The Decline Of Universities: A Recent History

They are little children rioting and barring out the teacher at school. But their childish delight will end; it will cost them dearly” (Fyodor Dostoevsky, “The Grand Inquisitor” in The Brothers Karamazov).

1. The Destruction of Evergreen College

In September of 2017, biology professor Brett Weinstein, a “progressive” Bernie Sanders and “Occupy Wall Street” supporter, at the very progressive Evergreen College, in very progressive Washington state, along with his similarly progressive wife, professor Heather Heying, were forced to resign from their positions at Evergreen. Professor’s Weinstein’s crime was to write a letter to the faculty at Evergreen objecting to a change in the college’s annual “day of absence” which, in past years, had been a day in which “students of color” absented themselves from the campus “in order to highlight their vital and unappreciated role” on the campus. In 2017, however, “white” students were “invited to leave the campus” for the entire day after “students of color ‘voiced concern over feeling as if they are not welcome on campus, following the 2016 election’.” Since the Evergreen campus had nothing whatsoever to do with the election of Donald Trump it is not clear what the 2016 election has to do with minority students “feeling unwelcome” on the Evergreen campus but that doesn’t matter because actual reasons are no longer required for a “felt” grievance.

Professor Weinstein’s letter objected to barring members of a particular racial group, Caucasians, from the campus because that is not “a call to consciousness” but rather is “a show of force, and an act of oppression in and of itself.” His wife’s sin was that she wrote a public letter to the staff and faculty at Evergreen in which she criticized the college’s handling of the situation. She made no racial remarks whatsoever, but was, of course, immediately accused of being a racist.

Professors Weinstein and Heying were foolishly operating under the old rules that one should treat people on the basis of the content of their character, not the color of their skin, as opposed to the new rules that one should treat people on the basis of the color of their skin as opposed to the content of their character. As the New York Times, not exactly a bastion of white supremacy, put it, Professor Weinstein “had the gall to challenge a day of racial segregation.” Professor’s Weinstein and Heying, like many of us, had not, apparently, digested the new view that racial segregation is not racism any more, even though it had been the very definition of racism not so long ago (before it was miraculously redefined as the opposite of racism).

Indeed, the current “President” of the United States, Joe Biden, announced that he would pick his Vice-Presidential running mate on the basis of her gender and skin color, not the content of character; and he was, of course, celebrated for this racism by the “news” media. This is a turning point in American history. One now picks someone for a major position, not because he or she is qualified but because they check the boxes of “identity politics.” This is how nations end.

For his unforgiveable sin of objecting to racist segregation at Evergreen, Professor Weinstein was confronted by about 50 students outside his classroom who called him a racist and accused him of supporting white supremacy. Professor Weinstein had, of course, made no assertion of white supremacy whatsoever. However, the criterion of being a white supremacist is no longer that one is a white supremacist. The new criterion is that one disagrees with the leftist cause du jour. The college president, George Bridges, exhibiting the level of courage and commitment to principle that one has come to expect from college “presidents” and administrators these days, ordered the campus police to stand down, whereupon they informed Professor Weinstein that they could no longer guarantee his safety on campus.

As a consequence, Professor Weinstein had to hold his class in a public park (which would, no doubt, raise some thorny insurance issues, but no one was thinking of what would happen if a student were injured off campus because no one was thinking at all). President Bridges, apparently working on a comedy routine, perhaps for Saturday Night Live, called the “protestors” courageous, expressed his “gratitude” to them, and reminded everyone that freedom of speech is of great importance and must be protected – even as he allowed one of his professors and his wife to be run off the campus for exercising their right to freedom of speech. As everyone now knows, at least on our university campuses, “War is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength.”

The truth, of course, is that the students who drove Prof. Weinstein and Professor Heying off the campus were not “protestors.” A protestor is someone who holds a sign that says that racism is wrong, or perhaps, with a flower in their hair, says, “Make love not war.” These Evergreen “protestors” were thugs employing force and intimidation to get their way. In these kinds of contexts, the word “protestor” is now an Orwellian euphemism employed by college presidents and other overpaid unfunny comedians on late night television to avoid their responsibility to describe campus thugs for what they are.

As all this was going on, photographs and names of Professor Weinstein’s students were circulated online and graffiti, “Fire Brett!” appeared on campus buildings. It is, apparently, not sufficient to destroy the professor’s career because he was not sufficiently obedient. It is now also necessary to endanger his students as well. The New York Times, commendably, quoted a line of Allen Bloom’s book, The Closing of the American Mind: “A few students discovered that pompous teachers who catechized them about academic freedom could, with a little shove, be made into dancing bears.” The students did not turn Professor Weinstein or his wife into dancing bears, but they did bag the college president quite quickly, although, admittedly, that is not the coup it once was because this is now the preordained outcome.

As a result of the student activist attacks on a distinguished faculty member who resisted racial segregation, resulting in both him and his wife being forced off the campus permanently, thereby damaging the quality of education offered to the students at Evergreen, and the President’s incomprehensible praise for the student mob, Evergreen College later had to pay Prof. Weinstein and his wife a $500,000 settlement for failing to protect them from race-based hostility and “threats of physical violence” on campus.

Further, Evergreen is being rewarded by cuts of more than 10 percent from its operating budget for 2018-2019 and raises in student fees because of declining enrollment. It would appear that parents do not wish to send their children to a “college” in which distinguished professors are threatened and forced to resign, and in which even the completely innocent students caught in the middle have their personal details posted online by perpetually aggrieved leftist thugs. Who could have seen that one coming? Not, apparently, the brilliant “president,” faculty, and student “protestors” at Evergreen.

The New York Times article also acknowledges that leftist attacks on conservative speech on university campuses have become quite common. What makes the Evergreen case noteworthy is that it is not just conservatives who are now attacked by leftist mobs but anyone, even a seriously “progressive” professor and his wife, who have had their careers as professors ended for opposing the Left’s narcissistic effort to gain an entirely symbolic token of appreciation of their vital role on campus.

Although the Left has created these ignorant snarling adolescents, believing they will be of use in achieving their political agendas, they are now relearning the hard universal truth that since these thugs will by nature never be satisfied, because their demands are based on whim, not reality, they will inevitably always want more, which, since “more” cannot be given indefinitely into the future, eventually turn on their own. Thus, progressives are now beginning to experience what conservatives have suffered for decades.

For example, immigration activists have recently protested naming a school in Chicago after Obama because he has now been designated an “oppressor.” As one of these activists put it: “If you’re removing the name of Thomas Jefferson, one oppressor, the name of Obama is another oppressor, and our families do not want to see that name.”

2. The Unmitigated Horror Of Permitting A Ben Shapiro On Campus

Another illuminating example of campus intolerance for conservatives is provided by Ben Shapiro’s attempt, sponsored by Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), to give a speech titled, “When Diversity Becomes a Problem,” at California State University at Los Angeles. Faced by the prospect of the unmitigated horror of an articulate conservative on campus (although, admittedly, Shapiro is probably smarter than most of the professors at that university, and is, therefore, not actually harmless where left wing dogma is concerned), the President of the University, William Covino, tried to have Shapiro’s event cancelled entirely and replaced by a different kind of event.

After YAF and Shapiro pushed back hard, the school backed down and said that the event could go forward without interference. However, student “protestors” (another mob) formed a human chain to prevent people from entering the event through the front door, thereby interfering with the civil rights of the people who wanted to hear Shapiro. This is not, however, seen as a problem on college campuses because the expression “civil rights” no longer means civil rights. For the uninformed, “civil rights” now means, roughly, “latest leftist preferences.”

Eventually, small groups of two or three people were able to enter the Shapiro event with escorts through the back door. When the “activists” became aware of the back-door entrance, they began to block it as well. Some of those who tried to enter the Shapiro event claimed that they were punched and (not surprisingly) called white supremacists. Recall that the expression “white supremacist” does not mean white supremacist anymore, but, rather, now means person of any race who attends a conservative lecture.

The fire alarm was pulled, a regular strategy employed by “protestors” opposed to conservative speakers on a university campus, perhaps because doing so requires no intelligence whatsoever, making it the perfect tactic for today’s leftist thugs. Students were also harassed when they tried to leave the event. Professor Melina Abdullah, one of the professors fearful of inviting such a terrifying conservative to speak on campus, called Ben Shapiro, a “Neo-Nazi” but latter admitted that since Shapiro is Jewish this is a tad ironic, and, in a minimal fake concession to reason, changed “Neo-Nazi” to “KKK.”

In order to understand Professor Abdullah, one must recall that “Neo Nazi” no longer means Neo-Nazi. It now means: someone who disagrees with the Left’s latest demands. It is also noteworthy that after the event was over, the university held a “Healing Space” to enable the university community to “heal” after Shapiro illuminated them. At this “Healing Space,” President Colvino (perhaps working with President Bridges of Evergreen University for the same comedy routine on Saturday Night Live) states that he would never invite someone like Shapiro to the campus and floated several ideas how the administration might work with student groups to find a way to prevent any similar illumination in the future.

3. Dave Rubin’s Trials At The University Of New Hampshire

Another highly illuminating example of intolerance for conservative speech on university campuses is provided by the exchange between David Rubin, a self-identified gay Jewish former leftist and a self-identified oppressed female student at the University of New Hampshire (UNH). The video (which, at the time of the writing of this article is present both on youtube.com and on Rubin’s own Facebook page under the title “Dave Rubin handles protestors at UNH”) is well worth watching because it illustrates the critical reasoning abilities, or, more precisely, the lack thereof, of the students on our contemporary university campuses. The reader is strongly encouraged to watch this video for themselves in its entirety at some point.

When Rubin opens the floor to questions, a young woman takes the microphone, but immediately complains that someone is holding the microphone for her. She says, “Free speech but he’s going to hold the microphone.” How can she survive the indignity of a male holding the microphone for her? Rubin remarks that her complaint seems silly because she is coming in “ready to fight” – to which she replies that she’s not ready to fight but that “it’s interesting that he’s holding the microphone.” In fact, it is not the least bit “interesting” that someone is holding the microphone for her and she gives no reason why it is “interesting.”

This is a typical tactic of the Left. They complain about trivialities and insinuate, without providing any evidence whatsoever, that that there is some deep and dark conspiracy behind insignificant events, in this case, the horror of someone being nice to her. If you don’t see it, you must be stupid or you are not “woke” (“woke” being the approximate synonym for the “consciousness raising” of the self-indulgent 1960s drug culture). She then proceeds to accuse Rubin of painting people at UNH of having “a victimhood complex” and adds: “As if I wake up every morning and I think, wow, how can I be a victim?”

In fact, the first thing this young lady did upon reaching the microphone was to demonstrate her “victim complex” in her comments about the microphone. The reason it is “interesting” to her that a man holds the microphone for her is that this can be used to suggest, which, of course, it objectively does not, that the man is assuming that a woman cannot hold their own microphone. It is an indignity as great as a man holding the door open for a woman.

In fact, if one watches the entire tape, one can see that the attendants hold the microphone for males as well (but that is, apparently, not as “interesting” to privileged perpetually aggrieved adolescents). In fact, the attendant is merely being “polite,” and what is actually interesting is that this kind of politeness is no longer recognized or welcome on college campuses. If one doubts that these students at UNH are privileged, the current UNH financial aid page lists the total estimated cost, including tuition, room, books, fees, etc., for state residents for the year 2020-2021 as $34,830, for regional students as $47,220 and for out of state students as $52,920.

Since this privileged young woman implies that she is an oppressed person, and since Dave Rubin is nothing if not polite, he gives her the opportunity to describe her oppression. She replies that she “has no reason to sit and talk about my own oppression because that is, like, only mental energy unless I am going to be paid to talk about my oppression” (at which point, as an alternative to pulling the fire alarm, a group of black females stand up and begin chanting “Hate speech incites violence” over and over again in order to disrupt the exchange and deny some students their civil rights to hear the talk.

After trying, unsuccessfully, to silence the chanters, Rubin offers to pay the woman at the microphone $20 dollars to describe her oppression, at which point, someone in the crowd yells, “It’s worth more than that, asshole,” to which the woman herself replies, “Yeah.”

In fact, Rubin makes a mistake here. He should not have offered to pay this woman to describe her alleged oppression. It sets a bad precedent to start offering to pay people, especially privileged college students, to complain about their lives. Further, if this woman were actually oppressed, she would not need to be paid to take such a golden opportunity to explain to a cruel world how she is oppressed. The fact that she had herself implied that she should be paid to do so, and then, after being offered money to explain how, refuses to do so, shows that she is putting on a show, in particular, a virtue-signaling show, not making a serious point about oppression. The fact that she refuses to give the reasons why she is oppressed suggests that she does not have any (at least, none that would not be greeted with derisive laughter upon being articulated). Indeed, despite the posturing about concern about oppression, the young woman makes clear that she really wants to be given money without have to work for it.

In fact, her entire bearing and attitude and contemptuous remarks to Dave Rubin, who been entirely respectful to her, suggests that the truth is the exact opposite of what she alleges. She actually sees herself as a member of a privileged group whose members are entitled to oppress perfectly decent people for no good reason except that they have different political views from her own, such as they are. The self-identified oppressed woman is actually the oppressor.

It is necessary to say “her views, such as they are,” because the young woman actually failed to articulate a serious “view” during her entire sojourn at the microphone. It used to be that one of the first things one learned upon arriving at a genuine university was that articulating a serious view is not as easy as one thinks it is, but, apparently, no more. For example, at one point, she asks Rubin if he thinks “there is a correlation between hating Jews and wanting to kill them” and informs him that “It’s a yes or no question.” She expresses astonishment when Rubin declines to answer that sort of “question” when, in fact, Rubin was entirely correct not to do so.

In order to answer a “question,” it must be formulated with sufficient precision that it is possible to answer it, and the “question” she asked, such as it is, is not formulated with anything close to the necessary precision to render it answerable, let alone, answered by either a “yes” or a “no.” The point is not difficult. If one does a serious search for scientific studies on the “correlation between hate speech and wanting to kill people,” one will not find any.

There are many quite obvious reasons why one will not find such studies. The first is that in order to set about establishing such a correlation, one would have to define “hate” speech, and the definitions of “hate” speech vary enormously in countries that have such laws. Rubin informs her that in the United States the Supreme Court (Brandenburg vs. Ohio, 1969) ruled that one cannot outlaw inflammatory speech unless it is a direct call to lawless action, a fact which she, apparently never having heard of the first amendment to the constitution, did not seem to know and which she simply dismisses because it is incompatible with her narrative.

One would think this is especially relevant to the issue since the discussion is being held in the United States. Some countries do ban “hate speech,” but she did not specify which definition she is might prefer. To take just a few examples, the definitions of “hate speech” in Iceland, Malta, Sweden and the United Kingdom vary greatly. In Scotland there are specific “hate speech” laws targeting football matches. In Norway, section 135a of the penal code includes speech that “ridicules” someone’s “philosophy of life” as “hate speech.” The horror!

One would think that students who have been inundated with lessons on respect for the differences between different cultures would not need special instruction on how difficult it will be to provide universal definitions of such problematic concepts. However, the problem with the young lady’s question is even more basic than this. She refers to a “correlation” between “hate speech” (undefined) and “wanting to kill Jews.” How would one establish such a correlation?

Perhaps one has some idea how one might go about trying to establish a correlation between people who use certain kinds of very explicit hate speech, like NAZI’s who actually call for killing Jews and the actual killing of Jews, but one has no idea how one would go about establishing a correlation between someone’s “saying hateful things about Jews” and their “wanting” to kill Jews. For, many people say hateful things about various groups all the time but do not actually want to kill them or even hurt them. As difficult as this may be for privileged adolescents to grasp, Red Sox fans who express hate against the evil Yankees do not actually “want” to kill them.

It takes only a moment’s reflection to realize how enormously difficult, except in very special narrowly circumscribed cases, it would be to attempt to establish a correlation between “hate” speech (even if one had an agreed definition of it) and what the people who use such speech actually “want” to do. To put it briefly, “wanting” is a subjective phenomenon, and, therefore, refers to something that is inherently very hard to measure. The young lady’s purported “yes or no” question is not a “yes or no” question after all. It is far too indeterminate, as formulated, to answer at all.

Indeed, that is precisely why such fake questions are so useful on today’s college campuses. Since these are not genuine questions it is impossible to answer them, which means that the sacrificial conservative will not answer it and can, therefore, be accused of not answering (unanswerable) “questions.” Rubin was attempting to have a serious discussion. The young woman who challenged him so haughtily is engaging in a childish virtue signaling exercise that clarifies nothing and helps no one.

In the distant past, in another less privileged and more serious age, one used to go to university to acquire the skills and knowledge to engage in fruitful discussions of such issues. At the present era, apparently, many people go to college to engage in narcissistic self-glorification.

Before leaving the subject of Rubin’s talk, it is useful, briefly, to consider another exchange between Rubin and a different student towards the end of his question session because it too shows much about the sorry state of our college campuses. Another young woman takes the microphone and, after making the same point about wanting to hold the microphone herself, thereby striking another completely meaningless symbolic blow for female empowerment, points out that since “women, people of color and other marginalized identities were not written into history and, therefore, into the foundation of our country… my question is, how do you think that everyone is equal and represented, if this country was founded on the principle of exclusion?”—to which the crowd erupts in a great cheer.

The woman appears to regard herself as having made the definitive point and many in the crowd apparently agree. Since this particular kind of “question” (actually, it is an assertion, specifically an accusation) is routinely raised by privileged adolescents on college campuses, it is worth addressing it directly. Rubin replies with an historical discussion about the founding fathers and their faults.

In fact, there is a much simpler three-word answer to her alleged “question;” namely, that “we have evolved.” However, in order to understand this simple answer, one must be able to understand the distinction, apparently quite elusive on many contemporary college campuses, between “then” and “now.” Once again, the young woman might have raised legitimate issues about exclusion, for there are legitimate issues that might be expressed by people serious enough to articulate them, but her aim was not to raise legitimate issues or clarify anything. It was to show that she is a member in good standing of the in-crowd—that she “cares” (in some impotent symbolic sense).

4. From The “Berkeley Free Speech Movement” To The “Berkeley Censorship Movement”

Consider next the riots that occurred at the University of California at Berkeley when, on February 1 of 2017 at 8 P.M, Milo Yiannopoulos, a British conservative, who identified as “gay” at the time was scheduled to speak (although for the record, Milo has recently announced that he is no longer “gay” and that he is now planning to open a Christian conversion therapy facility in Florida). Despite the proud tradition of supporting free speech at Berkeley, more than 100 Berkeley faculty, prior to his appearance, signed a petition urging the university to cancel the event. A group of about 1,500 people gathered on the steps of Sproul Hall to protest Milo’s talk. The protest was non-violent until another group of about 150 “black bloc” “protestors,” including members of “Antifa” and members of the left-wing group “By Any Means Necessary,” entered the crowd and began setting fires, damaging property, throwing fireworks, attacking members of the crowd, and throwing rocks at the police. The University cancelled the event soon thereafter. After the event was cancelled, the “protestors” (mob) moved downtown where they continued to break windows at businesses and banks. A Syrian Muslim was attacked by a “protestor” with a rod and pepper sprayed by a “protestor” who said “he looked like a NAZI.”

The violent reaction to Milo’s event is especially noteworthy because Berkeley was the home of the “free speech movement” in the 1960’s when many students, mostly on the Left, argued for the right to engage in political speech on campus, in particular, speech in favor of civil rights and against the Vietnam War. The “free speech movement” eventually won the argument and the political speech, much of it to the left, has spread throughout US universities.

The situation has now changed into its opposite. Whereas Berkeley, and American universities generally, defended freedom of speech as a fundamental right, these same institutions now go to great lengths to shut down conservative political speech. Jeffrey Selingo of the Washington Post contrasts the light security required when conservative Phyllis Schlafly, who opposed the “Equal Rights Amendment,” was invited to speak at his school in his undergraduate days with the fact that the appearance of conservative speakers on college campuses nowadays result “in protests with armed police officers reminiscent of a war zone and with students doing their best to interrupt speakers.”

The home of the free speech movement has now, under the influence of the Left’s conceptions of tolerance and equality, transformed into its precise opposite. Whereas the Berkeley “Free Speech Movement” of old proudly defended the right of all to free speech, the home of the free speech movement now shuts down speech by “conservatives.”

In fact, a variety of philosophers, including Hegel and Marx, have pointed out the curious way in which certain kinds of views and social systems seem inevitably, over time, to transform, dialectically, into their precise opposites – and, in fact, as if to prove them right, the leftist “peace and love” movement of the 1960’s has transformed into the leftist violence and hate movements of the present day.

One need not, however, plumb such deep and difficult philosophical notions as “dialectical logic” to see how this has happened. For the method of this precise reversal is much more mundane. Specifically, the Left has, by employing a variety of techniques, achieved sufficient numerical dominance in the faculties and administration of our colleges and universities that they are able to shut down opposing views. Now that they are in power, they do not extend the same courtesies to the “establishment” that the “establishment” formerly extended to them.

The domination of American colleges by the Left is discussed by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), a non-profit non-partisan organization dedicated to upholding academic standards and defending the free exchange of ideas. Members include Democrat Senator Joe Lieberman, Democrat Colorado Governor Richard Lamm, and Republican Lynn Cheney among its founders.

ACTA states that “freedom of speech is threatened on today’s college campuses” largely because of the pervasive influence of Marcusean ideas. Herbert Marcuse, one recalls, is the “father” of the “New Left,” which was founded in order to counter the fact that well-known leftist regimes like those in the Soviet Union and Communist China had an unfortunate tendency to murder many tens of millions of people in order to advance their particular visions of “equality” and “brotherhood.”

The “New Left” was marketed to American audiences as the more humane alternative that retained what is good in leftist ideas but dispensed with the distressing penchant of the “old” Left for killing people who get in their way. However, the “New Left” Marcuseans do “claim the right to silence ideas [that they] consider to be false or reactionary” because the Marcuseans see themselves “in the possession of truth and therefore entitled to impose this truth upon the rest of the academic community and eventually upon society as a whole.”

Since Marcuse sees ordinary people as incapable of making the right choices, he holds that they must be “forced to be free” by an “elite” “educational dictatorship,” an idea which Marcuse says is “easy to ridicule but hard to refute” (One Dimensional Man, Chap. 2). That is, he holds that it is acceptable to use “undemocratic means” to attain leftist goals, which, it must be admitted, is progress of a sort because censoring dissidents is preferable to killing them.

However, Marcuse does not completely eschew the use of violence to achieve the Left’s goals. In the same book, he states that “no third person, least of all the educator and intellectual, has the right to preach” non-violence to the oppressed. Marcuse here conveniently tries to have it both ways. Although he does not himself call for violence to achieve leftist goals, he states that intellectuals have no standing to criticize those who do. ACTA singles out the speech codes at the University of New Hampshire, the scene of the discussion between David Rubin and the oppressed female discussed earlier, and those at Bates College, to illustrate these points about leftist suppression of freedom of speech on college campuses.

5. The “Port Huron Statement

It should be no surprise that the contemporary university has become a vehicle of undemocratic leftist activism. The Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) explicitly set this out as their aim in their 1962 “Port Huron Statement.” Its author, Tom Hayden, had figured out when he reached the wise old age of 23 how the world should work if he is to judge it to meet his personal standards. The 6 key points of the Port Huron Statement for re-making the university along Hayden’s “New Leftist” lines are listed here:

  1. Any new left in America must be, in large measure, a left with real intellectual skills, committed to deliberativeness, honesty, reflection as working tools. The university permits the political life to be an adjunct to the academic one, and action to be informed by reason.
  2. A new left must be distributed in significant social roles throughout the country. The universities are distributed in such a manner.
  3. A new left must consist of younger people who matured in the postwar world, and partially be directed to the recruitment of younger people. The university is an obvious beginning point.
  4. A new left must include liberals and socialists, the former for their relevance, the latter for their sense of thoroughgoing reforms in the system. The university is a more sensible place than a political party for these two traditions to begin to discuss their differences and look for political synthesis.
  5. A new left must start controversy across the land, if national policies and national apathy are to be reversed. The ideal university is a community of controversy, within itself and in its effects on communities beyond.
  6. A new left must transform modern complexity into issues that can be understood and felt close up by every human being. It must give form to the feelings of helplessness and indifference, so that people may see the political, social, and economic sources of their private troubles, and organize to change society. In a time of supposed prosperity, moral complacency, and political manipulation, a new left cannot rely on only aching stomachs to be the engine force of social reform. The case for change, for alternatives that will involve uncomfortable personal efforts, must be argued as never before. The university is a relevant place for all of these activities.

