(a) The Problem — We have been considering the nature of community and its present prospects. Clearly the future of community in the world depends on the forces, whatever they are, which determine the course of history. We must now briefly consider some of the main theories on this subject. Strictly, this is a scientific rather than a philosophical problem in the narrower sense. Is it possible by means of careful observation to form inductive laws descriptive of the course of history? The subject is so complex that no such scientific analysis can as yet be made with any accuracy. The field is therefore left open for speculation based on very fragmentary and confused evidence. This is not to say that theories of the determinants of history are all worthless. On the contrary, as we shall see, at least one very important principle can be established and used with great effect, so long as it is not set up as an all-sufficient principle of explanation.
My reasons for bringing this subject into a book on philosophy are, first, that when speculation is permissible at all, it should be very strictly criticised from the philosophical point of view, and second, that, if philosophy is the pursuit of wisdom, philosophers must seek some understanding of the process of history.
(b) The Great Men Theory — Perhaps the most naive theory of the forces which determine the course of history is that according to which the influence of "great men," of outstanding individuals, is the most significant factor. In this view such famous characters as Alexander, Caesar, Napoleon, simply through the force of their own temperament and will, simply through their own intrinsic and undetermined spiritual vigour, determine what shall happen throughout vast areas. They impose a particular pattern on events, a pattern of government or conquest or culture. Directly and indirectly they mould the whole future of the race.
Below them, according to the theory, large numbers of minor "great men" have similar but far less important effect. Lower still come the average masses, who are in the main passive to the far-reaching influences of the great.
In its extreme form the theory is too crude to be seriously considered. It overlooks very much that is obvious to any unbiassed student of history. Even the greatest personality must have some raw material through which to express his potency; and the raw material is just the world of physical objects and ordinary people. Obviously this material has a nature of its own, and its effects must not be ignored. It determines the course of history at least as much as the great men. Moreover they themselves are at least in part determined by their social environment and their biological inheritance.
The recognition of this, however, need not blind us to the importance of dominating characters. No doubt circumstances themselves playa great part in making great men what they are. Cromwell, for instance, would never have made history had not the circumstances of his time and place given special opportunity to such a man. But the kind of history that he did make was partly the expression of his own idiosyncrasies. These in turn, no doubt, were in some sense an expression of his environment and his inheritance; but, once in existence, they became a possible important factor in English history. Much good and much harm can be done by leaders.
(c) Evolutionism — Some scientists and philosophers, impressed by human progress and by the evolution of biological species, have conceived that the main force determining the course of history is some kind of teleological drive or Life Force, independent of conscious individual minds but inherent somehow in them, and working through them. This mysterious entity they conceive as striving toward ever more developed consciousness in its races of individuals, creating species after species in age-long experimentation. Similarly in human affairs the Life Force is thought to bud out in a number of races, and to express itself in institutions and cultures, always moving forward (apart from temporary setbacks) to higher social forms and biological forms.
This theory takes us at once into the realm of metaphysics, the attempt to discover by argument the essential nature of reality. We shall later enquire whether metaphysics is a possible study, and whether, if it is possible, Evolutionism is a satisfactory theory. Meanwhile we are concerned only with its relation to history. Do the known facts of history suggest that the course of events has been controlled by a superhuman purposive power or teleological principle?
Many human races have never advanced beyond the primitive level. Many have advanced only to decline. 'It is true that the more advanced races and societies tend to master the less advanced, but this is more satisfactorily explained in terms of the mere struggle for existence than in terms of an occult teleological drive toward a higher form of civilisation. When we consider the record of human history, do we discover any evidence whatever that cannot be accounted for as a slow and fluctuating progress due to individual intelligence and the effects of a gradual accumulation of wisdom and skill through tradition?
We must bear in mind also that, though in recent centuries there has been an amazing mechanical and industrial advance, the result may turn out to be not progress but the destruction of civilisation. Does the present situation of the human race strongly suggest guidance by a teleological power?
