Thursday, December 16, 2010

Marxism: 160 Years of Bad Faith

Since capitalism is the only moral and practical social system in modern times, the leading attacks on it have to involve massive discounting of reality in favor of pre-established ideology. The leading Marxists, in particular - the rank and file may be a different story; I'm talking about the foremost intellectual figures - are the most vile offenders in this regard.

The accounts of Marx the person and of his life (i.e., he was pretty nasty) serve as a fitting backdrop to what he accomplished intellectually: the biggest smear-job against capitalism ever perpetrated. It is hard to believe that his extensive study of the economic value-theories of his time - it's pretty much all he ever spent his time doing - didn't lead him to significant problems with the labor theory of value, but it's not like that stopped him or anything. His conclusions were set in place by the time of The Communist Manifesto (1848). (Volume 1 of Capital came out in 1867.) The rest reeks of bad faith, a rationalization for the predetermined conclusions.

That's the thing about Marxism in its various transmutations: it just all has an air of bad faith about it. The "exploitation doctrine" is the core of Marxian and neo-Marxian economics, and the neo-versions had exploitation pretty well in mind irrespective of the failure of the labor theory of value.

Marxism as a "respectable" ideology, as an era, came pretty much to a close with the death of G.A. Cohen in 2009. Marxism had basically run its course, and Cohen was the last major dinosaur of the failed ideology. And all the way up through Cohen (before his death, "the most prominent Marxist of our time"), there is still the whole aura of bad faith.

One article in particular by Cohen struck me as especially obscene: "Incentives, Equality, and Community" in a collection titled Equal Freedom (ed. Stephen Darwall, 1995). The collection, by the way, consists of contributions from a number of those within an elite clique of academics clustering around John Rawls over the past few decades. These same names keep showing up if you explore the literature: Rawls, Thomas Nagel, Ronald Dworkin, G.A. Cohen, Thomas Scanlon, Derek Parfit, Samuel Scheffler, Amartya Sen. Those are the "elites" in academia who've effectively decided for everyone what the most prestigious theories are in that arena. The manifestly vicious doctrine of egalitarianism plays a major role in their decades-long circle-jerk.

(I would just like to note here the chasm between the sense of life in Ayn Rand's essay "Apollo 11" and that of the cover of Nagel's Equality and Partiality. A commentary on Nagel's justificatory procedure will have to wait for some other time; best as I can make out, though, Nagel's notion of a "View from Nowhere" is very closely related to the moral structure of Rawls's "Original Position," and was almost surely deeply influenced by it. By the way, this stuff counts as "foundations" for Nagel, whereas Nozick's libertarian intuitions are "without foundations.")

Anyway, the gist of Cohen's "Incentives, Equality, and Community" is a response to standard incentive-arguments for tax cuts which run basically as follows: if taxes are cut for the wealthy, they will be inclined to work, save, and invest more. This might, in fact, be invoked on behalf of Rawls's (already-corrupt) Difference Principle; Cohen's argument is that even the Difference Principle doesn't go far enough to rectify capitalist injustice. In a characteristically Toohey-like ingenious twist, he turns the incentive argument in effect into an analogy to kidnappers holding your child for ransom. "If my taxes aren't cut, I'll withhold services" is translated by analogy into the kidnappers' demands: "If you don't give me money, I'll withhold your child from you."

(Actually, it's: "Children should be with their parents; if you don't pay the kidnapper, the child will not be with its parents; therefore, you should pay the kidnapper." The basic point is to make the argument for paying the kidnapper similar in structure to an argument for cutting taxes.)

This is the sort of grotesque rubbish that passes for "brilliant" and "academically respectable" argument. The only thing actually impressive about is the extent to which someone can be clever in such an evil cause. This wouldn't last for a single fucking second under the John Galt B.S. Test. Let's translate Cohen's strong-whiff-of-bad-faith argument into more naked terms: Galt's strikers are significantly and relevantly analogous, morally, to kidnappers.

(That article is merely a preview to the style and content of Cohen's full-book response to Nozickian arguments for capitalist property rights, Self-Ownership, Freedom, and Equality. Gee - another slimy book cover.)

And people seriously wonder where in the real world Rand found inspiration for her villains?

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