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Weekend Ponderance

Marx famously said:

The bourgeoisie has subjected the country to the rule of the towns. It has created enormous cities, has greatly increased the urban population as compared with the rural, and has thus rescued a considerable part of the population from the idiocy of rural life. Just as it has made the country dependent on the towns, so it has made barbarian and semi-barbarian countries dependent on the civilised ones, nations of peasants on nations of bourgeois, the East on the West.

Now, the translation from the original is disputed – some argue that “idiocy” really should be “isolation.” But my print copy, the one which all of us read for sure, has the term “idiocy.”

Isn’t it more than ironic that the ONLY communist revolutions happened to have occurred in poor, rural places and not the middle-class urban demos’ that Marx predicted?

3 Responses to “Weekend Ponderance”

  1. Graham Peterson says:

    Favorite topic of mine; sorry for the long note.

    Marx was really confused/conflicted about modernization. He thought it was a good thing, people urbanizing and using technology, but thought that they were being disenfranchised at the same time by having property taken from them. I think his basic intuition, like most of the basic intuition that his predecessors held, was “we can keep the technology and get rid of the money, exchange, and own things collectively.” Well that failed, badly.

    You really see this same tension in a lot of the sociology, critical theory, and so forth that followed Marx. Nobody except the hippies wants to go back to small indigenous communities. Market critical theorists seem to fundamentally recognize the beneficence of technological progress, and on this count they agree (implicitly) with economists.

    I think what really bothers the social critics, versus the analyzers of “solved political problems [economists in selecting incentive compatible social situations to study],” is that they sense modernization brings heaps more social problems. But I think there’s some kind of paradox of rising expectations that underpins the whole hunt for social problems — it is precisely the welfare improvements that technological progress produces which casts new light on problems technology and society has yet to solve.

    I think the fundamental resolution in this tension will come in persuading people that increasing social mobility, existential fulfillment, community cohesion, creativity, violence reduction, and so forth are worthwhile tradeoffs for the inevitable inequality and therefore envy we continue to observe. Throwing the failures of government intervention in these people’s faces is just not going to cut it.

  2. Graham Peterson says:

    Oh, Marx also bashes the luddites in Capital. And talks at length, apparently, in Grunderisse, about the benefits of technology, and wants to salvage that but get rid of the unfreedom of wage labor (some unfreedom!) and differential autonomy as a result of income inequality (an inevitability in any society).

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