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Humanism and Karl Marx

Posted on February 16, 2020 — 5 Minutes Read

Most read of the thoughts and writings of Karl Marx, one of the most influential revolutionaries in the 19th century, whose magnum opus, Das Kapital and The Communist Manifesto forever changed the world for better or worse since their emergence, as a disputed economic project and a failed revolutionary enterprise. Little do people realise that Marx was first and foremost a philosopher and his economic and political project was founded upon a humanistic principle in the Germanic tradition that dates as far back as to the beginning of the Enlightenment, in line with and in succession of the thoughts and writings of the much acclaimed Immanuel Kant and Federick Nietzsche.

The Enlightenment was an age of wonder and accomplishment beginning as early as in the 17th century, with Sir Isaac Newton gifting the world the scientific method in his renowned Principia Mathematica, which embarked subsequent philosophical and scientific inquiries in arts and sciences that have advanced human knowledge and have curated the worldview of today. One notion that manifests during this intellectual journey lasting for hundreds of years is the decadence of religious authority, and of religious ground for meaning, that Federick Nietzsch names as the death of God. Rise, during which, are centuries of philosophical inquiries, for an understanding of and a resolution for this emerging groundlessness, that will in time edge humanity towards the vacuum of nihilism. One attempt that emerges, in light of the negative knowledge that a universal and timeless value system, be it of the doctrine of God or of science, or of a set of virtues or principles formulated by either a sublimation of the instrument of logic or any other ahistorical and acultural means is unattainable, evident of the fall of the religious ground of meaning which embarked the inquires in the first place, is to ground value instead in those who are capable of its bestowment and ascription. This emerging notion of value grounded in men, who act to create new values and meaning, in centuries of philosophical cultivation, becomes the humanistic principle, that underpins much of the worldview then and now. Karl Marx, in line with and in succession of this philosophical tradition, and in light of the emerging problem of the alienation and exploitation of men by capitalism and its mode of production, advances as such that the economic value of a good or service is grounded in labour, that is the creative capacity of men, on which his economic and political enterprise, his conception of the labour theory of value, and his teleological worldview of a transition to socialism and an eventual progression toward communism, are founded.

This underlying humanistic principle of socialism and communism is in distinction with that of capitalism, which on the other hand grounds value in artificial and capitalistic constructs, that unbeknown to most at the time, exhibit the same problems plaguing the religious authority in the first place. Artificial and capitalistic constructs of any kind may cease to be perceived of value and capitalism as such may fail as an ideological religion, in light of new developments in economics or other sciences that advocate a competing and more compelling value system, in a fashion similar to the fall of religious authority as an spiritual religion during the Enlightenment. With the ground of value resting on a doctrine of a sublimation of the instrument of market, that is characteristic of modern capitalism, one may mistake that which is of no market or monetary value for that which is of no value or meaning, to a point today where market currency becomes the sole measure of all things. The philosophical and humanistic principle underlying the thoughts and writing of Marx is free of these problems nonetheless, for it affirms value in the creative capacity of men, which, insofar as value is to be perceived by men, will derive value from our capability of value bestowment and ascription. This distinctive nature of the humanistic principle underlying the philosophy of Marx is often overlooked and underappreciated however, to a point when a zero Euro banknote was printed by the Trier Tourism and Marketing office in commemoration of Marx’s 200th birthday, some has gone as far as to assert that the note was an emblem that his thoughts and writings are penniless, which in full irony is evident of the problematic misalignment of value to market currency that is plaguing the modern time.

The mispredictions in the economic developments of his time, the flaws of his construct of the socialist and communist economies, and the misconception of the economy as a complex system that is irresponsive to predictions, which capitalism had proven wrong by dynamically incorporating features such as fiscal intervention and antitrust regulations etc. over the years that rescued it from collapse, are without a doubt of much trouble to a full appreciation of the humanistic principle underpinning the enterprise of Marx, his relentless and rigorous defence of a notion of value grounded in those who are capable of its bestowment and ascription, in our labour and our creative capacity, should nonetheless be as much honoured for their merits and contributions.