Tuesday, October 26, 2004

I studied Karl Marx only for one semester and read quite a bit of his works. At the time I found them interesting, but nothing more. A few years ago, someone asked me who the most influential man of the 20th century was. I answered, Jesus Christ? Pope? . . . on and on, and he said. I then asked, who? His answer, Karl Marx.

I had to agree. No one shaped the contours of the 20th century more than Karl Marx. As a result, whenever I would teach a class to undergraduates, I always started out with this question. The point was that Marx spent all his time in libraries and seeking professorships and writing and he was unheralded in his time. The point is, ideas have consequences. He absolutely no idea how impactful his ideas would be at the time.

I'm not an expert on Marx, but i do intend to go back do some serious reading of his stuff. But I think we can fairly say that Marxism should not be equated with its descendants manifested in Lenin, Stalin, Mao etc. I don't know that the Soviet Union and China are authentic expressions of Marxism.

Even the Catholic Church appreciates Marxism, with the caveat that it rejects his stark materialism--fair enough. Marxism has been at the heart of the liberation theologies of Latin America, much to the chargrin of many conservatives.

I was thinking about women's issues today and it struck me that my proposed solution to many social problems lies in socio-economics. How Marxist. But even Maslow's hierarchy of needs shows this. People only reach for the high culture of human existence only after they eat, have a place to sleep and have taken care of present necessities.

One other point is that Marx was right to point out that religion is a negative factor in human progress. He was downright hostile to religion. As one who is inherently religious, I accept what he says as true, but can't leave it at that. I think that if religion does not evolve with the progressing culture, then it becomes a hinderance. He worried that religion took away the present hope of people and kept them from striving to attain justice in this world. That is true. The trick here is balance. Religion is a problem to be solved and embraced, he punted on that issue.


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