In each of these 6 points the Port Huron Statement identifies the university as the central place to initiate and disseminate these “New Left” programs. The language is explicitly anti-democratic. The call for political life as an “adjunct” to academic life in the university is not the call for a fair debate between the Left and the Right on university campuses. The aim is solely to advance “New Left” ideas and programs. Further, there is no suggestion that the “New Left” must attempt rationally to persuade people to accept its vision of the proper “distribution” of the “New Left” across universities and the country. On the contrary, the “Declaration” states that this distribution “must” be done.

The “Declaration” then goes on to state, categorically, that “The universities are distributed in such a manner,” not that this distribution might happen if the relevant parties agree. This is the language of religion, not democracy: “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done,” except that in this case it is the will of the “human all too human” “New Left,” not that of an omniscient Deity, that “must” be done.

One might object that the reference to “action informed by reason” and “intellectual skills” in the first point does call for rational persuasion. But the Port Huron Statement only recommended intellect and reason as tools” for “action.” That is, it does not propose that the relevant communities must be rationally persuaded to accept the goals of the “New Left” but only that reason and intellectual skills must be employed by the activists to advance “New Left” causes. One requires smart activists. It does not matter if the people are smart because they are to be led by the all-knowing activists.

One might make numerous comments about the other points in this “Declaration,” but points numbers 5 and 6 are especially worthy of comment. If one ever wondered why American society is constantly being uprooted and torn asunder, why, for example, one cannot go to a baseball or football or basketball game without being lectured about alleged police brutality, why young children must be subjected at school to the “transgender bathroom” issue and other delicate topics about human sexuality that seem more appropriate for a much older age; why religious institutions, especially Christianity (for example, the “Little Sisters of the Poor”) seem to be constantly under attack, why one cannot even talk about the “Boy Scouts” anymore but only about the “Scouts,” why one is constantly being told that historical statues, even statues of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses Grant, must be torn down; why the names of sports teams, like the Cleveland Indians and Washington Redskins, and the names of High Schools, must be changed to reflect “woke” agendas, and so on, Point 5 gives the explanation.

The explanation is that “A new left must start controversy across the land” and “The ideal university is a community of controversy, within itself and in its effects on communities beyond”. There is, once again, no suggestion that the university community itself should be consulted on the question whether it wants to abandon its traditional mission of pursuing a neutral search for the truth and become a tool for starting “controversy” both within itself and “across the land.” There is no mention of any democratic process here. These are certainly not ideas to be put to “the people” for a vote. Although the Left constantly claims to want to “liberate” the people, it actually has only contempt for them (“the basket of deplorable”, “flyover country,” “Donald Trump’s credulous rube 10-toothed base,” etc.).

On the contrary, this is stated as fait accompli: “The ideal university is a community of controversy.” The university community is going to be turned into a community of controversy whether one likes it or not, and whether this interferes with learning organic chemistry, the differential calculus and Shakespeare or not. Further, this controversy will be spread to the “communities beyond” whether they like it or not. These changes will not rise up organically from “the people.” They will be imposed by all-knowing activists pursuing an a priori agenda. As Herbert Marcuse puts it in One Dimensional Man (Chap. 2), since the “slaves [the American people]” have been indoctrinated by the allegedly evil “capitalists,” they must be “forced to be free” (whether they want to or not and as the “New Left,” not themselves, understand freedom).

There is one more statement in Point # 6 that deserves special mention. If one ever wondered where the “victimhood” culture came from, part of the answer is in the statement in point # 6 that “the university must give form to people’s feelings of helplessness and indifference.” The claim here is that the Left can shape these feelings so that they can exploit them to advance their radical agenda. That is, it is no longer merely the aim of the universities to understand whatever actual objective “helplessness and indifference” may exist in society. It is to “give form” to “feelings” of helplessness and indifference,” that is, to convince people that their “private troubles” are really not private! It is to convince people that all of their private troubles are really caused by their political institutions and move people to change them. This comes straight out of Karl Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways. The point is to change it.”

The Students for a Democratic Society has been highly successful in enacting these reforms in our universities and in the “community beyond.” One might reply that this is a good thing. For, universities have always produced people who have gone on to change the world for the better, to take just a few examples, Jonas Salk, Barbara Jordan, and John Kennedy. The problem with the Port Huron Statement is that it states, so to speak, a priori, that the universities must be organized to produce people who change the world in one direction, towards the ideals of the “New Left.”

This leftist orientation was not reached by democratic means or by consensus. Although the Left standardly claims to stand for “the people,” they would certainly never think of actually asking them what they believe or want. It will be done SDS’s way. Period. As befitting our Orwellian age that they helped to create, the Students for a Democratic Society would be more accurately named the Students for an Undemocratic Society.

This should not be controversial. In fact, many points could be made here, but only one can be discussed here, namely, SDS’s treatment of women from the beginning. Although Sandra ‘Casey’ Cason (who later married Tom Hayden and became Casey Hayden) first led Tom Hayden to SDS, there was no woman’s plank in the original SDS charter. Indeed, Casey describes how at the beginning she was regarded as “one of the boys.” She also recalls how early SDS meetings were characterized by endless debates driven by young male “intellectuals” posturing and any women who made the mistake of speaking up was treated like a child who had interrupted adults. In 1962 she left Tom Hayden and SDS and returned to her home in Atlanta.

Jonathan Leaf’s A Politically Incorrect Guide to the Sixties quotes a male delegate’s report how at the 1965 SDS convention women were made to “wait on tables, clean up, get laid. That was their role.” A woman who criticized this chauvinistic attitude from the floor was shouted down with the remark “She just needs a good screw.”

In later years, when a Woman’s Liberation Workshop at SDS managed to get a resolution accepted, the New Left Notes printed the resolution with a caricature of a woman in a “baby doll dress” holding a sign that said, “We want our rights and we want them now.” See, Miriam Schneir’s 1994 article “An SDS Statement on the Liberation of Women” for additional information. In the 1969 convention, women were given just 3 hours to caucus and their call on women to struggle against their own oppression was rejected by the main body. The “Students for a Democratic Society” was never about democracy. It was about power for a certain group of “posturing” radical males who, having just arrived at the vestibule to adulthood and discovered how the universe works, decided that they deserved to dictate to the women and the rest of “the deplorables.”

Since the Left has been willing to achieve its goals by undemocratic means (that is, according to the leftist slogan of the 60’s, “by any means necessary”), they have been massively successful. The degree of their success is illustrated, for example, by the fact that “Obamacare architect” Jonathan Gruber could, while laughing, say, in front of multiple university audiences, without fear of pushback or punishment, and encouraged by the supportive laughter of these audiences, that it was “the stupidity of the American voter” that enabled the Obama-administration to hide the true cost of “Obamacare” from them.

If one is to appreciate the intolerance on contemporary American university campuses, the attacks on conservatives, the assaults on freedom of speech, the glorification of mass murderers and woman abusers like Che Guevera, the contempt for the American people (Hillary’s “basket of deplorable”), and so on, one must understand that the American university has become dominated by the Marcusean ideas enshrined in the Port Huron Statement.

With the conservative opposition banished, our universities have abandoned their traditional mission of producing tolerant good constructive citizens trained to solve problems, and have instead become left wing indoctrination tools that aim is to produce “social justice warriors (SJW’s)” determined to impose their views “by any means necessary,” first on the universities and later on the unsuspecting good-natured country at large.

The claim is not that most students and faculty are conscious card-carrying Marxists or Marcuseans or even card-carrying leftists. There was a Youtube video online for some time of a group of students at Evergreen College during the Weinstein incident who were sitting in the library trying to study but were assaulted by a screaming mob. They had just to sit there and take it until the mob was finished. It is assumed here that many, if not most, of the students and faculty on US universities, even those who are genuine tolerant liberals, wish that all the silliness and intimidation would just to away so that they can get back to learning, science, math, history, and the arts. Unfortunately, Marcusean ideas, enforced by the Left’s anti-democratic intimidation tactics, have become the “default” position, at least in public, of most university students and faculty who feel they have no choice but to kneel to the Leftist script du jour.

6. The Socialism Fantasy

The critique in the previous section does not mean that there are not problems with our heritage and history of the sort that motivate the Left. Of course, there are! But the most basic reason there are problems with our American heritage, even our “founding fathers,” is, as Plato remarked in the Theaetetus (176a), that “Evils … can never be done away with … [and] they must always haunt this region of our mortal nature.” That is, these flaws derive from human nature which is spread evenly thoroughly all the races, genders, political and economic systems and epochs.

The common leftist idea that the advent of socialism or communism will precipitate the development of a new “socialist man” and woman that will magically be free of the flaws present in human beings raised under capitalism is a childish dream more suitable for a 9th grade science fiction club than it is for serious adults. There is no evidence whatsoever that greed, violence and unhealthy competition are a product of capitalism or that these will be eliminated under socialism. The record of poverty, oppression, and mass murder in socialist and communist regimes is in fact far worse than anything one finds under capitalism.

Estimates vary, but that great socialist man of the people, Vladimir Lenin, initiated the “Red Terror” in Russia after the 1917 revolution in which, according to the Cheka Weekly, between 10,000 and 15,000 people were “summarily executed” in a few weeks alone, and that is not all of Lenin’s killings. That great socialist man of the people, Josef Stalin, is estimated to have murdered 20-27 million people for the glorious cause. That great “socialist man of the people,” Nikita Khrushchev, sometimes viewed as a “moderate” Soviet leader, is associated with purges in Ukraine that killed over 400,000 people.

It is difficult to know the number of murders that take place in North Korea because the ruling Kim family will not let anyone in to see the glorious socialist paradise. However, Hwang Jang Yop, the former chairman of the Standing Committee of the Supreme People’s Assembly in North Korea, a position he held for 11 years, defected to the South Korea in 1997 and described the millions of deaths in North Korea due to starvation. In April 2010, the South Korean National Intelligence Service arrested two North Korean agents who had allegedly been sent to assassinate Yop. Asked about the assassination attempt, Yop remarked, “Death is just death. There is no difference from dying of old age or being killed by Kim Jong-il.” After his defection, Yop wife, still in North Korea, died by suicide, and one of Yop’s daughters died under mysteriously by falling off a truck. Yop’s other children, a daughter and a son, as well his grandchildren, are thought to have been sent to labour camps; perhaps to refresh their revolutionary zeal.

That great socialist man of the people, Mao, is estimated to have murdered 80 million people. In December 2005, a Wall Street Journal article estimates that the regime of the great socialist man of the people, Fidel Castro, may have murdered up to 14,000 people. It may explain a lot about our so-called “news media” that Ted Turner, the former owner of CNN whose net worth is estimated at 2.2 billion capitalist dollars, told Bill O’Reilly that there were some things he admired about this mass murdering communist.

In October of 2017 a Washington Post article states that the regime of this great socialist man of the people in Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, murdered many thousands of people. A 2019 article in Reuters reports that human rights groups estimate that the great socialist and Marxist “man of the people” Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe killed “as many as 20,000 people… in western Zimbabwe, most of them ethnic Ndebele.” People forget that Jim Jones, who murdered 918 commune members with poisoned Kool-Aid, 304 of them children, described himself as a Marxist and an admirer of Cuba and the Soviet Union and promised a “socialist Eden” on earth to his followers.

Of course, that great “socialist man of the people,” Che Guevara, did not have time to murder as many people as the true greats, Stalin or Mao, but a March 2020 History.com article estimates that 144 people were murdered on Che’s extra-judicial orders in Cuba. Guevara further increased his body count after Castro got fed up with him and kicked him out of Cuba.

Eric Luther, in his 2001 book on Guevara explains that Guevara’s first murder by his own hand was of his “friend,” Eutímio Guerra, a peasant army guide who admitted that he gave information on the rebel’s position to the Cuban government. There was, of course, no trial. There was no time for real justice, so “social justice” had to do. Che put a pistol to Eutímio’s head and blew his friend’s brains out. Jon Lee Anderson in his 1997 book on Guevara describes how this great “socialist man of the people” eventually developed a “remarkable detachment to violence.” One could go on, but at a certain point one must realize that the mass murder in socialist and communist regimes in not an accident but is standard practice.

Despite the excellent socialist marketing campaign in our universities and now in the US congress, socialist leaders are not magically immune to greed, just as they are, astonishingly, not immune to the rest of human nature either. Quite the contrary! It is almost impossible to measure the total wealth of that great “socialist” man of the people, the ruler of the Soviet Union from the mid-1920’s until 1953, Joseph Stalin, because, as a complete dictator, having mingled his wealth with that of the state, he is estimated to have acquired about 5.8 Trillion pounds (about 9 Trillion dollars).

Nikita Khrushchev, who ruled the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics from 1953 to 1964, is estimated to have amassed 50 million dollars while his beloved “workers of the world” were standing for hours in queues to get a head of cabbage. Nicolae Ceausescu who rose through the socialist ranks until he became the communist ruler of Romania from 1974 to 1989 is estimated by Idol Net Worth to have amassed about 5 million dollars while at least a hundred thousand children suffered and died from malnutrition in his orphanages.

Celebrity Net Worth estimates the net worth of that great “socialist man of the people” Fidel Castro at 900,000 dollars while his people were going blind from malnutrition and vitamin deficiency. Celebrity Net Worth estimates the net worth of his brother, that great “socialist man of the people,” Raoul Castro, who had not been in power long enough to grab as much as Fidel, at a paltry 100 million dollars. Celebrity Net Worth estimates the net worth of that great “socialist man of the people” Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua as a mere 50 million dollars. In 2018 the New York Times reported that the adult Ortega children have somehow managed to run everything from gasoline distribution to the television stations in Nicaragua. Celebrity Net Worth estimates the net worth of that great “socialist man of the people” Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe as a mere 20 million dollars, but, of course, there was not as much in Zimbabwe to steal so his relatively small portfolio is forgivable. Celebrity Net Worth estimates the net worth of that great “socialist man of the people,” Hugo Chavez, at about 1 billion dollars for his short tenure as president of the country.

For the record, Salon is a strongly “progressive” website that, based on its self-proclaimed superior “capacity for intelligence and rational thinking,” in 2013 praised Hugo Chavez’ socialist “economic miracle” in Venezuela – which was, of course, prior to the more recent Venezuelan socialist economic miracle of people eating their pets and trees in order to survive

Celebrity net worth estimates the net worth of that great socialist-communism “man of the people” Kim Jon Un at 5 billion dollars, with up to 20 palaces scattered around North Korea for his personal use, perhaps to rest as he refines his vision of the socialist utopia, while children in his country, genetically identical with south Korean children, are up to two inches shorter due to malnutrition.

Closer to home in the United States, the revered “socialist” pioneer “man of the people,” Bernie Sanders, who stated with practiced moral fervor in the 1970s that no one needs more than 1 million dollars, is now estimated to own 3 homes and be worth 2.5 million dollars. This does not count the take of Bernie Sander’s wife, Jane O’Meara Sanders, who managed to amass about 1.5 million dollars as a social worker and college administrator. There is good news and bad news about Jane’s tenure as President of Burlington College in Vermont. The good news is that when she resigned in 2011 from her 139,000 dollars a year salary, with substantial additional benefits, after her “ambitious plans” for the college, in which she overstated donations to it, failed to work out, costing a local Catholic Church dearly, Jane received a $200,000 dollars severance package to soften to blow to her portfolio. As a reward for her brilliant “leadership”, she was soon, perhaps in a poor attempt at humor, appointed to the Vermont Economic Development Authority. The bad news is that, due to “longstanding financial woes,” including the “crushing weight of the debt” undertaken by the college when Jane led them to buy the property from the Catholic Diocese, Burlington College shut down completely several years later, throwing many socialists and non-socialists alike equally out of work and ending the education dreams of many students. In any case, this makes Bernie and Jane a socialist American “power couple” with a joint net worth of 4 million capitalist dollars and multiple homes in which to plan the utopia.

The great “socialist man of the people,” Tom Hayden, who authored the Port Huron Statement, ended up, according to Celebrity Net Worth, with about 33 million capitalist dollars in his bank account, most of which he got in a divorce settlement from Jane Fonda. Jane herself, much beloved in North Vietnam and Hollywood for her picture with the anti-aircraft guns being used to shoot down American pilots in the Vietnam War, has amassed a quite respectable 200 million dollars. Quite surprisingly, Jane, unjustly stuck at a paltry 200 million dollars, is not giving her “Workout Collection” video tapes to the oppressed “workers of the world” for free but, rather, the tapes can now be purchased on Amazon.com for a mere 49 capitalist dollars.

Milton Friedman and F.A. Hayek argue that there are reasons why, far from producing a new “socialist man” free of the greed and violence that characterizes the evil “capitalists,” socialism actually tends to produce far more ruthless and greedy leaders than anything seen in capitalist countries. One might make many points in support of Friedman’s and Hayek’s contention but I give only two here.

First, in contrast with capitalism, in which the “ownership of the means of production” is spread out over a plethora of competing capitalists, “the means of production” in a socialist regime is concentrated in one central authority,” usually the state. But it is inherently dangerous to concentrate so much power in one central authority. For, if the state controls the means of producing houses, cars, houses, factories, medicine and health care, then it is very easy for state actors to use that exclusive power to help political supporters and punish political enemies.

In a capitalist state, by contrast, with a genuine free market, if person X does not like the health care they get from supplier A, X may simply decide to patronize a different supplier B. Further, since it is in A’s interest to keep X’s purchasing loyalty, A is motivated to deliver the best possible health care to X. Thus, in a “free market,” it is inherently difficult to employ ownership of “the means of production” to punish people, but if any one supplier does become unfair or dictatorial, as they sometimes do (“woke” corporations Microsoft, Amazon, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook come to mind), that fact alone provides an incentive for a competitor to arise to capture this new group of disaffected buyers.  This liberating competition does not happen in a “single payer” system.

By contrast, a socialist system is perfectly designed to make it easy for the government to punish political enemies and provide a perfect excuse for doing so: “Please get into the queue, comrade, for the liver cancer operations and wait your turn! The Central Committee of the Party is compiling the list as we speak.” The common belief in the United States that a “single payer health care” system, that is, a system in which the single payer for all health care costs is the government, will eliminate injustice in the field of health care is foolish in the extreme. For control of the “single payer” system by a single central government authority is tailor made for political payback and government abuse of power.

The second reason a socialist system is inherently dangerous derives from the very thing that makes it so attractive to people, especially young people lacking in self-knowledge and inexperienced in the ways of the world. For the socialist leader does not merely claim that they are going to produce a better kind of car, perhaps a car that gets 5 % better gas mileage than the nearest competitor. The socialist leader claims they are going to produce the utopia of a universal “brotherhood” characterized by absolute equality and “social justice,” and, following upon that, the emergence of a new kind of “socialist man” and woman free of the oppressive greed of the “capitalist man” and woman.

But this means that the stakes of leadership in a socialist system are enormously high. For example, the former “comrades” and friends, Trotsky and Stalin, with their competing visions of the socialist state, vied for control of the emerging Soviet Union. Whereas the differences between two different visions of the 1971 Mustang is not likely to be seen to be sufficient to justify the murder of the proponent of the one design by the proponent of the other, Trotsky and Stalin promoted quite different visions of the glorious Soviet socialist utopia. The differences between these two visions are literally cosmic. A whole new world (and a whole new “socialist man” appropriate to that world) never before seen on the face of the earth is being created. Stalin is not just trying to produce a better Mustang than Trotsky. He is trying, like God, to create a whole new and better world than Trotsky. Since the stakes are so high, Trotsky cannot be allowed to succeed.

In 1929 Trotsky was exiled to Turkey by Stalin, but eventually ended up in Mexico. After surviving one failed assassination attempt in May of 1940 in Mexico, Trotsky wrote an article titled “Stalin seeks my Death.” In August of that same year, Trotsky was attacked in his study by Spanish communist Ramon Mercader with an ice axe. The blow penetrated 2.4 inches into Trotsky’s brain but failed to kill him immediately. He died a day later from loss of blood. And Trotsky and Stalin and once been close friends and comrades. So much for the heroic socialist brotherhood. The Messianic quality of socialism, the adolescent dream of a whole new world free of injustice, is among its most dangerous features.

7. “Social Injustice Warriors” and Sophistry

Since indoctrination and obedience can only be maintained when they are “justified” by a plethora of sophistries, the most popular arguments in our universities, and the arguments routinely regarded by the Left as definitive, are the arguments that a view is wrong if it is racist, sexist, homophobic and the like. In fact, these kinds of arguments can be found in the section titled “ad hominem fallacies” in any standard logic and critical reasoning text book. The claim that a view is wrong because it is racist, sexist, homophobic and the like is an attempt to avoid the onerous necessity of arguing against that view by employing legitimate rational methods. If, for example, someone says that it is racist to say that illegal immigration should be stopped, the proper response should be, “But is that true? Let’s look at the facts and the relevant moral principles and discuss the matter.”

It is a fundamental logical point that one cannot determine whether a view is racist, sexist, homophobic, etc., without first independently determining the relevant facts and moral principles. Thus, these arguments also commit the fallacy of “begging the question,” that is, assuming what they purport to prove.

For example, if there is in fact a crisis at the border, that is, if there is an abusive people-smuggling ring exploiting laxity at the southern border, if there is a large amount of dangerous drugs smuggled across the southern border, if there are not sufficient resources available in place to care for people who enter illegally through the southern border, thereby putting them in danger, if a large influx of people illegally entering depresses the job market for poorer American citizens and so on, then it cannot be racist to say that illegal immigration should be prevented.

The immediate jump by the Left to the charge that it is racist to make these sorts of points is a transparent attempt to avoid the discussion of these relevant issues (and the main reason the Left usually wants to avoid a fair discussion of these issues is that it cannot win in a fair debate). The easy accusations of racism, sexism, homophobia and the like by the Left are an attempt to exempt themselves from the onerous trouble of thinking – that is, to excuse themselves from what used to be the whole point of an education. Thus, the various left-wing indoctrination tools employed in the university must at the same time be supported by a pervasive set of left-wing sophistry tools.

It is worth mentioning, at least briefly, the role of “Post-Modernism” in honing the systematic use of sophistry to achieve political ends in our universities. Although “Post-Modernism” deserves a more sustained treatment, the basic point for present purposes is that it is a relativist view that dispenses with the notion of “objective truth” in favor of the view that there are just different narratives about the world.

Whereas Marx believed in objective truth, later leftists, perhaps because of the perceived failures of Marxism, formed an alliance with “post-Modernism” that has cleared the way for the wholesale embrace of sophistry in order to achieve their political ends. For, the elimination of the notion of “objective truth” leaves a lacuna in human thought that will be filled by something. Since the notion of “objective truth” places limits on the tendencies toward excesses in human thought, the elimination of this notion gives free reign to the idea that it is legitimate to use one’s cognitive faculties simply for the pursuit of power.

Since SJW’s are prepared to use undemocratic means, including, not only systematic sophistry, but also intimidation and violence, to achieve their ends, the expression “social justice warrior” is, in fact, a euphemism for “social injustice warrior.” The fact that our universities are largely run by “social injustice warriors” is amply illustrated by the treatment of progressive Professor Weinstein and his wife, but also by the infantile and thuggish reactions to harmless conservative speakers like Ben Shapiro on college campuses. The students who pull fire alarms or chant slogans like “Hate speech promotes violence”) are more than happy to violate other people’s civil rights and dole out social injustice to those who disagree with them.

Once a certain tipping point is reached, and there is no longer any check on leftist ideas in the universities, there is no limit on how extreme the Left can become. A professor at Drexel University in October of 2017 can tweet, “All I want for Christmas is white genocide” and then claim victim status after he was forced to resign his position, but not, of course, by the university, which, apparently, does not consider the call for mass murder as a firing offence. In an additional pathetic chapter to this story, this former Drexel professor later put the following comment on Facebook: “I’m glad to announce that, starting today, I will be a Visiting Scholar at NYU’s Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics. Happy New Year!” It is, apparently, not inconsistent with NYU’s enlightened system of values to call for the genocide of a whole race of people – as long as one is murdering the right people. One does not have to be a conservative to recognize that calling for mass murder may not be the best way to solve the problem – should, that is, actually solving problems, as opposed to virtue-signaling (and other forms of self-promotion), even be the aim anymore.

8. “The Worse Things Are, The Better They Are”

Since many of the proposals put forward by the Left are transparently not designed to solve any problems, but are more like to exacerbate them, one should make the obvious inference. These members of the Left do not actually want to solve the problems. They want to make them worse. Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the 1917 Russian communist revolution, is reported to have said that “the worse things are, the better they are.” What this means is that that one is not going to bring about the glorious socialist or communist revolution if people are content with their lives. Recall SDS’s view that one must convince people that their private troubles are really caused by societal factors and require political change.

