Is Marxism marginalized in academia?


Phil Sandifer sent me a copy of Neoreaction A Basilisk, because this is the internet and shouting a lot is a viable strategy. I don’t know, man. But it’s an opportunity to get this blog up to an average of one post per day.

Sandifer writes:

Indeed, there’s actually a significant leftist intellectual tradition that can fairly legitimately claim to be completely suppressed by the American media and education system, and that’s well-known for observing that revolutions and transitions between ideologies generally come down to people with material power protecting that power. …

Marxism, especially in its good old-fashioned “a spectre is haunting Europe” revolutionary sense (which is a much larger body of work than Soviet Communism, and indeed one that contains countless scathing critiques of Leninism and Stanlinism) is absolutely one of the positions most completely excluded from the Cathedral, its use in Anglophone politics restricted to a derisive term slung about in the way that “fascist” is applied to Donald Trump, only with less accuracy.

It’s certainly true that that’s the way “Marxist” is used in Anglophone politics—but is Marxism “completely suppressed” by the American media and education system? Given that the sitting president of the United States of America was a no-shit Marxist-Leninist in college, this is somewhat hard to believe.

According to the Open Syllabus Project, the Communist Manifesto is the third most-assigned text in college syllabi, with 3,189 citations—behind only Plato’s Republic, with 3,573 citations, and The Elements of Style, with 3,934.

I didn’t have to read the Communist Manifesto in college, but I did have to read it in high school. Right before Animal Farm, admittedly, but Orwell was a socialist, and we certainly weren’t reading Mises. When I went to college, one of the department heads was an outspoken pro-Cuba Communist, another was an ex-anarchist who had recently and reluctantly converted to Rawlsianism, and I was assigned to read Emma Goldman, Voltairine de Cleyre, various texts on applied Marxism which I can’t remember because I never showed up to that class (because the professor made it obvious that anyone who turned in the papers and pretended to agree with Marxism would get at least a B), something by Robert Paul Wolff which I also can’t remember, some critical legal studies, and a chunk of Capital. The only author I was ever assigned who could be classified as a rightist, aside from the Fascist Manifesto (by a professor who hated Hegel, because he hated Hegel), was Nozick, who hardly counts.

I also took a class on activism taught by a team of self-professed Trotskyists who worked for the Democratic Party, so.

Back to the Open Syllabus Project. Marxists are not commonly assigned, but Marx is squarely within the canon. The Communist Manifesto is the third most frequently assigned book in college syllabi. The Communist Manifesto is more frequently assigned in colleges than Aristotle’s Ethics (#6), Leviathan (#7), The Prince (#8), Hamlet (#10), The Odyssey (#11), Orientalism (#12—yes, really), Canterbury Tales (#16), On Liberty (#19), Foucault’s Power (#26) On the Origin of Species (#27), Augustine’s Confessions (#28), Walden (#31), and The Wealth of Nations (#35).

Marx shows up again in the top 200 with Capital (#44) and The German Ideology (#158). Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed comes in at #99, and Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth at #115. Scrolling down a bit, Adorno’s Culture Industry ranks #207.

An EconLog post links to a survey that finds that 11% of professors are ‘radicals’ and 3% are Marxists, but the survey went out to all professors, and one would not learn Marxism in a chemistry class. In the humanities, 5% are Marxists (but 19% are ‘radicals’); in the social sciences, 18% are; in liberal arts colleges, 12% are; and in sociology, 26% of professors are Marxists.

Also, the Harvard Crimson endorsed the Khmer Rouge, Walter Duranty won a Pulitzer for Stalinist apologia, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States, personally requested that Warner Bros. make, under close collaboration with the federal government of the United States, a movie based on a former US ambassador to the USSR’s pro-Stalin memoirs, which movie was of course itself pro-Stalin.

32 responses to “Is Marxism marginalized in academia?

  1. Frog Do May 7, 2016 at 12:23 am

    No, I think his complaint makes sense, if you choose to focus on “intellectual tradition” instead of “completely supressed”. As usual, the left never takes it far enough! The problem is our current university system doesn’t really teach any intellectual tradition as the ruling ideology (or is that ideology of ruling). They have Plato and Marx and Shakespeare, but they don’t do Classical Tradition or Marxist Tradition or Anglo National Tradition throughout the entire curriculum. I mean, I have the very minor mathematics tradition which was taught because I think mathematicians realize tradition is best thought of as a perspective (this is very much in keeping with the structure of current math), but am mostly having to teach myself the various other traditions.

