What did Alexis de Tocqueville mean: The more equal human beings became in their condition-intellectually, politically, and spiritually, and economically-the less able they were to act as individuals

I think what Tocqueville is getting at is a principle he proposed in his On Democracy in America. He is basically positing that democracy’s pursuit of equality can result in a sort of self-imposed tyranny of uniform individualism that does not tolerate variation, exceptions, or conditionality in its governance.

Here is a relevant excerpt (quoted from Democracy In America Bk.4, Ch.2):

“The very next notion to that of a sole and central power, which presents itself to the minds of men in the ages of equality, is the notion of uniformity of legislation. As every man sees that he differs but little from those about him, he cannot understand why a rule which is applicable to one man should not be equally applicable to all others. Hence the slightest privileges are repugnant to his reason; the faintest dissimilarities in the political institutions of the same people offend him, and uniformity of legislation appears to him to be the first condition of good government. I find, on the contrary, that this same notion of a uniform rule, equally binding on all the members of the community, was almost unknown to the human mind in aristocratic ages; it was either never entertained, or it was rejected…..On the contrary, at the present time all the powers of government are exerted to impose the same customs and the same laws on populations which have as yet but few points of resemblance. As the conditions of men become equal amongst a people, individuals seem of less importance, and society of greater dimensions; or rather, every citizen, being assimilated to all the rest, is lost in the crowd, and nothing stands conspicuous but the great and imposing image of the people at large. This naturally gives the men of democratic periods a lofty opinion of the privileges of society, and a very humble notion of the rights of individuals; they are ready to admit that the interests of the former are everything, and those of the latter nothing.”

Essentially, then, Tocqueville perceives the eventual consequence of democracy’s pursuit of equality — which he nevertheless values and favors — as homogenization of a society’s collective self-concept in “the great and imposing image of the people at large;” in essence, in civil society. So the question then becomes: is the cohesion and apparent necessity of uniformity of governance for civil society a desirable outcome for democratic systems?

We could observe that, right now in the U.S., the “individualistic” spirit of many folks seems to chomp at the bit of such uniformity. In fact some have speculated that reactive conservative extremism over the years (the Moral Majority, Tea Party, Trumpism, etc.) has arisen in response to exactly this imposition of a more progressive flavor of uniform equality — and hence, is perceived to have legislated uniformity on folks who really didn’t want it. Ironically, these conservative movements have then sought to impose what was merely their own flavor of uniformity on everyone else, and so were committing exactly the same error. As Tocqueville summarized: “Our contemporaries are therefore much less divided than is commonly supposed; they are constantly disputing as to the hands in which supremacy is to be vested, but they readily agree upon the duties and the rights of that supremacy. The notion they all form of government is that of a sole, simple, providential, and creative power. All secondary opinions in politics are unsettled; this one remains fixed, invariable, and consistent.” In other words, when a conservative government aims to legislate that abortion is illegal, or that massive corporate campaign contributions constitute free speech, or that the priority of government spending should be on the military, or that social security should be privatized…and so on…it is, essentially, imposing exactly the same uniformity of governance on the whole of society that conservatives frequently complain “the liberal agenda” has been doing — just conservative variations on the same theme.

And yet…and this is precisely the point Tocqueville eventually drives home…such uniformity is likely an inevitable, even necessary consequence of democracy. The danger, he warns, is that democracies acquiescing to centralized power — who nevertheless remain enthralled with individualistic obsessions — leads to a condition where citizens only care about their own immediate interests, and become utterly disinterested in (and ignorant about) society as a whole and in its governance via the State. They then rely almost entirely on their representatives in government to make decisions. I think Tocqueville was particularly prescient in this regard, because that is pretty much the space much of the U.S. electorate was inhabiting prior to 2016.

How can this pitfall be averted? Tocqueville addresses this in Bk.2 Ch.3 (my emphasis in bold):

“It is difficult to draw a man out of his own circle to interest him in the destiny of the State, because he does not clearly understand what influence the destiny of the State can have upon his own lot. But if it be proposed to make a road cross the end of his estate, he will see at a glance that there is a connection between this small public affair and his greatest private affairs; and he will discover, without its being shown to him, the close tie which unites private to general interest. Thus, far more may be done by entrusting to the citizens the administration of minor affairs than by surrendering to them the control of important ones, towards interesting them in the public welfare, and convincing them that they constantly stand in need one of the other in order to provide for it…Local freedom, then, which leads a great number of citizens to value the affection of their neighbors and of their kindred, perpetually brings men together, and forces them to help one another, in spite of the propensities which sever them.”

Essentially, Tocqueville is advocating one of my own favorite principles: subsidiarity. Empower people to govern themselves at the local level, and they will begin to appreciate the intersect with larger and larger circles of collective concern. And, even more than that, by empowering autonomous democratic institutions at the local level (all the way down to the local community), participants will learn how to contribute reflexively to the public good. As Tocqueville writes: “Men attend to the interests of the public, first by necessity, afterwards by choice: what was intentional becomes an instinct; and by dint of working for the good of one’s fellow citizens, the habit and the taste for serving them is at length acquired.”

This is, I think, what had been lost to much of America for many years: that active engagement in local self-governance for the public good. It was a profoundly unfortunate development in the U.S., because it allowed obsessive self-interest to override any sense of political obligation. Thankfully, though, the rise of Donald Trump seems to have single-handedly turned the tide, so that America’s citizens are once more awakened to their collective responsibilities — if only to avoid the insidious despotism that Tocqueville warned would rise up in the absence of our constant wakefulness.

My 2 cents.

Why did the left follow Marx and not Bakunin? Wouldn't the world have been better off if a stateless form of socialism had been tried instead of a totalitarian one?

So there are a number of facets with the OP’s question: “Why did the left follow Marx and not Bakunin? Wouldn't the world have been better off if a stateless form of socialism had been tried instead of a totalitarian one?” I’ll attempt to address those facets as we examine some possible answers….

1) The “Left” is not monolithic now, nor was it ever…from the very beginning. There were (and are) many forms of socialism — and many of them have been (and are being) tried in different parts of the world, and on different scales. This includes many forms of left-anarchism/libertarian socialism that aligned itself with the stateless vision that Bakunin promoted. In particular, societies inspired by Proudhon and Kropotkin fall into this category. For some of the many successful stateless examples of these, see: List of anarchist communities.

2) The thinking of these two influenced each other — there was a lot of cross-pollination between them. Much of Bakunin’s thinking is reflected in Marxism.

3) As to why Marx was generally more popular that Bakunin during their lifetimes and thereafter, there are a number of compelling theories, and frankly I don’t know which of them is correct. It could be that Bakunin was over-invested in leveraging the “educated elite” of his day to start a revolution and tended to ignore the working class, whereas Marx appealed more directly to the working class instead. It could be an issue of personal charisma. It could be that it was difficult for folks to envision Bakunin’s stateless society (as it still is today), but much easier to entertain the more gradual transition to communism that Marx proposed, along with his very catchy “dictatorship of the proletariat.” It could be that Engels’ eloquent and persistent championing of Marxism furthered it in ways with which Bakunin’s legacy and alliances simply couldn’t compete. Again, I don’t know. There has been much written about this…so perhaps doing more extensive research on this will help.

4) Yes, the world would be better off with stateless socialism. For a glimpse of that world, take a look at the list of anarchist communities in the link above. Some of them are still around and going strong.

