Friday, January 20, 2006

McKnight vs Marx

I like David McKnight's work on international communism and espionage. It displays a praiseworthy willingness to face facts, but his other work is more doubtful. In a recent piece he draws on Giddens to argue that green politics can be seen as a revival of conservative values and that by implication this is the way forward for progressive politics, the argument is fleshed out with the usual quotes from Burke and Oakeshott. But Burke was a great admirer of Smith, as Chandras Kukathas pointed out years ago agaisnt John Hirst and Robert Manne, Oakeshott was a capital-C conservative. The argument that the left should look to conservative values is a very old one as Marx noted in the communist Manifesto. Marx was right to reject 'feudal socialism', the Marxist tradition recognizes as Andrew Levine puts it in The End of the State that there is a 'rational kernel' to conservatism, but historical materialism recognizes this through its rejection of revolutionary utopianism. Marxism is not anti-capitalist or anti-liberal but it argues that capitalism and liberalism will be transcended by communism, Berki's Insight and Vision is good on this. In Marx's view there is no simple returning to the unity and harmony of pre-modern society, we can't just look at capitalist society and conclude it is individualistic, divided and exploitive and say stop this, rather new forms of unity are constructed by capitalism in the form of a working class united by capitalist production.
Once we start to argue that the left should look to conservative anti-individualist values we open the way to dangerous outcomes: 1. illiberal social authoritarianism (as in some 3rd way discourse) or 2. hailing conservatives as allies agaisnt economic liberalism, the bizarre left-wing admiration of Santamaria in his last years is an example, or at a more tragic and frightening level the case of Henri de Man and neo-socialism; 3). embracing any ally against the empire/neo-conservatism etc. such as the perception of bin Laden et. al. as anti-imperialists.


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