Tuesday, August 18, 2020

The Challenge of Marxism

I'm inserting here an extensively edited version of Yoram Hazony's fine essay, The Challege of Marxism. The essay is Hazony's explanation of why Marxism--which was assumed to have been defeated and discredited with the end of the Soviet Union--has made an astounding comeback in, of all places, the United States, the winner of the Cold War. The short version is simply that a Marxist frame of reference is inherent in what Hazony calls Enlightenment Liberalism or Classical Liberalism--which includes most of those who call themselves "conservatives". Marxism of the variety that we see resurgent in America, argues Hazony, is a logical outgrowth of the Liberal Democracy that was enshrined in the American Founding. If that sounds far fetched, give him a chance--I've edited it to provide the bare outline of his argument.

You may recognize similarities between what Hazony is saying and the thought of Patrick Deneen--as presented here in past posts in which we discussed his Why Liberalism Failed. Hazony, however, is coming from a somewhat different direction than Deneen. Hazony is an Israeli philosopher and a Modern Orthodox Jew. He is also "an outspoken nationalist and has written that nationalism uniquely provides 'the collective right of a free people to rule themselves.'"

For my part, I can agree with his views on religion and tradition to a point--the point at which he rejects reason. Or, at least, I would want to interrogate him as to his exact meaning. However, my purpose here is not to dispute that point but to present Hazony's ideas for the positive value they have in drawing attention to the nature of the crisis in our constitutional order that we're facing. It's important for understanding exactly why this election is so important. It's also important because it will challenge readers to ask just what the way forward is for those who do not wish to slide down the slippery slope into the fantasy anti-reality of Neo-Marxism. Or who believe they have something worth preserving for future generations. What is that? And how can we preserve it?

The Challenge of Marxism
written by Yoram Hazony

I. The collapse of institutional liberalism

For a generation after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, most Americans and Europeans regarded Marxism as an enemy that had been defeated once and for all. But they were wrong. A mere 30 years later, Marxism is back, and making an astonishingly successful bid to seize control of the most important American media companies, universities and schools, major corporations and philanthropic organizations, and even the courts, the government bureaucracy, and some churches. As American cities succumb to rioting, arson, and looting, it appears as though the liberal custodians of many of these institutions—from the New York Times to Princeton University—have despaired of regaining control of them, and are instead adopting a policy of accommodation. That is, they are attempting to appease their Marxist employees by giving in to some of their demands in the hope of not being swept away entirely.

We don’t know what will happen for certain. But based on the experience of recent years, we can venture a pretty good guess. Institutional liberalism lacks the resources to contend with this threat. Liberalism is being expelled from its former strongholds, and the hegemony of liberal ideas, as we have known it since the 1960s, will end. ...


This is the new reality that is emerging. There is blood in the water and the new Marxists will not rest content with their recent victories. In America, they will press their advantage and try to seize the Democratic Party. They will seek to reduce the Republican Party to a weak imitation of their own new ideology, or to ban it outright as a racist organization. ... So let us not avert our eyes and tell ourselves that this curse isn’t coming for us. Because it is coming for us.

In this essay, I would like to offer some initial remarks about the new Marxist victories in America—about what has happened and what’s likely to happen next.

II. The Marxist framework

Anti-Marxist liberals have labored under numerous disadvantages in the recent struggles to maintain control of liberal organizations. ...

The best way to escape this trap is to recognize the movement presently seeking to overthrow liberalism for what it is: an updated version of Marxism. ...

The new Marxists do not use the technical jargon that was devised by 19th-century Communists. ... Nevertheless, their politics are based on Marx’s framework for critiquing liberalism ... We can describe Marx’s political framework as follows:

1. Oppressor and oppressed

Marx argues that, as an empirical matter, people invariably form themselves into cohesive groups (he calls them classes), which exploit one another to the extent they are able. A liberal political order is no different in this from any other, ... In addition, Marx sees the state itself, its laws and its mechanisms of enforcement, as a tool that the oppressor class uses to keep the regime of oppression in place and to assist in carrying out this work.