On the contrary, if the glorious socialist or communist revolution is to take place “the people” must be maintained in a state of misery. If they are content with their lives, they must be changed to become discontented with their lives. The left often does not, therefore, actually want to solve problems. If conservatives, or even what remains of the genuine liberals, are permitted actually to solve the problems and lift the poor out of poverty, thereby enabling them to achieve dignity and self-respect, the socialist or communist revolution is off (and with it the well-paid careers of a bevy of leftist politicians and functionaries).

For example, one would think that the Democrat Party and the Black Caucus in Congress would have been pleased when Donald Trump was able to announce at his first State of the Union address that black unemployment was at an all-time low (a claim that Politifact, not a right-wing outlet, rated as “mostly true”). Instead, the Democrat side of the aisle and large majority of the “Black caucus” scowled and sat on their hands at the good news for the black community. Sometimes the most obvious inference is the best one. The left is not interested in solving the problems of the poor. They have a different agenda. For the elite Left depends on a dependent miserable aggrieved underclass to justify their own existence and keep themselves in wealth and power.

9. The Decline In Our Primary And Secondary Educational Institutions

Since the university is the source of much of our current political discourse, and since many of our political and cultural leaders come through the university system, the corruption of the universities has led to the corruption of most of our cultural institutions, including not only the “media” and the “arts,” such as they are, but also our primary and secondary education.

Consider the state of our primary and secondary schools in the United States! Since the teachers and administration at these institutions are almost invariably a product of the university system, the effect of leftist intimidation of the universities is reflected there as well. The Brookings Institute, which is not a conservative organization, and whose employees tend to support democrats, describes the poor state of US primary and secondary education:

For private education, from pre-K through secondary, prices are 8.5 times higher now than in 1980. For public schools, the rise is lower—4.7 from 1980 to 2013 —but still far above general inflation… but learning has stagnated. For the nation’s 17-year-olds, there have been no gains in literacy since the National Assessment of Educational Progress began in 1971. The long-term stagnation cannot be attributed to racial or ethnic differences in the U.S. population. Literacy scores for white students peaked in 1975; in math, scores peaked in the early 1990s.

It is, therefore, not surprising that the United States is outperformed by many countries at the international level, not only by Singapore and Hong Kong, but even countries like Vietnam that had not so long ago been bombed to oblivion during the Vietnam war and now spend much less per student on education. Singapore tops the list in primary school math, secondary school math, primary school science and secondary school science. In 2016 it was reported that the United States only scores 10th for secondary school math, outperformed even by the relatively poor country of Kazakhstan. The United States is not even in the top 10 for primary school math. The United States is not in the top 10 for secondary school science, outperformed by Slovenia and Kazakhstan. The United States scores tenth for primary school science education, outperformed by Poland and Kazakhstan.

There are, no doubt, many factors for this poor showing. However, since the primary and secondary schools are staffed predominately by people who go through our universities, leftist bias in education, and the ensuing cultural decline, starts long before college. Since the Left emphasizes “social justice” over basic education (reading, writing, mathematics, and science), students from US primary and secondary schools will have learned to feel aggrieved, or, perhaps, learned to feel guilty for other people’s grievances in which they personally had no hand whatsoever. What they will not have learned, unfortunately, is mathematics, science, or reading and writing skills that will enable them to compete with students in Singapore, Hong Kong, Poland, Slovenia, Kazakhstan or Vietnam. The problem is now severe enough that it is a matter of national security.

The fact that America’s educational system, from primary school through university, is in such a state of decline should not be a surprise. When, under the pressure of leftist activists, one prioritizes “social justice” (sometimes social injustice of the sort witnessed at Evergreen University, the University of New Hampshire, Berkeley and so on) over a neutral pursuit of the truth, one gets waves of students highly sensitized to their series of grievances but not very good in math, science, or writing (or, as at the University of New Hampshire, for formulating a coherent position at a public talk).

Since the decline in education standards is evenly spread across the board, the average American may not feel the effects of the decline in at the present time. But when America’s chief competitors, like China and Russia, surpass it, Americans will soon learn the difference between the “woke” grievances conjured by privileged political activists in Sociology 101 and the real grievances that will be imposed on them by their rather less gentle external enemies.

10. What About Real Grievances?

It may be objected that the present article makes light of the real grievances experienced by many groups, for example, black people, Native Americans, women, handicapped people or LGBT people throughout in American history. In fact, the present argument makes no effort whatsoever to deny that such grievances exist, that many of them have considerable merit, and that the university is one of the places in which it is appropriate to address them. The present argument is only opposed to the a priori political activism imposed on our universities at the expense of the traditional mission of a neutral pursuit of the truth as laid out by the Port Huron Statement.

It is only when the discussions of social problems and human grievances is framed a priori in favor of the Left (“A new left must be distributed in significant social roles throughout the country. The universities are distributed in such a manner”), that the university is turned from its proper mission to understand the world to an improper Marxist mission to change it. For, the latter alternative makes the decline in standards that is evident throughout our educational institutions today inevitable.

Putting on a pair of “blinders,” especially ideological blinders, is never a wise way to set about actually solving social problems. If one structures the university around leftist agendas then the results of studies and investigations within the university will be that capitalism, “the Patriarchy,” Systemic Racism” and the like are the cause of all our ills – because that is the a priori assumption one begins with. Tautologies may be comforting, as our political class and the “news” media know very well, but they never yield any real insight into the problems.

Since history shows that the problems are best resolved when the universities maintain a free and fair environment undistorted by any a priori political ideology from either the Left or the Right, the leftist domination of the American university beginning in the 1960s, accompanied by the usual threats and censorship, can, therefore, only guarantee that the real problems will not be satisfactorily solved and that a more just and fair society will not be produced. Quite the contrary! Ideological blindness can only lead to injustice and misery. The present paper does not, therefore, argue that the various social problems and grievances should not be addressed within the university. It only argues that these can only be properly addressed in the free and fair environment that preceded leftist intimidation that began in the 1960’s.

The usual reply to this argument is that things were not very good to the various minorities prior to leftist intimidation of the universities. After all, “the Patriarchy,” “capitalism” and other abstractions, we have been told, ruled with an iron fist. In fact, this is easily refuted. The fact that the Left is so well represented in the contemporary university and is permitted, even encouraged, to make their criticisms and demands, testifies to the fact that these exaggerated claims are not true.

For, once a group claiming victim status stand up in America and makes its case, the culture generally responds quite quickly at multiple levels. It is, of course, true that aggrieved groups must step up and make their case. They cannot expect “the System” or “the Patriarchy” to make their case for them – or do they? There is, therefore, a sense in which the exaggerated left-wing criticisms of “the system,” “the Patriarchy,” and “capitalism” are self-refuting. For, if those criticisms were true, if, that is, the “System,” “capitalism” or “the Patriarchy” were really were so oppressive as the Left claims they are, the plethora of aggrieved anti-democratic university activists making them would not occupy their present privileged positions.

11. Choosing Ignorance

In the “old days,” when children went to the university to learn, rather than to teach, the traditional mission of the university was understood to be to provide a neutral free and fair environment for the discussion of all views as the best means for arriving at the best ideas and solutions to problems. When problems were pointed out, e.g., the dearth of women and minority students, rational arguments were put forward to rectify this situation and female and minority representation in the universities increased dramatically.

For example, whereas male enrolment in US universities 1967 was almost double that of female enrollment, Wendy Wang and Kim Parker for the Pew Research pointed out females caught up with males in university enrolment around 1990 and that the United States now experiences “a ‘reverse’ gender gap where women are more likely than men to go to college. By 2009, a record 44% of young women were enrolled in college, compared with 38% of young men.” The same study points out that the female graduation rate has now surpassed that for males.

Similarly, a 2015 article in The Atlantic by Andrew McGill describes the changes in black enrollment in tertiary institutions:

Since 1994, black enrollment has doubled at institutions that primarily grant associate degrees, including community colleges. In 2013, black students accounted for 16 percent of the student body there, versus 11 percent in 1994. Universities focusing on Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctoral degrees also broadly saw gains, with blacks making up 14 percent of the population, compared to 11 percent in 1994.

Not everyone, however, was happy with these successes. Since solving social problems does not produce enough unhappy leftist revolutionaries, a group of radical “New Leftists” in the Students for a Democratic Society plotted to change American universities as a first step towards changing America as a whole. They did not, however, as their name might suggest, propose to do this by democratic means. They did not set out to convince the American people by open and transparent rational arguments that the traditional neutral mission of free and fair discussion needed to be changed. Since the traditional university system had been so successful, this would be almost impossible to do. Rather, they developed a plan to “distribute” leftists across the universities and set about carrying this out. In response to grievances, whole new departments, programs, and hiring practices were quickly established in response to these leftist demands.

Since the primary aim of the leftists is the advancement of their ideas and programs, once they achieved a “critical mass” in the universities, they used their newfound power, conferred on them surprisingly easily by the implacable evil oppressive “Patriarchy,” to make adherence to these leftist ideas, as opposed to the neutral pursuit of the truth, the primary criteria for hiring and policy decisions. As a consequence, the Left’s power in the US universities grew, leading to further control over the hiring and policy decisions, in an ever-repeating cycle.

The notion of a meritocracy, intrinsically suspicious because it had been so successful at producing a level of national wealth and power unmatched in human history, was decreed to be verboten by the intolerant Left and had to be abandoned. As a result, the Left now enjoys a dominant position of power in most university faculties and administrations. Conservatives, and sometimes even moderates and progressives that do not follow the script du jour closely or quickly enough, as at Evergreen University, are literally afraid to express themselves in the “Ivory Tower” citadel of ideas. The Port Huron “New Left” plan has been successful beyond its wildest dreams. In this way, the traditional formula for success in US universities was replaced by a formula for failure.

The fact that the Left was able to take over the universities so quickly and so easily might lead a neutral observer to think that these abstractions conjured in Sociology 101, such as “the Patriarchy” and “the Capitalist System,” to explain all of our sins, real and imagined, do not really exist, but, since the neutral observers no longer exist, or, to be more precise, since the ones who do exist in the university are afraid to speak up, no one is left to point this out.

As a consequence, over a period of time, the peaceful environment for the free and fair discussion of issues was replaced by the leftist mobs that threw progressive Professors Weinstein and Heying out of Evergreen University for questioning their adolescent racist plans, that insulted Dave Rubin for talking politely, even when they gratuitously insulted him, to students in a public talk, and that rioted, set fires and beat people at the home of the Berkeley “free speech movement” when gay British conservative Milo Yiannopoulos attempted to state his point of view. Ironically, it was often “conservatives,” who still retain the old-fashioned notions of freedom of speech and other fundamental democratic principles, that spoke up in defense of the progressive professors Weinstein and Heying and “gay” speakers Rubin and Yiannopoulos.

In the Gorgias, Plato has Socrates argue that it is better to lose an argument than to win it (because one learns something new when one loses the argument but not when one wins one). The current state of our universities can be explained by the fact that, dominated by the censorship and intimidation employed by the Left, they have chosen not to learn anything new. They will not lose any arguments because they will not engage in any arguments they cannot “win.” Anyone foolish enough to argue against the Left will be driven off campus; or, if they are lucky, will merely have to endure students, sometimes, unfortunately, supported by members of the faculty and administration, ringing cow bells, pulling fire alarms or chanting juvenile slogans to prevent them from being heard. As a consequence, discussions in the universities are reduced to a continuous virtue-signaling rehearsal of leftist ideas, which, inevitably leads to even sillier ideas.

Since the a priori goal of the universities is now the promotion of leftist ideas on and off campus, objections to these ideas will either be censored altogether or “refuted” by invoking transparent sophistries. When, therefore, reality intrudes and these leftist ideas fail, perhaps leading, in “progressive” cities, to soaring poverty and crime rates, sprawling unhealthy tent cities, “poop” maps to protect tourists from the odoriferous truth, and discarded needles everywhere, it will be impossible to solve these problems because it will be impossible even to “see” them (describe them) for what they are. For it has been decreed, a priori, that social problems cannot be caused by the leftist ideas or policies because everyone knows the Left only seeks equality and “social justice” and that these problems must be “caused” (in some notion of “causation” not found anywhere in the history of science or in any leftist’s head) by “the class struggle,” “the Patriarchy” or “systemic racism.” If anyone disagrees with this, let them formulate a properly formulated testable causal law, hopefully in grammatical English, linking “the Patriarchy” or “systemic racism,” with the presence of used needles and poop all over San Francisco streets.

12. Reversing The Decline

The question arises whether this decline of the United States into an intolerant “war of all against all” can be reversed? There are many reasons to think that it is already too late. For a psychosis of intolerance involving an obsessive unrealistic way of thinking has entered our national mentality and one feature of the psychosis is that those who have it do not see it as a psychosis, but, rather, as wisdom incarnate. Another feature of the intolerance-psychosis is that those who have it see those who do not have it as evil. Normally, one would look to the more rational elements in our institutions, in particular, our universities, to resist this kind of destructive movement.

The problem is that since the root of the psychosis is the universities, and since they provide the people to fill the rest of the influential positions in society, none of these leading influential institutions are interested. In some cases, the remedy lies as close as the nearest critical reasoning textbook but since that was written by “the Patriarchy,” it cannot be trusted and is only invoked in special cases when it can be useful.

Something similar can be said of other parts of the “education industry,” the “news” media, and the “government,” most of whose members have been produced by the same “cookie cutter” assembly line in the universities. Filled with the massive pride and self-certainty of people who live inside the leftist bubble and suffer only to talk with the faithful, they are certainly not going to do it themselves. “It is the pride of a child and a schoolboy.” (Dostoevsky, “The Grand Inquisitor”).

This leaves only “the people” to repair the situation, and it may be that students and parents, finally appalled by the kind of intolerance, censorship, hate and rank infantilism exhibited at so many other universities may begin looking for alternatives to traditional university education in sufficient numbers to force the universities to reform. Unfortunately, since “the people” have been declared by the all-knowing elites to be “a basket of deplorables,” the all-knowing elites in the ‘Biden administration’ are currently preparing “domestic terrorism” guidelines to monitor these dangerous individualistic freedom-mongers more closely for thought-crimes.

In the United States, “the people” used to be respected as the ultimate authority in the American democratic system. Unfortunately, since they, with their dangerous tendencies towards individuality, self-respect and freedom of thought, stand in the way of the elite’s plans to control everybody’s lives, prospects for individual freedom and human dignity in the United States do not look very good at the moment. However, reality can be surprising. The massive levels of transparent “in your face” greed, incompetence and corruption in Washington D.C. may help the Constitution and the rule of law make a comeback. It is, therefore, necessary to keep working toward the recovery of our freedom and dignity should the chance arise to claim it.

But one thing is for sure. No matter what changes one makes in other parts of the society, no matter how many laws one passes, no matter how much money one raises and spends, no matter how many conservatives one puts into office, no matter how many constitutionalist judges one puts in the courts, no matter how many carefully reasoned books and articles one publishes,, the intolerance psychosis that infects our society will not be healed until our universities, and, consequent upon that, the rest of our “educational” system and other societal institutions are “liberated” from their leftist “liberators” and returned to normalcy.

It is important, however, not to deceive oneself. Since a corrupt leftist dominated university system will continue, following SDS’s plan, to “distribute” leftist anti-American activists throughout the entire society, poisoning every institution against the country and its traditions, if we cannot return our universities to their traditional proper mission of providing a genuinely neutral free and fair forum for the discussion of all issues, nothing else we do can make any real difference to the emerging tyranny. Conservatives require only a free and fair discussion. Nothing more. The censorship and “cancel culture” that have poisoned American society began in the universities; and they must be ended there before the country can heal itself. Conservatives are happy to let Marxists, communists and socialists have their say. It is the Left, supported by their capitalist child billionaires in Silicon Valley and the partisan Lilliputians in the “news” media that, knowing the outcome of free and fair discussions, fears freedom.


Richard McDonough is the author of two books, numerous articles, encyclopedia and dictionary entries, and book reviews. He has taught previously at Bates College, the National University of Singapore, the University of Tulsa, the University Putra Malaysia, the Overseas Family College, the PSB Academy, the University of Maryland, the Arium Academy, and James Cook University. In addition to philosophy, he has taught psychology, physics, humanities and writing courses.


The featured image shows and anonymous work from the 18th century.

Karl Popper’s Critical Rationalism And The Notion Of An “Open Society”

I liked America from the first, perhaps because I had been somewhat prejudiced against it…There was in 1950 a feeling of freedom, of personal independence that did not exist in Europe and which was stronger than in New Zealand, the freest country I knew… On my return to England I had an argument about this with Bertrand Russell… I admit that things might have developed in a very different way. “It cannot happen here” is always wrong: a dictatorship can happen anywhere (Karl Popper, Unended Quest, §28).


I. Introduction

Karl Popper, often named as one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century, is known primarily for his work in the philosophy of science and political philosophy which are, on his view, related. Popper’s constant opponent is dogmatism, whether this occurs in philosophy or science or politics. His surprising view is that even the view that what makes a theory scientific is that it can be empirically verified supports a particularly insidious species of dogmatism. In other words, it is not just rationalism, the view that certain views are demonstrable by reason alone, but even empiricism, with its verificationist doctrine, that is prone to dogmatism. In opposition to all species of dogmatism, Popper attempts to build anti-dogmatism into the very logic of scientific reasoning by replacing the standard verificationist criterion with his view that what makes a theory “scientific” is that it can be empirically falsified.

Since he sees scientific knowledge as the paradigm of all knowledge, he generalizes this anti-dogmatic view from scientific reasoning to all forms of reasoning, in philosophy, morality, aesthetics, politics, etc. His healthy concept of reasoning, which he calls “critical rationalism,” can only be realized in a “open society,” a society in which all views, even one’s own most cherished ones, are subjected to rigorous criticism and in which one, like Socrates, subjects oneself to rigorous self-criticism.

Popper’s anti-dogmatic philosophy is especially relevant to our own time in which dogmatism is tearing us apart. For, it is safe to say that if the children at Evergreen University who scream at their teachers and threaten them, the child billionaires in the media who censor people with whom they disagree, and the partisans in the “news” media that are committed to advance a cause rather than report the facts, and so on, were Popperian “critical rationalists,” they might realize how little they actually know and abandon their destructive (and self-destructive) totalitarian behavior.

The present article lays out the basic planks in Popper’s philosophy of science and “critical rationalism” as a means towards explaining Popper’s critique of totalitarianism (that is, Popper’s criticism of what he sees as most Western philosophy and of the dominant movements in much contemporary Western “culture”).


II. Biography

Karl Popper was born in Vienna Austria (Austria-Hungary at the time) in 1902 and died in 1994 in London. His grandparents were Jewish but he was raised a Lutheran. He dropped out of school at age 16 to attend lectures in mathematics, physics, philosophy, psychology and the history of music at the University of Vienna as a guest student. While at university, like so many young people, Popper became attracted by Marxism, socialism, and communism, and by the oft heard claim that such leftist views are supported by science. In his excellent intellectual biography, Unended Quest, he writes that for a time he joined several socialist clubs but resisted full-fledged communism until, “in the spring of 1919 [when he was about 17 years old], I, together with a few friends, was converted by their propaganda [and] for about two or three months regarded myself as a communist” and a Marxist.

Karl Popper

However, an event happened that led Popper away from communism and Marxism. A shooting broke out at a demonstration in which he was involved that left several demonstrators dead. Popper was horrified at the police behavior but also at that of his own side which, he thought, rationalized the necessity for such violence.

This left him with a “life-long revulsion of feeling” for such views. Although anyone can get involved in some feel-good political movement and become repulsed when it rationalizes violence, Popper’s unhappy experience with socialism, communism and Marxism as a student affected him in an entirely different way that had a major impact on his later philosophical development. For Popper realized that he had accepted these leftist views, as well as the claims that they are supported by science, uncritically. This led him to ask what a genuine critical rational appraisal of any purported theory would be like, eventually leading to develop his theory of falsifiability and his associated notion of “critical rationalism.”

It is also worth pointing that in his quite varied life Popper also worked in construction for a short while but could not cope with the heavy work. He became an apprentice as a cabinet maker and became a journeyman in the trade. He wanted to start a daycare center for children and did voluntary work at one of the psychoanalyst Alfred Adler’s clinics for children.

In 1922 he became a regular student at the university and completed his examination as an elementary school teacher in 1924 before working at an after-school care club for endangered children. He continued studying education, philosophy and psychology and in 1928 earned his doctorate in psychology under the supervision of the psychologist Karl Buhler and the philosopher Moritz Schlick at the University of Vienna for his thesis titled ZurMethodenfrage der Denkpsychhologie [On Questions of Method in the Psychology of Thinking].

In 1929 he earned an authorization to teach mathematics and physics at the secondary school level and began doing so. Despite all this, already enough for one life, he still found the energy and time to marry his colleague Josefine Anna Henninger (1906-1985). Around this time politics intervened. Nazism was raising its head in Austria and, being of Jewish extraction, Popper felt it might not be healthy to remain in Austria. In order to get an academic position in a country safe for people of Jewish descent, he needed a book.

In 1934 he published his groundbreaking Logik der Forshung [The Logic of Scientific Discovery] in which he criticized psychologism, naturalism, inductivism and logical positivism and advanced his view that the capacity for falsifiability, not verifiability, is the proper criterion for distinguishing genuine scientific theories (like Einstein’s Relativity Theory) from pseudo-scientific theories like astrology.

In 1935-1936 he took unpaid leave to study in the United Kingdom at Cambridge. In 1936 he was offered a lectureship in Canterbury University in New Zealand. He had the opportunity to remain at Cambridge but when he found that his study position at Cambridge could be transferred to someone else, he suggested that it be given to the young philosopher and member of the Vienna Circle, Friedrich Waismann. This was agreed: Waismann went to Cambridge and Popper went to New Zealand.

In 1946, Popper accepted a position in the London School of Economics which, he later said “was a marvelous institution… in those days.” In later life he attempted to obtain a teaching position in Austria, but he was unsuccessful and returned to the UK.


III. The Verificationist Criterion

Recall that the lesson that Popper learned from his unhappy youthful association with leftist radicalism was that he had accepted these sorts of views uncritically, which led him to construct an account of what a proper critically rational way of evaluating theories would look like. In order, however, to understand the force of Popper’s falsifiability criterion, it is necessary first to understand the view he was reacting against, namely, the view (defended, for example, in A.J. Ayer’s classic 1936 book Language, Truth and Logic and still invoked by many influential philosophers), that what makes a theory scientific as opposed to superstition is that it is empirically verifiable. The verifiability criterion was also the standard view of the influential Vienna Circle (a distinguished group of logicians, philosophers of science and economists, including Rudolph Carnap, Otto Neurath, Herbert Feigl, Richard von Mises, Karl Menger and Kurt Gödel, operating in Popper’s own Vienna at the time).

The verifiability criterion has a simple naturalness to it. Consider some theory T. For the sake of simplicity, let us choose a very simple theory, namely, the theory T1 that a certain Virus V1 causes a certain disease D1 in rabbits. That is, T1= V1 → D1. How does one verify that T1 is true? Perhaps one introduces V1 into a healthy rabbit R1 that has been determined to be free of V1.

If, a few days or weeks later R1 develops the disease D1, this is taken to verify T1. However, to say that T1 has been verified by this test does not mean that T1 has been conclusively verified. After all, a single positive result might be a coincidence, a so-called “false positive.” Thus, on the standard view, these test results must be repeatable. Only after T1 passes multiple such tests can it be regarded as highly verified. For example, Newton’s “theory” T2 that an object close to the surface in earth’s gravitational field falls at an acceleration rate of 32 ft/sec2 has been tested, not once or ten time or even a hundred times but literally thousands of times. Thus, T2 is seen as highly verified and no one any longer doubts for a moment that it is true.

What could be more obvious than this that this is how science comes to accept certain theories and reject others? Theory T implies a certain fact F. One does a test to determine if fact F is observed. If F is not observed, the theory is not verified. If, however, fact F is observed, T is verified and if, after repeated tests T continues to be verified, it can be accepted as virtually certain.

Popper noticed, however, both that 1) It is very easy to find verifications for one’s theories and 2) It is a psychological fact that human beings prefer to see their own theories verified.

Consider the case of astrology! A person P1 goes to see an astrologist A1 who makes the prediction that P1 is going to come into a lot of money soon. P1 is very excited because they need the money for a cancer operation. A few days later P1 wins $300 dollars in a lottery and A1 brags that her “prediction” has come true. But has it? What does one mean by “a lot of money?” In the case at hand, $300 is not a lot of money when one is talking about a cancer operation that will cost upwards of $100,000 dollars. The point is that no matter what happens, astrologists can find something to claim their prediction has come true. This is because an astrologist’s “predictions” are generally so vague that they are consistent with virtually any possible outcome.

