Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Marxism, Rand, and Dialectics

I anticipate in the not-too-distant future a grand showdown between Marxists and/or other leftists (on the one hand) and advocates of capitalism (on the other) over who has best mastered the art of "dialetic." Sciabarra gives the most complete and comprehensive treatment to date of the subject of dialectics (comprehensiveness being arguably the chief virtue in dialectics - as it is in Perfectivism), and it's one that ought to just make died-in-the-wool Marxists go apeshit - that is, if they have the intellectual curiosity to enter into an, ahem, dialectic with this treatment. It really hinges on just how deep-seated their hatred of capitalism is.

If there's one group of people I absolutely refuse to go easy on, it's Marxists. The Marxist tradition proudly upholds "dialectics" as its methodological core, but one thing the Marxists haven't done to any remotely respectable extent, is to engage in the activity of dialectic with advocates of capitalism, Mises and Rand in particular. The failure to do so actually goes against the very grain of their professed ethos.

Let's keep in mind, as we proceed, that, as Sciabarra points out, Aristotle is the original grandmaster of dialectics, the greatest synthetic mind of the ancient world. Anyone with a clue about the history of philosophy notices the pattern that has emerged whenever the subject gets around to Aristotle and his influence.

Aristotle's greatness was certainly not lost on Hegel, and it is through Hegel that Aristotle has any influence on Marx or Marxists. (This makes sense of Trotsky's religious prophecy that under communism the average man will rise to the level of "an Aristotle, a Goethe, a Marx," and that above this new average "new peaks will rise.") The question, then, is just how much the Marxian tradition has failed to actually, ahem, integrate Aristotle into its ethos.

If we want to take the concept of dialectic seriously, then we have to see how Rand and Mises represent the next "dialectical" stage in history after Marx. The next step in the dialectic would be a "synthesis," but if we want to be Aristotelian about this, the "synthesis" could not consist in the uniting of contradictory opposites, but rather in considering opposed viewpoints, showing how at least one of them represents only a partial or incomplete "stage" of the emerging totality, and then come up not with a "synthesis" or even a reconciliation, but with a resolution to the "dialectical tension" that exists at any given stage of history. (And any Aristotelian dialectic worthy of the name takes the step of comparing the resolution with sensory observation of reality, the ultimate arbiter.)

The Marxist intellectuals have failed to do the remotely respectable task of even attempting to resolve the "dialectical tension" between themselves and the leading advocates of capitalism. As far as I'm concerned, this makes their pretense to being dialectical a massive fraud. (Don't worry, the "liberal" intellectuals will be having their own massive fraud exposed soon enough. That's for another time/posting.)

Anyone who respects the process of dialectic has to know that you simply cannot let opposing views go unanswered; the whole point is to be able to soundly refute and/or incorporate all the competing answers, to reach the most complete resolution available at any given stage/context. Real dialectic is supposed to be perfective in that way; fake dialectic - e.g., Marxism - doesn't respect this.

It's difficult to say just how much this failure is the product of extreme bad faith, or of some combination of other factors. It's no secret that Marxism has been likened to a religion - most especially by political "conservatives" who have only their own (non-materialist) religion to offer as an alternative. The "religion" charge carries bite because you have here a systematic world-picture that adherents say must be accepted and understood in its totality before you can rightly understand what makes everything tick. Outsiders just won't have the context to "see" the Truth of the matter. (A similar charge has been leveled against Objectivism on many an occasion, but come on. The people who level that charge need to get with it.)

As best as I understand it, that's how you end up with the notion of the non-Enlightened using an "outside" logic as against the full-context-keeping "dialectics" in use by Marxists. That's how one might end up with a doctrine of polylogism, something which Mises apparently had to contend with at nearly every turn back in his day, but which has presumably gone by the wayside given the obvious corruptions involved.

The reason the "religion" charge seems to stick with Marxism is this idea - in conjunction with the "you have to grasp the whole system first" notion above - that the "dialectic" essentially makes Marxism immune from criticism. If dialectic is the central essence and core of Marxian inquiry into the world (distinguished from, say, Hegelian dialectic by its materialist interpretation of history - a dogma which I don't think can be extricated from Marxism), then it contains within it what one might call an "irrefutable" status. In principle you couldn't attempt any refutation of Marxism without implicitly presupposing and adopting the dialectic it recommends. The (apparent) problem is that a doctrine claiming "irrefutability" sounds, on its face, to most people like a religion. (That, plus religious prophecies of a coming Communist Paradise, as per Trotsky above. Gee, who wouldn't imprison and kill dissenters if they were obstructing the path to a collective-ownership Paradise? The delicious irony here is that one person who lived through the early years of the Soviet Revolution did rise to the level of an Aristotle - but not while living under the bloody Soviet dictatorship, of course.)

