Postmodernism, Part 23: Marx and Moses

What is postmodernism? Is it a problem?  The following continues a series of posts explaining postmodernism.  It is based on the excellent Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, by Prof. Stephen Hicks.  (Additional support includes Socialism, by Ludwig von Mises; and Freedom and Organization by Bertrand Russel.)

Previous posts:

Enlightenment and Darkness

Rousseau’s Revolutionary Politics

Right Collectivism

Left Collectivism


Marxist postmodernism seeks to overthrow modernism.  Modernism’s political philosophy proposes reason, individualism, liberal democracy, and free markets.  Postmodernist philosophy is based on the metaphysical nihilism of (Nazi) Martin Heidegger.

jean-rousseauJean Rousseau

Postmodernism’s radical left politics don’t flow naturally from Heidegger’s subjectivist philosophy.  Postmodernism’s leftist political philosophy is explained by twentieth century Marxists’ crisis of faith in the face of undeniable Marxist catastrophe.  Postmodernists took refuge in an earlier totalitarian collectivist, Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Rousseau’s ideas and Napoleon’s conquests inspired the German Counter-Enlightenment thinkers (Kant, Herder, Fichte, Hegel).  They gave Rousseau a German twist, including hero worship, state worship, totalitarianism, and dialectical history (with German supremacy).

Left Collectivism has roots in romanticism (inspired by Rousseau).  Romanticism was both an aesthetic and a value system.  It valued unthinking passion, sympathy, virtuous poverty, idyllic nature, danger, violence, and radicalism.  It devalued social consequences and conventional morality.  Lord Byron was prototypical.

engelsFriedrich Engels

Left Collectivism has roots in the problems of our industrial past.  Families struggled to survive crowded filthy “third world” slums, malnutrition, epidemics, long hours, unsafe work, misery, crime, societal breakdown, and uncaring government.  Revolution seemed imminent.

Left Collectivism has roots in “utopian socialism”.  Marx and Engels claimed their “scientific socialism” was “Gospel”.  (Marx prove to be a jealous and vengeful god.)  They scoffed at the “utopian socialist” heretics, such as Robert Owen (the idealist) and Charles Fourier (the absurd French fabulist).

Unlike Fourier, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were serious fellows.  Revolution was in the air.

Karl Marx
karl-marxKarl Marx

Karl Marx was a deep thinker.  He grew up in the German Rhineland (like Engels).  He was born Jewish, but was raised Protestant.  As a university student, he studied law, philosophy, and the works of Hegel.  (Hegel was dead, by then.)

Marx became one of the Young Hegelians (a group of assorted radicals, who didn’t actually call themselves that).  Their ideas were an eclectic mix of Hegel plus Fichte minus God and country:

  • History is dialectical.  It evolves through contradiction and conflict towards some presupposed destiny.  (The dialectic is a circular argument that presupposes the destiny it claims to prove.)
  • Reason is subjective.  (This is a lazy shortcut refutes any counter-arguments.)
  • Freedom is slavery.  (The universe is evolving towards inevitable destiny.  We have no freedom, but duty to achieve that destiny.)

The Young Hegelians disagreed with Hegel over destiny.  Hegel was a Prussian conservative.  They were radicals, that presupposed different destinies:

  • Hegel presupposed a German Christian destiny.
  • The radicals, not so much.

They generally agreed that religion must go.  They argued over why:

  • Some argued that state power (and all laws) are based on religion. (So, get rid of religion.)
  • Marx argued that the state hides behind religion.  (So, get rid of religion.)  He argued that state power is based on production and capital.

To be fair, they had lots of baggage from medieval days.  There was no “separation of church and state”.  They blamed the church for medieval ignorance.  They blamed the church for medieval evil.  (Church and state had been joined at the hip, and done many terrible things).

Marx Gets Religion
hess-mosesMoses Hess (Zionist)

One Young Hegelian, Moses Hess, mixed Hegelianism with Communism.  He helped convert Marx and Engels to Communism (oops).

Hess later regretted this, saying, “Thus did I spread devastation”. (Hess was a Jewish Zionist.  Marxism and its progeny were disastrous for the Jews – an important idea, later.)

Marx shuffled off to Paris, in 1843.  (Prussian censorship had ended his brief journalism career.)  Paris was (as usual) a hotbed of radicalism.  Socialist ideas were in vogue (Fourier and the retrograde Saint-Simon).

bakunin-mikhailMikhail Bakunin (Anarchist Communist)

In Paris, Marx met Engels (his future pen pal).  Engels (already a Communist) was headed to England (on business, sent by his father).  In England, Engels would write his book on working conditions.

Marx also linked up with Mikhail Bakunin.  Marx and Bakunin were both Communists, but had big disagreements.  (It’s hard to imagine a bunch of bearded radicals agreeing on much, other than a common enemy.) Bakunin and Marx would be bitter rivals (discussed later).

In 1845, Marx got exiled from Paris.  The pesky Prussians were after him, again.  (Marx got exiled, a lot.)  He packed his bags, and shuffled off to Brussels.

In Brussels, Marx spread Communist propaganda.  (In those days, Communist propagandizing paid poorly.  Today, it pays poorly unless you get tenure or a comedy news show.)  Engels bankrolled Marx.  (Marx was almost always broke.  Engels bailed him out, a lot.)

Marx worked with Communist groups (from different countries).  They formed the Communist League.  In 1847, the Communist League got tired of skulking about.  They decided to come out of hiding, and announce themselves to the world.  They asked Marx and Engels to do the writing.

This was the Communist Manifesto.


The Manifesto would be the unalterable Gospel of Communism.  It is a prophecy.  It is revealed truth.

It’s key to note that Communism is a prophecy.  It is a prophecy, based on the dialectic.  The dialectic presupposes an inevitable destiny (in this case, the “Workers Paradise”).

Communism is revealed truth (like a religious text).  History reveals itself to Marx and Engels through the dialectic.

This helps explain Communist faith and zealotry.


Marx and Engels reveal the Communist Gospel.  Next: Part 24, Communist Manifesto.