In some religions, there is a distinction between the exoteric doctrines taught by the priests to the faithful and the esoteric doctrine reserved for the initiates. The question posed to the priests is when, and whether, to lift the veil and allow the masses to glimpse the sacred Mysteries.
As I prepare my next lecture, I confront a version of this dilemma. I shall, on Tuesday, rehearse Marx’s mocking debunking of the feeble and absurd explanations given by Vulgar Economists for the existence of profit in a capitalist economy [no, it is not that the entrepreneurs live frugal lives and save, nor is it that they earn the wages of management, nor do they all somehow manage to buy cheap and sell dear]. Then I shall reveal the Word, which is that profit is but the money appearance of the surplus labor extracted from the workers. From which it follows that:
CAPITALISM RESTS ON THE EXPLOITATION OF THE WORKING CLASS.
It is a dramatic story, brilliantly told by Marx in the opening chapters of CAPITAL. But there are secret truths, Mysteries known only to me and a tiny handful of others, truths unknown not because I have concealed them but because, alas, so few people have read the journal article in which I revealed them.
The secret truth is that Marx’s explanation of the source of profit is wrong, even though he is absolutely right that Capitalism rests on the exploitation of the Working Class. My problem is this: Shall I reveal this truth to my class?
Why ever not? You ask. Considering the fortune they being charged for a Columbia education, do they not have a right to learn the Mysteries? To be sure. But just as the ancient Mysteries of Eleusis required fasting and mortification of the flesh, so the Mysteries of Marx require Mathematics, a mortification more painful than self-flagellation to most college students.
This dilemma has kept me up at night.