June 8, 2023 Reading Time: 3 minutes

I like and admire James Lindsay’s talk. I write as a friendly critic whose exposure to Lindsay has only been some videos and podcasts. I’ve not delved into his books, but  I hope to.

James Lindsay presents varieties of leftism as expressions of Marxism. He calls Marxism the “genus” and all the varieties “species.” 

Lindsay seems to anchor his narrative in Marxism. His most recent book is The Marxification of Education (2022), and earlier in 2022 he released Race Marxism

If Lindsay is relating latter-day varieties of leftism to Marxism, what does he relate Marxism to? It’s fine to say that E flowed from D, but that does prompt the question: What did D flow from?

He says that he borrows the genus-species vocabulary from biology. If you look at the biological taxonomic rank, you see that genus has stuff above it:

Source: Wikipedia Taxonomic Rank page

Lindsay says that Marxism is the genus, and that the later varieties of leftism are the species. That prompts the question: If Marxism is a genus, what is above it?

The theorist here is called to explain why Marxism found the traction it did. There must have been things in the culture or in human nature that led people to take up Marxist verbalisms and ideas when they came along (or sometime later).

Let’s say you identify something above Marxism. Let’s call that higher-order thing X.

Now, why should the rank be?:

X  ⊃  Marxism ⊃  each of the various Marxist species

(The expression A ⊃ B means that B is a subset of A.)

Maybe it should be?:

X  ⊃  each of the various X species (including Marxism)

I could be wrong, but my impression is that the woke, the WEF, Stephen Colbert, Paul Krugman, Justin Trudeau, Janet Yellen, Rachel Maddow, and the rest do not tend to cite Marx. And I don’t think that is just concealment. I doubt whether many of them have read much Marx. They surely heard lectures on Marx in a few college classes and were assigned Marxist readings—among hundreds of other readings and hundreds of other lectures. My impression is that, by and large, they do not sustain any active interest in Marx’s writings. Marx is not someone they are serious about, and I don’t think that Marx and Marxism, in particular, are crucial to their outlook and selfhood. They could forget about Marx and carry on without missing a beat, I think.

Hannah Arendt said that with each generation, we face invasion by barbarians—we call them our children. Our children are born with certain tendencies towards ways of understanding the world and making meaning for themselves from the world. Unless they become civilized, they will become full-grown barbarians. It is only by properly acculturating our children to the modern world that they can avoid the biases and pitfalls of certain bents and mentalities they start off with.

The Hannah Arendt saying reminds us that collectivism may not depend in a serious way on theorizing or philosophizing. All that collectivism needs to thrive is the destruction of cultural traditions, including of philosophy and religion, that check it. If it can destroy civilization’s philosophies and religions, it wins. And we all lose.

Arendt also wrote: “The aim of totalitarian education has never been to instill convictions but to destroy the capacity to form any.”

What was it that a Frenchman writing in the 1830s warned us of? Wasn’t it X?

What was it that another Frenchman (or Genevan) writing between 1750 and 1778, thus beginning decades before Karl Marx’s parents were born, dangled before irresponsible minds? Wasn’t it X?

X goes way back. Presenting Marxism as a point of origin prevents us from seeing what we are really dealing with.

Again, I write as a friendly critic based on limited exposure to Lindsay’s work. Even if Lindsay accepted the points here, the presentation in the video would need mere tweaks. Perhaps Lindsay could make X the genus and introduce the concepts of subgenus or subspecies to sort out Marxism and various leftist strains. Or he could put Marxism on the same level, but first and foremost since sometime around the turn of the 20th century. He could say he’s focusing on patterns, similitudes, since Marx, to show that the leftist strains are alike, and indeed spell evils that are socialistic and hence despotic and inhumane.

The talk is really good, and I hope you watch it in full. I am grateful to Lindsay for his work, which seems to be consistently courageous, learned, and instructive.

But it didn’t begin with Marx. Marx should be seen as but one—historically salient, to be sure—irresponsible human indulging perennial mentalities and bents that deny modern realities.

Daniel B. Klein

Daniel B Klein

Daniel Klein is professor of economics and JIN Chair at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, where he leads a program in Adam Smith, and author of Smithian Morals.

He is also associate fellow at the Ratio Institute (Stockholm), research fellow at the Independent Institute, and chief editor of Econ Journal Watch.

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