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October 25, 2015


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Great piece - however, one thing I find slightly odd is that you say, on the one hand, that it's the empirical Marx and not the 'obscurantist Hegelian' Marx which is still relevant today, and on the other that another reason Marx is still relevant is because he had a critique of capitalism which articulated the ways in which it frustrated human development and self-actualization. But where did he get his conceptions of human development and self-actualization from? Hegel is a huge influence there. Not the only one, for sure, but he's definitely very important. Likewise for the concept of alienation. So i'd resist any attempt to say we should jettison the 'Hegelian' Marx in favour of the 'empirical' one. There's sometimes an assumption that all Marx got from Hegel was the dialectical method, and I don't think that's true. He also developed aspects of Hegel's thought regarding the nature of freedom as self-actualisation and social alienation. These are, as you say, still relevant today.

Gareth Stedman-Jones has just written an intellectual biography of Marx for Penguin that is coming out next year and which I think will - if a talk I saw him give is anything to go by - prove very illuminating on the question of Hegel's influence on Marx, as well as the differences between Marx and Engels, which he argues are much more marked than has previously been realised or acknowledged.

Luis Enrique

Do you really not think that a benevolent government would bail out banks but not steel mills? How many people would have lost their jobs if the banking system had gone under

Luis Enrique

To clarify, I could accept it with supporting argument but it is not prima facie evidence of pro wealth bias, because recessions hurt the poor the most (via labour market)


@ Leo - thanks. As a matter of intellectual biography, you're right that Marx got the idea of self-realization from Hegel. But its value today doesn't require Hegelian philosophy - you could simply think in terms of Maslow's hierarchy of needs.
(There's a parallel here with his theory of exploitation. He derived this from the labour theory of value, but you could ditch the LTV whilst retaining the theory of exploitation - as Roemer has done).
@ Luis - a benevolent govt would have bailed out the banks, but on more onerous terms to directors & shareholders.

Peter Dorman

If you deduct the specifically Hegelian aspect of Marx's theory of alienation, you are left (mostly) with the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. I think that's a great way to go. There is a large empirical literature on this, and the evidence clearly points to profound benefits from a life lived primarily by intrinsic motives. Of course, we can't order all of society according to this principle, but thinking in a systematic way about how to expand the role of intrinsic motivation strikes me as an excellent modern adaptation of the "early" Marx. Economics, of course, at best makes no distinction and, depending on your interpretation, assumes only extrinsic motives constitute incentives.


Of course - there's plenty we can get even from Hegel without accepting 'Hegelian philosophy' either in the sense of the dialectical method or his complete philosophical system. All I was pointing out is that there's a lot in Marx which is 'Hegelian', in the sense of coming from Hegel, which is still of value - including the conceptions of freedom as self-realisation and of alienation that you mentioned. It can be profitable to read Hegel in order to understand those parts of Marx better. I think you concede too much to those, like Kolakowski, who paint Marx as a 'Hegelian obscurantist' when you say that there is much that is of value in Marx that isn't Hegelian. Of course that's right, but I think there's also plenty in Marx that is Hegelian that is also of value - and which it doesn't require our accepting all Hegelian philosophy or the dialectical method to utilise.

I'd also resist the idea Hegel is an obscurantist. He's hard to read, sure, but that's not because he's deliberately vague. He just uses concepts that are unfamiliar to us now, and which do require some acquaintance with his broader system, which is complex. However, there's now a flourishing philosophical literature on him to help readers with that. For instance, Frederick Neuhouser wrote a very good, very clear book reconstructing Hegel's theory of freedom, which argues it can be detached from his broader system and rejects the dialectical method. Neuhouser shows that Hegel has a concept of freedom which is comprehensive and useful - much more so than Laslow's or even Marx's in my view. I also understood more about freedom from reading that book than anything i've read by a modern Anglophone political philosopher trying to define it, with only the possible exception of G.A. Cohen's essays on proletarian unfreedom and the relationship between freedom and money.


Yup Leo. I cannot avoid mentioning Marcuse's great Reason & Revolution: Hegel & the Rise of Social Theory in this context.

While my guess is that KM & the mighty thinker himself might agree with later readers on what the best means of getting a headache is, here is Marx, quoted from Peter Hudis: Marx’s Concept of the Alternative to Capitalism, Brill 2012, p.5:
As Marx stated in 1875 a passage in Volume II of Capital that Engels left out of the published version,
‘In my zealous devotion to the schema of Hegelian logic, I even discovered the Hegelian forms of the syllogism in the process of circulation. My relationship with Hegel is very simple. I am a disciple of Hegel, and the presumptuous chattering of the epigones who think they have buried this great thinker appear frankly ridiculous to me’


"The state is not a benevolent agent seeking to maximize a social welfare function but is instead, as Marx said, "a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.""

Given that we are now all part of the bourgeoisie, this seems to be exactly what we want from the State.


"we are now all part"? All but 99% of us.


Today, thanks to capitalism and free-er markets more people than ever before have more opportunities to achieve self-realisation and self-actualisation. Unlike Hegel, Marx is a fourth-rate thinker who should be quietly forgotten.


Theo, tell that to the layed off workers in Redcar. The unemployed - deliberate permenant 5% of unemployment is required under NAIRU beliefs, who can only swap with workers outside the pool and treated like shit. The workers under centrally planned firms who cannot organise.
You're fucking kidding.


@Jono @10/26 @11 AM

"We are all bourgeois now"


Please elaborate


@ Bob @6:19 @10/26

Bob you just have to laugh off Mr. Theophrastus, who leaves a comment that as deep and substantial as a Lincoln Tech TV commercial fake-testimonial[for capitalism] then he calls Marx a "4th rate thinker..You just have to laugh and move on to the heavier subjects.

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