February 25, 2008


Who Are We?: a review of My Correct Views on Everything, by Leszek Kolakowski; edited by Zbigniew Janowski (Timothy Fuller, Spring 2006, First Principles)

We recall that the transformation of society foretold in Marx’s thought requires the dictatorship of the proletariat. This must mean the suspension of procedural rights and the rule of law, coupled with the conviction that a proletarian dictatorship will be self-liquidating when its work is done. That its work could never be completed is not a theoretical assumption but an empirically verified fact. Procedural rights and the rule of law were not constructed in order to prevent human perfection but out of the realization that human perfection is impossible, that dictatorships are dictatorships (proletarian or otherwise) and subject to all the temptations of power and brutality that spring forth when political power is unchecked.

Kolakowski brings before us once again the old question, “Was every attempt to implement all the basic values of Marxist socialism likely to generate a political organization that would bear the unmistakable marks of Stalinism?” His answer is: Yes. This is because the leader whose task is to implement the ideology must insist on unswerving loyalty and obedience, while those under him are tempted to appeal to the ideology itself. The resulting divided loyalty is intolerable. The leader will equate the ideology with his own insight and implementation of it. Thus even the most loyal are, to the leader, suspect; everyone is a potential threat to the revolution towards socialist perfection, even the most loyal party members. Kolakowski calls this the “egalitarianism of slavery,” which is at the essence of totalitarian regimes:

The liberal concept of freedom implies that my freedom inevitably limits the freedom of my fellow men, and this is indeed the case if the scope of freedom coincides with the scale of ownership. Once the bourgeois order is replaced by a system of communal property, this machinery no longer has any purpose. Individual interests converge with universal ones, and there is no more need to shore up society’s unstable equilibrium with regulations that define the limits of individual freedom…nothing is left except the individual and the human species as a whole…they will have no need of political institutions or traditional national ties to mediate this experience of their identity.

Liberation, on these grounds, means unity in collective identity. This unity precludes politics, as Aristotle saw in his observation that the polis requires different kinds of people. In the sinister Nazi version, “The Third Reich was an exquisite example of the ideological state…the truth of which was guaranteed by the higher wisdom of those in a privileged cognitive position…the supreme race and its leaders…have a deeper insight which no arguments based on ordinary logical criteria could invalidate.”

Embedded in Marxism is a soteriological myth, disguised in the language of the social sciences of the nineteenth century, which demands the unification of civil society and politics. The myth suggests that a communal way of life can be erected on an individualist foundation, the impossibility of which has been laid out by numerous thinkers as, for example, Benjamin Constant in his distinction between the ancient and the modern ideas of liberty. This putative harmony was to lead to the withering away of the state, making the end of politics to bring politics to an end.

Though folks, particularly the partisans of either ideology, tend to think of libertarianism and Marxism as polar opposites, you can see in the above just how similar they are in terms of the errors they make about human nature and, therefore, the possibility of establishing their Utopias. Getting the Beginning and the End wrong they can do naught but create misery for men in the middle.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 25, 2008 8:51 AM
Comments for this post are closed.