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Apostate: Karl Marx (Chapter 9)

December 28th, 2015 | Posted by Lana Hope in Book Reviews

Last year I started reviewing (but never finished) Kevin Swanson’s book Apostate. I am reviewing this book (although slowly, admittedly) because Swanson, although a more exaggerated version, is a good example of how fundamentalists often do not bother to really understand philosophers before dishing their theories. In an upcoming post, I’ll offer some concrete examples of more well-known and rigorous evangelicals who make similar mistakes in their christian apologetics (the study of how one can defend the Christian faith), so you will understand why there is an epic problem among evangelicalism and fundamentalism of not bothering to understand philosophy before publishing books on why the secular philosophers are wrong. As one of my professors told us over and over, “Press the philosophers on their points, disagree where you want, but only after you have rigorously tried your hardest to understand every point they have made.”

You can review some of the other books in the series here. In this post, I provide selected quotes from chapter 9, followed by commentary.

Given that Marx’s ideological progeny includes the likes of Josef Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, Pol Pot, and Fidel Castro, there is no other man in recorded human history response for as many deaths as this ‘humanist of humanist.’

Three problems with this sentence.

(1) What is an “ideological progeny.” He needs to define what he means by this, because I have no idea.

(2) what is Swanson’s definition of a humanist? Humanism is often used very differently in German philosophy than it is in mainstream American culture. For example, in pop culture it can mean an atheist or agnostic, or just one (religious or non-religious) who seeks to work to better human kind; humanism is often linked to social justice these days.

However, in German philosophy, humanism is not necessarily connected to social justice; humanism is rather the cultivation of what it means to be human. More specifically, humanism is an unending quest for civility that is achieved through cultivating habits, character, inhabiting one’s language and world, etc. This can (and should) lead to social justice because there comes a point where we realize that the world is objectifying people, inhibiting them from living up to their humanity, and this requires action from us. Thus, I am not saying that Marx isn’t a humanist, but Marx clearly builds off German philosophy (he admits his debt to Hegel) in arguing that history is the development of human nature. And his economic philosophy, in my mind, is first about helping people live up to their nature, not about justice for its own sake. So I hope that Swanson is not reducing Marx’s humanism to pop cultural usage.

(3) Swanson needs to explain how Marx is responsible for the deaths of millions of people, if this is what he really believes. This is the “evidence” he gives: “Whereas the mass murderers of the 20th century might have had some slight association with the ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Jeremy Bentham, most of them would have freely acknowledged Karl Marx as their ideological father.” He goes on to say that the “body count lies between 85 million and 200 million.”

Swanson’s logic:
A. Marx wrote.
B. X leaders read and followed Marx writing.
C. X leaders murdered.
D. Therefore, Marx is a murderer.

I would want to press Swanson on premise 2. In the quote above, Swanson says that one example of “X is” Pol Pot. I don’t think a Marxist would support Pol Pot.

However, let us suppose that premise 2 is supported (which Swanson has not shown that it is); what would Swanson say about this:

A. God said murder the Canaanites.
B. X leaders followed the Bible.
C. X leaders murdered.
D Therefore, God is a murderer.

Ignoring the fact that “A” seems to prove “D” without the support of premises “B” and “C,” I find it keenly absurd that Christians repeatedly fault everyone else for following some abstract, removed leader (Nietzsche has been blamed for the Nazis; Marx for Pol Pot), but anyone who murders in God’s name has misinterpreted their leader. Before we say,”this is bad comparison, because the circumstances and people groups are different today, thus, in no way is God responsible for what people do today,” we should pause for a moment. Marx also never wrote about about the same circumstances as the mass murders like Pol Pot.

Part of the reason that Swanson is unconvincing is that he makes no efforts to explain himself or engage in a single scholarly source to back himself up. For example, I think one could make a case that radical communism (which would need to be defined) as a whole has led to more death and destruction than it has liberated lives. No doubt that this argument will be contentious, but I think he could make the argument. But that requires substantial research.