This problem is further compounded in a country like America, which has been steeped in pragmatism and an accompanying skepticism-cum-cynicism regarding abstract theories ("ideology") and system-building, a contempt for intellectuals who build systems that don't correspond to commonsensically-grasped reality, etc. This also explains much about the state of the intellectual culture of America in the mid-20th century: you had system-building Marxists running a dictatorship halfway around the world, and an intellectually-defanged America offering next to nothing in the realm of ideas to answer it. (The "liberals" were defanged by pragmatism; the conservatives package-dealt America, freedom, and morality with religion.)

There is a further skepticism-cynicism toward the notion of "irrefutability" fostered by the pragmatic intellectuals' implicit (or often explicit) scientism. According to those with a scientistic mindset, the notion of "irrefutability" is a red flag because an idea is supposed to be in some sense falsifiable. (To further integrate things here, this last link is to the wikipedia page for Karl Popper, who also didn't have nice things to say about what he saw as the illiberal tradition represented by Plato, Hegel, and Marx. Also, Popper was, with Mises, a chief influence on Hayek. Ain't integration fun?) This gets into a whole area of study regarding epistemic justification and "the apriori." (This has further relevance to Mises, who argued for putting economics on an "aprioristic" praxeological footing - and who was met with opposition by the scientistic mentalities of his day. The whole context of all of this is the lack of a highly-robust Aristotelianism to counter this fallacy and that.) Scientism and pragmatism being so closely related, we have had in America's intellectual classes an opposition to system-building of whatever kind, be it religious or philosophical. That helps explain the resistance to both Marxism and Randism.

The upshot is that you have this religious-seeming worldview basically requiring agreement with its fundamentals to be adequately discussed, and doctrines like polylogism emerging to counter the "bourgeois" backlash. It seems on its face to involve willful evasion so as to justify ignoring counter-evidence or counter-argument, but doctrinaire sorts of thinking can do weird things to people. They can become deluded that they have grasped the Truth of things when they have not; it's a complicated matter whether this delusion is the product of evasion or of other things (or a combination).

So, back to "dialectic." It's supposed to make Marxism immune to criticism, refutation, or falsification, just given what dialectic is. While it certainly would make any rigorously neo-Aristotelian philosophy immune from refutation, that raises the question: is Marxism a genuinely neo-Aristotelian philosophy? The ancients spoke in terms of fixed and eternal categories (or universals), whereas the Hegelian and Marxian traditions incorporate a philosophy of history, and then speak of the dialectic as working "its" course through history. The particular appeal of this to many intellectuals - apparently much moreso in Europe than in America - is the notion that history represents long-term progress, and that socialism represents a progression over capitalism.

The whole theory goes bust if socialism is not, in fact, a progression over capitalism.

The biggest lesson of political economy of the 20th century is that socialism cannot work, and that its intellectual adherents are deficient in understanding the ways of the world. (Isn't this just common sense? Of course socialism sucks, economically and morally.) So in beating up on Marxists, am I beating a dead horse? No. Absolutely not. The underlying phenomenon remains. Off the top of my head, my over-arching name for this phenomenon is "the separation of philosophy from reality and life." It's the phenomenon that has to be wiped out intellectually if we are going to have genuine progress toward humanity's moral and intellectual maturity.

If the Marxists were Aristotelians, they would have been much more reality-oriented, instead of being beholden to a dialectic which projects socialism as the future for humanity. What's more, they would have undertaken the effort to answer Mises and Rand - and they have not. By not doing so, they have violated the spirit of dialectic. From this vantage point, they had a grasp on a good concept, and distorted and abused it by putting it into the service of socialist politics. For Marxism, politics ends up being the tail wagging the whole systematic dog. Marxism therefore fails, on its own (dialectical) terms.

Rand, meanwhile, did not advocate capitalism as a primary, nor was her system beholden to her advocacy of capitalism. She was primarily an advocate of reason:
I am not primarily an advocate of capitalism, but of egoism; and I am not primarily an advocate of egoism, but of reason. If one recognizes the supremacy of reason and applies it consistently, all the rest follows.

