The influence of Karl Marx’s ideas on the West have been transformative.
1. Humanity is no longer defined theologically (that we’re made in the image of God), but socially, in that people are determined by historical and material conditions. No one questions this Marxist assumption, not even most Christians. Indeed, who still seriously speaks of humans as bearers of God’s image?
2. Reason is regarded as a mechanism to enable and control the means of production. The pre-Marxian notion of reason as a divine gift for pondering the ways of God, through love, truth, goodness, beauty and virtue has become alien to the Western mind. How many continue to believe that the purpose of life is to contemplate God?
3. Freedom is linked to political struggle (rights), where the state dispenses a communal morality. Liberty is no longer divine grace brought about by repentance and forgiveness – rather, it is the freedom to acquire goods and pleasure, enabled by social, political and legal means.
4. Morality has devolved into acts of overturning unequal power structures. It is no longer the alignment of mankind with the ways of God, or transcendence. Thus, political action (activism and social justice) is assumed to bring about change for the better. Whether improvement happens or not is questionable. However, when morality is only socio-political action, then relativism emerges, in that individual action is seen as the only catalyst for change. This is “historical materialism,” where history is goal-oriented, and metaphysics is an illusion.
These four examples show how recognizable and “doable” Marxism is — while the Christian approach (which sustained the West for nearly two-thousand years) seems strange and foreign, verging on the delusional (or impractical).
Such is Marx’s great success.
However, Marxism is also fatally flawed because it is wrong about capitalism. According to Marx, as capitalism grows, economic inequality increases, until a revolution breaks out, followed by a classless society. This chain of events has never happened. Instead, capitalism keeps expanding and there are no revolutions, let alone a classless society.
But, despite being wrong, Marx’s materialism won the day, as most believe that the ultimate goal of life is economic well-being, rather than salvation.
In effect, Marx gave capitalism a solid materialistic philosophy, which is now distributed via education, consumed via production (consumerism), and then justified via relativism. The average citizen of the West, as a consumer, is the New Proletariat, who is encouraged to worry about his social, rather than spiritual, well-being, and for whom life becomes the management of historical and economic forces. Does anyone even bother to counter such Marxist beliefs with the Christian call to live against the world?
The ideas of Marx also have won the “culture war” (something James Davison Hunter missed) by creating a mindset which encourages the West to abandon its own history, which is portrayed as an unending process of oppression — so much so that being Christian is no longer easy, because it’s trivialized as taste, or personal preference. Those people who claim Christian allegiance only do so within the logic of Marxist-consumerism, as they don’t know how to escape relativism. The common practice of Christianity is Marxism-compliant.
Even worse, Marxism underpins Western technocracy (transhumanism), where the problems of life are said to be solved by technology (means of production). Its experts are the technocrats, those experts who seek to dictate how we are to think and live.
Many speak of the “West,” but few care to define it. Its Christian past can no longer offer a coherent definition because that past is explained away as superstitious. In the absence of its proper history, the West is Marxist, where economics calibrates the chief-end of human existence.
As for a Marxist revolution, it’s now concerned with rinsing away the remaining residue of metaphysics. The few reminders of God that yet endure are to be washed off. This will lead to the new classless society, devoid of all illusions (metaphysics).
Thus, the oft-heard cry that the West is being “destroyed by Marxism” is a lie – for how can the West be destroyed by the very philosophy that fully animates it? Instead of being destroyed, the West is defined by its materialism.
It’s no surprise, therefore, that the only reaction available to conservatives is a negative one – denial or outrage. Nor can they imagine a post-Marxian life, a non-materialistic society. This leaves only nostalgia.
Though the situation is dire, it is not hopeless, for man does not live by bread alone. The first step is to win back the very definitions of life, existence and history so that they might once again be given their metaphysical purpose and coherence. Humanity shattered by materialism needs back its soul.
But there are also two difficult questions that need answering. There was a happy, prosperous world before Marx. Do we really want a similar world? And if we want it, are we willing to sacrifice materialism in order to gain it? In the words of Jacques Ellul, this earlier world understood that “Christ-fixed duty has to be done no matter what course life may take.” In other words, the only cogent answer to Marxism is the rebuilding of Christendom.
This may seem a radical proposition, even an undoable, or an unimaginable, one. Nor is it a return to the past, for Christianity is never about the past. Christianity is about the future. Therefore, Christians and conservatives should consider what they truly gain by being Marxism’s fellow travellers.
Nirmal Dass is a former university professor specializing in the Early and High Middle Ages. His areas of research are philosophy, history and ancient languages. He has written several books and is actively engaged in literary translation.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.