Sam Stone:“Sure, there are some good insights [in Sam’s wide reading of Marx]. But most of it is wrapped around so much poor scholarship and shoddy thinking that I find the work as a whole to be fairly uninteresting. It’s been probably two decades since I read them, though.”
Well, perhaps two decades might account for a lapse in judgment but, seriously, “poor scholarship and shoddy thinking” don’t sound to me like any considered view of Marx. (And I speak as someone who rejects Marx’s teleological view of history, who has read rebuttals of the labor theory of value, and who understands the problems with the base/superstructure way of thinking embedded in Marx’s materialism.)
In any case, I’d like to know more about what your idea of shoddy thinking is.
Do you for example find anything shoddy about the thinking below and, if so, what and why?
“[The capitalist’s] interest…in any particular branch of trade or manufactures, is always in some respects different from, and even opposite to, that of the public… The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it.”
Back to Sam:“Certainly I believe that Marx’s writings are not worthy of being continually quoted as a primary reference on economics or social construction.”
Well I don’t actually know of anyone who continually quotes Marx as a primary reference on economics these days; since the economy has changed greatly over the course of more than 150 years it would be rather odd to do so. As to “social construction” I’m not really sure what you mean.
Marx’s primary value–as I see it–is for those who really want to think seriously about the big ideas of Western civilization that so many on this board take for granted: e.g., ideas about freedom, about progress, about the relation between the individual and society, about industry and technology, about inequality and the dangers and problems thereof. I don’t find any of Marx’s thinking on these subjects to be even remotely shoddy, however dense and difficult his writing might often be.
"But let me turn that around - how often do you consider the ideas of Hayek, Von Mises, or Friedman in your debates? I can’t remember you quoting extensively from Human Action…
Well when have I ever quoted extensively from Marx? Or better still, from any of my favorite thinkers. As you may be aware, John Stuart Mill is one of my favorite older philosophers and I have occasionally quoted from him or referred to his thought. But otherwise I have not even mentioned most of my favorite contemporary thinkers which include, FTR, Bourdieu, Habermas, Baudrillard (in small doses), Kristeva and Charles Taylor. As to conservative thinkers I have read and continue to read my fair share. Not too long ago I read Huntington since he is so a la mode, and at the moment I have work-related reasons for reading E.H. Carr. I have, of course, read Friedman (Thomas as well as Milton since the former for me qualifies as a conservative thinker of a sort). I also have read and in many respects admire older thinkers cherished by many conservatives including Coleridge, Burke and Adam Smith (the latter of whom is in my view misunderstood), and latterday liberals now liked by many conservatives including Tocqueville and J.S. Mill himself. So you are very much mistaken if you think that I get all of my ideas from The Nation or from the Che Newsletter ;).
Guinastasia: Fair enough–I’m glad you read Marx and appreciated his diagnosis; and I agree that he’s not the philosopher to look at first and foremost for workable solutions to the problems of today. I’m glad you like Mill. As someone who’s read quite a lot of Bentham, I can’t say I’m a fan–though utilitarianism, as modified by Mill, is far from the least palatable modern philosophy. I have not read Kerensky; I’ll try to make some time for him since you recommend it.
You write: Marx…focused on the economic too much. Poverty is one major major problem. … HOWEVER, at the same time, you also have another factor-ignorance. You can be poor and ignorant, or rich and ignorant, but the results will be the same. I’m still waiting for a philosopher that focuses on EDUCATION."
I don’t think that you can treat poverty and ignorance as mutually exclusive categories in this way. There is a point at which people are simply too poor to learn: that is, too poor to be able to afford books and teaching; too busy working 15 hours a day to be able to devote the leisure to learning; and/or too hungry to be able to learn effectively. That was true for most of the people on behalf of whom Marx wrote. For that reason he saw poverty as the disabling condition to overcome. Given what povery meant in the nineteenth century, I don’t think he was wrong in that, though I do think he underestimated what democratic reform could do for the working classes, and I do think that his philosophy of history led him to believe that that a new phase of economic development would inevitably succeed bourgeois capitalism just as industrial capitalism had succeeded feudalism. Marx also distrusted education as a “solution” to working-class imiseration because the middle classes tended to teach the working classes what they wanted them to know: watered down political economy, the bible, etc.
As to education: lots of philosophers emphasize education–including Mill. Education (in conjunction with the arts) is a key foundation (if not the key foundation) of almost all liberal political and social philosophy. In our time you might want to check out Amartya Sen (who, come to think of it, I do bring up pretty regularly). He is both an economist and philosopher and he has done some fascinating research on how education is significantly more important in improving people’s quality of life than is incremental change in their purchasing power. See Development as Freedom, one of my favorite recent books.
If you every have the inclination or opportunity I do think it’s worth studying Marx with someone who genuinely admires the genius of his thought (and that person, these days, isn’t likely to be a communist).