2. False consciousness

Marx recognizes that the liberal businessmen, politicians, lawyers, and intellectuals who keep this system in place are unaware that they are the oppressors, ... This ignorance of the fact that one is an oppressor or oppressed is called the ruling ideology ... and it is only overcome when one is awakened to what is happening and learns to recognize reality using true categories.

3. Revolutionary reconstitution of society

Marx suggests that, historically, oppressed classes have materially improved their conditions only through a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large—that is, through the destruction of the oppressor class, and of the social norms and ideas that hold the regime of systematic oppression in place. ...

4. Total disappearance of class antagonisms

Marx promises that after the oppressed underclass takes control of the state, the exploitation of individuals by other individuals will be “put to an end” and the antagonism between classes of individuals will totally disappear. How this is to be done is not specified.


III. The attraction and power of Marxism

Although many liberals and conservatives say that Marxism is “nothing but a great lie,” this isn’t quite right. ... If Marxism is nothing but a great lie, why are liberal societies so vulnerable to it? We must understand the enduring attraction and strength of Marxism. And we will never understand it unless we recognize that Marxism captures certain aspects of the truth that are missing from Enlightenment liberalism.


Marx’s principal insight is the recognition that the categories liberals use to construct their theory of political reality (liberty, equality, rights, and consent) are insufficient for understanding the political domain. They are insufficient because the liberal picture of the political world leaves out two phenomena that are, according to Marx, absolutely central to human political experience: The fact that people invariably form cohesive classes or groups; and the fact that these classes or groups invariably oppress or exploit one another, with the state itself functioning as an instrument of the oppressor class.

My liberal friends tend to believe that oppression and exploitation exist only in traditional or authoritarian societies, whereas liberal society is free (or almost free) from all that. But this isn’t true. Marx is right to see that every society consists of cohesive classes or groups, and that political life everywhere is primarily about the power relations among different groups. ... Moreover, Marx is right when he says that the dominant group tends to see its own preferred laws and policies as reflecting “reason” or “nature,” and works to disseminate its way of looking at things throughout society, so that various kinds of injustice and oppression tend to be obscured from view.

For example, despite decades of experimentation with vouchers and charter schools, the dominant form of American liberalism remains strongly committed to the public school system. In most places, this is a monopolistic system that requires children of all backgrounds to receive what is, in effect, an atheistic education stripped clean of references to God or the Bible. Although liberals sincerely believe that this policy is justified by the theory of “separation of church and state,” or by the argument that society needs schools that are “for everyone,” the fact is that these theories justify what really is a system aimed at inculcating their own Enlightenment liberalism. Seen from a conservative perspective, this amounts to a quiet persecution of religious families. ...

No, Marxist political theory is not simply a great lie. By analyzing society in terms of power relations among classes or groups, we can bring to light important political phenomena to which Enlightenment liberal theories—theories that tend to reduce politics to the individual and his or her private liberties—are systematically blind.

This is the principal reason that Marxist ideas are so attractive. In every society, there will always be plenty of people who have reason to feel they’ve been oppressed or exploited. ...

Of course, liberals have not remained unmoved in the face of criticism based on the reality of group power relations. ... But these efforts have not come close to creating a society free from power relations among classes or groups. If anything, the sense that “the system is rigged” in favor of certain classes or groups at the expense of others has only grown more pronounced.


IV. The flaws that make Marxism fatal

We’ve looked at what Marxist political theory gets right and why it’s such a powerful doctrine. But there are also plenty of problems with the Marxist framework, a number of them fatal.

The first of these is that while Marxism proposes an empirical investigation of the power relations among classes or groups, it simply assumes that wherever one discovers a relationship between a more powerful group and a weaker one, that relation will be one of oppressor and oppressed. ... But in most cases, hierarchical relationships are not enslavement. ... Much more common are mixed relationships, in which both the stronger and the weaker receive certain benefits, and in which both can also point to hardships that must be endured in order to maintain it.

