Here’s my response to Deneen’s just concern that his fans my be scared off by my accusing him of being too Marxist:

Here’s Marx: Who a human being is is determined by HISTORY (you paleos should love him—he really, really takes history seriously)—that is, by the prevailing mode of the division of labor. Capitalism is good because it abolishes rural idiocy and maximizes human power; there’s progress toward the truth and the overcoming of scarcity. Capitalism is even good because it rips the “halo” off all human views of virtue etc. that don’t have “cash value,” because all that stuff was nothing but illusions that hid exploitation. But capitalism is bad because it reduces the great mass of people to nothing—to a propertyless mass working long hours in boring jobs and receiving subsistence wages (what some people think is going on at WalMart). But capitalism is good because that creation of the mass—the universal proletariat—will turn mass fear (the Hobbesian foundation of modern stability) into mass hatred and produce a universal revolution. After the revolution we’ll all have plenty of everything (because scarcity was overcome) with very little work (presumably because scarcity—due to really, really high technology—stays overcome) and we’ll be able—quite unobsessively—to do whatever we want whenever we want. Life will be a seemingly permanent vacation full of amateurs doing a variety of activities—like hunting, shepherding, criticizing—badly (I might say that the life of the bohemian or the Crunchy would become real for everyone.).

Dr. Pat Deneen doesn’t think the revolution is coming (although he does sort of have catastrophic Marxian optimism about capitalism having within itself the seeds of its own destruction) and thinks communism (a world without eros or purpose or God or virtue or politics) would be hell. My Marxist tweak had to do with tying virtue or its absence too closely to the prevailing division of labor. So don’t run off the porch and through the fields—trampling on cucumbers—because Pat has a certainty affinity to Marx in a way or two. (My real view is that all the agrarians owe something to the selective nostalgia of Rousseauean romanticism, and Marx does too, despite his [half-true] comment about rural idiocy).

I myself think that Marx says a lot that is true and even brings to the surface a lot that’s latent in Locke (while exaggerating beyond belief the real Lockeanization or “capitalization” of the world). I once led a Liberty Fund on Marx and Mill, and Marx, under my leadership, came out better than (or at least smarter than) Mill. The libertarian guy from the home office paid me the high compliment of saying that he had never heard anyone before find anything true in Marx. But the libertarians and the Marxists really do agree about capitalism conquering scarcity, allowing for the withering away of religion, the state, (the family?), etc., and making possible a life characterized by an ever expanding “menu of choice.” Pat and I dissent from the idea that point of life is the pursuit of happiness through absolutely unregulated choice.

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Articles by Peter Lawler

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