A Response to Jason Barker
A recent op-ed in the New York Times, written by an associate professor of philosophy Jason Barker, gushes and waxes eloquent about Karl Marx, stating he was “right”. There’s a number of problems with the article and given that Western culture at large has bought into Marxism — and that Christianity, broadly speaking, is also following suit — it seems right to give a brief response to such glowing praise of this man to such a wide audience.
Barker starts out with some biographical information praising Marx for his “boundless intellectual enthusiasm” before discussing the groundwork for Marx’s thought:
If ever there were a convincing case to be made for the dangers of philosophy, then surely it’s Marx’s discovery of Hegel, whose “grotesque craggy melody” repelled him at first but which soon had him dancing deliriously through the streets of Berlin.
This statement is quite true. Philosophy can be dangerous. Marxism’s 100 million deaths in the 20th century alone prove that. For further proof, all one needs to do is find any college student who, like myself, chooses to study philosophy in college but who, unlike myself, finds themselves reading Marx and soon after is “dancing deliriously through the streets”. Philosophy is truly dangerous because it is powerful. With great power comes great responsibility. Powerful ideas in the wrong hands could give us something like complete economic collapse, the persecution of the Russian Orthodox Church by the Bolsheviks, or dictators like Mao and Stalin murdering their own citizens in numbers that dwarfed even Hitler’s murderous reign.
So, with that in mind, let’s see how Professor Barker answers his own question:
As we reach the bicentennial of Marx’s birth, what lessons might we draw from his dangerous and delirious philosophical legacy? What precisely is Marx’s lasting contribution?
Thankfully, as any good philosopher should, Barker defines his terms. He states that Marx’s basic thesis is “that capitalism is driven by a deeply divisive class struggle in which the ruling-class minority appropriates the surplus labor of the working-class majority as profit”. This is certainly an accurate definition of Marx’s thesis, but it is inadequate to describe the driving force behind capitalism. Capitalism, at its core, is the free market wherein the demand of the consumer is balanced against the supply of the producer without interference from external third parties such as the state. Only by shoehorning class warfare into economics can the Marxist critique of capitalism make any sense. This is not to say that social issues such have no impact on economic ones, but to claim that all economic activity within a given system is necessarily a product of a social structure is an unwarranted assumption that too often is made by Marxists against capitalism. While it may be the case that on Marxism social and economic phenomena are intrinsically linked — a product of the very theory itself — that does not by any means necessitate that all economic systems must be structured, let alone criticized, in the same way. Fundamentally, capitalism is about voluntary transaction. If I do not like Coca-Cola, I can freely choose to not purchase Coca-Cola. Better yet, I may choose to purchase Pepsi, as a free market and demand create an economic incentive for competition. Further, if I wish to work for Coca-Cola, I can voluntarily sign a contract of employment with Coca-Cola. The excesses of my labor may very well be considered profit for those up the chain of command, but I also have the benefit of a paycheck even if the company posts a loss for the quarter. The narrative of exploitation is easy to pass off in successful economies where catastrophic losses are not felt by the working class. As the old adage goes, “the greater the risk, the greater the reward.”
Unfortunately, we’ve laid a crooked foundation. Allow us to see how skewed the edifice shall become:
Even liberal economists such as Nouriel Roubini agree that Marx’s conviction that capitalism has an inbuilt tendency to destroy itself remains as prescient as ever.
Imagine that: liberal economists don’t like capitalism. I’m simply shocked. This is typical of a highly-educated member of the academia. Professor Barker seems to be stuck in an echo chamber. If one wants to strengthen their point by saying “even so-and-so agrees”, it is usually best to find someone who doesn’t implicitly agree with your assumptions. This, of course, wouldn’t confirm Barker’s assertion that there’s “unanimity” in the economic critique of capitalism for if he were to mention conservative schools of economic theory, he may be forced to reveal the existence of the Chicago or — dare we mention — the Austrian school of economics which both favor free markets and have credentialed academics among their ranks.
Now, on to the claim itself: that capitalism tends to destroy itself. How is this the case? The free market has driven more people out of poverty in the last 150 years than communism has managed to murder — which is no small feat. In just over 30 years, global poverty plummeted by 80% due to the expanse of the free market worldwide. World GDP increased by over 25% in the past 20 years almost exclusively to the free markets of the developed world. These statistics are mind-boggling, yet the one that Professor Barker points out is that 80% of wealth generated goes to 1% of the population. Yes, the riches people are very, very rich, but part of that comes with the risk-reward factor that Marxists tend to ignore. And quite frankly, who cares how rich the top 1% is if the bottom 50% are living on daily incomes over double what they did 50 years ago? Of course, that contradicts the victim narrative, so it’s not mentioned. On the other hand, everywhere Marxism takes hold, economic collapse ensues. Venezuela once heralded as successful socialism, is now shrugged off as no true Scotsman while her citizens eat dogs in the streets. So while the academia may feel content in the ivory towers of their own echo chambers, the actual statistical data does not lie. History does not favor Marx or his legacy on the economic front.
