Marx by Berlin

I’ve been reading Marx his life and environ by Isaiah Berlin because the heat wave makes it hard for this asthmatic to do much more than that.

Chapter 1  is basically an overview of the book.  It’s about 20 pages of which I’ve condensed it into one.  I was lucky enough to get a pdf of the book from my friend MK who was raised a Soviet Communism and knows that I enjoy such books, if only to understand the “other” side.  I do admit that I read Das Kapital when i was about 12. My father bought it for, it was 1.98 in 1973, at Brentanos

It was the  Book Store at Kings Plaza in Brooklyn.  At the time it was the only bookstore that served Brooklyn and had quite a following.  It was later bought up by Border’s in 1982 when it declared bankruptcy, the latter which is now deceased except for a few stores that BAM acquired. 

The picture to the right is a typical Brentanos. They were all walnut and luxuriously decored and were in all the malls in the Northeast from what I can tell.  I loved them.  They also owned Au Bon Pain, a wonderful coffee shop, that served far better coffee and confectionaries than Starbucks.

It’s a confusing book and to be honest Marx does not write so much about Marxism as use the dialectic method  and criticism  other philosophies to show what’s wrong with them.    It is obviously a safe vantage point from which to argue, but it’s hard to pin Marx down on his viewpoint.  That really changed in the “Communist Manifesto” which was written very late in his career.

 Hegel  obviously got this from Socrates via Plato but twisted that concept that there was one “truth” or as you hear today, Your version, Mine Version and the Truth. That comment is pure Hegelianism; the truth is something apart from reality and that one must be taught to see it as your, whomever you are, views without proper education are biased by tradition and culture.

Excerpts from the Chapter (take exactly sans formatting, from the book)

Marx was by nature not introspective, and took little interest in persons or states of mind or soul; the failure on the part of so many of his contemporaries to assess the importance of the revolutionary transformation of the society of their day, due to the swift advance of technology with its accompaniment of sudden increase of wealth, and, at the same time, of social and cultural dislocation and confusion, merely excited his anger and contempt.

This sense of living in a hostile and vulgar world (intensified perhaps by his latent dislike of the fact that he was born a Jew) increased his natural harshness and aggressiveness, and produced the formidable figure of popular imagination. His greatest admirers would find it difficult to maintain that he was a responsive or tender-hearted man, or concerned about the feelings of most of those with whom he came into contact; the majority of the men he met were, in his opinion, either fools or sycophants, and towards them he behaved with open suspicion or contempt.

But if his attitude in public was overbearing and offensive, in the intimate circle composed of his family and his friends, in which he felt completely secure, he was considerate and gentle; his married life was essentially happy, he was warmly attached to his children, and he treated his lifelong friend and collaborator, Engels, with almost unbroken loyalty and devotion.

In opposition to the majority of the democratic theorists of his time, Marx believed that values could not be contemplated in isolation from facts, but necessarily depended upon the manner in which the facts were viewed. True insight into nature and laws of the historical process will of itself, without the aid of independently known moral standards, make clear to a rational being what step it is proper for him to adopt, that is, what course would most accord with the requirements of the order to which he belongs.

Socialism does not appeal, it demands; it speaks not of rights, but of the new form of life, liberated from constricting social structures, before whose inexorable approach the old social order has visibly begun to disintegrate. Moral, political, economic conceptions and ideals alter with the social conditions from which they spring: to regard any one of them as universal and immutable is tantamount to believing that the order to which they belong—in this case the bourgeois order—is eternal. This fallacy is held to underlie the ethical and psychological doctrines of idealistic humanitarians from the eighteenth century onwards.

He detested romanticism, emotionalism, and humanitarian appeals of every kind, and, in his anxiety to avoid any appeal to the idealistic feelings of his audience, systematically tried to remove every trace of the old democratic rhetoric from the propagandist literature of his movement. He neither offered nor invited concessions at any time, and did not enter into any dubious political alliances, since he declined all forms of compromise.

His attack upon bourgeois society was made at a moment when it had reached the highest point of its material prosperity, in the very year in which Gladstone in a budget speech congratulated his countrymen on the ‘intoxicating augmentation of their wealth and power’ which recent years had witnessed, during a mood of buoyant optimism and universal confidence.

In this world Marx is an isolated and bitterly hostile figure, prepared, like an early Christian, or a French enragé, to reject boldly all that it was and stood for, calling its ideals worthless and its virtues vices, condemning its institutions because they were bourgeois, that is because they belonged to a corrupt, tyrannous and irrational society which must be annihilated totally and forever.

In an age which destroyed its adversaries by methods not less efficient because they were dignified and slow, which forced Carlyle and Schopenhauer to seek escape into remote civilisations or an idealized past, and drove its archenemy Nietzsche to hysteria and madness, Marx alone remained secure and formidable. Like an ancient prophet performing a task imposed on him by heaven, with an inner tranquility based on clear and certain faith in the harmonious society of the future, he bore witness to the signs of decay and ruin which he saw on every side. The old order seemed to him to be patently crumbling before his eyes; he did more than any man to hasten the process, seeking to shorten the final agony which precedes the end.