FW Week 2: Why Is Everyone in Academia a Marxist?
First and foremost, two apologies are in order: 1) sorry if this post is slightly late, I realized I set my self an ambitious goal, so instead of daily posts, they will now be weekly, dropping every Friday; and 2) sorry for the click-bait title. I wanted to write about Marxism and modern academia, though, as they seem to have an ongoing relationship at the moment; but I believe the Right has mischaracterized them.
For some background, I think it is important to make some distinctions, in case I haven’t made them clear in other essays on this blog. Liberalism is not the same as progressivism, as they are different in fundamental ways. The liberal tradition arises from enlightenment values on secularism and individual autonomy. You can recognize this coming from Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Immanuel Kant, and later in John Stuart Mill. Progressivism is similar to liberalism, such that its foundation is equality under the law for all people, but that’s where the similarities stop. While liberalism values equality under that law, it recognizes that we aren’t created equal (whether liberals admit this is another issue) and that creativity, success, and happiness necessarily stems from inequality in culture and social life; it allows for a kind of Social Darwinism, as it were. Progressives can find their roots in utilitarianism and communism, where there is an ideal goal that need be reached, an egalitarian or utopian society, the later being much less argued for among the Left.
So why does the Right to such a bad job at characterizing the Left, and academia in particular? It comes down to a conversation about values, I believe. When I was entering the university, I was astonished by how many Marxist organizations there were, who supported postmodernism and critical theory, and fueled the narrative that western values were at the heart of nearly all injustice found throughout the colonized world. It was very easy to be skeptical of their views, being raised in a fairly traditional, American household. But as I’ve been a student now for around four years, I am starting to see where there positions are coming from. Now of course, I do not think that every progressive is a Marxist, but the links are certainly there. I see progressivism as a natural consequence to liberalism.
Liberalism helped us move away from monarchical authority, and move toward the industrial revolution. That move hinged on equality of opportunity, and the most cunning and witty among us took advantage of those opportunities made available, giving rise to consumer capitalism and the convenience of globalization. It led to good times for the west. When we have it as good as we do now, society tends to point out the small injustices that plague the tediousness and mundane. This is why political correctness is such a problem for the Left. However, liberalism, like many other political and social philosophies, has a looming problem: people still tend to be left by the margins of society, suffering more than the rest of us. This is typically found in an economic fashion, discriminating not by certain immutable characteristics like race and gender, but often by education and skill.
This is where populism emerges. It directly targets those affected by neo-liberalism and globalization, claiming that it can solve those issues by focusing solely on national issues, while at the same time have sweeping flavors of authoritarianism baked in. So how does the Left respond? Like they have throughout history, they look to materialist solutions to social problems. Marx is popular not just for his radical ideas, but for the implications from those ideas. Under liberalism, if private property is to be valued, then you can link it to problems of slave labor; not only for private production of property, but the physical ownership of the labor force. There is also the issue of creativity and recognition. Marx believed that all people are inherently creative, and when laborers do not own their own means of production, then they cannot decide for themselves when they can utilize their own creativity. Likewise, Hegel proposed that everyone seeks recognition. It could be through their work or through intellectual discussion, but when one has mastery over another, not only does the servant suffer beneath the heel of the master, but that master suffers as well; as they do not receive recognition through the interaction with their servants, only seeing them as objects, rather than a subject. These are certainly issues that we need to grapple with. So why doesn’t the Right seem to understand where the Left is coming from, and are they right to be skeptical?
The obvious difference between the political Right and Left is of course conservatism and progressivism; it’s a simple distinction between meaning and values. The Right holds traditional values as inherently meaningful, this is why they wish to conserve them. Whether or not their beliefs do indeed hold value, it really isn’t up to the herd to say what an individual can hold as valuable. The Left sees traditional values as alienating toward specific groups, so they push a progressive that attempts to restore the balance. So it really isn’t fair to judge either side from one single standpoint, or perspective; one has to engage with the other side, in order to understand their message. So why is the Left-leaning academia so such an easy target for the Right?
Firstly, the Right recognizes how far we’ve come, in terms of having a better understanding of people and populations, and when political correctness riddles the Left, it becomes a point of ridicule for the Right, as they view the small injustices as trivial. Secondly, the far Left has done something that it never did before: instead of searching for equality culturally and under the law, through intersectionality, they actually have created their own hierarchy of oppression, with the unspoken goal of toppling the ‘Eurocentric patriarchy’. Marxists, not being limited to, but certainly including, wish to not only deconstruct power and dominance hierarchies, but restructure them, so that they end up on top. Whether they’d admit this or not, it flies in the face of true Marxist/Socialist ideals, now in favor of the ‘our turn’ sentiment. I see this as largely a result of resentment coming from the Left; a revolt from one system of ‘oppression’ to another.
Ressentiment, or resentment, is an idea that Friedrich Nietzsche focused on in his most mature work, The Genealogy of Morals. In it, Nietzsche focused on the ideas of master morality and slave morality. The distinction being that the masters valued ideas like strength, ambition, virtue, and wealth; the slaves then valued meekness, submission, with a tolerance of poverty. Another distinction being that the masters viewed themselves as good, and slaves bad; where the slaves viewed themselves as good, but the masters as evil: and important moral dimension. Slave morality led to feeling of resentment for the master, thus leading to revolt. It’s the reason why Christianity took its place in the history books, in the first place. More importantly, I think it’s the reason why the Left has taken such a major turn from their earlier moderate positions.
Academia wasn’t always maintained by the Left, it used to be much more conservative. But since times have changed, and the influence that academic life has increased in popular culture, as well as young people not being taught critical thinking skills and skepticism in the public school system, academic ideals have greatly affected Democratic demographics on the American coasts, becoming much more radicalized. So why is this radicalization happening? Because life is good.
We are all reaping the rewards of global capitalism and free markets. We have 24 hour access to new and convenient technology, cheap and fast food, easy to access medical care, and entertainment up the wazoo. But even with all of these amazing feats of Western society, people are still left on the wayside, claiming that they haven’t had the same opportunity as others. Maybe that’s true, but I don’t think the answer to inequality is revolution: it’s education. Everyone has access to education in the West. If you own a smart phone, a simple Google search will tell you anything you want to know. If you don’t however, nothing is stopping you from going out, getting a library card, and accessing the internet. It’s that simple, if you want to better yourself and self-educate, go online, and find what works for you.
Thanks for stopping by, check back next week!