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.


Review: The God Who Is There (Schaeffer)

I first read this book in 2002 and it was the primer that got me into apologetics and philosophy.  From Schaeffer I moved to James Sire; from Sire to Douglas Groothuis, and from Groothuis to Cornelius Van Til. The book is quite exciting for the reader actually believes he will take these arguments and reclaim culture for Christ. Schaeffer offers a stirring vision on how the loss of God affects every area of life.

Related image

Unfortunately, the devil is in the details. Schaeffer fundamentally misrepresents every philosopher and group with whom he deals. There is no intellectual rigor whatsoever.

Schaeffer sees himself broadly within the tradition of Cornelius Van Til, but he is a watered down version of Van Til. For all of Van Til’s problems, Van Til knew if you were going to press the antithesis, you were going to press it in the right place. Schaeffer fails that because he thinks “The Greeks were okay who got reason right. It was Hegel who messed it up and introduced irrationality.”

Thesis: In giving up the hope of rationality, a rationality that is founded only in the revelation of God in Christ, man is plunged below the line of despair. This line of despair normally moves in the following historical pattern: philosophy → art → music → general culture → theology (Schaeffer 16). Above the line there is absolutes (whether they are sufficiently justified).

The Positive Case for Christian Theism
God is personal and in creating man in his own image, man is personal (87). Schaeffer proves this in the form of a disjunctive syllogism (A v B; ~B; therefore, A).  “Either there is sa personal beginning to everything or one has what the impersonal throws up by chance out of the time sequence” (88).
God placed his revelation in history, and in doing so made it verifiable (92).  God’s speaking in history is what makes unity possible between the upper and lower storeys, because God spoke to all areas.
The Nature of Proof (Epistemology)
(1) A theory must be non-contradictory and explain the phenomena in question.
(2) We have to be able to live consistently with our theory (109).
The Good Parts
It’s not hard to see why Schaeffer had the influence he did.  The book was just “fun” to read.  And he saw the current problems on transgenderism, transhumanism, and Cultural Marxism.  His zeal for evangelism is contagious and he knew how important communication was (45).
While Schaeffer fundamentally misreads Hegel, he does get the dialectical methodology of Marx correct (46).  While he doesn’t draw the specific connection, we now see that dialectical methodology is a tool the New Left uses today (and which most conservative culture warriors are unable to deal with).

He has some very good analyses of art history.


The Bad


Schaeffer had a tendency to make sweeping surveys on philosophy.  Sometimes they were misleading.  Other times they were just false.  His most notorious example is Hegel, and here I can only summarize Greg Bahnsen’s critique of Schaeffer.
Schaeffer writes, “Before his (Hegel’s) time truth was conceived on the basis of antithesis…. Truth, in the sense of antithesis, is related to the idea of cause and effect. Cause and effect produces a chain reaction which goes on in a horizontal line. With the coming of Hegel, all this changed…. (Hegel proposed) from now on let us think in this way; instead of thinking in terms of cause and effect, what we really have is a thesis, and opposite is an antithesis, and the answer to their relationship is not in the horizontal movement of cause and effect, but the answer is always synthesis…. (Thus) instead of antithesis we have, as modern man’s approach to truth, synthesis”.
Hegel never denigrated logic.  He simply pointed out that the antithesis must always arise from the thesis because of man’s finite take on truth. Further, one can only be astonished at Schaeffer’s claim that the Greeks valued truth and the logical antithesis.  Plato and Aristotle might have, but one doubts that Heraclitus or the Sophists did. Indeed, Schaeffer’s misconstrual of Hegel in favor of the Greeks seems to let the Greeks off the hook!
This book is rightly considered a 20th century classic.  Despite its intellectual gaffes, it did get evangelicals thinking about worldview issues.  Schaeffer was key in rallying evangelicals to the pro-life cause.  For that we are grateful.  But the apologist cannot stop with Schaeffer.  Metaphysics and epistemology, which Schaeffer left undeveloped, have advanced light years.

Covenantal Relations in the Trinity

One of the Reformed Thomist criticisms of Kuyper, Vos, etc., is that they posited covenantal relations in the Trinity.  And this is bad because of Hegel or something.  I want to do two things: actually see what they say and see what Scripture says. And perhaps note why Reformed Thomists resist this point so much.

We always come back to him for some reason

By way of prep reading I recommend Ralph Smith’s website.