(d) The Hegelian Theory — The type of historical theory conceived by Hegel and adopted by most Idealist philosophers is at first sight akin to Evolutionism, because it makes use of the concept of development; but in this theory development does not take place through the operation of purely physical laws, nor through some mysterious teleological Life Force. It is said to be a logical consequence of the character of a changing situation at a given time. The "situation" is not simply environmental. It is the whole situation "man-in-environment." But this, according to Hegel, is to be thought of in terms of mind rather than of matter. Human history is therefore the history of the development of the human spirit; but the human spirit includes its objective world. Thought and reality are one, not two related things. Reality is experience. The laws of our thinking are in principle the laws of reality. Human knowledge is reality knowing itself.
Once more we find ourselves faced with metaphysical statements which we will not yet criticise. We will merely consider their application in the Idealist theory of history.
The development of human thought, or the human spirit, takes place, according to Hegel, by a process which he called "dialectical." The condition of culture at any time, he says, contains within itself contradictions; and as the contradictory elements grow in strength the spirit suffers internal conflict, until at last a new condition emerges in which both the conflicting components are transformed and harmonised. The three stages he called respectively "thesis," "antithesis," and " synthesis."
For the understanding of history, then, we must detect in the culture of a people at a given time the conditions in virtue of which that culture must presently be thrown into logical conflict with itself; and we must watch this conflict give birth to a new form of culture in which the conflict is resolved in a new synthesis, a new and relatively stable phase of culture. In this phase too we must seek for a new incipient conflict. And so on. What is true of the successive phases of a single culture is said by Hegel to be true also of the great sequence of the cultures that have risen and fallen since the beginning of history. The key to the understanding of,this process is the principle that the development of the spirit is a dialectical development toward "rational freedom," freedom to will the rational good will. Thus, we are told, in ancient Asiatic culture both law and morality are conceived as external to the individual. He obeys them as the commands of an alien tyrant. Later, in Greece, individuality begins to assert itself. Later still, in the Roman State, sheer individualism is consciously subordinated to the State, which becomes the common end of all individuals. From this condition, in which the individual tends to be overburdened with duties, the spirit rises (we are told) to its full expression of rational freedom in the Germany of Hegel's time.
Thus history is conceived as essentially the consequence of the rational development of the ideas that constitute a culture. Though for Hegel reality and thought are identical, the explanatory concept is the principle of rationality experienced in thinking.
Apart from the question of the scope of the dialectical principle, which I shall discuss more fully at a later, stage, the main criticisms to be brought against the Hegelian theory are two. First, it underestimates the fortuitousness and confusion of history. What it describes as a logical development is in fact a bewildering tangle of haphazard influences. Second, it assumes that the governing principle of cultural change is to be found in culture itself, rather than in the environment within which culture is generated. It entirely fails to do justice to the part played by the material world in determining man's actions, institutions, and ideas. It ignores the immensely important geographical and economic influences.
We must now consider a very different theory in which the emphasis is laid not on mind but on the material environment. At this point I shall try to give an account of Karl Marx's interpretation of history without discussing the metaphysical aspects of his doctrine. These I shall consider at a later stage. This procedure seems to be justified because Marx's historical theory is in the main independent of the metaphysical theory on which he based it.
It is advisable to say at the outset that I cannot claim to be a thorough student of Marxism, and that what follows was 'written by one who approached the subject regrettably late in life, and is perhaps unable fully to comprehend it. At least I shall treat it with due respect. And I shall try to regard it without prejudice, favourable or unfavourable.
Marx starts by accepting the Hegelian dialectic, but claims to turn it right side up. Human history, for Marx, is not the logical development of thought, changing through a purely ideal necessity. For Marx "the ideal is nothing else than the material world reflected by the human mind, and translated into terms of thought." And Engels declares that "the final causes of all social changes and revolutions are to be sought not in man's brains, not in men's better insight into eternal truth and justice, but in changes in the modes of production and exchange."
