I had a ten minute conversation with a professed Marxist on the street this past weekend, as he was agitating for Starbucks employees to form a union.
His views, as I understood them: Science has advanced, but Marx’s thinking can still be defended as a form of ‘Scientific Socialism’, (this sounded, to me, like boilerplate he hadn’t fully digested. ‘Back then Science was Natural Philosophy, you see‘…I’m not sure I understood the point he was making).
He then went on to bring up ‘Empiricism’, but I suspect only as a layman. For better or worse (he was weakest here), I doubted he had experience in scientific practice nor lines of empiricist thinking through Hume, or maybe Searle. Rather, he was using ’empiricism’ as a stand-in for something like ‘fact.’
His action steps: He was trying to get signatures to petition the Seattle City Council to allow Starbucks employees to unionize. These are the exploited workers, providing all the labor and value and getting none of the reward. Only through unionization, and the help of Marxists, could they challenge those with all the capital, leveraging local government (already pretty leveraged towards such a direction). Then could this injustice be made more just.
Where his views might overlap with many on the Left, Left-Liberals, and some Liberals: He harbored a deep, animating suspicion of all things business, corporate and ‘capitalist’. There was a lot of talk of the moral good involved in helping the marginalized and poorest among us. He stated at least once that human nature can be shaped deeply if only the right social conditions are created. There was no talk of God nor Natural Law/Rights, obviously. (M)ankind, or perhaps, (H)umankind (all of us, conceptualized) are living only in a material world, with only the here and now to make our marks (though Marxists take this much further in their brutal struggle).
Out of curiosity, I asked him about the poor elsewhere. This was primarily to see where theory might fade into reality (we can all have trouble with reality). He gave what I would call the standard Romantic Primitivist (Noble Savage) view of tribal Edens existing in past and present. He claimed there have been and are groups without oppression, exploitation, hierarchy, and war (pretty much like the utopia Marxists wish to achieve, in The Future). I asked for empirical proof of such societies.
**FWIW: Amongst two academic feminists I’ve known, the impulse to find or found ‘matriarchal’ societies was a recurring theme. I imagine this overlap to be due to the desire to reach from one’s epistemological foundations and grasp towards where the theories aim.
Where we agreed: Nature is pretty rough. Something’s going got to get each of us sooner or later (viruses, natural disasters etc.). We were both thankful for our health and the decent weather.
Thanks for reading.
Roger Sandall’s book: ‘The Culture Cult: Designer Tribalism And Other Essays‘ here.
A follow-up essay here springing from a discussion: ‘The Culture Cult revisited’
‘But in the year 2000, with Fascism and Communism both discredited, why, I wondered, were so many turning back toward Rousseau? What was the attraction of romantic primitivism? How had ethnic culture become a beau ideal? Cities certainly have their problems, but why did New Yorkers see tribal societies as exemplary and tribespeople as paragons of social virtue?’—
Carlo Lancellotti, on the works of Italian political thinker, Augusto Del Noce.
Full piece here, which could have some explanatory insight:
Del Noce’s emphasis on the role of Marxism in what I called the “anti-Platonic turn” in Western culture is original, and opens up an unconventional perspective on recent cultural history. It calls into question the widespread narrative that views bourgeois liberalism, rooted in the empiricist and individualist thought of early modern Europe, as the lone triumphant protagonist of late modernity. While Del Noce fully recognizes the ideological and political defeat of Marxism in the twentieth century, he argues that Marxist thought left a lasting mark on the culture, so much so that we should actually speak of a “simultaneous success and failure” of Marxism. Whereas it failed to overthrow capitalism and put an end to alienation, its critique of human nature carried the day and catalyzed a radical transformation of liberalism itself. In Del Noce’s view, the proclaimed liberalism of the affluent society is radically different from its nineteenth-century antecedent precisely because it fully absorbed the Marxist metaphysical negations and used them to transition from a “Christian bourgeois” (Kantian, typically) worldview to a “pure bourgeois” one. In the process, it tamed the Marxist revolutionary utopia and turned it into a bourgeois narrative of individualistic liberation (primarily sexual).’
‘Olympianism is the characteristic belief system of today’s secularist, and it has itself many of the features of a religion. For one thing, the fusion of political conviction and moral superiority into a single package resembles the way in which religions (outside liberal states) constitute comprehensive ways of life supplying all that is necessary (in the eyes of believers) for salvation. Again, the religions with which we are familiar are monotheistic and refer everything to a single center. In traditional religions, this is usually God; with Olympianism, it is society, understood ultimately as including the whole of humanity. And Olympianism, like many religions, is keen to proselytize. Its characteristic mode of missionary activity is journalism and the media.’
‘Progress, Communism, and Olympianism: these are three versions of the grand Western project. The first rumbles along in the background of our thought, the second is obviously a complete failure, but Olympianism is not only alive but a positively vibrant force in the way we think now. Above all, it determines the Western moral posture towards the rest of the world. It affirms democracy as an ideal, but carefully manipulates attitudes in a nervous attempt to control opinions hostile to Olympianism, such as beliefs in capital or corporal punishment, racial, and otherforms of prejudice, national self-assertion—and indeed, religion‘