Gross blasphemy poured from his tormented heart and pen. “I wish to avenge myself against the One who rules above,” he wrote. At first pass, it appears to be the words of the devil himself.  More rational minds might conclude that these are words of a madman in an insane asylum screaming incoherencies, but reliable sources have it that these words came from Marx.

Exactly who is reliable sources? Swanson includes no footnote. How do we know that Karl Marx said this without a citation? Give us the dang citation, please.

Marx dreamt of destroying the world that God had created. In another poem, fittingly named Human Pride, he wrote: “Then I will walk triumphantly, like a god, through the ruins of their kingdom. Every word of mine is fire and action. My breast is equal to that of the Creator.” It is blasphemy of the highest order, reminiscent of the thoughts of Lucifer in Isaiah 14.

For starters, here is the difference between Marx and Lucifer (as Lucifer is characterized in the Bible): Lucifer knows that God exists, has had personal contact with God, has talked to God, but wants to exert himself as authority over God anyway. Marx just doesn’t believe in God.

Secondly, this poem needs to be interpreted, and unfortunately, I have been unable to find a full copy of the poem (and classic Swanson didn’t bother to give us the citation). Maybe there is other factors that might contribute to how we should interpret this poem? For example, did Marx write the poem as a teenager? or as an adult? How does this poem compare to other poems?  If Marx wrote it before his unabashed atheism (although I think unbelief was more or less always part of him), then Swanson might have a case that Marx was in rebellion against God. But Swanson makes no attempts to interpret the poem through Marx’s eyes.

Swanson offers three quotes from Marx’s play Oulanem,

“Yet I have power within my youthful arms to clench and crush you . . . with tempestuous force, while for us both the abyss yawns in darkness. You will sink down and I shall follow laughing, Whispering in your ears, “Descend, come with me Friend.”

“And (the protagonist screams) “ruined, ruined. My time has clean run out. The clock has stopped, the pygmy house has crumbed. Soon I shall embrace eternity to my breast and soon I shall howl gigantic curses on mankind.”

“If there is Something which devours, I’ll leap within it, though I bring the world to ruins — the world which bulks me and the abyss I will smash to pieces with my enduring curses.”

Swanson does not tell us what these quotes mean, or how these quotes connect with each other. Instead, this is what Swanson says:

is the author sincere as he expresses these wildly angry sentiments? Why does he announce his evil intentions to the world? Why do political leaders, the university elite, and billions of people around the globe still accede to his basic agenda? Some have passed these poems and plays off as vindictive hatred for the ‘idea’ of God on the part of the atheist. Most scholars would dismiss these concerns as merely conspiratorial and superstitious drivel. However, the poems are apparently important enough to be included on Marists.org, a website dedicated to the ‘rebirth’ of Marxism.

What is his “basic agenda”? Swanson hasn’t defined this for us at least not yet in the chapter. As for the “university elite,” in the departments I’ve been apart of, philosophy and English, Marxist theory isn’t that popular anymore. Do university professors still accede to his basic agenda nonetheless? Well, Swanson, please define this agenda for us. For example, if the agenda is that humans are equal, then, yes, most university scholars adhere to this “agenda.”

Finally the “some have passed” and “most scholars” is super confusing. In philosophy, scholars are not always right, so I’m always open to the idea that scholars are “missing” something, but I’m not open to someone just saying that, “scholars are wrong” with no explanation.

Continuing in the shameful tradition of Descartes and Rousseau, he produced a child out of wedlock with his house maid Helene Demuth. Eleanor, his favorite daughter, married Edward Eveling, a Satanist known for his blasphemous lectures on “The Wickedness of God” and for his poems to Satan. If that wasn’t horrible enough, Marx starved three of his children to death, five of his children died prematurely and two daughters who outlived him committed suicide. Thus ends the miserable, tragic life of Karl Marx.