This—the supremacy of reason—was, is and will be the primary concern of my work, and the essence of Objectivism. (For a definition of reason, see Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology.) Reason in epistemology leads to egoism in ethics, which leads to capitalism in politics.
(One thing to note in connection with this is just how politics-bound the mentality of so many of Rand's critics is. They dislike capitalism, and end up rejecting Rand as a philosopher basically because of that, thereby cutting off their own noses and spiting their own faces. Their hatred of capitalism is so deep-seated that they can't see past it to her eudaemonist ethics or neo-Aristotelian epistemology. It's fucking sad, it what it is, in addition to being intellectually lazy and just downright pathetic.)

"Every philosopher claims to be an advocate of reason," the cynic might sneer. Oh, yeah? So when a David Hume is reduced to the level of saying "Reason is, and ought [?] only to be a slave of the passions," is that advocacy of reason? Methinks the sneering cynic misses the whole point. Anyway, Rand more than anyone since Aristotle advocated reason heroically, passionately, and non-contradictorily. She did affirm that egoism and capitalism follow from the consistent application of reason, but she did not hold them as primaries. She did not make her advocacy of egoism and capitalism immune from the evidence - but she did nonetheless hold egoism and capitalism to be true in virtue of all the abundant evidence. (Of course, reason itself is immune from refutation - by what means would only possibly purport to refute it?) I can't begin to fathom how the same could be said on behalf of socialism, collectivism, and anti-individualism.

If we're going to follow the "rules" of Marxian dialectic itself, shouldn't we say that Rand effectively supersedes Marx? (In the language of dialectics, the term "subsume" might be used in place of or in addition to "supersede," but the notion that Rand "subsumed" Marx is about as sense-making as the idea that Aristotle "subsumed" Plato despite their fundamental differences. "Accounted for" or "trumps" would be much better.) As best as I understand it, any Marxism worthy of the label is socialistic, and holds that any "dialectical process" ends up reaffirming socialism. If that aspect of Marxism is considered unfalsifiable by Marxists, then we have nothing other than a highly toxic and dangerous (read: DEADLY) dogma, made all the more toxic and deadly by its tightly-integrated package-deal.

(Peikoff might recognize Marxism as a form of mis-integration, as it fits well with his theme concerning the special toxicity and deadliness of fully-integrated but false worldviews. This is why he prefers the pragmatic dis-integration of the "liberals" over the dogmatic mis-integration of the "conservatives." If there ever was a false dichotomy that's undermining America's strength, it's the presented alternatives of pragmatism and dogmatism. (Meanwhile, the best that passes for "system" and "synthesis" to American mainstream Humanities-academics is Rawls's A Theory of Justice. Rawls-groupie Thomas Nagel chides Robert Nozick for his "libertarianism without foundations." For Nagel's idea of what counts as foundations, there's A Theory of Justice - but not the works of Ayn Rand or David L. Norton. Really nice, huh? By the way, Nozick demonstrates way more "dialectical" sensibility than Rawls does - as evidenced by his willingness to actually look at the pro-capitalist literature and thereby reach much more sensible conclusions. As an added bonus, he also tears Marxism a new gaping you-know-what. Just because he wasn't going to entertain the bullshit rationalistic contrivance of the "Original Position" that has had academics wanking all over one another - in many cases, at taxpayer expense - for decades, doesn't mean he isn't as concerned with foundations, or that he wasn't a much better philosopher than Rawls. But then again, Rand was a much better philosopher than Nozick, which makes the academic Humanities look like a pretty sorry state of affairs, doesn't it? By the way, here's what the Stanford Encyclopedia - as representative of the interests and concerns of the academic mainstream as any, as the entry on the "Original Position" above indicates - has to say about the very Americentric concept of individualism. And there you have it. Oh, and don't worry, I'll be getting around to a full-on treatment of Rawls's bullshit anti-eudaemonistic Original Position in due course.))

If, however, intellectual honesty trumps socialism in the dialectical hierarchy, then any Marxism worthy of the name is always and forever fucked.

Any neo-Marxian figure, to be true to dialectics, has to confront Rand (and Mises) and reach the new harmonious resolution to the "dialectical tension." All evidence points to them having defaulted in this task, to have left this tension unresolved, to have (imperfectively) left things hanging, leaving it up to real (neo-Aristotelian, pro-capitalist) dialecticians to do the work. While this reaffirms the validity of (neo-Aristotelian) dialectic, Marxism can be said to be a resounding failure by the standards of dialectic.

And that's how Marxism is undermined from within.

Next stage: Perfectivism.

(Ain't integration fun? :-) )

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