    Of course, Marxism made it’s bones eating the earlier traditions, but then so did nationalism, and Protestantism, and Christianity, and Imperial Paganism, ad infinitum. This should sting the most for Marxists, since they were the last to get eaten, but they all get eaten eventually. I guess Identitarianism is in the process of becoming a tradition, but it seems like an anti-tradition to me. Maybe all the previous ones did too.

    • nydwracu May 7, 2016 at 1:04 am

      Philosophy has a few competing traditions that are still taught as traditions in the US — the Anglo-American analytic tradition, which runs from Descartes through Hume, Kant, Hobbes, Locke, Frege, and Wittgenstein to Quine, Kripke, Lewis, Ayer, Searle, Nozick, Rawls, and so on, and the continental tradition, which branches somewhere around Kant and continues through Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, and Heidegger to Foucault and Deleuze, and serves as a repository for Americans who convert to Marxism because they want to LARP as Cultured Europeans. (See: Steve Klabnik.) There’s probably a Marxist tradition kicking around somewhere in academia — departments are canons with tenure lines, American Studies apparently takes the Frankfurt School as its canon, and sociology looks pretty Marxist. (Look up C. Wright Mills.)

      • Frog Do May 7, 2016 at 4:33 am

        Yeah, but I guess what I’m trying to say is that’s all within specific deparments. My understanding of US academia (which could be totally flawed) is that there was some sort of grand consensus that the Marxist tradition was universal and superior during the twentieth century with its’ High Modernism and all that, and now it’s just faded into another tradition among the rest.

        With reference to Phil Sandifer, this makes sense, cause English departments were super fragmented about this (as in the kontextmaschine post), so he might have an exaggerated perception of that.

      • nydwracu May 7, 2016 at 3:16 pm

        Sure, but there’s literally no rightist tradition whatsoever, aside from Straussianism (lol), libertarianism (lol), and traditional religious stuff at traditional religious colleges. Libertarianism is a major target of entryists, traditional religious colleges will probably be crushed by the government soon, and does anyone care about Strauss anymore?

        There are a few canons that it would be possible to put together. I had a professor who had a special interest in pretty much the canon that you’d get if leftists ran Gornahoor — Gnostics, Hegel, Jung, Eliade, Heidegger, Derrida, and some really weird New Age stuff — but never assigned reading based on it, because, while philosophy and religious studies were technically the same department, in practice it was just a philosophy department that skewed mildly continental. Anyway, that could be built out into a canon with the inclusion of either the Traditionalist School or Dumezil and the ENR; MR/TFP could set up a canon of economists and historians, maybe built around Spengler, or maybe built around the cybernetics/systems stuff, general skepticism, RAW, and Fuller; there could be an anti-nerd-culture canon built on Carlyle, Sorel, Marinetti, Nietzsche, and probably some horror fiction (because the world is horribly alien to nerds, and its values funge against nerd culture’s values); and so on. But no one does any of that.

        I guess I’m defining “marginalized” as “completely written out of every canon”. Marx is more firmly within the canon than anyone but Plato, and the Marxist canon seems to have found a place in sociology. (For anarchists and so on, you know, I did not go to a particularly leftist college — I made a point of not going to a particularly leftist college — but there was a class on the anarchist canon.) What canons are there that can’t be classed as leftist or liberal? Uh, evopsych? Is there an evopsych canon that has a presence in academia? Even if there is, that’s pretty weak.

      • Frog Do May 7, 2016 at 7:41 pm

        You can lol at the idea of a rightist traditional Christian colleges as well, the situation there is probably more embarassing than libertarianism and Straussianism.

        I agree that there is no rightist tradition and that there is far more of the Marxist tradition in the academy than probably any other tradition at the moment. I do disagree with Sandifer that Marxism is completely supressed in America, and that Marxism as a slur is more misused than fascism as a slur in America. I think the way that he’s wrong is interesting, though, because it’s a meme that I see a lot of intelligent lefties repeat.

