Before finally replying to some of the many interesting comments on my multipart Marx essay, I should like to say just a few words about why I find blogging an odd and in some ways unsatisfactory mode of communication. One of the criticisms of classical social contract theory, advanced by many commentators, is its treatment of the political community as a timeless assembly of mature and independent adults. There is some feeble effort to take account of subsequent generations, but they tend to be treated as no different from immigrants who enter the community and sign on to the commitments made in the original contract. But the truth, of course, is completely other. All of us live through a lifecycle starting with birth, moving from childhood to adulthood, then if we are fortunate to old age, and finally to death.
Everyone knows, even if the theory takes no account of it, that we are different as children from what we are as young adults, different as young adults from what we are in our maturity, and different again in old age. Readers of this blog have all noticed that I increasingly often make reference to my age, of which I am extremely aware, indeed in some ways obsessively so. I have spent the last 71 years in the classroom, as it were, first for five years as a student, then for 53 years as a teacher, and then for the past 13 years as a blogger, part-time teacher, YouTube lecturer, and always throughout my life as a writer.
As I have often remarked, I have spent most of my life in my head, but inevitably, properly, humanly, my relationship to the world around me has changed as the decades have gone by. As a young man I was energetic, enthusiastic, confrontational to authority wherever I could find it, forward-looking, and utterly wrapped up in the ideas in my head. As the years went by, and especially after I had children, I became supportive, generative, quasi-parental toward my students, for all that my published work continued to announce me as a radical, a man of the left, a critic of established authority.
When I was young, I scarcely noticed what was said about the books I published. I read very few of the reviews and did not have a strong sense of myself as a member of and participant in a scholarly community. My decision to resign from my Columbia professorship and move to the University of Massachusetts was, I finally came to realize, very strongly motivated by a desire to withdraw from the bustle of the Academy to a retreat where I could pursue my ideas untroubled.
Now that I am in my late 80s and compelled to acknowledge that my life is nearing its end, I think a great deal about those who have read my writings and have found something of value in them. It is important to me, in a way it never was before, to believe that something of what I have written will live after me. I am eager to receive, as I do, confirmations that out there in the world somewhere are readers who have enjoyed my books, my articles, or even these blog posts. I am not quite like the Ancient Mariner who stoppeth one in three, but I am not too far off either.
But blogging by its structure and nature is almost completely insensitive to the natural rhythms of a human life. The posts appear as if by magic and linger on in cyberspace presumably forever. I cannot see the people to whom I imagine myself to be talking nor can they see me and, strangest of all, I cannot really tell where they are, how old they are, whether they are male or female, and who they are as people. I do not find this liberating, I find it unsettling. I would rather be sitting around a table teaching a class of 15 than posting little essays that are read perhaps by a thousand. That is why I have gone to such lengths, even taking weekly flights, to find a place where I can sit around that table yet again as I have so often in the past 66 years.
Well, if I am not the Ancient Mariner I am most certainly Mr. Chips.