Sunday, December 23, 2018

Marxist existentialism, humanism or spirituality: a preliminary apologia

“We cannot go beyond it [i.e. Marxism] because we have not gone beyond the circumstances which engendered it.” — Jean Paul Sartre 

I would argue that our time calls for a prominent role to be played by an existential, humanist, or spiritual Marxism (these can, but need not be, synonymous; at the very least, they have strong family resemblance to each other). In my own case, Marxist beliefs exist alongside (perhaps uneasily, sometimes in tension or even contradiction with) elements from other therapeutic worldviews and philosophies, including those of Buddhism and psychoanalytic psychology, as well as one political philosophy: Liberalism!* Because of my perhaps peculiar or at least uncommon metaphysical or ontological beliefs about the nature of truth, which are genetically inspired by several Jain doctrines (anekāntavāda, nayavāda, and syādvāda), I’m inclined to believe most systematic or coherent philosophies and worldviews enable us to perceive truths of one kind or another, in varying degrees, even though it may be beyond us, both now and in the near future, to systematically integrate or reconcile those truths in an analytically or philosophically satisfactory manner. The determinations made in this regard are highly personal and thus idiosyncratic, although one must suspect similar if not identical determinations can, in principle at least, be made by others, given the requisite experiences and circumstances.

What is more important, and thus more urgent, is that we daily endeavor to live by such truths as we understand them (to have, as we say, the courage of our convictions), sharpening, polishing, abandoning or modifying our beliefs as a result of the tests and trials of praxis in both our daily and public lives (including the sort of knowledge that is a by-product of individuation and self-realization), which should suggest to us, in one way or another, when such beliefs may be mistaken, wrong-headed, unreliable, or even somehow deceptive or illusory. Whatever the current makeup of our worldview or lifeworld (the latter might contain bits and pieces of several traditions and worldviews which one struggles to render coherent and thus is not ‘captured’ by any one historical, official, or public religion, philosophy, or worldview), it should not preclude us from engaging in collective action with those of different worldview orientations who nonetheless share our commitment to the values and principles enshrined in the French revolutionary motto liberté, égalité, fraternité (the last in reference to our shared humanity by way of human nature, including our vulnerabilities or suffering and perfectibility, and the ever-present possibility of communities emerging from the fundamental premises of human dignity and eudaimonistic individualism). 

This part of my lifeworld arises from the fact that I passionately believe any emancipatory politics on the Left will assume (and thus should articulate) (i) a normative conception of human nature (see, for example, P.M.S. Hacker’s three recent books on same, with one more forthcoming) and development (individuation and self-realization), (ii) a robust concept of human dignity (on which there is a growing body of respectable philosophical literature), as well as (iii) a principle of eudaimonistic individualism (on which see, for example, the late David Norton’s 1991 book, Democracy and Moral Development). 

Image: Wassily Kandinsky, “Delicate Tension,” No. 85 (1923)


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