Some notes on social Marxism

I am going to call it social marxism rather than Cultural Marxism, and for a few reasons.  Cultural Marxism is a specific subset of Critical Theory that draws from Marcuse and Fromm.  Most of the hucksters today aren’t actually peddling that, and certainly not in the churches.

Social Marxism is simply a social application of some of Marx’s concepts, like alienation and Hegel’s slave-master dialectic.

Here is Marx’s sociological ideas in a nutshell. It is a universal acid-drip. If you are using language like “alienation” or similar rot, you are a sociological Marxist. This is what the Radical Orthodox guys call an ontology of violence.

Thesis: Hegel cannot escape an alienation that exists between the people and the state.

Hegel’s logic: the Idea becomes a subject; other concepts, like political sentiment, become predicates of the Idea (Marx 65). Marx will take this and de-essentialize it. The substance now is only a Subject.

As demoniac Herbert Marcuse noted,

The distinction between reason (Vernunft) and understanding (Verstand) is the distinction between common sense and speculative thinking (44).

True thought is a triad (Triplizitat). A dynamic unity of opposites.

S is P.

To know what a thing really is we have to get past its immediately given state (S is S). S is S doesn’t tell us much. If we follow out the process S becomes something else, P, but still retains its own identity.

The earlier Hegelian analyses saw society as one of “ever repeated antagonisms in which all progress is but a temporary unification of opposites” (60-61). Only a universal revolution can overcome the universal negativity.

The alienation of labor creates a society split into opposing classes (289).

Division of labor: the process of separating various economic activities into specialized and delimited fields (290).

Key argument: Since the individual, on either Hegelian or Marxian lines, is a “Universal,” then the proletariat can only exist “world-historically;” therefore, the communist revolution is necessarily a world-revolution (292).

Summary: as long as we are milking perceived grievances and positing alienation between power structures (or more particularly, a structure of violence between Rich Capitalist CIS male and Woke PCA Blogger), then we are engaged in Cultural Marxism.

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Review: Thinking in Tongues

This is from James KA Smith’s earlier days, before he became NPR’s token Christian thinker.  This book is actually good, which pains me to say.  Smith seems unbalanced in many ways since writing this book.  I think it is Trumpphobia or something.

Thesis: Pentecostal worldview offers a distinct way of being-in-the-world (Smith 25). Embodied practices carry within them a “tacit understanding” (27).

Is a Pentecostal Philosophy Possible?

Much of the chapter deals with the relationship between theology and philosophy.   The difference is one of field, not “faith basis” (Smith 4).  Smith gives us Five Aspects of a Pentecostal Philosophy:

  1. radical openness to God, or God’s doing something fresh.  
  2. An “enchanted” theology of creation and culture.   Smith means that we see reality not as self-enclosed monads, but realizing that principalities and powers are often behind these.  this entails spiritual warfare.  I cringe at terms like “enchanted” because it’s more postmodern non-speak, but Smith (likely inadvertently) connected “enchanted” with demons, which is correct.
  3. A nondualistic affirmation of embodiment and spirituality.  Smith defines “dualism” as not denigrating materiality.   Fewer and fewer Christians today do this, so I am not sure whom his target is.  Even chain-of-being communions like Rome that officially denigrate embodiment say they really don’t mean it.
  4. Affective, narrative epistemology.   
  5. Eschatological orientation towards mission and justice.

God’s Surprise

Some hermeneutics: Smith rightly notes that “The Last Days” (per Acts 2) is connected with “today” ( 22; we accept this model in eschatology but abandon it in pneumatology).  Smith wryly notes that Acts 2:13 is the first proto-Daniel Dennett hermeneutics:  offering a naturalistic explanation for inexplicable phenomena (23).   

Following Martin Heidegger, Smith suggests two kinds of knowing: wissen and verstehen, justified, true belief and understanding.  The latter is tacit and is at the edges of conscious action.

Per the dis-enchanted cosmos, Smith astutely points out that “There is a deep sense that multiple modes of oppression–from illness to poverty–are in some way the work of forces that are not just natural” (41).  In other words, spiritual warfare assumes a specific, non-reductionist cosmology.

