care if Marx himself didn't realize it ;-)

   To be more specific, to illustrate more than to develop the point,
   the Enlightenment "man" was a generic social atom, and it develops
   because the totality of individuals develop through their making
   optimal (rational) choices ("rational" was understood in
   instrumentalist terms: a rational choice is defined as one that
   results in an increase of one's own "talents", and it has nothing
   to do with logic). In Marxism, there is no generic man, but a
   "social being". While the development of society implies the
   development of the _individual_, it does not imply the development
   of _generic_ "man". Individuals develop because they are social
   beings, not social atoms; the concrete individual develops because
   concrete society is part of his being, and his innate powers are
   actualized and developed by society.

2. Reason as source of truth. Yes, this is an Enlightenment notion,
   but it has collapsed in terms of recent philosophy of science. This
   is richly discussed in many places, but I just received a book in
   the mail yesterday that happens to discuss it as well (also
   mathematics): Peter T. Manicas, A Realist Philosophy of Social
   Science: Explanation and Understanding (Cambridge, 2006). I'm not
   venturing to recommend this (implicitly Marxist, I believe) book,
   for I've just started reading it. Since the collapse of logical
   positivism, we tend to see reason as a tool, not a source of truth.

   In particular I would mention the Marxist notion of
   "contradiction". A lot of ink has been spilled trying to decide if
   a "contradiction" really violates the basic rules of logic (the
   rule of non-contradiction), or reduces to a Kantian real
   opposition. In retrospect, all that effort was a waste of time, for
   it is obvious Marx was not talking about the contradictory relation
   of static entities, but of _processes_. Contradictory processes
   (such as in terms of opposite direction of entropy change) are not
   only possible, but common, and the emergence of any improbable
   outcome is dependent on a contradiction (thermodynamic engine). In
   other words, while logical coherence is one element of what
   scientists mean by a "robust" theory, logic does not generate truth
   about the world, and in particular, the most basic Marxist notion
   has nothing to do with logic.

3. Planification. Again, it is often said that by the 17th century,
   human capacities had developed to the point that for the first time
   (and in Europe, of course) an ability to shape the future had
   become a practical reality, and so planning now made
   sense. However, it's doubtful the Enlightenment really initiated
   the idea or that it is peculiar to Europe, and in fact all three of
   your points to some extent have broader historical precedent. If
   true, this means these elements in Marxism may not be explicitly
   European or Enlightenment.

   This point skates a bit on thin ice, so let me be more specific by
   referencing the example of the Carolingian Renaissance of the 9th
   century. Alcuin and others spoke of a "renovatio" of mind, body and
   spirit. Each of these three levels of development were
   interdependent. The means for development of the spirit was
   "devotio", prayer; the means for development of the mind was
   "eruditio", education; the means for the development of the body
   was "disciplina", constraint. The idea was that the development of
   the physical world (coastal lighthouse system, Rhine-Danube canal,
   monetary reforms; rationalized bureaucratic organization, peaceful
   political relations, etc.) was a necessary precondition for the
   development of the mind (using the palace school as a catalyst for
   setting up of cathedral schools throughout Francia, monastic reform
   that would mandate education, the import of scholars from abroad,
   etc.), which was a precondition for the development of the spirit,
   which allowed you to participate in god's creative (inventive)
   power. Although tenuous in practice, the idea of planification was
   very much present. If one concludes that is it much a part of
   European culture since the 9th century, then why attribute that
   element specifically to the Enlightenment?

   Actually, I get the impressoin (without any more being able to
   offer much of an argument in support) that the larger societies
   entities in the world in about the 6-10th centuries were undergoing
   a similar transformation. There's plenty of evidence for
   planification in the world of Islam at the time, for example.
What I'm getting at is that looking to the Enlightenment roots of
Marxism, we are in danger of being Eurocentric and insensitive to the
longer sweep of history. In other words, we would have to show that
the the traits are really peculiar to the Enlightenment and also
fundamental to it, that these ideas were imported into Marxism without
significant change (there is danger of hypostatizing ideas that are
independent of profound historical change), and that these ideas are
essential to Marxism, rather than merely accidentals.

> Marxism in its theoretical underpinnings is fundamentally an
> Enlightenment position:

I know that this position has been argued. All I've been suggesting is
that the argument may not be compelling and is in need of critical
inspection. .

> Postmodernism appears to me to be centered on issues like textual
> criticism and the negation of truth and programatic planning as
> possible or desireable, so I don't see how a postmodernist marxism
> is at all possible on those terms.

Yes, agreed, but the term "post-modern" has been used in various
ways. I get the feeling (perhaps wrong) that the term is shedding its
(unfortunate) role as a kind of literary criticism popular in certain
academic circles, amd is coming essentially to mean a broadly
post-Enlightenment mode of thinking, particularly in the philosophy of

Post-modernism may indeed imply a rejection of planification, but
perhaps in the less problematic sense of it being a critique of
optimal decision theory. That is, Enlightenment planification may
presume a powerful individual being in a position to shape the course
of events in response to his idea of future possibility. Both of these
presumptions today are considered problematic, not only in Marxism,
but also the philosophy of science.

Incidentally, this notion that the course of events is determined by
powerful and self-conscious individuals is certainly not new with the
Enlightenment. Check out the initial purpose of the Jesuit Order in
16th century Europe, for example.

> In fact, marxism appears to be used by postmodernism as merely
> another source of criticism, a negation of bourgeois determinism and
> of infinite progress, without taking the affirmative programatic
> elements of marxism itself.

Yes, perhaps so. But I hope we might steal the term post-modern from
literary academics and put it to better use.

I should mention that after today I'll be gone for a week, and so I'll
not be able to continue this dialog past today. I don't want you to
feel slighted if I don't reply.

       Haines Brown, KB1GRM


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