The Marxist threat to liberalism

The Challenge of Marxism, by Yoram Hazony, Quillette, August 16, 2020, is an insightful essay on how Marxism is an affront to society as a whole, and specifically to institutional liberalism.

The essay is well worth reading in its entirety, as the author makes a number of insightful observations. Hazony notes that today, traditional, non-Marxist - that is, moderate - liberals are unable to counter the Marxist threat. For example, liberal Democrat governors and mayors find themselves unwilling or unable to curtail Marxist Antifa and Black Lives Matter riots in their cities. Hazony begins:

For a generation after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, most Americans and Europeans regarded Marxism as an enemy that had been defeated once and for all. But they were wrong. A mere 30 years later, Marxism is back, and making an astonishingly successful bid to seize control of the most important American media companies, universities and schools, major corporations and philanthropic organizations, and even the courts, the government bureaucracy, and some churches. As American cities succumb to rioting, arson, and looting, it appears as though the liberal custodians of many of these institutions—from the New York Times to Princeton University—have despaired of regaining control of them, and are instead adopting a policy of accommodation. That is, they are attempting to appease their Marxist employees by giving in to some of their demands in the hope of not being swept away entirely.

We don’t know what will happen for certain. But based on the experience of recent years, we can venture a pretty good guess. Institutional liberalism lacks the resources to contend with this threat. Liberalism is being expelled from its former strongholds, and the hegemony of liberal ideas, as we have known it since the 1960s, will end. Anti-Marxist liberals are about to find themselves in much the same situation that has characterized conservatives, nationalists, and Christians for some time now: They are about to find themselves in the opposition....

Hazony states that the new Marxists will not be content until they have seized the Democrat Party and reduced the Republican Party to ineffectiveness. Marxists today refrain from using traditional Marxist terms such as bourgeoisie, proletariat, class struggle, alienation of labor, commodity fetishism. "Instead, they disorient their opponents by referring to their beliefs with a shifting vocabulary of terms, including "the Left," "Progressivism," "Social Justice," "Anti-Racism," "Anti-Fascism," "Black Lives Matter," "Critical Race Theory," "Identity Politics," "Political Correctness," "Wokeness," and more."

Hazony then reviews four points of the Marxist framework, which divides groups into the oppressor and the oppressed. He explains false consciousness, where liberal businessmen, politicians, lawyers, and intellectuals are unaware that they are oppressors. Note the distinct parallel with today's Marxist allegations of "systematic racism".

Marx espoused a revolutionary reconstitution of society, where the oppressed underclass takes control of the state, presumably but inexplicably eliminating class antagonisms. Hazony writes that:

Liberal societies have repeatedly proved themselves vulnerable to Marxism, and now we are seeing with our own eyes how the greatest liberal institutions in the world are being handed over to Marxists and their allies.

Marx’s principal insight is the recognition that the categories liberals use to construct their theory of political reality (liberty, equality, rights, and consent) are insufficient for understanding the political domain. They are insufficient because the liberal picture of the political world leaves out two phenomena that are, according to Marx, absolutely central to human political experience: The fact that people invariably form cohesive classes or groups; and the fact that these classes or groups invariably oppress or exploit one another, with the state itself functioning as an instrument of the oppressor class.

Hazony explains the reason Marxist ideas are so attractive:

In every society, there will always be plenty of people who have reason to feel they’ve been oppressed or exploited. Some of these claims will be worthy of remedy and some less so. But virtually all of them are susceptible to a Marxist interpretation, which shows how they result from systematic oppression by the dominant classes, and justifies responding with outrage and violence....

Despite having had more than 150 years to work on it, liberalism still hasn’t found a way to persuasively address the challenge posed by Marx’s thought.

Hazony then examines fatal flaws of Marxism. One is the question of how the underclass, after overthrowing its oppressors, will handle its newfound power. Another flaw is that group power relationships may function well in a stable, conservative society. Specifically,

The fact that the Marxist framework presupposes a relationship of oppressor and oppressed leads to the second great difficulty, which is the assumption that every society is so exploitative that it must be heading toward the overthrow of the dominant class or group. But if it is possible for weaker groups to benefit from their position, and not just to be oppressed by it, then we have arrived at the possibility of a conservative society: One in which there is a dominant class or loyalty group (or coalition of groups), which seeks to balance the benefits and the burdens of the existing order so as to avoid actual oppression. In such a case, the overthrow and destruction of the dominant group may not be necessary.

Hazony then explains "the dance of liberalism and Marxism" in which liberalism has a tendency to concede power to Marxists:

Enlightenment liberals observe that inherited traditions are always flawed or unjust in certain ways, and for this reason they feel justified in setting inherited tradition aside and appealing directly to abstract principles such as freedom and equality. The trouble is, there is no such thing as a society in which everyone is free and equal in all ways. Even in a liberal society, there will always be countless ways in which a given class or group may be unfree or unequal with respect to the others. And since this is so, Marxists will always be able to say that some or all of these instances of unfreedom and inequality are instances of oppression.

The endless dance proceeds as:

1. Liberals espouse reason, not tradition, as the basis of individual rights.

2. Marxists point to genuine instances of inequality, demanding new rights.

3. Liberals adopt some of the Marxists' demands.


Note that the dance only proceeds in one direction.

A key point is that liberals rely on inherited, traditional concepts of freedom and equality, yet they do not acknowledge this dependency:

In other words, the conflict between liberalism and its Marxist critics is one between a dominant class or group wishing to conserve its traditions (liberals), and a revolutionary group (Marxists) combining critical reasoning with a willingness to jettison all inherited constraints to overthrow these traditions. But while Marxists know very well that their aim is to destroy the intellectual and cultural traditions that are holding liberalism in place, their liberal opponents for the most part refuse to engage in the kind of conservatism that would be needed to defend their traditions and strengthen them.

Hazony then points that violent conflict between political classes has been replaced by non-violent rivalry between political parties, which requires at least two political parties who respect the legitimacy of the other party. He continues:

But legitimacy is one of those traditional political concepts that Marxist criticism is now on the verge of destroying. From the Marxist point of view, our inherited concept of legitimacy is nothing more than an instrument the ruling classes use to perpetuate injustice and oppression... And this means that the Marxist political framework cannot co-exist with democratic government....

The Marxists who have seized control of the means of producing and disseminating ideas in America cannot, without betraying their cause, confer legitimacy on any conservative government....

But the Marxists will not be appeased because what they’re after is the conquest of liberalism itself—already happening as they persuade liberals to abandon their traditional two-party conception of political legitimacy, and with it their commitment to a democratic regime.

Hazony concludes that alternatives that have existed a few years ago are no longer available:

Liberals will have to choose between two alternatives: either they will submit to the Marxists, and help them bring democracy in America to an end. Or they will assemble a pro-democracy alliance with conservatives. There aren’t any other choices.

Let's hope they choose wisely. After all, is there a single example where Marxism has worked?


  Listen to podcast with Yoram Hazony: Meet the New Marxism, by Scott Johnson, Powerline, August 24, 2020. Direct link to podcast: Conservative intellectual Yoram Hazony talks to Toby Young on the Marxist takeover of liberal institutions.

Yes, This Is a Revolution, by Abe Greenwald, Commentary, August 25, 2020. See excerpts.

Leftism - a Hegelian spiral toward Marxism

The Political Spectrum