Intellectual Origins Of America-Bashing Part 7 Temptation of Fantasy Ideology
Introduction see Intellectual Origins Of America-Bashing
From Part 6: 9-11 calling. The Baran-Wallerstein revision of Marxism does provide a new global reformulation of the immiserization thesis. But the locus of this misery, the Third World, does not and cannot provide an adequate objective foundation for a revolutionary struggle against the capitalist system.
Rather, this foundation can be provided only by a majority of the workers in the advanced capitalist countries themselves; but, as we have seen, the effect of 9-11 on the working class of the United States was not one conducive to the overthrow and demise of capitalism. On the contrary, nowhere was the desire to retaliate against the terrorists more powerfully visceral than among the working class of the United States.
The overwhelming majority of its members instantly responded with collective and spontaneous expression of solidarity with other Americans and expressions of outrage against those who had planned and carried out the attack, as well as those who attempted to palliate it.
For those who are persuaded by the Baran-Wallerstein thesis, 9-11 represents a classic temptation. It is the temptation that every fantasy ideology offers to those who become caught up in it - the temptation to replace serious thought and analysis, fidelity to the facts and scrupulous objectivity, with the worst kind of wishful thinking.
The attempt to cast 9-11 as a second taking of the Bastille simply overlooks what is most critical about both of these events, namely, that the Bastille was a symbol of oppression to the masses of French men and women who first overthrew it and then tore it down, brick by brick.
And while it is true that the Bastille had become the stuff of fantasy, thanks to the pre-1789 "horrors of the Bastille" literature, it was still a fantasy that worked potently on the minds of the Parisian mob and hence provided the objective political conditions necessary to undermine the Bourbon state.
But the fantasy embodied in 9-11, far from weakening the American political order, strengthened it immeasurably, while the only mobs that were motivated by the enactment of this fantasy were those inhabiting the Arab streets - a population pathetically unable to control even the most elementary aspects of its own political destiny, and hence scarcely the material out of which a realistically minded revolutionary could hope to fashion an instrument of world-historical transformation.
These people are badly miscast in the role of the vanguard of the world revolution. And what can we say about those in the West, allegedly acting within the tradition of Marxist thought, who encourage such spectacularly utopian flights of fantasy?
The Baran-Wallerstein thesis cannot save Marxism; and, in fact, it is a betrayal of what is genuinely valid in Marx - namely, the insistence that any realistic hope of a world-historical transformation from one stage of social organization to a more humane one can come only if men and women do not yield to the temptation of fantasy ideology, even - and, indeed, especially - when it is a fantasy ideology dressed up to look like Marxism.
Instead, the Baran-Wallerstein thesis has sadly come to provide merely a theoretical justification for the most irrational and infantile forms of America-bashing. There is nothing Marxist about this. On the contrary, according to Marx, it was the duty of the non-utopian socialist, prior to the advent of genuine socialism, to support whatever state happened to represent the most fully developed and consistently carried out form of capitalism; and, indeed, it was his duty to defend it against the irrational onslaughts of those reactionary and backward forces that tried to thwart its development.
In fact, this was a duty that Marx took upon himself, and nowhere more clearly than in his defense of the United States against the Confederacy in the Civil War. Only in this case he was defending capitalism against a fantasy ideology that, unlike that of radical Islam, wished to roll back the clock a mere handful of centuries, not several millennia.
Those who, speaking in Marx's name, try to defend the fantasy ideology embodied in 9-11 are betraying everything that Marx represented. They are replacing his hard-nosed insistence on realism with a self-indulgent flight into sheer fantasy, just as they are abandoning his strenuous commitment to pursuit of a higher stage of social organization in order to glorify the feudal regimes that the world has long since condemned to Marx's own celebrated trash bin of history.
America-bashing has sadly come to be "the opium of the intellectual," to use the phrase Raymond Aron borrowed from Marx in order to characterize those who followed the latter into the twentieth century. And like opium it produces vivid and fantastic dreams.
This is an intellectual tragedy. The Marxist left, whatever else one might say about it, has traditionally offered a valuable perspective from which even the greatest conservative thinkers have learned - including Schumpeter and Thomas Sowell. But if it cannot rid itself of its current penchant for fantasy ideology of the worst type, not only will it be incapable of serving this purpose; it will become worse than useless. It will become a justification for a return to that state of barbarism mankind has spent millennia struggling to transcend - a struggle that no one felt more keenly than Marx himself.
For the essence of utopianism, according to Marx, is the refusal to acknowledge just how much suffering and pain every upward step of man's ascent inflicts upon those who are taking it, and instead to dream that there are easier ways of getting there. There are not, and it is helpful to no party to pretend that there are. To argue that the great inequalities of wealth now existing between the advanced capitalist countries and the Third World can be cured by outbreaks of frenzied and irrational America-bashing is not only utopian; it is immoral.
The left, if it is not to condemn itself to become a fantasy ideology, must reconcile itself not only with the reality of America, but with its dialectical necessity - America is the sine qua non of any future progress that mankind can make, no matter what direction that progress may take.
The belief that mankind's progress, by any conceivable standard of measurement recognized by Karl Marx, could be achieved through the destruction or even decline of American power is a dangerous delusion. Respect for the deep structural laws that govern the historical process - whatever these laws may be - must dictate a proportionate respect for any social order that has achieved the degree of stability and prosperity the United States has achieved and has been signally decisive in permitting other nations around the world to achieve as well.
To ignore these facts in favor of surreal ideals and utterly utopian fantasies is a sign not merely of intellectual bankruptcy, but of a disturbing moral immaturity. For nothing indicates a failure to understand the nature of a moral principle better than to believe that it is capable of enforcing itself.
It is not. It requires an entire social order to shelter and protect it. And if it cannot find these, it will perish.
- Introduction: The Intellectual Origins Of America-Bashing
- The Intellectual Origins Of America-Bashing
- Part 2: Marx's political realism
- Part 3: Immiserization
- Part 4: Immiserization goes global
- Part 5: America as "root cause"
- Part 6: 9-11 calling
- Part 7: The temptation of fantasy ideology
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