To see this, consider another case. A1 again predicts that P1 is going to come into a lot of money soon. P1’s stockbroker calls them the following week with bad news. P1’s stock went down in value by 30% and P1 has lost tens of thousands of dollars. P1 angrily complains to A1 that her prediction has not come true. P1 has not “come into a lot of money.” In fact, P1 has lost money. However, A1 points out that many experts had predicted that the stock market would drop by 60%. A1 claims, therefore, that a stock market loss of 30% is actually a gain over the 60% drop that had been predicted. P1 has gained money in that sense. The vaguer the prediction, the more likely it is to be verified by future developments. As Popper observed, pseudo-sciences are generally easily verified. But that means verifiability cannot be the criterion that distinguishes a genuine scientific theory from a superstitious pseudo-science like astrology.

One might reply that astrology is a trivial kind of example. No one would seriously propose that astrology is a candidate for being a genuine science. In fact, Popper briefly mentions astrology several times in his Conjectures and Refutations but makes precisely the same point. He makes his central argument by reference to the alleged new “sciences” that were causing a lot of excitement in the universities in his student years, Darwinian evolutionary theory, Freudian psychology and the Marxist theory of dialectical materialism. Popper argues that all of these “theories” are easily verified, in fact too easily, but none of them is a genuine science because none of them can be falsified. Thus, each of these, under close scrutiny, looks more like astrology than it does like a genuine scientific theory like Einstein’s theory of general relativity.


IV. Three Pseudo-Sciences: Marxism, Freudian Psychology, Darwinian Evolutionary Theory

Popper states that during his university days there was great excitement about three allegedly new sciences: Marxism, Freudian Psychology and Darwinian Evolutionary Theory. One might add Adler’s psychology as well (recall that Popper worked at one of Adler’s clinics for a time), but since Adler’s theory is, in the relevant logical respects, similar to Freudian psychology, only the former need be discussed here.

The excitement was due to the fact that these three alleged new “sciences” appeared to open up to scientific understanding three areas that had long been believed to be the province of philosophy and dreamy speculation, the laws concerning the genesis of life (Darwin), the laws that govern the mysterious working of the mind (Freud), and laws behind the historical development of human societies (Marx).

However, after, in his youth, being initially impressed by these new theories, Popper came to see each of them as a pseudo-science. Each of them turns out to be a kind of seductive story about their respective subject matters, but none of them is a genuine science. It is, therefore, useful to sketch the basic claims of these three theories in the present section before Popper’s arguments that none of them is a genuine science, because none of them is falsifiable, are taken up in the subsequent section

Consider Darwinian evolutionary theory first. In his famous book, The Origin of Species, Darwin was trying to explain why certain species (the ones we actually find in existence) rather than others (the one’s that went extinct) are the ones that survived. His purported explanatory principle is “the survival of the fittest.” That is, the reason the African lion survived to the present day rather than one of the other large powerful saber-toothed cats in existence a million years ago is that the ancestors of the African lion were more “fit” than their saber-toothed competitors. This is interesting.

After all, if one compares the African lion with one of its massive saber-toothed competitors 1 million years ago, the saber-toothed cat certain appears, at first glance, more “fit.” The saber-toothed cat was more powerfully built and one can imagine an African lion heading for the hills at the sight of those 11-inch-long saber-like fangs. Despite the more fearsome sight of a saber-toothed cat, the African lion with its less muscled body and smaller fangs was actually, all things considered, more “fit” to survive in that specific environment than the saber-toothed cat.

One can even tell an interesting story about why the African lion with its smaller muscles and fangs was more “fit.” It was more agile. Its method of killing, cutting off the air supply of the prey, was more efficient than the saber-toothed cat’s strategy of slashing the prey and letting it bleed to death, etc. Darwin “explains” why the African lion survives today and the terrifying saber-tooted cats went extinct! Thank you, Mr. Darwin!

Consider now Freudian psychology. Freud claimed to be able to explain the genesis of all neurosis in human adults. Specifically, he holds that all neuroses are explained as the result of repressed sexual trauma in childhood. Consider the following example! A patient S has a frozen right arm but medical doctors can find nothing physically wrong with the arm. The “cause” of the frozen arm must, therefore, be “psychological.” Freud “discovers,” sometimes in long “sessions” with the patient on the couch, that the patient was sexually abused in childhood. Freudian psychology claims that the fact that S was unable to express this trauma to anyone, that is, the fact that S had to “repress” this trauma, caused S’s neurosis.

On Freud’s model, a repressed trauma, like the steam building up in a tightly covered boiling pot, will have to be let out one way or the other. If the steam is not let out of the boiling pot in a measured way, the pot will explode. If the sexual trauma in childhood is not let out (expressed) over time, the person will, so to speak, “explode” (develop a neurosis). Since sexual trauma cannot in most societies be expressed openly and honestly (one simply does not talk about such things), it must be expressed in some other way. It will, therefore, be expressed symbolically, perhaps by a frozen arm or by some other neurosis.

This, it must be admitted, is interesting. It sounds plausible. One knows people who have suffered sexual trauma in youth and who do display neurotic symptoms. Perhaps they cannot trust people, even to the point of irrationality. When they talk it out with a therapist, that is when they, so to speak, “let off some steam,” they sometimes report a decrease in their neurotic symptoms. Thank you, Dr. Freud!

Consider now the alleged new science of historical development: Marxism. In the Preface to Capital [Das Kapital], Marx states that just as the Newtonian mechanics states the laws of physical motion in the physical world, his theory of historical development states the laws of economic motion in the human historical world.

Specifically, Marx holds that human society, beginning with feudalism, necessary develops in a certain very specific way. Just as a plant necessarily moves from seed, to stem, to blossom to fruit, human society necessarily moves from feudalism to capitalism to socialism and finally to full-fledged communism. Further, just as a plant cannot go directly from seed to blossom, but must necessarily traverse all the intermediate stages in the proper order, human society must move from feudalism to communism without skipping any of the intermediate stages.

In addition, any given stage of human society will break down and give way to the next stage in the sequence only when it is most advanced. For example, a young immature capitalist society will not break down into socialism but, rather, only a mature capitalist society, in which all the internal problems of capitalism have become fully developed, will break down into socialism. Since Marx, when he penned his theories, was living in the most advanced capitalist society of his day, England, he predicted that the socialist revolution would occur in England first.

In addition, since Russia was still in a backward feudal stage, he predicted that the revolution will not occur in Russia until it goes through the capitalist stage. Popper calls any theory that purports to be able to predict the future development of human societies “historicist” theories. He sees “historicist” theories in Plato, Vico, Hegel, Marx, Comte, and Spengler and traces of “historicism” in Jaspers and Heidegger.

Marx’s “historicism” also seems plausible, but why? First, it is reassuring. Whereas the history one learned in grammar school seemed an incomprehensible chaos of dates, treaties, wars and betrayals, Marx reveals that there is a discernable order to it. Marx makes one feel like the actors in Hollywood who know the end of the script (the butler did it!), and if one knows the end of the script, one can prepare for it. For example, if human society is necessarily moving towards socialism, one knows where to place one’s bets. Indeed, since one knows how things are going to turn out, perhaps one can even exert some control over the process. Since capitalism is necessarily going to fall, why not give it a little push to help things along?

Indeed, Popper points out that “historicists” tend to be attracted to social engineering, the effort to control history to fit the theory (script). Further, if one lives in a capitalist society, one cannot avoid seeing the gulf between the rich (capitalists) and the poor (workers) and feel compassion for the latter. It is reassuring to know that the oppressed classes will win in the end. In fact, Marxism sounds just like a religious salvation story: “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.” (Matthew 19: 29-30).

Finally, there have been various revolutions around the world in which the poor have risen up against their greedy oppressors. It is very reassuring, not to mention profitable, to be on the right side of history, but, for that, one must know what side is the right side. Marx’s new “science” of dialectical materialism is more useful than any portfolio manager. Thank you, comrade Marx for the interesting and profitable insights!

Despite the fact that each of these theories seems plausible, and despite the fact that Popper himself was initially attracted to them, he came to the conclusion that each of them is actually pseudo-science, not genuine science. These arguments are discussed in the following section.


V. Popper’s “Falsifiability” Criterion

Popper claims that each of Darwinian evolutionary theory, Freudian psychology, and the Marxist theory of historical development may look like genuine sciences, and each may appear to satisfy the verifiability criterion, but each fails his falsifiability criterion. That is, each is a species of seductive dogmatism disguised as science. It is important to note at the beginning that Popper holds that the specific ways each fails the falsifiability criterion is not exactly the same in all three cases. For this reason, the case of Marxism, with its unique problems, is separated out and considered in the subsequent section.

Consider Darwinian evolutionary theory, which was, and continues to be, touted as an established scientific theory, first!  It is important to stress that Popper does not reject Darwinian evolutionary theory altogether. He accepts that Darwinian evolutionary theory is useful for science. Popper calls it a useful “metaphysical research program,” that is, a schema that guides one in discovering the specific mechanisms that take place in the evolutionary process. His claim is only that it is not itself a scientific theory. Popper’s reasoning is illuminating.

Recall that Darwin’s evolutionary theory purports to explain why the species we find in existence today, e.g., the African lion as opposed to some other big cat, has survived. His explanation is that the African lion has survived to the present day rather than one of the other large powerful saber-toothed cats in existence a million years ago because it was more “fit” than its competitors.

But what is the “empirical content” of the claim that it is “more fit” than its competitors?  The answer, Popper points out, is that the African lion is the one that has in fact survived. But we already know that independently of Darwin’s “theory!”  Darwin’s “theory” of the survival of the fittest reduces, therefore, to the claim that the one’s that survived up to the present time are the ones that are most survivable – but that is akin to the tautology: The ones that survived are the ones that survived: “[A] considerable part of Darwin’s theory is not … an empirical theory but is akin to a logical truism” (Objective Knowledge, Chap. II, §16).

One can make the same point from another direction. Although Darwinian evolutionary theory claims it can explain why the African lion survived and its large saber-toothed competitors did not, consider the following thought experiment. Suppose that Darwin is magically transported back to the African plains 1-2 million years ago and provided with an exhaustive list of the facts on the ground about the various competing big cats in existence at the time. Popper points out that even if Darwin were given that knowledge, there is no way he could, with his theory of “the survival of the fittest,” have predicted which of these species of big cats would survive into the 20th century!   Darwin would have wait, with the rest of us, to see that it was actually the African lion that survived, at which point it would be declared, on that basis, to be “the fittest.” But that is no explanation whatsoever. It is just a coronation after the fact.

For this reason, there is no way to show that Darwinian evolutionary theory is false. Since Darwinian evolutionary theory cannot make any predictions, none of its predictions can be falsified … and that is very convenient. Since Darwinian evolutionary theory confines itself to “explaining” known facts, it can never be wrong in claiming that this known animal (e.g., the African lion) is the fittest. But, of course, it is!  It is the one that survived. Further, since explanation and prediction are the two sides of the same coin, and since Darwinian evolutionary theory cannot predict anything, it cannot actually explain anything either. Its purported “explanations” are the result of a “rigged game” in which it already knows the correct answer (the African lion is the one that survived). Thus, a big part of Darwinian evolutionary theory is a logical truism, the ones that survived are the ones that survived, disguised as a scientific theory.

Popper claims that something similar is true of Freudian psychology. For example, Freud purports to explain S’s frozen arm as the consequence of repressed sexual trauma in S’s childhood. In fact, however, Freud’s theory explains nothing. Consider the following thought-experiment. Suppose Freud is presented with a young child, S*, who we know has just now, today, suffered sexual trauma. Can Freud predict whether S*, when they have reached 20 years of age, will present neurotic symptoms and, if so, what form these will take?

The answer is obviously “No!” First, since neurotic symptoms take a plethora of forms, and since Freud cannot formulate any psychological laws that correlate specific forms of sexual abuse with specific symptoms, he cannot predict whether S* when adult will have a frozen arm, or a fear of intimacy, or insomnia, or constant headaches, or agoraphobia, or fear of the dark, etc. Second, Freud cannot even predict whether S* will display any neurotic symptoms at all in adulthood because, on his view, it is possible that S*’s repression mechanisms will prevent any neurotic symptoms from becoming manifest by any given time. Just as Darwinian evolutionary theory can only say which species is most “fit” after the fact, that is, after evolution has declared the winners, so too Freud can only claim to be able to explain neurotic symptoms after the fact. That is, only after S presents the frozen arm can Freud claim to be able to explain that it is the result of repressed sexual trauma in childhood – but he could not have predicted the frozen arm in advance! 

Further, if one were to present Freud with a child S* that his just suffered sexual trauma in the present, he can predict nothing about S*’s future development. He cannot predict which neurotic symptoms they will have. He cannot even predict that they will have any neurotic symptoms at all because their “repression mechanism” might suppress any symptoms. Freud’s theory is another example of a theory that purports to be able to explain everything but can predict nothing, and that, for Popper, is the hallmark of a pseudo-scientific theory.

Further, since Freud’s theory purports to be able to explain everything, but can predict nothing, it is compatible with all possible outcomes. It is compatible with the view that when S* reaches adulthood they have a frozen arm, but it is also compatible with the view that when S* reaches adulthood they do not have a frozen arm. It is compatible with the view that when S*reaches adulthood they will suffer from agoraphobia, but it is compatible with the view that when S*reaches adulthood they do not have agoraphobia, and so on.

In fact, Freud’s theory is compatible with the view that when S* reaches adulthood it has no neurotic symptoms whatsoever. Freud’s theory, like Darwinian Evolutionary theory, is unfalsifiable. This is concealed by the fact that Freud already knows the outcome, the frozen arm, before he purports to provide the “explanation” for it!  But he could not have predicted it in advance. Since explanation and prediction are the two logical sides of the same coin, Freud cannot actually explain nothing. Freud tells an interesting and compelling story about neuroses and sexual trauma, but he is not doing science. The following section argues that Marxism suffers from defects similar to those in Darwinian evolutionary theory and Freudian psychology.


VI. Marxism As Pseudo-Science

The reason why Marxism fails the falsifiability criterion is somewhat different from the reasons why Darwinian evolutionary theory and Freudian psychology fail it. Recall that Marx holds that the “historicist” view that human society, beginning with feudalism, necessary develops in a certain specific predictable way, specifically, that feudalism necessarily breaks down into capitalism, which necessarily breaks down into socialism, which necessarily devolves into full-fledged communism. Further, Marx holds that these successive breakdowns occur in a specific order. First, one cannot skip a step. Second, the breakdown of any form, e.g., capitalism, happens when it is at is most advanced stage. Specifically, Marx, predicted that the socialist revolution would occur in England first and that it would not occur in feudal Russia.

Unlike Darwinian evolutionary theory and Freudian psychology which cannot make predictions at all, Marxism does make predictions. Marx does not wait until capitalism falls into socialism and say, after the fact, “See, I told you so.” Marx predicts the collapse of capitalism into socialism in advance. This is the sort of risky prediction that for Popper is the hallmark of genuine science.

Thus, the problem with Marxism does not lie in the logical structure of the theory. The problem with Marxism is that when these Marxist predictions fail to come true, which they virtually always do, Marxists refuse to acknowledge this failure and make ad hoc hypotheses designed for the sole purpose of saving their cherished theory. For example, whereas Marxism predicts that the socialist revolution will occur first in the most developed capitalist country, England, and not in the still feudal country, Russia, the revolution actually occurred first in Russia and has still, to this day, not occurred in England.

Thus, Marxism got two of its central predictions wrong. A genuine scientist, like Einstein, faced with two major failed predictions, would have gone back to the drawing board and either abandoned the theory altogether or at least made major revisions to it.

To take just one example, when the socialist revolution occurred first in Russia, where Marxism states that it will not occur, Marxists have claimed that the revolution occurred first in Russia because of the great genius of Vladimir Lenin who understood where the historical dialectic was heading and was, therefore, able to push it along a bit faster than it would normally have gone. Unfortunately, the whole point of Marxism, without which it fails to have any predictive power at all, is that the historical dialectic cannot be influenced by individual human beings.

Thus, this “hypothesis,” that it was Lenin’s unique genius that enabled Russia to skip directly from feudalism to socialism, without going through the capitalist stage, is an ad hoc (after the fact) hypothesis designed to save original Marxism from falsification. To put it in the most basic terms, the Marxists, faced with falsifying observations, cheat to save their cherished theory. Faced with the choice between their cherished theory and reality, Marxists by and large choose their theory and give up on reality.

The consequences of the decision to eschew reality can be seen in Marxist countries, like the Soviet Union, Cuba and Venezuela, around the world.
It is an interesting question why Marxists, as opposed, for example, to physicists or chemists, tend to cheat on this scale to save their pet theories. However, only a few brief remarks can be made here.

The reason why Marxists tend to cheat to save their cherished theory of historical development from falsification is that Marxism, dealing as it does with things that people value very much (e.g., socialism over capitalism, the comforting belief in the possibility of a utopian socialist “brotherhood” in which everyone is absolutely equal, etc.) readily changes from a purported scientific theory to an ideology believed with all fervor of a religious dogma. In this way, Marxists transformed their purported scientific theory into a matter of faith (and there is no end to the irony in that).

Asserting that “the workers of the world” would rise up in a socialist revolution to take down capitalism was changed from a scientific prediction into a religious ritual. In order to be accepted into the in-crowd of caring “woke” Marxist utopians one is required to chant such lyrics in unison and human nature being what it is, there is no end to the number of people willing to sing along in order to be accepted into the “woke” in-crowd.

In summary, Darwinian evolutionary theory, Freudian psychology and Marxism all turn out to be unfalsifiable pseudo-sciences, but for different reasons. Whereas it is in the nature of Darwinian evolutionary theory and Freudian psychology to be unfalsifiable, Marxist “historicism,” as originally articulated by Marx, is, at least potentially, a genuine falsifiable scientific theory. But Marxism was transformed from a genuine science to a pseudo-science when Marx’s major predictions turned out to be false and Marxists chose the comfort of their own tailor-made quasi-religious faith to the trials and tribulations, but also the wonder, of reality.


VII. Einstein’s Example

Since it might be difficult to obtain an overview of the abstruse philosophical arguments of the preceding four sections (III-VI) about the distinction between genuine scientific theories and pseudo-scientific theories, one might illustrate Popper’s central insight in the following easy to understand way. Popper was extremely impressed with Einstein as an example of a genuine scientist to contrast with pseudo-scientists like astrologists, Freudians, Adlerians, Darwinian evolutionary theorists and Marxists. The pseudo-scientists typically put forward some theory Fx and set out to verify their theory. The schema should now be familiar:

Theory Tx → Fx.
Fx is observed.
Therefore, Tx is verified.

However, since, as Popper points out, verifications for one’s favored theories can easily be found, it is not surprising that the pseudo-scientists typically find that their theories are verified. By contrast, Einstein, a genuine scientist, looked at his theories in precisely the opposite way. Popper puts it this way in Unended Quest, §9):

If somebody proposed a scientific theory, he [or she] should answer, as Einstein did, the question: ‘Under what conditions would I admit that my theory is untenable?’ In other words, what conceivable facts would I accept as refutations, or falsifications, of my theory?

That is, instead of trying to verify his own theories, Einstein tries to specify the conditions that would falsify his theory and then attempts to falsify it. This leads directly to Popper’s main idea: What is important about a theory, what gives it its “empirical content,” is not what it rules in, not what “verifies” it, but what it rules out; what, if observed, would falsify it.

Once again, it is very easy to find things that verify a given theory, e.g., all of Freud’s patients who were very happy by Freud’s diagnosis of the sources of their neurosis. But what gives a scientific theory empirical content is not that it can produce verifications, many of which are “safe,” but that it makes risky predictions that, if these turn out to be false, refute the theory. Freud’s hysteric patients, the African lion, and the fact that a revolutionary banner is flying somewhere in London in 1848 do seem to verify, respectively, Freud’s theory, Darwinian evolutionary theory, and Marx’s theory of historical development.

But, Popper argues, verifications are cheap. The genuine scientist, like Einstein, asks what would falsify their theory and then they try to falsify it. When one genuinely tries to falsify a theory Tx and fails, one has the right to count Tx, not as a verified theory, but as an unfalsified conjecture. Indeed, part of the significance of the title to Popper’s excellent book, Conjectures and Refutations, is that we should replace talk about “verified theories” with talk about “conjectures that have not been refuted yet.” The “yet” is important. For this fosters an undogmatic attitude in science.


VIII. Critical Rationalism And An “Open Society”

Popper develops his notion of falsifiability specifically in connection with the philosophy of science. His aim is to demarcate genuine scientific theories like Einstein’s Theory of Relativity from pseudo-scientific theories like Marxism and Freudian psychology. However, Popper aims to expand his anti-dogmatism from scientific reasoning to all reasoning. This, he holds, is justified because, as he states in the Preface to the first English edition of The Logic of Scientific Discovery, scientific reasoning is a kind of paradigm of all of our different kinds of reasoning: “The growth of knowledge can be studied best by studying the growth of scientific knowledge.” Thus, Popper aims to extend his falsifiabilty criterion, by analogy, to reasoning in philosophy, religion, morals, aesthetics, etc. Obviously, one cannot require that these mostly non-empirical theories and views are empirically falsifiable. However, one can require that theories and views in each of these areas is open to continual criticism.

In order to ensure that this critical spirit is preserved one requires what Popper calls an “open society” rather than a closed one, that is, 1) a society that honors and cultivates problem solving, 2) a society that promotes bold risky theorizing accompanied by unfettered criticism, and, equally importantly, 3) a society that permits the possibility of genuine change as the result of that criticism.

In his 1994 book All Life Is Problem Solving, Popper argued that modern Western liberal democracies are the closest approximation we have yet found to open societies and he defended them as “the best of all political worlds of whose existence we have any historical knowledge.” The value of these open liberal democracies lies primarily in their ideal of individual freedom and ability to peacefully self-correct over time.

Other philosophers, J. S. Mill, etc., have defended the liberal democracies, but Popper grounds his defence of these systems of government in his epistemological views, specifically in his concept of critical rationalism, which, in turn, is grounded in his account of scientific reasoning as problem solving by means of trial and error, what Popper recasts as “conjecture and refutation.”

The United States, which Popper much admired in the 1950’s for its cultivation of individuality and freedom, has, until recently, aspired to the idea of an “open society.” Unfortunately, both elected and unelected individuals who believe, apparently, that they have some privileged access to the truth and some greater claim to morality than ordinary citizens have begun censoring people, including the elected president of the United States, with whom they disagree (or, perhaps, to be more precise, people who stand in the way of their unfettered accumulation of wealth and power).

One might believe that the United States, with its “Bill of Rights,” its first and second amendments to the constitution, the hallmarks of a free self-governing people, and its traditions of tolerance and respect for others can never turn into a dictatorship. However, as Popper, who had to flee Austria during the rise of Nazism knew only too well, one can never be complacent, for “dictatorship can happen anywhere.” The following section discusses what Popper saw as the two main intellectual threats to an “Open Society.”


IX. The Two Intellectual Threats To An Open Society: “Historicism” And “Holism”

In the Introduction to the 2012 edition of The Open Society and its Enemies, Popper begins by describing the fragility of our own short lived Western “open society:”

[This book] sketches some of the difficulties faced by our civilization—a civilization that… [aims] at humanness and reasonableness, at equality and freedom; a civilization that is still, as it were, in its infancy, and which still continues to grow and despite the fact that it has so often been betrayed by so many of the intellectual leaders of mankind. It attempts to show that this civilization has not yet recovered from the shock of its birth—the transition from the tribal or ‘closed’ society, with its submission to magical forces, to the ‘open’ society, which sets free the critical powers of man. It attempts to show that the shock of this transition is one of the factors that have made possible the rise of reactionary movements [that try to] overthrow civilization and return to tribalism. [The book] suggests that what we now call totalitarianism belongs to a tradition that is just as old, or just as young, as civilization itself… It tries thereby to contribute to our understanding of totalitarianism, and of the significance of the perennial fight against it.”

Popper warns that the citizens in the Western democracies take much in our “open” rational Western civilizations for granted and fail to appreciate how fragile it is, how easily it could fall back into the magical thinking and totalitarianism of the closed societies from which it so recently emerged. In Chapter 5 he describes the nature of these “closed” societies in greater detail:

It is one of the characteristics of the magical attitude of a primitive tribal or “closed” society that it lives in a charmed circle of unchanging taboos of laws and customs which are felt to be as inevitable as the rising of the sun, or the cycle of the seasons, or similar obvious regularities of nature. And it is only after this magical “closed society” has broken down that the theoretical understanding of the difference between nature and “society” can develop.

