Monday, April 21, 2008

An Observation About One Of Marx's Famous Quotes

In Defense of Marx

I also received the following email message, in response to my less than flattering description of Karl Marx last week.

Based on your following statement: “Thus wrote Karl Marx, by reliable accounts a penniless, unpopular, slovenly loser throughout the entirety of his miserable existence. Yet, avoiding any deep contemplation, the masses gravitated to his slogan, resulting in hundreds of millions of deaths and untold misery that carries forward even to this day.” It's clear that you are an absolute cretin. Marx's slogan is a fabulous one, and any civilized culture would do well to aspire to it. But being a bourgeois imbecile, it's no wonder you deride it. As for Marx being responsible for millions of deaths, uh, no, I think you'll find that those responsible were people with names like Stalin, and Mao, who distorted Marx for their own ghastly purposes. Now grow up or shut up!

At 43 years old, I suspect the whole “grow up” thing is simply not going to happen. And I don’t really feel compelled to shut up, either. So I will comment, albeit briefly, that while Marx didn’t actually pull the trigger on the uncountable millions who have died based on his fine-sounding ideas, he might as well have.That’s because the slogan that popped to his mind one day, and which you are so deeply fond of, “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs” contains within it a clear and implicit promise of coercion and even violence.Any platitude, even Marx’s, might be used by an individual as a reminder to act in a certain way toward their fellow man. But when it is adopted as government policy, which was clearly Marx’s desire and goal, it becomes an entirely different thing altogether. Simply (as a “bourgeois imbecile,” I am capable of no complex thoughts), what happens if I, as the individual in Marx’s equation who is able to produce more, am unwilling to give of my bounty to others unable to produce more? There may be any number of reasons why I might not want to hand over goods I have earned, or shoulder extra work so that others less able may live more comfortably. For instance, I might want to save money to start a new business. Or, I may be concerned about the future and want a little extra padding to assure my immediate family doesn’t have to go without. Or, I may simply enjoy the feeling of fine Corinthian leather on my car seats. But regardless of my reasons, I may decide that, no thanks, I’d rather keep the fruits of my labor all to my selfish self.Leaving the government in Marx’s utopian world with only one option… coercion. They can forcibly take the goods from me, or they can send me to a work camp. And they can take away the controls of production, which was Marx’s proposed solution. But when they do, they will be taking away the incentives to innovate and to produce, leading inevitably (just check the history books for proof) to an economic meltdown. Just as inevitably, the government – looking to protect itself – then resorts to anything and everything to stay in power. Stalin and Mao are not the exceptions in this form of government, but the most likely consequences.There is more to this discussion than I have the time or the inclination to go into here. But if you have reached this stage of life still believing in Marx and communism, then I’m betting you are still pondering how Santa Claus manages to slide down your chimney each Christmas.

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