Promising Suggestions

“What characterizes narrative knowledge?” (65)  

  1. a connection between narrative and emotions
    1. Narratives work in an affective manner
    2. The emotions worked are themselves already construals of the world
  2. There is a “fit” between narrative and emotion

There is a good section on Pauline-pneumatological accounts of knowing (68ff).  Anticipating Dooyeweerd, Paul critiques the pretended autonomy of theoretical thought (Rom. 1:21-31; 1 Cor. 1:18-2:16) and that the Spirit grants access to the message as “true.”  

While I found his chapter on epistemology inadequate, he does say that we know from the “heart” as embodied, rational beings (58).  This isn’t new to postmodernism, but is standard Patristic epistemology.  

A Pentecostal Ontology

This section could have been interesting.  Smith wants to argue that pentecostalism sees an open ontology that allows the Spirit to move from within nature, rather than a miracle that is “tacked on” to nature from the outside.  He makes this argument because he wants pentecostalism to line up with the insights from Radical Orthodoxy.

I have between 50-75 pentecostal relatives who “embody pentecostal spirituality.”  I promise you that none of them think like this or are even capable of thinking like that.  I do not disparge them, simply because I am not to sure Smith’s project at this point is really coherent.  He wants to reject methodological naturalism (rightly) but argues for his own version of supernatural naturalism.

If Smith is successful, then he can show that pentecostalism lines up with quantum mechanics.  Okay.  Thus, nature is “en-Spirited” (103).  While I have problems with his “suspended materiality” ontology, Smith makes some interesting points: miracles are not “add-ons.”  They are not anti-nature, since “nature is not a discrete, autonomous entity” (104).  

That’s good.  I like it.

Tongues as speech-act.

We are considering “tongue-speech” as a liminal case in the philosophy of language (122).  Exegetical discussions are important (and ultimately determinative), but we can’t enter them here.  Smith wants to argue that tongues (T₁) resists our current categories of language and emerges as resistance to cultural norms.  I think there is something to that.

 T₁ as Phenomenology

There is a difference between signs as expression (Ausdruck) and those that do not mean anything (indications, Anzeigen).  Ausdruck is important as it means something, whereas Anzeigen serves as a pointer (127, Smith is following E. Husserl).  Husserl even notes that there can be signs that are not Ausdrucken nor Anzeigen.  This turns on the question: can signs which do not express anything nor point to anything be modes of communication?  

As many critics of Husserl note, his account of speech links communication with intention, so he has to answer “no” to the above question.  Or maybe so.  What kind of speech can there be that is not bound up with inter-subjective indication?  Husserl (and Augustine!) suggest the interior mental life.  Thus, signs in this case would not point to what is absent.  

Tongues as Speech-Act Attack

Utterances (of any sort) are performative.  While such utterance-acts do convey thoughts, sometimes their intent is far more. Let’s take tongues-speak as ecstatic, private language.  What does the pray-er mean to do?  We can easily point to an illocutionary act of praying in groans too deep for words.  We can also see a perlocutionary act: God should act in response.

Tongues as Politics

Oh boy.  Smith wants to say that tongues is a speech-act against the powers that be.  I like that.  I really do.  I just fear that Smith is going to mislocate the powers.  He begins by drawing upon neo-Marxist insights (147). However, without kowtowing fully to Marx, he does point out that Marx has yielded the historical stage to the Holy Ghost.

Tongues-speech begins as “the language of the dispossessed” (149).  This, too, is a valid sociological insight.  The chapter ends without Smith endorsing Marxism, which I expected him to do.  While we are on a charismatic high, I will exercise my spiritual gift of Discerning the Spirits.”  The reason that many 3rd World Pentecostals are “dispossessed” is because they are in countries whose leaders serve the demonic principality of Marxist-Socialism.  Let’s attack that first before we get on the fashionable anti-capitalism bandwagon.