According to Popper, “historicism” and “holism” are the two main intellectual currents in the modern world that attempt to return us to such a comforting “magical ‘closed society’” of “inevitable” totalitarian and tribal laws and customs. Both of these tendencies are exemplified in Marx’s claim to have discovered the “laws of economic motion” that govern human history.

The particular “laws of economic motion” that Marx purports to have discovered tell us that human history is moving inevitably, just like the inexorable natural cycle of the seasons, towards the triumph of the ultimate tribe, the charmed circle” of the “chosen people,” an abstract communist brotherhood (updated recently to include an absolutely equal sisterhood as well that Marx, in what Kierkegaard might call a moment of “world-historical absent-mindedness,” himself forgot to mention at the time), chosen, not by fallible human beings, but by the cosmic historical dialectic itself (the closest thing to a God that remains after the grand “scientific” historicist purge).

The greatest virtue (if one may still be permitted to speak of virtues) of this magical historical dialectic is that the human beings that survive it are relieved of the burden of being free individuals existing in and for themselves by being reduced to a “comrade,” a member, just like any other, of the abstract historically chosen brotherhood and sisterhood. Should one be curious about what individuality means for Marx one will be disappointed. The notion of individuality only occurs once in the one thousand and eighty-four pages of Volume 1 of the 1990 edition of Capital, and that not in the work itself, but in the Preface to the first edition. Marx there explains that “individuals are dealt with here only insofar as they are the personification of economic categories, the bearers [Träger] of particular class-relations and interests” and goes on to add that his standpoint, “less than any other [can] make the individual responsible for [class] relations whose creature he remains…” One must read the last clause carefully, Marx holds that the individual remains “the creature” of [class] relations” for which he is not responsible, or, as Popper might put it, Marx holds that the individual remains “submitted” to magical forces that are, in a “primitive tribal or ‘closed’ society,” seen as just as inevitable as the natural cycles. That is, Popper sees Marxism as a return, under the guise of a new “science,” to the magical fortune-telling of totalitarian tribal primitivism.

For Popper, it is no more a surprise that Marx’s predictions failed to come true than that the primitive shaman’s prediction about the future of the tribe based on his reading of the cracks in a tortoise shell fail to come true. For, there are no secret cycles of history accessible to primitive shamans and Marxists. It is worth pointing out that Popper also sees Freudianism as a return to this same primitive magical thinking based on belief in insight into the secret cycles of history (sexual trauma in child is causally linked to neurosis in adults – but don’t ask for any precisely formulated laws linking the two because the link can only be glimpsed by the well-paid shaman sitting beside the paying patient on the couch). Since, however, Marx’s magical mode of thinking is our main subject here, Popper’s more detailed critique of Freud’s brand of fortune-telling must be left for another occasion.

Popper’s basic argument against all species of historicism, given in schematic form in the Preface to his The Poverty of Historicism, is that since it is impossible to predict the future growth of human knowledge (because, roughly, that would require one to know something before one knows it), and since the growth of human knowledge has a major influence on the development of human history, it is literally impossible to predict the future course of human history (as Marx and other “historicists” purport to do).

The failure of Malthus’ prediction about the inevitability of mass starvation in England illustrates Popper’s point. For, there is no way Malthus could know on the basis of the scientific knowledge of his day how the future growth of human knowledge would enable human beings to avoid his dire predictions.

The failure of Marx’s prediction of the necessary collapse of capitalism into socialism is another. For there is simply no way Marx could know on the basis of the scientific knowledge of his day how the future growth of human knowledge would enable human beings to modify their institutions to escape the collapse of capitalism. There is, for example, no way he could know that capitalism would produce so much wealth that the worker and capitalist classes would begin to merge, thereby defusing the antagonism between them.

Astonishingly, “historicists” in general forget the mundane fact that human beings can actually learn new things that enable them to change the course of their history. Human beings are not termites that build their castle to the cycle of the seasons. Indeed, it is the ability to learn new things and take one’s destiny in one’s own hands that distinguishes the emergence of human civilization from blind nature.

Popper holds that “historicism” is a threat to an “open society” because historicists tell people that their future is not in their hands but is already determined by the great impersonal forces of history. That is, if the collapse of capitalism and rise of socialism and communism is inevitable, why should one fight to save capitalism? Similarly, since capitalism is doomed by virtue of Marx’s “economic laws of motion,” why should one not help hasten its demise in order to usher in the inevitable glorious era of socialism and communism?

Since socialism and communism are “necessarily” coming anyways, it is much better, not to mention more healthy and more profitable, to be on “the right side of history” (much better to be one of the comrades in the communist Ministry of Truth than one of the dissidents in a gulag), but to know what “the right side of history” is one must consult the right shaman or Marxist. It is just a shame that history shows that Marxists and other shamans regularly get their predictions wrong.

Similarly, “holism” (or collectivism) also tells people that their nature and destiny are not in their own individual hands, not something for which Marx’s “creatures” are individually responsible, but something that is only determined by the whole collective. In Marx’s version of “holism,” the whole is one’s “class” (defined solely in economic terms). Thus, in a capitalist society, one is either, with a few exceptions, a member of the “worker” class or the “capitalist” class which are, according to Marxist edicts, by their very nature, “antagonistic” to each other. As Marx states in “The Coming Upheaval” (excerpted from the end of his The Poverty of Philosophy), the worker’s class “constitutes itself as a class for itself,” which means that the worker’s interests are its “class interests” (period).

Consider, for example, a hypothetical worker Mary. Since Mary’s interests are her “class interests” and since the worker’s class is intrinsically “constituted for itself” against an antagonistic class of capitalists, Mary’s interests are reduced to her working classes struggle with the capitalist class – whether Mary likes it or not. For example, Mary, left to her own individual devices, might not have any intrinsic antagonism towards capitalists. In fact, a capitalist, Rob, gave Mary her job. The two might actually, on the personal level, like and admire each other. However, Marx’s holism, his communism, refuses to see Mary as anything other than an abstract representative of the working class (“the personification of economic categories”). Thus, any possibility of a mutually beneficial relationship between Mary and Rob is verboten. For the great historical dialectic has determined that Mary must be intrinsically antagonistic to Rob. There is no point resisting this class antagonism because it is a necessary consequence of the great impersonal economic forces of history.

Thus, in the same document, Marx asks, “[I]s it at all surprising that a society founded on opposition of classes against classes should culminate in brutal ‘contradiction’, the shock of body against body [violence], as a final dénouement?” Too bad for Mary and Bob, both of whom, had they been free to be themselves, might have been quite happy together!

It is also worth pointing out that Marx’s theoretical assertion of the necessity of violence (“brutal… shock of body against body”) between the different classes can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. That is, teaching that class war is necessary to generations of students can lead to the creation of conflict where none need exist.

After all, if Marxian “science” states that Z, as a worker, is intrinsically antagonistic to members of the capitalist class, then Z is likely to cultivate such antagonisms where none need exist. Why should Z not cultivate these antagonisms? Z is taught that they are written into the structure of the cosmos. It could be, therefore, that the class war is inevitable, not because of Marx’s great impersonal forces of history, but because indoctrinating generation after generation of students with these radical theories instills these antagonisms in people that might otherwise have learned to work together to solve problems.

The primitive, magical, tribal belief that there is a necessary antagonism between the different classes, not Marx’s fictitious “laws of economic motion,” itself makes the destructive cycle of class struggles inevitable. Eldridge Cleaver, a violent socialist, communist and Marxist in his youth, eventually saw through this self-destructive policy and joined his capitalist benefactors.

It is noteworthy that Marx sees his theory of dialectical materialism as a “scientific” antidote to the magical religious superstitions of the past. In his commentary on Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Marx describes religion, which he aims to replace by his “science” of dialectical materialism, as “the opiate of the masses.” Popper holds that the shoe is on the other foot. That is, Popper sees Marxism (and Freudianism) as a return to the magical tribal superstitions of the “closed” totalitarian tribes of the primitive past.

These kinds of tribal superstitions are seductive for just that reason. Since the human race has only recently escaped its tribal totalitarian past with its seductive magical thinking, the egg-shells of those primitive beliefs still cling to human society. Since, however, the human race has acquired the beginnings of critical rationality, these old magical ways of thinking can only be revived if they are cloaked in the guise of science. Since no genuine scientist could possibly confirm the magical connections conjured by Marx and Freud, it must be a new kind of science, not like Newton’s or Einstein’s genuine testable sciences, but an unfalsifiable science that resembles a new religious dogma.

Indeed, this is one of the reasons that Marxism is so hostile to religion. For Marxism and religion are competitors. Specifically, Marxism is attempting to occupy the position formerly held by theistic religions like Christianity. Marxism is the translation, so to speak, of the theistic salvation story into a purely “materialistic” medium. The Christian’s spiritual pilgrimage through the trials and temptations of human life is replaced by the dialectical advance through the trials and temptations of capitalism.

When, in a footnote to the end of Chapter 32 of Capital, Marx describes the “proletariat” (the working class) “alone” as the “really revolutionary class,” he is describing the group redeemer sent by the inexorable dialectical process to save humanity from its capitalist sinners. The spiritual heaven, the absolute unitary whole of God’s kingdom that awaits devout Christians in the afterlife, is replaced by the unitary whole of the communist paradise at Marx’s “end of history.” This is Christian eschatology (the “end of times” story) translated into Marx’s materialist terms. The absolute truth of the Christian story of salvation is replaced by the absolute laws and cycles of history as consecrated by the new unfalsifiable “science” of dialectical materialism, the closest thing to a “God” remains for completely material (economic) beings. There is no use resisting the inexorable (“necessary”) laws of dialectical materialism for the same reason there is no use resisting the Almighty in heaven. For neither can be resisted. Marxism is cosmic totalitarianism made (pseudo) “scientific” as a new opiate for the “materialist” masses to replace the religious views it attempts to replace.


X. Popper’s Ideal Of Socratic Humility

This article begins by noting the totalitarianism currently overtaking society in the United States, the ignorant angry snarling mobs of children at Evergreen University and other universities around the country threatening their teachers and administrators, the censorship of conservatives and the President of the United States by all-knowing leftist tech billionaires, the Lilliputian members of the “news” media whose shows with their tiny arrows more resemble Saturday Night Live than they do a genuine “news” shows, the “cancel culture” that is so afraid of hearing an opposing view that, like the old Soviet Union, it “disappears” people that might hurt its feelings, the return to tribalism in “identity politics” that divides people into antagonistic camps based on their skin color, gender, ethnicity, etc., the calls by transparent partisans about setting up a Ministry of Truth to enlist government power, Soviet-style, to impose their views on the oppressed masses, the unfalsifiable (and, in fact, unformulable) assertions of “white privilege” and “systemic racism,” and other recently popular forms of magical thinking used to bully people into submission, etc.

Popper formulated his criterion of falsifiability in his philosophy of science, and, later, his more general notion of “critical rationalism,” in order to enable one to distinguish genuine rational thinking from just these sorts of dogmatic nonsense. Unfortunately, fed by the decay of rational standards in our universities led by Marxists and other tribalists and shamans, all these lessons have been lost in the rush to the bottom. Talk of “rational standards” has become mere words, quickly sacrificed to the emotional cause du jour. As Popper, who lived through a similar national psychosis once before and had to flee Austria because of it, knew, there is literally no way that this ends well.

There is no better way to understand Popper’s anti-dogmatic ideal than to realize that although Popper opposed Plato, who he saw as one of the greatest dogmatists of all time, he considered himself as a disciple of Plato’s teacher, Socrates:

The encounter with Marxism was one of the main events of my intellectual development. It taught me a number of lessons I have never forgotten. It taught me the wisdom of the Socratic saying, “I know that I do not know.” It made me a fallibilist, and impressed on me the value of intellectual modesty. And it made me most conscious of the difference between dogmatic and critical thinking (Unended Quest, §8).

One often thinks of Socrates and Plato as virtually indistinguishable because Plato is Socrates’ most famous student and because we know most of what we know about Socrates from Plato. However, there are some respects in which the two appear to be virtually opposites. Whereas Plato, in his Republic, outlines a very totalitarian political system in which certain views, even lies (“noble lies”) are enforced by the state, Socrates, as reported in Plato’s Apology (21d), taught the opposite, that human wisdom consists in one thing only, that one knows that one knows nothing. Socrates in that passage also adds that wisdom consists in humility before God.

Popper’s entire mission is best understood as a call to return to the humble wisdom of the Socratic ideal. He implies this on the very first page of his Unended Quest where he explains how he became “a disciple of Socrates.” The students at our universities who think they know something because they have taken a course, or read a book, or attended some lectures, or acquired a degree, the Lilliputians in big tech and the mainstream “news” media who have somehow acquired the idea that their huge bank accounts somehow imbues them with genuine philosophic wisdom, many of our “educators” and politicians who are blinded by the sin of pride that, unfortunately, seem to infect these professions, and many others that, similarly, have no sense whatsoever of their own great limitations, could benefit by lesson in Socratic humility.

Perhaps every people need a Socrates to make them examine themselves but ours more than most. For acquiring genuine wisdom about the great issues of human life requires a kind of commitment and personal sacrifice, and the humility that only one who makes that kind of commitment and sacrifice can understand, that, as Plato’s brother Glaucon, puts it in the Republic (450b): [F]or intelligent people, “the proper measure of listening to such arguments is a whole life.”


Richard McDonough is the author of two books, numerous articles, encyclopedia and dictionary entries, and book reviews. He has taught previously at Bates College, the National University of Singpaore, the University of Tulsa, the University Putra Malaysia, the Overseas Family College, the PSB Academy, the University of Maryland, the Arium Academy, and James Cook University. In addition to philosophy, he has taught psychology, physics, humanities and writing courses.


The featured image shows, “View on L’Étang-la-Ville from the ruelle de la Coulette,” by Be de Waard, date unknown.

Eldridge Cleaver: From Violent Anti-Americanism to Christian Conservativism

Eldridge Cleaver (1935-1998) is a name not well known to many Americans today, not even to today’s disaffected youth in our universities and the culture at large. This is a surprise, although there are also reasons for it, because Eldridge was, at various times, an admitted criminal and “insurrectionary” rapist (rape as a way of striking back at “white” society), a member of the Black Panther Party, a “Black Muslim,” and one of the leading socialist, communist and Marxist revolutionaries of his time.

His book, Soul on Ice became the Bible, so to speak, of the Black Power movement. It also led Cleaver to become, for a time, the favorite black radical of American intellectuals. Eldridge was obviously highly intelligent. He was, in fact, a truly remarkable man. He did, it is true, have his demons right up to the end; not surprising, given his brutal start in life. But his life, taken as a whole, is a testament to the ability of a person to learn from his experiences. Indeed, that is precisely why he is out of favor today, when conformity to the script is the most prized quality.

Eldridge Cleaver was born on August 31, 1935 in the tiny town of Wabbaseka, Arkansas. His father, Leroy Cleaver was a nightclub entertainer and a waiter, and his mother an elementary school teacher. His father was reported to be a violent man who beat his wife. Eldridge stated that he wanted to grow up to be tall and strong like his father, but “bigger and stronger,” so that he could “beat him to the ground the way he beat my mother.”

His father was offered a job in the dining car of a train that ran from Chicago to Los Angeles. During this time Eldridge’s family moved to Phoenix Arizona and later, in 1946, to the Watts area in Los Angeles. While a teenager Eldridge got into petty crime and was sent to reform school for stealing a bicycle and selling marijuana. In 1954 he was convicted for marijuana possession, which was a felony at the time, and incarcerated at the California State Prison at Soledad for 2 ½ years. It was at this time he began reading widely and earned his high school diploma.

Despite this promising turn around, a year after his release, he was arrested for rapes, convicted of assault with intent to murder and sent to San Quentin prison first, and later to Folsom for a term of 2 to 14 years. In these years, Cleaver voraciously read the works of Karl Marx, Thomas Paine, Voltaire, Vladimir Lenin and W.E.B. Du Bois. For the record, Du Bois (1868-1963) was an American sociologist, historian, author, editor and activist and probably the most important black activist in the United States during the first half of the 20th century. Cleaver also began to engage in serious self-reflection and criticism. In Soul on Ice, the product of these self-reflections, Cleaver describes himself at his most depraved:

“I became a rapist. To refine my technique and modus operandi, I started out by practicing on black girls in… the black ghetto where dark and vicious deeds appear not as aberrations or deviations from the norm, but as part of the sufficiency of the Evil of the day – and when I considered myself smooth enough, I crossed the tracks and sought out white prey. I did this consciously, deliberately, willfully, methodically — though looking back I see that I was in a frantic, wild and completely abandoned frame of mind.
Rape was an insurrectionary act. It delighted me that I was defying and trampling upon the white man’s law, upon his system of values, and that I was defiling his women — and this point, I believe, was the most satisfying to me… I felt I was getting revenge.

“There was little doubt… that if I had not been apprehended, I would have slit some white throats.

I took a long look at myself and, for the first time in my life, admitted that I was wrong, that I had gone astray – astray, not so much from the white man’s law as from being human, civilized — for I could not approve the act of rape… I lost my self-respect. My pride as a man dissolved and my whole fragile moral structure seemed to collapse, completely shattered.”

After his release from prison, seeking a more moral and disciplined life, Cleaver joined the Black Muslim movement and became friends with Malcolm X. But after the assassination of Malcolm X, he denounced the Muslim faith. He did, however, retain a determination to realize Malcolm X’s dream of African Unity.

In 1966 he began writing for the Ramparts magazine, a glossy expensively produced and illustrated magazine associated with the New Left, and met the leaders of the young Black Panther Party, including Huey Newton and Bobby Seale. Eldridge joined the Panthers believing that Newton would carry on Malcolm X’s dream of African Unity and became the party’s Minister of Information and leader of the “Free Huey” movement.

While a member of the Panthers, he called for an armed insurrection to overthrow the United States government and its replacement by a black socialist government.

On April 6th of 1968 Cleaver, with 14 other Black Panthers armed with M16 rifles and shotguns, was involved in a shootout with police, which the Panthers blamed on the police, and in which the seventeen-year-old Panther, Bobby Hutton was killed.

Cleaver was charged with attempted murder and ordered back to prison. However, a judge ordered him released from prison two months later, and Cleaver gave a series of lectures at the University of California at Berkeley. The Governor of California at the time, Ronald Reagan, attempted to prevent Cleaver from speaking at Berkeley. In addition to calling Reagan “Mickey Mouse,” Cleaver once challenged Reagan to a duel:

“I challenged Ronald Reagan to a duel and I reiterate that challenge tonight. . . . And I give him his choice of weapons. He can use a gun, a knife, a baseball bat or a marshmallow. And I’ll beat him to death with a marshmallow.”

In the Reason interview, Cleaver also admits to plotting to kill Reagan. Cleaver’s parole was revoked and he was ordered back to prison. But, on Nov. 24, 1968, three days before he was due to turn himself in to the authorities, Cleaver fled to Cuba. He then spent the next seven years travelling through various socialist and communist countries, including Algeria, North Korea, China, and the Soviet Union, before, finally, settling down for a period in France.

Although Cleaver was initially treated to a life of luxury in Cuba, relations with Castro soured and Cleaver left Cuba for Algeria. Elaine Klein got him an invitation to attend the Pan-African Cultural Festival, which temporarily rendered him safe from prosecution. His work in the Festival enabled him to meet revolutionaries from all over Africa to discuss the evils of white supremacy and colonialism.

Cleaver again called for violence against the United States and stated his mission to “position the Panthers within the revolutionary nationalist camp inside the United States, and as disciples of Fanon on the world stage”.

Fritz Omar Fanon (1925–1961), born on the island of Martinique under French colonial rule, is difficult to classify. Fanon had an eclectic range of influences, including French Marxist and “Existentialist” Jean-Paul Sartre and French phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty. But it is fair to say that he combined Marxism, black existentialism and critical theory in his struggle against “Atlantic colonialism.”

During his travels through various socialist and communist countries, Cleaver even developed a curious alliance with the communist government in North Korea, and his Black Panther Party began publishing excerpts from its strange reclusive leader, Kim Il Sung.

Although Americans were forbidden to visit North Korea at the time, Cleaver and several other Panthers made two visits to the country in 1969-1970 to determine whether North Korea’s “juche model” could be adapted to the cause of black liberation in the United States.

Juche deserves a longer discussion but this is the basics: It was described as a program of national self-reliance, as a means of getting rid of Soviet domination of North Korea, which sounds positive enough, but it was actually used as a justification for the creation of the bizarre North Korean closed-door policy to the outside world and, internally, to justify getting rid of Kim Il Sung’s political rivals and achieve total dictatorial control of the country. After being taken on an official tour of North Korea, Cleaver expressed his admiration for North Korea’s “stable crime free society which provided guaranteed food, employment, and housing for all, and… had no economic or social inequalities.”

By 1975, however, after experiencing the joys of socialism and communism first hand in multiple countries around the world, as opposed to celebrating them in the comfy confines of a Berkeley sociology lecture, or while sitting cross-legged in a circle passing around the “peace pipe,” Cleaver had reversed his opinions.

In the interview with Reason magazine, he explained that in the United States he had sought to “fight against what I saw as the evils of our system.” But when he went “to a country like Cuba or Algeria or the Soviet Union and [saw] the nature of control that those state apparatuses had over the people – it was shocking to me. I didn’t want to believe it, because it meant that the politics that I was espousing was wrong.”

In that same interview, Cleaver also addresses Marx’s idea that after the glorious socialist revolution a “dictatorship of the proletariat” will be necessary for some temporary period until the state “withers away” and everyone achieves complete freedom. After his actual, real-world experience of these regimes, Cleaver begged to differ:

“The communists teach you that the dictatorship is a transient phase—that once capitalism is eliminated, then the state will wither away and you will have freedom. Well, when you look at those governments up close and see how they treat their own people, you can’t believe in that. You see that people are using that preachment of the withering away of the state as their excuse to justify their own dictatorial power.”

When asked in the Reason interview why so many American “intellectuals,” like Barbara Walters or George McGovern, visit these socialist and communist regimes and come away impressed, Cleaver stated that this was because they just “scurry” right though quickly, while getting the red-carpet treatment. That is, they are enormously gullible. By contrast, Cleaver said, “I lived in those kinds of places and I got to know people and made friends. I got to know the governments, the people in the military, people in the Communist Party or whatever they called it. That gives you a different perspective.” Indeed, this one-time communist told Reason magazine that he now thought stopping communism is “a noble cause.”

Since leftist accusations against the police are once again the most useful cause du jour to manipulate the public and get their way, it is significant that in the interview with Reason magazine, Cleaver also addressed the gunfight with the police in which Bobby Hutton was killed – but describes those events entirely differently than he had during his days as a Panther:

“We went after the cops that night, but when we got caught, we said they came after us. We always did that. When you talk about the legacy of the ’60’s that’s one legacy… [I]t helped to distort the image of the police, but I’ve come to the point where I realize that our police department is necessary.”

Whereas in his days as a Black Panther, Cleaver had accused the police for the gunfight that killed Bobby Hutton, he now admitted that it was his group that provoked the violence so that they could blame it on the police: “We always did that.”

This duplicitous strategy continues to the present day. “Protestors” still chant the “Hands up, don’t shoot!” slogan from the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri even though the Obama-Holder Justice Department, after a thorough investigation and testimony from six black witnesses, cleared the police Officer. Truth is not of major concern to leftists when dictatorial control of a whole country is the goal.

In the Reason interview Cleaver also returned to the night while living in France when he had his political and spiritual turnaround. He describes how, sitting with a gun in his hand, he was contemplating suicide, when he suddenly had a vision, in which his former Marxist heroes disappear in smoke and a blinding light led him to Christianity.

Disillusioned with the socialist and communist worlds, indeed, “shocked” by the way they treated their people, and homesick for the United States, Cleaver returned to America, even though a murder charge and a charge for skipping bail were still hanging over his head.

In 1977 he surrendered to the FBI under a deal in which the he pled guilty to the assault charge and was sentenced to 1,200 hours of community service in exchange for dropping the attempted murder charge. Facing a murder charge in the United States is, apparently, preferable, and not by a small margin, to being given the red-carpet treatment in the various socialist and communist paradises around the world.

In a 1998 article in the New York Times titled, “Eldridge Cleaver, Black Panther Who Became a G.O.P. Conservative, Is Dead at 62,” John Kifner describes how Cleaver continued his evolution, after returning to the United States. Having witnessed the devastation wreaked by socialism and communism with his own eyes, he became an entrepreneur (apparently realizing that capitalism, far from being evil, gives individuals the freedom to turn an idea and some hard work into a good, even a great, way of life, creating jobs for others along the way), and marketed a new type of men’s trousers called the “Cleaver Sleeve” featuring a codpiece.

