by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Fabio Rojas writes for the Martin Center about the need for serious education about socialism.
Karl Marx is a common fixture on college course syllabi. From English to sociology to philosophy, the German socialist’s writings are explained, analyzed, and dissected. I find myself, a teacher of modern social theory, often explaining the nuances of Marxist concepts like “commodity fetishism” and “species being” to students. But there is one thing you will not find on many of these syllabi: a thorough critique of Marx’s ideas.
In many courses, you will find Marxist theory as a sort of taken-for-granted way of analyzing the social world. The anthology I use for my own courses, Lemert’s Social Theory: Classic and Multicultural Readings, presents about 50 pages of Marx’s writings and some from Engels, but not a single selection offering a critical examination of Marxist ideas. At best, Marx’s ideas might be critiqued as not going far enough, or for focusing too much on class exploitation and not enough on other forms of repression.
That needs to change.
The first reason is simple: All ideas are subject to debate, criticism, and revision. Teaching students how to subject ideas to good-faith critique is a core mission of liberal arts education. Marx relied on many ideas that can be challenged such as the labor theory of value, the idea that there is no human nature beyond historical circumstance and economic system, and the idea that societies naturally evolve bitter class divisions.
By identifying a philosopher’s key ideas, students can learn to critique political arguments of any stripe. Higher education should not be a church of true believers. The college experience should nurture skepticism.
The second reason to include critiques of Marxist ideas is that socialist governments have an incredibly poor record and students need to know about it.