Comparing Newton and Marx

Dick Eagleson makes the following astute historical observation in the comment thread over at Crooked Timber:

In, say, 1890 I think that Marxian notions of History and Economics might reasonably have been held to define the parameters of a plausible social order - no large-scale experiments having yet been attempted.

In the realm of Physics, in that same year, the classical Newtonian description of the universe still appeared to be the best available.

By the 1930?s, no serious physicist still thought of the universe as working by essentially Newtonian principles. The intervening 40 - 50 years had seen two major revolutions in the description of reality; Relativity and Quantum Mechanics. Both were radical and controversial in infancy, but thoroughly tested and accepted in remarkably short order. Reality was the gauge and theory had to follow.

On the Humanities side of the ledger, however, Marxism was still wildly popular, despite what any fair-minded person would have to acknowledge were very disquieting things going on in the Ukraine and Spain. Granted, the Hitler-Stalin Pact caused quite a few formerly fervent Marxist theoreticians to lose their religion, but there was no shortage of volunteers to take their places.

By 1990, physicists, while still relying on Relativity and Quantum Mechanics, were in their sixth or seventh decade of attempting to find an overarching descriptive concept that would marry these notions without conflict. That search continues to the present day.

By 1990, no one with sense could still plausibly argue that Marxism constituted any kind of basis for real-world social orders to which real people would voluntarily consent. Dozens of experiments had, by then, been conducted. The results were, at best, dismal. At worst, they were crimes against humanity. The correlation between Marxism and mass killings by the state is in the high 0.8?s or the low 0.9?s.

So we come to our present day in which the Physical Sciences remain exquisitely attuned to reality while the Humanities are, to an extreme degree, detached from it.

I submit that, from a pedagogic point of view, one should regard professors of Humanities who teach from an essentially Marxian perspective as having the same intellectual respectability as Astrologers and Ptolemaic cosmologists, Alchemists and Phlogiston chemists, Flat-Earthers, Velikovskians, Phrenologists, practitioners of Palmistry and promoters of Perpetual Motion machines or Creation Science. In all the named cases, experiment has proven the ideas in question to be incontrovertibly wrong.

Despite this, the first-named of these obsolete fantasies is still adhered to and taught by present-day academics. How else is one to explain this if not as the degenerate result of a system that shields its occupants from market forces and most other forms of engagement with reality?

Share this

Let's add people who teach

Let's add people who teach and believe they are god's 'chosen people'. anyone who could sit for more than 15 seconds of that insanity deserves to be lumped into that group .

Well, I don't see the claims

Well, I don't see the claims of Judaism as any more irrational than the claims of every other religion.

they're all

they're all (religions)irrational. i was just stating one overtly stupid example. why stop the list at creation science or hairbrained socialists? let's get em' all out of the way.

"In, say, 1890 I think that

"In, say, 1890 I think that Marxian notions of History and Economics might reasonably have been held to define the parameters of a plausible social order - no large-scale experiments having yet been attempted.

In the realm of Physics, in that same year, the classical Newtonian description of the universe still appeared to be the best available."

You could still put a man on the moon knowing no mechanics beyond Newton's whereas Marxism has always taken people straight to hell.

Students are always taught

Students are always taught Newtonian mechanics before anything else, because they still work for many everyday objects and only break down in some extreme situations.

Does every word of Marx you read send you spiralling into oblivion? I doubt it. Apparently much of Das Kapital is quite fun to read and even contains some useful economic analysis, though not without some technical problems. Marx's economic theories of capital by themselves do not, of course, constitute 'Marxism', but are a useful step on the road of teaching economics.

Apparently some think that what happens in a Stalinist dictatorship is a valid experimental test of Marx's theories of capital. Such people are incapable of logical distinctions and probably think that the Iran-Contra scandal is a valid experimental test of small-government conservatism.

What is this terrible 'essentially Marxian perspective' anyhow? I don't see any humanities professors teaching 20th century history from the point of view that Stalin was a great guy and collective farms were a great success, which is what you seem to think a 'Marxian point of view' means.

Or maybe you know that the 'essentially Marxian perspective' is one that emphasizes the role of economic forces acting on individuals in society in history and the arts - and you know this is in fact one big influence on history and other humanities, and you are just hoping everyone will forget that it was Marx who drew the world's attention to it.