Among the many opponents of the Christian faith, Marxism is certainly not the most important, imposing or impressive philosophy in history.
But it has, until recently, clearly been the most influential. A comparison of 1917, 1947 and 1987 world maps will show how inexorably this system of thought flowed so as to inundate one-third of the world in just two generations — a feat rivaled only twice in history, by early Christianity and early Islam.
Ten years ago, every political and military conflict in the world, from Central America to the Middle East, turned on the axis of communism vs. anti-communism.
Even fascism became popular in Europe, and is still a force to be reckoned with in Latin America, largely because of its opposition to "the specter of communism," as Marx calls it in the first sentence of his "Communist Manifesto."
The "Manifesto" was one of the key moments in history. Published in 1848, "the year of revolutions' throughout Europe, it is, like the Bible, essentially a philosophy of history, past and future. All past history is reduced to class struggle between oppressor and oppressed, master and slave, whether king vs. people, priest vs. parishioner, guild- master vs. apprentice, or even husband vs. wife and parent vs. child.
This is a view of history even more cynical than Machiavelli's. Love is totally denied or ignored; competition and exploitation are the universal rule.
Now, however, this can change, according to Marx, because now, for the first time in history, we have not many classes but only two — the bourgeoisie (the "haves," owners of the means of production) and the proletariat (the "have-nots," non-owners of the means of production).
The latter must sell themselves and their labor to the owners until the communist revolution, which will "eliminate" (euphemism for "murder") the bourgeoisie and thus abolish classes and class conflict forever, establishing a millennium of peace and equality. After being utterly cynical about the past, Marx becomes utterly naive about the future.
What made Marx what he was? What are the sources of this creed?
Marx deliberately turned 180 degrees around from the (1) supernaturalism and (2) distinctiveness of his Jewish heritage to embrace (1) atheism and (2) communism. Yet Marxism retains all the major structural and emotional factors of biblical religion in a secularized form. Marx, like Moses, is the prophet who leads the new Chosen People, the proletariat, out of the slavery of capitalism into the Promised Land of communism across the Red Sea of bloody worldwide revolution and through the wilderness of temporary, dedicated suffering for the party, the new priesthood.
The revolution is the new "Day of Yahweh," the Day of Judgment; party spokesmen are the new prophets; and political purges within the party to maintain ideological purity are the new divine judgments on the waywardness of the Chosen and their leaders. The messianic tone of communism makes it structurally and emotionally more like a religion than any other political system except fascism.
Just as Marx took over the forms and the spirit of his religious heritage, but not the content, he did the same with his Hegelian philosophical heritage, transforming Hegel's philosophy of "dialectical idealism" into "dialectical materialism!" "Marx stood Hegel on his head," the saying goes. Marx inherited seven radical ideas from Hegel:
Monism: the idea that everything is one and that common sense's distinction between matter and spirit is illusory. For Hegel, matter was only a form of spirit; for Marx, spirit was only a form of matter.
Pantheism: the notion that the distinction between Creator and creature, the distinctively Jewish idea, is false. For Hegel, the world is made into an aspect of God (Hegel was a pantheist); for Marx, God is reduced to the world (Marx was an atheist).
Historicism: the idea that everything changes, even truth; that there is nothing above history to judge it; and that therefore what is true in one era becomes false in another, or vice versa. In other words, Time is God.
Dialectic: the idea that history moves only by conflicts between opposing forces, a "thesis" vs. an "antithesis" evolving a "higher synthesis." This applies to classes, nations, institutions and ideas. The dialectic waltz plays on in history's ballroom until the kingdom of God finally comes — which Hegel virtually identified with the Prussian state. Marx internationalized it to the worldwide communist state.
Necessitarianism, or fatalism: the idea that the dialectic and its outcome are inevitable and necessary, not free. Marxism is a sort of Calvinistic predestination without a divine Predestinator.
Statism: the idea that since there is no eternal, trans-historical truth or law, the state is supreme and uncriticizable. Marx again internationalized Hegel's nationalism here.
Militarism: the idea that since there is no universal natural or eternal law above states to judge and resolve differences between them, war is inevitable and necessary as long as there are states.
Like many other anti-religious thinkers since the French Revolution, Marx adopted the secularism, atheism and humanism of l8th century "Enlightenment," along with its rationalism and its faith in science as potentially omniscient and technology as potentially omnipotent. Here again the forms, feel and function of biblical religion are transferred to another god and another faith. For rationalism is a faith, not a proof. The faith that human reason can know everything that is real cannot be proved by human reason; and the belief that everything that is real can be proved by the scientific method cannot itself be proved by the scientific method.