The fact that the Marxist framework presupposes a relationship of oppressor and oppressed leads to the second great difficulty, which is the assumption that every society is so exploitative that it must be heading toward the overthrow of the dominant class or group. But if it is possible for weaker groups to benefit from their position, and not just to be oppressed by it, then we have arrived at the possibility of a conservative society: One in which there is a dominant class or loyalty group (or coalition of groups), which seeks to balance the benefits and the burdens of the existing order so as to avoid actual oppression. ...

This brings us to the third failing of the Marxist framework. This is the notorious absence of a clear view as to what the underclass, having overthrown its oppressors and seized the state, is supposed to do with its newfound power. ... At this point, Marx’s empiricist posture evaporates, and his framework becomes completely utopian.

... The Marxist goal of seizing the state and using it to eliminate all oppression is an empty promise. Marx did not know how the state could actually bring this about, and neither have any of his followers. ...

Marxist society, like all other societies, consists of classes and groups arranged in a hierarchical order. But the aim of reconstituting society and the assertion that the state is responsible for achieving this feat makes the Marxist state much more aggressive, and more willing to resort to coercion and bloodshed, than the liberal regime it seeks to replace.

V. The dance of liberalism and Marxism

It is often said that liberalism and Marxism are “opposites,” with liberalism committed to freeing the individual from coercion by the state and Marxism endorsing unlimited coercion in pursuit of a reconstituted society. But what if it turned out that liberalism has a tendency to give way and transfer power to Marxists within a few decades? Far from being the opposite of Marxism, liberalism would merely be a gateway to Marxism.

A compelling analysis of the structural similarities between Enlightenment liberalism and Marxism has been published by the Polish political theorist Ryszard Legutko under the title The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies (2016). ..

Enlightenment liberalism is a rationalist system built on the premise that human beings are, by nature, free and equal. It is further asserted that this truth is “self-evident,” meaning that all of us can recognize it through the exercise of reason alone, without reference to the particular national or religious traditions of our time and place.

But there are difficulties with this system. One of these is that, as it turns out, highly abstract terms such as freedom, equality, and justice cannot be given stable content by means of reason alone. To see this, consider the following problems:


I’ve said that every society consists of classes or groups. These stand in various power relations to one another, which find expression in the political, legal, religious, and moral traditions that are handed down by the strongest classes or groups. It is only within the context of these traditions that we come to believe that words like freedom and equality mean one thing and not another, and to develop a “common sense” of how different interests and concerns are to be balanced against one another in actual cases.

But what happens if you dispense with those traditions? This, after all, is what Enlightenment liberalism seeks to do. Enlightenment liberals observe that inherited traditions are always flawed or unjust in certain ways, and for this reason they feel justified in setting inherited tradition aside and appealing directly to abstract principles such as freedom and equality. The trouble is, there is no such thing as a society in which everyone is free and equal in all ways. ...

Thus the endless dance of liberalism and Marxism, which goes like this:

1. Liberals declare that henceforth all will be free and equal, emphasizing that reason (not tradition) will determine the content of each individual’s rights.

2. Marxists, exercising reason, point to many genuine instances of unfreedom and inequality in society, decrying them as oppression and demanding new rights.

3. Liberals, embarrassed by the presence of unfreedom and inequality after having declared that all would be free and equal, adopt some of the Marxists’ demands for new rights.

4. Return to #1 above and repeat.


A few observations, then, concerning this dance of liberalism and Marxism:

First, notice that the dance is a byproduct of liberalism. It exists because Enlightenment liberalism sets freedom and equality as the standard by which government is to be judged, and describes the individual’s power of reason alone, independent of tradition, as the instrument by which this judgment is to be obtained. In so doing, liberalism creates Marxists. ... A proto-Marxism was generated by Enlightenment liberalism even before Marx proposed a formal structure for describing it a few decades later.

