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« Big Picture, Derbyshire Style | Main | Movies -- "Crush," Wong »

August 30, 2002

Paul Johnson on Marx

Michael

I thought I'd share a little gem from Paul Johnson's incredibly useful and fun book, "Intellectuals" which takes a close look at what he terms "the moral and judgmental credentials of certain leading intellectuals to give advice to humanity on how to conduct its affairs."

He tackles many of the illustrious of the past few centuries: Jean-Jacques Rousseau ("An Interesting Madman"), Shelley ("Or the Heartlessness of Ideas"), Tolstoy ("God's Elder Brother"), Bertolt Brecht ("Heart of Ice"), Jean-Paul Satre ("A Little Ball of Fur and Ink"), etc. Perhaps my favorite chapter concerns Marx. The following is a brief extract:

[Marx] was totally and incorrigibly deskbound. Nothing on earth would get him out of the library and the study. His interest in poverty and exploitation went back to the autumn of 1842, when he was twenty-four and wrote a series of articles on the laws governing the right of local peasants to gather wood....But there is no evidence that Marx actually talked to the peasants and the landowners and looked at the conditions on the spot.

Again, in 1844 he wrote for the financial weekly Vorwarts (Forward) an article on the plight of Silesian weavers. But he never went to Silesia, or, so far as we know, ever talked to a weaver of any description...Marx wrote about finance and industry all his life but he only knew two people connected with financial and industrial processes. One was his uncle in Holland, Lion Philips, a successful businessman who created what eventually became the vast Philips Electric Company [now Philips Electronics, with sales of EUR 32.3 billion in 2001.] Uncle Philip's views on the whole capitalist process would have been well-informed and interesting, had Marx troubled to explore them. But he only once consulted him, on a technical matter of high finance, and though he visited Philips four times, these concerned purely personal matters of family money.

The other knowledgeable man was Engels himself. But Marx declined Engels's invitation to accompany him on a visit to a cotton mill, and so far as we know Marx never set foot in a mill, factory, mine or other industrial workplace in the whole of his life.

The question this and other matters discussed in Johnson's book (which has, predictably, been criticised repeatedly by lefties as "mean-spirited" but not, as far as I know, on factual grounds) raises is one you have asked repeatedly: why wasn't any of this ever brought up by the professors at our Lousy Ivy University? It's not like this stuff was a secret, exactly--except from us students.

Cheers,

Friedrich

posted by Friedrich at August 30, 2002




Comments

Dear Sirs:


I have no reasons whatsoever to defend Marx from Johnson´s jokes about the German philosopher. Nor am I a Marxist enthusiast myself. But to believe that writting a book on social poverty demands a much closer contact with poor people is tantamount to say or believe that to write an academic thesis on prostitution would demand the thesis´ author to get to bed with whores in order to know how they live, make love and welcome their guests in bed.
No matter how Marx is wrong or not,he is a famous man, even in spite of himself, while Johnson is to forever remain an unknown man . He should, at least in spirit, thank Marx for having given him (Johnson)an opportunity to get known to the wide public of his readers, who are less numeropus than Marx´readers. Well,if I intend to write an essay on the side effects of drug consumption among youngsters, must I use heavy drugs to do it? Or must I become a gay man to study the social behaviour of homossexuals? Would Mr. Johnson ever dare contradict me?

Hamilton Castro
Rio de Janeiro - Brazil

Posted by: hamilton castro on November 6, 2003 01:44 PM






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