Marx and the Two Enlightenments
ABSTRACT: The claim to rationality is disputed by two rival enlightenments, which collided in the dispute between Plato, Socrates and the Sophists, and which Marx united critically. He criticizes the capitalist system immanently as restrictive of production, and its market as not a case of freedom or equality (justice). However, Marx is most concerned with ontological injustice, coerced alienation of the human into being a commodity. He retains Promethean Enlightenment values however: technology, creativity, democracy, which should be economic, participatory and international. Marx criticized Hegel’s rationalization, idealization, ‘transfiguration and glorification’ of private property and the market. But he retains key elements of the idealist notion of human nature: that human is a ‘universal, therefore free being.’ The proletariat, with no other class to exploit, is therefore the philosophical ‘universal class.’ Freedom is class emancipation, justice is common ownership. There is an unwarranted skepticism about the rationality of such values and ideals. Rawls for instance misrepresents them by putting them in the same category as wants or preferences. Ideals, values, and enlightenments can and should be rationally argued over, in dialogue.
The Sophistic and the Platonic Enlightenments
The claim to rationality is disputed by two rival enlightenments. They collided in the dispute between Plato’s Socrates and the Sophists. On the one side was a secular, Promethean, in principle a-moral enlightenment in the technology of means to the ends of individual survival, pleasure and power, with an instrumental view of politics. On the other was a religiously oriented enlightenment about the dialectical ascent to moral and spiritual dimensions of reality. The first returned in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In my opinion Hegel’s idealist response failed to criticise or transcend it; that task was completed by Marx.
Marx’s thought could be seen as a critical appropriation of both the modern secular enlightenment, concerned with economic ‘Man’, and the dialectical enlightenment concerned with the spiritual element in the human being traditionally seen as shared with the divine, ‘Mind’. Subsequent Marxism has almost invariably defined itself as the final development of ‘the (unique) Enlightenment’. But Marx’s acknowledged debt to Aristotle, for instance, is becoming ever clearer. Habermas has defined as ‘an irreversible achievement of modernity’ the separation of morality, politics and economics. But Marx attacked that position in ‘On the Jewish Question’ as the very essence of what was wrong with bourgeois society. He defended Aristotle’s principle, that the human being is a zoon politikon by nature. He held a non-hedonist, non-agonistic concept of human nature as did Plato in opposition to the Sophists’ reductionism. He invoked old and new ideals together in the phrase ‘the nobility of man’ shining...