As far as I know, it is more or less true that Marx’s house was a filth and his kids were not properly cared for as such. Whether that caused their deaths, I’d be interested in knowing. Swanson would boost his credibility if he would provide a citation and not just assume this is common knowledge.

Next, Swanson claims that Marx

suggested the complete elimination of the Jews.

If Swanson could prove that Marx wanted to eliminate the Jews, he could back up his earlier point that Marx is responsible for the deaths of millions of people. This would need backing, however, since scholars argue that Marx just hated all religion, not especially the Jews in particular. Swanson attempts to give us a couple quotes from Marx, but he doesn’t give us a citation, so we have no context to interpret the quotes.

Next, Swanson tells us that Marx was influenced by Kant, Hegel, Rousseau, and Darwin; he is correct about this. But he is wrong about this:

We will not study [Kant’s] work in this book, because he merely echoed the seminal work of Rene Descartes and John Locke (humanist rationalism and empiricism). According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. . . ‘Kant argues that human understanding is the source of the general laws of nature that structure all our experience; and that human reason gives itself to moral law, which is the basis for belief in God, freedom and morality.’ In other words, truth is derived from man as the ultimate source – not God. Without Descartes and Locke, there would have been no Kant and Hegel; and without Kant and Hegel, there would have been no Marx.

No, no, no and no. Are there points where Locke, Descartes, and Kant agree? Of course, of course. But Kant’s entire Critique of Pure Reason takes issue with rationalism (Descartes) and empiricism (Locke), and this cannot be ignored. Basically Descartes thought we could have unproblematic access to God via the mind; Descartes thought causality was unproblematic as well. Kant, meanwhile, believed that we have no theoretical access to God (he said that we have practical reason to believe), and he thought that causality was necessary for us to perceive appearances (how things appear to us), but you will not find Kant invoking causality to prove God’s existence like previous philosophers.

Locke thought that we get the idea of space from empirical experience. Against Locke, Newton, and Leibniz (he disagreed with each for different reasons) Kant’s entire Critique of Pure Reason is based upon this thesis that we don’t get our idea of space from empirical experience; Kant says that space is something that our minds intuit; space precedes experience, because we can have no experience without space. Thus, space, for Kant, isn’t really a real entity; it’s something of our minds intuit in order to experience the world. Kant over and over and over again takes issue with the empiricists for assuming that we conceive reality as it is in itself; Kant finds Locke extremely naive for assuming that we conceive reality as it is. Kant says that we experience appearances, not reality as it is “in itself.”

Swanson quotes from Stanford, and offers an incorrect commentary of what Stanford is trying to explain (it would help to read the entire article). The Stanford quote (written by Michael Rohlf , professor at Catholic University of America) says that human reason and natural laws “structure all our experience”; Swanson says this means that “truth is derived from man as the ultimate source.” Here is what the Stanford quote is actually saying: Kant believes that our minds contribute to our experience. For example, we intuit space and time in order to experience the world; we structure experience through the faculties of our minds and so forth. In the Stanford article, Rohlf explains, “on Kant’s view our understanding provides laws that constitute the a priori framework of our experience. Our understanding does not provide the matter or content of our experience, but it does provide the basic formal structure within which we experience any matter received through our senses.”

Does all this mind-structuring-experience lead to the fact that truth derives from us? Here is the thing, Kant argues that it doesn’t because all of us process the world in basically the same way. For example, we all experience the space and time as an a priori structure (a priori means before experience); we all understand through causality; we all have this ability to see an object in motion and recognize that we are seeing the same object and not a thousand, different objects (for example, I see a person walking towards me, and know that something is walking towards me; this is a work of the mind because I am synthesizing thousands of distinct representations into one manifold in which I know that, “a person is walking towards me.”)