My 2 cents.

Was it really socialism that "destroyed" Venezuela?

Venezuela’s decline gets discussed quite a bit, and there are wide ranging opinions about it — many of which seem to contain both kernels of truth, and evidence of bias. It’s difficult to find a balanced assessment.

That said, I’ll offer what I believe to be the chief elements of Venezuela’s destabilization and decline, in their rough order of impact and importance:

1. Decades of pervasive and severe corruption — in both government and business independently…and as a “crony capitalist” combination of the two.

2. The predictable course of “the resource curse,” as a consequence of huge oil reserves, the country’s over-dependence on that single source of wealth, and the unreliability and decline in profitability of those reserves.

3. Authoritarian mismanagement and incompetence — Chávez, and then Maduro, could have ruined any form of political economy with their heavy-handed incompetence, but in this particularly case it was clearly a megalomaniacal, utterly failed implementation of a socialistic state-directed economy. (see T. Collins Logan's answer to What are the different types of socialism?)

4. Amplification of problems by sanctions — although there is substantive debate around both the extent of this amplification, and the efficacy of sanctions in achieving intended aims, the sanctions certainly aren’t helping the people of Venezuela in the short run.

I have included some links below to support each of this assertions.

But why is Venezuela’s form of political economy such a “hot topic” right now? Mainly, it is because of right-wing propaganda that has sought to demonize anything that opposes or constrains free market capitalism, or in any way disrupts the gravy train of corporate wealth generation and accumulation that pro-capitalist policy provides. Calling anything that fails “socialism,” and anything that succeeds “capitalism,” has been a favorite conservative tactic since the first “Red Scare” after WWI. In reality, most successful economies in the world are mixed economies that have both socialist and capitalist elements.

I hope this was helpful.

Corruption in Venezuela - Wikipedia

Venezuela Corruption Report

Cronyism Damaged Venezuela before Chavez

How Hugo Chávez Blew Up Venezuela’s Oil Patch

Venezuela and the “resource curse”

International sanctions during the Venezuelan crisis - Wikipedia

Mixed economy - Economics Help

The term "intellectual" is increasingly used in a derogatory sense, evoking a certain left-wing elitism. What should intellectuals do to escape this stereotype?

The really humorous thing about this dynamic (i.e. stereotyping “intellectuals” — or subject experts — as elitists who are out of touch with common experience) is that the folks usually using that stereotype it are even more out-of-touch with reality than “intellectuals” are. The anti-intellectual sentiment coming from right-wing propaganda is quite deliberate in this respect: it wants to villainize anything that is grounded in critical thinking, science, evidence and data — usually in favor of ideological principles that are routinely undermined by that data. Hence climate crisis is a left-wing conspiracy invented by academics to get grant money; solid historical economic data that shows how “trickle-down” theory (supported by the laughable “Laffer curve”) and austerity policies fail utterly can likewise be dismissed as “elitist” fabrication; statistics that prove how abortions decline wherever Planned Parenthood has a well-funded presence is crushed by hateful vitriol from pro-life folks who fervently believe Planned Parenthood should be defunded; science that proves cigarette use is linked to cancer becomes part of a “liberal anti-business agenda;” and so on ad nauseum. Such has been the relentless drumbeat of conservative think tanks since the early 1970s.

But can you see the problem? The folks who attack intellectualism (and/or left-wing elitism) have to do so to defend their completley-detached-from-reality beliefs and distortions of fact. Which is of course advantageous to the wealthy conservative owner-shareholders who benefit the most from voters, politicians and talkshow hosts parroting right-wing lunacy. Hence voting Republican in the U.S. has become synonymous with supporting unicorn policies and practices that maintain plutocracy and insulate the wealthiest elite, while effectively knee-capping scientific counter-narratives that could actually benefit everyone else. Critical thinking and actual evidence-based approaches simply cannot be allowed!

So I will proudly say “Yes, I tend to trust well-educated experts who’ve spent their lives researching and testing ideas with real-world data.” You say these are “intellectuals?” I say they are simply competent — much more so than armchair bombasts who believe in unicorns.

As to why folks who decry intellectualism are so confident in their armchair fantasies, I recommend reading up on the Dunning–Kruger effect.

What did Adam Smith outline about the dangers of capitalism?

Thanks for the question.

It’s a challenge, I think, for anyone to pick passages out of Smith’s work that apply exactly to today’s context of modern capitalism. Those who are friendly to classical liberalism and neoliberalism have made many errors doing so, and those who feel modern capitalism is problematic have also made errors picking-and-choosing from Smith’s work. With that caveat, here’s what I think might be relevant to this question:

1. The problem of business interests being at odds with public interests, and business having too much influence over both commerce and government. Smith touches on this frequently in Wealth of Nations, and uses the argument to encourage vigilant and thoughtful governmental oversight of business so that the public’s interests may be protected and business influence be reined in — Smith calls this “good government.” Without good government, Smith warns, the purveyors of commerce gain too much power. Why is this problematic? Because Smith observes that this particular breed of folks cannot be trusted with the public good; he writes of them: “The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order, ought always to be listened to with great precaution, and ought never to be adopted till after having been long and carefully examined, not only with the most scrupulous, but with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men, whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it.” (Bk 1, Ch.11) Further, Smith observes that such men often come to operate according to a disturbing principle: “All for ourselves and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind.” (Bk 3, Ch.4)

2. The “absurd tax” of monopolies, and — once again — the dangers of their influence on government. Also not serving the public’s interests are monopolies that eliminate competition — which Smith warns are a natural objective of business, in order to maximize profits. “To widen the market may frequently be agreeable enough to the interest of the public; but to narrow the competition must always be against it, and can serve only to enable the dealers, by raising their profits above what they naturally would be, to levy, for their own benefit, an absurd tax upon the rest of their fellow-citizens.” (Wealth of Nations, Bk 1, Ch.11) In addition, monopolies can gain inordinate coercive influence over government itself: “like an overgrown standing army, they have become formidable to the government, and upon many occasions intimidate the legislature. The member of parliament who supports every proposal for strengthening this monopoly, is sure to acquire not only the reputation of understanding trade, but great popularity and influence with an order of men whose numbers and wealth render them of great importance. If he opposes them, on the contrary, and still more if he has authority enough to be able to thwart them, neither the most acknowledged probity, nor the highest rank, nor the greatest public services, can protect him from the most infamous abuse and destruction, from personal insults, nor sometimes from real danger, arising from the insolent outrage of furious and disappointed monopolists.” (Wealth of Nations, Bk 4, Ch.2)

3. The lack of representation of worker interests and needs. “In the public deliberations, therefore, [the laborer’s] voice is little heard and less regarded, except upon some particular occasions, when his clamor is animated, set on, and supported by his employers, not for his, but for their own particular purposes.” (Wealth of Nations, Bk 1, Ch.11) Smith does seem to think laborers aren’t always capable of constructive input to government — because of their lack of education, information and time — but he clearly doesn’t trust businesses to represent worker interests either.

My 2 cents.

Please note: excerpts from Smith’s Wealth of Nations in the above answer can easily be found via a full search string in quotes.

What is the most 'real' philosophy historically (subjective question perhaps)?

What a great question to consider, Nathan. Thanks.