First of all, what is a covenant?  Answering this question is a nightmare, but we can give it a try:





From the beginning of God’s disclosures to men in terms of covenant we find a unity of conception which is to the effect that a divine covenant is a sovereign administration of grace and of promise. It is not compact or contract or agreement that provides the constitutive or governing idea but that of dispensation in the sense of disposition…. And when we remember that covenant is not only bestowment of grace, not only oath-bound promise, but also relationship with God in that which is the crown and goal of the whole process of religion, namely, union and communion with God, we discover again that the new covenant brings this relationship also to the highest level of achievement. At the centre of covenant revelation as its constant refrain is the assurance ‘I will be your God, and ye shall be my people’. The new covenant does not differ from the earlier covenants because it inaugurates this peculiar intimacy. It differs simply because it brings to the ripest and richest fruition the relationship epitomized in that promise. [Emphasis added.]

So we can at least get the term “relationship” derived from it.  Following Van Til I argue (Or posit) that the relationships between the persons of the Trinity is covenantal:

The three persons of the Trinity have exhaustively personal relationship with one another. And the idea of exhaustive personal relationship is the idea of the covenant (“Covenant Theology” in The New Twentieth Century Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge).

Let’s take Jesus’s words in John 17: “Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (This is often taken to prove the divine oneness of the Trinity, but I don’t think that is the point of this passage).  That Jesus is using covenantal relation language is evident from verse 11:  that they may be one even as We are.  Jesus isn’t asking the Father that we have the same divine nature as they do.  Rather, it is that we have the same covenantal relation in unity.

Kuyper on Covenant:

If the idea of the covenant with regard to man and among men can only occur in its  ectypical form, and if its archetypical original is found in the divine economy, then it
cannot have its deepest ground in the pactum salutis that has its motive in the fall of
man. For in that case it would not belong to the divine economy as such, but would be introduced in it rather incidentally and change the essential relations of the Three
Persons in the divine Essence (quoted in Hoeksema 295).

I think Kuyper is saying something like the following:

  1. If the covenant is ectypal, then it isn’t part of God in se (if you want to use those categories).
  2. Therefore, it is accidental to the being of God.
  3. Therefore, it would call into question the Pactum Salutis, which must refer ontologically and not economically.

Ralph Smith concludes and sums up Kuyper’s position:

If Father, Son, and Spirit do not relate to one another in covenant essentially in their fundamental intratrinitarian fellowship, why should the contemplation of man’s fall and redemption introduce something new and different in their relationship? And how should we think of God as the unchangeable God, if intratrinitarian relationships have been fundamentally and essentially changed in the pactum salutis? (Smith 23).

Mutual Exhaustion in the Covenant

Van Til said the members of the covenant mutually exhaust the scheme.  Granted, there probably is a better way to say it, but I think it is worth unpacking.  Smith writes,

First, the covenant idea, he says, is nothing but the representative principle applied to all of reality. This makes the whole creation covenantal in the nature of the case. God does not enter into a covenant with man after creating him, for man is created as God’s image. Man is God’s representative and therefore a covenantal being from the first. The same is true in a general way for the rest of creation, since all the creation is a revelation of God, representing Him in a secondary sense. As Van Til says, the representative idea must be applied to all reality.

I think what CVT is saying is that when God creates, he creates covenantally.  It is a representational principle, but who is representing what?  CVT doesn’t specifically state it, but the covenantal relation in the Trinity is being represented. Smith again,

Second, Van Til sees the source of this representative, which is to say, covenantal
principle in the eternal relations of the persons of the Trinity. The covenant in God is not merely a covenant between Father and Son, nor is it merely an agreement entered into for the sake of the salvation of the world. To quote again one sentence from the previous paragraph: “the Trinity exists in the form of a mutually exhaustive representation of the three Persons that constitute it.”

In this sentence Van Til clearly defines the eternal, internal relations of the Persons of the Trinity as representational and therefore covenantal.

In conclusion, Van Til:

In the Trinity there is completely personal relationship without residue. And for that reason it may be said that man’s actions are all personal too. Man’s surroundings are shot through with personality because all things are related to the infinitely personal God. But when we have said that the surroundings of man are really completely personalized, we have also established the fact of the representational principle. All of man’s acts must be representational of the acts of God. Even the persons of the Trinity are mutually representational. They are exhaustively representational of one another (Survey of Christian Epistemology. 52-53).

Why do Reformed Thomists get up in arms about this?  My guess is that a covenantal ontology really doesn’t mesh with Thomism.  It’s hard to square covenant with the idea that relations = persons, for then the covenantal relations between the persons would also be persons.

