Tuesday, May 8, 2018
Tuesday, May 8, 2018
Tags: Audio, Communism, Germany, Karl Marx, Nazi Grandma
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Tuesday, May 8, 2018. I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Two hundred years after his birth, Karl Marx becomes cool once again despite the deadly consequences of his ideas
One of the most consequential lives of modern times began 200 years ago last Saturday. Karl Marx was born on May the fifth of 1818, and looking back last Saturday from 200 years perspective, it is clear that Marx represents one of the most monumental figures of the modern age, but monumental is just the start of the conversation that we should have about Karl Marx. As we reflect upon Karl Marx, we need to understand that once again, we have a clear demonstration of the fact that ideas come from human beings, and those ideas have consequences.
In the case of Karl Marx, devastating consequences to millions. In his book entitled 'Intellectuals', when he begins talking about Karl Marx, the historian, Paul Johnson summarized the situation this way. "Karl Marx had more impact on actual events, as well as on the minds of men and women than any other intellectual in modern times." Now, embedded in that sentence are a couple of issues that might escape us. First of all, we're talking about the intellectual in modern times.
In this sense, the intellectual only emerges in modern times, the man or woman of ideas whose ideas have immediate public consequence, and intellectual is to provide leadership by ideas for the society. That is a rather distinctive modern idea. That's not to say that intellectual ideas did not emerge, and they were not figures of intellectual consequence before the modern age. It is to say that in the modern age, worshiping as it were human reason, the 'Intellectual' takes on an entirely new significance, and amongst those intellectuals who themselves symbolize the modern age, no one has had such a massive impact as Karl Marx, and as we shall see, an impact that led to tragedy for untold millions. The immediate media interest in Karl Marx has to do with the fact that for the last several decades, he has been not only a major intellectual figure in the background of world events, he has also been a figure of pop culture.
What we are seeing right now, especially amongst younger people in the United States and Europe is a newfound fascination with Marx, or at least what they believe is Karl Marx, the kind of image or symbol that they believe that Karl Marx represents. To get to the bottom line in our cultural context, Karl Marx has all of a sudden become cool once again, and that should raise all kinds of very significant worldview questions. In the late 1980's, in the early 1990's, with the collapse of Soviet communism, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, and with the victory of what appeared to be western ideals of democracy and economic ideas, such as capitalism, the belief was that the ghost of Karl Marx had finally been chased away, but now, on the other side of contemporary events, we come to understand that Karl Marx is back. In one sense, he never left. Karl Marx has always been very influential amongst the liberal intelligentsia, and in particular, Karl Marx has been long ensconced as a major figure amongst American and European academics.
Marxist economics has never been far from view. Even though it has very little to do in most western societies with the actual economic transactions and policies that are undertaken, the reality is that in the academic world, Marx has never been vanquished. He has never disappeared. The nation it seems at this point to most celebrate the bicentennial of Marx's birth is not by accident, China, still under the total control of the communist party that claims Marx at least symbolically and historically as inspiration and ideological source. Chris Buckley reporting from China about the celebration of Marx's bicentennial said, and I quote, "Saturday was the 200th anniversary of Marx's birth and Mr. Xi, that is the Chinese President and Head of the Communist Party, trying to assert the Communist Party's dominance over an increasingly complex society has used the occasion to call for a renewed devotion to the founding tenets of communism."
He gave a big speech the day before the bicentennial days after visiting Peking University, where he also stressed Marx's education. President Xi told the students, "No idea or theory in the history of human thought has produced a broader or deeper impact than Marxism." He went on to call Karl Marx "The Greatest Thinker in Modern Times." The Chinese Communist Party has undertaken a new ideological crusade entitled 'Marx Got It Right', but of course, the interesting thing to note here is the sheer irony. What you have in the continuation of communist rule in China is not actually communism, specifically is not Marxism in economics any longer.
