D.C. European History Conf. 2017

My friend and colleague shared this with me on social media. Coming from her this compliment is a big deal.

“Edward Carson did an amazing talk on Marxism and Urban Centers. I miss our time together on the AP Euro test development committee. I always wondered what he’d be like as a teacher. All I can say is his kids are very lucky to have him.”

From the Book Shelf

dubois copy 2

Here is an image for you from one of my book cases: I see something close to Warner Sallman’s Jesus watching over the communist (workers of the world — Karl Marx mug), W.E.B. Du Bois (see mug), and those Muslims in the White House. That must be one of my favorite New Yorker covers, as it makes fun of the many silly closed-minded Americans. The Marx and Du Bois mugs were gifts from a former student.

Occupy Wall Street

Let the ruling classes tremble at a communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Workingmen of all countries, unite!
Karl Marx

Conservatives hate it because it is a large leftist movement. Many New Dealers are still trying to figure it out; in the end, I suspect it will die out like so many movements (Read: Right Wing version is the Tea Party). However, a small part of me would like to see this “rally” promulgate categorical change. We are and have long been a greedy nation. American history has long been predicated on the notion of class conflict. The wealthy continue to exploit the have-nots. And, the have-nots have given in to much of the dreams and crimes of capitalism. The haves cheat, lie, manipulate, and con their way into power. The masses sit and watch in a passive manner.  As I have noted before, we live in a nation that was founded under the dreams and goals of capitalism. Exploitation was established the day Europeans arrived. And, in the end, we are all guilty of this. We buy big houses because our friends have a big house; we buy expensive gas consuming cars because it makes us seem to be elite; we keep a beach house or a country house because that is what the middle class is supposed to do. Though I am not guilty of any of these things, I am guilty of many others. The American dream of capitalism is the downfall of man kind. I like the way Richard Hofstadter defines the American origin.

In his historical intellectual work, Hofstadter brings a more revisionist and realist account of America’s historical figures. Hofstadter, much like historian Howard Zinn, taught and wrote history from the perspective of non elites: blacks, women, immigrants, workers, and the poor, who all had a voice in shaping the hitherto. Moreover, Hofstadter looked to end the romantic notions often used to describe the traditional white male hero of American culture (or WASP). Here is an example from his chapter on the founding fathers:

Democratic ideas are most likely to take root among discontented and oppressed classes, rising middle classes, or perhaps some sections of an old, alienated, and partially disinherited aristocracy, but they do not appeal to a privileged class that is still amplifying its privileges. With a half-dozen exceptions at most, the men who had considerable position and wealth, and as a group they had advanced well beyond their fathers.

One of the things Hofstadter writes about in his many works is that of economic elitism. He described the framers as men who created an oligarchy via the Constitution only as an instrument to protect their wealth and status; he questions the democratic nature of the founders and the Constitution. Moreover, he discusses history as an entity protected by the very men who used it to enhance their status.

Marxist Courses

Below is an exchange between myself and a former student on a Marxist Theory course she is taking at UT Austin. After our exchange, I started thinking about how many schools offer such courses. I know most courses subscribe to a broader topic, such as 19th Century German Philosophy. I get to teach a great deal of this stuff in most of my courses, but especially in my AP European History class. I came across this exchange via a message forum regarding courses on Marxism. Though I have a point of view, and one from being well read, I am a bit suspicious of anyone who might place Marx in the same category as Hitler. I mean, Marx’s ideas were transformative, but in the end, they did not live up to his expectations. And how could they. You are talking about a concept that works against the human will and desire; I will say that his model has been used in an academic setting to promote some discourse, in matters regarding societal inequalities: racism, sexism, jingoism, etc. I suspect Warner Todd Huston has confused Marx’s ideas with that of Marxist-Leninism. It seems that misinformed people do that. You can read his post in its entirety regarding colleges teaching Marx here. Just to be clear, he is not wholly inaccurate in all of his claims. I find the topic too narrow; however, if you throw in how it has impacted post-modernism and religion, then I would be interested.

Warner Todd Huston states that Marxism is problematic in his column Amherst College:Should Marxism be Given Another Look….

Marx has proven an utter failure through every manner of implementation of his ideas on both large and small-scale and does not behoove the time spent on him as a legitimate course of study unless it is as an adjunct to political science or history, and then only as a negative example therein.