Second, the dance only moves in one direction. ... Why, then, do liberal societies produce a rapid movement toward Marxist ideas, and not an ever-greater belief in liberalism?

The key to understanding this dynamic is this: ... while Marxists know very well that their aim is to destroy the intellectual and cultural traditions that are holding liberalism in place, their liberal opponents for the most part refuse to engage in the kind of conservatism that would be needed to defend their traditions and strengthen them. Indeed, liberals frequently disparage tradition, telling their children and students that all they need is to reason freely and “draw your own conclusions.”

The result is a radical imbalance ...

VI. The Marxist endgame and democracy’s end 

Not very long ago, most of us living in free societies knew that Marxism was not compatible with democracy. ... It is time to revisit some of these once-obvious truths.

Under democratic government, violent warfare among competing classes and groups is brought to an end and replaced by non-violent rivalry among political parties. ...

The most basic thing one needs to know about a democratic regime, then, is this: You need to have at least two legitimate political parties for democracy to work. By a legitimate political party, I mean one that is recognized by its rivals as having a right to rule if it wins an election. ...

But legitimacy is one of those traditional political concepts that Marxist criticism is now on the verge of destroying. From the Marxist point of view, ... the entire purpose of democratic government, with its plurality of legitimate parties, is to avoid the violent reconstitution of society that Marxist political theory regards as the only reasonable aim of politics.

Simply put, the Marxist framework and democratic political theory are opposed to one another in principle. A Marxist cannot grant legitimacy to liberal or conservative points of view without giving up the heart of Marxist theory, which is that these points of view are inextricably bound up with systematic injustice and must be overthrown, ...

... This is the meaning of the expulsion of liberal journalists from the New York Times and other news organisations. It is the reason that Woodrow Wilson’s name was removed from buildings at Princeton University, and for similar acts at other universities and schools. These expulsions and renamings are the equivalent of raising a Marxist flag over each university, newspaper, and corporation in turn, as the legitimacy of the old liberalism is revoked.

Until 2016, America still had two legitimate political parties. But when Donald Trump was elected president, ...

I know that many liberals believe that this rejection of Trump’s legitimacy was directed only at him, personally. They believe, as a liberal friend wrote to me recently, that when this particular president is removed from office, America will be able to return to normal.

But nothing of the sort is going to happen. The Marxists who have seized control of the means of producing and disseminating ideas in America cannot, without betraying their cause, confer legitimacy on any conservative government. And they cannot grant legitimacy to any form of liberalism that is not supine before them. This means that whatever President Trump’s electoral fortunes, the “resistance” is not going to end. It is just beginning.

With the Marxist conquest of liberal institutions, we have entered a new phase in American history (and, consequently, in the history of all democratic nations). We have entered the phase in which Marxists, having conquered the universities, the media, and major corporations, will seek to apply this model to the conquest of the political arena as a whole.

How will they do this? As in the universities and the media, they will use their presence within liberal institutions to force liberals to break the bonds of mutual legitimacy that bind them to conservatives—and therefore to two-party democracy. ... As was the case in the universities and media, many liberals will accommodate these Marxist tactics in the belief that by delegitimizing conservatives they can appease the Marxists and turn them into strategic allies.

But the Marxists will not be appeased because what they’re after is the conquest of liberalism itself ...

... Liberals will have to choose between two alternatives: either they will submit to the Marxists, and help them bring democracy in America to an end. Or they will assemble a pro-democracy alliance with conservatives. There aren’t any other choices.


  1. Mark--Sorry, I can't recall if you did read Legutko's "The Demon in Democracy"?

    Another book in that vein is Jean-Francois Revel's "Last Exit To Utopia" (2000). I read it a couple years ago, and it rung just as true as if it were written today--even more so due to its prescience.

    As always, thanks for your thoroughly stimulating posts!

    1. I never got around to reading Legutko, although I read about it. I'm not sure why, anymore. The blogging seems to have taken control of my life!