      • nydwracu May 7, 2016 at 8:00 pm

        “Marxism” is certainly used as a slur. “Trump is a fascist” and “Obama is a Marxist” strike me as the same sort of thing in principle… with the crucial difference that Obama was literally a Marxist for a few years in college, whereas Trump thinks Hegel is what you put lox on and Giovanni Gentile is someone who puts jelly on it.

        By the same token, I see a lot of Bushite hysteria these days, but it’s the other side doing it. Different layers over the same conceptual toolbox. Have a safe day!

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  3. krrrsh May 7, 2016 at 3:18 am

    Well considering we don’t live in a commie utopia, where everything is 100% Marxist™, the only conclusion any comrade could possibly come to is that Marxism is being suppresed.

  4. Johnny Bits May 7, 2016 at 5:25 pm

    The “suppression” of Marxism is part of the genius of the crypto-communism of The Cathedral. It’s a masterful rebrand, that also keeps potential opposition from looking too closely at the SJW cultural marxist playbook.

    • nydwracu May 7, 2016 at 5:57 pm

      See, the thing about Marxism is that it’s evolved beyond recognition. Marx wouldn’t recognize any modern-day Marxists, and Engels would knife them all in the throat. There’s a continuous tradition that stretches from Marx to Gawker, but just as socialist internationalism died in Europe after the trauma of WWI, proletarianism died in America after the trauma of the ’50s. (See also: Pier Luigi Pasolini.)

      Marxism was forced to choose between proletarianism and anticapitalism, and it chose anticapitalism. Then it was forced to choose between anticapitalism and left-Menckenism, and it chose left-Menckenism, i.e. “cultural Marxism”, i.e. hating the shit out of ‘the yokels’ and trying to become their exact opposite. Cultured Europeans! La vie boheme! Race music! Reading Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and deciding it’d be cool to become a heroin addict!

      • Phil Sandifer May 7, 2016 at 6:11 pm

        Of course, that also highlights why the traditional use of The Communist Manifesto to have something slightly edgy-feeling to teach in the last week of an intro philosophy course or to spice up the “early proto-sociology” chunk at the start of a course there isn’t really incompatible with Marxism’s larger systemic suppression. Indeed, it’s pretty much the sort of suppression some crackpot philosopher or another described as “a neutered false opposition. This gang of tolerated heretics, against whom our wise philosophers speak out at every opportunity, must be unable to establish a replicative cycle of their own.”

        All the same, it’s a fair point – nothing about the larger argument I’m making in that bit (which is that Moldbug’s lack of engagement with Marxist thought is a systematic failing given how close to Marxism he actually is, and that one of the most basically interesting things about Land is that he’s actually read and understood both Marx and Moldbug) requires the phrase “American media and education system,” and there’s a perversity in picking the very place in which live attenuated Marxism is actually found. It’s a good note, and I’ve reworked the paragraph to “within American culture.”

      • Phil Sandifer May 7, 2016 at 6:14 pm

        Sorry, rude of me, it’s a good note, and thank you for it.

      • nydwracu May 7, 2016 at 6:40 pm

        Sure, there were definitely ‘conspiracies’ (in the same sense that the Cathedral is a set of ‘conspiracies’ — there were a lot of people in powerful places who were on the same page, and the end result is that we read Animal Farm in high school) to neuter actual, class-based Marxism, but the end result is “gee, Communism would be great in theory, but in practice, you might get Stalin”, which, as we’ve seen, is not the strongest of antibodies.

        The actual problem is in part the fault of the self-proclaimed Marxists — namely, no one bothers to distinguish between proletarianism and left-Menckenism (the “smug style”, if you prefer), so your average ‘Marxist’ talks a line superficially resembling the former in order to advance the latter. So when Joe Flyover sees Marxism, he (reasonably) thinks “here’s another goddamn freak from Oakland or Brooklyn who wants to sarin-gas every state without a coastline”, tunes out, and maybe votes for Trump. Every few months I see a post from an evident true believer in Marxist proletarianism, acting all surprised that it’s not hard to propagate Marxist proletarianism, but for the vast majority of them, left-Menckenism seems to be the point.

        Who knows, maybe it’s all a proxy war between the CIA and the FBI…

      • Phil Sandifer May 7, 2016 at 7:40 pm

        That all has basically nothing to do with my book, though.

