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Jacobin - August 22, 2020

"Writing in the middle of the Industrial Revolution and the age of European imperialism, Marx noted how old rural communities were being gutted as people moved to the cities, describing capitalism as a “constantly expanding market” pushing the bourgeoisie “over the entire surface of the globe.” He criticized the new culture of “commodity fetishism” that was replacing the religious fidelity of yore, gleefully inverting the language of faith to highlight society’s new reverence for Mammon." - Marx

If you want to anger a stock conservative intellectual, just try arguing that Karl Marx might have something worth saying. Or worse, suggest that a man who wrote numerous volumes on everything from German philosophy to the standard assumptions of classical political economy might have a more nuanced theory than “rich people bad, poor people good.”

Yet several decades after the Cold War, plenty of right-wing pundits still can’t be bothered to offer rebuttals to Marx that go beyond glib denunciations. Jordan Peterson has described Marxism as an evil theory and made his name bashing “postmodern neo-Marxism,” despite admitting during one debate that he hasn’t read much more than the Communist Manifesto in the past few decades.

In his latest opus, Don’t Burn This Book, Dave Rubin lumps in socialism with Nazism and fascism by claiming Benito Mussolini was “raised on Karl Marx’s Das Kapital” — ignoring Il Duce’s later efforts to imprison and silence Marxists and other “enemies of the nation.” And most recently, Ben Shapiro’s How To Destroy America in Three Easy Steps recycles old tropes about the “nonsense” of Marx’s labor theory of value, while ignoring the irony of praising John Locke for “correctly point[ing] out that ownership of property is merely an extension of the idea of ownership of your labor; when we remove something from the state of nature and mix our labor with it and join something of our own to it, we thereby make that property our own.”

This tendency to criticize Marx without actually engaging his ideas is especially rich considering Peterson, Rubin, and Shapiro endlessly parrot clichés about the importance of hard work and spirited debate. An easy way to dismiss them would be to just insist they live up to those lofty standards in between appearances on PragerU.

But I am going to take a somewhat different tack. I am going to suggest that conservatives avoid seriously dealing with Marx’s work not just because he was critical of capitalism, wrote some polemical things about religion, or was suspicious of class hierarchy. It is because Marx’s writings reveal deep inconsistences in cherished conservative doctrines.

Two of the most glaring examples: the conservative penchant for praising capitalism while bemoaning the decline of tradition; and the tendency to invoke an unchanging “human nature” to lambast critics of capitalism while insisting that individuals should be understood in relation to the traditions and communities around them. ...
Read full commentary at Jacobin