Rebirth of Reason

The Free Radical
War for Men's Minds

Come Back, Karl: All Is Forgiven
by Cameron Pritchard

Capitalism, said Marx, would create its own gravediggers. And yet there is a fascinating irony in the fact that now, at the beginning of this century, the socialist left seems to be actively plunging itself into its own grave. Its advocates define themselves not by what they are for, but what they are against. They have abandoned their former commitment to modernity: to the values of reason, technology, wealth and progress and returned to a brand of openly anti-scientific "utopian socialism" that would make Marx himself turn in his grave. 

What made it happen? Socialism once claimed a scientific basis for its supposedly inevitable triumph. It was only scientific and rational, it claimed, for society to be planned from top to bottom. It was only with such planning that material abundance could be made possible. 

But in its goal of a rational society, socialism left the rational being out of the picture. What it attempted to plan was automatons whose productive prowess lay not in their minds, but in their muscles. It never grasped the fact that the locus of production is thought and that such thought is an activity the human individual is not wired to engage in, but must choose to initiate. The Soviet Union, claiming that its scientific planning would "bury" the West, moved further and further behind the progress and wealth of its capitalist enemy. The supposedly unscientific, irrational capitalist system was based on one simple fact: thought is a product of the individual who requires the freedom to engage in it and act on its results. Thought is not a social product. Knowledge may be a conglomeration of discoveries made by many, but new integrations and conclusions have to find their locus somewhere and they do so in the mind of the individual. 

By this stage socialists faced an uncomfortable choice: affirm your commitment to Enlightenment values of reason and progress by rejecting the planned economy, or hold on to your delusions. Some policy makers half-heartedly chose the former. Some dyed-in-the-wool activists, clinging desperately to their battered copies of Das Kapital, chose the latter. But the movement's intellectual leadership chose a different path. It rejected the Enlightenment altogether. 

The post-modernist left answered its critics' claims with assertions that there is no objective truth but manifold subjective "truths." If capitalism rather than socialism is the rational, scientific and progressive social system then: Reason is a tool of white male oppression, science is a myth like any other and progress for you might not be progress for me. If the result of capitalism is material prosperity as opposed to the starvation and bread queues of socialism then, the ecologist movement answered, prosperity is destructive to the intrinsic value of our "ecosystems." 

The radical left had officially declared its intellectual bankruptcy. By rejecting reason it was rejecting the Enlightenment and reverting to the nihilism of the sophists of Ancient Greece who had taught that there was no reality, no means of knowing about one if there was, and no means of communicating one's knowledge if one knew. A political movement must have something to fight for: it must have a commitment to an ideal, to a cause it considers just and it must have a means of knowing what justice is. Postmodernism undercut the metaphysical basis for political values, and the weakening ground upon which socialism stood turned into quicksand. 

With this knowledge in hand, it has been fascinating to observe the reactions of the anti-American brigade within the West itself since the beginning of the War Against Terrorism. Parading themselves as pacifists, they have crawled out from the under the rocks as they usually do whenever a chance to burn the American flag presents itself. At every opportunity they have damned America and the West as the real instigators of this situation. Yet few have protested against the barbarism of fundamentalist Islam. We even have many on the anti-American left praising bin Laden's insane cohorts. Wrote one correspondent to The Dominion: They were seeking justice in their own way. They were misunderstood victims who had no other means to resort to. They were supernaturalists who damned materialism just like the anti-globalisation protestors do. It practically makes the two groups comrades in arms against that Great Satan: the US. 

For all his many flaws, I suggest that Marx would have scorned the vegan tree-huggers of today's radical left as nothing but "utopian socialists" bent on a return to the primitive communes of the past rather than the industrial society of the future. He at least would have balked at the idea of turning against modern civilisation and siding with religious cavemen in the way that the radical left do today, on the premise that no one culture is better than any other. 

Where once socialism was at least grudgingly committed to Enlightenment values, today its postmodernist advocates make spiritualism and nature worship their philosophy. The result is today's radical left: a fashionable movement to belong to if you spend most of your time in crystal shops, reading tarot cards and worshipping the Earth Mother. Such a movement may drum up a lot of noise at peace protests. But intellectually, it is a spent force. 

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