Our experience isn’t “random”; it’s not “derived from us,” in this sense. It’s just how we experience the world. We can’t escape experiencing the world this way; it’s part of who we are. Kant’s philosophy could be summarized as this: we are finite; stop being arrogant and assuming that we aren’t. Whether we agree with Kant that space and time are not actual entities, it’s unfair to accuse him of saying that truth derives from the knower; what he is saying is that our only access to truth is through our own minds. We are the point of orientation from which the world appears to us. Everything that we think and perceive is first channeled through our minds.

Kant himself was not a moral relativist; he is almost infamous for saying that it is always wrong to lie, no matter what. Whether we agree with Kant or not, we have to give Kant credit for saying that truth is not dependent upon one’s subjective perspective.

Karl Marx is an idealist, with his own explanation of history, his own explanation of man’s problems, his own ethical standard, and his own salvation plan for man.

You know, sometimes Swanson makes interesting claims; what was Marx’s “salvation plan for mankind”? Marx had one, and that would make an interesting paper. But he needs to tell us what it is.

Swanson here uses the word “idealist,” which is problematic. How we typically use the word “idealist” in German philosophy is completely different than how it is used in ordinary language. I hate to define how we use it in German philosophy, because I risk of doing the term injustice, but very roughly, all too roughly, it is the idea that “reality” is mentally shaped or constructed, or in Kant’s idealism, it is the idea that we intuit appearances. Anyway, given that Marx was born in Trier, studied German idealism, and ultimately took his theories in a very different direction (materialism), calling Marx an idealist is very confusing.

If Marx can explain the meaning of history on his own terms, then he reasons that he should be able to predestine the future. Of course, all of this is futile.

Again, very interesting topic; how does Marx think we can predestine the future? And how do I know this is futile? Explain. It’s interesting.

The humanist’s attempts to explain history and to construct moral systems and social orders will always be arbitrary and groundless. even if there was conflict between the classes, why should it be a problem according to Karl Marx’s view of the world? I can understand why Scripture considers class conflict and class envy as sinful, since it is a violation of God’s tenth commandment. But why should Marx consider class conflict or class inequalities evil when he rejects God’s definitions and God’s absolutes?

I’ll take a stab at answering Swanson’s questions. Basically, the problem of morality is that we are finite beings. When I try to act on behalf of the good, I have to interpret the good, and I have to implement the good in a specific context. My judgements are not arbitrary, but they are specific, particular, and one-sided because they derive from a finite human knower who is trying to enact the good as best as she can. I don’t have a “god’s eye view” of the moral judgments.

Swanson’s question: how does Marx know that his construction and social order is the best one? is a good question. But here’s the thing. Being a Christian won’t automatically solve the question: how do we enact the good? Being a Christian doesn’t solve my moral problems. I can’t just look up to some abstract law and say, “boom, this is how I should enact the good in this specific situation.” I have to try the best that I can do in order to make a judgement.

Swanson’s second question, how does Marx know that class conflict is ultimately wrong (in an ontological sense), is a separate question of how we know what is best way to act in an epidemiological sense. But since Swanson is a Christian, he should know about God’s laws being written on our hearts, so that we all have some knowledge of “the good,” so this shouldn’t be an issue to explain. 😛

We know that the Bible condemns slavery, just as it condemns disease, death, debt, and divorce. . . Yet the Bible recognizes slavery as an inevitable by-product of sin in a fallen world, along with other evil consequence such as disease, divorce, debt, and death.

Is Swanson putting disease, largely outside our control in the same category as slavery?

Marx “resolves to throw the argument back into the face of the capitalists: if capitalism could exploit children and destroy family-integrated economies, then Marx would make more effective work of it by his statist system. Marx argues, “the family exists among the bourgeoisie,” and “the proletarians are torn asunder, and their children transformed into simple articles of commerce and instruments of labor.” If those employed by the capitalists are unable to sustain their own well integrated family economies, then how can the capitalists argue against the communist abolition of the family? This, of course, is nothing new; in fact it is the same Utopia proposed by Plato and Rousseau.

