Friday, May 11, 2018

Steve Keen — Karl Marx sacrificed logic on the altar of his desire for revolution

Karl Marx, the committed revolutionary, once proved that the revolution need not happen. What did he do next?

Marx was a committed revolutionary, so much so that when reflecting on his life, he said that if he had it all to do over again, he would still be a revolutionary but would not marry, to save his wife from having to suffer the privations of life with him.
There were, of course, many committed revolutionaries in the 19th century. What set Marx apart from them all was that he had proven that revolution not only would happen, but had to happen. It was inevitable.
And then, one day, he proved, using a significant advance in his own economics, that revolution did not have to happen: that the inexorable force he had believed pushed in that direction was the outcome of a flaw in his own theory. When the flaw was corrected, the force was gone, and not only was revolution not inevitable, it might not even be necessary.
How do you think he reacted?
He fudged, of course....
First, it is significant that Steve Keen is writing for RT, given the demonization that it is being subjected to and by implication all that are connected to it in any way. Good on Steve for going out on a limb.

Secondly, Steve illuminates the apparent contradiction between Marx the economic sociologist and Marx the political activist and revolutionary. But I think he get the reason wrong. See #3 below.

The actual contradiction is between Marx as economic sociologist and Marx the revolutionary political activist. As economic sociologist Marx realized that the relations of production (superstructure) are consequent on the mode of production (infrastructure) and change in the relations in production do not occur without the potential of the mode of production being exhausted. As revolutionary political activist, Marx thought that the change could be forced by political action leading to revolution.

While these are not necessarily incompatible, Marx's political activism doesn't follow necessarily from his economic sociology and his economic sociology suggests that it's a matter of time. As a matter of fact the revolutions of 1846 failed in industrial Europe while revolution succeeded in feudal Russia and China, which his theory seemed to rule out.

Thirdly, I don't think that SK gets this right, but I am not a Marx scholar.  He has received pushback from scholars of Marx against this objection. See Matthijs Krul, Steve Keen’s critique of Marx’s Theory of Value: A rejoinder.

Fourthly, Sk doesn't help his case by asserting that Marx's PhD dissertation was on Hegel. The title was The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature. It is about ancient Greek atomism and materialism.

Karl Marx sacrificed logic on the altar of his desire for revolution
Steve Keen, | Professor and Head of the School of Economics, History and Politics at Kingston University in London


Matt Franko said...

Keen may know squat about Accounting but he sure can regurgitate Marx like the best of ‘em....

AXEC / E.K-H said...

Marx’s bicentennial ― nothing to discuss, nothing to celebrate
Comment on Tom Hickey’s ‘Steve Keen — Karl Marx sacrificed logic on the altar of his desire for revolution’

What economists produce is not so much scientific knowledge but some mixture of propaganda, how-to-get-rich quackery, disinformation, and entertainment. The four main approaches ― Walrasianism, Keynesianism, Marxianism, Austrianism ― are mutually contradictory, axiomatically false, materially/formally inconsistent and all got the pivotal economic concept profit wrong. With the pluralism of provably false theories economics sits squarely at the proto-scientific level.

Economics is one of the most embarrassing scientific failures of all times. Economic policy guidance NEVER had sound scientific foundations. And it does not matter at all whether this guidance has been more rightist or more leftist, more capitalist or more communist. Because of this, the discussions of economists of different schools never had any scientific relevance and have roughly the same entertainment value as a wrestling show.

The irrelevance of Steve Keen’s critique of Marx consists in the fact that both so-called economists have no idea of the foundational economic concept of profit.#1, #2 Everybody knows from methodology that when the premises are false the whole analytical superstructure is false. Or in the words of Aristotle: “When the premises are certain, true, and primary, and the conclusion formally follows from them, this is demonstration, and produces scientific knowledge of a thing.”

Economics started as Political Economy. Marxianism is not so much economics as Sociology, Anthropology, History, Political Science, Philosophy, Psychology, and agenda pushing.#3 Marx got the pivotal concepts profit, exploitation, and class wrong.#4, #5 The axiomatically correct profit theory tells everybody that macroeconomic profit is determined in the most elementary case by dissaving = growth of household- and public sector debt#6 and NOT by exploitation and that there is NO antagonism between wages and profits for the economy as a whole.