We must begin by distinguishing between the two closely associated doctrines which are involved in the Marxian interpretation of history. Economic Determinism is the doctrine that the whole course of history, including the evolution of institutions and ideas, is determined by the impact of the economic environment on man's economic needs. Dialectical Materialism is the doctrine that the course of Economic Determinism takes place according to the dialectical principle. This doctrine has also a metaphysical aspect which we can for the present ignore.
In the true dialectical manner it is conceived that any given stable phase of social development generates within itself its "opposite," and that out of the conflict of the two social tendencies there emerges a synthesis in which what is of permanent value in both appears in a new and harmonious form. A typical example of the dialectical process in history is said to be the growth of capitalism out of feudalism. The feudal system itself generated a bourgeois class that was antithetical to it; for in feudalism every individual was born into a certain social status, whereas the flew bourgeois class consisted of individuals who by commercial power were able to break the bonds of feudal status. After a period of conflict a new social order emerged, namely capitalism, in which a new stability was attained. But capitalism itself (we are told) generated the modern proletariat, which is antithetical to it, and must inevitably (we are told) produce a new class-less order, namely Communism.
In the contemporary world a number of dialectical contradictions obviously occur. I cite some examples quoted from Mr. Joseph Needham. Modern capitalistic national States must, for the violent seizure or maintenance of foreign markets, arm their workers; but this is to arm their own potential destroyers. (Perhaps the development of air power has made it unnecessary to arm them, and easy to control them.) Capitalistic States must seek to develop their colonies; but this causes native movements of liberation. Capitalistic States must, to preserve irrational loyalty to themselves, suppress the free intelligence, and substitute for reason some kind of Fascist mythology of race. But to suppress the free intelligence is to suppress the scientists without whose co-operation capitalism cannot function.
It is easy to see that in the very early stages of human social development institutions and ideas would arise as a direct expression of the simple economic life of hunters and fishers, and later of herdsmen and agriculturists. The relations between the individual and the group, the rules of private and public property in instruments and hunting territory and fertile land, and so on, would come into being through the direct pressure of the environment on primitive human needs. Similarly in modern Industrial society the ultimate determinant of institutions and ideas is man's contact with the material environment through the immensely complex processes of acquiring raw material and turning it into marketable goods by innumerable industrial techniques. But in this late stage the immediate effect of the environment is complicated by a thousand other influences derived from the past, and ultimately from past environments.
In the earliest stage of social development there would be no class distinctions. But with the change from hunting to pasturage the scope of private property would increase, and consequently there would appear the first cleavage into "haves" and "have-nots." This class distinction would be greatly emphasised by the development of agriculture and property in land. This brings us to the period of recorded history. The landowner's need for cheap labour was satisfied by reducing the less fortunate to serfdom. The whole of subsequent history, according to Economic Determinism, is at bottom an expression of two factors, namely, on the one hand the relation between man and the physical environment which conditions his production, and on the other hand the relation between two antagonistic social classes, namely, the owners of the means of production and the workers, who by one device or another are forced to labour as the owners dictate. The form of this class relationship varies in different ages and localities with the variations of the economic determinants. Thus, by a process of environmental influence which we need not consider in detail, the primitive slave-owning agricultural society develops into the more complex feudal society, and this in turn into the modern capitalistic society. In every case, we are told, the fundamental determinants, of institutions and ideas are the relation of man to the material environment, and the relation of the exp.loite~s to the exploited slaves or wage-slaves.
In the archaic slave-owning society and the feudal society the power of the owners is frankly based on physical compulsion; but in the capitalistic society, though it depends ultimately on force, it normally operates through the fact that the bargaining power of the worker in selling his labour is much less than the bargaining power of the master.
