October 29, 2003


Karl Marx (Prospect Magazine, Oct 2003; via Arts and Letters Daily)

Donald Sassoon: Well, Dr Marx, you are all washed up, aren't you? Fifteen years ago your theories ruled half the world. Now what's left? Cuba? North Korea?

Karl Marx: My "theories"-as you put it-never "ruled." I had followers I neither chose nor sought, and for whom I have no more responsibility than Jesus had for Torquemada or Muhammad for Osama bin Laden....

DS: How about John Stuart Mill?

KM He was a well-meaning plagiarist ...

DS: How about more recent thinkers?

KM: The fashion-following apologists of the propertied classes, now and again, try to find an adequate rival for me.... So they resurrect Hayek one summer and, by the next spring, they are all wearing Popper ...

DS: OK. No one underestimates your renown. But you must agree: Marxism is not what it used to be...

KM: In reality my work has never been as important as it is now. Over the last 40 years or so it has conquered the academy in the most advanced countries in the world. Historians, economists, social scientists, and even, to my surprise, some literary critics have all turned to the materialist conception. The most exciting history currently produced in the US and Europe is the most "Marxistic" ever. Just go to the annual convention of the American Social Science History Association, which I attend regularly as a ghost. There they earnestly examine the interconnection between institutional and political structures and the world of production. They all talk about classes, structures, economic determination, power relations, oppressed and oppressors. And they all pretend to have read me-a sure sign of success.

The currency of Marxist ideas suggests an intellectual form of Gresham's Law: in the academy, bad ideas drive out good.

Posted by Paul Jaminet at October 29, 2003 10:22 AM

USENET postings and certain unmoderated fora I have visted are also vulnerable to Gresham's Law. The very high Signal/Noise ratio one of the reasons I am glad to post here.

To your point, I wonder why the academic milieu is so vulnerable to this? What, if anything, serves as 'moderator' anymore?

Posted by: Bruce Cleaver at October 29, 2003 11:13 AM

Bruce -

I suspect because it tends to be an echo chamber with no real feedback from any kind of objective reality; therefore it all becomes about what's politically expedient for expanding the academy and ones' influence in it.

You don't see a lot of Marxist critiques of the dominant paradigm of aeronautical engineering; at some point the hard sciences have to build things (or make predictions) that work.

Posted by: Mike Earl at October 29, 2003 12:42 PM

This version of Gresham's Law reminds me of something Walker Percy said about books: "Bad books always lie, and they lie most about the human condition".

One could probably combine these thoughts with Murphy's Law to create some law that the academy will always give the wrong answer in any liberal art, although that is probably too harsh. But people like Alan Bloom, Robert Bork, Milton Friedman, etc. are clearly the exception.

Posted by: jim hamlen at October 29, 2003 2:09 PM

I had actually read the entire thing before seeing this post.

I thought the original article was satire...

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at October 29, 2003 5:06 PM

The article is funny, I recommend it.

Posted by: pj at October 29, 2003 5:22 PM


Posted by: Robert Schwartz at October 30, 2003 7:18 PM