In 1992, Francis Fukuyama announced the end of history.
Turns out he was wrong and right. He was wrong that history would grind to a halt as all nations inevitably transform into modern liberal states. As we have seen, destructive models like authoritarian China and theocratic Iran are alive and well.
He was right, however, that the modern liberal state was the natural end of history – our final cause, as Aristotle would say. When individuals achieve liberation from tyranny and establish a system based on individual rights, they will settle for nothing less.
I hereby announce the end of Marxism.
However, not in the way that most might imagine. As a philosophical conservative, I recognize the important contributions Marx made to the debate. Anyone who refuses to analyze our world in terms of material conditions is missing an important piece of the puzzle. However, this is not the same thing as reducing all truths to material conditions.
Consider how people earn money and gain social status. Historically, entertainers and athletes were admired by the elites, but the technology of radio, television, and Internet allowed them to scale their reach to a global audience and amass wealth and status in ways that weren’t possible in the past. Technology created new paths to the top of the social pyramid.
At the core of Marxism is the idea of dialectical materialism, which means reality is a perpetual conflict of material conditions (like the pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus). One material state (thesis) give rise to a conflicting material state (antithesis), which give rise to a solution (synthesis). All knowledge is derived from our perceptions of the material world, which means all mental and spiritual processes are grounded in material conditions.
For Marx, dialectical materialism manifests itself in history as class conflict. Marx attempted to transform his theory into scientific method, but there was a lingering sense that he was pounding round pegs into square holes. Not to mention, Marxism includes seeds of its own destruction. For example:
· If all ideas are the product of material circumstances, is Marxism as well?
· What material conditions provide the foundation for abstract ideas like class conflict?
· If reality is perpetually dynamic, how is the truth of Marxism possible across time?
To understand why Marxism fails, we should turn our attention to Marx’s inspiration for dialectical materialism: the German idealist G.W.F. Hegel.
Hegel also postulated a dialectical model of thesis-antithesis-synthesis, but he grounded the arrow of history in a universal Spirit, not in the material world. Hegel agreed with Marx that nothing is permanent, that everything is becoming and ceasing to be, but Hegel argued that a universal Spirit was steering history toward a desired end.
Unlike Marx, Hegel celebrated things like monarchy, Christianity, and hierarchy, which corresponded nicely with the authoritarian political system ruled over by his benefactor, the Prussian King Frederick Wilhelm III.
Rather than modify Hegel’s view, such as the Spirit steering us toward communism, he rejected the Spirit to embrace the opposite. He “turned Hegel on his head” by making material conditions, not the Spirit, the prime mover of the dialectical process.
One problem with materialism is you can’t provide a solid foundation for ethics or abstract ideas like justice or fairness. As Hume said, you can’t deduce an ought from an is. In fact, materialism is home to Darwin’s law of the jungle, where people oppress people, which Marx wanted to eliminate.
When I announce the end of Marxism, I’m not saying Marxists have admitted to losing the debate. In fact, conservatives appreciate the importance of material conditions more than ever. Rather, I’m suggesting that Marxists themselves have abandoned dialectical materialism to embrace a modified version of Hegel’s Spirit.
There’s a lot of talk today about wokeness and left-wing puritanism. This is a complex topic that merits its own analysis, but for our purposes this is important because it means the left has abandoned what they would call science for what we would call metaphysics.
Marxists now have a Utopian vision that is detached from its material conditions. The state is still the object of worship, but identity is now the source of meaning and purpose. People who demand a definition of “woke” need look no further than this.
What are these new articles of faith? If the transition to green energy proves mathematically impossible, have faith. If sex or gender proves grounded in biology, have faith. If lowering academic standards doesn’t reduce inequality, have faith. If defunding the police results in higher crime rates, have faith.
For the new Marxists, dialectical materialism was a stubbornly slow process that failed to deliver Utopia. They want change, now, and hope that their soothing ideas will accelerate the process. However, because the new Marxists still reject religion and metaphysics (unlike Hegel), we should ask where these soothing ideas reside.
Perhaps in their heads?