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Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Marx the Metaphysical Moralist, Says Foucault (2)

Marx the Metaphysician


What Foucault noted most about Marx was that he was, despite the hype,  a typical nineteenth-century “bourgeois thinker”. This was a period when just about every thinker believed that history, or the state, or society, or the race, etc. was heading in a forward direction to something much better – to Utopia, to the master (super) race, to economic liberation and its abundances, to complete freedom or whatever. The Darwinians, the (Herbert) Spencerians , the racial theorists (scientists), the Marxists, etc. all took a thoroughly teleological view on whatever factor it was they focused on.

Not only was Marx a typical 19th century teleologist; he was also a typical German metaphysician. Despite all his talk about “philosophers only interpreting the world”, not “changing it” (which was never the case anyway), as well as his materialism (which was not entirely original), or his materialist inversion of idealism, he was still a German metaphysician through and through.

This is Foucault himself on the 19th-century nature of Marxism:

“At the deepest level of Western knowledge, Marxism introduced no real discontinuity; it found its place without difficulty… Marxism exists in nineteenth-century thought like a fish in water: that is, it is unable to breathe anywhere else.” 

For example, take his “turning Hegel on his head”. That is, Marx’s turning of Hegelian idealism on its head to get his own (Marxist) materialism. For a start, he was still turning Hegel on his head. He wasn’t turning someone else on his head. He wasn’t even rejecting Hegel out of hand. And he certainly wasn’t ignoring the prior German philosopher. And because of that, not only was he stuck in the philosophical rut that Hegel himself was stuck in (various competing German idealisms): he was also stuck in a very particular rut – the Hegelian rut (which Marxists were stuck in throughout most of the 20th century). Indeed Foucault not only thought that Marx was stuck in a Hegelian rut; he once thought he was too. (At least at one point in his career.) What Foucault said about Hegel and himself; could equally be said about Marx. Foucault talked about

“the extent to which Hegel, insidiously perhaps, is close to us… to which our anti-Hegelianism is possibly one of his tricks directed against us, at the end of which he stands, motionless, waiting for us.” 

Marx the Moralist


Not only was Marx an old-style metaphysician, he was also an old-style moralist. But of course he was a moralist who never used the word “morality” for his own work because, according to Marx himself, “morality is a bourgeois phenomenon”. In just the same way, Marx was also a Utopian (which was squared with his moralism) who never promised Utopia because only “socialist Utopians”, not Marxist revolutionaries, did that.

Again Foucault noted Marx’s moral metaphysics too. He believed that for a “humanism of the Marxist type” (1978) it was imperative 

“to recover our ‘lost’ identity, to liberate our imprisoned nature, our truth at bottom”. 

And the social and political Utopianism? When class societies were dissolved, when the workers were no longer “alienated” and true Communism reigned, then, and only then, could “the real individual” be himself and thrive.

This metaphysical moralism (without, of course, any use of the words “morality”, “metaphysics” and “Utopia” within the Marxist scheme) showed itself in the close similarity, which very many have noted, between Marxism/Communism and religion. More specifically, Foucault noted the similarity between Marxism and 16th-century Protestantism. According to Foucault, they shared a “manner of being” and were addicted to revolutionary “hope”. Both Marxism and Protestantism, if only at that time, wanted to utterly change both society and the very mind of man itself.

However, the most remarkable thing about Marx’s persistent Hegelianism, right to the end, is that it is most manifest in Marx’s economic theories – of all things! How can dry economics and its dreary “fetishisation of the facts” be Hegelian at all? Well, I will later discuss Marx’s vitally important theory of “surplus value”.

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