Karl MarxI was recently invited by Christopher Benson, who blogs over at www.bensonian.org, to contribute to a “blog book tour” sponsored by Yale University Press for Terry Eagleton‘s new book Why Marx Was Right. Basically, a few of us chose chapters to consider and they are being published sequentially over the next week or so. My look at Chapter Four leads off the discussion at Bensonian.

The book is arranged as a series of arguments against objections to Marxism, most often detailing some kind of misconception that Eagleton then addresses. The chapter I chose deals with the belief that “Marxism is a dream of utopia.” The argument continues:

It believes in the possibility of a perfect society, without hardship, suffering, violence or conflict. Under communism there will be no rivalry, selfishness, possessiveness, competition or inequality. Nobody will work, human beings will live in complete harmony with one another, and the flow of material goods will be endless. This astonishingly naïve vision springs from a credulous faith in human nature. Human viciousness is simply set aside. The fact that we are naturally selfish, acquisitive, aggressive and competitive creatures, and that no amount of social engineering can alter this fact, is simply overlooked. Marx’s dewy-eyed vision of the future reflects the absurd unreality of his politics as a whole.

My consideration of the chapter, entitled “No Matter Your Opinion on Marx, You’re Wrong,” mostly highlights Eagleton’s convincing argument that far from being a dream of Utopia, Marxism actually is interested in changing institutions in the present. Here’s a snippet:

The solution then, for Eagleton and Marx, is to change institutions and practices in order to bring about change in people. This argument is perhaps his most convincing as he sites a number of changed practices from society’s view on the equality of genders to, perhaps most effectively, penal reform. “We now take these changes so much for granted,” he says, “that we would be revolted by the idea of breaking murderers on a wheel.” The important idea here is that human behavior and opinion does change, is shaped by the institutions that rule the day. Citing such ingrained formalities as shaking hands upon meeting or driving on the left side of the road for Britons, Eagleton posits, “Institutions shape our inner experience.” There is a moment here in the reading where the kind of change he is suggesting actually does seem quite possible.

Read the rest over at Bensonian, and stay tuned for the other chapters in days to come.

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Jonathan D. Fitzgerald

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