What you have here is a claim to a kind of tradition and a kind of credibility that the Chinese President and the Chinese Communist Party need even as they have kept all of the political aspects of communism, but they long ago abandoned what was central to communism in the first place, which was an economic theory. The reality is that modern China is not communist in this economic program. It is under the control of the Chinese Communist Party, but the expansion of prosperity and the growth of the economy in China has grown entirely by the fact that China has begun over the last several decades to incorporate market economics, which are themselves the very reputation of Marxism. While President Xi was speaking to the students there in China, making the argument that Marx was the greatest thinker of modern times and that Marx got it right, China was also trying to celebrate Karl Marx in Trier, Germany. This led to a headline in The Wall Street Journal, 'The Stories by Valentina Pop and Andrea Thomas'. They wrote, "Karl Marx is long dead, but his specter still haunts Europe."
"The author of the 'Communist Manifesto', whose statues were torn down across the former East Bloc after the fall of the Berlin Wall, is again at the center of clashing world views." The reason, says The Wall Street Journal, "An 18-foot-tall statue of Marx in his hometown of Trier that was unveiled last Saturday on Marx's 200th birthday." A clear generational divide was very evident in Germany with younger Germans, celebrating the unveiling of the Marx statue, while older Germans, especially those in the east who had experienced actual communism were appalled. Václav Klaus, the former President of the Czech Republic was appalled by the fact that European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker was present at the unveiling of the Marx statue. President Klaus said, "This shows that the European Union is turning into a Marxist project."
Now, Kalus is one of those who represents the older generation that had experienced decades of communist repression and worse. There were other divisions very much present as the statue was unveiled on Saturday. Once again, you have Václav Klaus on one side. He represents those whose experience was in the east that actually experienced communist rule and domination. On the other hand, you have many of the Eurocrats currently in power, including Jean-Claude Juncker who is himself the Head of the European Commission, but was basically from the west, you have a romanticization amongst those in the west of communism as it was actually experienced in horrifying form in the east.
Once again, the point must be understood that this statue of Marx, all 18 feet of it was actually paid for by the Communist Party in China, so statues of Marx that were put up decades ago under Russian influence came down only for a new statue, even bigger of Marx to go up in the year 2018, paid for by communists in China.
A deadly legacy: How Marxism in its truest forms became a deadly ideology that led to human misery
During his lifetime, Marx was an admittedly complex figure. There have been debates ever since his death, or even for that matter, before his death, over what Marxism would actually represent, what kind of government or society or economic system would be produced by pure Marxism, but the reality is that pure Marxism didn't even exist in the mind of Karl Marx, which was itself rather complex and confused. Marx changed his position over his lifetime on many different issues. The Marxism that became most well-known in the 20th century was actually in its Soviet and Chinese forms, mixed with Leninism.
It was Marxism-Leninism that became the kind of communism that was so influential and so deadly in the 20th century. Even during his own lifetime, Marx's own thought became commingled with that of Friedrich Engels, the man who basically paid for him in so many ways, subsidized his own very lazy lifestyle, but it was the thought of Marx and Engels, and later the thought of Marx and Lenin, and even later, the thought of Marx and Mao that became so deadly in actual historical and political circumstances. By the way, it is really interesting to note that if you look at where communism was undertaken and where it was continued as a political and economic philosophy, it led to incredible human misery. It led to even deeper poverty. By the time the Soviet Union collapsed, it had collapsed of its own inefficiencies and the lack of productivity.
Paul Kengor, who teaches at Grove City College in an article also for The Wall Street Journal acknowledged, "Marx has been accused of ambiguity in his writings. That critique is often justified, but not always. In 'The Communist Manifesto', he and Friedrich Engels were quite clear that as they said, 'The theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence, abolition of private property.'" Marx and Engels even during their lifetimes acknowledged that communism would require coercion, that private property would have to be forcibly taken away from people. As Kengor writes, "In a preface to their 10 points, Marx and Engels acknowledged their coercive nature."
They wrote, "Of course, in the beginning, this cannot be affected, except by means of despotic inroads." At the close of the manifesto, Marx wrote, "The communists openly declared that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions", but in country after country, revolution after revolution, led to massacre, to famine, to repression, to imprisonment, and to worse. The Economist, one of the most influential periodicals in Europe looked at the 200th anniversary of Marx with a headline, 'Second Time, Farce'. Why that statement? It's because it was Marx himself who said that history repeats itself. The first time is tragedy, the second time is farce.