I can only ponder this by dialing through the many definitions of “real” — the many parameters ascribed to the idea — and then applying those to various branches of philosophy. What is “real”…genuine, fundamental, practical, actual, precise, independently existent…for metaphysics, logic, epistemology, ethics, aesthetics, logic, etc.? Is it possible to encompass all of this definitively?

A first impulse was to dismiss that such comprehensive intersection could ever occur — nearly all philosophy is inherently speculative, after all.

Yet, even though these variables frame a rather large semantic container for “real philosophy,” I find myself recalling those philosophers whose thinking operated across many of these dimensions, and whose conclusions gained momentum in a sort of inclusive resonance in meaningful and enduring ways. These form a loose constellation that could — in an intersubjective way — act as a finger pointing toward the moon.

Skipping across the centuries, a few glittering points shine back from the infinite….Lao Tzu. Heraclitus. Aristotle. The Prajnaparamita. Marcus Aurelius. Aquinas. Hafez. John of the Cross. Bacon. Descartes. Spinoza. Leibniz. Rousseau. Godwin. Hegel. Mill. Emerson. Darwin. Thoreau. Marx. Green. James. Kropotkin. Dewey. Whitehead. Sartre. Rawls. Chomsky…and many others worthy of mention.

All of them contribute something vital, IMO. No single one of these — or the philosophies they represent — rises above the others. They are all essential to our understanding of what actually is.

Which leads me to conclude that there is no single “real philosophy,” other than the multidialectical synthesis of everything in this vast constellation of knowing — a virtual point that floats lightly among them, as an intersection of the best each has to offer.

The “real” is, after all, forever additive.

My 2 cents.

What are the benefits in studying eastern philosophy in comparison to western philosophy?

Thanks for the question.

IMO it is essential to study both. At a thematic level, there are profound intersections that help reenforce and illuminate each other (Confucius and Aristotle, Lao Tzu and Heraclitus, etc.). As well as different methodologies (for example, the koan) to understanding a challenging concept or work through philosophical quandaries. There is the occasional bias that Eastern philosophy is somehow “more religious” than Western philosophy, but that pretty much ignores the dominant influence of Judaism, neoplatonism and Christianity on 1,000+ years of Western thought — as well as what is really a primarily “philosophical” framework of Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian Eastern traditions. As a loose generalization: in the West we have a centuries-long pattern of religious thought with a thin veneer of philosophy, and in the East we have a centuries-long pattern of philosophy with a thin veneer of religiosity. You say po-TAY-to, I say po-TAH-to.

My 2 cents.

Why was the FCC Fairness Doctrine revoked in 1987? What have been the consequences in the 30 years since, intended and otherwise?

Thank you for the question.

Reagan’s recision of the Fairness Doctrine had huge and enduring consequences regarding news media and information delivery in the U.S.…and the action was not “inevitable” as some have suggested.

Consider the Fairness Doctrine terms “honest, equitable and balanced,” and then consider how the Fairness Doctrine applied those to “controversial matters” that were in the public’s interest to report. This is the heart of the Fairness Doctrine: to inform U.S. citizens in a balanced way regarding diverse perspectives around critical issues. The spirit of the Fairness Doctrine was to prevent biased or misleading journalism and media coverage, and to represent as many different perspectives on a given issue as possible — and especially opposing viewpoints — as fairly as possible. In essence, this was an effort to discourage propaganda in U.S. media that served private agendas. Propaganda is often, after all, simply reporting one side of a given issue.

You’ll notice that other answers so far completely leave this critical point out.

Now, why did the FCC revoke the Fairness Doctrine? The Reagan administration framed the revocation under “concerns about free speech;” in other words, that the FCC’s continued enforcement could potentially interfere with some forms of free speech in media (there was no evidence that this was the case, only that this could be a concern). Even if such concerns had been validated, this simply would have required additional legislation to refine the Fairness Doctrine from Congress — but such worries are completely and utterly contradicted by the subsequent explosion of alternative media platforms (cable TV, Internet streaming, etc.). Do you see the problem with some of the other answers now…? If the main concern about the Fairness Doctrine (from conservatives at the time) was really impingement of free speech, how could “the Fairness Doctrine being outdated” due to a plethora of alternative media platforms also be a central consideration…? This is a duplicitous ruse. We know this because there is ALSO the issue of the 1986 SCOTUS ruling that affirmed the FCC’s ability to enforce the Fairness Doctrine on teletext technology…opening the door for its application to other media platforms as well. We can even speculate that this expansion of FCC authority over newly emerging media stoked efforts by conservatives to eliminate the Fairness Doctrine completely.

Now, it is important to appreciate that Congress DID update the Fairness Doctrine, at the time of its revocation, to address some of these issues…but Reagan vetoed that legislation anyway. So, in reality, conservatives just didn’t like the way the Fairness Doctrine was being applied by the FCC, or how Fairness Doctrine cases had played out in the courts, or how it was already being applied to future information technologies. THAT is the real reason conservatives wanted it gone. Why? Well, not only did the Fairness Doctrine dampen neoliberal propaganda efforts, it also did not allow conservatives to restrict progressive opinions being broadcast on publicly funded media (like NPR/PBS) when conservatives controlled the FCC (this was decided in the 1984 SCOTUS ruling FCC v. League of Women Voters of California.) In other words: the Fairness Doctrine was useless to conservatives who wanted to promote their own agenda while suppressing progressive ideologies…and they just could not stand for that.

And what has happened since? Propaganda has taken over conservative for-profit media, and conservatives have both doggedly sought to defund publicly funded non-profit media, and to disallow the FCC to regulate ANY media with fairness in mind. For example, the latest repeal of Net Neutrality by a conservative-controlled FCC is completely consistent with such efforts — why not let corporations decide who gets access to what and when? Neoliberals simply do not want there to be “honest, equitable and balanced” coverage of controversial issues — not even if propaganda is being funded by Russia on Facebook or Twitter! They believe “the market” can and should determine all outcomes — in other words, whoever has the most money to begin with, or who can most effectively deceive and manipulate people, should determine what information is available to the public.

So…again, WHY are conservatives so concerned about the consumers and voters having access to good, balanced information? Well, we’ve seen exactly why over the intervening years since the Fairness Doctrine was revoked:

- The Oil & Gas industry doesn’t want you to know about the realities of climate change.

- The Pharmaceutical industry doesn’t want you to know how dangerous and/or ineffective their drugs actually are.

- The Tobacco industry doesn’t want you to know about the real health risks of tobacco and vaping.

- The wealthiest owner-shareholders don’t want you to know that trickle-down economics has never, ever worked — and that economic nationalism won’t ever bring certain jobs back to the U.S.A. — but that conservative economic policies instead enrich only those wealthy few.

- Evangelical Christians don’t want you to know that Planned Parenthood is a much more effective way to prevent abortions than outlawing abortions has ever been.

- The Firearms industry doesn’t wan’t you to have statistics about just how lethal their products actually are — or how rarely those weapons in the hands of ordinary citizens actually prevent crime.

- (And so on with all sorts of other vested interests: agriculture, petrochemicals, insurance, financial institutions, etc.)

You see the pattern? There is a tremendous amount of money at stake — and the underpinnings of tribal belief systems along with it. Facts, evidence and statistics almost universally undermine conservative positions…so why would conservatives EVER wan’t news and information media to really be “honest, equitable and balanced?”

