Three decades ago, when the Soviet empire was crumbling, many of my well-trained colleagues in political theory reduced or eliminated the time previously devoted to the thought of Marx and Engels in their survey courses. Given the massive failures of Marxist communism as a political and economic system, not to mention the more than 100 million deaths that Marxist regimes had inflicted in the 20th century, these now seemed irrelevant to political life. In such circumstances, it seemed about as useful to take Marxist thoughts seriously in a course that covered otherwise profound texts by giants like Plato and Aristotle, Hobbes and Locke, Rousseau and Nietzsche as studying astrology in a course on astronomy take up alchemy in a chemistry class.
How quickly time flies! There cannot be many Americans under the age of 45 who most remember what communism was like in practice. And so Marxism is celebrating a comeback. The November 29th “Style” section of the New York Times reported how financial support for socialism, anarchism, and allied causes has become fashionable among “trust babies” – born thanks to the legacy of high to wealthy wealthy Grandparents and great grandparents. (As is characteristic of the Times, the story was accompanied by a major advertisement for Louis Vuitton perfumes – just as stylish as fashionable linkers!) In doing so, of course, the babies of the trust fund mimicked Engels, who took advantage of the wealth gained from the factories that inherited from his father to finance Marx’s unpaid “work” at the British Museum.
The most obvious sign of the resurgence of Marxism in the West is the Black Lives Matter movement, whose slogan has garnered so much support due to a widespread (though nowhere near complete) movement from politicians, academics, the media, and even corporate executives justified) Feeling guilty about the state of racial relations in America. While the slogan itself is subject to a variety of interpretations, the official BLM movement on its website, as Alexandra Phillips noted in the London Daily Telegraph, identifies with goals as far left as defusing the police (a development from the Black Panther position the public “open carry” by civilians to “control” the police) and dismantle “capitalism” and the “patriarchal” system. And one of the movement’s co-founders, Patrisse Cullors, describes herself as a “trained Marxist” brought into politics by Eric Mann, a member of the 1960s terrorist Weather Underground who was jailed for 18 months for conspiring Was led to commit murder by shooting a Massachusetts police station. (When I was a freshman at Cornell University, Mr. Mann happened to be a member of the school’s debate society – until he was expelled for outrageous misconduct. By that time Mann had proudly earned the cognom of “Rick the -. I’ll leave it to them.” Readers to fill in the blank as you wish. Fortunately, I never met him again after his expulsion.)
Of course, BLM leaders and advocates tend not to focus on the long-term goals of their movement, as distinct from certain racial ills (police shootings, differences in school discipline, incarceration rates). This enables them to receive support from a wider segment of the population who believe (rightly or wrongly) that America still suffers from high levels of racial discrimination and that this discrimination (instead of problems like family breakdown, substance abuse and poverty) public schools) explains the persistence of poverty and other social pathologies among black Americans – without believing that the cure for discrimination is the destruction or the establishment of “capitalism” (the derogatory Marxist epithet for the free enterprise system) is proletarian dictatorship.
As the Times study confirms, the Marxist program itself, when understood (or misunderstood), enjoys growing appeal among the descendants of the wealthy, let alone those of the American Academy. How can we explain the revival of educated people’s interest in one so thoroughly refuted – refuted in practice (Marx’s own test) as well as philosophical – in a prosperous and free country like the United States, made up of millions of people from around the world? Globus desperately seeking migration? I would suggest that the explanation lies in a fact about human nature mentioned by the sixteenth-century Florentine philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli in the first paragraph of the Prince’s third chapter. There he states that the people are always ready to follow usurpers in overthrowing their existing regime and believe that they will “do better” under the new ruler – only to “later see through experience that they have done worse have ”(as the usurper cannot) keep the promises he made to his followers and indeed you must be tough on his former followers who complain – as well as followers of the old regime. (I am following the Mansfield translation.)
Machiavelli helps us identify a recurring flaw in the popular mind: a natural utopianism that, if not overcome, will ruin it.
The greatest historical example of such behavior was Vladimir Lenin, who barely rose to power in 1917 when he appointed a ruthless and bloodthirsty chief of the secret police who ordered several hundred thousand civilians to be executed in order to terrorize the Russian people into submission. This policy was in line with that which Machiavelli attributed to Cesare Borgia in Prince Chapter 6 – only the ruthless governor that Cesare had installed (in a province he had just acquired) had orders not to terrorize the people in general, but the To eliminate gang leaders and criminals who had previously brought the eternal disorder to submission, whereupon Cesare set up a “civil court”, ie a form of constitutional government and not endless terror.
The fact that Machiavelli’s account of Cesare Borgia is largely fictionalized does not need to concern us here. What is interesting, however, is his reporting that after Cesare’s ruthless governor finished his dirty work, Cesare had the governor himself executed and denied any responsibility for the severe sentences he committed. Cesare had to do this to appease the people who had been alienated by the severity of the governor, although most of them had benefited from the security that severity brought to the province, which provoked his evident cruelty (as the author later explains )) really a form of “effective mercy” – in contrast to the Namby-Pamby policy of the Florentine people, which, in order to avoid a “name” for cruelty, allowed a city they ruled to be torn apart by factional disputes, so that their nominal mercy was really “effective cruelty”. The combined relevance of these two passages from The Prince – one in relation to the willingness of the people to be repeatedly fooled by usurpers who promise them the moon and yet make them worse off; The other, which shows the people’s inability to accept the harsh conditions of constitutional government – subjecting violent criminals to severe punishment – is as follows. Taken together, they show a recurring flaw in the common sense: a natural utopianism which, if not overcome, will lead them to ruin. As Machiavelli puts it, those who follow a usurper are usually too late to be deceived into the promise of a “future good” that he has given them.
In The Prince, the future estate that Machiavelli alludes to – as can be seen from the final passage of the third chapter, in which he describes how the corrupt Pope Alexander VI, whom he later calls the greatest liar in history, Louis XII. Brought into granting him a province in return for annulment of his marriage – is the Christian promise of a blissful afterlife. However, since the era of the French Revolution, it has been far more likely that an increasingly secular population will be haunted by the promise of paradise on earth. Just like the people described by Machiavelli who keep falling for the empty promises of usurpers, no matter how many times they (or their ancestors) have been deceived by them, “sophisticated” Europeans and now even Americans, instead of appreciating the benefits, their due, free governments continue to afford them (even if no government can completely eradicate such evils as poverty, disease, prejudice, or police misconduct) the patent medicine they have sold by Marxist theorists.
The only remedy for such gullibility, if there is one, is a serious education in history and civics at both college and pre-collegiate levels that would introduce new generations to the evils of Marxism and other totalitarian movements. the preciousness of the goods their free governments have brought them; and, in the case of Black Lives Matter, the tremendous strides the United States has made in racial relations over the past seventy years. Needless to say, anti-civic education is exemplified by the Times “1619 Project,” which aims to equip young people across the country with such flimsy and slanderous claims that America’s central purpose was from the outset to promote slavery promote and then racial oppression can only have the opposite effect. And America, as I admonish some of my best students (who may contemplate more lucrative careers in law or business but are enlivened by high ideals) desperately needs an influx of well-trained and genuinely patriotic high school history and government teachers. (This, of course, assumes that the school systems they are seeking employment in do not comply with the newly enacted San Diego Unified School District policy that all teachers must complete a “white privilege” program in which they are ordered to do theirs Allowing “white” fragility, “pledging to become” anti-racist, “recognizing that the United States was founded on land” stolen “from Native Americans.)
I will not remove Marx and Engels from my curriculum anytime soon – or stop my efforts to expose their errors and blood-soaked legacies.