Progress, More Progress
To the Editor:
I think that the dispute [“Affluence,” January] between Ernest van den Haag and his Marxist critics [Lewis Coser and Ben Seligman] gets to the heart of the issue. The nature of Progress (especially Marxist hyper-Progress) seems to me that to which everything else in the world situation today is relative. . . . The problem is how to stop the race of Progress itself, i.e., how to level off and stabilize all these trends of inhumanist automatism—over-industrialization, over-urbanization, under-conservation, over-population, over-education, over-organization (totalitarianism) . It is all one complex, and the solution to it, and to the totalitarian problem, are theoretically the same.
But I think Mr. van den Haag’s conjecture—that people don’t want to give up mass production—is not quite on target. In the first place, it’s not a question of mass production as such or alone, but of all the other developments as well; in the second place, I don’t think it is necessary to “give up” mass production but merely to put an end to its endlessness (precisely where, is, of course, a matter upon which many views are possible—but the principle is all-essential); in the third place, I doubt that the problem is that the people don’t want to do this, so much as the intellectuals, and primarily the contemporary liberal-Marxist ideocracy. I agree, as a matter of fact, with the Coser-Seligman implication (explicated by van den Haag) that the people don’t really know a priori what they do want politically—this has been true since the beginning of civilization, or since the Fall. I also agree with Mr. van den Haag when he says, more or less conceding this point, that the judgment of the people would, however, be better than that of “the government.” . . . This formal opposition set up between people and government is perhaps not a necessary one, but one to a large extent based upon the conflict of motive inherent in Progress itself. That is, the conflict and mistrust might be much less were the government founded upon a different view of Progress.
It is difficult to understand how Mr. van den Haag could support the pernicious notion of disposing of putative classroom or teacher shortages by holding school on Saturdays—an idea worthy of Scrooge (or am I thinking of Gradgrind?). Here he appears to be yielding to the fallacy he had pointed out in Coser and Seligman, that “more” education would be better—though it may be that he is only trying to save some money. Well, I myself believe we need “more education” about as badly as a moose needs a hatrack (that is, as an ideological objective: in terms of competitive power politics, it may be that we do “need” more education and more science—the same way we “need” more atom bombs). . . . There has in recent years been some talk of reducing the industrial work week to four days, and I fail to see why this same privilege should not be extended to the kids. Or rather, I do see why—it is because we can be pretty sure, under the present circumstances, that adults would not abuse the extra time. That is, they would buy and consume more, more automobiles and TV sets; or, on the other hand, they would read and write more articles for the intellectual journals denouncing the evils of mass culture. In other words, civilization would be safe. But you can’t trust kids to do this—they are just as likely to spend the whole day playing pitch-penny with a pile of bottle-caps—and how would we milk any Progress out of that? (If this obnoxious idea gains any further ground, I am going to propose the formation of the Huck Finn Left, Center, and Right Revolutionary and Monday-Off Party.)
Marxism, so far from overcoming the “competitiveness” of capitalism (read: pressure upon au naturel freedom), doubles it and is better described as “hypercapitalism” than “socialism.” (Any system, including capitalism, is perforce “social.”) Getting rid of the wicked capitalists has not and will in no way improve the situation—this is the empirical fact that can be observed. Although waxing in power, and although it may yet roll over us, Marxism no longer attracts either genuine intellect or sensibility. It is the conservatism of our time, and “radical” in a purely verbal or Orwellian sense.
True radicalism may be found variously, almost at random, to the left or to the right, above or below, but certainly not in Marxism, para-Marxism, quasi-Marxism, crypto-Marxism, or neo-Marxism. No matter how you slice it—and whether or not you sauce it with “humanism”—or “humanismo”—it’s still Marxism. And it’s still based on the delusion that there is nothing wrong with Progress that doing more of it, and faster, won’t cure.
New York City