The clear implication in the column by The Economist is that the Renaissance of Marx in our times is actually farce. It's even beyond tragedy. It is implausible. The article in The Economist begins with this summary, "A good subtitle for a biography of Karl Marx would be A Study in Failure." The column continues, "Marx claimed that the point of philosophy was not just to understand the world, but to improve it, yet his philosophy changed it largely for the worse."
"The 40% of humanity who lived under Marxist regimes for much of the 20th century endured famines, gulags and party dictatorships. Marx thought his new dialectical science would allow him to predict the future, as well as understand the present, yet he failed to anticipate two of the biggest developments of the 20th century, the rise of fascism and the welfare state, and he wrongly believed the communism would take root in the most advanced economies." Now, it is really interesting that Marx seem to believe that revolution would happen first in England because of the mixture of capitalism in the class system, but instead of revolution happening in England, prosperity. Even during Marx's lifetime began to appear in England, and prosperity is the great enemy of revolution.
The theological dimensions of Marxism as understood in the four essential components of a biblical worldview
One of the most interesting aspects of the treatment of Marx in The Economist is the understanding that Marxism was at its very heart theological. Now, that may seem to be a paradox since Marx was one of the most famous atheists of modern times, but that's really the point. The Christian understands that atheism is a theological statement. It is a theological worldview. As The Economist wrote, "His ideas were as much religious as scientific, you might even call them religion repackaged for a secular age." The Economist continued, "He was a latter-day prophet, describing the march of God on Earth."
"The fall from grace is embodied in capitalism. Man is redeemed as the proletariat rises up against its exploiters and creates a communist utopia." Now, that sentence is really important because it demonstrates that this Secular Magazine can't explain what is claimed to be a secular philosophy without reference to even what has to be called 'Theology', but what's also important here is to understand that the theological dimensions go vastly further than The Economist has here indicated. When you think about the Biblical worldview and you understand those four component parts essential to understanding the scripture, the sequence of creation, and fall, and redemption, and new creation, you come to understand that Marxism replaced those movements of Christian theology with an explicitly Marxist substitute. For example, creation was replaced with Darwinism, with evolution and materialism being basic to the philosophy of Marxism, and so it begins with the understanding that there is no supernatural, there is no God, there is no fixed morality, there are no lessons to be learned from creation.
It is simply a fact, and the meaning of those facts are to be written on by human beings alone. Marx was very much a son of the enlightenment, and he was influenced by idealism. His philosophical forebears included most importantly Hegel, who understood a dialectic of history unfolding. The substitute for the fall in Marx's thought was economic oppression. He began with what he called the 'Estrangement of the worker from his work', and behind this, it is evident that he was borrowing from the radical philosopher, Ludwig Feuerbach, who had argued that religion is the estrangement of the person from his own thought, and in the estrangement of the person from his thought, Marx got the idea of the 'Estrangement of the worker from his work', and that becomes the fall, and the fall becomes complicated by the fact that he replaces sin with oppression, the oppression of the worker by those who control industry.
Marx replaced the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is all about redemption with a gospel of revolution, which is all about using violence in order to gain control from those who own the economy, and to do so in the name of the workers, and Marxism was if anything even more theological in its eschatology. Marx had an understanding based upon Hegelian philosophy of an inevitable unfolding of history, and he believed that communism, what he promised would be a communist utopia would be the inevitable result of communism in the historical process. He promised that revolution would give way to an oppressive regime under the control of the Communist Party, but the Communist Party would eventually surrender its control to the people at large, everyone being equal, and as Marxism promise, an economy that worked in utopian terms from each according to his ability to each according to his need. The working backward in that process by the end of the 20th century, it was all too clear that communism never delivered on its eschatology. The promised utopia of communism never came.
The Communist Party never gave up its power. Instead, in every case, it either fell because of its own internal corruption, or it continues in power on its own terms repressive and absolutely monopolistic in its power as we see right now in China. The communist revolutions began in bloodshed, and they continued, even continued today in bloodshed, and the failure of Marx in the entire theological system became such a deadly mix that it is almost impossible to understand why Marxism is still so attractive amongst so many academics, and how Marx can still be a figure of fascination, even of celebrity in pop culture. In sheer economic terms, The Economist analyzes it this way. "His insistence that capitalism drives workers' living standards to subsistence level is absurd."
