Thank God, its not Hume

Finally, the verdict on the greatest philosopher ever is out. And its not David Hume.

Karl Marx is the nation’s most revered philosopher. No, this isn’t old Soviet agitprop, but the result of a Radio 4 listeners’ poll organised by the broadcaster Melvyn Bragg for his series In Our Time. The veteran Marxist historian, Eric Hobsbawm, thinks he knows why. His reasoning is as contemporary as Marx’s was visionary. “The Communist Manifesto,” he says, “contains a stunning prediction of the nature and effects of globalisation.”

…Market fundamentalism has now replaced Marxism and its many derivatives in the west, as it has done in the east. Elsewhere, nationalism and religious fundamentalism vie to fill a dangerous, illiberal void. It is as if the age of enlightenment, of the Renaissance, had never happened. Marx spawned some horrors, and the flight from him by the political class has been so total that the gentler tradition of democratic socialism has been all but lost.

Ian Bell comments on the poll.

Hume was the better philosopher. Marx, in any useful sense, was barely a philosopher at all. Hume will give you what it means to be human. Marx will describe what humanity does, routinely, to human beings. Hume was never deluded enough to believe anything he ever said or wrote could alter the human condition in any important sense. Marx, to quote from his second greatest hit, insisted otherwise: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.” Right.

Among serious students, this is known as the tricky part. Marx was awesome in his ability to describe, woeful in his attempts to prescribe. It is not absurd, for example, to connect bombs in London with the advance of American capitalism. But for old-school Marxists there remains the elephant-sized detail of voracious capitalism’s survival and growth. Karlo, historicist to a fault, said that sooner or later – inevitably, indeed – it would all fold. Instead, generation after generation, it invents its way out of trouble. To be a Marxist these days you have to connect all the dots that Herr Marx missed.

Listen to the BBC program ‘In Our Time‘ that has a discussion post- poll (needs Real Player to play).

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bhupinder singh

reader, mainly and an occasional blogger

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