Marx deserves nothing but the contempt of everyone. And our universities don’t deserve much better for their slavish love for this murderous, beast at this rate.

Yes, he should be taught. But he deserves to be placed as the worst human being in human history. Worse than Hitler, worse then Stalin, even worse then Torquemada.

Exchange with former student:

From former student:

So I’m taking a class on Marxist philosophical/social theory this semester. It made me think of you and the amazing times that took place sophomore year. I miss you lots, hope everything is going well 🙂

From Carson:

You need to swing by campus and visit with me about your course on Marxist Theory. I have read so much about him, but little of what he actually wrote. Maybe Houston Christian will let me teach a course on Marxist Theory. And think, folks still think he based his entire theory on the emergence of the Soviet Union. Yes, I laugh at folks everyday. Come see me.

From former student:

Haha yes, my professor said something along the same lines about the lack of anything Russian in this course, whether it be the Revolution or the Soviet Union, so I’m pretty excited to delve into his writings. Next time I’m in Houston I’ll stop by, but seeing as it will probably be on a weekend, we might have to get coffee or lunch somewhere 🙂

Marx and the Church on Gambling

Karl Marx was not a nationalist nor a spiritual person like that of Georg Hegel, who found the Lutheran faith to be the highest form of religion in a man’s life. If one were to look beyond the exile of the Catholic church, during the early stages of the French Revolution, historical analysis would show a vibrant relationship between religion and nationalism. Marx, unlike Hegel, saw religion as a seductive force; it was an element that, as other Marxist scholars have noted, served as another means of exploiting the means of the masses. As noted in his Opium of the People:

Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.

Marx’s thesis of class consciousness and class conflict continues to be relevant today. Though Paul Gottfried’s The Strange Death of Marxism addressed the political shift of the left in relation to societal constructs, Marxism continues to be a significant school of thought in a world divided by class, race, gender, and national interest. Academic disciplines continue to focus on conflicts within society as they seek to explain economic interest in a pluralistic society. And yes, I do believe pluralism is a highly ubiquitous ideology that shapes the social and cultural make-up of the American polity.

But, if Marx had his doubts about the seductive force of religion, on the masses, he would contend that exploitation of any type is exploitation. Not only did Marx see forces of economic interest as being dangerous, the church (Catholic and Protestant) also voiced its concerns about agents that exploit. In a recent class discussion on capitalism, I told my macroeconomics class that Marx would be opposed to both a state lottery system, and casinos. As a self-professed leftist, I too do not favor the lottery or casinos. Here is the problem: politicians support legalizing casino gambling and the lottery because they are influenced by special interest. Many claim it will generate revenue for the state and create jobs; in truth, both exploit the poor, lead to more crime, and increase unemployment. The lottery is an indirect tax. I realize that it is a tax one does not have to pay, but if you are low on the socioeconomic scale, it is easy to be seduced by the possibility of cashing in quick for greater earnings.

In addition, education plays a major role in this matter. If you are poor and have a limited education, the seductive forces of the opium of gambling, will be hard to reject. A man works hard all week to earn a pay check, yet that check is not enough to make ends meet. Thus, he seeks to “earn” additional wages by handing that check over to a casino with the hope of getting rich. Casinos represents the bourgeoisie’s efforts at exploiting the poor. Once that hardworking man surrenders that check, he is granted a credit card to buy alcohol, rent a room, have dinner, and gamble with money he does not have. In the end, he leaves the casino in debt.

This is not an unusual predicament of classic exploitation. Spend time in a poor black inner-city neighborhood. You will see pawn shops, liquor stores, and porn shops. All of which are owned by the same class of people who own casinos and lobby politicians to legislate a state lottery. Their justification: lottery dollars will be used to improve the education of blacks in the inner-city. Special interests always look to states like Georgia and Mississippi as a reason for why it works. I am not convinced. The church is not convinced, as noted by John McArthur, who outlines the sins of gambling here. My two favorite points are 1.) it preys on the weak and 2.) it is part of the sin of materialism. Marx would draw this exact conclusion, too.

I do not think this is an ideological matter; I was a bit shocked that many of my students disagreed with me. They argued that it is a choice. In a society that is made up of freedoms and economic expansion, people have the right to enhance their earnings…be it the casino owner or the uninformed poor person looking to improve his lifestyle. They have the right to hold such a position. It is not my job to change  students’ minds; however, it is my job to present the historical evidence that proves otherwise.