So…what happened? Well, if you do some research on this you’ll see that ALL conservative news media is, in fact, not just heavily biased towards supporting untruths, they are also more prone to deliberate counterfactual reporting, sometimes even fabricating stories that support neoliberal agendas and a conservative worldview. In contrast, left-leaning media can indeed be biased, but doesn’t approach the level of deceptive misinformation and outright lies that are perpetrated by right-leaning media. And so, as with any democracy, the quality of information that a voting population has is going to determine the quality of politicians they elect, and the agendas that are moved forward in government. Which is how we’ve arrived at a Trump presidency and Republican Party that is so woefully disconnected from reality — to a degree that is clearly harmful to the well-being of citizens in the U.S. and around the globe. And this is what Reagan’s revoking the Fairness Doctrine and blocking its revision by Congress has gifted to the American people and the world.

Lastly, in addition to helping neoliberal propaganda efforts, ending the Fairness Doctrine has also helped even more nefarious efforts — such as the “active measures” of Russian intelligence — to distort public information and perception as well. It is more than a little ironic that Ronald Reagan, champion of anti-Soviet rhetoric and disruption of the Soviet Union itself, was single-handedly responsible for the ability of an ex-KGB officer, Vladimir Putin, to directly manipulate the American public today. See the link below for more on that.

In closing, here are some resources I would recommend to more thoroughly understand and navigate these issues:

L7 Neoliberalism (covers neoliberal propaganda efforts and agendas)

L7 Opposition (covers Russia’s “active measures”)

Media Bias/Fact Check - Search and Learn the Bias of News Media (great resource for checking media bias and accuracy)

My 2 cents.

Is Marx’s theory of surplus value still relevant?

Yes Marx’s concept of surplus value is still relevant. But it really, really bothers neoliberal propagandists, Austrian School pundits, and other market fundamentalists that anyone is still brazen enough to use the term. These pro-capitalist folks will rail against its usage and belittle anyone who believes that this or any other ideas from Marx are still relevant. But don’t let them distract you. I think you are on the right track if you are trying to understand Marx’s insights through a modern lens. Probably the best modern example that conforms to Marx’s concerns about “surplus value” is the power that wealthy shareholders who purchase a lot of shares have over how a company does business, and the benefits that they reap from that involvement. Such a person might own a large amount of stock in a company and, even though that stock is a very tiny fraction of their own personal portfolio, they might wish to exert enormous influence as, say, an activist investor. They are, essentially, trying to maximize their personal profits — and this always comes at the expense of workers and consumers. A recent example is what happened at Qualcomm, which now has to execute a huge employee layoff to satisfy investors after the failed Broadcom takeover bid (again, to increase profits). These investors are not adding any value to an enterprise, they are just trying extract value from it. This is the concept that Marx was trying to “prove” with his surplus value calculations in Capital III — and, if you bypass the math, and instead examine the spirit of what Marx was trying to say about exploitation and the profit motive, you’ll begin to grasp the scope and intent of his insights.

A similar concept, and one well worth researching, is “rent-seeking,” where someone manipulates an environment to increase personal or corporate profits (such as lobbying or regulatory capture, for example), again without adding any real value to the equation.

Now it is easy to pick apart Marx’s arguments in Capital, and to say that certain details of his calculations are no longer relevant. But this entirely misses the narrative that Marx was trying to construct about the nature, methods and consequences of capitalism. And that narrative is very much still true today.

My 2 cents.

Why do politicians and intellectuals not look beyond democracy? Has the intellectual capacity of man gone down, or democracy really is the end of history?

Politicians? I wasn’t aware they cared about democracy at all. They certainly don’t in my country (U.S.A.). Thanks to the dogged efforts of neoliberal owner-shareholders, U.S. democracy has become little more than crony, clientist state capitalism. “Representative” democracy mainly represents a relatively small number of wealthy owner-shareholders, not the broader electorate who has been hoodwinked into voting against their own interests.

As for intellectuals, I think the promotion of direct democracy and consensus democracy are often discussed in a future-looking way by academics because these approaches hold a lot of promise, and have been fairly successful wherever they’ve been tried.

Yes, I do believe intellectual capacity is decreasing in the developed world, even as it increases in developing countries. However, it doesn’t require a brilliant intellect to envision or practice new forms of direct or consensus democracy. It just requires a bit of education, a level moral maturity that recognizes the importance of civic responsibility and participation, and an attenuation of “I/Me/Mine” economic materialism.

My 2 cents.

Where is Marx's ‘capital’ error?

So I think there are a number of different things to consider here, and that they often get conflated into a single, overarching criticism of Marx. They include:

1. The issue of Marx’s LTV itself, and of what constitutes surplus value.

2. The issue of Marx’s definition of (and solution to ) “the transformation problem” of how commodity LTV-based values convert into exchange values.

3. The conclusions that Marx draws, in part from these first two issues, about the inevitability of workers rebelling against the capitalist system, and the form that will take.

Now IMO there is a lot of incoherent blathering focused around these subjects — particularly from the Austrian School folks. It is easy to become mightily distracted by the irrational, ideologically fervent dog-barking of the Austrian School and other free-market fundamentalists (Randian objectivists, neoliberals, right-libertarians, etc.), so I would advise against any engagement with those folks around this topic; their reasoning is simply too clouded with bias and incomplete information. There are also plenty of Marxists who have sought to refine, clarify or resolve some of the perceived problems with the above issues as well. Here again, there is fervent ideological bias (including an inability to admit that Marx made any kind of mistake) that can occlude some of the simpler approaches to understanding and resolving Marx’s “errors.” However, in this case, much of the thinking is still considerably more coherent than the Austrian School perspectives. Lastly, there are other, non-ideologically-based discussions of Marx that are probably worth exploring…especially if you enjoy diving into some fairly intricate math.

Okay…with all of this said, I’ll offer what I believe is a contrasting approach that attempts to “cut through the noise:” in this case just ignoring Marx’s mathematical models, ignoring the ideology that motivates his critics, and ignoring attempts to “post-rationalize” Marx’s claims by other Marxists. Instead, we can just look at the actual course of capitalism over time, then compare its practices, problems and trajectories to what Marx predicted (in terms of intermediate consequences). That is…examine the evolution of markets, monopolies, global trade, the impact of automation, the continued antagonisms of poor working conditions and low wages, the societal impact of consumerism and commodification, and so on, through a Marxian lens. And if we do so…when we examine the fundamental spirit of Marx’s critiques of capitalism…what do we find?

We find that Marx was absolutely correct in both his observation of how fundamental problems of capitalism manifest in political economy, and his anticipation of future negative evolutions that have resulted from capitalism. Is the math he used to justify his conclusions sound? IMO the math often falls short. Are his conclusions sound? IMO absolutely yes, on the whole, they are quite sound. So the challenge is really avoiding getting lost in the weeds of particular arguments or mathematical proofs — a focus which is often what both Marx’s loudest critics and most passionate proponents prefer to focus upon. But if we can resist that impulse…if we can observe the massive forest that Marx paints for us in very broad brush strokes, instead of obsessing over the pattern of bark on a particular tree…there are some very valuable insights and lessons we can learn from good old Karl.

