Teen Vogue becomes Archilochus' Hedgehog - Marx as Mephistophelles has all the answers.

Graham Hill's picture
Submitted by Graham Hill on Sun, 2021-08-08 00:53

The parable of the Hedgehog and the Fox strikes again.

Marxism and its Neo-Marxism critical theory are the Hedgehog of the one "Big Idea" that explains the whole world. In doing so it over abstracts reality, deletes inconvenient nuance, and simplifies and dumbs down reality and the explanations of reality. In dumbing down society it dumbs down the education system and its graduates. Instead of cogent and clear argued propositions based on reality, we end up with fuzzy euphemisms and feelings and barely understood or visceral Marxist pabulum. As Professor Black has said (https://thecritic.co.uk/oxford...) that some academics seek 'to reshape in terms of a set of values and methods equating to argument by assertion and proof by sentiment: “I feel therefore I am correct”, and it is apparently oppression to be told otherwise.' In a piece on Brexit, he noted "Both authors are reductionists: they do not deal in complexity but explain by assertion, and the assertion is both clear and foolish: Empire is not to be judged by Brexit, and vice versa."

The Big Idea has swamped this teenager writing for Teen Vogue. She is quite uninformed: https://www.breitbart.com/poli... As one comment has it her subjective experience of one year trumps 150 years of human cumulative historical experience of misery, oppression, death, and the intellectual analysis of a failed ideology. To recast Professor Black- Marxist socialism is not to be judged by a year of Covid-19

There is a serious intellectual credibility problem not confronted by the devotees and believers of Marx, which brings us to an aspect of Marx that the left, and especially the academic left, brush over and that is Marx's psychological or spiritual state of mind which infuses all his written work.

This is well illustrated in Paul Kengor's The Devil and Karl Marx. The book can be annoying in places with its sotto voce colloquial comments which mars what is an informative good read.

Marx's indebtedness to Goethe's Dr Faust is seriously evident and mainly to the character Mephistopheles, whom Marx seemed to identify with. Mark had wanted foremost to be a poet and remained throughout his life an avid reader and reciter of poetry. He could recite vast passages of Faust and mainly the passage of Mephistopheles

The UK academic, Robert Payne, has done probably the best literary analysis of Marx in two books of 1968 and 1971. . Payne cogently argues that there is a direct linkage from Marx's own disturbing literary poetic output to his political output in the Communist Manifesto 1848 and on.

The poetic is Romanticism imbued with the Faustian contract. Marx's seriously disturbed and demented thought is evoked in calling for the total destruction of humankind in Oulanem. In which contrary to normal literary convention has not one good character or redemption, merely annihilation. Then in a mix of a kind of Faustian Walpurgis night, there is the hellish, frenzied violin playing in The Player, entailing murder with the sword of the Devil, obtained in a pact with the Devil and the player's (Marx?) own death after running through the observer (Marx's wife Jenny according to Payne and Kengor) with the Devil's sword. Suicide and annihilation has its iteration in Nocturnal Love. Kengor notes:

“...the lovers end up once again consuming poisoned cups and consumed by the flames, which they sink into as disembodied spirits. Here again, we are assaulted with violence, grief, despair, pale maidens, doomed souls, and fire, fire, fire”

And where does this take us?

“And what is the destination of these souls mingled together and about to fly away? That is, the soul of he, the dark one, glowing with fire, and she, on fire with grief and trembling beneath his breath and pressed violently against his heart? That is, she, the blood of youth, yet pale, and he, of glowing fire, whose soul she has drunk from? To where are they flying? The answer, as usual with Marx, was terror and death, and flames, flames, flames—roaring flames! ”

A near end stanza recites, as there is no Prince of Light, with Marx as the Devil:

“Darling, thou hast drunk of poison,
And now thou must depart with me.
Now the night has fallen,
There is no longer any day.”

Kengor cites Payne's observation:

“It is an ominous and deeply disturbing poem,” concedes Payne, “for a man does not write such things unless he is on the verge of madness or despair.”