Cleaver became a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormon) for a time, before becoming a Christian conservative, a member of the Republican Party and a supporter of Ronald Reagan, the man he had once plotted to kill. What a difference growing up makes! He even ran for public office as a Republican but lost. Cleaver had come full circle.

As a result of his real education living in socialist and communist countries, he went from being a Marxist revolutionary who called for the assassination of Ronald Reagan to being a Christian conservative Republican Reagan supporter.

At the time of his interview with Reason magazine, Cleaver lived in a modest apartment in Berkeley California where he was working on a book on the history of the 1960s. A large American flag, testimony to the fact that some people are actually willing to learn from their experience, flew from his front porch. With his prominently displayed large American flag, the former Marxist was clearly trying to send a message.

Cleaver’s turnabout was not, predictably, appreciated on the Left. The same New York Times article describes a case in the 1980s when Cleaver demanded that the Berkeley City Council begin its meetings with the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag, a practice that they had once followed but had abandoned several years earlier. The Berkeley Mayor Gus Newport responded: “Shut up Eldridge. Shut up or we’ll have you removed!”

Cleaver might be forgiven if he thought he was back in one of his other former socialist or communist paradises. Further, at the time of the writing of this article, Wikipedia, which is sometimes, perhaps in a poor attempt at humour, described as an “encyclopedia,” has a reasonably sized article of about 630 words, not counting the footnotes, for Cleaver’s youthful angry anti-American book, Soul on Ice.

Since, however, Cleaver’s later book, Soul on Fire, which describes his conversion to being a Christian conservative, pro-American Republican is much more positive and hopeful, and most unforgivably, his conversion to support Ronald Reagan, it does not merit a Wikipedia article at all, not even a brief one, and is not even mentioned in the Wikipedia article about Soul on Ice.

Despite Cleaver’s remarkable evolution, it must be admitted that some of his demons remained with him in later life. In 1990 and 1994, he had police issues over the use of crack cocaine. But that is not why he is criticized and rejected by the Left where self-destructive drug use is just a part of life.

Cleaver’s mistake, for the Left, is that he had actually allowed himself to learn from his experiences over the years and see though his youthful leftist follies – for the ability to learn from experience is precisely what the Left cannot abide.

Richard McDonough is the author of two books, numerous articles, encyclopedia and dictionary entries, and book reviews. He has taught previously at Bates College, the National University of Singpaore, the University of Tulsa, the University Putra Malaysia, the Overseas Family College, the PSB Academy, the University of Maryland, the Arium Academy, and James Cook University. In addition to philosophy, he has taught psychology, physics, humanities and writing courses.

The featured image shows, “Unite,” a color screenprint, by Barbara Jones-Hogu, printed 1969.

Karl Marx’s Exuberant Praise Of Capitalism

The bourgeoisie [the capitalist]… has accomplished wonders, far surpassing Egyptian Pyramids, Roman aqueducts, and Gothic Cathedrals… [D]uring its rule of scarce of one hundred years, [it] has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than… all preceding generations together… [W]hat earlier century had even a presentiment that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labor? (Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto, Chapter I).

Karl Marx (in collaboration with Friedrich Engels) is known as the greatest foe of capitalism. Further, his views have recently made a considerable comeback in the United States and around the world, first in the “Ivory Tower,” and from there into the culture in general. In fact, Marx made many claims about capitalism, some very positive and some very negative, but he is generally known only for the latter. However, history has shown that most of the negative things Marx said about capitalism have turned out to be false and most of the positive things he said about capitalism have turned out to be true, which leaves his exuberant praise for capitalism standing as Marx’s real legacy.

I will discuss Marx’s Marxism, here called “original Marxism,” but which also touches upon Herbert Marcuse’s Marxism of the “New Left,” a peculiar combination of Marxism with Freudian psychology that became popular in the 1960s, and the more diffuse “Cultural Marxism” that arises from an inconsistent alliance between the various species of Marxism and Post-Modernism (the relativist view which rejects the notion of objective truth).

Finally, Marxists, and others on the Left influenced by it, generally called “progressives,” often claim the moral high ground, asserting that it is the Marxists and “progressives” that care about the poor, while the evil capitalists, motivated only by the profit motive, aim to “exploit” and “oppress” them. This is the opposite of the truth.

1. Some Key Terms

It is necessary, first, to begin with a few basic definitions of several key terms, specifically, feudalism, capitalism, socialism, communism, and Marx’s “original” Marxism. The discussion of the controversial notion of “cultural Marxism” is postponed until later on in this discussion.

First, feudalism is an economic system in which feudal landlords own the land and permit the serfs to work the land in exchange for “protection.” However, feudalism appears to be exploitative since the serfs do all the actual work, while the feudal landlords take a considerable portion of what they produce.

Capitalism is an economic system founded on “free markets” in which all economic decisions are made by households or firms that are assumed to act in their own self-interest to maximize their own profit. These markets are “free” because these households and firms make their own economic decisions without being controlled by any central authority, such as the state. Economic freedom is based in the notion of private property. For example, Bill Gates, not the state, owns Microsoft. It is his to do with it as he wishes. He can even destroy the company if he wishes. That is, there is an important connection between capitalism, private property and economic freedom.

One might also add that economic freedom is a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for political freedom. Further, since the market is free, there are normally many different private planners throughout the economy. That is, a free market presupposes competition, which, in turn, motivates the competing capitalists to continually improve the quality of their product in order to attract buyers and increase their profit. The fact that the capitalist operates on the basis of a self-interested profit motive opens it to the charge that it too, like feudalism, is exploitative. Marx certainly thought so. However, I will argue later that this gets it precisely backwards.

Socialism is an economic system in which land and capital are collectively owned. Usually this means that land and capital are owned by the state (although it could, theoretically, be owned by some smaller collective such as a commune). A socialist economy is often called a command economy because the state controls the economy in three different ways:

  1. It plans the allocation of resources between current consumption and future investment;
  2. It plans the output of each industry or firm, and
  3. It plans the distribution of the output (goods) between the consumers.

A socialist economy is, therefore, centrally planned because all economic decisions are made by the central commander (the state). In a socialist economy, Bill Gates does not decide what kind of computers to produce. The central planner, the state, tells him what kind of computers to produce. Note that in a socialist economy there is still private property, but it is owned by the state, not by private households or firms. The state owns and controls the airline industry, the automobile industry, the oil industry, and so on.

It is more difficult to give a concise definition of communism, but Marx thinks of communism as a more extreme purified version of socialism in which all vestiges of private property, including that held by the state, have been eliminated. In fact, Marx has theoretical considerations that commit him to the view that it is impossible to know exactly what the communist economy will be like until one actually produces it. This is reminiscent of Nancy Pelosi’s remark: “You have to pass the bill to know what’s in it.” This is quite alarming, but this particular potential objection to Marx’s communism is not something that I will take up here.

One must also carefully distinguish between Marxism and communism. There is an infamous interview in which a presenter on a New Orleans television station asks Lee Harvey Oswald, the assassin of President John Kennedy, if he is a communist, and Oswald gives a somewhat garbled reply that he is a Marxist but not a communist. The presenter, shocked, asks, “What’s the difference?”

In fact, Oswald’s position is logically consistent, if a bit odd. For communism and Marxism are not even the same kinds of theories. Marxism is a theory about historical development, specifically, the view that, starting with feudalism, feudalism necessarily breaks down and turns into capitalism, which, in turn, necessarily breaks down and turns into socialism, which, in turn, necessarily devolves into its purified form, communism. Communism, by contrast, is not a theory of historical development at all but an economic theory. Nevertheless, there is an internal relation between Marxism and communism. Specifically, the Marxist theory of historical development holds that human history is necessarily developing towards the final stage, namely, the economic system of communism.

Despite this internal connection, a communist can consistently reject Marx’s theory of historical development as complete nonsense. Further, a Marxist, who holds that human history is necessarily developing towards communism, might consistently hold that he or she is not happy about this. Such a position would be odd but only because it would represent a certain kind of extreme pessimism: The world is necessarily moving towards communism but one rejects communism. Of course, it is more likely that Oswald, not being a Rhodes Scholar, just did not understand either theory very well.

Although Marx is generally known as a “philosopher,” he claims that Marxism is a scientific theory. Marx sees his view that feudalism necessarily turns into capitalism, which in turn necessarily turns into socialism, which in turn necessarily devolves into communism as perfectly analogous with the view in the science of botany that a seed necessarily turns into a shoot, which in turn necessarily turns into a stem, which in turn necessarily turns into a bud, which in turn necessarily turns into a blossom.

Whereas Hegel had produced a view of historical development that invokes unscientific notions, e.g., the notion of the “World Spirit,” Marx purports to transforms Hegel’s romantic philosophical theory into a scientific theory, which he called dialectical materialism, in which the moving forces in human history are all empirically accessible entities, like material human conditions and behavior. In the Preface to the first German Edition of Capital, Marx compares his discovery of “the economic law of economic motion” of modern societies to Newton’s discovery of the “natural laws of motion.” As an alleged scientific theory, Marxism purposes to render scientific explanations and predictions. It should, therefore, unlike Hegel’s mystical theory, but like Newtonian mechanics, be testable.

In fact, the 19th century witnessed the production of a new range of allegedly “scientific” theories in regions that had previously been the province of philosophers and mystics, specifically, evolution, psychology, and historical development.

Darwin’s evolutionary theory purported to be a scientific theory, invoking an empirically observable mechanism (“survival of the fittest”), to explain why the observed species of living organisms have in fact evolved.

Freud’s psychology purported to be an empirical scientific theory that explains key aspects of human behavior, specifically, human neurotic behavior, by reference to sexual trauma and mental mechanisms of repression.

Finally, Marxism purports to be an empirical scientific theory that explains why human history necessarily moves from feudalism to capitalism and predicts how the capitalist society of his day will necessarily develop in the future.

2. Marx’s Basic Theory Of Historical Development

According to “original” Marxism, the single driving force of history, from feudalism to capitalism to socialism to communism, is class struggle. The guiding idea is that each of these economic systems contains certain “contradictions” that are successively eliminated as history develops. In the feudal system there is an internal “contradiction” between the feudal class that owns the land and the serfs who must labor on the land at a bare subsistence level. This “contradiction” causes the serfs to revolt against the feudal landlords in order to obtain a fairer arrangement. Thus, feudalism breaks down and gives way to the next stage, capitalism.

Marxists hold that capitalism solves some of the “contradictions” in feudalism, e.g., in a capitalist system people are permitted to own their own property rather that work the property of the feudal landlords, but capitalism has its own internal “contradictions.” The “contradiction” between the feudal landlord is replaced by the new “contradiction” between the capitalist, who “owns the means of production,” the factories, machines and so on, and the “workers” who are forced to work for the capitalists. There is a “contradiction” between the two because it is in the self-interest of the capitalists to maximize their profit by getting the maximum productivity out of the workers, while paying them the bare minimum. In brief, the capitalists must push the workers to work harder and harder for less and less until the “workers of the world,” pushed to the brink, revolt and create a more equitable socialist society in which “the means of production” is owned by the collective, the society as a whole, and shared out among the workers.

In a socialist society, the “contradiction” between the capitalists and the workers is, allegedly, eliminated because the workers are themselves parts of the social cooperative that “owns the means of production.” Gone are the feudal overlords who control the lives of the serfs. Gone are the capitalists who control the lives of the workers. In socialism, with these class distinctions gone, the workers are, so to speak, their own bosses, at least in theory. They are members of a cooperative group that decides for itself, not being told what to do by a separate antagonistic class, how economic resources are to be produced and distributed in society. That is the whole point of socialism. Marx divines that since there are, allegedly, no more class oppositions in socialism, the resources will be distributed equally.

In the final stage, the Marxist formula changes slightly. Since all history is driven by class struggles, and since there are no class differences in socialism, the transition from socialism to communism is not driven by class struggle. Since Marx thinks of socialism as a kind of preliminary form of communism, it need not undergo the massive revolutionary change one sees in the transition from feudalism to capitalism, or from capitalism to socialism. The problem with socialism is more minor. It is only that various vestiges of the old capitalist system still cling to the socialist system. Human beings, reared in a capitalist system that values private property, will retain some of these views and desires in the new socialist system. The transition to full-fledged communism, therefore, merely requires eliminating these vestiges in a piecemeal purification process until the full-fledged communist society, completely devoid of private property, is produced.

At this point, there are no longer even the vestiges of class distinctions. Since the dialectical process is driven by class distinctions, and since, in communism, these have all been eliminated, the dialectical process (historical development) comes to an end and human beings can, for the first time freed from the inexorable class struggle, freely decide what they want to do. As Herbert Marcuse, in the last line of his An Essay on Liberation, puts it, “For the first time in our life we shall be free to think about what we are going to do.” Note that this reflects Marx’s (alarming) view that it is impossible to say very much about the last stage of human historical development, communism, until one gets there.

Marx gives a very specific description of this pattern of historical development.

First, Marx holds that human history, like the history of a plant from seed to stem to bud to blossom, necessarily unfolds in precisely the sequence of stages he describes.

Second, Marx holds that it is not possible to skip a step, i.e., not possible to jump directly from feudalism to socialism by skipping the capitalist phase, any more than it is possible to pass from stem to blossom in the history of a plant by skipping the bud stage. For this reason, it would be a mistake, impossible of success, if an overly enthusiastic communist were to try to push the feudal phase to break down into the socialist phase by skipping over the intermediary capitalist stage. It is entirely necessary that human society passes through the specified sequence of stages in the proper order.

Third, the breakdown of one economic stage of a society into the next stage also follows a particular pattern. For example, given two capitalist societies in different stages of development, the one that is at the more advanced stage will break down into socialism before the one that is still at an earlier stage. If, for example, in the late 19th century, England is at a more advanced stage of capitalism than America, then England will fall to a socialist revolution before America does. Marx has a particular picture. In its early stages, capitalism is not fully developed. As such, the “contradictions” in capitalism are also not fully developed.

The further development of capitalism, so to speak, further exposes both the negative aspect of capitalism. Accordingly, there is no danger that capitalism will collapse into socialism at those early stages. It will only be when the “contradictions” in capitalism are fully developed, that is, when capitalism itself is fully developed, that the socialist revolution can and must happen. Since Marx, banished from Germany, was living in England, the most advanced capitalist economy at the time, he witnessed William Blake’s “dark Satanic mills” in which child laborers are mercilessly exploited in order to maximize the profits of the capitalist. Accordingly, he predicted that the socialist revolution would first occur in the most advanced capitalist economy at the time, England.

Finally, Marx explicitly states that the transition from capitalism to socialism involves violence. In his 1872 speech, “The Possibility of Non-Violent Revolution,” he states that “we must also recognize that the lever of our revolution must be force; it is force to which we must someday appeal if we are to erect the rule of labor.”

Marx also endorses the need for dictatorship. In his Critique of the Gotha Program, Marx describes the “rule of labor” in the transition to socialism as “the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.”

Similarly, Marcuse endorses the need for both force and dictatorship: “The [idea] of “educational dictatorship” … [is] easy to ridicule but hard to refute … [for] to the degree to which the slaves [the American people] have been preconditioned to … be content … in that role … they must be “forced to be free.” (One Dimensional Man, Chap. 2).

Force and dictatorship are central to “original” Marxism. Indeed, this is only common sense. Since people will not freely give up the private property that they believe they have earned, the Marxist or socialist will have to take it from them by force.

3. Marx’s Exuberant Praise Of Capitalism

Although Karl Marx, the man, was emotionally invested in the eventual triumph of communism, it is important to note that Karl Marx the aspiring scientist was no more emotionally invested in the triumph of communism than a botanist is emotionally invested in the fact that the bud normally turns into a blossom. Karl Marx qua scientist simply purports to describe the alleged laws of human historical development, just as Isaac Newton simply describes the laws of mechanics. Karl Marx the scientist simply holds that this is how history does develop, namely, from feudalism to capitalism to socialism to communism in accord with a certain necessary pattern. Qua scientist, Karl Marx does not hold that capitalism ought to collapse into socialism. Karl Marx the scientist simply holds that this is what, in fact, happens and what must happen.

This is, perhaps, why Karl Marx, unlike many of his more enthusiastic followers over the years, was able to acknowledge the enormous virtues of capitalism. Indeed, Marx’s praise for capitalism in the Communist Manifesto is far more enthusiastic than that of many current defenders of capitalism.

Capitalism, Marx tells us, has produced “wonders” far beyond anything produced by the ancient Egyptian, Roman, or Gothic architects. Since those ancient “wonders” are, even today, reckoned among the great accomplishments of humanity, Marx’s elevation of the “wonders” of capitalism above them is high praise indeed.

Further, Marx stresses that capitalism has accomplished all this in a very brief span of about 100 years! During this brief span of time, capitalism has released “more massive and more colossal productive forces” than “all preceding generations” combined! No one in earlier centuries has even had a “presentiment” that such “massive … productive forces” were even possible.

Then, Marx goes on in the same passages to explain that capitalism, by unleashing these massive productive forces, does not merely improve economic conditions, but, rather, “In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures, there arises a world literature… The bourgeois [capitalists], by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian nations into civilization. The cheap prices of commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate.”

That is, capitalism draws the various nations out of their prejudicial self-seclusion and fosters intercourse and interdependence between them. This is not merely economic interdependence but intellectual interdependence as well, leading even to the establishment of a “world literature.” The Chinese and the Japanese now read Shakespeare and the English-speaking West reads the Tao te-Ching and Zen poetry. Thus, capitalism begins to break down “national one-sidedness and narrow mindedness,” which, in turn, brings “civilization” to “barbarian” nations and forces the different peoples to end their “intensely obstinate hatred” of the other.

It needs to be stressed that it is in the very nature of Marxism that capitalism must produce many goods results. Since Marxism has a developmental view of history, in which human societies move through a series of ever-improving stages toward the final resolution at the end, and since capitalism is the intermediary stage just below the glorious advent of socialism, Marx is committed to hold that capitalism must, and has in fact, created many goods results.

Thus, the contemporary “Marxist” who, failing to understand the inner logic of Marx’s system, expresses bitter hatred for the evils of capitalism, is a bit like a botanist who expresses bitter hatred for the bud because it is not the blossom. Marx, by contrast, recognizes that the bud is entirely necessary in order to get the blossom; and, therefore, following the logic of his own system, he is committed, by analogy, to acknowledge the greatness of capitalism. That is why, in the passages quoted earlier, Marx expresses the same kind of wonder at the accomplishments of capitalism that a botanist might express at the blossoming of life in a plant.

For Marx, capitalism is, so to speak, a necessary stage in the blossoming of human development. It is in some ways a shame that Marx is not with us today to correct some of the misunderstandings and excesses of his confused emotion-driven progeny in the “Ivory tower” and the Hollywood hills.

4. Marxism Falsified By Historical Facts

The problem, for original Marxism, is not that capitalism has not accomplished a great deal of good, but that, on Marx’s view, will necessarily collapse as its (alleged) internal “contradictions” become manifest and give way to the even more wondrous economic blossoming of socialism.

However, this has just has not happened as Marx predicted. Whereas Marx predicted that the socialist revolution will occur first in England, where capitalism was most advanced at the time, it did not occur in England but in Russia in 1917, which was still in an abject feudal state at the time. Indeed, although the English economy has become more socialistic in some ways, this has been due to an evolutionary process and a great deal of capitalism has been retained. No socialist revolution has ever occurred in England.

Marx is wrong on at least two counts. First, he was wrong that the revolution would occur first in the most advanced capitalist country at the time, England. Second, he was wrong that it is not possible to “skip a step” and go directly from feudalism to socialism, which happened in Russia in 1917. According to the allegedly “scientific” Marxism, none of this was supposed to happen in the way it did in fact happen. The observed historical facts contradict Marxist theory.

Marxism was also wrong in an even more obvious way that should have been evident to Marx himself, which, surprisingly, has not received sufficient attention. Note that prediction is always risky. Einstein took a great risk when, on the basis of his theory of general relativity, he predicted that when Mercury passes behind the sun, on a certain date, its light rays would be bent by the sun’s gravitational field in an unexpected way that enables observers on Earth to see it when it is still behind the sun. Since that specific rare event had not been observed before, who could be sure what would happen? As it turned out, Einstein was right. His risky prediction was verified. That is good science. Had Mercury not been observed as predicted, a good scientist like Einstein would have been forced to go back to the drawing board and reject or revise his theory.

By contrast, explanation of past events is normally not so risky. For when one attempts to explain past events, one normally already knows the facts about what happened. One would, therefore, expect Marxism to do quite well in its explanation of the collapse of feudalism and the rise of capitalism. All Marx had to do was to make sure his theory fit the known historical facts.

However, as Milton Friedman has pointed out, Marx never solved the problem of feudalism that was staring him in the face. The collapse of feudalism and rise of capitalism did not come about as the result of any “class struggle” between serfs and feudal landlords. There was no “revolution” of that sort at all. Feudalism collapsed for a multiplicity of reasons that had nothing to do with its alleged “internal contradictions,” but because of a series of external historical accidents. Recall that there is no place in Marxism for accidents. The inexorable onward march of history is necessary!

One of these historical accidents was the opening up of trade around the Mediterranean and the emergence of the “Black Death” plague (probably brought into Europe via Turkey from China) in the 14th century that killed between 30 and 50 percent of the European population. The combination of these two external historical accidents simply made labor much more valuable. As a result, serfs were enabled to walk off their feudal plots of land and travel to the cities where their labor in that newly emerged market commanded much better wages than they received from their feudal masters. Thus, feudalism collapsed, not because of any Marxist “internal contradictions” in feudalism, but because of accidental external developments that simply made the free labor market of capitalism much more desirable!

In summary, Marxist theory is refuted by the facts.

First, two of Marx’s most basic predictions turned out to be false. The predicted socialist revolution did not occur in the most advanced capitalist economy of the time, England. It occurred in Russia by skipping a step and going directly from a feudal economy to socialism, which is, for Marx, not possible.

Second, even more surprising, Marxism does not correctly describe or explain the collapse of feudalism and the rise of capitalism. There was no rising up of serfs in a “revolution” leading to the demise of feudalism and the emergence of capitalism. This was already evident in Marx’s own history books. That is, Marxist theory fails, and rather spectacularly, on all major fronts considered here. One wonders, therefore, why Marxism, like the monster in a cheap monster movie, keeps coming back after one had been entirely certain that it is finally, completely dead.

5. Marxism Is Quasi-Religious Dogma

Karl Popper states a powerful objection against all three of the remarkable alleged new “sciences” that appeared in the 19th century: Darwin’s evolutionary theory, Freudian psychology and Marxist historical materialism. Popper does not argue that these “theories” are false but that they are not even scientific theories. That is, Darwin, Freud and Marx each purport to have created a new science, but there is, in each case, something fraudulent about the claim to scientific status.

In order to make his argument, Popper must provide a criterion that a theory must satisfy in order to be judged to be a genuine scientific theory. Part of his criterion is that the theory must be falsifiable. That is, theory T is a genuine scientific theory only if there are precise specifiable conditions which, if these were to be observed to be the case, would show that the theory is false.

Once again, to avoid any possible misunderstanding, Popper does not argue that these three kinds of theories are false. He argues that these three kinds of theories are not even falsifiable because there is either something about the way they are logically structured or the way they are applied in practice that makes it impossible to falsify them.

Popper’s reasons for judging that these three types of theories are not falsifiable (ergo, not scientific), is different in each case. Unfortunately, since Marxism, not Darwinian or Freudian theory, is our present subject, only Popper’s critique of Marxist historical materialism can be considered in detail here.

Popper’s argument that Marxist historical materialism is not a genuine science is that when Marxist explanations or predictions turn out to be false, which they regularly do, Marxists do not, as a genuine scientist would in such circumstances, go back to the drawing board and revise their theory to take account of the recalcitrant facts.

Recall that, as argued in the previous section, the Marxist explanation that feudalism collapsed because of a “class struggle” between the feudal landlords and the serfs is not verified by the facts. Rather, the emergence of the “Black Death” in Europe had more to do with the collapse of feudalism than any alleged “internal contradictions” in feudalism.

Recall also that the great socialist revolution did not occur in England, where Marx predicted it would occur, but rather that capitalism in England, in a plethora of ways, evolved into better and better forms, for example, in the development of a large middle class that was not in the least interested in a revolution.

Finally, recall that the socialist revolution did occur in Russia, which, as a feudal society, is precisely where Marxism predicts it cannot occur. How, in general, did Marxist “theorists” react to such failures in Marxist theory?