(No, am not a capitalist.  At least not in the sense that Smith uses the word)

*Smith, as is usual with most postmodernists, gets on the “narrative” bandwagon.  There’s a place for that, but I think narrative is asked to carry more than it can bear.  In any case, it is undeniable that Pentecostals are good storytellers.  Smith wants to tie this in with epistemology, but he omits any discussion from Thomas Reid concerning testimony as basic belief, which would have strengthened his case.

Possible Criticisms

Smith (rightly) applauds J. P. Moreland’s recent embrace of kingdom power, but accuses Moreland of still being a “rationalist” (6 n14, 13n26).  Precisely how is Moreland wrong and what is the concrete alternative?  Smith criticizes the rationalist project as “‘thinking’ on a narrow register of calculation and deduction” (54).  Whom is he criticizing: Christians or non-Christians?  It’s not clear, and in any case Moreland has come under fire for saying there are extra-biblical, non-empirical sources of knowledge and reality (angels, demons, etc).  

Smith then argues that all rationalities are em-bodied rationalities.  That’s fine.  I don’t think this threatens a Reidian/Warrant view of knowledge.  Perhaps it does threaten K=JTB.  I don’t know, since Smith doesn’t actually make the argument.  Smith makes a good argument on the “heart’s role” in knowing, yet Moreland himself has a whole chapter on knowing and healing from the heart in The Lost Virtue of Happiness (Moreland 2006).

Smith elsewhere identifies aspects of rationality as the logics of “power, scarcity, and consumption,” (84) but I can’t think of a serious philosopher who actually espouses this.

Elsewhere, Smith says Christian philosophy should be “Incarnational” and not simply theistic (11).  What does that even mean?  Does it simply mean “Begin with Jesus”?  Does it mean undergirding ontology with the Incarnation, per Col. 1:17?  That’s actually quite promising, but I don’t think Smith means that, either.  So what does he mean?

Is Smith a coherentist?  I think he is.  He hints at good criticisms of secularism, but points out “that the practices and plausibility structures that sustain pentecostal (or Reformed or Catholic or Baptist or Moonie–JBA) have their own sort of ‘logic’,” a logic that allows Christians to play, too (35).  But even if coherentism holds–and I grant that Smith’s account is likely true, it doesn’t prove coherentism is true.  All coherentism can prove is doxastic relations among internal beliefs, but not whether these beliefs are true.  Of course, Smith would probably say I am a rationalist.

In his desire to affirm materiality, Smith seems to say that any religious materiality is a good materiality.  Smith approvingly notes of Felicite’s clinging to feasts and relics (36).  It’s hard to see how any one “Materiality” could be bad on Smith’s account.  But this bad account is juxtaposed with some good observations on the book of Acts (38) and tries to connect the two.

*Smith says that “postmodernism takes race, class, and gender seriously” because it takes the body seriously (60).  This is 100% false.  If facebook is a true incarnation (!) of postmodernity, may I ask how many “gender/sexual preference” options facebook has?  I rest my case.

*Smith waxes eloquently on the Pentecostal “aesthetic” (80ff), which is basically a repeat of his other works, but one must ask, “How does faith come per Romans 10?”

*Smith doesn’t miss an opportunity to criticize “rationalism” for separating beliefs and faith/practice, yet Smith himself seems mighty critical of those who focus on “beliefs” in their philosophy of religion (111).  Sure, most post-Descartes philosophy of religion is overy intellectual, but I do think the Reidian/Plantingian Epistemology model, integrates belief and faith-practice.

 

Review: The Devil’s Pleasure Palace

What is the Christian Response to Cultural marxism? While everyone is morally obligated to fight a war to the death against the Frankfurt School, that doesn’t mean every effort is equally good.  Most, in fact, are not. Walsh’s book is a mixed bag.  He is a professional music critic and when he sticks to that topic, his analyses are always erudite and occasionally insightful.  When he gets into biblical and philosophical issues, he is in trouble.  I will say it another way: he has no clue what he is talking about. 

devil
The pleasure was….not mine

Thesis: the West faces a war against the morality of the epic of Genesis vs. the neo-Marxist cult of critical theory.