      • Johnny Bits May 8, 2016 at 2:55 am

        > Marxism was forced to choose between proletarianism and anticapitalism, and it chose anticapitalism. Then it was forced to choose between anticapitalism and left-Menckenism, and it chose left-Menckenism, i.e. “cultural Marxism”, i.e. hating the shit out of ‘the yokels’ and trying to become their exact opposite.

        Excellent point. I would say that in its evolution marxism didn’t simply chose one path over another, but refined and increased the complexity of its organization and messaging program with each transition. Proletarianism and anticapitalism both remain in heavy usage with lower castes, while the smug style appeals to elites and intellectuals. Only the smug style set are still called marxists, but all branches work together to create the Cathedral.

        Marxism is a series of hacks appealing to the base nature of the masses, telling them they are victims who deserve free stuff, and manipulating the energy those beliefs generate to obtain power. The past few generations of marxists just kept rolling out new and improved victim categories to meet the needs of a diverse consumer base. Throw in some virtue signaling for easy status points for well-to-do folk and you’ve got something for everyone.

        Trying to lump all of this under one word like “marxism” gets extremely muddled of course. The Cathedral is something that grew out of and beyond marxism, further distilling the science of power. The great contribution of Moldbug was realizing it was all one thing, and then giving it a name.

        I feel The Cathedral is best understood as an analogue to capitalism. With capitalism, selective pressure brings about configurations that result in the optimal extraction of economic value. The Cathedral is that for political power. Going another step, I believe that both are ultimately the same thing, which is why so many of the super rich are diehard Cathedralites of one stripe or another.

  5. Frog Do May 7, 2016 at 7:51 pm

    This is the third time I’ve seen discussion of the book with Sandifer’s response that the conversation around the excerpt is an unimportant side point, or a distraction, or nothing to do with the book.

    • Phil Sandifer May 7, 2016 at 8:05 pm

      To be clear, I’m not saying that the objection to my presentation of Marxism is unimportant – I do after all identify as an anarcho-Marxist, and drafted in a co-writer for a stretch goal essay specifically because he was a Marxist. And picking the educational system as the domain for my observation there was a poorly judged move. (I suspect I was thinking more public schooling than higher education when I wrote it, but I won’t pretend to remember exactly what I was thinking when I whacked those keys.)

      That said, the word Marx appears a whopping 29 times in the entire 55,000 word book, including forms like “Marxist” and “Marxism.” So while it’s an important part of the book (certainly that’s a much higher rate of appearance than you get in Moldbug, who has 113 mentions in over a million words), it’s pretty clearly not a book about propagating Marxist proletarianism in flyover country.

      More broadly, I’m trying to sell the book. Actively, right now, and through a Kickstarter. So yes, attempting to clearly communicate what the book is and isn’t seems an important thing to do this month.

      • Frog Do May 8, 2016 at 4:06 am

        More walk backs.

        I’m not a naive software prediction algorithm.

        If you want to sell your book, having representative excerpts is probably more ethical than trying to solicit hate reads.

      • Phil Sandifer May 8, 2016 at 6:23 am

        What exactly do you think I’m walking back here? (Or elsewhere?)

      • Frog Do May 9, 2016 at 2:49 am

        You’re simulatenously implying your presentation of Marxism was an important (drafting a co-writer), poorly implemented due to laziness (education system as domain), and unimportant (use of ctrl-F). This implication sequence, important into poorly-implemented into unimportant-because-of-ctrl-F, is a recurring pattern when you discuss any criticism of your book. So, walk backs.

    • Phil Sandifer May 7, 2016 at 8:52 pm

      Perhaps more to the point, I’m inclined to push back somewhat urgently against two particular angles of attack on the book that I think are both misleading and serve to undermine what I am selling the book as, both of them angles nydwracu has dabbled with at times.

      1) The book is just a hit piece. Yes, it’s sharply critical of all of Yudkowsky, Moldbug, and Land. But while it never really finds much good to say about Moldbug, Yudkowsky and Land are much more ambiguous figures. I’m sympathetic to Yudkowsky in some very big ways, and freely admit that Land is *very* difficult to get around, philosophically. But more importantly, the book uses criticism of those three authors as a canvas on which to paint its own weird design through implication. And that design is very much what I’m peddling.