"The genius of capitalism is that it relentlessly reduces the price of regular consumer items. Today's workers, says The Economist have easy access to goods once considered the luxuries of monarchs." Now, I'm going to stop there for a moment and simply interject that the average person today, including the average person in what's called the 'Developing world' actually has access to goods that no monarch had during the time of Karl Marx. Furthermore, The Economist goes on to cite recent reports on the World Bank, indicating that, "The number of people in the world in extreme poverty has declined from 1.85 billion in 1990 to 767 million in 2013." The communist in China last Saturday unveiled a statue they paid for in Germany for a German figure by the name of Karl Marx, whose philosophy they claimed to continue even though every day, their own economy is the reputation of the man they cite as a hero.
The President of China goes to a local university, claiming that Marx got it right, but every day, China is celebrating a newfound prosperity that only came by refuting the very man and the very philosophy that he championed on campus. Those who actually experienced Marxism in his communist variety throughout Europe and the rest of the world are those who bear the scars of what happened when this godless philosophy actually was put into practice. The only explanation I have from this based upon a Christian Biblical worldview is the simple, enduring Biblical theme of idolatry. It appears against to all reason. The human beings will reject the truth and embrace the false because the false appears to be more fascinating, perhaps more tantalizing than the true.
You might think that those who were Marxist contemporaries in the 19th century might have had some naïve excuse for believing that his ideas might work, but for those of us in the 21st century, there is no excuse. Perhaps, a great parable here actually was the unveiling of that statue in Germany on Saturday. It was put up in a German city of a German figure named Karl Marx, and it was paid for by communists in China. We can understand exactly what the Communist Party in China was up to with putting that statue in Germany. What we can't understand and what we cannot justify or excuse is the complicity of western intellectuals and academics, and for that matter, confused millennials on the streets of Europe and the United States in believing that Karl Marx was anything other than who he was.
Why making bad ideas illegal makes even the worst ideas more popular
Finally, as we're thinking about ideas and to their consequences, CBS yesterday reported with the headline 'Nazi Grandma Arrested After Failing To Report To Prison'. From Berlin, CBS reports, "German authorities say they've apprehended a notorious elderly neo-Nazi and taken her to prison to begin serving her sentence for holocaust denial. Police and prosecutors had charged that Ursula Haverbeck, age 89 was picked up at her home in the town of Vlotho in central Germany. Haverbeck has been dubbed the 'Nazi-Oma', that is the 'Nazi Grandma' by German media, and she was convicted of incitement last year, and sentenced to two years in prison for denying the holocaust. She disappeared for a time."
"She came back to her home, and yesterday, legal authorities indicated that they had arrested her and are taking her to prison." What's the worldview significance here? Most important, we need to understand that ideas have consequences. The worst ideas have the deadliest consequences. The holocaust was the result of deadly ideas, godless ideas that were set loose in history by the Nazi regime. We also need to understand that trying to ban ideas will have consequences, and the denial of the holocaust is what's called an 'Intellectual sin'.
It is a denial of truth, and it is a sinful and deadly denial of truth, but in Germany, it is a criminal denial of truth, and that's a big problem. That's illustrated by the fact that we're talking about it on The Briefing today. Bad ideas must be tolerated precisely because trying to make bad ideas illegal actually gives them more attention. This woman who denies the holocaust at age 89 in Germany made headlines in Germany throughout Europe and in the United States precisely because her ideas were called and ruled illegal. According to other media reports, she has been imprisoned eight times for the same crime.
The most important aspect from worldview analysis is this, bad ideas must be confronted, dissected, analyzed, debated, and their errors must be made clear. To make even bad ideas illegal is to make even the wort ideas oddly more popular. The ultimate irony in all of this is that the German government is trying to stamp out holocaust denial, but by making it a crime, they just gave this woman a platform on both sides of the Atlantic. This is where Christians must understand that in every generation, we are called to a battle of ideas, and not to run from that battle.