Interview with the Moor

by Kieran Healy on October 30, 2003

Via MaxSpeak comes a link to an excellent interview with Karl Marx conducted sometime in the last month, apparently. Karl has lost none of his vitality, despite having been dead for some time. His analysis is as trenchant as his invective is unrelenting. Who is an “insipid, pedantic, leather-tongued oracle of the ordinary bourgeois intelligence” and who is “so easy to comprehend, so stupendously unoriginal, so devastatingly tautological”? Read it and see.



Timothy Burke 10.30.03 at 12:01 pm

Marx likes the YANKEES? I would have made him out to be a Red Sox fan.


Bob 10.30.03 at 2:33 pm

I’ve never understood the enduring academic fascination with Marxism, which seems to me a singularly useless tool for analysing what happens in markets.

It is verging on the banal to claim as an insight that buyers seek to buy at as low a price as they can find while producers want to sell at as high a price as the market will bear.

If capitalists always act in their class interest, how come so many capitalists in the computer business keep ganging up against Microsoft?

Can someone, please, explain?


Brian Leiter 10.30.03 at 3:25 pm

Courtesy of philosopher Phil Gasper: “The claim that Marx wanted to dedicate Capital to Darwin is a myth, first propagated by Isaiah Berlin ironically enough, and long refuted. See Margaret A. Fay, “Did Marx offer to dedicate Capital to Darwin?” (Journal of the History of Ideas 39 [1978]: 133-46) and Lewis S. Feuer, “Is the ‘Darwin-Marx correspondence’ authentic?” (Annals of Science 32: 1-12).”


Harry Tuttle 10.30.03 at 4:48 pm

Is this the last of zombie Mikhail Bakunin!?

C’mon! You can’t ressurect Marx and not expect the shambling corpse of Bakunin to show up too.


David W. 10.30.03 at 7:00 pm

Thanks Brian. I feel sheepish as I’ve told that story to numerous students over the years.


Marcus Stanley 10.30.03 at 8:08 pm

Bob: Marx was one of the first (if not the first) thinker to see the novelty of capitalism as a social system and the full scope of the transformation it was going to create. As for class interest — capitalists acting in their class interests is like you acting in the interests of your family. It doesn’t mean that you won’t have fights with your brother or your wife, but you will tend to stick together against outsiders, yes? You don’t see a lot of capitalists working hard to strengthen the union movement to drive up their competitors labor costs.

As for Marx’s usefulness in analyzing capitalism, his prediction that capitalism would be plagued by periodic crises of overproduction and overly low demand (what we today call the business cycle) turned out to be quite accurate before Keyenes and central bank economic management — pre WWII recessions and depressions dwarfed what we see today. The prediction of progressive immiseration of the working class doesn’t look so good, unless you think it is *relative* immiseration he is talking about.


Cosma 10.30.03 at 8:31 pm

"Marx tried, and although he erred in his main doctrines, he did not try in vain. He opened and sharpened our eyes in many ways. A return to pre-Marxian social science is inconceivable. All modern writers are indebted to Marx, even if they do not know it. This is especially true of those who disagree with his doctrines": thus Karl Popper (The Open Society and Its Enemies, ch. 13). The 2nd volume of Popper’s book is largely a long argument with Marx, and I find it a little uncharitable (though not uncharacteristic) of Marx’s specter to be so dismissive of our other Uncle Karl. Jon Elster’s Making Sense of Marx is a good place for those familiar with mainstream economics to gain an appreciation of what the Moor’s most valuable contributions were; G. A. Cohen’s Karl Marx’s Theory of History is good too. Of course the most valuable contributions have not always been the ones which held the greatest appeal to Marxists; that, in a way, is the topic of Leszek Kolakowski’s magisterial Main Currents of Marxism.


Kieran Healy 10.30.03 at 10:28 pm

Hi Cosma –

I wonder about Elster’s book. It’s based on a very deep knowledge of the sources (an amazing knowledge, really) and Elster’s critical acuity is remarkable. But he seems to take all the textual material, remove it from context, shred it into a huge pile of sentence-sized fragments, and then attempts to reassemble them in the light of his own metholological commitments. Unsurprisingly, Marx doesn’t come out looking too good.

The contrast with Gerry Cohen’s book is an instructive one, as he’s also committed to the analytic approach to Marx, but uses those tools to produce something that feels like a very sharp but coherent characterization of some of Marx’s central ideas, in a way that Elster’s book doesn’t.

This isn’t to deny the force of many of Elster’s particular criticisms, of course, especially if you buy into his views about methodological individualism (though I think even Elster himself has relaxed those in more recent writing).


Brian Leiter 10.31.03 at 12:49 am

Anyone reading Elster’s book ought to read, in conjunction with it, the essay by Robert Paul Wolff (himself an analytically-minded philosopher) on Elster: “Methodological Individualism and Marx: Some Remarks on Jon Elster, Game Theory, and Other Things,” Canadian Journal of Philosophy 20 (1990): 469-486. An easier read than either Cohen or Elster, but one that assimilates much that is of value from these two authors, as well as Roemer, Wood, and others, is Jonathan Wolff’s splendid book Why Read Marx Today? (OUP, 2002).


Cosma 10.31.03 at 3:35 am

Kieran: I think that the characteristic of Elster’s book you point out is actually something of a virtue, for the particular purpose of persuading a mainstream economist, or someone of that ilk, that there’s something to Marx. John Roemer’s work, which I should’ve mentioned, has something of the same quality, though without either Elster’s comprehensiveness, or conveying the impression that Marx tried to be Elster but Hegel kept breaking through. (As it happens, I find methodological individualism very appealing, but I used to be the village reductionist in Santa Fe.)

Brian: both the Wolffs sound interesting; thanks for the references.


Josh 10.31.03 at 2:18 pm

The remark that the myth that Marx offered to dedicate Kapital to Darwin was ‘first propagated by Isaiah Berlin’ needs some slight qualification — to ‘first propagated in the English-speaking world’. Berlin himself got the idea from the most authoritative Russian sources then available to him — Karl Marks, Datyzhizhni i deyatel’nosti. Institut Marksa-Engelsa-Lenina pri TSK VKP (B), ed. V. ADoratsky, Moscow 15.6.1934, which in turn is based on Karl Marx:Chronik Seines Lebens in Einzedaten, zusammengestellt vom Marx-Engels-Lenin Institut, Moskau (Marx-Engels Verlag, Moskau, 1934, ed. E. Zobel). (See Berlin’s reply to Fay, in the Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol 39 No 3 (Jul-Sep 1978), p. 519

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