The Corner

Marxism v. Pragmatism

Stan’s entirely right when he says “Cornel West was a Marxist and a philosophical pragmatist, and it is entirely possible to be both.” I would just add that I think Stan is understating things. It is not only entirely possible, it is quite common, even consistent. Sidney Hook was a Deweyan Marxist (“Deweyan” is largely synonymous with “philosophical pragmatist” for the record). I believe Bill Ayers has called himself a Deweyan Marxist (though I defer to Stan on that).  Dewey himself didn’t call himself  Marxist, but the amount of daylight between Dewey and generic American Marxism was pretty small.

Ultimately,  much of  philosophical (capital “P”) Pragmatism — at least on the left — was an attempt to make socialist or Marxist ideas — or attempts to move toward those ideas — seem practical and empirical rather than ideological. Much of the anti-ideological language of the left today is a byproduct of that project. “Ideology” (by which the left means conservative ideology) is bad because it stands in the way of “pragmatic” improvements. But those “improvements”  aren’t pragmatic at all, they’re deeply ideological. Some of the most blinkered ideologues in American life, going back to FDR, have championed the idea that they “don’t believe in ideology” or “don’t believe in labels” when in fact what they really believe is that they don’t think ideologies they disagree with should be allowed to stand between them and implementing their agenda.  I mean does anyone believe that Cornell West is simply a non-ideological pragmatist? For that matter, does anyone think that of Barack Obama?


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