Thursday, April 05, 2007

Mathematical Politics: Part 2

Marxism on the Run: At about the time free market economics was in the ascendancy under Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan I was involved in a study of Marxism, in the course of which I even attended some Marxist meetings. For me the two political philosophies were thrown into sharp contrast, but the radical right, with their allusions to mathematical systems theory, were beginning to show up Marxism for what it was: a Victorian theory of society that was now looking rather antiquated, or at the very least in need of a conceptual makeover. If Marxism failed to enhance itself with modern insights taken from systems theory it would become obsolete. And obsolete it was fast becoming; The Marxists I met were entrenched in nineteenth century ideas and they weren’t going to update them. For example, the radical right’s excursion into systems theory was debunked by these Marxists as just another piece of intellectual sophistry devised by the intellectuals of the propertied classes with aim of befuddling us workers and obscuring the reality of class conflict. It was clear that this old style Marxism was not going to make any serious attempt to engage these new ideas.

Another serious failing of Marxism, and another sign of its nineteenth century origins, is that its theory human nature has not advanced much beyond Rosseau’s naive concept of the noble savage. In fact one Marxist I spoke to on this subject suggested that the nature of human nature is irrelevant and he simply reiterated that well-known Marxist clich√© about “economic realities being primary”. He was still working with the 17th century Lockian view of Human nature; To him, humans were the ‘blank slate’ that Steve Pinker has so eloquently argued against. All that mattered was getting the economic environment right and to hell with all these ideas about the neural substance on which human nature is founded and its origins in the recipes of genetics.

And ‘hell’ is not such an inappropriate term even for an atheistic philosophy like Marxism. I am not the most enthusiastic advocate of laissez faire capitalism but it seemed to me that Marxist theory was going to seed, one sign of this being that the Marxists I met were dismissing any robust challenges by assuming from the outset that they were cynical attacks by the middle classes. Basically their response was little different from “The Satan argument” used by some Christains to protect their faith. The Satan argument posits a win-win situation from the outset and it works like this; If a challenge is made to the faith that can not be easily countered then that challenge must come from Satan (= the middle class) and therefore should be ignored. It is impossible to overcome this kind of conceptual defense, because the more successful the challenge the more strongly it will be identified as “Satanic” (or bourgeois).

When Soviet Russia collapsed at the beginning of the nineties it seemed that Marxism was a spent force. Cult Marxism still lingered, of course, but a new generation of anti-establishment idealists who needed a philosophy they could call their own were left as intellectual orphans. Where would they find a home?

To be continued...

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