KLAVAN: Why Marxists Get Everything Wrong

The philosophy of the Marxist Left is based on a fundamental failure in logic.

Jacob Blake protesters lit cleaning truck on fire in Kenosha, Wisconsin, United States on August 24, 2020. A police shooting in the US state of Wisconsin sent a Black man into serious condition on Sunday, with the video footage of the incident triggering outrage. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The thing about the commies currently rioting in our streets is that everything they believe is the opposite of the truth. No, really: that’s actually the case. At the heart of their General Misunderstanding of Everything is a dictum from Chapter 2 of Karl Marx’s and Friedrich Engels’s Communist Manifesto: “the theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property.”

When all property is held in common, Marx and Engels argued, property “loses its class character,” meaning essentially that the use of wealth to oppress certain underprivileged groups will cease and an age of universal brotherhood will begin. Just give everything to the state, and true equality will break forth like the dawn!

This is the theory currently motivating so many people to tear American cities apart. Nikole Hannah-Jones, author of the New York Times’s 1619 Project, argued on CBS that the destruction of private property is “not violence” but rather a means for BLM rioters to achieve justice. When a group of insurrectionists seized an “autonomous” portion of Seattle’s Capitol Hill and named it the CHAZ/CHOP, VOX breathlessly advertised the program as one of “free political speech, co-ops, and community gardens.”

The people burning our cities down are all, however vaguely or subconsciously, seduced by the impossible Communist dream of a future in which everything belongs to everyone.

In fact, as has become readily apparent, the abolition of private property is not a precondition for the Age of Aquarius but a recipe for misery, resentment, and wanton violence. The reasons for this would already have been perfectly clear to our revolutionary knuckleheads if they had read their Aristotle.

When the ancient Greek philosopher Plato argued in his Republic that a perfectly just society should be one in which all things are owned in common, his student Aristotle took issue. He wrote in Book 2 of his Politics that

Property that is common to the greatest number of owners receives the least attention; men care most for their private possessions, and for what they own in common less, or only so far as it falls to their own individual share for in addition to the other reasons, they think less of it on the ground that someone else is thinking about it… [This] results in each citizen’s having a thousand sons, and these do not belong to them as individuals but any child is equally the son of anyone, so that all alike will regard them with indifference. 

In this one paragraph, Aristotle destroyed Marx 2000 years before he was even born.

What the Greeks came to understand through their philosophical tradition is this: property isn’t just stuff. It’s part of who we are and how we express ourselves in the world. Making something our own — caring for it as our own responsibility and no one else’s — is an act of love. Give everything to everyone, and that love is stretched thin, diluted like a drop of wine in a vast ocean of water.

This observation was carried forward in the Western tradition and became a core part of the American founding. James Madison, in his essay on “Property,” would observe that only societies which allow individuals to keep what they own — their own land, their own wealth, their own opinions, their own relationships — can be truly just. Much later, in 1833, the economist William Forster Lloyd would observe what became known as the “tragedy of the commons”: all property held in common is doomed to mismanagement unless someone regulates it.

This of course is always the tortured punch line of the joke which is Communism: once we all own everything, we must submit in everything to the judgment of state overseers, or face lawlessness and disaster.

The BLM and Antifa mobs currently tearing down buildings and statues think they’ve come up with some new idea. In fact all they’ve come up with is an ancient and profound misunderstanding about how human life, labor, and affection work. This would be hilarious if it weren’t currently threatening to unmake everything that America is, and everything that the West holds dear.

Spencer Klavan is host of the Young Heretics podcast and assistant editor of the Claremont Review of Booksand The American Mind. He can be reached on Twitter at @SpencerKlavan.

More from Spencer Klavan: The Lockdown Left Has No Idea How Life Works

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