Economists of ALL camps are cargo cult scientists and have not gotten their foundational concepts straight in the last 200 years. Nothing to celebrate on Marx’s bicentennial but the persistence of economists’ stupidity and fraud.#7, #8

Egmont Kakarot-Handtke

#1 Profit for Marxists

#2 How the Intelligent Non-Economist Can Refute Every Economist Hands Down

#3 It is not quite clear which agenda Marx was pushing. See Karl Marx, Prussian government agent

#4 Capitalism, poverty, exploitation, and cross-over exploitation

#5 Ricardo and the invention of class war

#6 Keynes, Lerner, MMT, Trump and exploding profit

#7 Economists: scientists or political clowns?

#8 The end of political economics

Calgacus said...

This revolution in Marx's thought was misunderstood by most Marxists. Some ignored it completely, and described it as Marx “coquetting [flirting] with the Hegelian mode of expression.” This is rather like physicists rejecting Einstein because he “coquetted with the quantum mechanics mode of expression” to solve the problem of the photovoltaic effect.

In addition to the doctoral thesis error:
That "coquetting" phrase isn't "some" or "most Marxists" on Marx. That's Marx himself on Marx, in a preface or introduction to Das Kapital! :-)

Tom Hickey said...

And then he re-read Hegel, re-acquainted himself with his dialectical philosophical roots, started writing in dialectical pairs, of foregrounds and backgrounds and unities, and found a far superior way to analyse capitalism.

This is an astute observation. The foreground/background complementarity is the basis of Hegel's dialectic.

It is reflected in East Asian art theory, where painting is based host and guest in a unified composition. The host is the background and the guest is the foreground. They work in tandem to create a unified and integrated whole. Interestingly, Hegel rejected the significance of Chinese thought. He doesn't seem to be aware that Chinese tradition is paradigmatically dialectical.

For Hegel, "the truth is the whole" (Intro to the Phenomenology, IIRC). Conceptual understanding cannot capture the whole, so the dialectic necessary to bring out the complementary with what was omitted. In the Logic, the concept of being must contain the concept of nothing to be complete, and the confluence of being and nothing lead to the concept of becoming. This is right out of Chinese and Indian metaphysics, and it also lies at the heart of perennial wisdom. But Hegel doesn't seem to have realized this.

Hegel's insight was to see that this complementarity is reflected in the way both logic and history unfold, which he undertook to show in the Logic and the Phenomenology. What appears to be contradiction is paradox, and the paradox is overcome temporarily in the subsequent stage of the dialectic, which proceeds rather inexorably until the whole is completed.

Marx appreciated this insight into method and adopted it while adapting it from idealism to materialism.

Hegel's achievement was monumental in the Western intellectual tradition and Marx built on it while modifying it.

So I would say that Keen gets this much right, and it is something that many miss.

Calgacus said...

Interestingly, Hegel rejected the significance of Chinese thought. He doesn't seem to be aware that Chinese tradition is paradigmatically dialectical.

In the Logic, the concept of being must contain the concept of nothing to be complete, and the confluence of being and nothing lead to the concept of becoming. This is right out of Chinese and Indian metaphysics, and it also lies at the heart of perennial wisdom. But Hegel doesn't seem to have realized this.

The rejection is true somewhat in Hegel's History of Philosophy. But in Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, Hegel says things like Buddha's "Nothing" can be taken as a beginning of philosophy (metaphysics) instead of Parmenides "Being". And the Taoist yin-yang expressing "Becoming".

Hegel is fairly popular in China now, people recognize the resonance of the root of Communism and of Chinese tradition.

Tom Hickey said...

The rejection is true somewhat in Hegel's History of Philosophy. But in Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, Hegel says things like Buddha's "Nothing" can be taken as a beginning of philosophy (metaphysics) instead of Parmenides "Being". And the Taoist yin-yang expressing "Becoming".

That is true. But Hegel viewed Oriental thought in general as pre-philosophical, one might say "mystical."

Hegel was well acquitted with Western mysticism, especially German mystics, e.g., Meister Eckhart.

But Hegel also considered this pre-philosophical.

Hegel work can be viewed as the rationalization of mysticism. Mystical experience is immediate and not "understood," that is, conceptualized as ideas.

