Marxism and Enlightenment thought

Jim heartfield jim at
Wed Dec 9 15:39:01 PST 1998

In message < at>, Louis Proyect <lnp3 at> writes
>Robinson's main point was that modern philosophy evolved in order to meet
>the needs of the rising bourgeoisie. It aspires to be universal but
>conceals the very particular and historical needs of the class which was
>coming to power in the age of Descartes. One of the purposes of Marxism is
>to make this connection and expose the class bias of bourgeois philosophy.

>Robinson then proceeded to knock bourgeois philosophy off its pedestal. Its
>whole purpose was to sanctify private property and the pursuit of profit.
>In order to do this, it was necessary to conduct ideological warfare
>against the feudal world view. John Locke's philosophy revolved around this
>project, especially in its promotion of the idea of the "social contract."
>Against the arbitrary rules of a Church-run society, the bourgeoisie needed
>rationality and individual rights. Without rationality and individual
>rights, capitalist property relations could not be safeguarded.

This is not so much false as merely one-sided, ie undialectical.

I quite agree that the Enlightenment represents the (false) universalisation of the interests of the nascent capitalist class. But that class's claim to univerality is not based exclusively on its sectional interests, but the extent to which its rise did in fact create real social progress.

For that reason bourgeois thinking - the Enlightenment - is not to be 'knocked of its pedestal' if by that is meant that it is to be trashed. Rather it should be superceded, in the sense of being displaced by a higher principle (which, as any dialectician knows contains the lesser form within it as its precondition).

As In message <s66e963f.075 at>, Charles Brown <CharlesB at> writes
>Kant should be criticized, negatively
>and positively; the rational kernel
>of his thought should be extracted
>and the shell disgarded.

Marxism is not a Pol Pot style 'year Zero', but an attempt to transcend the Enlightenment, by completing it. Marxism critiques the Enlightenment for its failure to live up to its own promises, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.

Post-modernism, like all irrationalist philosophies, by contrast is a retreat even from the qualified advances made by the bourgeoisie. It is, in the proper sense of the word, a reaction, seeking to take us back, demolishing reason, progress, and freedom as 'mere illusions'.

-- Jim heartfield

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