It is interesting that Swanson takes issue with capitalism and Marxism; there is nothing wrong with that, but that is interesting, and (of course) I would like more explanation. What is a family-based economy? Is this different than capitalism? how so? Potentially, this is interesting material.

Secondly, what is up with grouping philosophers together and over generalizing? There are so many points where Plato and Marx would disagree. Marx advocated a classless system; Plato did not. Plato’s system still had slaves (although one might argue that Plato was progressive for his day); Marx was again (hoping for) classless. Swanson, unfortunately, is not the first person to make this generalized comparison; it’s done all the time.

In the 2012 American elections, 70% of single women and 98% of single back women voted for the more socialist presidential candidate. Karl Marx’s agenda proceeds as designed. This man of the Nephilim class has virtually accomplished his agenda in every developed and undeveloped country around the world. Something wicked this way came.

Forget the random (he tends to switch back and forth from philosophy to current political issues with no heading or transition), ugh with the racism and sexism.

Swanson also has commentary on Marx’s “Ten Planks of the Communist Manifesto.” I’ll quote a piece of what he says about the first five planks; you can read the rest.

Plank #1. Abolition of property of land and application of all rents of land to public purposes. The Bible forbids the confiscation of private property by the government. King Ahab, as the first acting community was soundly condemned when he confiscated Naboth’s vineyard (1 Kings 21:4-27).

Now you know. 😛

Plank #2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax. The Bible disallows unequal taxation for public-works projects. Since God would not permit graduated taxation for the construction of the tabernacle or the temple, the same principle out to be applied to all forms of coercive taxation for projects like building the city hall.

Because the tabernacle has a lot to do with city halls. 😛

Plank #3. Abolition of all rights of inheritance. God condemns inheritance taxation according to the same principle condemning property taxation. Israel’s inheritance is divided up in Deuteronomy 21:15-17, and the state is not mentioned as a “beneficiary.”

Okay, I’m also against confiscating all inheritance. But we can’t ignore that the United States isn’t Israel.

Plank #4. Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels. The Bible forbids the oppression of immigrants (Exod. 12:49).

Ooh, nice, Swanson. I’ll quote you on that when your buddies are against helping the Syrian refugees. Swanson later, in speaking of how we have implemented the 10 planks says that, “Immigrants are also subject to property taxation in most states in America.” So is he seriously for tax breaks for immigrants? If so, I applaud him.

Plank # 5 Centralization of credit in the banks of the sate, by means of a national bank with a state capital and an exclusive monopoly. The Bible opposes the pride-oriented, humanist penchant to centralized power. This is the clear message contained in Genesis 8, where men wanted to ‘make a name’ for themselves and build a huge tower and city at Babel.

Because the the tower of Babel proves that nationalized banks are evil. 😛

A poll conducted by the BBC News in 1999 found that Karl Marx was the most influential thinker of the Millennium. Not surprisingly, Darwin, Nietzsche, Aquinas, Kant, and Descartes also made the short list. Almost every mainstream academic article interfacing with Karl Marx describes the philosopher as a wonderful thinker. . .  The facts are inescapable. Karl Marx was the most influential of the Millennium in the minds of westerns. The academics, the masses, and their institutions have followed Karl Marx like the Pied Piper of Hamlin. They reason that if the man is the greatest influence upon our world, then it would be incongruous for the people influenced by him to critique him!

Okay, can we disagree with the BBC poll? Because, there is no way that Marx was the most influential thinker of the last 1000 years, when Marx wasn’t even born until the 19th century.

Also, it’s not true that academics reason that Marx is great, and therefore, that we can’t critique him. I took a class on Marxist theory years ago in which we read theorists who critiqued him. France did go through a period about 50 years ago when most philosophers complained about the bourgeois at every turn, but that was in France, had nothing to do with Marx or communism (had to do with their history), and those days are long over.

