Our last inquiry on Napoleon nearly concludes our discussion. We are almost at the end with Karl Marx, 1818 -1883. The reason why I add Marx is because, in my opinion, he is the last great train wreck stemming from the Age of Enlightenment. Most in the field would agree that he is a failure that wasted his life on a pile of nonsense. Here, I will put him in context and show you why.
Firstly, a little background on Marx. Karl was born in German Prussia. His father, a wealthy lawyer, was originally Jewish; but converted to Lutheranism before Karl was born. All indications are that Karl was raised Lutheran. He got his PhD from the University of Jena in Berlin, and although it is not clear from which department; it appears that it can be generally stated as “philosophy”. Marx did have a pathway to a post as a professor, however due to his extreme leftist views, he was blocked. At that time, Germany was very conservative. Marx decided instead to be a journalist in Cologne. Karl ultimately married Jenny von Westphalen whose family was part of a minor nobility in Germany.
Now, let us put Marx into historical context.
- The basis of Marxist Thought is Georg Hegel, 1770 – 1831. Hegel had a philosophy called the “Historical Dialectic” He believed that history proved that there always existed a thesis and an antithesis. It was inevitable that the two would clash, be destroyed, and create a synthesis. I have not thought about it too much, but it should be noted that Hegel was a well known Christian and he never would have agreed to people being injured. Marx comes around, however, and suddenly, it is all about people. Marx claims that it is about the rich and the poor clashing to create the “workers paradise”!!!. Immediately this idea was crushed everywhere. Unfortunately, evil is difficult to eliminate.
- An important man in the life of Marx Friedrich Engels, 1820 -1895. He also was born in Prussia. He was a Lutheran and from a wealthy family. Studied Economics/Philosophy at The University of Berlin, but he did not graduate. What is confusing about Engels is that he had everything to lose by helping Marx. Nevertheless, it is probably because of Engels that we even know anything about Marx. For the most part, the writings of Marx are an incoherent and unintelligible mess. Engels had a great hand in clearing it up.
- Marx married Jenny von Westphalen, 1814 -1881, in 1843. She was wealthy, Lutheran, and part of the nobility. Ultimately, Marx was alienated in German society, driven into poverty, and finally banned. It was Engels who arranged for his exile to England, yet the only other help that Engels provided was just chump change – you call that a friend? Marx and Jenny had 7 children, and nearly all died from poverty, lack of medical attention, or mental stress. Most of us would say, “we need to change plans”. Not Marx, he continued until the bitter end, and Jenny was right by his side.
After being exiled from Germany, Marx finally landed in England about 1849. Marx was internationally hated for his writings. He did not do much better in the UK, barely more than just staying alive. Thus, Karl spent all of his time at the British Library developing the theoretical basis of Communism. As I mentioned, I could barely untangle his thoughts. so I basically stuck to 3 books: Communist Manifesto 1848, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. Strangely not published until 1932, and , Das Kapital 1867. To this day, one can find the reserved desk that Marx used at the British Library.
For the next few decades, scholars struggled to untangle the mess. Here is what they say it all boils down to in general: worker’s paradise, justice for the worker, destruction of the rich, if the worker’s paradise cannot be achieved peacefully than it must be pressed through armed violence. All Enlightenment thought always ends the same: atheism, loss of rights, and mutual destruction.
Marx used all the old enlightenment statements: natural rights of all men, equality, the state being the ultimate authority. The problem is that he also adds an old principle from the Age of Enlightenment: atheism. Everyone agrees with the natural right to worship your God; and the right that stems from that, ownership of property. It does not matter when or where you come from, men have basically always agreed. He also said if nothing works, then just rip the rich of their property and throw them into the streets. Of course, all what Marx offers can only exist in atheism. The concept of God naturally contradicts all that Marx claimed.
What worries me is that bad ideas never seem to die. I previously mentioned, do no look at the exact terms; rather, the pattern. Never look at names because they change. It is that idea that survives.
Next week, I will add the conclusion to this topic. Please stay tuned.