Sunday, April 3, 2011

De Short and DeLong of Marx

Brad DeLong asks, What was Karl Marx's principal contribution? and concludes that it can all be summed up in about ten paragraphs on the philosophy of history.

I will leave to real Marxists (which I am not) to post a strong defense of the guy, but I have to say I'm surprised that someone who claims to take history seriously, as Brad does, would devalue Marx's contribution to that field. Given the evidentiary record available to him at the time, Marx was an extraordinary student of British history during the previous three centuries. Wouldn't it be fair to say that the largest part of modern British historiography is in some sense in dialog with Marx?

Marx's main failing was to generalize from this single case an entire theory of political, social and economic development. The further Marx (or his disciples) strayed from England and the time period of the emergence of capitalism, the worse they have fared. This should not obscure the accomplishment, however.


Eric Nilsson said...

DeLong has always felt the need to aggressively bash Marx and anyone who takes Marx seriously. At these times, it’s almost as if he is channeling some ancient anti-communist cold warrior.

The level of aggression he displays to things related to Marx seems to go beyond a merely academic reaction to what Marx wrote. When DeLong attacks Marx, I have a feeling that something else is going on in his head (unrelated to what Marx actually wrote), and by attacking Marx he is actually “settling accounts” with someone or something else.

If he actually understood what Marx wrote that would be one thing, but he displays a high level of ignorance about Marx's project.

kevin quinn said...

I agree about Marx and history. In addition, I think that the notion of reification is a big contribution, especially when shorn of its LTV context. For example, consider a coordination game where the city is safer the more people who use the streets, so we have 2 equilibria, one where no one uses the streets, so the streets are unsafe and the other where we all use the streets so the streets are safe. Whichever equilibrium we end up in - either the efficient or the inefficient one - there is reification to the extent that (in the efficient equilibrium, e.g.) each of us thinks we are using the streets because they are safe, rather than what is the case: that the streets are safe because we, collectively, are using them. The idea that social life can be problematic because of its opacity - because we don't recognize ourselves in our own creations - a problem different from inefficiency or injustice- is, I think, very important.