Saturday, March 1, 2014

Marx as Utopian by Murray N. Rothbard

Murray N. Rothbard wrote the article, "Marx as Utopian" in November 8, 2012. After reading it, I came up with five important points that Rothbard emphasized in the article to describe the utopian character of Marxian socialism.

Rothbard, by implication rejected the self-imposed title of Marx to himself as a "scientific socialist." Rothbard thinks that Marx had no right to mock other socialists as utopian for the latter was also utopian, and one of a fierce kind. And this is proven for the features common to utopianism are also present in Marxian socialism. Besides Marx's claim of having "discovered" the "laws of history" as the path to his utopia, other features of utopianism that Marxian socialism possesses include a militant spirit to stop history, a static view of human condition, a desire to end diversity and liberty, and totalitarianism. 

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Rothbard observed that the utopian dream of Marxian socialism is based on a philosophical belief that ultimately the One will triumph over the Many. Since diversity is basic to nature, for Marxian socialism to accomplish its goal, it has launched "an explicit attack on God's creation and a ferocious desire to destroy it." In human society, this would mean an abolition of "civil society, with its disturbing diversity." Rothbard quoted Molnar to summarize Marx's utopian vision:

". . . . Philosophers from Plotinus to Fichte and beyond have held that the reabsorption of the polichrome universe in the eternal One would be preferable to creation. Short of this solution, they propose to arrange a world in which change is brought under control so as to put an end to a disturbingly free will and to society's uncharted moves. They aspire to return from the linear Hebrew-Christian concept to the Greco-Hindu cycle — that is, to a changeless, timeless permanence."

Again, Rothbard introduced Molnar's insight about Hayek and Popper's rebuttal of Marxism:

" . . . . that no mind — not even that of a Politburo equipped with supercomputers — can overview the changes of the marketplace and its myriad components of individuals and their interactions, they miss the mark. Marx agrees with them. But, he wants to abolish the marketplace and its economic as well as intellectual ('legal, political, philosophical, religious, aesthetic') components, so as to restore a simple world — a monochrome landscape. His economics is not economics but an instrument of total control."

However, the inconsistency of Marxian socialism to achieve its utopian dream has been exposed through the unwillingness of Marxian countries to discard economic calculation knowing that without it, mass hunger is inevitable due to the destruction of production. 

Furthermore, Rothbard identified the central assumption in Marxian socialism described as "monist materialism." This was Marx's alternative to the will of God or "the Hegelian dialectic of the world-spirit or the absolute idea." Such assumption opened the path to Marxian utopianism through "man acquiring insights into his own nature, and then rearranging the world to accord with that true nature." But for Rothbard this is problematic for matter cannot gain insights into its own nature. Basing on Molnar, in order to accomplish such goal, there must be something to add beyond matter. 

Before proceeding to the next point, a comment is proper at this stage. Herman Bavinck, a Reformed Dutch theologian has something to say about monism. In "Philosophy of Revelation," he identified that monism has many faces, and monist materialism is just one of them. He describes it as a form of religion, but a materialistic one, which "god" is confined within the boundary of nature. Bavinck even quoted Haeckel describing monism as an intellectual movement claiming to be the true science and true religion. If Rothbard is accurate, no wonder, Marx's claim of being "scientific" can find support in Haeckel though the former would certainly reject the religious character of his central assumption.
The fourth feature of Marxian socialism has something to do with the role of Marx in his utopian dream. At first glance, describing himself as a "midwife" in the process of bringing humanity into the utopian destiny seems a lowly position. But as Rothbard mentioned what Molnar wrote about Marx, the role of Marx is actually equivalent to the "savior" of humanity. He is the "ultimate comprehensor," and he "stands in the center of history." With such lofty position, if not the rival from Christianity's worldview, I think he has replaced Christ. 

The final point is about the role of Marxian cadre in the realization of Marxian socialism's utopia. In explaining this point, Rothbard made a comparison between Judeo-Christian tradition and monist materialism as to their comprehension of the existence of evil. In his understanding of Judeo-Christian tradition, Rothbard thinks that "the existence of evil is accounted for by the free will of the individual." On the other hand, in monist materialism, history is "determined by fixed laws, and therefore evil can only be apparent, while really acting in a deeper sense as a servant of the higher good." It is in this context that the use of Marxist violence to achieve its utopia is justified. 

Personally, I find this last point most difficult for it concerns the role of human will and a concept of a "sovereign plan" in relation to the existence of evil. In theology, we call it theodicy, which is not an easy subject. Since Rothbard himself acknowledged the role of religion in order to come up with a broader understanding of economic history, I think he better listen to what Gary North has to say about this. For now, all I can say is that from the vantage point of Reformed theology, neither the position of Rothbard nor monist materialism is correct. In the case of monist materialism, this is understandable for revelation is not part of its assumptions. In the case of Rothbard, I guess that the Judeo-Christian version he mentioned either refers to Roman Catholicism or just one branch of Protestantism.