The Corner

Did Marx Get Something Right?

Robert Conquest says in one of his books that the kind of bearded student lefty type who screeches “FASCIST!” at any authority figure would not fare well in a one-on-one debate with a sophisticated fascist intellectual like, say, Giovanni Gentile.

I have good reason to remember that. After I “got” conservatism in the mid-1970s I coasted along confidently for a few years believing that Karl Marx was a dimwitted crank who got everything about human nature and human society all wrong. Believing that seemed to be part of the conservative package.

Then, one day in 1983, I found myself in disputation with a well-read and very intelligent Marxist. He chewed me up and spat me out.

Moral, I suppose: If you can’t poop with the intellectual eagles, don’t fly with ‘em.

Anyway, though I shall by temperament and experience never be any kind of a Marxist, and on the historical evidence it’s plain that Marx was dramatically wrong about many things, I have ever since treated the old boy with a certain wary respect.

This came to mind when I was reading John Gray’s interesting essay linked to by Arts & Letters daily this morning.

Marx was wrong about communism. Where he was prophetically right was in his grasp of the revolution of capitalism. It’s not just capitalism’s endemic instability that he understood, though in this regard he was far more perceptive than most economists in his day and ours.

More profoundly, Marx understood how capitalism destroys its own social base — the middle-class way of life.

You can be wrong about A, B, and C, yet still right about X.

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