Friday, September 04, 2009

A Valuable Insight From Marx

I recently wrote Rethinking War, and alluded to The The U.S.A Trilogy written by the then, communist sympathizer, John Dos Passos. I also quoted a leftist revisionist historian by the name of Howard Zinn. While reading The U.S.A Trilogy, I found myself also sympathizing with the Marxist revolutionaries in the book. Of course I didn't sympathize with their ideology, but their plight. I suspect that many modern conservatives, perhaps even libertarians have a very disconnected perspective on the labor movements of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Books like The U.S.A Trilogy expose the injustices of that era, and make it clear that much was wrong at the time and people were naturally upset by their living conditions.

I write this all as prelude to an article by Jeffery Tucker on a disagreement between two eminent Austrian School economists--Ludwig Von Mises and Hans-Hermann Hoppe. The idea at issue is in a sense, very complicated, but he implications are very simple.

In Human Action, Mises writes:

"Marxism asserts that a man's thinking is determined by his class affiliation. Every social class has a logic of its own…. This polylogism was later taught in various other forms also. Historicism asserts that the logical structure of human thought and action is liable to change in the course of historical evolution. Racial polylogism assigns to each race a logic of its own."

Tucker writes, "He [Mises] was writing in 1949 but he saw where trends were headed: polylogist thinking — the belief that a multiplicity of conflicting forms of logic exist within the human population, subdivided by some group-based characteristic — would become a prevailing feature of modern social science."

I think he's clearly right in anticipating this trend. Thus Tucker adds, "An additional point about polylogism: it is believed that not only are there are a variety of forms of logical structure existing in the world but that these forms of logic create a conflict, rooted in exploitation, that forms the basis of society and cries out for correction by some external means."

As Tucker writes, Hans-Hermann Hoppe believes this critique is "essentially correct." So why does a libertarian economist agree with a tenet of Marxism?

Tucker summarizes Hoppe:

"...what about the theory of the reality of exploitation itself? Hoppe argues that it is fulfilled in the Austrolibertarian framework of looking at the world, once we understand that the ruling class is distinguished by its access to state power. This follows from Hoppe's new definition of exploitation, which occurs when a person successfully claims partial or full control over scarce resources that he has not homesteaded, saved, or produced, nor acquired contractually from a previous producer-owner. The state can be seen as a firm devoted entirely to the task of exploitation in this sense. This exploitation creates victims, who can overthrow their exploiters once they develop a consciousness of the possibility of an exploitation-free society in which private property is universally respected and not systematically violated by a ruling class."

In essence, the Marxist idea of class struggle, is a legitimate one, though not inherent because of class, but because of external forces placed upon that class. As Tucker concludes:

"... it is precisely law and legislation that make this possible. Laws that privilege one race, one religion, one sex, one class of abilities, over another generate a group of victims and solidify a form of group solidarity that might have previously existed only in nascent form. Whereas group differences might resolve themselves through trade, the entry of the state into the association amplifies and institutionalizes group conflicts."

Hence the Marxist critique is valid, but misdiagnosed. Tucker again concludes:

"In the same way that state-subsidized exploitation led Marx to observe but misdiagnose the nature of exploitation in his time, forms of state exploitation today can lead people to embrace anticapitalistic creeds based on a misdiagnosis of the root of conflicts over race, sex, religion, ability, and the environment today. It is not the case that demographic groups are inherently in conflict; the illusion is created by the absence of what Hoppe calls "clean capitalism," in which all relationships in society are characterized by voluntary exchange and association."

The next time you hear a Marxist critique of the world around us, don't just dismiss the criticism, but recognize that there may be a truth to the criticism, and seek to find the source of the conflict, knowing that misplaced state power or third-party authority may be the source of the injustice.

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