      2) The book advances any sort of progressive/Marxist/socialist utopian vision. It does not. It is a ruthlessly pessimistic book that entertains exactly zero hope of socialist utopia. It embraces the bulk of Moldbug and Land’s critiques of democracy, and takes for granted that there is no viable future for the liberal project. Which is in some ways related to the “just a hit piece” critique, since that’s a pretty big swath of ground to concede to neoreaction up front, and definitely makes the fight a little more interesting.

  6. Johnny Bits May 8, 2016 at 3:15 am

    >> Marxism, especially in its good old-fashioned “a spectre is haunting Europe” revolutionary sense is absolutely one of the positions most completely excluded from the Cathedral

    This is because the elites were clever enough to realize that good old-fashioned proletarianism drums up way too much anger pointed in their direction. They switched over the 2 minutes hate to bigots, racists, homophobes, and other assorted wreckers.

    >> its use in Anglophone politics restricted to a derisive term slung about in the way that “fascist” is applied to Donald Trump, only with less accuracy.

    How prestigious and popular are the outlets calling Trump a fascist? How are often are they doing it? Now compare the same for Sanders and communist and marxist. This should give you an idea of how close each idea is to the locus of power.

    I believe that Phil’s thinking suffers from a failure to grasp the occulted and morphologic aspects of ideology. Not everything that draws power from ideas of marxist origin calls itself marxist. The vast majority do not, and are stronger for it.

  7. Blargle May 8, 2016 at 6:24 am

    Giving this filth attention, really? A creature that can get itself banned from wikipedia for being too creepy and autistic?

  8. Yakimi May 8, 2016 at 9:41 am

    Communism is so marginalized that universities put up banners celebrating the leader of the CPUSA.

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  10. richard lewis May 8, 2016 at 4:31 pm

    I’m not sure the quantitative surveys you quote do justice to the point Sandifer (may) have been making. The ‘old style’ Marxism where you do class analysis of a state, looking at what the interests of a class are, looking at how the material conditions of production affect ‘superstructures’ such as culture, ‘rights’, etc, is very rare in mainstream social science departments these days. I presume because such analysis might undermine some of the shibboleths of the ‘Cathedral’ – including ‘diversity’, ‘inclusion’, ‘white privilege’, ‘patriarchy’, etc. Those who call themselves Marxists in the academy have mostly long since abandoned material conceptions of history for Judith Butler inspired charlatanry.

    The positive side of this, is that the path to a ‘right wing Marxism’ may be clear – one which discards the normative teleology of Marx but which takes rigorous sociology of production and the material underpinnings of normative orders seriously.

  11. nickbsteves May 10, 2016 at 5:17 pm

    To the connoisseur of shit, all the finest shit will be woefully, unjustly suppressed in academia, and correspondingly all the shittiest shit far too common. But to the non-connoisseur, it all smells like shit and it’s clearly not suppressed.

  12. The Dissenting Sociologist May 11, 2016 at 2:18 pm

    Nydwracu wrote:

    “[T]he Marxist canon seems to have found a place in sociology”.

    His place in the sociological canon is there by necessity, since several other canonical works in that discipline, e.g. of Weber, Durkheim, and later, Foucault, were written as direct refutations of the Marxist hypothesis. (The same is true of the Austrian followers of Weber i.e. Mises and Hayek in the gap between sociology and traditional economics, and who, unlike Marx, really *are* marginalized in the University).

    Overall, I’d liken the place of Marx in academic sociology to that of a senior citizen who everybody publicly respects, but nobody really listens to. Even the remaining self-professed Marxists seem more interested in in things like ecology and identitarianism these days, even though (as I’ve fruitlessly tried pointing out to them) all that is at radical cross purposes with the Marxist enterprise in both its theoretical and political aspect alike.

  13. Pingback: What is Marxism? | nydwracu niþgrim, nihtbealwa mæst

  14. R. May 14, 2016 at 8:26 am

    Americans deserve 20-25 years of communism, I believe.

    It’d inoculate the marxism right out of anyone with a brain. I recall that at university, when once politics came up, no one would even admit to being a supporter of social democrats, who are far more centrist than actual communists (20% of population supports them here, mostly rednecks and zombies). Professors openly trash-talked social democrats or joked about their policies sometimes when starting lectures.

    That’s what 40 years of communism gets you. Educated people who believes anyone who takes communism seriously must be defective and should go live in Cuba or Venezuela for five years..

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