Tuesday, September 28, 2010


A Note on Capitalism, Marxism, Sartre and Distributism

I have long observed a lot of Marxist's online who, in reaction to the crimes of capitalism, think that Marx is the only real option available. And yet when on occasion I have related roughly what follows the reaction is too often one of hostility, as though a tenet of a new religious orthodoxy was at work.

For the most part, I have suggested, Marxism in actual time-and-space history involves direct assaults on human creativity, freedom, dissent and ends in the Gulag or the body pits. Only when dis-incarnated, as it were, does Marxism live as a kind of Platonic ideal (especially for the young), ironically above history in abstractions, in the naive minds of its proponents.

As an aside, not long ago I rewatched Woody Allen's movie The Front in which McCarthyism is framed as an unmitigated evil, a psychotic nexus of delusions, while the sweet good guy (Allen) serves as a front man for Blacklisted Communist screenwriters or sympathizers. The historical evils of Communism are not even mentioned in this Cold War setting. A more one-sided piece of propaganda one could hardly ask for (1).

In any case, laissez-faire capitalism likewise, needless to say, has a long history of being loathsomely violent; and anyone familiar with this site knows I never cease to call it out as brutal and in essence imperialistic. Even those capitalistic nations which avoid direct aggression often side with the aggressors in one way or another, in the same way as socialists-communists often did / do among themselves.

The Elephant in the Room a Mere Footnote?

The old economic theory of Distributism, however, avoids the pitfalls of both Marxism and Capitalism (which provoke each other into existence) as well as the, well, anarchy of anarchism (see note here on anarchism as political theory). Moreover, it can adapt in either a religious or secularist context, while allowing greater dignity and property to the human person, with injury not to business but only to greed which thrives at the expense of the community or nation. Yet neither the polar Left or Right seem to give it a moment's thought---though it is at this late date just what the doctor ordered.

Distributism teaches and indeed preserves as essential justice and truly privately owned-property for all, together with the widest distribution of ownership possible for all, both personal property and business. It sees freedom as irreducibly constitutive of man himself. It acknowledges the partial truths in both capitalism and Marxism without collapsing into either trap---and without prejudice to the imago dei which births both philosophy and religion in those with eyes to see it.

Object Lesson: Sartre

But how shall YouTube quipsters catch the problem of Marxism when it seemed to elude even the great minds? Sartre, that champion of pure non-deterministic "freedom" got himself caught on the horns of a dilemma of his own making, and yet never seemed to notice.

His early existentialism wherein existence precedes essence (i.e., what we are precedes all defining essences, such as the imago dei or any ol' philosophical idealism-universal etc) whereby man authenticates himself, i.e., defines what he is to become through his acts, choices, of freedom, was contradicted by both Sartre's fashionable Marxism which---seen to all but the blind---served for its adherents as a kind of de facto universal which substitutes for religion and traditional philosophy. For the comrades, Marxism is hardly distinguishable from a contradicting essence / universal / idealism, whether they see it or not. And its Hegelian presuppositions regarding history and the Almighty State tended in the direction of outright determinism.

Sartre was also impaled on another related contradiction by his return to moralism in condemning the war in Vietnam. He never satisfactorily answered the question of how any person failed existentialism / freedom by freely choosing to be a thief (Genet) or a monster (Stalin) (2). In the end Sartre failed both freedom and his beloved Marxism. He tried to have his cake and eat it too.
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(1) 1989 – Carl Bernstein’s (Woodward and Bernstein of Watergate fame) book Loyalties: A Son’s Memoir is published. His father and mother had been members of the Communist party. Bernstein’s father tells his son about the book: "You’re going to prove [Sen. Joseph] McCarthy was right, because all he was saying is that the system was loaded with Communists. And he was right… I’m worried about the kind of book you’re going to write and about cleaning up McCarthy. The problem is that everybody said he was a liar; you’re saying he was right… I agree that the Party was a force in the country." [Source: here, Buchanan site]

(2)"Eidelberg noted that ‘Marx’s eschatology, his materialistic philosophy of history is, for all practical purposes, a doctrine of permanent revolution, a doctrine which cannot but issue in periodic violence, terror and tyranny"---Eidelberg, P., Karl Marx and the declaration of independence: the meaning of Marxism, Intercollegiate Review 20:3-11, p. 10, 1984. One need only also see the bloody deeds of Marx's greatest disciples / interpreters at work to sober up.

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