    2. Gee, I dunno what you've been so busy with... ;-)

      There are times I have trouble keeping up with your output, and I only have to read it! Cheers.

  2. "There aren’t any other choices."


    1. I think he's right that this will not go away. Also sobering is the fact that they control so many of our basic institutions--especially education--and are increasingly ready to openly misuse them for revolutionary causes.

    2. There is much which resonates.

      One of the scary conclusions which he draws is the willingness of the liberals to dance with the Marxists to defeat conservatives. Which has worked in the past but has never ended well for the liberals.

    3. "the willingness of the liberals to dance with the Marxists".
      For some time now, I've been saying that much of the country's fate hinges on Barr/ Durham's ability, to get liberals to face crucial music, that SparlkeFarts etc. sought to use the DS, to install a permanent SJW (Marxist) majority, wherein liberals would be the Mensheviks (or Girondins) to SJW Bolsheviks (or Montagnards).
      The Right turned to DJT, largely owing to his (implicit) facing of the magnitude of this (Montagnardist) threat.

  3. "they control so many of our basic institutions--especially education--"

    Have I mentioned that earlier this year I made a modest donation to Hillsdale College, because it seems to be the only liberal arts college willing to stand up for conservative and traditional principles. I have no idea whether they are as good as their PR. I now get a lot of email from them.

    I no longer contribute to any of the three venerable Eastern institutions I attended.

    1. Good for you. I've visited Hillsdale. My three sons went to U. Dallas, a small liberal arts college. UD has a lot of contact with Hillsdale--faculty and so forth.

    2. You may have seen stories about this incident yesterday:

      That story points out that the uni is "tax payer funded." I think it also gets a lot of federal government money which should give Barr a hook to start dealing with unis in a 2nd Trump term. The uni administrators helped the "prof" to amend the syllabus, whereas a conservative would have been fired.

    3. Grove City College, PA, is comparable to Hillsdale as well. My oldest daughter graduated from there. Excellent education.

  4. Fight back or give in.

    The marxist only responds to force, overwhelming force. We are just beginning the hot phase, the author is right, it will only get worse. Purges within the D party have been quietly going on for years. Now it's out in the open for all to see. Fight back or give in.

    Democrats believe they can bargain with leftists, more's the pity, they'll be eliminated as the vc were by the nva initiating the Tet offensive in '68. That was its singular purpose. US media support against the war was just gravy on the potatoes.

    No one is safe from these monsters.

  5. "liberalism sets freedom and equality as the standard", while (as J. Haidt admits) neglecting other crucial virtues, e.g. loyalty, and respect for authority, and other factors likely to strengthen social cohesion.
    Liberals refuse to face the extent to which Marxists outright assail social cohesion, until the latter get power, when they then enforce social cohesion via draconian means.
    The suspicion arises, that Marxist's noise about fighting for the Oppressed, is just a ruse to get the power, to enforce their versions of social cohesion, via draconian means.

  6. The heat may come sooner than we think. The Democrats are committed to removing Trump and installing their own sock puppet as president. Absent a tidal wave win by Trump, the Democrats will claim victory and riot like never before--- insurrection more like. If Trump dares to call on the military they no doubt have plans to get traitors like Powell to attempt a coup. What will we do in response? Are we willing to go to DC and defend the republic?

  7. "Are we willing to go to DC....?"
    I'll guess, that a more effective course would be secession mov'ts.
    See my remarks, in Mark's recent thread on Dems, Gangs, Dementia, for posts on a map of the new Jesusland.
    If DJT wins, I'd be tempted to urge him to propose a nat'l conference of Dem and GOP wheels, to start negotiating terms for a peaceful breakup, akin to how the Slovaks broke off from the Czechs.