Another factor has to be taken into account. Institutions and ideas, once they have come into being, tend to persist long after the situations which created them. Modern capitalist society is shot through and through with vestiges of feudalism, which ceased long ago to have any direct bearing on economic conditions. We retain relics of the old feudal aristocracy, and our moral code is still largely based on ideals suited to feudalism in its prime. At any particular stage of history a struggle is going on between the old customs, which are out of gear with new economic facts, and the influence of the new facts themselves, which tend to produce a new social order, including new institutions, new cultural forms, and a new morality. The more firmly established the old order, the greater the time-lag before the new order can appear; and, moreover, the greater the time-lag, the greater the pent-up pressure that will be generated, and the more catastrophic the change when it does occur. Feudalism gave place to capitalism in a series of minor revolutions spread over a long period. Capitalism, since it is far more highly organised and has far greater resources, and far more effective means of propaganda and repression, and since, moreover, it is a world-wide system, will put up (we are told) a more effective fight and have a more catastrophic end.
Not only do institutions and ideas survive the conditions which produce them, but also, once they have come into existence, they manifest a very vigorous life of their own. They may be handed on from individual to individual and from generation to generation long after they have ceased to be appropriate to anything in the environment. They may become part of the deep-rooted mental habits of the society. Not only so, but also the minds which support them think about them and change them. Their changes consist partly of partial adaptations to changing circumstances; but also they are changed in such reactionary ways as to render them more efficient instruments for the service of the social class which holds them. Thus, for instance, the basic ideas of capitalism come to generate the ideas of Fascism, adapting for capitalism's defence some concepts which were alien to capitalism in its earlier phase. For in its earlier phase capitalism was individualistic. It came into existence through the unfettered economic enterprise of private individuals. But in its later stage, as an established system seeking to defend its declining power, its individualism is modified and subordinated to the "totalitarian" or the "corporate " State.
An important place must also be made in the picture for human individuality itself. Though the theory is a deterministic theory, it does not deny spontaneity to human action. Economic determinism works only because men spontaneously desire certain things. They are not compelled to do so, but observably they to do so. Their behaviour is up to a point predictable. Marxism merely predicts how men in the mass may be expected to act. The environment operates through the needs of human individuals, who are not passive but active. They react to their environment in pursuit of their needs. And though particular individuals may have all sorts of idiosyncrasies of desire, the needs which in the mass and in the long run take effect in determining history are the basic economic needs for food, shelter, security, and comfort. Marxism does not deny that all men have also other needs, some primitive like physical sex, some very sophisticated, like the need for intellectual activity. It does not deny that for the understanding of the behaviour of particular individuals these needs may be very important. It merely claims that when we are dealing with men in the aggregate economic needs alone have to be taken into account.
Marxism need not deny that certain outstanding individuals may have a disproportionate effect on history, and may complicate the pattern of economic determinism by their idiosyncrasies. But it insists that these great ones are in the main selected by the economic forces which happen to offer scope for just such men. The case of Lenin is an obvious example.
In general, though ideas and institutions and the idiosyncrasies of prominent individuals do play an important part in history, this influence is always subordinate to the primary influence of the exigencies of production and exchange. Whenever a conflict between economic forces and other factors occurs, economic forces must, according to Marxism, in the long run win.
The claim that the movement of culture is determined fundamentally by economic influences and not simply by the spontaneous unfolding of the rational capacity of the human spirit, need not deny that rational thinking does occur and does play an important part. The point is that economic influences themselves select from the innumerable individual thinkings that are going on. People tend in the aggregate to accept just those particular ideas that do accord with the current economic order or with the new order that is struggling into existence. Thus (we are told) the thoughts of Marx and of Lenin are destined to play a great part in future culture just because they accurately reflect the objective facts of capitalist society and the inevitable trend of events in the future.
It is claimed, for instance by Professor Levy, that the degree of development of social life and of culture in any period is limited by the degree of technological development in that period. When the material technique of a society is primitive, conditions of life are penurious. Toil is inescapable. The efflorescence of culture is meagre. Where material technique is well advanced, life, at any rate for the dominant class, is easier and more leisured, and culture blooms more luxuriantly and subtly.