Review: Karl Marx, Early Writings

It’s rare that you get to see evidence of demonization in a writer, but you can see that with Marx. Accordingly, some essays are hard to read. That might not be entirely fair, though. Marx is dealing with Hegel–no easy writer himself–so one can’t exactly be clear. And to give credit to Marx, I think his critique of Hegel is interesting and points to tensions in the Hegelian system.

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). The Idea is differentiated into its members.

At best Hegel can only say that the monarch embodies the abstract universality of the Idea. The concrete people do not. And concepts like “constitution” do not help at all. Constitutions do not create themselves; they are created. Yet, the constitution governs the legislature. How can the created control the creator?

Ontology of Violence

Hegel establishes the executive branch as the polar opposite of civil society. Each keep the other in check by suspicion. Marx rightly points out this cannot establish an organic union (116).


Money represents an object’s intrinsic worth. The real value of a thing is its exchange value, “which resides in money” (262). And in this situation, all labor is wage-labor (268). And wage-labor alienates labor from its subject and object. Marx then makes a wild statement that inanimate objects do the acting: “exchange is mediated necessarily by the objects of mutual production and mutual possession” (276).

For exchange to take place there must be a common element of quantity between the two. This must be labor.


*Marx says that the worker is on the side of society, and the interests of capitalists is against the interests of society (300), yet it is undeniable that capitalists produce technology (medicine, scientific advancements, etc) that benefit society.

*Marx revisited some of his problems in Capital years later. Labor isn’t homogenous, so how can it serve as a uniform medium of exchange? Gary North points out the major flaw: “ If all profits stem from the employment of human labor, then it follows that greater profits can be made in businesses that are labor intensive. The more machinery one employs in the production process, the less profit should be available, since there are fewer laborers present to exploit….Yet what we do see is precisely the reverse: the most profitable industries tend to be those in which large quantities of constant capital are employed (Marx’s Religion of Revolution, 123).

There is a simpler problem with the Labor theory: when men exchange, they aren’t exchanging on the supposed equality of a third term in the equation, but precisely on the inequality–the goods are unequal in the traders’ eyes.

*Marx sees all credit systems as the fat cat capitalist oppressing the poor borrower. He never imagines a situation where the creditor lends to the government.

*Marx has no concept of time-preference, where he sees production only as the gratification of immediate selfish needs (274).

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.

Hegel: Phenomenology of Spirit

Where to begin a review on a book of this magnitude? While this might seem like a difficult question, the easiest answer is also the most Hegelian: start anywhere, for you will end up in the final moment of the dialectic. (Any parenthetical citations in this review refer to the paragraph numbers in the Miller translation) With that said, let’s begin:

Preliminary notes from Charles Taylor (Cambridge, 1975)

The problem in Hegel’s time:  man as the knowing subject faced a number of divisions.

  • separated from nature, which he now sees as brute fact
  • what can bridge the gap between mind and world?
  • self-consciousness leads the individual to distinguish himself from his community.
  • opposition between finite (free will) spirit and infinite (fate) spirit.

The goal: philosophy is to understand how these divisions overcome themselves. Oppositions arise out of an earlier identity.  An entity cannot be utterly distinguished from its “Other” because it cannot exist on its own.  Taylor:  “It is not related to an other but to its other, and this hidden identity will necessarily reassert itself in a recovery of unity” (Taylor 80).

Hegel rejects Greek dualism and almost stumbles upon a biblical Hebraism.  He sees the Cartesian project as inherently mechanistic and incoherent (what connects mind and matter?  Cartesians have never really answered this).

Unfortunately, Hegel still sees the idea of a mind/soul in a body as a “dualist temptation.”  He does admit, though, that it is foreign to Greek thought (81).

Hegel is drawing upon Herder’s expressivism.  Thought, language, etc does not exist without a medium.  Thus for Hegel, the subject, no matter how spiritual, is necessarily embodied.  This is true up to a point, but runs into problems in two areas:  God/Geist is not embodied (at least not God the Father and the Holy Spirit, though Hegel gets around that) and the soul exists in a disembodied state after death.
[1] What does phenomenology suggest? Something like the external world appears to me in a certain way and/or my mind constructs these categories. If so, how would a phenomenology of spirit be possible, since spirit is usually not associated with the external world? This is why Kant’s noumenal distinction is wrong. Just what is it that appears in appearance? Appearance is the showing forth of what something is.

[2] The short answer: Reason recapitulates itself. It doubles back. Take the category of abstract being or reason or spirit. In the abstract it is an empty category. To say that something is says nothing specific about it. Yet, it is not Nothing. Therefore, oscillating between this “Being” and “Nothing” is Becoming, which can account for particularity.