To put it bluntly, they cheated. Consider the fact that the socialist revolution occurred in Russia, precisely where Marxism predicts it cannot occur. Many Marxists have argued that the reason Russia “skipped a step” and went directly from feudalism to socialism is because of the emergence of the great genius of Lenin. That is, normally, the historical process must proceed as described in Marxist theory from feudalism to capitalism to socialism, but in this one special case Lenin appeared and, by virtue of his unique understanding of the historical process, he was able to push Russia, so to speak, fast forward directly from feudalism to socialism.

The problem with that is that it is the essence of Marxism that the development of human history is determined by great impersonal economic forces alone, specifically, class struggle, not by the emergence of individuals. If the development of human history can be altered by the appearance of some individual genius, a Socrates, a Newton, or a Lenin, then obviously Marxist theory cannot predict the future development of human history. For the one thing that Marxist theory cannot, in principle, take account of is individual genius (or even individuality in general).

Just as Newtonian mechanics must fail if individual chunks of matter can sometimes “choose” to diverge from Newton’s laws of mechanical nature and begin to move in their own individual way, Marxist theory must fail if individual human beings, whether this be Socrates, Newton or Lenin can move history in their own individual ways to transgress the vast impersonal, inexorable economic laws of human historical development “discovered” by Marx.

However, faced with these falsifying observations, Marxists have typically made ad hoc hypotheses, e.g., that this direct jump was due to the unique genius of Lenin, solely in order to preserve their theory from falsification. Ironically, although Marx, fancying himself a “scientist” (not some dreamy philosopher or prophet), said that “religion,” in contradistinction to science, “is the opiate of the masses,” Marxism, in the hands of many subsequent “Marxists,” itself became a quasi-religious opiate of the Left that must be protected from falsification, i.e., from the facts, at all costs.

6. All “Historicist” Theories Fail

Popper does not merely argue that Marxism is in fact unfalsifiable and unscientific. He also offers an explanation why all historicist theories, that is, theories that purport to predict the future development of human history, cannot, in principle, be correct. Many “philosophers,” including Plato, Malthus, Hegel, Marx, and Spengler have produced historicist theories that purport to predict how human history must play out. Popper argues there is a fatal, and rather obvious, flaw in all such “historicist” theories.

Popper’s argument is based on the premise that any theory that purports to predict how human history will develop must fail because no theory can, in principle, take account of the future growth of human knowledge. F.A Hayek agrees: “The mind can never foresee its own advance.” (The Constitution of Liberty, Part I, Chap. 2). That is, since it is impossible in principle to know how human knowledge will develop (because, roughly, that would require one to know something before one knows it), and since the development of human history depends upon the growth of human knowledge, it is impossible in principle to predict how human history will play out.

Consider a simple example first. The British economist Malthus (1766-1834), in his Essay on the Principle of Population invoked his “law of diminishing returns” to argue that the trends in population growth in his era must inevitably end in mass starvation. Specifically, he argued that population, when unchecked, tends to grow in a geometrical ratio, while “subsistence” grows only in an arithmetic ratio” and a “slight acquaintance with numbers will show the immensity of the first power in comparison with the second.”

Thus, Malthus infers that the point will quickly be reached in which the capacity for food production will not be able to keep up with the needs of the rapidly growing population, ending, inevitably, in mass starvation. But Malthus thinks of the human race too much on analogy with a bacterial colony on an agar base in a Petrie dish. The bacterial colony begins growing at first at an exponential rate when its “food” is plentiful. However, the “colony” soon expands to the point that the finite quantity of the food in the agar base in the Petrie dish runs out leading to mass starvation and the complete collapse of the “colony.”

Malthus also forgets that human beings are not like bacteria. Human beings can become aware of the limitations in themselves and in their environment and take measures to escape his tragic predictions. He forgets that human knowledge will itself increase during this period in ways that he cannot possibly predict. Scientists may discover new kinds of fertilizer or cultivate new more productive species of crops that massively increase the level of food production for a given area of land. New more efficient methods for storing food without spoilage may be discovered and so on.

Malthus’ pessimistic predictions about the inevitably of mass starvation are relative to a certain set of assumptions, e.g., Malthus could not possibly have known anything about current methods in the genetic modification of food, or of human beings themselves, that will enable humanity to sustain itself indefinitely. Taking a bit of poetic license, one might put this by saying that Malthus just assumes that human knowledge will not also increase at a geometrical rate to keep up with the geometrical growth of human population!

In fact, Marxism fails to account for the growth of human knowledge in an even more intimate way. Whereas Popper’s general point is that historicist views cannot possibly take account of the growth of human knowledge, Marx himself provided the new knowledge required to ensure that his own predictions fail! For Marx’s publication of his theories about the “internal contradictions” in capitalism itself represents a growth in human knowledge. His publication of these theories, therefore, adds a factor to the historical equation that is not taken account of within Marx’s theories, namely, the factor that the capitalists themselves can read Marx’s works, learn about those pitfalls in capitalism, and take measures to neutralize them.

The irony is that capitalists, having read Marx’s works, and having no pressing desire for their head to end up on a stake in the town square, can change their behavior in order to prevent Marx’s predicted socialist revolution. For what the great enemy of capitalism, Karl Marx, has actually provided in his published works is a handbook for capitalists to enable them to prevent the glorious socialist revolution. There are, in fact, few thinkers who have done more to protect capitalism from the socialist uprising than Karl Marx. For this alone, capitalists owe Marx a great debt of gratitude.

7. Marxism Replaced By “Cultural Marxism”

Since the “workers of the world” did not go along with the Marxist script and rise up against their capitalist oppressors in a violent socialist revolution, but rather became more and more enamored with capitalism, one might have expected that Marxism would quietly wither away like so many other unsustainable “philosophical” theories. However, since Marxism had become too important to too many people, even becoming a “battle cry” in many parts of the globe which resulted in a plethora of murders, it was destined to be revived, not as a true philosophical or “scientific” theory, but as a cultural force, that is, as “cultural Marxism.”

This is not the typical fate of most failed “philosophical” theories. When, for example, Bertrand Russell’s “logicist” attempt to reduce arithmetic to logic failed, one does see it live on in massive worldwide movements that insist that despite the decisive objections, the failed doctrine must be retained anyways as some kind of cultural tool. At most, one finds a few diehard scholars tinkering with Russell’s “logicism” in some obscure academic history journal or other, perhaps attempting to revive it – which is fair enough. It was, however, inevitable that Marxism would be treated differently and would reappear in the culture in new more deceptive forms.

To hear the cultural Marxists in the “news” and print media describe it, the term, “cultural Marxism” is an extremely controversial term. Wikipedia has an article titled, “The Conspiracy Theory of Cultural Marxism.” Normally, in a real Encyclopedia, as opposed to an indoctrination tool, one would expect to find an article titled “Cultural Marxism” in which some recognized experts are cited who argue that the phenomenon of “cultural Marxism” is real and others who argue that it is not real and, perhaps, that the view that there is such thing as “cultural Marxism” is a conspiracy theory. That is what used to be understood under the rubric of a “fair discussion” in the United States.

By contrast, Wikipedia, by titling its article as it does, is “framing” the discussion of “cultural Marxism” so that the reader begins with a negative attitude towards the whole notion before they even read a single word. The psychological notion of framing is roughly equivalent to the ordinary notion of “spinning.” One “spins” a story, often deceptively, in a way favorable to one’s own agenda in order to prejudice one’s opponents against it, and, in fact, Wikipedia is simply spinning the notion of “cultural Marxism” so that it is already framed by the title for the reader as a discredited notion. Only extremely unsavory “conspiracy theorists” believe that there is such a thing as “cultural Marxism.”

The Wikipedia article proceeds to associate “cultural Marxism” with the extremist Anders Breivik who gunned down 77 people, including many children, in Denmark in 2011 because he referred to “cultural Marxism” in his Manifesto. There is no need to respond to that “argument.” In brief, the Wikipedia article creates a “straw man” notion of “cultural Marxism” that can easily be knocked down and then ritually proceeds to knock it down.

Needless to say, my present claim that the phenomenon of “cultural Marxism” is real does not support any doctrine that justifies any such violent lunacy. For the sake of brevity, I discuss only one example of what I mean by “cultural Marxism” in any detail, the unjustifiable censorship of conservatives and President Trump by Facebook, Twitter and the “news” media that has recently distorted the “culture” in the United States. However, I do briefly mention several other current “cultural Marxist” phenomena that could be profitably taken up in future discussions.

Prior to the presidential election of 2020, Facebook, Twitter and many outlets in the “mainstream media” began censoring “conservatives” on the grounds that they “violate their community standards,” and censoring President Trump because he (allegedly) lies too much. As this article is being written, circa Dec. 4th, 2020, Anderson Cooper announced that CNN would not be showing the speech that President Trump described as “the most important speech he ever made” on the grounds that it is (allegedly) full of lies.

One would think that since most of the anchors and presenters on these “news” outlets have been raised in the United States, as opposed to the Soviet Union or Cuba, it would not be necessary to explain why there is no possible justification whatsoever for censoring conservatives or President Trump on such grounds, that is, no need to explain that it is the “news” media’s job to present all sides of the issues neutrally, because it is the American people alone, in free and fair elections, who are entitled to decide who is lying and who is not. It used to be understood, generally by the 8th grade, that to begin censoring is to start down the road to full tyranny. But, unfortunately, given what has become of our “educational system” over the decades, that is no longer true.

In any case, it is easy enough to determine who is lying in any given case by observing who needs to censor and who does not. However, that particular point goes beyond my present topic. My present more limited aim is only to point out that the “justification,” such as it is, currently offered for the censorship of conservatives and President Trump has its provenance in the “New Left” “Marxism” of Herbert Marcuse that became the rage on American university campuses in the 1960s with the rise of the psychedelic drug culture. That is, Marcuse’s “justification” of censorship, currently practiced by a plethora of privileged organizations like Twitter and Facebook and CNN is itself an example of “cultural Marxism.”

In his essay, “Repressive Tolerance,” the “New Left” “Marxist” Herbert Marcuse begins with a statement of the ultimate conclusion of his essay: “The conclusion reached is that the realization of the objective of tolerance would call for intolerance toward prevailing policies, attitudes, opinions, and the extension of tolerance to policies, attitudes, and opinions which are outlawed or suppressed.”

That is, Marcuse holds that “objective tolerance” actually requires “intolerance” by Marxists, towards established views. Tolerance is intolerance towards the opponents of Marxism. Yes of course! And “War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength.” (George Orwell, 1984).

Marcuse’s argument for his “repressive tolerance” (i.e., intolerant repression of those he disagrees with) is that even a “liberal democracy,” which purports to allow for an objectively completely free discussion, may actually conceal a “totalitarian organization:” “…In a democracy with totalitarian organization, objectivity may fulfil a very different function, namely, to foster a mental attitude which tends to obliterate the difference between true and false, information and indoctrination, right and wrong. In fact, the decision between opposed opinions has been made before the presentation and discussion get under way–made, not by a conspiracy or a sponsor or a publisher, not by any dictatorship, but rather by the ‘normal course of events.”

That is, since, even in a liberal democracy that guarantees freedom of speech, there is already an established body of opinion that, “in the normal course of events,” resists “alternative” views, the deck is stacked against the Marxists and other rebels. For this reason, “persuasion through discussion and the equal presentation of opposites… easily lose their liberating force… [and] are far more likely to strengthen the established thesis and to repel the alternatives.” Marcuse is clearly disturbed that the Marxists seem always to lose the arguments with “the establishment,” thereby leaving “the establishment” even stronger.

There must, Marcuse is certain, be a reason the Marxists always lose the argument and it cannot be that they have dreadful arguments (See IV, V and VI above). Since the Marxists are completely certain of their views, and since they are certain that they must lose the arguments because of an entrenched advantage “the establishment” possesses “in the normal course of events,” Marcuse infers that Marxists are justified in intolerance towards the established views that the Marxists do not see as “liberating” enough.

This sort of intolerance is currently on full view in the censorship of conservatives on Facebook, Twitter and the “mainstream media.” It is on full display in the attacks on gay conservative Milo Yiannopoulos at the “home” of the “free speech” movement, Berkeley, California, for attempting to state views the Left sees as contradicting its view of “liberation.” It is on display on the attacks on teachers, even “progressive” professors, at Evergreen College for stating simple disagreements with leftist students. It is on display in the censorship of the president of the United States, and the 74 million people who voted for him, for having the temerity to disagree with their self-appointed cultural overlords… and so on. In fact, Marcuse’s argument for leftist intolerance against “the establishment” is a textbook case of “question begging.” For the question what is genuinely “liberating” cannot be legitimately assumed by Marcuse but must itself be part of the free and fair discussion.

If Marcuse sat on high above the human fray like a god with a privileged view of the truth, he would be in a position to judge that the establishment has an unfair advantage in debates with Marxists. However, he enjoys no such position. He and his fellow Marxists are human beings, like any other, subject to the same foibles and weaknesses as everyone else. That is, Marcuse simply begs the question against the view that capitalism is more liberating than Marxism. One would think, given Marx’s own exuberant praise for capitalism (discussed in section 3 above), this would have occurred to Marcuse, at least as a possibility. But, apparently, it did not.

Many on the Left today, such as the uberwealthy owners of Facebook, Twitter and “mainstream media” establishments, also, apparently, think they occupy such a superior position, like gods, above the “basket of deplorable” “workers of the world” that they are justified in censoring both them and the president when the latter decline to go along with the script. However, if these uberwealthy cultural actors do occupy some superior position over the “basket of deplorables,” it is their vast accumulation of capitalist dollars, sometimes by dishonest means, that grant them this position, not any privileged relationship to the truth.

One might add, as an additional example of “cultural Marxism,” Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s (AOC’s) complaint in February of 2019 that workers are exploited because they are regularly paid less than the value they create. After all, it is the workers who transform the cow into a pair of shoes that can be sold in the market for a price. The market “value” of the shoes is, therefore, completely created by the labourers. But that is just a re-statement of Marx’s theory of “surplus value,” the view that workers in a capitalist society are not paid for the full value of the wealth they create.

Let us assume Marx and AOC are right. What AOC, who, apparently, has a bachelor’s degree in economics from Boston University, fails to point out is that if the worker were paid the full value of what they “create” from the cow, the factory in which they work would go out of business due to an inability to meet their expenses. That would put the worker who “creates” the shoes on the unemployment line, because the factory in which the cow is transformed into shoes will have expenses that cannot be paid. How, precisely, is providing the worker with a job “oppressing” them? But this is no place for a basic lesson in economics or arithmetic. F.A. Hayek is reported to have said that “If socialists understood economics, they would not be socialists.” (Dan Duggar, “Letter to the Editor”).

One might also mention as “cultural Marxism” the sustained contemporary attacks by “progressives” on traditional religious organizations, the family, and the police. The prejudice against traditional religion, the family, and the police comes straight out of Marxist texts. For Marx, religion is “the opiate of the masses,” and the police are an instrument of the capitalists to control the working class. Governor Cuomo’s differential treatment of religious and secular gatherings during the COVID-19 lockdowns is a case in point. The same is true of fact-free “progressive” attacks on the police. To take just one example, “progressives” still routinely use the “hands up, don’t shoot!” slogan from the 2014 Michael Brown case even though the Obama-Holder justice department exonerated police officer Wilson. Given, however, that “progressives” and other “cultural Marxists” have dispensed with the depressing notion of truth, they have been enabled to make this slogan a very useful but false “narrative.”

It does not matter to many of these “cultural Marxists” that many of the poor actually want a greater police presence in their communities. Since, according to Marcuse, the “deplorables” have been deceived by the capitalist oppressors, it is not necessary to take their views into account. Rather, the “basket of deplorables” must, as Marcuse, in One Dimensional Man (pp. 43-44), makes abundantly clear, be “forced to be free.”

Marcuse, like Marx, makes clear that force will be needed to subdue the recalcitrant workers who decline to follow the script. The Marxists certainly cannot permit the “deplorables” to state what they mean by “freedom.” The notion of freedom will be defined by the all-knowing Marxist elites and “forced” on the “basket of deplorables” who, in their appalling ignorance, consistently reject it.

It is crucial to point out that the present claim is not that Gov. Cuomo, Anderson Cooper and other members of the privileged elites are card-carrying Marxists. That completely misunderstands the argument. For the last thing these uberwealthy and powerful elites want is a real Marxist revolution. One does not even want to think about what that would do to the price or availability of Dom Perignon champagne or white truffle oil.

What they want is to enjoy all the fruits of capitalism for themselves even as they display their “moral” bona fides by imposing various Marxist views about censorship, religion, the family and the police on the “deplorables,” who manifestly do not want them. Indeed, these self-gratifying elites see themselves, just as Marcuse sees himself, as moral warriors doing what Marx’s great historical dialectic failed to do when they “force” the “basket of deplorables” to be “free,” not, of course, as the “basket of deplorables” understand freedom, but as they, the “cultural Marxists” define it for them.

“Cultural Marxism” is as real as the censorship of conservatives and the president by the aforementioned massive cultural institutions. It is also real in the constant assaults by “progressives” on the police, the nuclear family and traditional religions, especially Christianity. The purported justifications for this kind of censorship by “progressives” traces precisely to Marcuse’s Marxist notion of “repressive tolerance.”

But Marcuse’s argument for his notion of “repressive tolerance” rests on the childish assumption that Marxists are superior to “deplorable” “workers of the world” whom they purport to represent – that is, it rests, ironically, on the elitism of the all-seeing Marxists or “progressives.”

The truly astonishing fact is that the transparent problem with Marcuse’s self-indulgent question-begging argument for the right to censor his political opponents does not require a journey into the obscure nature of “dialectical materialism” but is as close as the nearest freshman critical reasoning textbook.

8. Marxism In Universities

The common view that there is a strong presence of various species of Marxism, including “cultural Marxism,” in our universities has been challenged. For example, Byron Caplan reports that as the Iron Curtain crumbled, people often joked that “Marxism is dead everywhere… except at American Universities” – but is this an exaggeration?

A representative 2006 survey of university professors by Neil Gross and Solon Simmons concludes that, except in isolated areas, the percentage of Marxist university professors is very small. Specifically, only 17.6% of professors in the social sciences and 5% in the humanities identify as Marxists, but that this number falls to 1.9% in business, 0.7% in computer sciences and engineering, and 0% in the physical and biological sciences. This works out to a mere 3% of university professors overall. Gross and Simmons conclude that this is not particularly alarming.

In fact, Gross and Simmons’ reassuring conclusion is wrong for a number of reasons. Even given their own formulation of the results, they only take account of those professors who self-identify as Marxists. This does not account for the many additional professors who may subscribe to Marxist views but either do not admit to this or do not even know themselves the Marxist provenance of their views. Nor does it apply to the much larger group of “cultural Marxists” in which the “original” Marxist views are reformulated in new, sometimes deceptive, terms to avoid direct association with the discredited Marxist theory of the necessary “class struggle.”

Whereas it was central to original Marxism that classes are defined exclusively in economic terms (ownership of the “means of production”), the purely economic classes of Marx have been replaced by “classes” redefined by “cultural Marxists” in racial, gender or sexual preference terms, which then, in a project called “intersectionality,” must be artificially stitched together into “class” of highly diverse oppressed people. Instead of the class struggle between the “capitalists” and the “proletariat workers,” each defined in strict economic terms, the new “cultural Marxists” refer to the struggle between the “Patriarchy” and the oppressed “class” of females, or between “systemic racism” and the oppressed “class” of “people of color.”

This revisionary project is facilitated by the fact that contemporary “cultural Marxists” represent a curious combination of Marxism with “Post-modernism.” A great deal could be said about Post-Modernism, and in fact, in another context, deserves to be said, but one thing that is manifestly clear is that classical Marxism is incompatible with the Post-Modernist’s relativist replacement of the idea that there is an objective truth, with the idea that there are simply different “narratives” about human history.

One should not be surprised when the Post-modernist “narratives” about “the Patriarchy” and “systemic oppression” turn out to be new unfalsifiable “theories.” For, when the Post-modernists, conveniently, abandon the notion of truth, they also abandon the idea that one can objectively falsify any of these “narratives.”

Indeed, the point and utility of these “narratives” is precisely that it is impossible to falsify them. But since, according to the Post-Modernists, there is no objective truth in these areas anyways, they are still very useful.

Marx, by contrast, was sufficiently old fashioned that he still believed in objective truth and in Marxism as a “science” that will sit alongside the other objectively true sciences like Newtonian mechanics. Marx did not think of Marxism as a mere useful “narrative.”

Thus, although it may be true that only a relatively small percent of professors in the social sciences and the humanities explicitly self-identify as “Marxists,” the relativist language of the “cultural Marxists’” unfalsifiable assertions of “systemic racism and sexism” by “the Patriarchy” are ubiquitous on university campuses. The 2006 study may be correct that there are relatively few self-identifying “original” Marxists on campus; but there is an enormous additional number of professors on campus that embrace the safety of a whole raft of the vague unfalsifiable “narratives” of the Post-Modernist “cultural Marxists.”

It is important to be clear that each of these groups cited by the “cultural Marxists,” black people, Native Americans, women, gay people, transgender people and others have every right to raise objections about the way their group has been treated – and some of these complaints will be correct. The present point is simply that “cultural Marxism” is an artificial framework invented to frame these issues under one unifying quasi-Marxist formula that has far less to do with the reality (another difficult notion for “cultural Marxists”) than it does with social activism.

Unfortunately, linking together what is different just to subsume different issues under some impressive sounding net of jargon can distort the original problems. To take just one example, although there is an ostensible alliance between the “gay” and the transgender community, some “gay” establishments do not permit entry to transgendered individuals on the grounds that the latter are not really “gay.” The unity between the two communities that is useful at election time rapidly disappears on the ground. Further, the tension between the transgender and the “gay” communities can have nothing to do with “the Patriarchy” or “systemic racism.”

The reason gays have tensions with transgender people is the same reason that black people sometimes have problems with brown people, or Westerners sometimes have problems with Asians, or Chinese sometimes have problems with Japanese, or the Northern hemisphere sometimes has problems with the southern hemisphere, or males sometimes have problems with females, or “old money” sometimes has problems with “new money,” or moderate feminists have problems with radical feminists and so on is that this is the way human beings are. These tensions and “struggles” are universal and cut across all the different classifications of human beings. These conflicts cannot be reduced to any simple formula suitable for a sociology syllabus or a fortune cookie.

Since much contemporary “cultural Marxism” is really an inconsistent combination of relativist Post-Modernism and “original” Marxism, the resulting view, having abandoned the notion of truth and, with that, the need to provide intellectually cogent definitions, argument, and evidence, is really an easy conglomerate of unfalsifiable “narratives” that are prized precisely because they are unfalsifiable.

Whereas an “original” Marxist, like, for example, Maurice Cornforth, felt the need to reply vigorously to Popper’s charge that Marxism had become an unfalsifiable dogma, the contemporary “cultural Marxist” takes grateful refuge in precisely that unfalsifiability. Since many of the “doctrines” of the “cultural” Marxists are unfalsifiable “narratives,” there is no chance that one of the remaining intellectually rigorous persons will falsify them in the way that “original” Marxism was falsified.

9. Why Are Marxist Theories Popular?

There is another reason why Marxism has enjoyed considerable popularity and why, in some circles, it continues to do so, namely the extraordinary simplicity of its basic picture. The first sentence of Section I of the Communist Manifesto is: “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.”

That is, all of human history, the astonishing genius of ancient Greece, including, for example, the great ancient Greek tragedians, scientists, artists, mathematicians and philosophers, the magnificent development of Roman Law, the emergence of Christianity and Islam, the artistic glories of the European Renaissance, the simultaneous development of the differential calculus by Pascal, Newton and Leibniz, the customs concerning gender relations in China and Japan and throughout all human history, the development of existentialism, phenomenology and analytical philosophy in the early 20th century and so on, are all “explained” as the result of the “class struggle.”

Is this really to be taken seriously?

In his Lectures on Aesthetics, Psychology and Religious Belief, Wittgenstein, discussing Freud’s view that all neurosis in adults is the result of repressed sexual trauma in childhood, states that people have a tendency to believe Freud’s view because it is “charming.” That is, in opposition to Freud’s claim that human beings have an aversion to contemplating his radical theories about human sexuality, Wittgenstein claims that people actually find such “theories” to be quite charming. People want to believe these kinds of “theories.”