Any social order tends to breed within itself techniques more advanced than those which produced it. When this happens, when a social order has generated a technical power too great for it to assimilate, so that the technique is not allowed to be fully applied for human betterment, then, we are told, the effete order must inevitably be swept away. This happened, for instance, to feudalism, and is beginning to happen to capitalism. The full functioning of scientific technique is incompatible with an order which cannot thrive without a certain scarcity of commodities.
In the Marxian theory the whole of human history, from the primitive phase up to the establishment of Communism in the future, is essentially an expression of class struggle. Class after class fights its way to power, and is in turn overwhelmed by a class rising against it from below. And at every stage the dominant class has wielded a ruthless dictatorship. Formerly, the slave-owning aristocracy, later the feudal aristocracy, to-day the capitalist class, and in the transitional stage toward Communism the victorious proletariat exemplify this principle. Capitalism, we are told, is doomed because the economic structure of the world has already outgrown it, because in new circumstances it can no longer work. It depends on mass-production and expanding markets. In a world overcrowded with capitalist States increasing competition for markets inevitably leads to war and the ruin of the whole capitalist system. In this disorder the proletariat (we are told) will seize power, and after a period of dictatorship by the proletariat a new spirit will come into the world. For the interest of the proletariat is identical with the interest of society as a whole. Consequently this final dictatorship is transitional toward a class-less and truly democratic and communistic society. At last history will no longer be determined. by the class struggle, nor will culture be vitiated through and through by the need of the dominant class to distort it as a defence against revolution.
It is difficult to discuss any aspect of Marxism without rousing violent emotions. And, when emotions run high, champions on either side tend to make it a point of honour to maintain every tittle of the faith and to destroy heresy root and branch. Yet when we look at the history of human ideas we cannot but be impressed by the fact that even the most significant and potent of them have invariably turned out to be open to serious criticism in one respect or another. Particularly is this true of ideas which have a religious or quasi-religious aspect. And Marxism, mainly because it attacks the established order and the fundamental assumptions of society, is often regarded with religious veneration or religious hate. The fact that Economic Determinism in general and Dialectical Materialism in particular are immensely important principles for the understanding of social change should make us specially careful not to spoil their effect by using them uncritically.
We may, I suggest, unhesitatingly accept the general principle that in a sense the prime or ultimate determinant of the course of historical events has been the impact of the material environment on man's economic needs. It would indeed be strange if institutions and ideas had adapted themselves as closely as they have done to economic conditions, and yet the real determinants had been something else. The main cause of the common reluctance to accept this theory is probably a vague sense that it is subversive, and a vague repugnance felt against materialism. This last objection we shall not consider till we have opened up the question of metaphysics.
But having granted the general principle that the prime determinant is, or at any rate has been, economic, we must beware of assuming that the dialectical principle, which certainly applies in some striking cases, is always and necessarily the most significant concept for understanding social change.
Without raising the question of the metaphysical, validity of the dialectical process, we should note that, if it is to be applied to history, it must not be interpreted too simply. On this point Marx himself insists, but his followers are sometimes less cautious than their master. No doubt the application of the dialectic to history is valid up to a point. In some cases a particular social situation may generate within itself some conflicting factor which may be reasonably regarded as in some respect its opposite or contrary; and the conflict may issue in a new synthesis. But we must not attempt to force the whole of history into one simple pattern. Of course there is a loose sense in which the dialectical principle obviously must be universally true. Obviously any social change must spring from some factor which is incompatible with the maintenance of the status quo, and may therefore be said to be its opposite. This is merely a platitude. To be significant the principle must mean more than this. It must mean that the original economic situation necessarily breeds its logical .contrary, and that out of the conflict of the two there must (apart from external interference) necessarily arise a new social situation, a new system of institutions and culture, which is an improvement on both. It would be rash to assume that such progress is inevitable. The present state of the world, for instance, seems as likely to lead to the destruction of civilisation as to its advancement. The attempt to understand all social change solely in terms of a necessary dialectical principle is likely to lead to a doctrinaire and over-simplified account of history. In fact, even if the dialectical principle is in the loosest sense true universally, it is also too formal and abstract to afford by itself a master key to historical problems. Human history is immensely complex. Marxians claim that underlying all this complexity there runs a single theme, upon which the complexity is, so to speak, a mere embroidery wrought by special secondary causes. But when they defend this claim they are compelled to ignore or minimise much that gives each age its concrete and unique character. For instance, they ignore the immense scope of mere chance by which comparatively trivial circumstances can deflect the whole course of history, much as a single stone at a critical point near a stream's source may deflect it to one side rather than the other of a mountain, and perhaps of a continent.
