Communism is dead; long live Marx! The Soviet Union is gone. Das Kapital is little more than a punch line in academic economics. Dialectical materialism is barely even a thing. Yet Marxism continues to be essential for understanding modern political struggles, because Marxism continues to inform the thought-habits and inclinations of the modern Left.
Let me explain what I mean by thought-habits and inclinations. Do you think a person should be able to follow whatever faith he likes? You probably do. In fact, you probably answered, “Of course!” without even thinking about it. And you most likely answered this way, not because you are a student of John Locke, but because it’s just a habit of mind you’ve imbibed from our generally liberal culture. The farther left you go on the political spectrum, the more and more you find similar habits and instincts that are informed by Marxism. Of course, since we all live together and influence each other in this country, there’s no strict dividing line between American liberals and American Marxists. While Bryan Caplan is clearly a liberal and Cornel West is clearly a Marxist, most people are muddling around with a potpourri of ideas inherited from both sources.
It’s true enough that Marx and his intellectual heirs appropriated a liberal idea, equality (a word that is often used in mutually exclusive ways), but they rejected every single other intellectual and cultural principle of liberalism. For that reason, a Marxist’s egalitarianism is no more “liberal” than a Muslim’s monotheism makes him “Christian.” Marxism’s rejection of liberalism is so thorough that there is a dark, alternative-universe antecedent to each of the founding principles I outlined in my previous article.
- The class. The fundamental unit of Marxian loyalty is not the state! The chief object of a person’s loyalty, love, and allegiance is his or her class. A person with a conscience fully formed by Marxism feels the deep revulsion at the sight of class betrayers. When leftists openly fantasize about defecating in Sarah Palin’s mouth or publish racist cartoons about Condi Rice, they’re not merely engaging in double standards. They are naming and shaming class betrayers. When someone indoctrinated with Marxism sees a woman affirm the high value of her marriage, her husband, and motherhood and repudiate socialist government, he has the same visceral reaction that you or I do when we learn of a woman who murdered her two-year-old so she could have more time to get high, or a man who beats his wife and impregnates his masseuse. The class occupies the same emotional and moral space for the Marxist as the family does for a person civilized in liberalism. Indeed, Marx himself wrote that marriage is oppressive and to be done away with under communism.
- Equalism. The reverse of capitalism is not simply socialism. It is equalism. For example, fascism was a kind of socialism, but it was not equalist at all. Equalism teaches that neither the entrepreneur, the investor, nor the engineer are in any sense better than the line worker, the barista, or the unemployed beach bum, and therefore do not deserve more social respect, more income, or a better livelihood. Equalism is more dogma than theory, as it is easily disproved by even a cursory familiarity with biology or economics. But because of this, obtaining equalist result requires ever-increasing applications of violence, as there is simply no way for Lebron James and yours truly to end up with the same income, the same number of championship rings, the same public accolades, and the same number of interested women without a gun pointed at someone’s head. The killing fields were not an accident of Communism; they were the point.
- Revolutionary justice. Marxists tend to completely reject the rule of law, as it does not produce equal outcomes or serve the interests of “oppressed” classes. Marxists conceive of justice not as the consistent application of comprehensible, moral laws, but as the promotion of oppressed classes and the toppling of the oppressor classes. Whether or not someone is guilty or innocent of a crime is not just irrelevant, it is that Marxists deny the concepts of guilt, innocence, and law. In The Gulag Archipelago, Solzhenitsyn related numerous chilling stories of innocent men who were told by the court, “Your guilt or innocence is irrelevant. What matters is whether your conviction will advance the revolution Read the rest of this entry »
Michael Barone writes: Economist Bryan Caplan notes that support for gun control — specifically, banning handguns or pistols — has decreased dramatically since the 1950s and 1960s. Back in 1959 Gallup reported that 60% of Americans favored banning possession of “pistols and revolvers,” while now 74% oppose banning “the possession of handguns,” except by police.
Caplan seems puzzled by this substantial change in opinion. I think it’s explainable by two developments.
(1) Violent crime roughly tripled between 1965 and 1975. As Caplan’s graph of Gallup’s results shows, majorities came to oppose handgun bans during this period. Americans saw more need to protect themselves.
(2) The success of laws permitting citizens to carry concealed weapons, starting with the Florida law in 1987 (thanks, Gov. Bob Martinez). Many, including me, predicted that this would lead to gunfights on the street and over traffic altercations. Those predictions have proved wrong. It turns out that ordinary citizens who can demonstrate that they know how to handle guns do so responsibly — just as they handle cars (potential weapons, after all) responsibly as well. The very few exceptions make news.
Ilya Somen writes: An informed electorate is a prerequisite for democracy. If voters do not know what is going on in politics, they cannot rationally exercise control over government policy. Large-scale voter ignorance poses a serious danger to American democracy in the 2004 election and beyond. It is particularly troubling at a time when we face a close wartime election with major policy decisions at stake.
Inadequate voter knowledge has two major negative implications for democracy. First, it prevents democratic government from reflecting the will of the people in any meaningful sense, undercutting the “intrinsicist” defense of democracy as a government that reflects the voluntary decisions of the populace. Likewise, voter ignorance imperils the instrumental case for democracy as a regime that serves the interests of the majority, since ignorance potentially opens the door for both elite manipulation of the public and gross policy errors caused by politicians’ need to appeal to an ignorant electorate in order to win office.
In this paper I review the overwhelming evidence that the American electorate fails to meet even minimal criteria for adequate voter knowledge. I then examine the implications for American politics. Part I lays out minimal knowledge prerequisites for voter control of public policy, summarizes the massive evidence of voter ignorance that students of the subject have accumulated over the years, and highlights some of the most disturbing implications of those studies. Part II examines more recent evidence of widespread political ignorance. It shows that extensive voter ignorance plagued the 2000 presidential election and apparently continues during the current election cycle. These data are significant because the extremely close and controversial nature of those two elections might have been expected to cause an increase in voter knowledge. In Part III, I review and criticize theories that claim that “information shortcuts” enable voters to control government in spite of pervasive ignorance. Those mechanisms for dealing with voter ignorance are unable to overcome it and sometimes even exacerbate the problem. Part IV restates the argument that ignorance is largely “rational,” rooted in the very low likelihood of a single vote being able to influence electoral outcomes.