Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Forget Marxism!

Karl Marx believed more strongly than any other major philosopher in technology, progress, and man's conquest of nature.

Herbert Spencer comes close. It is not surprizing that Marx, the philosopher of communism, and Spencer, the philosopher of capitalism, were both such strong believers in progress, since communism and capitalism were the two ideologies of modernization during much of the industrial revolution.

But Spencer does not go quite as far as Marx, who says that even our ideas are merely by-products of our progressive struggle to control nature. As Marx says in the preface to his Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy:

"In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness."

According to Marx, human history is the story of continuing economic progress, and our ideas are just byproducts of this economic struggle.

This belief has become particularly destructive today, when we need to subordinate economic growth to human purposes. We need to develop ideas about what is a good life, so we can use the economy to help us live good lives - rather than being used by an economy that runs for our own purposes.

We can never do this, if we believe that economic progress is inevitable and that ideas are merely byproducts of economic progress.

Though most Marxist doctrines are dead, Marx's faith in technology and progress is still alive, and this faith is the main obstacle that stands in the way of our creating a more human society.


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