Sometimes, too, they do less than justice to the influence of prominent individuals. It is true, of course, that very often the influence of the "great man" does, as they claim, avail itself of the course of economic determinism. Lenin, for instance, had the intelligence to see which way the economic cat would inevitably jump, sooner or later, if left to itself and the influence of lesser men. He had also the genius and fervour to force it to jump at once with a vigour and precision which otherwise it would have lacked. But "great men" may sometimes retard or even deflect the course of economic determinism. In principle this possibility is allowed by the Marxians. They insist only that in the long run it is the economic factor that counts. This, with some further qualifications that have still to be made, we may admit. For the present I suggest only that, if not Marx himself, then some of his followers are apt to underestimate the length and meandering of that "long run."
One element in the Marxian creed, as we have seen, is the belief that, so long as there is class domination, violent revolution is necessarily involved in the achievement of every new social synthesis. It is involved because the established dominant class will necessarily sit on the safety-valve till the boiler explodes. We may admit that in the present world-situation it is probable that the longed-for synthesis will involve a great deal of violence. It does seem all too likely that, whenever a resolutely progressive party comes into power constitutionally, the reactionary minority will provoke a violent conflict. But it is surely rash to assert that violence must, wherever there is class domination, always and necessarily occur. It is rash to generalise from the course of events in Russia, where the established system was exceptionally inefficient and crudely brutal, and the class cleavage much simpler and sharper than in Western Europe.
Of course there is a sense in which all social change is necessarily "violent," since the established order invariably seeks to maintain itself. But if violence means "bloody revolution," we must insist that no simple generalisation is to be trusted.
The foregoing criticisms are of a minor order. They are only qualifications of the main contention that economic conditions are the prime determinants of history. One more criticism, and a much more radical one, must be cautiously stated. The Marxian claims that in Economic Determinism he has a principle which, properly applied, affords an accurate description of the course of history. To prove his case he has, of course, to interpret the facts so as to reveal the underlying economic causes. In many cases the economic interpretation is simple and very plausible, in some cases much more ingenious, and more open to doubt. Clearly it may be that in some of these cases some other factor is after all the more significant one, that some other general principle is the key to the problem; and, indeed, that always some other principle or principles may interfere with the whole pattern of economic determinism, not very obviously, yet with very far-reaching consequences. Determinism operates through the impact of the environment on human motives or needs. It is possible that in certain crucial situations even large masses of men may be actuated by motives which are not economic, which are not derived from the need for food, comfort, and safety.
For instance, one such motive might be irrational herd-mentality, which by dominating men’s behaviour at critical points of history might side-track the simple course of economic determinism. Of course herd-mentality may be regarded as itself an "expression" of economic determinants in the remote pre-human past. The united action of the group was always essential to survival. Thus the environment would tend to evoke whatever latent capacity there was for gregarious behaviour and herd-mentality. But this could not have happened unless in human nature (or animal nature) there had been some potentiality for development in such a manner. Herd-mentality can only occur in creatures that have capacity for some kind of mental life. You cannot make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, nor a sow's ear out of sand.