For Hegel, knowledge is the confluence of experience and understanding, in agreement with Kant's observation that experience without concepts is blind and concepts without experience is empty.

From the Preface of the Phenomenology:

Φ 6. When we state the true form of truth to be its scientific character – or, what is the same thing, when it is maintained that truth finds the medium of its existence in notions or conceptions alone – I know that this seems to contradict an idea with all its consequences which makes great pretensions and has gained widespread acceptance and conviction at the present time. A word of explanation concerning this contradiction seems, therefore, not out of place, even though at this stage it can amount to no more than a dogmatic assurance exactly like the view we are opposing. If, that is to say, truth exists merely in what, or rather exists merely as what, is called at one time intuition, at another immediate knowledge of the Absolute, Religion, Being – not being in the centre of divine love, but the very Being of this centre, of the Absolute itself – from that point of view it is rather the opposite of the notional or conceptual form which would be required for systematic philosophical exposition. The Absolute on this view is not to be grasped in conceptual form, but felt, intuited; it is not its conception, but the feeling of it and intuition of it that are to have the say and find expression.


Tom Hickey said...


Φ 7. If we consider the appearance of a claim like this in its more general setting, and look at the level which the self-conscious mind at present occupies, we shall find that self-consciousness has got beyond the substantial fullness of life, which it used to carry on in the element of thought – beyond the state of immediacy of belief, beyond the satisfaction and security arising from the assurance which consciousness possessed of being reconciled with ultimate reality and with its all-pervading presence, within as well as without. Self-conscious mind has not merely passed beyond that to the opposite extreme of insubstantial reflection of self into self, but beyond this too. It has not merely lost its essential and concrete life, it is also conscious of this loss and of the transitory finitude characteristic of its content. Turning away from the husks it has to feed on, and confessing that it lies in wickedness and sin, it reviles itself for so doing, and now desires from philosophy not so much to bring it to a knowledge of what it is, as to obtain once again through philosophy the restoration of that sense of solidity and substantiality of existence it has lost. Philosophy is thus expected not so much to meet this want by opening up the compact solidity of substantial existence, and bringing this to the light and level of self-consciousness is not so much to bring chaotic conscious life back to the orderly ways of thought, and the simplicity of the notion, as to run together what thought has divided asunder suppress the notion with its distinctions, and restore the feeling of existence. What it wants from philosophy is not so much insight as edification. The beautiful, the holy, the eternal, religion, love – these are the bait required to awaken the desire to bite: not the notion, but ecstasy, not the march of cold necessity in the subject-matter, but ferment and enthusiasm – these are to be the ways by which the wealth of the concrete substance is to be stored and increasingly extended.

Of course, it can be argued that Eastern mysticism is explained in great detail in the literature of the Vedic tradition, Buddhism, Taoism, etc.

But Hegel apparently didn't think it rose to his standard of philosophical explanation based on reason.

This is understandable in the context of the time at which Hegel was working. There was a tension between Rationalism and Romanticism, and Hegel came down the side of reason, characterizing Romanticism as being based on feeling. Feeling is, of course, subjective and the task is to integrate the subjective and objective, abstract and concrete, etc, subsuming everything under the Absolute Idea, which can be viewed one one hand as Aristotle self-thinnking thought, or God as transcendent, and other the other as the Divine Ideas being reflected and embodies in the world through human experience. This is a type of panentheism, the view that God is both transcendent and immanent.


Tom Hickey said...


I don't think that there is any doubt that Hegel was correct in the way he framed it, but my view is that denigrates so-called mysticism and Oriental traditions unnecessarily.

It is possible to recognize Hegel's huge accomplishment on the part of reason, while also holding the view that it is really mysticism as experience that prevents the entire exercise from being empty. Without that, Hegel's work is purely intellectual. One may achieve a sort of intellectual enlightenment reading Hegel, but from the POV of mysticism and Oriental thought, intellectual understand alone is the booby prize. One has only the husk and not the kernel.

Actually, Aquinas is said to have had mystical experience at the end of his short life and declared that all he had written was as chaff.

