Dialectical Materialism – It sounds like “diabolical” but it’s not quite that bad

A portrait of Karl Marx.
A portrait of Karl Marx. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dialectical Materialism is a school of thought which emerged from Karl Marx‘s theory of history. Marx is said to have turned the Hegelian dialectic on its head. That is, Hegel envisioned the world as spirit unfolding in matter and, by implication, human relations and history.

Marx, on the other hand, did not believe in God nor spirit and saw history as unfolding due to internal tensions within the material, social and conceptual world.  These tensions have often been simplified into a dialectical process. Just how this dialectical process takes shape has been variously discussed by different Marxist commentators.

Like Marx, much of our common understanding of Hegel comes through secondary writers who interpret the original works—sometimes from translations, sometimes not. So we often hear that Hegel believed in a “thesis” and “antithesis” which precede a greater “synthesis.” But apparently Hegel never used these exact terms. Not systematically, anyhow. So this simplification (or handy schema) mostly comes from writers interested in Hegel but not from Hegel himself.

Similarly with Marx, writers like G. A. Cohen make his theory seem quite rational and conceptually ordered. The problem is, other writers interpret Marx differently, so we have to look at Marx’s actual writings to find out what he really meant. I sincerely tried to study Marx with several of his works but found them to be heavy and laborious (which is a nice way of saying “boring”), so must limit myself to talking about people talking about Marx.

If you need proof that a plethora of interpretations of Marx can be found, just follow these links:¹

Michel Foucault
Michel Foucault (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I personally don’t find Marx interesting enough to spend hours trying to pretend I am an expert on him when I’m not. It seems to me that writers like Michel Foucault just smash his clunky arguments. And I don’t really see much point in turning back.

In fairness to Marx, he apparently was a good family man, had a creative sense of humor and really cared about social injustice. I am sure his intentions were good. But any analysis without treating God as an agent will, in my view, fall short. And this applies to both Marx and Foucault.

¹ Thanks to the wonderful, customizable MultiSearch for K-Meleon Browser. I just discovered this and plan to use it to dig up as much stuff as possible for earthpages.ca!

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