fragments of an attempted writing.

R.I.P.


Eric Hobsbawm.  Guardian obit, Jacobin obit, [update: another Jacobin],with other (a few among the many) notices here and here and here.

14 comments:

  1. Prayers for his soul.

    That said, the circle is getting smaller. Which one of you is going to have to eat the biscuit?

    Hezekiah Garrett

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  2. thanks for sharing..

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  3. Bad week for you guys.

    Honest question. How does Marxism and Christianity work together?

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    1. Kyle,

      In order to answer that with any precision we would have to ask which Marxism is under consideration, which Christianity is under consideration, and what is meant by the phrase "work together."

      Though the analogy fails in certain respects, I view Marx's relationship to Marxism in something of the same manner I view Darwin's relationship to evolutionary theory. As with Darwin and evolutionists, there are virtually no Marxists today who believe that Marx was right about everything, and most Marxists assert that some major components in Marx are either wrong, or not helpful anymore. Just as with evolutionary theory (wherein the consensus is that current evolutionary theory is no longer "darwinian" but something past/post darwinian, yet still upon a trajectory in which Darwin and Darwinian thought played a pivotal role) there are many Marxists who question whether or not the term Marxist is even accurate or appropriate anymore (hence some thinkers will say that they do x, y, or z "within the Marxist tradition" or somesuch instead of asserting that they are Marxists). There is not, in my opinion, any longer any stream of Marxist thought which can be considered "orthodox Marxism." I have more than a few friends who assert that they are "heterodox Marxists" but given the demise of the old "orthodox Marxist" magisterium, if you will, I don't know that the moniker "heterodox Marxist" means anything anymore. Some of those friends are among the most serious and thorough followers of Marxist theory that I know.

      In my mind, some acceptance of Marxist theory, even if only by intuition, is all but inevitable today. Most conservatives I know, and even some trads I know, make use of the Marxist construct of alienation. Indeed, movement conservatism has made great use of a not that altered version of the concept in their own narrative, as have a number of trad groups.

      It has struck me recently that in the current political debate over "he didn't built that" / "he built that" we see both sides engaged in conceptual frameworks that are inconceivable outside of the influence of Marx's Labor Theory of Value (LTOV), a theory which is rightly dismissed in terms of its effectiveness as an actual economic theory (in terms of economics proper, as opposed to political economy), but still has been socio-culturally and politically useful as a medium of ways of thinking about the responsibility for and obligations of wealth and wealth creation, and influential in restructuring the way most human beings think and intuit regarding these matters.

      Gramsci's notion of hegemony (and its derivatives) is now regularly appropriated by persons within a wide variety of camps and is fairly indispensable in terms of late modern political theory and engagement in a wide spectrum of cultural theory and historical analysis.





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    2. cont'd -

      Ethnography is usually linked to early Marxist theory and it is hard to underestimate the influence of ethnographic study and theory on the way that late modern intellectuals (again, of virtually all stripes) look at the world. Following this is the very important work of Marxist historians (not so much Hobsbawm, more like Thompson and Hill and early Genovese, etc.) on the development of "bottom up" forms of historical analysis. Here again, this has been appropriated by damn near everyone - there are passages in Michael Burleigh's Earthly Powers: Religion and Politics in Europe from the French Revolution to the Great War and in Modris Eksteins' Rites of Spring : The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age that are inconceivable without the change in historical postures brought about by Thompson et al. The work of Eamon Duffy, who while not a conservative per se is a man whose work is often loved by religious conservatives and some trads, also comes to mind - his bottom up revisionist defense of pre-Reformation English Catholicism reflects a historical orientation that exists because of earlier efforts of Marxist historians.

      The historical materialist orientation of Marxist thought is also appropriated, more or less, by damn near everyone. Even conservatives and especially trads who try to get away from this inevitably return to it, just as new natural law types inevitably turn to contemporary social science theories to buttress their arguments. This makes sense to me - if your worldview involves economic theories which stress material finiteness and the boundaries constantly being set by scarcity, it is then approaching the ludicrous for you to attempt historical methods not making ample use of materialist lines of thought.

