What the New York Times Gets “Right” About Marx

By: Tho Bishop

A New York Times article praising Karl Marx for being “right” has been spreading on social media. This is an interesting article, and not for the reason the author intended.

The author notes that

“The key factor in Marx’s intellectual legacy in our present-day society is not “philosophy” but “critique,” or what he described in 1843 as “the ruthless criticism of all that exists.”

This is actually the exact problem of Marxism, it’s simply a criticism of perceived wrongs that exist—without offering any reasonable solution to a problem. It’s easy to shout “EXPLOITATION!”, it’s quite another to empower those “exploited” to enjoy a better life. Unsurprisingly, there are few great Marxist entrepreneurs—but there are a lot of academics who get paid to teach kids all the reasons why they are oppressed. As Mises frequently noted, what makes this Marxist narrative of exploitation all the more toxic is that its concept of class consciousness simply dismissed any intellectual opponents as simply pawns of bourgeoisie.

As he wrote in Human Action:

The essence of Marxian philosophy is this: We are right because we are the spokesmen of the rising proletarian class. Discursive reasoning cannot invalidate our teachings, for they are inspired by the supreme power that determines the destiny of mankind. Our adversaries are wrong because they lack the intuition that guides our minds. 

In Socialism, he identified Marx’s unrealistic promises as the key to his philosophy’s appeal:

The incomparable success of Marxism is due to the prospect it offers of fulfilling those dream-aspirations and dreams of vengeance which have been so deeply imbedded in the human soul from time immemorial. It promises a Paradise on earth, a Land of Heart’s Desire full of happiness and enjoyment, and — sweeter still to the losers in life’s game—humiliation of all who are stronger and better than the multitude. Logic and reasoning, which might show the absurdity of such dreams of bliss and revenge, are to be thrust aside…. It is against Logic, against Science and against the activity of thought itself. 

It’s also worth noting that similar critiques can be made of Keynes. His recommendations outlined in The General Theory offered many recommendations on how to redistribute current wealth in order to stimulate a stalled economy, but had nothing to offer in terms of creating prosperity in the first place. As Roger Garrison noted at AERC this year:

“As Hayek said, to explain how things could go wrong—you have to explain how things could ever go right.

“Keynes could never do that.”

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