Wednesday, September 03, 2014

When the Proles Came Out to Play, Georgie Bourgie Ran Away

From Isaiah Berlin's excellent biography of Marx:

Marx fought against the mean and cynical society of his time, which seemed to him to vulgarize and degrade every human relationship, with a hatred no less profound. But his mind was made of stronger and cruder texture; he was insensitive, self-confident, and strong-willed; the causes of his unhappiness lay outside him — they were poverty, sickness, and the triumph of the enemy. His inner life seems tranquil, uncomplicated and secure. He saw the world in simple terms of black and white; those who were not with him were against him. He knew upon whose side he was, his life was spent in fighting for it, he knew that it must ultimately win. Such crises of faith as occurred in the lives of the gentler spirits among his friends — the painful self-examination of such men as Hess or Heine — received from him no sympathy. He looked upon them as so many signs of bourgeois degeneracy which took the form of morbid attention to private emotional states, or still worse, the exploitation of social unrest for some personal or artistic end — frivolity and irresponsible self-indulgence criminal in men before whose eyes the greatest battle in human history was being fought. This uncompromising sternness toward personal feeling and almost religious insistence on a self-sacrificing discipline was inherited by his successors, and imitated by his enemies in every land. It distinguishes his true descendants among his followers and his adversaries from tolerant liberalism in every sphere.

Sentient beings in these Yoo Ess of Ay have no doubt had occasion to notice a popular tendency to describe any political position or personality to the left of Mussolini as "Marxist", a fantasy which probably owes to the absence of genuine revolutionary leftism — the specter that once haunted Europe and chilled the bones of reactionaries has become a cute and harmless Halloween decoration capable of startling only the simpler-minded children gathered around the Fox News campfire.

But during my investigations into the SJW phenomenon, for lack of a better term, I've also encountered a lot of saner people who likewise insist on categorizing today's campus crusaders as being somehow derived from Marxism, especially its cultural variety. Well, I suppose if you want to look at it that way, it all goes back to the Enlightenment and the political ideals derived from it, which inspired both a moderate and a radical trajectory. But the above excerpt demonstrates why I find this to be a generally unhelpful approach. That kind of single-minded, fanatical devotion to an abstract ideal of a transformed world strikes me as more akin, in today's world, to that of radical Islamists than members of a political sect. Upon finding themselves on the receiving end of one of the vituperative diatribes which Marx frequently aimed at allies over one or another hair-splitting point of doctrinal difference, the kind of self-styled "radicals" you find online who profess to want an overhaul of the existing social and economic order would retreat to their suburban bedrooms and spend days in bed bawling about their spoons all being in the dishwasher. They have no more revolutionary ambitions than to be appointed the priggish hall monitors of middle-class morality. Morbid attention to private emotional states? Exploitation of social unrest for personal ends? I'd say that shoe fits perfectly. Yes, these people are merely spoiled, stupid children who enjoy stamping their feet and ordering other people around. There's plenty to criticize Marx for, but I see no need to compound the insult by forcing him to acknowledge these inbred brats as members of his family tree.