      In my opinion the most important aspect of Marxist theory is that of the commodity fetish. I doubt that one can properly understand what is going on in our (post)culture without the use of that construct. Human identity as construct has changed rather significantly (even radically, we might say) since WWI, and I think that mechanisms of commodity fetishization have more to do with that than anything else. How we think of ourselves, how we form identities and personalities, our mannerisms and countenances and temperaments, our patterns of relationships to persons, things, and places - all of this is now largely dictated by the mechanisms of commodity fetishization. Scholars from a wide spectrum of camps have done socio-cultural work which infers this, a few have dealt with it directly, and I think it is one of the most promising trajectories of thought out there today, and one that can be appropriated by militant atheists or Christian traditionalists, anarchists, monarchists, libertarians, communists, social dems, just about anyone raging against the current neo-liberal ordo or doing serious analysis of it.

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    3. cont'd -

      Much is made of Marx's and Marxism's critics of the utopianism and positivism found in Marx & (some) Marxism. The utopian matter is a hard one to unpack here - it would take many posts to deal with it justly. Suffice it to say that Marxist utopianism is not a static thing. Marx was very much a man of the 19th century and his utopianism was in keeping with the confidence and determinism of his time and place. It was a somewhat milder and more specifically defined sort of utopianism than what was seen among anarchists and other radicals of his time, however, though it still rings like bat shit crazy to our ears. [I remember a class on Jonathan Edwards years ago in which some of his passages on numerology and eschatology were read, much to the horror of some of the calvinist Edwards fans (they had thought themselves fans anyway) in the classroom - it isn't uncommon for thinkers of the 17th-19th centuries to have what we today consider utterly insane views of the future and the mechanisms acting upon it.] I think that within the Marxist tradition you have interpretations of utopian confidence which range from the all out quasi-religious teleological absolute confidence in the communist end game to the simple belief that "a better world is possible." I am at the edge of the latter. The teleological/"soteriological" confidence of early Marxism might again be compared with Darwin/Darwinism - just as Darwin's theory of evolution has been adjusted with by conceptual phenomena such as punctuated equilibrium and horizontal gene transfer, the manner in which Marxists think about Marxist thought being "scientific" has changed - some deny that designation altogether, others note that Marxist thought today is or should be in keeping with contemporary science. In a post-Kuhn world, the positivism of early Marxism is simply not to be taken seriously. But that doesn't mean that there are not objective and empirical components involved in various Marxist orientations or various employments of a Marxism within various disciplines - to the degree we can speak of an operative scientific method in those disciplines anyway.

      On this note, a friend of mine was toting around this quote yesterday:

      "In general, Bulgakov argues, Christians should stand on the side of labor, supporting the masses against exploitation by the capitalists. Bulgakov gives credit to the democratic and socialist parties for having already discovered this truth, and it is Christianity’s job to immediately adopt it and integrate it into Christian politics. Christians should support the formation of labor unions, the education of the working classes, the shifting of the tax burden off of the poor and on to the rich, and the gradual transference of the land from the aristocracy to the laborers who work it. He further argues that the social sciences will reveal the means by which Christian ideals are to be realized, and for that reason Christianity must abandon its suspicious attitude toward them. Bulgakov decries the 'shocking' ignorance of the clergy who attempt to speak on matters of law and political economy and complains that knowledge of such disciplines has been surrendered almost entirely to the secularists and atheists, who in turn have almost sole power to determine the course of their development. Pastors therefore have an obligation to be trained in the social sciences so that they can adequately respond to current events. The church could then offer its own political and economic science, which would draw on Marxist analysis while resisting the positivism that undermined the role of human personality in historical development.”

      Aristotle Papanikolaou, “The Mystical as Political: Democracy and Non-Radical Orthodoxy"

      I noted that "while resisting the positivism that undermined the role of human personality in historical development" - means doing what 90% of Marxists writing in the West in the 20th century did (or in some cases eventually did).

