No weekly highlight for last week, because Fanon’s Wretched of The Earth was a reading, and how can anyone else compete with that? It’s just not fair.
So, this week it was Robert Heilbroner with The Worldly Philosophers, a book which has sold over 2 million copies which is incredible when you consider that it’s a history of economic thought. Lots of required readings for undergraduate courses I suspect, because this is very accessible, but it’s also just very good. Flew through the chapter on Marx without even noticing it; all throughout it he manages to explain Marx’s ideas more lucidly than just about anyone else (and definitely more clearly than “that angry genius, Karl Marx” as Heilbroner lovingly calls him). Ideas interwoven with biography and cool factoids (e.g.: apparently when Engels came to visit Marx in London on the occasion that constituted their first proper meeting, their conversation lasted for ten days).
One point I found interesting concerned Marx’s legacy for the kind of intellectual climate on the political left.
But far more important than the creation of the First International was the peculiar tone which Marx injected into working-class affairs. This was the mmost quarrelsome and intolerant of men, and from the beginning he was unable to believe that anyone who did not follow his line of reasoning could possibly be right.
The pattern of intolerance was never to disappear. [Various Internationals followed one another]. And yet, the impact of these great movements is perhaps less than the persistence of that narrowness, that infuriating and absolute inability to entertain dissent, which communism has inherited from its single greatest founder.
I’m not sure if you can trace it all back to Marx. One thing is for sure: the left loves an intellectual fight. And the left loves to splinter off into various subgroups that, when you look at it, agree on 99% of things but take marginal disagreements over minute details to be evidence of differing worldviews and moral failings. This is by no means a call to ignore differences; the strong argumentative (dare I say dialectic?) strain of the left is its greatest asset. But I was intrigued by the thought that Marx (and maybe other early leaders with similar mindsets) set the tone that led to countless purges, exiles, etc.