In ancient Norse myth the universe was a tree at whose roots a worm gnawed. When the worm brought the tree down, the ultimate battle between good and evil would happen.
Lately I’ve been wondering if they were mostly right.
Our own civilization is a sort of tree, with its roots in property rights and the rule of law, and its branches lifting the rarefied heights of science, technology, arts, and literature.
For the last forty years in the U.S. — longer in other places – a worm has been gnawing at the roots and sickening the tree. That worm is the philosophy of Karl Marx.
Karl Marx is described as a nineteenth century philosopher (which is true) but also as an economist, a historian, and a sociologist (which are only true if prefaced with “very bad.”)
Marxist theory is now applied to all those fields and more. (In the 70s, in Portugal, I studied it in history, sociology, economics, literature, art, and philosophy. They were only waiting for the proper choreography to teach Marxist interpretive dance in Phys Ed). Because of its many permutations, and how it has been interpreted, it would take me a small tome to take Marx to the woodshed properly and cut through the Gordian knot Marxists have woven around his thought. (These disciples now, like a restaurant changing its name after a case of food poisoning, call themselves Marxian, instead of Marxist.)
I don’t have a small tome, so I’ll have to be brutally simplistic. At his most basic, Marx believed history could be described as a struggle between classes, in which each class rose to the top with each new change in the means of production and ownership of said means. He believed in the future the proletariat — urban workers — would seize the means of production and thereby institute a dictatorship. After that a miracle would occur, the state would naturally wither away, and this would lead to a utopian, classless society, where everything worked on the basis of “From each according to his ability and to each according to his need.” (I’ve always suspected this last step involved unicorn flatulence and, possibly, skittles.)
We were never told how this miracle would occur, though at least in the Soviet interpretation, it entailed the appearance of a new creature, a Homo Sovieticus, devoid of greed and egoism. Which shows you that even those trying to bring Marxist paradise to fruition realized that it required every man to be a combination saint and ant.
But it is worse than that. Even if the Homo Sovieticus had issued forth from Lenin’s laboring over Marx, neither this fabled creature nor its minions could make a Marxist society work.