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    4. You may find useful this work - http://www.amazon.com/Marxism-Christianity-Alasdair-Macintyre/dp/0715626736/ref=sr_1_10?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1349374681&sr=1-10

      I don't know if that edition has Macintyre's 1993 preface to that work, but if it does read it and if not find an edition that has it. A friend of mine had me read that preface recently and it is an excellent summation of Macintyre's use of Marx and offers a lot of rich food for thought.

      on a very different note is the work of Roland Boer. He has a multivolume series that starts here - http://www.amazon.com/Criticism-Heaven-Theology-Historical-Materialism/dp/1608460312/ref=la_B001JOONZE_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1349374649&sr=1-4

      He also has a blog here: https://stalinsmoustache.wordpress.com/

      and he has an excellent "Marxism and Religion" bibliography here: https://stalinsmoustache.wordpress.com/marxism-and-religion/

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    5. Seperation in things which naturally naturally draw together comes from outside and folks follow the strong man.?
      Marxism takes credit for basic and obvious observations? Modernity must be synonymous with stupidity.

      You are welcome to ethnography though. Western man, living in his mind, surrounded by a world ever so much more interesting.

      Hezekiah Garrett

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    6. Hez,

      Earlier this week I got into another argument with a conservative who argued that women would have most or all of the rights they have today even had the first and second waves of the feminist movements never happened.

      I routinely encounter conservatives and libertarians who think that labor social relations would have, along a trajectory similar to the one history went on, brought us to safe(r) working conditions, the 40 hour week, child labor restrictions, etc., etc. had there never been reds and radicals pushing forward the labor movement.

      In every single instance I have one of these discussions it becomes apparent to me that I am interacting with a person who is not well read on the social histories pertinent to the discussion at hand (women in society, labor, etc.).

      Thus, yes, goddammit, there are many things that we take for granted today, many "basic and obvious" things, that became a part of late modern consciousness via Marxist (and other radical) thought and its derivatives. Perhaps it is true that some of these modes of thought would have come about without Marxist trajectories; I'm too busy to contemplate alternative universes at the moment.

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    7. No, your examples are all adherents of other western ideologies.

      I am not willing to go as far as the Big Dick* and blame 2500 yrs of western culture. From what I have seen, I think maybe ya'll were alright in the middle of your "dark age".

      But then, Marx regarded most human beings as "precapitalist", which is a nice way to say economically retarded. I reject that entirely.

      My grandmother, who couldn't elucidate (like that one?) a difference between smith and marx. But she had far more knowledge of reality than either one, because she had knowledge, not abstractions.

      If you don't get out of your heads you're going to destroy the world and humanity with it. Marxist, capitalist, libertarian, neoconservative or what have you. The only thing I see which sets.the marxist a part from these others is efficiency. At least a capitalist will only rape earth at the rate of maximum profit.

      Hezekaih Garrett ( who probably shouldnt bbe wasting time talking to thinkers, but I cant help but like you, personally.)

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    8. I meant to identify the Big Dick. Russell Means. Right before they went out to Alcatraz, some white guy in san francisco kept calling him Richard. My dad called him the Big Dick from then on. He didnt live long enough to see Means shilling for libertarianism, either.

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    9. My grandmother taught me when you find a plum tree among hickories, look for other signs of man too. He has been there. Alienation.

      She also taught me to go after the leader in a group of bullies, not to frighten the others, but to break his hold over them. Hegemony.

      Keep navel-gazing. Earth won't stand for it permanently, and if y'all can't be convinced to quit, you need to be encouraged toward your own destruction.

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    10. "I noted that "while resisting the positivism that undermined the role of human personality in historical development" - means doing what 90% of Marxists writing in the West in the 20th century did (or in some cases eventually did)."

      I think I am missing something here.

      Know I know little...further, I have read little 20c, western Marxists and am merely working my way through Marx.

      That said, I can imagine what you say here (the 90%) to be the case in a few instances (especially in some of the ways that Marxism has been co-opted by some christians (Laborem Exercens?)).

      However, I thought the question was whether Marx himself may have left the door open to resisting said positivism at the end of his life...and that a majority of his followers are those who accepted the positivism full swing via his early writings solidified, in some respect, within the chaotic world of Kapital's economics (critically incisive but deterministic).

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  4. Thanks for the summary. It's helpful.

    I'm deeply interested in the Populist Revolt and I'm applying to graduate programs to study it. As I familiarize myself with the historiography I keep running into Marxists, however, and it's not something people talk about much in undergrad history classes and I haven't known what to make of it. I keep wondering what exactly I'm supposed to be objecting to. Much of it has made its way into mainstream historical practice, as you point out.

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