Thursday, October 22, 2009

In Defense of Theory-or Ignorance Never Yet Helped Anybody

Written by Alan Woods
Thursday, 15 October 2009

In 1846 Weitling complained that the “intellectuals” Marx and Engels wrote only about obscure matters of no interest to the workers. Marx angrily responded with the following words, “Ignorance never yet helped anybody.” Marx’s response is as valid today as it was then.

Read the rest of the post here.



Craig Bardo said...

Obama would argue, though not a Christian, faith without works is dead. He and Weitling have the same spirit. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Marx's theory, nothing! That is, until it moves from paper to practice.

Surprisingly, the author makes no mention of the tightest theorist, Gramsci.

Frank Partisan said...

CB: The topic isn't which philosopher do you find most agreement. It is why do we need theory.

Take the Republicans; corporate interests, libertarians and religious under one tent. They have little in common. What's the answer? How and why do they unify? For that you need theory.

Craig Bardo said...

I agree that theory is needed but was Weitling opposed to theory or was he operating with a different theory? Ayn Rand believed, for example, that philosophy is more than an intellectual pursuit, it is a way to organize one's life. James, one of Christ's disciples argued that faith (theory) without works (practice) is dead (meaningless and empty).

Zen is a philosophy as is dialectical or historical materialism. Hutcheson and Locke and other Scottish philosophers, Hume and later Smith developed Scottish rights, Natural rights or Natural law. Jefferson, Adams and Madison in particular, took that philosophy along with Montesquieu's notion of a republic in the form of a separation of powers to develop a revolutionary philosophy and form of governance.

In reading the referenced post, it only mentions that Weitling had a complaint but it didn't go into the source of that complaint. Thaddeus Kosciuszko was a Polish engineer who saved our bacon during the American Revolution. He also was concerned with the plight of peasants in Poland who were tied to the land and led a revolution to free them from the constraints of ownership. He took action. He lost, but Weitling would understand him, more than Marx who lived under the patronage of Engels.

Ducky's here said...

CB, I'm surprised to find that you are a follower of Comrade Gramsci.

Unfortunately, the counter revolutionaries over at Faux news seem to understand him better than the left.

Where is Godard when we need him !!!

K. said...

Ren, the right -- through its assaults on Darwin -- attack the very idea of theory, The only unifying principle of the right is what it opposes, and it opposes being out of power. The disparate groups of the right are perfectly happy to use each other in the interests of regaining power.

SecondComingOfBast said...

"Take the Republicans; corporate interests, libertarians and religious under one tent. They have little in common. What's the answer? How and why do they unify? For that you need theory."

No, for that you just need history. Always remember, the religious right of the Republican Party were originally, for the most part, Democrats, mainly southern Democrats. They represented the status quo in the south, the farmers and plantation owners. They were the party of slavery and Jim Crow, while in the north, they were the party of the mechanics (a current term for workers) and the so-called "common man".

When the Republicans first came into being and into power, they were, for the most part, the social liberals of their day, in addition to being the party of bankers and northern manufacturers.

They were in power for such an extended period of time, they became the status quo, which made it easy for them to gravitate towards more conservative views regarding social issues. This created a void which the Democrats eventually filled mainly by demagoguing social issues by adopting populist stances.

This caused a rift in the party, and when Johnson, with a great deal of Republican help, passed the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, that was the final straw. Southern Democrats jumped ship.

The things they all have in common is pretty easy. Low taxes, small government, and strong military. The word liberal only became a pejorative to them as it applied to those things that stood in opposition to those values. In other words, the confiscation of property in the form of taxes and the imposition of government control in the realm of social issues, and a seeming distaste for the military.

Why do you need theory to understand this? Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

Craig Bardo said...


Of course I oppose Gramsci and everything he stood for but he had a tight, coherent orthodoxy, incrementalism. It's working to produce the result he envisioned.

Marx, Lenin, Trotsky didn't have workable theories. Trotsky gets credit for predicting the demise of the Soviet Union but I liken that to the "credit" Frontline gave Brooksley Born for predicting the problems with derivatives.

Are there problems with derivatives, yes. Is it because of what she suggested, hell no! Likewise, Trotskyism's internationalist theory and codicils on hoarding have been demonstrably disproved by Cuba, an island isolated from capitalist influences.