Now…about point #3, Marx’s “inevitable conclusions.” This is where I personally disagree with Marx the most. I don’t think violent revolution is necessary — and I feel it was a fatal mistake for Marx to predict (and thus promote) this flavor of expropriation, as it led to some of the darkest — and unnecessary, IMO — moments in socialism’s history. There are other reasons why I believe this was and is a general error in thinking about change, which I discuss here: Revolutionary Integrity. However, once again this shouldn’t be conflated with his other conclusions and reasoning. Marx is complex enough that, if we are willing to take the time and effort, we can tease out the many different and fascinating threads in his writing and thought.

My 2 cents.

Comment from Matias Gimenez: "Marx proposes that eventually, capital owners would absorb everything, creating a ever shrinking pool of rich people, or bourgeois, and a ever growing mass of poor people, growing poorer generation after generation. Capitalism proved Marx wrong. Poverty descenced worldwide and wealth is at its highest for all humans, all of this without taking into account that the amount of rich people is actually growing."

Thanks for the feedback, Matias. I have heard this objection before, and think it fails to take something rather important into account: the impact that civil society (comprised of many socialist institutions and policies) has had on capitalism in terms of wealth production and distribution. When you remove the institutions and policies that strengthen civil society — and we have plenty of examples of places in the world and times in history where this was the case — Marx completely nails the outcome. When you factor those variables back in, they have indeed softened the outcomes Marx predicted, even though there is significant statistical support for growing wealth concentrations and disparities despite that softening. But the point is that without the mitigation of all sorts of structures that contain, restrict, regulate and “egalitarianize” capitalism, it would follow (and has followed) the trajectory Marx predicts. Socialism has manifested in many forms to ensure the slowing of the capitalist self-destructive spiral, in the form of unions and collective bargaining, wage laws, worker protections, child labor laws, etc. Add to these things consumer protections, environmental regulations, and the general rule of law in commerce…then add central controls (monetary policy, economic policy, financial regulations, etc.), and that completes the slowing down of many negative externalities as well as skyrocketing wealth disparity…and indeed encourages a broader platform of economic mobility. But make no mistake, the laissez-faire folks have always fought tooth-and-nail against these “socialist” intrusions into markets. This is the irony of modern neoliberalism: capturing the government and reversing socialistic reforms is what indeed improves short-term profits and wealth retainment for the owner-shareholder class…but it devastates the economic mobility and stable civil society that ensures a thriving, growing economy over the long-run. It’s why trickle-down supply-side economics never works, and why it always has to be rescued from itself (again, via socialistic reforms and stronger civil society). So again…Marx was actually correct about capitalism, but socialism has helped address the worst offenses. That is why “mixed” economies around the globe are the only ones that have consistently thrived over time.

Comment by Ian Rae: "Neither did Marx think violent revolution was necessary as he said in those countries which were developed enough it wasn’t necessary, England for one."

Ian I think you are splitting hairs. Yes, England is cited as a singular European example where “social revolution might be effected entirely by peaceful and legal means” (Engels re: Marx. Vol.1). This implies, in contrast with Marx’s frequent use of more violent language throughout all three volumes regarding both recurring crises and inevitable disruptions, catastrophes, attacks, rebellions, revolutions, etc. that England would be among very few exceptions. The historical and predictive picture Marx paints is otherwise pretty grim (in terms of revolution, counterrevolution, the degradation of the working class, inevitable conflict, etc.). But, more specifically, Marx’s violent-conflict-centric language here is striking: Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 136 November 1848. And of course the Communist Manifesto itself states plainly:

“Though not in substance, yet in form, the struggle of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie is at first a national struggle. The proletariat of each country must, of course, first of all settle matters with its own bourgeoisie. In depicting the most general phases of the development of the proletariat, we traced the more or less veiled civil war, raging within existing society, up to the point where that war breaks out into open revolution, and where the violent overthrow of the bourgeoisie lays the foundation for the sway of the proletariat.” And, later in the Manifesto: “The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.”

Of course, later on Marx softened his tone, seeming to appreciate the potential role of democratic reforms more acutely. Frankly, I think he recognized his error. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t make that error earlier on…though it was an understandable one in the context of his times.

Admittedly, Lenin entirely abandoned any reformist mechanisms or tone in favor of wholesale slaughter of all bourgeoisie resistance. This was an unfortunate evolution in Marxist-Leninism. But we cannot say that the seeds for this more egregious mistake weren’t sewn earlier by the language and attitudes of both Marx and Engels.

Follow up from Ian Rae: "At the time Marx wrote about violent revolution , the working class didn’t have the vote , so how else could they achieved power and even then Marx and Engels realised an overwhelming majority would need to understand the concept of socialism and want to organise for its inception."

That is simply not true, Ian. Aside from what was occurring in Great Britain, see: Corsican Constitution, Polish-Lithuanian Constitution, French Revolution & National Convention (male suffrage, etc.), and of course the U.S. Constitution…all of which occurred prior to first publications of Das Kapital, the Communist Manifesto, etc. You could argue that Marx “awoke” to the power of democratic agency by observing the Paris Commune…sure. But lots of stuff was going on throughout Europe and all around the globe in terms of “revolutionary” democratic changes prior to that. Marx just wasn’t paying attention…or didn’t think those changes would be sufficient (at first). Hence Marx made a mistake. That’s all it was. Just a simple, human mistake. Which is why I find it a little bit silly that anyone would try to defend Marx’s choices as anything but that.

Was the busting of Standard Oil necessary and or was it already losing control of it's monoply?

I see this question has already received plenty of neoliberal propaganda in response, so I’ll try to balance the scales with some sanity.

Yes, absolutely Standard Oil’s monopoly needed to end. Adam Smith was perhaps the first to write passionately about the dangers of monopoly, and Standard Oil’s 90% marketshare could have been a poster child for Smith’s predictions. After all, it resulted in:

1. Ruthless and destructive anti-competitive practices involving spying, lying, deception, back room deals, bribes, threats, physical violence, etc.

2. Careful and deliberate amplification of political corruption that supported Standard Oil’s monopoly.

3. Extraordinary, near-absolute influence over markets (price controls, supply manipulations, etc.)

4. Widespread public distaste and mistrust in the resulting consumer conditions imposed by Standard Oil.

While it is true that Rockefeller’s initial success was fueled by increased efficiencies and clever cost recovery strategies and innovation, those advantages paled in comparison to the truly brutal market manipulation that Standard Oil imposed later, when it had finagled and coerced the power to do so.

My 2 cents.

What is Max Stirner's philosophy?

Okay...people write entire dissertations on topics like this…so trying to shoehorn Stirner’s version of egoism into a brief post is…well, it’s pretty daunting, and likely pretty irresponsible as well. Be that as it may, I’ll offer some avenues of further study to explore a bigger picture of Stirner’s thought field after attempting a brief scatterplot.

With that caveat here’s a ridiculous oversimplification of Stirner: Human beings will maximize their autonomy by not subjugating their thoughts or will to anything or anyone. That’s pretty much the core assumption behind most of Stirner’s work as I interpret it. But this isn’t nihilistic bravado, moral relativism, “doing whatever you want,” or even pursuing rational self-interest — it is, more accurately, self-mastery via unfettered individualism.

There is an important contrast here to consider, and that is what Stirner saw as cultural forces and individual habits that he believed to be historically destructive to individual autonomy. Things like unquestioning conformance and groupthink, institutional or cultural conditioning, obsessive individual appetites, rigid rules and codes uniformly imposed upon members of a family, workplace, religion or society…and so on. Stirner saw these forces — and I think rightly so — as oppressive and coercive. And in response, he asserted that real “freedom” could only be achieved by rejecting such external and internal impositions.

