Monday, May 20, 2013

John Kenneth Galbraith's "The Age of Uncertainty: Karl Marx The Massive Dissent"

Today we have Episode three of John Kenneth Galbraith's 1977 The Age of Uncertainty, Karl Marx The Massive Dissent.

I previously used this video in "Karl Marx" in 2013 04/10/2013.

The liberal philosopher John Gray recently did an essay on Marx in The Real Karl Marx New York Review of Books 60:8(05/09/2013 edition), a review of Jonathan Sperber's Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life (2013). This is an intriguing observation of Gray's:

Marx's admiration for Darwin is well known. A common legend has it that Marx offered to dedicate Capital to Darwin. Sperber describes this as “a myth that has been repeatedly refuted but seems virtually ineradicable,” since it was Edward Aveling, the lover of Marx’s daughter Eleanor, who unsuccessfully approached Darwin for permission to dedicate a popular volume he had written on evolution. But there can be no doubt that Marx welcomed Darwin’s work, seeing it (as Sperber puts it) as "another intellectual blow struck in favor of materialism and atheism."

Less well known are Marx’s deep differences with Darwin. If Marx viewed Trémaux’s work as "a very important improvement on Darwin," it was because "progress, which in Darwin is purely accidental, is here necessary on the basis of the periods of development of the body of the earth." Virtually every follower of Darwin at the time believed he had given a scientific demonstration of progress in nature; but though Darwin himself sometimes wavered on the point, that was never his fundamental view. Darwin’s theory of natural selection says nothing about any kind of betterment—as Darwin once noted, when judged from their own standpoint bees are an improvement on human beings—and it is testimony to Marx’s penetrating intelligence that, unlike the great majority of those who promoted the idea of evolution, he understood this absence of the idea of progress in Darwinism. Yet he was just as emotionally incapable as they were of accepting the contingent world that Darwin had uncovered.
Galbraith in the companion volume has an interesting anecdote relating to Hegel, one of the major influences on Marx - or rather to Hegel's reputation:

The romantic years were now at an end; the years of Hegel began. Not only was Berlin a far more serious place than Bonn but Marx was now surrounded by the disciples of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. These young men, the young Hegelians, took themselves and their scholarly mission very seriously indeed. Recurrently in history intellectuals have been so impressed with their unique vision of truth that they have seen themselves fated to change how all men think. This was one of those moments.

What is not so easy to describe is the change the young intellectuals sought. Hegel is not a very accessible figure for the Anglo-Saxon or American mind; certainly I have never found him so. Once, years ago, I was greatly comforted by a story told me by Arthur Goodhart, the Oxford law professor and onetime Master of University College. It concerned a night in 1940 when, as a member of the Home Guard, he was deployed with a fellow professor, a distinguished philosopher at the university, to guard a small private airstrip near Oxford.

They may well have been the two most improbable soldiers in the annals of British military history. But they marched back and forth in a light mist, one with a rifle of Crimean vintage more or less, the other with a fowling piece. Occasionally, being professors, they stopped to converse. Toward dawn, during one of these pauses, Goodhart's fellow soldier lit his pipe and said, "I say, Arthur, do you suppose those wretched fellows aren't coming? I did so want a shot at them. I've always detested Hegel."
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