Quotulatiousness

November 17, 2017

QotD: Karl Marx and relativism

Filed under: Economics, History, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The most notable philosopher in this tradition was, of course, Karl Marx. He argued that the values of any civilisation — prior, at least, to the socialist culmination — are determined by its mode of production. He says:

    In acquiring new productive forces men change their mode of production; and in changing their mode of production, in changing the way of earning their living, they change all their social relations. The hand-mill gives you society with the feudal lord; the steam-mill society with the industrial capitalist. The same men who establish their social relations in conformity with the material productivity, produce also principles, ideas, and categories, in conformity with their social relations. Thus the ideas, these categories, are as little eternal as the relations they express. They are historical and transitory products.

This is a radically subversive claim. It allows any institution, any custom, any set of beliefs — no matter how obviously right or true they might appear — to be dismissed as “ideology” or “false consciousness”. Let this claim be accepted, and our own claims about the naturalness of market behaviour falls to the ground.

With the remaining exception of North Korea and perhaps too of Cuba, the Marxist political experiments of the twentieth century have all long since collapsed, and, bearing in mind their known record of mass-murder and impoverishment, there are few who will admit to regretting their collapse. But Marxism as a critique of the existing order and as a theory of social change, remains alive and well in the universities. In its reformulation by Gramsci, as further developed by Althusser and Foucault among others, it may be called the dominant ideology of our age. Its hold on the English-speaking world has been noted by both conservative and libertarian writers, and is subject to an increasingly lively debate.

Sean Gabb, “Market Behaviour in the Ancient World: An Overview of the Debate”, 2008-05.

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