Now here’s the thing about this message: it has validity, up to a point. In behavioral terms we could say such a reaction is even a necessary stage of development. Adolescent rebellion against familial and societal expectations can lead to a healthy and productive process of individuation. And before that, during early childhood, the emergence of the distinct individual ego seems an important process that differentiates I/Me/Mine from one’s parents and siblings. So as points of departure — as iterations of personal will in new contexts — these are helpful “egoic” events. But to be forever “stuck” in such a state…well, that becomes problematic. In the context of any civil society beyond a ruggedly individualist Wild West, for example, it actually becomes completely unworkable. Unfortunately, because certain cultures (the U.S. in particular) celebrate this type of individualism (or “atomism”), and mistakenly conflate it with personal sovereignty and liberty, it has been perpetuated as such. Further, Stirner’s projection of personal ego into property seems to reinforce a very individualistic flavor of economic materialism (again, seemingly quite prevalent in the U.S.).

The rather disastrous result of such memes is that right-leaning Libertarians, devotees of Ayn Rand, neoliberal market fundamentalists, and individualist anarchists (again, mainly in the U.S.) often get “stuck” in this terrible-twos/adolescent twilight. They do not realize that there are many, many more stages of ego development beyond these initial assertions of personal will. And that, in fact, ego must eventually attenuate to facilitate prosocial cohesion, and ultimately be relinquished altogether to evolve the greater good. (To appreciate why either of these is the case, I can provide additional resources or answer questions upon request). In a way, Stirner’s egoism is a sort of Peter Pan Syndrome where adherents reject even the most temporary, voluntary or conditional personal subjugation in order to defend their “right” to a particular flavor of individualistic freedom. At a certain point, this tendency becomes more than just willful immaturity…it devolves into a sort of irrational psychosis. (In fact, I think we are witnessing exactly this in Donald Trump’s antics as POTUS.)

That said, to really appreciate the specifics of Stirner’s arguments, we would need to study Hegel, Fichte, Feuerbach, Spinoza and Bauer — and all of these within an envelope of the Kantian lexicon. Only then will we grok what Stirner is aiming for with his “ownness” and his navigation of subject, substance, particularity, universality, and so on. So that is where I would begin for further study. This will help us understand the “why” of Stirner’s quest — but, unfortunately, it may not fully justify his conclusions.

My 2 cents.

From Quora: https://www.quora.com/What-is-Max-Stirners-philosophy/answer/T-Collins-Logan

Was Karl Marx actually a socialist?

There is a lot of confusion around this topic, in no small degree because pro-capitalist, neoliberal market fundamentalists in the U.S. and elsewhere have worked very hard to promote propaganda that keeps anything to do with Marx rather confused (for some elaboration on this, check out the post WWI and WWI “Red Scares”).

Here’s how I would lay things out:

The two main threads of socialism that were championed during the 1800s where social democracy and communism. Marx stepped into this debate with a theory of “historical materialism” that asserted that a specific order of evolution and revolution would occur in human society — one relating to the inherent conflict between the classes that form around different modes of production. It’s an interesting theory with quite a few salient observations about observable dynamics in history (such as the influence of modes of production on sociopolitical systems and consciousness), but it is also very simplistic…which has made if fairly easy to criticize. However, a moneyless, wageless, classless society was always the endgame of historical materialism as Marx envisioned it. And of course this would be facilitated through social ownership of the means of production…which is, of course, socialism.

But then came Vladimir Lenin, who asserted that “socialism” was actually an interim stage in the evolution from capitalism to stateless communism. And because of this interjection of differentiation, the waters became a lot muddier. Before Lenin, a more consistent differentiator between communism and socialism was that communism promoted atheism, whereas socialism did not. But after Lenin, communism was promoted as the endgame superior to socialism, and so perpetuating “socialism” per se would be — in this context at least — antagonistic to an evolution into communism. And for these and other reasons, Marx became forever disassociated with threads of social democracy that evolved in Europe and elsewhere, and which have resulted in the many mixed economies that attempt to balance the worst distortions of capitalism with socialist institutions.

Now something to note…and this is kind of important IMO…is that Marx was pretty permissive regarding violent expropriation, and pretty noncommittal about promoting specific forms of democracy. Marx did praise the democratic process he observed of the Paris Commune — which was itself aiming for social democracy — but apart from that, much of his language leans toward rhetoric like “the dictatorship of the proletariat.” In Capital, Marx does indicate that capitalism’s transformation of “scattered private property” into “capitalist private property” is inherently more violent and oppressive than the transformation of capitalist private property into socialized property: “In the former case, we had the expropriation of the mass of the people by a few usurpers; in the latter, we have the expropriation of a few usurpers by the mass of the people.” But apart from that comparison, he gives every indication that a revolutionary transition away from capitalism is going to be messy — and not just in terms of counterrevolution. Instead Marx fetishizes the proletariat as an idealized champion of moral rectitude in an unjust class division, and the bourgeoisie as the villains who must be overthrown. And of course this could only embolden the Bolsheviks in their murderous consolidation of power, Pol Pot’s brutal methods, and so on. In any case, I think these two issues — a lackluster and unspecific promotion of democracy, and a permissive attitude (or presumption of inevitability) towards violent revolutions — were Marx’s greatest errors.

With all of this said, the one point the OP is definitely getting wrong is asserting that Marx “never says that the proletariat is justified in revolting or that society will be better off afterwards.” The whole point of Marx’s theory of history and (and advocacy of proletariat self-governance) is liberation — emancipation really — and an end to oppression and exploitation. That’s a really difficult point to miss if Marx’s writings are taken as a whole: he is completely oriented to remedying the problems of capitalism, and insists that such remedies will, in fact, arise of their own dialectic, evolutionary imperative.

Lastly, I’ll leave you with this excerpt of Marx…because it is so wonderfully concise, and so insightfully accurate, in elaborating the very problems of capitalism we see manifesting in full force today:

From Marx’s Capital, Vol.1, Part VIII:

“As soon as this process of transformation has sufficiently decomposed the old society from top to bottom, as soon as the labourers are turned into proletarians, their means of labour into capital, as soon as the capitalist mode of production stands on its own feet, then the further socialisation of labour and further transformation of the land and other means of production into socially exploited and, therefore, common means of production, as well as the further expropriation of private proprietors, takes a new form. That which is now to be expropriated is no longer the labourer working for himself, but the capitalist exploiting many labourers. This expropriation is accomplished by the action of the immanent laws of capitalistic production itself, by the centralisation of capital. One capitalist always kills many. Hand in hand with this centralisation, or this expropriation of many capitalists by few, develop, on an ever extending scale, the co-operative form of the labour-process, the conscious technical application of science, the methodical cultivation of the soil, the transformation of the instruments of labour into instruments of labour only usable in common, the economising of all means of production by their use as the means of production of combined, socialised labour, the entanglement of all peoples in the net of the world-market, and this, the international character of the capitalistic régime. Along with the constantly diminishing number of the magnates of capital, who usurp and monopolise all advantages of this process of transformation, grows the mass of misery, oppression, slavery, degradation, exploitation; but with this too grows the revolt of the working-class, a class always increasing in numbers, and disciplined, united, organised by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself. The monopoly of capital becomes a fetter upon the mode of production, which has sprung up and flourished along with, and under it. Centralisation of the means of production and socialisation of labour at last reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. This integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated.”