    1. Must disagree with you, Mouse. The idea of negotiating a division of territory is a fantasy best left to Kurt Schlicter novels. First, it is completely unworkable. Notwithstanding the convenient Blue State/Red State shorthand, the reality is that there are no, real Blue *States*. There are only Red States with large Blue cities. Almost without exception, we have conservatives living in the exurbs and rural areas-- the majority of landmass by far. Illinois, Maryland, New York, California all come to mind. You simply cannot carve up the country in any workable way that doesn't put millions of blues and reds in the wrong state. Neither side would countenance this. Second, it is unthinkable for either side to cede valuable resources and territory to the other they regard as mortal enemies. We are well past any sort of so called amicable divorce. No, it will be a vicious fight to the death a la Spanish civil war of 1930s. Third, although the military may split somewhat as in 1861, in the end there is not much doubt that the bulk of junior and non coms and enlisted are conservatives who will side with us if it comes to it. So letting the marxists have any of our sacred American soil is not desirable nor necessary. Let's stop indulging the fantasy of two countries and prepare to fight for the ine we intend to keep.

    2. Thoughtful reply, TM.
      "any workable way that doesn't put millions of blues and reds in the wrong state".
      That's why my proposals refer to secession mov'ts *w/in* states, and to walls (e.g. in mt. ranges) to minimize chances of war between the new countries.

      The likelihood, of a *continual* "vicious fight to the death", is why I urge a look at alternatives, esp. seeing as (unlike 30s Spain) this economy is hooked on JIT.
      This JIT system guarantees that, if it got to a Franco-type scenario, the ensuing *starvation* would dwarf what his war brought.

      By far the best chance, to get the Left to seriously negotiate on anything, is to rub their noses in our determination to bug out, if they continue to (usually implicitly) pursue white Extinction, and male Enslavement.
      They'll continue to style themselves to be masters at snowing Deplorables, until the latter make an unmistakable stand.
      And, Special Snowflakes that they are, such a stand may well wake them up, to the prospect of mass starvation, if they don't relinquish some of this valuable resources and territory.

  8. I agree, Tschifty Mccoy. If DJT wins in a landslide, then it's up to him how he faces down the rioters. And there will be massive riots, in every city. He can go for broke and use live ammo, my preferred remedy. Or he can arrest them. The left will squeak and roar. But the magnitude of his victory will work to quell them.

    If the election is a nail-biter, and if the vote by mail business causes anxiety, and DJT wins in a close election, like last time, then I'm afraid DJT actually loses. It will also mean that half of America has lost its mind.

    There will be riots, but DJT, illegitimate! usurper! orange baboon! will lack the broad-based authority to put them down. A monster win gives him that authority, which is why it is so necessary.

    1. "DJT... will lack the broad-based authority to put them down."
      If so, all the more reason for him to do what I urge above, about a nat'l Conference to start negotiating terms for a peaceful breakup.

  9. "the principal reason that Marxist ideas are so attractive."
    Related to this is, the Marxist (somewhat plausible) view that the modern economy is rigged vs. the lower classes.
    Pro-gold blogger FoFoA concedes, that the gold standard (and its post- Bretton Woods successor-system) contributed to that atmosphere, by pitting Debtors vs. Savers.
    He predicts that the emerging FreeGold system will dissipate that conflict, by enticing Savers to flee their traditional parking (of their savings) into debt instruments.
    If most savings are instead parked into (physical) gold, most Savers will have the means to protect themselves from hyperinflation, and will thus lack the incentive to fiercely resist the Easy Money policies so dear
    to the hearts of Debtors.
    If money is only seen as a medium of exchange, and isn't forced into the role of Store of Value, lenders will face that they lend at their on risk, instead of pushing gov'ts into Hard Money policies, which always lead to backlashes from the Easy Money camp.
    See (behind paywall) .

  10. "lenders will face that they lend at their OWN risk...."
    By "Savers" is meant, "long-term Savers" (being in gold), whereas short-term Savers would do so in Demand-deposit banks, whose funds would be available for loans to Debtors.
    Debt would be accumulated only for real needs, not for the whimsical pursuits which are recently (esp. since 1971, balefully) incentivized.