Throughout the narrative Walsh will interweave Genesis (which he doesn’t necessarily think is real; he might, but his language is ambiguous), Goethe’s Faust, and Milton to illustrate the satanic seduction. I guess there is a way that can work, but the reader often loses sight of the thesis in the minute discussions of Faust.  Further, Goethe’s own private embodied the very sexual dissolution that Walsh rejects.

Overly Strong claims:

“Art is the gift from God, the sole true medium of truth” (12).   God’s only medium of truth?  Really?

Simply Erroneous Claims

~“And yet, paradoxically, it is her transgression…that makes her, and us, fully human” (19).  I thought it was because God created us human.  Further, Jesus didn’t have any transgressions, yet he is fully (though not merely) human.  Even more, we won’t have transgressions in heaven, yet presumably we will be human.

~Misreads Hegel as a simple thesis/antithesis/synthesis (23, 25).

~”There is no predestination, only free will” (162).  But even Arminians know the word is in the Bible, so there is at least one form of predestination.

Boomercon  Rhetoric

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This is the legendary Lloyd America Johnsonius from Facebook

Says Bush failed to stand up to Vladimir Putin. 

I think this is factually false, as the US engineered the anti-Putin elections in Ukraine in 2004, which resulted in the ousting of Yanukovych.  Further, Bush recognized the heroin/Mafia-state of Kosovo to allow the pipelining of cocaine, heroin, and prostitutes into the West. I think Bush opposed Putin quite often.

Pros

Occasionally neat observations, like where Parcival observes “time become space.” He has a decent analysis of The Eternal Feminine in Faust–none of which actually adds to his argument.

*Good section on Wilhem Reich and the sexual revolution.

* He anticipates meme warfare by noting the Left cannot tolerate being scorned.

Faults

The style is just….bad. And that’s strange given the plethora of literary references.  It reads like a “good ole boy conservative blog” without any of the Southern charm.

If this book were a focus on the musical decadence of the Frankfurt School, it would have been a welcome contribution.  It should have been 100 pages shorter.   As it is, the disconnected analyses on biblical literature, philosophy, and music detract from the scope of the book.

The book also was heavy on loaded language.  True, Critical Theory and Cultural Marxism are demonic and satanic.  True, Herbert Marcuse was a demon in human flesh, but using the epithet “satanic” in every paragraph burdens the reader.

Review: Reason and Revolution

by Herbert Marcuse

Marcuse outlines Hegel’s thought and suggests how it informed the later rise of social theory and critical theory. The book is a fine exposition of Hegel and Marx. It suffers, however, by rarely attaching the two. Therefore, the subtitle should actually read “Hegel + The Rise of Social Theory.”

For Hegel Reason functions as an acid-drip, dissolving all historical forms, leading to the liberation of nature. As Marcuse says, it is a “task,” not a fact (Marcuse 26). While many repeat Hegel’s famous dictum that the Real is the Rational, Marcuse points out that reason will dissolve social orders via its inherent negativity, which will then usher in new forms of the rational.

The progress of thought begins when we try to grasp the structure of Being. But when we do this, Being dissolves into many quantities and qualities, which are actually a totality of antagonistic relations. This is the essence of Being. Therefore, Being is antagonistic. Indeed, Being is *violent.*

Hegel’s thought allows a visible dynamic between reason, externality, and alienation (as famously seen in Marx). Through labor man overcomes the estrangement between the objective world and the subjective world. Man is alienated when he is subordinated to abstract labor. Mechanization facilitates this alienation.

Since Hegel could see man as a self-creation/creator (creation of reasonable social order through free action), Marx could take this idea and see man as a result of his labor (115). Thus, Hegel’s Master-Slave dialectic is rooted in a specific social relation.

Bondsman:  bound to objects that aren’t his, yet he cannot sever himself from them.  These objects begin to shape his own consciousness.

The object is now the “objectification of a self-conscious subject” (117).

Alienation of the person: the person externalizes himself and becomes an object. I can sell my time and labor. Marcuse, like Marx earlier, sees that many of Hegel’s conclusions, lead to antagonisms and clashes in society (196). However, in Hegel’s society, as Marx would later note, people participate and share only on the basis of Capital, which itself will create more inequalities (205).