In addition to a failure to account for economics, Marxism has damaged the social fabric as well. It was nice to see Professor Barker admit the following:
Racial and sexual oppression have been added to the dynamic of class exploitation. Social justice movements like Black Lives Matter and #MeToo, owe something of an unspoken debt to Marx through their unapologetic targeting of the “eternal truths” of our age. Such movements recognize, as did Marx, that the ideas that rule every society are those of its ruling class and that overturning those ideas is fundamental to true revolutionary progress.
Finally, someone admits that these movements are just that: cultural Marxism. These movements play off of the victim narrative that was pushed by the Marxist description of class warfare. Yet the sheer irony now is that those who wish to be revolutionaries — those fighting against the powers that be — are the ones who are, in fact, a minority of people using power to exploit the majority.
Let’s take Black Lives Matter. This movement is based on a sliver of police brutality statistics (white-on-black being the least violent of any combination of the two races) and using the most powerful institutions in America — the media and the legislature — to strongarm its agenda onto the majority of the American population. Ironically, this is the exact thing that Marx protested! Black Lives Matter has created more division, sparked more tension, and pushed more lies in the realm of race than nearly anyone else in the last 5 or so years, all while claiming to be victims as they use the mob of the media to label anyone who’s not sorry for their own skin color as a “white supremacist”.
Do black lives matter? Of course, they do. All black people, all Asian people, all Hispanic people, all white people, are made in the image of God and are worth the same in His eyes. To see any child die, to see any person killed by a police officer, to see anyone exploited against their will is a tragedy that we should all care about. Yet, when faced with statistics and facts, BLM activists frequently shut the door of conversation, make counter-accusations, and seek to destroy the reputation and personal livelihood of those who would dare point out that blacks kill exponentially more blacks than do white cops. Instead of uniting against police brutality — the very founding objective of the movement — Black Lives Matter has made a genuine issue of class exploitation (police-citizen) into an issue of race exploitation (white-black). Where genuine progress could be made to improve the lives of black people, only more strife and anger on both sides of the racial divide have resulted.
Finally, to seal the article, Professor Barker completes the greatest of conflations:
The transition to a new society where relations among people, rather than capital relations, finally determine an individual’s worth is arguably proving to be quite a task.
With this quote, Barker conflates economic worth with personal worth. This is emblematic of Marxism. individuals have unmeasurable personal worth, from the value of their company to their friends to the love their family has for them, the worth of a person in that sense is not quantifiable. Such measurements are completely subjective, which isn’t to say that they’re bad, but it should be noted that they are emotionally derived. Economic value, on the other hand, is not an emotional affair. There is a particular and quantifiable value to what any given person brings to an organization. While some subjective measurements play into things (team morale, future risk assessment, etc), the cost of employing a person is eminently measurable and in most cases the amount of money they make — or save — their company is relatively easy to define.
Conflating these two values is not helpful. This precisely why we hope to never collect on life insurance. Our loved ones are worth infinitely more to us than the money the insurance company will pay us in the event of their death. This is a rational distinction each of us can make. The Marxist, however, will condemn the insurance company for belittling the value and dignity of the human person for paying out an amount stipulated by voluntary contract. That’s the difference. Another example is the family-owned restaurant. If you’ve ever seen a television show like Kitchen Nightmares, you’ve seen the scenario: the father would fire his son if he weren’t his son. This is where personal value and economic value clash. The father loves his son and has such a high personal value for his son that he’d rather tank his business than fire him. However, he sees that the negative economic value of his son is, in fact, tanking his business.
Some readers may wonder why this article is on this site. The reason is two-fold: first, I have always had an interest in politics, and I write about it from time to time, and secondly, communism specifically, and Marxism more broadly have been damaging the Church from the outside and from within for nearly as long as they’ve existed. I do not wish to see this trend continue, so I write about them.
As a final, specifically spiritual note, communism is nothing short of the genuine embodiment of covetousness. This sin is the strong desire to own something that belongs to somebody else such that one means to take it. Communism — Marxism, socialism, for this purpose they suffer the same faults — is at its core the justification of victimizing other because one feels victimized themselves. It is inherently retaliatory to the point of creating phantom oppressors so that one may claim victim status. It has spread beyond mere economic theory into politics, entertainment, and sadly, all spheres of broader Christianity.
To quote Barker one last time, “we are destined to keep citing [Marx] and testing his ideas until the kind of society that he struggled to bring about, and that increasing numbers of us now desire, is finally realized.”
May you struggle forever.