At the beginning of this post, I offered this advice from my professor. “Press the philosophers on their points, disagree where you want, but only after you have rigorously tried your hardest to understand every point they have made.” I stick by this. It’s okay to be skeptical about Marx; it’s okay to disagree with him, but always first try to understand what is said.

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  • Those questions you posed applies to anyone at any time. We often assume too much especially when we deal with beliefs and philosophies. We think a writer means one thing when bringing up the term ‘humanism’ for example, yet later find out he/she means something very different.

    I have learned this with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I have been in dialogue with several couples for the past year and I often find myself asking the simple questions to what should be a given…….ie. do you believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. They say YES so assume they might be Christians until you realize that they don’t believe Jesus rose in the same body. He rose in Spirit and got another body. Always getting the clarification on things helps establish a platform.

    • Agree with you. The thing is, I don’t know what Swanson means. I cna’t say whether he and I agree or disagree because he hasn’t been clear what he meanas. If, for example, he means atheist, than he and I might agree more than we think.

      • When in doubt try to contact him. This is what I do when I really want to know something but then if you don’t get an clear answer you know something is up.
        I did this recently with a church. I found their worship songs really lacking content so I sent an email. First one no response so a few weeks later I sent another email. I got a broad response. When I responded to that email the person asked if I am a member because they do not see my name in their database. I thought, what does that have to do with my question? This was an associate pastor. It showed me what is probably going on there so guess what I did? I left, after visiting for 6 weeks and found another church.

        So I say contact this guy to find out the specifics. If he is open and understanding of your question maybe he will be more clear in future books?

        Looks like an interesting book to read.

  • gexpl

    I’m glad you’re back to doing this. I have 0 background in philosophy and, while it’s definitely not my cup of tea to study, I do find it super interesting to hear you give bite-sized expositions on it that I can actually follow and understand. And hearing your version compared to the trite ideas espoused by Swanson is highly entertaining and informative.

    I agree with you, the BBC poll makes little sense. I mean, it’s only an opinion poll, so it seems silly for Swanson to take it seriously as though it is an actual measure of overall influence on the world.

    • That made me LOL. The thing is, in nearly every chapter, he says that X is the most significant thinker.

  • Timothy Swanson

    This is also one of my pet peeves – particularly about the branch of “apologetics” which conflates atheism, stalinism, marxism, and nazism as somehow the same thing and the logical result of not holding to a particular (far right) version of religion and economics.

    One reason, of course, why Swanson (no relation to me) is able to think that he can critique the philosophers without ever bothering to understand them is that he is (like most of his fellow Reconstructionist/Dominionist/Patriarchist buddies), a believer in Presuppositionalism, which essentially holds that one cannot understand truth about anything unless one already holds to theologically correct beliefs. Hence, Marx’s atheism means that he will *obviously* be wrong about everything – and will be presumed to be a complete incoherent lunatic with evil intentions – or something along those lines. Gah!

    As usual, I enjoy your discussions of philosophy. I lack the formal background, but I am trying to learn and understand through my own informal reading, and I agree with the other commenter that you make things easy to understand.

    • You make a great point about why Swanson believes that atheists cannot be right about anything. I think despite how I often strongly disagree with philosophers, I never go so far as thinking they are wrong about everything. How can you be wrong about everything? Also, whenever philosophers are wrong, no matter how dangerous, the mistake is usually made with good intentions. Marx lived in the age of unbridled optimism. I don’t see his optimism any different than those who think artificial intelligence will solve our problems today. He was naive perhaps, but made some good points long the way. It took me two months of reading Marx criticism to reach that point where I was okay saying Marxism makes some good points, though, haha.

  • Pingback: Life After Fundamentalism: Learning to Accept My Passionate Skepticism | Wide Open Ground()

  • Pingback: Christian Apologetics: Can Morality Be a “Defense” of Christianity | Wide Open Ground()

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