So Gramsci incrementalism gets my vote as does Weitling insofar as this argument is concerned.

Frank Partisan said...

CB: Your response is binary thinking. The choice is not between being a theorist or activist. One can do both. The activist without theory (pragmatism), will lose more often. Marx was involved with the Jewish community as a pamphleteer. Binary thinking is hurting my side and yours.

Lenin didn't write as precisely as Trotsky, about the fall of the Soviet Union. He knew with the German Revolution defeated in 1919, that things would be tough. Trotsky later figured the bureaucrats will want to have inheritance rights, predicting the fall of the USSR.

Cuba proved permanent revolution. The Cuban Revolution was not socialist. Later Castro found out that capitalists in poor countries, are too weak to grant reforms. The initial Cuban government included capitalists. The Communist Party was pro-Batista, in line with Stalin's program.

K: You are correct. There is a dialectic to take advantage of. Obama got Christian votes, because opposing social programs is not Christian.

Ducky: Fox News is louder than it's powerful.

Pagan: It's not that simple. Heck the GOP wanted to lynch Ron Paul.

SecondComingOfBast said...


The Republicans didn't like Ron Paul, because Ron Paul is not a Republican. He is at heart a Libertarian who just happened to become a Republican in order to win a congressional seat. There are some strong similarities (low taxes and small government, for example) with the GOP to the Libertarians, but there are profound differences as well. One of the biggest differences is on the issue of the military, especially military spending. It happens to be one of the issues in which I am in general agreement with Paul and the Libertarians.

However, when a Republican takes such a stance as he does, he automatically places himself on the outer fringes of the GOP tent. Just a little further and he would be outside looking in.

The GOP are internationalists, in a sense. They believe in America maintaining a strong military posture and presence throughout the world. The Ron Pauls (and Pagan Temples) of the world believe the US should maintain our military superiority if at all possible, but it should be maintained for defensive purposes alone, not to be the "policeman of the world". We believe in and staunchly adhere to the Washingtonian principle of non-interference and avoiding entanglement with foreign intrigues and the internal affairs of sovereign nations.

If I had my way about it, both NATO and the UN would go the way of the Dodo bird. That puts me on the outs with both the GOP and the Demoncraps.

By the way, it is not the place of government to act as a charity. It was never intended for that. Sometimes it becomes necessary, especially in emergency situations, but those things tend to take a life of their own and become overbearing, byzantine structural bureaucracies that in the long run do at least as much harm as good, if not more, and outlive their original purposes.

They become like gods to people in two ways. One, people become dependent on them. Two, and most unfortunately, they never die.

I would add they also demand the sacrifice of hard-earned tax dollars from the pockets of wage-earners, and their appetite becomes ever more insatiable throughout the years, serving in the long run to either slow if not wreck economies, or to explode debts and deficits.

So yes, there are many valid reasons why Christians and other religions should look with a wary eye towards any governmental decrees of compassion.

tony said...

Ignorance's Stock Is Even Higher These Days!

Anonymous said...

Especially in DC.

Frank Partisan said...

Pagan: The main point for me, is that a manufacturing capitalist concerned about free enterprise, probably care less about abortion.

Unity based around being against something is walking a slippery slope.

Obama was able to siphon some religious. In fact Obama used religion more than McCain.

Tony: True.

FJ: It's amazing how many lobbyists visit the politicians everyday.

SecondComingOfBast said...


You are right, a manufacturing capitalist could give a pigs snot about abortion, and rightly so. In fact, though they would probably never admit this, a good many of them probably feel the same way I do. The more abortions today, the less Democratic voters tomorrow. It might sound callous, but it's true, that at least two thirds of aborted fetuses would probably grow up to be Democratic voters. Most of the rest probably wouldn't vote at all. All you have to do to ascertain that is to look at who gets abortions, and who supports the right to abortion.

On the other hand, a good many capitalists might take an opposite viewpoint which is just as pragmatic, and possibly even more callous.

The more fetuses saved from the abortion mill equals that much more cannon fodder and cheap labor, and maybe even potential strike breakers.

And of course don't for a second discount the notion that a good many people, not just religious conservatives, but many others-and this is including venture capitalists-find abortion distasteful, to say the least.