Further, having once come into being, herd-mentality constitutes an independent factor, gravely complicating the course of events. Sometimes it cuts across the dominant, but more recently dominant, individualistic mentality, which responds more systematically to economic considerations. It is possible that the European War, though partly an expression of economic determinism, would never have occurred if, the national States had not been able to evoke an immense fervour of pure herd-mentality. It is possible also that subsequent events in Europe have been vastly complicated by the same force.
Another independent factor in human nature is the will for genuine community. No doubt it, like all else, has been in a sense evoked by the environment, and may therefore be regarded as an expression of economic determinism. But the environment has evoked it; not simply created it. Always there must be something upon which the environment works. It may well be that sometimes, for instance in times of revolutionary enthusiasm, such as the first century of Christianity and the Russian Revolution, the will for community has played a crucial part. Possibly neither of these great changes could have been achieved without it. Perhaps it is also destined to playa similar part in a future world-wide revolution in comparison with which the Russian Revolution will seem a crude aid rather barbaric first sketch. Subsequently, perhaps, it may sink once more into quiescence. Or, again, perhaps long after that revolution has been accomplished, perhaps after centuries of gradually improving economic and educational conditions, it may become the dominant factor in a more harmoniously developed human nature, and the main determinant of history. Economic Determinism, though perhaps the most useful principle for the interpretation of history during the past and the present, may cease to be the supremely significant principle in the not very remote future, when man (we hope) will have gained far greater facility and power of control over the economic environment.
Religious ideas and habits have, of course, in the past played a great part in determining the course of history. In the Marxian view these are all indirect expressions of the economic environment, working upon the universal human need for food, comfort, and security. I have no doubt that this is largely true. But it is surely unscientific, in the present imperfection of our knowledge of psychology, to declare dogmatically that this is the whole truth of the matter. It is at least possible that in the best kind of religious experience there is a core, probably impossible to describe accurately in any human language but none the less actual, which is not derived in this manner, but is a genuine apprehension at the upper limit of human capacity. It is possible that experience of this kind, in outstanding individuals, has played a not inconsiderable part in influencing the conduct of the masses at critical moments of history.
As a matter of fact, the Marxian theory itself has room for all this. For the theory expressly denies mechanical determinism. It expressly asserts that qualitatively new factors may emerge in each new synthesis. This leads us to the metaphysical aspect of the theory, which we shall discuss in the course of the next chapter. Meanwhile, it is worth while noting that the more fanatical kind of Marxians often do less than justice to the non-mechanical aspect of their master's thought.
This brings me to the final criticism. The theory that all thought is ultimately an expression of economic influences, though in a sense true, has certain dangerous consequences for Marxism itself. It claims that all thought is to some extent biassed by economic motives. If bourgeois thought is thus biassed, so is proletarian thought, though in a contrary direction. It follows that Marxian theories are open to grave suspicion. Some Marxists admit that proletarian thought is biassed, and glory in the fact. For the proletarian bias, they say, is a bias not in favour of a class but in favour of society as a whole. Moreover, no theories, they say, are objectively true in an absolute sense. Theories are true for action. They are true in that action based upon them will succeed. This view, as we have already seen in connection with Pragmatism, leads finally to subjectivism. Marxism is in other respects objectivistic, and in no danger of yielding to subjectivism. But this tendency, not merely to recognise that some degree of bias is inevitable, but actually to glory in it, is extremely dangerous. It encourages some Marxians to dismiss as a mere expression of bourgeois bias any theory which they regard as hostile to Marxism. And for the same reason any theory which these enthusiasts simply fail to understand is likely to be condemned. Even more serious is the danger that the glorification of bias will lead to a gradual abandonment of intellectual honesty and the painfully conceived ideal of dispassionate thought. No doubt it is very difficult to put this ideal in practice, but to reject it as an ideal is to reject civilisation for barbarism.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:54