Karl Marx is the muse behind some of today’s worse political thinking. Not that the people who echo his eat-the-rich, conflict-based social vision have ever read him. Instead, his bad ideas have trickled down by the generations in a way that echo the large themes but not the specifics of his analysis. It all just keeps reappearing: the demonization of the capitalist class, the supposed inherent conflict between workers and owners, the solution of pillaging those with profit, the claims that capitalism will lead to its own doom, and so on.
What’s actually amusing, or tragic, when you take the slog through his works are the many mistakes he keeps making. Of course there is the labor theory of value that pervades his work. But there’s also his failed predictions that stem from his complete misunderstanding of how the competitive process checks power and his anticipated but never-realized progressive impoverishment of the working class. Finally, there is a very strange and stubborn refusal to answer the core question: what precisely are you suggesting replace capitalism? We need to know so that we can do a comparative analysis.
Marx is usually said to be part of the “progressive” tradition but E.C. Harwood was more correct: he is rightly grouped with a large range of thinkers more correctly thought of as counterrevolutionary. The revolution in this case was freedom against despotism, a freedom that unleashed prosperity and human flourishing as never before. Marx reacted against that freedom and called for its overthrow. He claimed he wasn’t making history but merely embracing what was baked into the historical dialectic, which is a flim-flammy way to avoid having to argue for his position.
The question is why would the American Institute for Economic Research, which has championed a proper appreciation of markets since its founding in 1933, set out to publish Karl Marx? To encourage people to read him, see the errors, learn to recognize and refute the arguments, and battle the problem with real knowledge and awareness. Most of the works of Marx have been published with fawning introductions and extra material. Our edition deals more realistically with Marx even as we let Marx speak for himself.
The whole project came about in conjunction with our film that pits Marx against Ludwig von Mises in a rap battle. They take on all essential issues in history and theory. We tried to be fair to both thinkers. As part of this, I edited a volume I believe is long overdue. I collected what are really my own favorite essays by Mises that I find most revealing and inspiring, some of them often overlooked. The result was The Best of Ludwig von Mises.
It was our president Edward Stringham who first suggested that we do the same for Marx, an idea that seemed crazy at first but grew on me over the weeks. Then I got together with Phil Magness and we began sorting through the endless piles of his writings to find the most important ones that reveal his core teaching. Phil wrote the absolutely brilliant introduction.
It was late one night when Edward had the completely brilliant idea of collecting endorsements of the content from V.I. Lenin, Josef Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Fidel Castro, all of whom had fawning praise for the master. The introduction is by Phil himself. The result is the first serious book of Marx’s writings that come with a realistic and serious critique as part of letting him tell his own story. It could be useful in colleges around the world, and be quite the topic of conversation at dinner parties.
Thus does AIER give you: The Best of Karl Marx.
For my own part, I’ve been an anti-Marxist as long as I can remember but never bothered to look carefully at his writings. This is a mistake. Reading him in the original English translations as I did in the preparation of this book strengthened my convictions. Now I’m in a much better position to recognize the real source of so many modern political arguments that I otherwise find absurd on their face. Reading the source helps you find the root errors and not get buffeted about by fake arguments that turn up on the news daily. In general, this task just granted me more confidence in a similar way that reading the right-Hegelians did.
More knowledge is always a good thing.