Key argument:  Since the individual, on either Hegelian or Marxian lines, is a “Universal,” then the proletariat can only exist “world-historically;” therefore, the communist revolution is necessarily a world-revolution (292).

The second half of the book is a skillful analysis of Marx and later sociologists. This has been covered in depth by other writers, so there is no need to review it here. The book succeeds as an excellent analysis of Hegel, yet it seems about 100 pages too long.

Eros and Civilization (Marcuse)

Marcuse reworks Freud’s categories from the individual to society. To paraphrase Henry van Til, Marcuse is Freud externalized. There is a dialectic between the Eros principle and the Thanatos principle. In order for civilization to thrive, it has to suppress the libido, the free drive.

Freud identifies civilization with repression.

The Frankfurt end-game is a “non-repressive civilization” (Marcuse 5). “The very achievements of repression seem to create the preconditions for the gradual abolition of repression.” “The reality principle materializes in a system of institutions” (15). In other words, our continually suppressing the Eros-drive reshapes our very psychology which is further instantiated in institutions. Yet this pleasure principle remains latent in civilization.

Man experiences a dialectical conflict between the “life instinct” (Eros) and the death instinct (Thanatos). Key argument: man’s primary mental processes are sustained by the life principle, which is the pleasure principle. The problem: how can man continue in civilization if civilization is a suppressing of this life principle?

Key argument: correlation between progress and “guilty feeling” (78). Civilization will be violent in its structure because civilization is simply an expanding of the Father-figure, against whom the sons will always war. technology allows man to increase output while minimizing input, thus freeing “time” for Eros. In other words, in previous eras an emphasis on Eros meant denying civilization, but now with technology we can emphasize Eros while promoting civilization (93).

But the “Regime” (for lack of a better word) won’t allow this to continue uncontrolled, for if man is utterly free, then he is free from external control. How will the Regime do this? Possibly by technology, since technology can abolish both the individual and the “social function of the family” (96). Since technology has negated the family, who is the new father-figure? The corporo-capitalist bureaucracy. Marcuse notes, “Social control and cohesion are strong enough to protect the whole from direct aggression, but not strong enough to eliminate the accumulated aggressiveness” (101).

Key argument: Man’s history represents a splitting between the fantasy principle and the reason-principle (142). Man has a divided ego. For Marcuse aesthetics is self-defeating. If art is committed to form, then it is negated for it cannot then pursue freedom. Form = negation.

reason has been reduced to the rationality principle (159). Narcissus gazes into the river, which symbolizes the flux of time. Narcissus and Orpheus represent latent desires which are at odds with rationality-principle.

Kant: the aesthetic judgment is the realm where sense and imagination meet; it is the medium b/t freedom and nature.

Marcuse wants to use Kant and Schiller’s aesthetic to base a non-repressive civilization, one that contains a new rationality-principle. But here is the problem: Marcuse claims to unify art with reason, but most of his discussion (184-185) seems like an antagonism between the two. For Marcuse sees art-beauty as arising from the dark, latent forces.

Combine this with the Eroticization of society where one frees the libido from non-repressive civilization, and you have the nightmare which is modern art. This explains why most National Endowment for the Arts is pornographic and interested in bodily fluids. They take the correct insight that we have these dark, primal forces and they externalize them in society.

Pros

(1) Marcuse has put his finger on the tendency of modern industrial world to alienate workers, and this alienation often moves in dialectical ways.

(2) Marcuse points out the dangers of reducing economics to simply raising production while lowering costs–such leads to alienation (156).

Criticisms

(1) As Nancy Holland notes, “ Although scarcity may not have seemed to be an irreducible given when Marcuse wrote his book, the limits of the world’s supply of food, water, energy, and even clean air are now all too obvious” (Holland 76).

(2) As it stands Freud’s apparent definition of freedom is untenable: freedom from authority (be it ego or society) to pursue the id. Such chaos would necessarily reduce to anarchy, which is no freedom at all. How far does Marcuse go with this? I can sense he rejects (correctly) Freud on the personal level but applies him on the social level.