In the 1960s, large-format, hardbound, popular periodicals of history, culture, and ideas were common. American Heritage was one. Horizon was another. I pick these up whenever I can. They and other books of old are becoming the detritus of a society hurrying towards Digitism.
Last month I found an old copy of Horizon, from exactly half a century before: Winter 1969. A theme in the issue is things, and so there is an article by British historian John W. Burrow on the materialist yet anti-thingist Karl Marx. From the opening paragraph:
We are used to seeing [Marx] in the guise of an angry prophet, beard bristling with outrage at the iniquities of his opponents [. . .]. The beards of the saints of European communism seem a part of their roles: Marx's leonine and denuciatory; Engel's brisk and worldly; Lenin's a jutting icebreaker, forging forward toward the happy land over the always-receding horizon. (p. 52)
Burrow's thesis is that Marx was in his youth a romantic and an idealist, and only later did his "youthful fervor" become "transmuted into scientific rigor." (p. 52) (I would have written pseudoscientific, but then this wasn't my article.) Anyway, in that opening paragraph are the words prophet and saints. There is more religious imagery elsewhere in the article, here for example:
Paris [in 1848] was revered by young men as the holy city of revolution. As the Russian socialist Aleksandr Herzen put it, "I entered the city with reverence, as men used to enter Jerusalem or Rome." (p. 52)
Then there are these words: zeal, visionary, apocalyptic, ecumenical, human spirit, godlike creative power, and so on, suggesting as we have since seen for ourselves that although Marxism may have been the religion of one man in the nineteenth century, it became in the twentieth one of millions of men who would murder their fellow men by the millions, too, because their god required it. Now, in the twenty-first, we have become so steeped in Marxism that we don't even know anymore that what we want and have is Marxist, and because it is Marxist, also ruinous, oppressive, and murderous in the extreme. Having become materialists and believing ourselves gods or at least godlike in our power and wisdom, we believe also that we are in possession of a clear vision of the fundamentals of the universe: this is our gnosis.
Anyway, I have sensed for a long time that Marx longed for the days of feudalism (days in which he would no doubt have been an aristocrat due to his obvious and demonstrable superiority over his fellow men). Now I have found the first direct indication that this was so:
From the ringing opening [of the Communist Manifesto] [. . .] to the final celebrated call to action [. . .], the idea is hammered home that capitalism is not the permanent state of mankind but simply the latest phase of historical development. The bourgeoisie is not respectable and law-abiding; it is dynamic and rapacious; it has won its way to power by smashing the ancient privileged regime of feudalism. (p. 54)
I have sensed also that people who call themselves or consider themselves progressive, leftist, or socialist are actually together simply another kind of reactionary or counterrevolutionary. They want a return to a feudal society in which there are a few aristocrats on top (they themselves) and masses of ignorant serfs below them, dependent upon them and loyal to them under threat of being killed, starved, or imprisoned. The real historical revolution, though, seems to have been liberal, middle-class, and towards economic and political freedom. As reactionaries or counterrevolutionaries, leftists and socialists hate the middle class as usurpers of the power, position, and prestige that they see as properly their own. And because we no longer have a hereditary aristocracy, ours has become intellectual (or pseudo-intellectual). I think this as much as anything explains the extreme and vicious hatred our self-appointed aristocracy feels towards our current president. I sense that they see him naturally as not one of them: he is a middle-class usurper who has broken down the gates of the palace and tracked mud and grease on the spotlessly white carpet and tile within. Or, in Burrows' words, he is "not respectable and law-abiding" (as they keep harping, "No one is above the law"). He is "dynamic and rapacious" (whereas they are static and rapacious). Like Marx and so many other progressives, leftists, socialists, and statists, this aristocracy has emanated from the middle class and yet hates the middle class, especially its champions and exemplars. Our aristocracy should probably get used to the usurper in the White House, though, because it looks like he'll be there for another four years come November.
One more thing: if Marxism and its associated belief systems really do hearken back to the days of feudalism, then that's only one more piece of evidence that we continue to live in the aftermath of the fall of the Roman Empire. More than that, maybe we can say that the epoch of the Roman Empire is the central event of human history.
Original text copyright 2020 Terence E. Hanley