Given the worldwide spread of Freud’s unfalsifiable theories, Wittgenstein is, prima facia, correct. Wittgenstein points out that there is a magical feel to such “explanations” because they purport to explain a whole raft of mysterious phenomena by reference to some secret principle that, once articulated, is seen to be self-evidently true. Jones, learning of Freud’s theories concerning sexual repression, says, “It all becomes clear now. The reason I can’t sleep at night has nothing to do with the fact that I dropped out of school because I partied all the time. It has nothing to do with the fact that I can’t hold down a job because I sleep until noon every day. It’s all because I suffered sexual trauma in childhood, where the fact that I cannot remember any sexual trauma in childhood only goes to show how effective the repression really is!”

Wittgenstein holds, transparently correctly, that such (Freudian) theories explain nothing. What they do that makes them so “charming” is to give people a narrative about their lives that they find comforting in certain ways. The same is true of Marxism.

“Original” Marxism literally explains nothing. It certainly did not explain the transition from feudalism to capitalism about which Marx should have been informed. It certainly did not explain the transition from feudalism to socialism by skipping a step in Russia in 1917. It certainly did not explain why the socialist revolution never occurred in England.

What the simplistic Marxist formula about class-struggle does is give people a narrative that provides a comforting meaning to their lives. The fact that members of community X cannot seem to improve their economic lot in life is not their fault. It is not because members of community X tend to drop out of high school at a rate much higher than the general population. It is not because there are few fathers in the home community X. It is not because there is rampant drug use in community X. It is not because community X has babies out of wedlock at a much higher rate rather than the national average. On the contrary, it is because of the “class struggle” that community X is stuck where it is. It is because community X is “oppressed” that it cannot better itself in life.

The fact that some members of community X, in fact quite a lot of them, the ones who finish high school, the ones who do not use or sell drugs, and the ones who do not have babies out of wedlock manage to get into good universities and end up multi-millionaires is not to be mentioned because the vacuity of the Marxist “explanation” is immediately exposed.

In response to all such simplistic explanations, not just Marxism or Freudianism, but even “mechanistic” theories in the philosophy of language that purport to “explain” some vast range of hitherto mysterious phenomena, Wittgenstein, in his “later” period of philosophy is said to have told his friend Drury that he considered using as a motto for his book the sentence from King Lear: “I will teach you differences.”

Wittgenstein explained to Drury that his method is the opposite of Hegel’s. Whereas Hegel always wants to say that things that look different are really the same – his aim is to say that things that look the same are really different. That is, Wittgenstein’s point is that human life is far too multifarious, nuanced, and unpredictable to be explained by such simplistic theories.

Theories like Marxism and Freudianism are comforting because they purport, by means of some simplistic formula, to enable one to escape the mystery and challenges of life. In fact, the problems of human life can be resolved, to the degree that they can be, only by getting into concrete situations and working to resolve them. This is a hard business. There are no guarantees. No one was given an instruction manual at birth that explains what one must do to be successful.

This is the correct intuition behind parts both of “American pragmatism” and “existentialism:” Solving the problems of human life and society will not be achieved by adverting to some “philosophical” theory, but, rather, this essentially requires work, sometimes by trial and error, even working blindly in real world contexts. This is the way the world is. It would be nice if the key to understanding human life and society could be summed up in such a simplistic formula, but, alas, it cannot.

The German “existentialist” and “phenomenologist” Martin Heidegger, in Section 4 of Being and Time, makes an analogous point that is worth explaining: “The question of existence never gets straightened out except through existing itself.” That is, Martin Heidegger, the arch- philosopher, who sat forever in his little shack in the Black Forest filling notebook after notebook after notebook with endless philosophical remarks, is attempting to convey that one does not solve the real problems of existence by philosophizing. Philosophy’s attempt to conceptualize the entirety of life and existence in all its elusive dimensions is a wonderful thing. It is among humanity’s greatest achievements. But do not expect some “philosopher,” whether it be Plato, Hegel, Marx or Heidegger to propound some simple formula (“All human history is the history of class struggles”) that resolves the genuinely hard problems of life, e.g., the problems of economic inequality, mental illness, gender differences and inequities and so on.

The attempt to resolve such problems by citing simple philosophical formulas is, rather, an escape from the problems of life (philosophy as an “escape mechanism”). It is among the greatest of ironies that philosophy, which, ideally, is supposed to help one understand human life, and which, done properly can actually, within limits, do so, can also readily become a means to escape from the challenges of life into simplistic unworldly dreams. As the French existentialist Albert Camus observed in The Rebel, with considerable anguish, “philosophy… can [unfortunately] be used for anything, even for turning murderers into judges.”

10. Marxism Does Not Solve Any Problems

It is a noteworthy fact about Marxists, and others on the Left influenced by Marxism, that faced with a dire social problem, they never seem to take the most direct and obvious ways to solve the problems! Since Marxists do little else but talk about solving social problems, this might seem like an astonishing claim. However, there is a vast difference between talking about solving social problems, or, in the case of Marxists, talking about a future social revolution that will somehow solve them, and actually setting out to solve them.

But before we discuss the Marxist reluctance to solve any actual social problems, it may be useful, by way of analogy, to discuss the difference between the way a “common sense philosopher” like Norman Malcolm (influenced by Wittgenstein and G.E. Moore) attempted to solve philosophical problems, for example, the problem of perception, and the way a great German philosopher like Immanuel Kant approaches such problems. Consider as example the problem how we can know that this little item on the dining room table is a real acorn and not a plastic replica of one.

Malcolm will first look at the contexts in which we say that someone claims to know something about a perceived physical object. He then examines the sorts of things we normally say about the perception of physical objects, including what we say about errors in perception and how we correct mistakes in perception. He then looks at scientific views about the causal relations between physical objects and human observers and asks how we integrate these scientific views with our ordinary views about perception of such objects. Finally, he proposes a certain common-sense solution to the question how we can know that this item on the table is a real acorn and not a plastic replica of one.

The great Kant will not, of course, condescend to do any such thing. Kant wants a revolution (to be more precise, a Copernican Revolution) in the way we think about virtually everything, of which the “solution,” such as it is, to the question how we can know that the object on the table is a real acorn and not a plastic replica of one, is one tiny (vanishing) part.

In order to bring about his “revolution,” Kant distinguishes a plethora of mental faculties, sensibility, understanding, imagination, apperception, judgment, Reason, and a few more that he discovers along his laborious journey, not to mention that he also distinguishes between empirical and transcendental versions of some of these. These are all linked together into a vast system that reaches into virtually all areas of human life, including even religion, morality, aesthetic judgments and the nature of human freedom.

After three Critiques and a plethora of lesser works, and approximately several thousand pages (depending on how one counts) of dense near incomprehensible text, which, he tells us only constitute the “Propaedeutic” to “The System,” not “The System” itself, Kant informs the exhausted reader that the “solution,” such as it is, to the question how one knows that the item on the table is an acorn and not a plastic replica of one requires one to accept the whole system. Nothing less will do because the “System” of human knowledge is an “absolute” unity. One is either all in or not. If you do not accept the whole System there is no helping you.

The present point is that Marx’s “solutions” to social problems are much more like Kant’s “solutions” to conceptual problems than they are like Malcolm’s solutions to conceptual problems, although Kant’s revolution” clearly involves less rioting and bloodshed than Marx’s.

Since both Kant and Marx are German philosophers that worship “The System,” in one or another in the plethora of its “Absolute” but vastly different manifestations, Marxists, like Kant and Hegel, cannot not go directly at the problem. That is the strategy of lesser human beings like Malcolm. Rather, Marx tells us, one cannot really solve the problem per se but must rather bring about a “revolution” that will somehow, in a way specified only in the most general terms, someday “solve” the problem. The communists at the end of history will, in ways we cannot yet quite understand, settle the matter for us once and for all.

To illustrate with a concrete example, consider a Marxist confronted by a community of starving children. The Marxist does not typically propose feeding the children. But not only do Marxists not propose feeding the starving children. They do not even want anybody else to feed them either. Marxists are particularly outraged by the practice of charity, particularly any religious practice of charity, from coming in and feeding the children.

As Cihan Tuğal points out, “The Left usually dismisses charity as demeaning intervention into the lives of oppressed classes, an obfuscation through which exploitation is legitimated. Few arguments by Marx and Engels are as deeply ingrained in Marxism as their statements on charity. [For such traditional conceptions of charity] upheld interdependence between God, the rich, and the poor as sacrosanct.”

That is, for the Marxist, feeding the starving children is “legitimating” the exploitation that led them to starve in the first place. Indeed, Marxists tend to hold that by feeding the starving children one reinforces the denigrating picture of rich people (that would be the capitalists), motivated by their superstitious religious beliefs that were created for no other purpose but to prop up the exploitative capitalist system, pseudo-beneficently swooping in from above to save the starving poor in the name of their illusory tyrannical God, thereby defusing the social pressures that, if allowed to fester, will eventually explode in the glorious socialist revolution. It would be an outrage, and simply will not do, to permit the “oppressors” to solve the problem (feed the children).

In fact, of course, this Marxist view is a cynical caricature of charitable giving. There is literally nothing about charitable giving per se that “legitimates” exploitation. Further, there can be no doubt that many of these starving children will, having been able to survive because of the charitable giving, grow up into careers of their own and work to raise the standard of living in their communities – if, that is, Marxists actually want to solve the problem.

Fortunately, however, one need not stoop to the horror of charitable giving, especially charitable giving by religious organizations, in order to see the way in which the Marxist always prefers some future “revolution” to actually trying to solve the social problems. For, in contrast with the Marxist, the capitalist does directly address those social problems.

Consider again our community of starving people! Rather than attempt to foment a revolution that might, someday, somehow, find a way feed them, the capitalist looks at this community as a possible market. They do a study and conclude that the community can, at its current level of poverty, support one profitable McDonald’s restaurant with about 10 staff (2 managers and 8 helpers).

The McDonald’s is set up and begins operation. Let us suppose that all the managers and staff come from the poor community and that some of the patronage at the restaurant comes from outside the community. After the McDonald’s has been in operation for a few weeks, the community has the same monetary resources it had before the McDonald’s began operation, but now it has in addition the wages of the 10 workers that have been working at the restaurant.

After a sufficient amount of time has passed, another capitalist does another study and concludes that given that its spending power has been increased slightly by the addition of the McDonald’s, this poor community can now also support a profitable gas station that will employ 2 managers and 8 staff. After this gas station has been in operation for some time, the spending power of the community has been increased again due to the addition of 10 new wage earners.

After several more of these small capitalist ventures have added several new small establishments, each with a new group of wage earners, to the community, perhaps a small newsstand, a coffee shop, and a drug store, the number of wage-earners added to the community makes it capable of supporting a much larger profitable operation, perhaps an Olive Garden that employs 10 managers and 40 employees. This kind of establishment can pull in much more wealth from outside the poor community.

The community is, by means of the productive power of the capitalist profit motive, the one to which Marx himself admits extravagant praise, gradually increasing its spending power and standard of living. This will not happen overnight, but in a few decades some of the members of this formerly poor” community will have risen to the point that they can themselves become capitalists who launch additional profitable enterprises in their own community or other poor communities, thereby, step by step, raising the standard of living in those other poor communities as well.

As an aside, this illustrates another false assumption of Marxists, namely that capitalists and workers constitute two exclusive classes, where the one oppresses the other. In fact, in the natural progression of capitalist societies, workers, over some time, can themselves become capitalists and fund new operations that raise the standard of living in their own or other poor communities. The Marxist does not give due regard the fluidity of the two “classes.” It is as if, when an economics textbook distinguishes buyers and sellers, the Marxist forgets that buyers are also sellers.

Let us then suppose that one of these newly emerged capitalists eventually become wealthy enough to buy him or herself a Mercedes, while the other members of the community are by that point still stuck with small inexpensive vehicles. The Marxist or socialist sees this as the establishment of an oppressor class driving fancy cars and an oppressed class still stuck with small unimpressive vehicles.

But this too is a mistake. For someone, to be more precise, a factory (in fact, it will take several factories) of people, will have to build that Mercedes, and additional workers will be needed to service it. It is true that this Mercedes-factory may be in some other community, but since the labor is cheaper in poor communities, this will likely be another poorer community. This means more jobs for poorer communities, which means, in the long run, more spending power in those poor communities. Eventually, some of the sons or daughters of these poor communities will themselves be driving a Mercedes, and when they do, they are not “oppressing” other members of the poor community. On the contrary, they are helping to make it possible for future members of poor communities to raise themselves, over a period of time, to the point that they too can afford a Mercedes.

The “profit motive” of the capitalist is not, as Marxists and “progressives” often claim, an evil exploiter of poor communities. Quite the contrary – the profit motive is a concrete consumer satisfaction mechanism for lifting poor communities out of poverty. Marx is right that capitalism’s economic productive power is literally one of the great “wonders” of human history.

Recall also that Marx states that in addition to its enormous economic productive power capitalism has fostered the “universal inter-dependence of nations.” It has made “national… narrow-mindedness… more and more impossible.” It has fostered the rise of “a world literature.” It has drawn “the most barbarian nations into civilization” and forced them to abandon their “obstinate hatred of foreigners.” It has, borrowing Ronald Reagan’s words, forced formerly hostile nations to “tear down that wall” and start trading and talking and befriending each other.

This is not Adam Smith or Milton Friedman speaking. This is Karl Marx speaking. Indeed, Marx celebrates the fact that capitalism has produced “wonders” like nothing else that had been seen in the entire history of the human race up to the time of its inception, not merely economic but intellectual and cultural. As Marx himself knew, the capitalist profit motive is the greatest boon, by far, to poor communities in the history of mankind that the world had ever seen to that date.

Given that Marx celebrates the fact that capitalism has been such a force for raising people out of poverty in the world, indeed, according to Marx’s “dialectical materialism,” a necessary force for raising people out of poverty in the world, one wonders why capitalism is denounced today by “Marxists” and other “progressives” in such shrill terms as evil and oppressive. Have these “Marxists” and “progressives” forgotten that Marx held that capitalism is a necessary stage in the gradual liberation of the human race? For if they do remember this, why do they not acknowledge all the goods that capitalism has produced and then set about in a calm and reasoned manner, in partnership with the rest of us who do acknowledge that there are remaining injustices that need to be eliminated, to solve these remaining problems?

The answer is that Marxists (and the “progressives” influenced by them) in capitalist societies positively do not want to solve the social problems. Although it has been disputed, Vladimir Lenin is said to have affirmed the claim by the Russian revolutionary “philosopher” and Marxist theoretician Georgi Plekhanov (1856–1918) that “the worse things are, the better they are;” by which he means that the more desperate suffering people there are in society the closer one is to the glorious socialist revolution. That is, as difficult as this is for normal people in Hillary’s “basket of deplorables” to believe, the Marxist requires poverty and hopelessness if its socialist and communist goals are to be realized one day. R.C. Tucker remarks that “in the present [capitalist] phase of society” this principle, “the worse the better,” is implicit in “the Marxist structure.”

Thus, if one ever wonders why things never seem to get better in “progressive” US cities, despite constant complaining by their progressive governments about “systemic oppression,” and also why these “progressive” governments react angrily at attempts by outsiders to step in and solve the problems, as Nancy Pelosi and others reacted angrily to Donald Trump’s exposure of the poverty in these communities, and even called him a racist for wanting to solve these problems, this is an important part of the answer: Marxists and “progressives” need lots of poor desperate people, if their “revolution” is ever to succeed, and place themselves, the “progressives,” in full power.

The fact that Marxists and “progressives” are not actually interested in solving the problems is, however, an embarrassment. It does nothing for the Marxist or progressive cause du jour. One must, therefore, by a variety of means, ensure that no one is permitted to say this in public; ergo the Marxist and “progressive” support for censorship, perhaps by accusing people of racism for the sin of trying to solve the problem.

11. Marxism “Abolishes” Morality And Religion

It is, given the argument of the preceding section, ironic that Marxists and their “progressive” leftist progeny often claim the mantle of “morality” and “compassion” for their views. In fact, Marx explicitly rejects “all morality” and religion: “Communism … abolishes all religion, it abolishes all morality, instead of constituting them on a new basis” (Communist Manifesto, Sect. II).

The communist “abolishing” of “all” morality and religion should not be surprising. Since the scientist as such merely describes what happens and does not say what ought to happen, the Marxist, qua alleged scientist, cannot consistently assign any moral superiority to the socialist or communist stages over the capitalist stage of society.

Since, however, many scholars correctly detect moral language in Marx’s account of the historical dialectic, Marx appears inconsistent. He seems to want a socialist or communist morality under the guise of a descriptive scientific theory. Marx qua scientist tells one what must happen, while Marx qua moralist reassures one what ought to happen. What is the truth? Can Marxists consistently claim the compassionate moral high ground or not?

Many scholars have argued that Marxism does have a moral dimension (e.g., the claim that socialism and communism are morally superior to capitalism), and that this can, by the usual scholarly procedure of making numerous distinctions and qualifications, be seen to be consistent with Marxist claim to be a “scientific” theory. These discussions are very interesting and good points can be made on both sides. However, these discussions are suitable for the philosophy classroom. Note, however, that the argument in the preceding section that Marxism cannot legitimately claim the moral and compassionate high ground is not based on such abstract theoretical points. It is, rather, based on the way Marxism treats people in the real world: “The worse things are, the better they are.” Far from being “moral” or compassionate, the Marxist in reality typically sees human beings as pawns whose well-being and happiness must be sacrificed for the sake of the ultimate goal, the establishment of a full-fledged communist society.

It is one of the ironies of the way Marxism, “progressivism” and capitalism are commonly represented in American society, especially in the “Ivory tower,” that Marxism and “progressivism” are described in glowing moral terms, while capitalism is represented as immoral and heartless. The Marxist or progressive will “liberate” the poor from their oppressors, while the heartless capitalist will view the poor solely through the lens of the evil “profit motive.”

This imbalance is, no doubt, brought about by the massive and effective marketing (note the irony) campaign by the Marxists and the “progressives,” who quite effectively play the “victim card” for the poor (the workers). In fact, the truth is the reverse of this (which is one of the reasons recent “cultural” Marxists had to abandon the notion of truth). Whereas Marxism and its “progressive” progeny are theoretically committed to see individual flesh and blood human beings as pawns in the historical dialectic, and, as argued in the previous section, do in fact see them that way, even to the point that they have no wish to ease the social pressures by actually solving any social problems, it is the free-market capitalists who are committed, not just in theory, but in the real world, to value the wishes of real flesh and blood human beings. For, in a genuinely free market, the capitalist can only succeed by satisfying the consumer.

That is, in a genuinely free market, it is the consumer who, with their decisions what products to purchase or not purchase controls the behavior of the capitalists! Whereas the Marxist sees individual flesh and blood human beings, the “proletariat,” as pawns of the historical dialectic, capitalism reverses this and makes the capitalist the pawn of the real flesh and blood consumers who, by their purchasing behavior in a free market determine which capitalist ventures succeed and which do not. It is the capitalist who, truly, can say: “Power to the people (the consumer)!”

The moral of this section is that the capitalist needs more effective spokespersons throughout the culture and in the “news” media. For capitalism, properly understood, actually owns the “moral high ground.” In the real world, as opposed to Philosophy 101, the verdict is not even close. The proper image of capitalism is not “oppression.” It is freedom (the free market in which the consumers exert control over the capitalists).

Unfortunately, the Marxists and “progressives” have, because of their dominance in the “Ivory tower” and the “news” and entertainment media, many effective marketing agents (again note the irony). By contrast, the capitalists, who actually have the much stronger “moral” case, need better marketing agents. It is the supreme irony that Marxism and socialism sell so well in capitalist countries where their unscrupulous agents can market (again note the irony) them, earning for themselves many capitalist dollars and acquiring considerable power with slick slogans about “equality,” “the redistribution of wealth,” “economic justice” or “economic democracy” and the like.

Marxism and socialism do not, however, sell so well in Marxist or socialist countries, as in Cuba, where the desperate citizens will often risk their lives floating on patched inner tubes across 90 miles of shark-infested waters to leave the socialist paradise and get to the capitalist United States.

12. Conclusions

Karl Marx is most well known as the preeminent critic of capitalism. Capitalism, he tells us, in the jargon in which he has couched his “theory,” harbors an internal “contradiction” between the capitalist oppressors and the oppressed workers that determines that it will necessarily fall to a socialist “revolution.”

However, as history has shown, most of the negative things Marx said about capitalism have turned out to be false. Feudalism did not collapse into capitalism because of a “necessary” revolution by the serfs against their feudal landlords. Various historical accidents, including the emergence of the “Black Death” in Europe, in ways entirely comprehensible in free market economics, made feudal labor more valuable and the serfs simply picked up their knapsacks and left their feudal landlords for better wages in the cities. The socialist revolution did not occur in England, where Marx predicted it, but in Russia, where he said it could not possibly occur, etc.

However, Marx also said many very positive things about capitalism. Indeed, his exuberant praise of capitalism is unmatched by many of capitalism’s most famous supporters – and most of the positive things Marx said about capitalism have turned out to be true. In fact, Marx agrees with Milton Friedman that capitalism has been the greatest mechanism for lifting people out of poverty the world has ever seen to date. Although Marx got that part right, subsequent “Marxists” have not, in general, noticed.

Furthermore, as Popper has shown, Marx may have intended Marxism as a “scientific” doctrine, but he failed to recognize that his publication of his Marxist views changes the historical equation that he describes in his publications. There is nowhere in Marx’s works that recognizes the possible influence that his publication of his views about the flaws in capitalism will have on the historical development of capitalism – a stunning blind spot.

Fortunately, capitalists, warned by Marx’s publications about the inevitable fall of capitalism in a socialist revolution, modified capitalist behavior in order to avoid Marx’s predicted dire outcome. That is, it is partly thanks to Marx’s publication of his theories that his predictions did not come true – a particularly intriguing instance of Popper’s view that no “historicist” view can be successful because no “historicist” view can predict the future growth of human knowledge. For, Marx’s own contribution to human knowledge, his publications of his theories, added a factor to the historical equation that is not recognized within any of his theories – and, in fact, that factor had a role in falsifying his predictions about the inevitable downfall of capitalism!

As a result of these great failures of Marx’s “original” Marxism, subsequent “Marxists,” were faced by a dilemma. They must either retain Marx’s original view that Marxism is a “science” and admit it has been falsified by the historical facts, or they must decide that Marxism is a mere “narrative” that is neither true nor false but is only useful in advancing various activist political agendas. The “Cultural Marxists,” in an inconsistent alliance with “Post-Modernism,” have chosen the latter. That is certainly the easier path.

Having abandoned the notion of truth and retreated into their own “safe spaces” of unfalsifiable quasi-religious dogmas, they need not accept the burden of showing that their version of “Marxism” is falsifiable or genuinely scientific because it is not falsifiable and is not a genuine science. Nor need they accept the burden of showing that Marxism is true because it is not true. Once one dispenses with the notion of truth, everything, even the impossible, becomes possible, and very easy, at least in the academic “world of words,” if not in reality.

As a consequence, what is left of “Marxism,” such as it is, only lives on, for the most part, in those self-enclosed bubbles most far removed from reality, certain privileged parts of the “Ivory Tower” and the capitalism-created walled mansions in the Hollywood hills. Engels said that even in his own day, Marx himself stated, “cequ’il y a de certain c’est que moi, je ne suis pas marxiste” (“what is certain is that [if they are Marxists], [then] I myself am not a Marxist”).

Marx himself was a genius, though ultimately wrong about a great deal. That is no shame. It is the normal judgment of history about geniuses. But most of the views that pass for Marxism now are pale quasi-religious dogmas of utility, both for profit and self-gratification, for certain privileged, out of touch elites (but that does not make them less dangerous).

Given that Marx’s critique of capitalism has failed in multiple ways, while his exuberant praise of capitalism has largely been vindicated, it would be foolish to abandon capitalism in favor of these dreaming quasi-Marxist “narratives” prevalent in the “Ivory Tower” and the walled compounds in the Hollywood hills.

Indeed, capitalist countries would do even better at lifting their people out of poverty if their privileged and well-heeled “Marxist” and “progressive” elites did not oppose solving social problems in the hope that fostering hopelessness will hasten the glorious socialist revolution. For if there is one thing that Marxists of all stripes fear even more than Christian charity, it is capitalist solutions to social problems – for the simple reason that capitalist solutions work; and, for the sake of “the revolution,” that is the one thing Marxists and their “progressive” progeny cannot tolerate and, therefore, must censor.

Dr. Richard McDonough works in Anglo-American analytical and Continental philosophy, with a special focus on post-Kantian German thought, as well as psychology. He is the author of The Argument of the Tractatus and Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time. He has taught in various countries, retiring from James Cook University in Australia. He lives in Singapore.

The image shows a detail from “Mexico Today and Tomorrow,” a mural by Diego Rivera, painted in 1935.