My 2 cents.

How can property rights be justified without appealing to capitalist culture?

This is a pretty squirrelly topic, because so many assumptions have been made over time that have no “universal” basis or ground; in other words, they don’t have empirical validity that is replicable across all cultures around the globe, or throughout all of history…and sometimes they don’t have a clear logical basis either. For example:

Theory of labor appropriation: Based on the faulty assumption that primitive peoples throughout history claimed “ownership” when they applied their labor to land, objects they created, etc. This is actually a pretty modern idea (in terms of the total span of human culture and civilization). Locke actually used the Native Americans for his example - and he was just wrong. In actuality most Native American tribes either had no conception of “ownership” at all, or a collective (tribal) view of ownership or use — especially regarding land, hunting rights, etc. Locke was, well, just mistaken — as countless others have been who haven’t actually studied cultural anthropology when making assertions about primitive cultures.

The tragedy of the commons: A thought experiment that was repeated and amplified over decades to justify ownership and private control of resources. The irony, however, is that Elinor Ostrom documented dozens of instances of “common pool resource management” in cultures all around the globe that shared a non-depleting egalitarian access to the commons without mishap…and without either government ownership or private ownership.

Property rights as “natural rights” extending from sovereignty over one’s own person for one’s survival via mixing with labor: As the Austrian School (Rothbard, Hoppe) philosophically argued variation of Locke’s labor appropriation, this really just becomes an absurd extension of individualistic economic materialism, assuming (completely without rational or empirical basis) that social agreements, cultural preconditions, cooperative prosociality and all the other hallmarks of human civilization aren’t necessary or required for human survival; that instead they can be replaced with 100% self-sufficiency. In essence, it is an article of faith grounded in individualistic (atomistic) beliefs that are not supported by empirical research on how homo sapiens has actually survived and thrived as a species. This thesis becomes even more absurd when it extends beyond “personal” possessions (a knife, a jacket, a blanket, wild-harvested food or anything used for survival in a given moment) to things that will be utilized by everyone (i.e common resources) just because the “rightful owner” was “the first to show up and claim it.” Here there is an even greater leap of faith. It’s all very silly, and Hoppe and Rothbard can never really justify their positions other than to say, well…it makes sense to them (i.e. using statements like “how could it be otherwise?”).

So we can conclude fairly easily that conceptions of private property are a faith-based enterprise that contradicts both sound reasoning and empirical facts. What we do know, however, is that private property (as either a universally accepted principle or as a feature of law) is most certainly necessary for capitalism to function, so much so that anarcho-capitalists, laissez-faire neoliberals, Randian objectivists and other market fundamentalists will scrabble tooth-and-nail to justify the concept. The irony, however, is that liberty is greatly impeded by the concept of private property; in fact we could say that private property is itself one of the most profound sources of interference to freedom that humanity has every invented. To appreciate why this is the case, I recommend this essay: The Goldilocks Zone of Integral Liberty (scroll down linked page to read it - no need to sign into Academia)

Ultimately, then, the answer to the OP’s question is: No, property rights can’t be justified in a rational or empirical way that promotes either liberty or personal sovereignty, and are actually intrinsically antagonistic to both. Private property is a very handy concept for the haves to exploit the have-nots, however…and so it evokes religious conviction among the pro-capitalist crowd.

My 2 cents.

Comment from Steeve Chaboussie: "And yet, I’m pretty sure you lock your door. I am genuinely interested with how you reconcile that with “So we can conclude fairly easily that conceptions of private property are a faith-based enterprise that contradicts both sound reasoning and empirical facts.”

There was a time when everyone in a given culture would “cross themselves” whenever someone looked at them in a strange way, o perhaps pointed at them with an index finger. There was a time when various cultures felt compelled to sacrifice animals on altars to appease their gods. There was a time when it was “common sense” that the Earth was flat and the Sun and Moon revolved around it. Today we have equally irrational beliefs that guide our daily lives. Beliefs about the importance of “knocking on wood,” or that certain numbers are “lucky” for us, or that people of a certain skin color — or accent, country of origin, etc. — should be feared, or that synchronistic events must inherently “mean” something. Our species is, essentially, predisposed to superstition, irrationality and rationalization. Which is where the fear-based reasoning that enshrines private property in law (and fences off yards, and locks doors) comes from. It isn’t rational, it isn’t necessary, and in terms of the evolution of civil society, it isn’t “natural” in the sense it has been argued to be for the last few hundred years. It is instead an invention of our superstitious, fearful, systematizing minds. That was my point.

Now, if your are asking if I participate in this delusion along with everyone else…well of course I do. Because that is currently how we have restricted freedoms in civil society to an immense degree: by cordoning off 99% of the world around us as “privately owned” and inaccessible to non-owners. People who do not respect these artificial, fear-based boundaries are considered to be “breaking the law,” and because those who willfully and knowingly “break the law” in this way generally have nefarious agendas in mind, it would be unwise not to conform to the societal standards as they have evolved — despite the ridiculousness of their underlying premise. In the same way, a nudist who believes wearing clothes is…well…just a silly convention that hides or attempts to shame the natural beauty of all human bodies will also wear clothes in public. We conform — to whatever degree we must — in order to survive.

This is how I reconcile the hypocrisy of many of my own behaviors that I fundamentally despise. I also allow people to pay me for the services I provide — I would prefer they didn’t, as I find it distasteful and undermining of relationship and trust — but there is currently no other means for me to reliably obtain food and shelter for my family. And yes, I have tried some alternatives, and admire planned communities that attempt to do the same, but we are so embedded in a commercialistic, capitalistic society that “stepping outside” of it fully is extremely difficult. In fact, the only folks I know who have done so with ongoing success have had to leave the U.S. altogether…and many of them are still struggling to live according to their principles without external support.

However, these de facto conditions of “private property oppression” are not immutable, and my hope is that more and more inquisitive and thoughtful folks will gradually wake up to the fact that these conditions need to change in order to maximize the promises of democracy and liberty. It’s why I have been working to promote Level 7 proposals. But we shall see….

Why is MLK so admired?

1. Because he led an entire nation out of an ingrained habit of brutal racial oppression.

2. Because he accumulated tremendous political and interpersonal influence over time.

3. Because he inspired people to act on principle, instead of accepting the status quo.

4. Because he was willing to take tremendous personal risks to advance the freedoms of others.

5. Because he arose as the figurehead of an era for a national movement - he was at the right place at the right time - and he bore that burden with grace.

6. Because he was an eloquent and inspirational speaker.

7. Because, like Gandhi, he was able to do all of this without violence; he was a man of peace, but he moved mountains where others could not.

8. Because he did not give up. Ever.

From Quora: https://www.quora.com/Why-is-MLK-so-admired/answer/T-Collins-Logan

How did Aristotle influence the development of the West?

What a great question.

