Friday, April 1, 2011

Responding to Terry Eagleton's "Why Marx Was Right"

If this is the best the Marxists have to offer for apologetics these days, Marxism is in bigger trouble than I thought. Terry Eagleton tries to put some lipstick on a pig but the smell is impossible to cover up. I have a number of things to say about this book and it may take several posts. I will say, however, that I greatly appreciate a serious attempt to defend Marx in such a straightforward manner. This is needed and useful for intelligent debate. And those who claim that Eagleton is the best possible defender of Marxism writing today may well be right. If so, this book gives us something to use as a yardstick in the debate.

Please remember that this is not a formal book review. It is a response to a work of apologetics from a person who is the intended audience for the book. I am a Christian who believes that Marxism is a Christian heresy and incompatible with orthodox and biblical faith. This book seeks to defend Marx and Marxism from the criticism of people like me. My response is that I am even less inclined to be sympathetic to Marx than I was before reading this book. Why? Because of the reasons I will outline below.

Something I Found Shocking
In the Preface we read this rather off the cuff comment:
"I say very little in this book about Marxism as a moral and cultural critique. This is because it is not generally raised as an objection to Marxism, and so does not fit my format. In my view, however, the extraordinarily rich, fertile body of Marxist writing in this vein is reason in itself to align oneself with the Marxist legacy. Alienation, the 'commodification' of social life, a culture of greed, aggression, mindless hedonism and growing nihilism, the steady hemorrhage of meaning and value from human existence; it is hard to find an intelligent discussion of these questions that is not seriously indebted to the Marxist tradition." (xi-xii)
There are several shocking bits here. First, the fact that Eagleton feels so sure that cultural Marxism needs no defense show that he really does exist within a bubble as a late modern, Western academic. Perhaps he ought to get out more. I believe that at least 70% of Americans would disagree with him and a somewhat lower percentage (but still a majority) of Canadians would disagree with him. The university world has been so taken over by left-wingers that it is not reflective of Western society as a whole and this is a major problem facing those of us who would save Western civilization from decay and collapse.

Second, the idea that cultural Marxism is a reason to align oneself with Marxism is interesting in that he clearly believes that the Marxist critique of capitalism, post-colonialism, second wave feminism and the environmental movement are all movements which logically entail Marxism. I think so too and, partly for that reason, reject all four as wrong-headed. Although Eagleton has some harsh things to say about some forms of post-colonialism, clearly thinks that the Marxist version of post-colonialism is not only possible but the best kind. He largely embraces the other three movements in chapter 10.

Third, the final sentence is utterly amazing to me. Marxism is a failed economic philosophy rooted in Romanticism and finally Gnostic in its flight from material reality despite its rhetoric that tries to disguise its anti-material prejudice. Marx fancied himself a materialist and despite Eagleton's manful attempts to turn materialism into a spirituality it can never be more than a pantheism. And pantheism leads to an idolatrous worship of nature and a loss of humanism because man is reduced to a epiphenomenon of nature: a clever ape with no soul. This is the source of late modern nihilism and despair and to think of Marxism as an alternative to this "hemorrhage of meaning and value from human existence" is utterly fanciful.

One gets the impression that Eagleton is taking great pains to distinguish himself from what he would consider "vulgar Marxism" and that he wants to rescue Marx himself from the implications of his own thought. Marx was a failed prophet who tried to fulfill the hopes for progress generated by the Enlightenment in conscious awareness of the limitations of reason to propel human beings forward into Utopia. For Eagleton, like all Marxists, good intentions trump everything else; this is the Gnostic element of his thought. How Marxism works in practice is not as important as the terrific ideals it holds up before our wondering eyes. To be overly worried about its actual effects on actual societies where it has actually been tried is to be guilty of vulgarity. It is to reduce this glorious ideal of leisure, comradeship and individual fulfillment to practical economics and politics. Marxism is a religion for Eagleton and its heaven is in the realm of ideas.

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