Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON THE THOUGHT OF KARL MARX. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for Robert Paul Wolff Marx."




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Saturday, June 2, 2018

QUICK ANSWER TO SOME QUESTIONS


One of the anonymati [is that even a word?] asks this:

 “What is the best Marxian argument for affirmative action?

Is there a Marxian response (or how would one approach if making one) to the current health-care system in the U.S.?”

In their different ways, these questions pose interesting problems for someone like myself who finds Marx’s analysis of capitalism insightful, powerful, persuasive, and in its central thesis true.  By “Marxian argument” or “Marxian response” I take it the reader means either “Marx’s argument,” “Marx’s response” or else something like “an argument implied by Marx’s arguments” and “a response likely to be given by someone who finds Marx’s analysis of capitalism persuasive.”

I say this, clunky as it sounds, because I reject the widespread tendency to treat Marx as akin to a religious prophet, as though one were asking “What is a Christian argument for affirmative action?” or “Is there a Muslim response to the current health care system in the U. S.?”

The simple reply to the first question is that Marx has no argument for affirmative action and his critique of capitalism does not seem to imply one.  Why not?  For two reasons:  First, Marx was convinced, on the basis of his deep study of the development of capitalism in England, that capitalism was rapidly destroying the distinction between the city and the country, between craft labor, agricultural labor, and factory labor, between the roles of men and of women in the working class, and between national, religious, and ethnic identities.  This root and branch revolutionizing of established society, along with the absorption of small businesses into large ones, was rapidly replacing the complex status divisions of pre-capitalist and even early capitalist society with a stark confrontation between big business and a working class.

Second, the modern movement for affirmative action or “liberation” of African-Americans, of women, of gay and lesbian Americans is, at base, an attempt to perfect the transition from pre-capitalist to capitalist social formations, not to move beyond capitalism.  The fundamental demand of African-Americans is that they be treated legally, politically, economically, and socially exactly as White Americans are treated, and analogous demands are made by women and by the LGBTQ community.  These demands are thoroughly legitimate, but they have nothing to do with Marx’s critique of capitalism.  [The reality is a bit more complicated, I know, but I am not trying to write a book, just a blog post.]

An analogous response would be given by Marx or by someone like me to the second question.  Affordable, available, guaranteed health care is one element of what has been called The Welfare State or the Social Safety Net.  It is pretty clearly a capitalist effort both to buy off the working class so that it will not revolt and to handle one aspect of the problem of inadequate market demand that has bedeviled capitalism since its inception.  Marx was not interested in proposing fixes designed to shore up capitalism.  Since I have no expectation of a socialist transformation of capitalist society any time soon, alas, I am deeply committed to making capitalism as livable as possible for the mass of human beings, but I do not imagine that I am doing this in Marx’s name.

Does any of that help to answer the questions?

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