Personally, if I knew a woman considering an abortion, unless she had some valid medical reason to get one, or she was raped, etc., I would try to, as a friend, gently try to guide her into making the decision not to get one, for the sake of her own future potential peace of mind and likely self-loathing and guilt. I would tread carefully in doing so, but I would make the effort, on a human compassion level-not for the fetus sake, but for the woman.

Yes, this is including even if she were a far left liberal Democrat. I would probably walk around with a big "please kick my ass" sign attached to my ass for the next few days, but I would still do it.

It's when it becomes a political issue where I draw a line in the sand, and tell them collectively to go for it.

But that doesn't change the facts that abortion is a horrible procedure that has become more of a big business than a cottage industry, and it is fueled itself by money and politics. You don't have to be a religious conservative to find the act heinous. Hell, even a lot of Democrats are against it, believe it or not.

Just as importantly, like I said before, there are more things that draw religious and social conservatives to form this alliance with capitalists than the abortion issue.

Mainly, it is a belief in lower taxes and small government, as well as strong national defense. Those are really the main things that bind the seemingly disparate elements of the GOP together. The abortion issue is just gravy, a sop to cement the bonds.

Frank Partisan said...

Pagan: I've lived through Reagan's, two Bushes, and Clinton's administration. Everyone had an abortion who wanted it. Republicans and Democrats, use the issue to stir up their base, and fundraise.

Least likely to end abortion is the Republican Party. Republican women don't want to have to go to Mexico.

The issue is a joke, on the rank and file of both parties.

SecondComingOfBast said...

I agree with you to the extent that establishment Republicans don't really want to end it. Put another way, they don't really care to dwell on the issue, because they have come to see it as a losing issue for them. It drives too many voters away from them. By the same token, they are caught between Scylla and Charybdis for the simple fact that if they remove it from their platform, they will just as quickly drive away their conservative base, and that base makes up their get out the vote effort.

Still, I wouldn't trivialize it as a "joke". This has been a hot button issue for more years than you might realize, going back for a century or more, to the very beginning of the Progressive Movement. It took years of feminist political solidarity to bring it about incrementally, through the influence on Democrat Party politics and through the appointment of sympathetic judges.

I would prefer the issue were decided at the state level, which would be the general Republican position. Unfortunately, the religious conservative base of the party is unlikely to be satisfied with that, even if it could be achieved.

It will take a constitutional amendment to settle it once and for all, one way or another. That is not a joke. If it is, the joke isn't on the rank and file of the parties, it's on those of us who just wish it would go away.

Frank Partisan said...

Pagan: In terms of both parties, the abortion issue is a sideshow.

I wasn't asking about your personal stance. Sincere people on both sides are screwed, because of the cynicism.

Ducky's here said...

Ren: I have that suspicion about Fox but the mere fact that they are a topic of discussion prevents serious discussion of issues.

CB: That Frontline show was damn good. Interesting that you still have Timmy Taxes and Larry Summers running the show while a respected economist like Volker is being ignore.
Nothing much changes and the idea that the Obama administration is being criticized by the right does seem to indicate that they can be given everything they want and nothing would change. What they want most to do is complain and keep the ambient noise level high enough to mask the boys drilling in the wall, so to speak.
Let's all get ready to have our pockets picked again, folks ... funny, Sheila Bair, Elizabeth Warren, Brooksley Bank, all very competent all critics and all ignored ... what do they have in common?

Ducky's here said...

In a sense, fear is the daughter of God, redeemed on Good Friday night. She's not beautiful, mocked, cursed and disowned by all. But don't get it wrong: she watches over all mortal agony, she intercedes for mankind.
For there's a rule and an exception.
Culture is the rule, and art is the exception.
Everybody speaks the rule: cigarette, computer, t-shirt, television, tourism, war.
Nobody speaks the exception. It isn't spoken, it's written: Flaubert, Dostoyevsky. It's composed: Gershwin, Mozart. It's painted: Cezanne, Vermeer. It's filmed: Antonioni, Vigo.
Or it's lived, and then it's the art of living: Srebenica, Mostar, Sarajevo.
The rule is to want the death of the exception. So the rule for Cultural Europe is to organize the death of the art of living, which still flourishes.

When it's time to close the book, I'll have no regrets.
I've seen so many people live so badly, and so many die so well.

--- Jean-Luc Godard

SecondComingOfBast said...

That's why I don't drink wine when I get on the net.

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