[3] Therefore, Reason must Reflect upon itself and become self-consciousness. As Glenn Magee notes, “Speculative Philosophy holds up a mirror (speculum) to the Idea itself: it allows the Idea to comprehend itself (Magee 88). In fact, following the Kabbalist tradition, the “mirror” allows one to behold the deeper essence of Spirit (120).

[4] This leads to the infamous Master-Slave dialectic: simple awareness of objects cannot produce consciousness of self. We can’t just know objects. We must act and overcome on them. Self-consciousness is only achieved when our desire is directed on other desires: when we see ourselves in the other. The master is actually serving the slave because he depends on the recognition from inferiors. His identity is based on what inferiors think of him.

[5] We come finally to Absolute Spirit. It manifests itself in three modes: Art, Religion, and Philosophy. The first two are inadequate because they use sensuous images and can only approach from finite vantage points. But philosophy is able to give self-knowledge that doesn’t depend on picture-thinking.

[6] Substance becomes Subject. It retains self-consciousness’s own self and can now be a predicate. Spirit is the unity between Subject and predicate. When Spirit remains just substance, it remains an object to itself. Spirit must become subject by uniting and sublating the object.

[7] Being is no longer an abstraction, as in [2]. It is now Being-as-Spirit. Its previous determinations [read: those moments when x is contrasted with y] have since been sublated. Hegel gives us a reversed chain of being (cf Magee, The Hegel Dictionary).

[8] If Spirit is now universal self-consciousness, then it is community (Hegel 781). Logos has now been refracted outward.

[9] If [6] holds then we have something like Gnosticism: Spirit empties itself of itself and falls into substance. As Subject, though, it goes out of that Substance and cancels out the difference between objectivity and content (Hegel 804). Like some strains of Gnosticism, this is a “fall into otherness and multiplicity and a return by means of “finding myself.”

The Good in Hegel:

*He has a good epistemological insight that the knower is always involved in the known object.
*Hegel anticipated all of the good insights made by communitarians. We do not possess our identity intrinsically, but only in relation to something else. Identity will always involve difference because identity consists of relations.
*His stuff on community is very good.

The Bad

~From a theistic standpoint Hegel appears irreconcilable with traditional theism. Much of what he says, if on the level of created reality, is quite good, but when you move this to the nature of God we have all sorts of problems: process theism, open theism, patripassianism.

Works Cited

Magee, Glenn. Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001.
—————–. The Hegel Dictionary. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2011.

Taylor, Charles. Hegel. Cambridge, 1975

Truth and Method (Review)

This is one of those great moments where a great student follows his master (Heidegger) yet gives us a new product and not simply a repetition of his master. In short, for Gadamer language is the horizon of being. As Kant was wrong to seek a thing-in-itself, so we also should beware of a “meaning-in-itself.”

Gadamer begins and ends his work on a strange note: the aesthetics and interpretation of art. It’s not that art determines how we interpret text, but art allows Gadamer to illustrate (no pun intended) the tension given that great works of art are considered “timeless,” yet they were produced in historical, finite circumstances. This tension points to the horizon, a key Gadamerian term.

Every experience has implicit horizons of before and after and finally fuses with the continuum of experiences present in the before and after to form a unified flow of experience (246). Df. horizon = not a rigid boundary but something that moves with and invites one to advance further. Everything that is given as existent is given in terms of a world and hence brings the world horizon with it. As a horizon phenomenon “world” is essentially related to subjectivity, and this relation means also that it exists in transciency.”

Hermeneutical circle: possesses an ontological positive significance. We have already fore-projected before we even approach the text. This creates an openness which situates our meaning with other meanings. Understanding is a participation in the event of tradition and not so much a subjective act (302).

Horizons are temporally-conditioned. Time is not a gulf to be crossed by a supportive ground in which the present is rooted. We cannot stand outside of our situation. “All self-knowledge arises from what is historically pre-given, what Hegel calls “substance’” (313). Horizon: every finite present has its limitations. Every situation represents a standpoint that limits the possibility of vision. Horizons move with us. When we understand something, we fuse the horizons between text and interpreter. Fusion of horizons: We regain concepts of a historical past in such a way that it also includes our own comprehension of them (382).

This will go down as one of those truly great books. Ground-breaking works. It’s not super-hard to read simply because it is well-written. However, he does presuppose a good bit of Hegel and Heidegger, so keep that in mind.