A third influence, on Marx, in addition to Hegelianism and Enlightenment rationalism, was economic reductionism: the reduction of all issues to economic issues. If Marx were reading this analysis now, he would say that the real cause of these ideas of mine was not my mind's power to know the truth, but the capitalistic economic structures of the society that "produced" me. Marx believed that within man thought was totally determined by matter; that man was totally determined by society; and that society was totally determined by economics. This stands on its head the traditional view that mind rules body, man rules his societies, and society rules its economics.
Finally, Marx adopted the idea of the collective ownership of property and the means of producing it from previous "utopian socialist" thinkers. Marx says, "The theory of communism may be summed up in the single phrase: abolition of private property." In fact, the only societies in history that have ever successfully practiced communism are monasteries, kibbutzes, tribes and families (which Marx also wanted to abolish). All communist governments (such as that of the U.S.S.R.) have transferred ownership to the state, not to the people. Marx's faith that the state would "wither away" of its own accord once it had eliminated capitalism and put communism in its place has proved to be astonishingly naive. Once power is seized, only wisdom and sanctity relinquish it.
The deepest appeal of communism, especially in Third World countries, has been not the will to communalism but "the will to power," as Nietzsche called it. Nietzsche saw more deeply into the heart of communism than Marx did.
How does Marx deal with the obvious objections to communism: that it abolishes privacy and private property, individuality, freedom, motivation to work, education, marriage, family, culture, nations, religion and philosophy?
How does Marx deal with the obvious objections to communism: that it abolishes privacy and private property, individuality, freedom, motivation to work, education, marriage, family, culture, nations, religion and philosophy? He does not deny that communism abolishes these things, but says that capitalism has already done so. For example, he argues that "the bourgeois sees in his wife a mere instrument of production." On the most sensitive and important issues, family and religion, he offers rhetoric rather than logic; for example: "The bourgeois clap-trap about the family and education, about the hallowed correlation between parent and child, becomes all the more disgusting...." And here is his "answer" to religious and philosophical objections: "The charges against communism made from a religious, a philosophical and, generally, from an ideological standpoint are not deserving of serious examination."
The simplest refutation of Marxism is that its materialism simply contradicts itself. If ideas are nothing but products of material and economic forces, like cars or shoes, then communist ideas are only that too. If all our ideas are determined not by insight into truth but by the necessary movements of matter if we just can't help the way our tongues happen to wag — then the thoughts of Marx are no more true than the thoughts of Moses. To attack the grounds of thought is to attack one's own attack.
But Marx sees this, and admits it. He reinterprets words as weapons, not as truths. The functions of the words of the "Manifesto" (and, ultimately, even of the much longer, more pseudo-scientific "Capital") is not to prove what is true but to encourage the revolution. "Philosophers have only interpreted the world; the thing to do is to change it." Marx is basically a pragmatist.
But even on this pragmatic level there is a self-contradiction. The "Manifesto" ends with this famous appeal: "The communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Working men of all countries, unite!" But this appeal is self defeating, for Marx denies free will. Everything is fated; the revolution is "inevitable" whether I choose to join it or not. You cannot appeal to free choice and at the same time deny it.
There are strong practical objections to communism as well as these two philosophical objections. For one thing, its predictions simply have not worked. The revolution did not happen when and where Marxism predicted. Capitalism did not disappear, nor did the state, the family or religion. And communism has not produced contentment and equality anywhere it has gained power.
All Marx has been able to do is to play Moses and lead fools backward into the slavery of Egypt (worldliness). The real Liberator is waiting in the wings for the jester who now "struts and frets his hour upon the stage" to lead his fellow "fools to dusty death" the one topic Marxist philosophers refuse to face.
Kreeft, Peter. "The Pillars of Unbelief — Marx" The National Catholic Register, (January - February 1988).
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Peter Kreeft, Ph.D., is a professor of philosophy at Boston College. He is an alumnus of Calvin College (AB 1959) and Fordham University (MA 1961, Ph.D., 1965). He taught at Villanova University from 1962-1965, and has been at Boston College since 1965. He is the author of numerous books (over forty and counting) including: The Snakebite Letters, The Philosophy of Jesus, The Journey: A Spiritual Roadmap for Modern Pilgrims, Prayer: The Great Conversation: Straight Answers to Tough Questions About Prayer, How to Win the Culture War: A Christian Battle Plan for a Society in Crisis, Love Is Stronger Than Death, Philosophy 101 by Socrates: An Introduction to Philosophy Via Plato's Apology, A Pocket Guide to the Meaning of Life, and Before I Go: Letters to Our Children About What Really Matters. Peter Kreeft in on the Advisory Board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.Copyright © 1988 National Catholic Register
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