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Marx’s Open-Ended Critique

Within states, also, laissez-faire capitalism had exacerbated class conflicts, while the decline of religious belief had undermined traditional solidarity. And in , when a general European war broke out, the peoples, contrary to the hopes of cosmopolitan revolutionaries, rallied behind their national governments. When the victorious powers failed to promote world order through the League of Nations , a second global conflict, even more horrific than the first, ensued, during which were developed weapons so destructive as to threaten life everywhere.

In the aftermath of these catastrophes and the worldwide revulsion they occasioned, not least against the European colonial powers, various mainstreams of 20th-century political philosophy may be discerned. First, Marxism continued to inspire revolutionary doctrines as well as more-sober political and cultural analyses, some relying on insights borrowed from psychoanalytic theory.


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Second, liberalism continued to be developed and refined, partly in response to libertarian and communitarian critiques. Third, a line of thought pursued by Michel Foucault and later postmodern philosophers questioned the possibility of objectively valid political values and genuinely neutral political institutions. And fourth, some feminist philosophers argued that the historical domination of men over women in the political and economic spheres reflects the inherently oppressive nature of heterosexual relationships.

The major proletarian revolutions, for example, came not in economically advanced countries but in economically underdeveloped ones Russia and China , and the supposedly proletarian dictatorships they produced, far from withering away or being diminished by inexorable economic trends, became even more powerful and oppressive than the governments they replaced. Soviet and eastern European communism eventually collapsed in failure in —91, to be replaced in Russia by a quasi-democratic capitalist oligarchy.

Critical Theory: International Relations' Engagement With the Frankfurt School and Marxism

Already in What Is to Be Done? In he further adapted theory to the times. His New Economic Policy sanctioned the development of a class of prosperous kulak peasantry to keep the economy viable. For Lenin always thought in terms of world revolution, and, in spite of the failure of the Marxists in central Europe and the defeat of the Red armies in Poland, he died in the expectation of a global sequel.

Thus, in Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism , he had extended the class war into an inevitable conflict between European imperialism and the colonial peoples involved.

He had been influenced by the English historian J. But, as observed by Classical, medieval, and modern constitutionalist political philosophers, authoritarian regimes suffer the tensions of all autocracies.

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The Italian communist philosopher Antonio Gramsci deployed a vivid rhetorical talent in attacking existing society. Gramsci was alarmed that the proletariat was being assimilated by the capitalist order. He took his stand on the already obsolescent Marxist doctrine of irreconcilable class war between bourgeois and proletariat.


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We must be ready to fight it because it blurs the clear separation of classes. Not only would parliamentary democracy and established law be unmasked, but culture too would be transformed. Gramsci insisted that the old culture should be destroyed and that education should be wrenched from the grip of the ruling classes and the church. But this militant revolutionary was also a utopian. Gramsci was arrested by the Fascist government of Benito Mussolini in and spent the next 11 years in prison; he died shortly after his release for medical care in Critical theory, a broad-based Marxist-oriented approach to the study of society, was first developed in the s by the philosophers Max Horkheimer , Theodor Adorno , and Herbert Marcuse at the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt, Ger.

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They and other members of the Frankfurt School , as this group came to be called, fled Germany after the Nazis came to power in The institute was relocated to Columbia University in the United States and remained there until , when it was reestablished in Frankfurt. The question initially addressed by critical theorists was why the working classes in advanced capitalist countries were generally unmotivated to press for radical social change in their own interests. They attempted to develop a theory of capitalist social relations and to analyze the various forms of cultural and ideological oppression arising from them.

They also undertook major studies of fascism and later of dictatorial communist regimes.

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After World War II , during the era of the Cold War , critical theorists viewed the world as divided between two inherently oppressive models of social development. In these historical circumstances, questions concerning human liberation—what it consists of and how it can be attained—seemed especially urgent. In Dialectic of Enlightenment , Horkheimer and Adorno argued that the celebration of reason by thinkers of the 18th-century Enlightenment had led to the development of technologically sophisticated but oppressive and inhumane modes of governance, exemplified in the 20th century by fascism and totalitarianism.

This open-endedness of historical materialism has long been understood by the most critical thinkers—Marxists and non-Marxists alike—and has been the basis for extensions of its dialectical vision made by such revolutionary thinkers as V. Many of these were completed after the publication of Capital and reveal his efforts to extend his analysis in various areas, particularly through the incorporation of natural science. His studies were such as to indicate the need constantly to transform his provisional hypotheses in light of changing evidence.

All of this has contributed to the current rapid development of Marxian theory. Dialectical analysis alone thus could not provide any meaningful answers independent of empirical-historical research. Likewise, as Marx was among the first to discover, materialism demanded an open-systems theory perspective, preventing any simple closure or all-encompassing universal laws. These loose ends in historical-materialist analysis are giving rise to the revolutions now taking place in various domains of Marxian theory, including value-form analysis, social-reproduction theory, the critique of racial capitalism, and Marxian ecology.

Together with the ongoing revolutionizing of theory and practice regarding the state and revolution in the global South—inspired in part by the merging of historical materialism with various vernacular revolutionary traditions—these trends point to the emergence of a new and even more radical Marxism for the twenty-first century. In the idealist argument, those historical-material details that cannot simply be used to support the abstract theoretical structure are often treated as merely contingent, to be discarded altogether.

It is thus essentially idealist—albeit not in the sense of absolute idealism. Its characteristic reductionism is often merely a means of forcing organic reality onto a Procrustean bed, disfiguring it in the process. The transformation of an idealist dialectic into a materialist one was no such simple procedure. In contrast to an idealist dialectic, where thought is paramount and reality simply conforms to dialectical logic through the complex relations of an identical subject-object, a materialist dialectic places primacy on real-world mediations that have no sufficient a priori basis in pure thought.

In its more concrete stages, by contrast, his work took the contingent fully into account as reflecting the force of change in history.

Dialectic Critical Realism: Grounded Values and Reflexivity in Social Science Research

None of this, of course, licensed an intellectual free-for-all. He accomplished this by adapting the concept of metabolism, drawing on the works of his friend the German physician Roland Daniels and leading German chemist Justus von Liebig, but also by building on the theoretical breakthroughs in physics in his time. For Marx, the relation between nature and society was a reciprocal one, a unity of seeming opposites, materially mediated through the social-ecological metabolism.

For Marx, such conclusions were the product of a consistent materialism. Otherwise there would be no change. On the day when concepts and reality completely coincide in the organic world development comes to an end. Humans are objective beings, and hence historical beings.