The connection to the political writings is set out and the passage is worthy of setting out in full. Kenor citing Payne says:

“Oulanem sees himself as the agent of destruction, as the judge who condemns and then acts as executioner, confident that he is in possession of the powers of God to annihilate the universe. Men, in that universe, are no more than apes of a cold God. Payne viewed this Marxist vision as directly transferable to Marx’s philosophical vision. He perceived the dialogue between Oulanem and the other characters as assuming the form of a classic Marxist “dialectical struggle” that is “never completely resolved, precisely akin to the Marxist ideological vision of the world.”

“Payne thus affirmed that the speech of Oulanem is important to understanding Marx’s ideas: “Combat or death, bloody struggle or annihilation.” He notes that in the Communist Manifesto, “we hear the same strident voice calling for a war to the death between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, a merciless battle with no quarter given by either side. It is important to observe that Marx’s philosophy of the destruction of classes has its roots in romantic drama.”

It manifests itself:

“Marx loved the line pronounced by Mephistopheles in Faust: “Everything that exists deserves to perish.” As Payne notes, Marx’s drama Oulanem is an extended improvisation of that theme, a line that Marx himself used in other writings, quoting it with relish, for instance, in The Eighteenth Brumaire.

An important aspect that is relevant today to critical theory is the notion of criticism to destroy by a faulty paradigm leading to an errant judgment rather than obtaining a fair, balanced, or realistic evaluation and analysis of things: There are no "pros" only "cons" and thus destruction. Marx had no qualms- and neither did Che Guevara or Pol Pot- that force and destruction would be required in effecting revolution and imposing the new Heaven on Earth- "a merciless battle with no quarter given by either side".

It is a poignant irony that the Frankfurt School, the neo Marxist strain that we see today that it should emanate from Goethe University from which the contemporary critical theory is derived.

Its source lay in Biblical Criticism and Marx's criticism of religion. Noteworthy Marx, in his introduction to “A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right,” The essay Kegor says uses the word criticism some 29 times but Marx was empathic on its purpose:

“Thus, the criticism of Heaven turns into the criticism of Earth, the criticism of religion into the criticism of law, and the criticism of theology into the criticism of politics”

The Communist Manifesto advises that criticism is a tool: "But these Socialist and Communist publications contain also a critical element. They attack every principle of existing society. Hence, they are full of the most valuable materials for the enlightenment of the working class." (emphases added). “The criticism of religion is the beginning of all criticism.” according to “Peter Thompson, “Karl Marx, part 1: Religion, the wrong answer to the right question,” The Guardian, April 4, 2011.

Kengor mentions an 1843 letter to Arnold Ruge, where Marx advocated for “the ruthless criticism of all that exists." Ruthless criticism is succeeded by ruthless abolition and the word appears 32 times in the Communist Manifesto. Lenin celebrated Marx for subjecting everything to criticism, to abolishing and to critical reshaping. (Kengor p720)

Ruthless criticism, and ruthless abolition bring us back to the Mephistophelian Marx and Dr. Faust and Mephistopheles admonitions.

“He was especially fond of Mephistopheles’s line from Faust: “Everything that exists deserves to perish.” This is no surprise; it reflects the very thinking of the man who in letters called for the “ruthless criticism of all that exists,” who in the Manifesto declared that communism seeks to “abolish the present state of things,” and who at the close of the Manifesto called for “the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions.” (Kengor p98)

It was just not Marx's writings that disclose the disturbed nature and nihilism of Marx but people around him were aware of it too. His father thought he was possessed of Demons; his wife and friends likewise. Paul Johnson in Intellectuals has talked about Marx's unbridled rancour, his need to dominate and bullying abusive manner. Marx's antisemitism and racism pass without mention from the current racially sensitive left.

Is this really the promising ground for a social philosophy a means of properly looking at the world in a balanced way factually and in terms of mental balance and rational perspective? Its historical track record of catastrophe, oppression, suffering, and slaughter - the no quarter given- are of the most profound in all of human history.

For Teen Vogue none of this is a problem and it would have us believe it is a promising philosophy. It is Hell and Marx is playing the fiddle.

Graham Hill
8 August 2021


gregster's picture

Excellent contribution Graham. I haven’t investigated that bugger yet. I see he has passed the bad baton on to many modern “progressives.” How the hell do they think they can avoid reality when they forever cause a rising cost of living? Are they all possessed?

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