“I cannot”: Thomas Aquinas replied to an anxious inquiry about why he had abruptly ceased writing and dictating his Summa heologiae. His companion and confessor, Reginald of Piperno, afraid that overzealous study had induced insanity, insisted that he continue. “I cannot,” repeated Aquinas, “because everything that I have written seems to me chaffy.” Reginald was stunned. Within the month Aquinas decided to visit a sister but upon arrival remained withdrawn and taciturn. “Why,” asked his sister, “is he stupefied and hardly speaking to me?” Reginald explained the case: “From about the feast of St. Nicholas he has been in this state, and since then he has composed nothing.” Reginald importuned Aquinas to tell him why he refused to write and why he was stunned. After many interrogations Aquinas answered, “I adjure you by the living almighty God, and by the faith you have in our order, and by charity that you strictly promise me you will never reveal in my lifetime what I tell you. Everything that I have written seems to me chaffy in respect to those things that I have seen and have been revealed to me.” 1
— Marjorie O’Rourke Boyle, Thomas Aquinas’s Repudiation of His Opera omnia


Tom Hickey said...

Here is another Hegel quote, in which he rejects of Schelling's notion of the Absolute.

Now in the Preface to the Phenomenology what Hegel reproaches Schelling with is precisely this obliteration of the various moments in the absolute. He criticizes Schelling for causing to be swallowed up in the empty gulf of the absolute:

‘To pit this single assertion, that “in the absolute all is one” against the organized whole of determinate and complete knowledge, or of knowledge which at least aims at and demands complete development – to give out its absolute as the night in which, as we say, all cows are black – that is the very naïveté of emptiness of knowledge.’

And Hegel goes on to give a thorough analysis of immediacy, which he combats from the vantage-point of his own belief that man is the product of his own activity and so can only reach his real existence at the end and not at the starting-point of the process.

The Young Hegel. Georg Lukács 1938
Part IV. The Breach with Schelling and The Phenomenology of Mind (Jena 1803-1807)
4.1 The growing estrangement between Schelling and Hegel up to the final breach

Tom Hickey said...

This is the context in which Marx was working and the philosophical dialogue in which he is responding. Marx rejected the Absolute, which had absorbed Fichte, Schelling and Hegel as dialectical responses to Kant (whose work was a dialectical response to Hume) and replaced it with scientific materialism as the foundation.

While scientific material is accepted today by many as obvious, it was taboo until 19th century thinkers like Darwin and Marx normalized it.

So Marx's adaptation of Hegel's historical dialectic is a big deal. This is presently underappreciated with Marx having being demonized after the rise of communism to challenge capitalism.

AXEC / E.K-H said...

Tom Hickey

Schopenhauer called Hegel “A flat-headed, insipid, nauseating, illiterate charlatan.” No wonder that Hegel appealed to Marx and later on to other flat-headed philosophers like Tom Hickey.

The bad luck of philosophers is that philosophy is entirely irrelevant for economics which means for the philosopher Tom Hickey that he is in the wrong place at an economics blog.

MMT, clearly, is a program for the one-percenters.#1 Why do MMTers like Bill Mitchell and Tom Hickey demonstrably wave the Marx flag? Something is wrong here.

Marx is known as a lousy economist#2 and political agenda pusher and, most of all, for his claim that the working class will one day fully replace the capitalist class due to the law of social dialectics. Quite naturally, this sociological/historical hypothesis appeals more to the ninety-nine-percenters than to the one-percenters.

Bill Mitchell, Tom Hickey, and the rest of the sales team use Marx in order to make MMT palatable to the ninety-nine-percenters.#3, #4

An intelligent Marxist/MMTer (who is indeed as rare as a unicorn) would simply create some extra money but NOT for deficit spending, which only boosts macroeconomic profit according to the axiomatically correct Profit Law Public Deficit = Private Profit, but for continuously buying shares on Wall Street and successively taking over the control of all big corporations. No social revolution is needed. In fact, nothing is easier than to abolish capitalism.#5 Why do MMTers waste so much time with the Job Guarantee and other social programs?

Egmont Kakarot-Handtke

#1 MMT and the promotion of Wall Street socialism

#2 Karl Marx, fake scientist

#3 MMT and grassroots movements

#4 Political economics: Who hijacks British Labour?

#5 How the American working class can bring overall profits down to zero without bloody revolution