Book Review: Marxism

Marxism:  Philosophy And Economics, by Thomas Sowell

This book is a heady one, one of the earlier written books by the author, and one that seeks, through a close reading of the writings of Marx and Engels, to explain what Marx was really saying (sadly, not a straightforward task) as well as the contradictions within his own doctrine and practice, and the way that it greatly influenced the world.  The book was written during the Cold War, so the way that the book deals with the abstractions and flaws of Marxism is done in such a way that avoids the triumphalism that would be appropriate after Marxism has totally discredited itself in the eyes of everyone except for “democratic socialists” who demand new experiments to ruin countries that weren’t already ruined by Communism.  Although the book is certainly a challenge to read, not least because of its long quotes and summaries of the writings of Marx and Engels, it is a challenge worth undertaking because it is important to study the failures of a view that has greatly influence others to this day.  This book can be considered part of what is certainly a long career of opposition to contemporary folly and economic and political idiocy, and that is a good fight worth supporting.

After a short preface, this book of more than 200 pages contains 10 chapters that deal with various aspects of the thought and practice of Marxism.  The author begins with a discussion of Marxist economics and philosophy (1), and why those two elements must both be addressed to understand Marx’s impact.  After that comes a discussion of the dialectical approach (2) and how Marx meant that contested term and how he was inspired by Hagel’s emphasis on abstraction.  After that, Sowell discusses Marx’s thoughts regarding philosophic materialism and how it related to the larger materialist philosophical tradition (3).  A chapter on the Marxian theory of history and its problems follows (4), along with a discussion of Marx and Engel’s views about the capitalist economy (5), and the fundamental nature of Marxian economic crises (6).  After that the author discusses what Marxian value was and why this is problematic in terms of the large amount of debate that has existed around this point (7).  A discussion of political systems and Marx’s naive views of revolution then follows (8), along with a chapter that deals with Marx as a man (9).  Finally, the author concludes with a discussion of Marx’s legacy (10) through the first part of the Cold War as well as notes and an index.

Although I am by no means unfamiliar with Marxist thinking [1], this book was a revelation in several ways.  For one, I was pleased by the way that the author managed to include not only Marx but also Engels as a commentator when it came to Marxist thought, recognizing the close collaboration that the two of them had over many years.  After all, many people neglect Engel’s importance as a commentator and proponent of Marxist philosophy.  It was also revealing to see how Marx (and Engels) were like as people, and not in a good way.  Besides acting like generally overprivileged people who simultaneously were dependent on and contemptuous of their parents (which sounds like a lot of contemporary young leftists today), Marx’s undisciplined ways as well as his autocratic behavior set the tone for the disastrous impact of Marxism on the world at large.  Even if we have little interest in Marx as a thinker or as a person, it is worthwhile to read about such lives and such thinkers, especially as a way of inoculating ourselves from following after the same hypocritical and unjust tendencies ourselves and encouraging instead more proper and restrained and upright personal behavior as well as more sound abstract reasoning.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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