I might be overstating this…since I am a big fan of Aristotle…but I would say that Aristotle’s impact on Western civilization is probably only equalled by one other historical figure: Jesus of Nazareth. Although others - such as Aristotle’s teacher Plato - laid much of the groundwork for what became the philosophical tradition in the West, it was Aristotle who, more than any single influence, framed the trajectory of empirical observation, civic obligation and ethics, metaphysics, and analytic/reflective analysis that would lead to formal Christian theology, the scientific revolution, and the Enlightenment. Now I realize this may seem like an outrageous statement on the surface, but we can actually follow Aristotle’s profound influence on nearly all subsequent developments over the centuries - across innumerable hard and soft disciplines and specialities, including:

Civics and Democracy

Virtue Ethics


Christian Theology






Keep in mind, however, that I am not saying Aristotle’s conclusions were always correct or upheld by later thinkers and research. In fact you could say that Aristotle became important precisely because so many historically influential writers and researchers attempted to refute his assertions (sometimes succeeding, and sometimes not). In other words, Aristotle’s positions show up in nearly all of the later dialectics within areas of study to which he contributed (or invented)…all the way up into modern times. It’s incredible, really. As just one less-well-known example, most people in the West are familiar with Freud’s assertions about the pleasure principle, libido, id and ego in human motivation and ideation, and consider him to be the father of modern psychology. Except…well…it was Aristotle who first elaborated on those very same observations, though he named them differently. We could say with some confidence that Aristotle is the patron saint of the intellectual academic tradition itself. Aristotle has been so influential, in fact, that some less scrupulous authors have used his name to bolster their own positions. One of the more notable figures who did this was Ayn Rand, who very clearly misunderstood Aristotle on a fundamental level, but nevertheless claimed to derive many of her ideas from his writing.

So a modern citizen of the West can effectively thank Aristotle for living in democracies with institutions of higher learning, technologies and medicine that resulted from empirical science, a strong cultural tradition of analytical analysis and problem-solving, a much greater awareness of the human condition and the workings of the psyche, and the lingering (albeit waning and/or commodified) legacy of neoplatonic mysticism. What we can’t thank Aristotle for is capitalism, which we know from his writings he would have found repulsive, unethical and debasing.

Lastly, we should also not forget that Aristotle was also revered in Eastern cultures that came in contact with his teachings.

My 2 cents.

From Quora post: https://www.quora.com/How-did-Aristotle-influence-the-development-of-the-West/answer/T-Collins-Logan

Why do liberal democracy and capitalism go hand in hand?

Because they arose in their quasi-modern forms around the same time, and were both promoted (to varying degrees) by the same group of European intellectuals (Hobbes, Locke, Smith, Rousseau, etc.) during the Age of Enlightenment. Both the American and French revolutions were an outgrowth of these ideas, aiming to free the average person from oppression by monarchies, the Church, class distinctions, lack of knowledge and education, feudalistic labor relations and so forth. It was really an incredible time and an understandable outgrowth of the preceding scientific revolution. The prevailing assumption was that a society empowered with individual autonomy and agency, acting collectively in both capitalistic markets and self-governance, would result in the greatest freedoms for all. The flaws in this reasoning were that representative democracy could and would be usurped by a de facto elite class and/or concentrations of wealth - anticipation of this outcome was actually debated a fair amount. In other words, that social privilege and plutocratic/monopolistic influence would mimic the feudalistic/monarchistic relations of the systems being rejected. And this did eventually happen - to differing extents in different systems - with ever-increasing efforts by both the electorate-working poor and the wealthy-elite to wrench power away from the other side; we’re still struggling with these same issues today. But the point is that before the Enlightenment, democracy and market capitalism had not come to full fruition - they effectively did not exist on a large scale.

From Quora post: https://www.quora.com/Why-do-liberal-democracy-and-capitalism-go-hand-in-hand/answer/T-Collins-Logan

Can a society progress too quickly (for its own good)? And if so, what are some historical or theoretical examples of this?

With very few exceptions - mostly very small tribes in resource-abundant regions of the world - wherever human beings have settled aspects of their society have progressed too quickly. And by “too quickly” I mean that the progress has resulted in some sort of enduring damage. They might exhaust local natural resources, for example. Or they might build dense, weakly constructed towns where one earthquake or major fire kills a majority of inhabitants because they were living packed together in unsafe conditions. Or they might pollute the rivers and soil in a given area so badly that nothing grows there anymore and the water in undrinkable. Or they might hunt local wildlife to extinction. The examples of this kind of self-destructive behavior are endless, but mostly apply to other areas of “progress,” and not to what would be considered ethically or civically progressive.

Regarding other forms of social progress that might be considered ethics-related - such as civil liberties, or social safety nets, or reductions in violent crime, or women’s rights, etc. - I think most of the advances of the last two centuries or so simply haven’t been in play long enough for anyone to know. In other words, we haven’t seen the long-term fruit yet. And since much of this progress is being rolled back by right-leaning populist movements around the globe, it may be that we won’t be able to see them bear fruit at all. That said, two things come to mind with respect to your question. The first is the idea of multiculturalism, which seems to have failed to account for self-isolating or tribalistic groups that refuse to integrate with mainstream society. So multiculturalism must, I think, be replaced with practices like interculturalism, where more engagement, dialog and expectation of integration are priorities. The second is the level of depression and antidepressant use in Nordic countries, cultures that have mastered a very peaceful, calm, compassionate, productive and mutually supportive existence. I don’t know if this high level of depression and antidepressant use has any correlation with all the progressive factors that should instead (theoretically) contribute to happiness, but it does beg the question: does a lack of conflict induce ennui? Perhaps it takes cultures time - multiple generations - to adapt to a peaceful, thriving existence? Just a thought.

My 2 cents.

From Quora post: https://www.quora.com/Can-a-society-progress-too-quickly-for-its-own-good-And-if-so-what-are-some-historical-or-theoretical-examples-of-this/answer/T-Collins-Logan

What is the origin of New Age beliefs?

Thanks for the A2A Pete.

Here is my somewhat formulaic take on this phenomenon…not scholarly, just subjective….

1. Take a fairly well-educated white person from a middle class background who is dissatisfied with just about every aspect of the status quo - politics, religion, medicine, cultural institutions, industrialization, technology, etc. - and who furthermore either lacks any strong sense of cultural identity and tradition, or who fundamentally questions the identity and traditions within which they were raised. Let’s call this person “the maleable rebel.”

2. Now introduce a populist-energized movement of social unrest, revolutionary spirit, counterculture and “anti-establishmentarianism” that seeks not only to reject the status quo, but replace its social mores, institutions, traditions and values with radically revised, socially liberal, egalitarian and much more “personally liberated” ones. This movement appeals directly to “the maleable rebel” and provides a unifying - albeit temporary - sense of purpose and shared community within an essentially individualistic frame. The movement has reactive cohesion - enough for artistic expression, political rallies, a shared narrative, etc. - but lacks a unified vision to manifest as sustained outcomes.

3. Then, as an outgrowth of conditions 1 and 2, offer “the maleable rebel” a spiritual-philosophical-transformational basis for a more enduring post-revolutionary vision. Begin with a foundation of anti-traditionalism, add some superficial elements of Eastern mysticism and a pinch of Western esotericism, sprinkle in alternative medicine and some psychoactive plants, add some spiritualism, then mix these with a liberal handful of Earth-friendly habits…and you’ve got most of the essential ingredients. However - and this is what leaves a bitter taste in the minds of Neopagans, Traditionalists or Perrenialists observing the New Age movement - retain as the final ingredient a large portion of the very same individualistic materialism against which “the maleable rebel” initially revolted (in its classist forms).

4. Now begin to systematize this new vision by establishing authorities, celebrities, orthodox practices, value hierarchies, communities, literature, geographic locations, language, semantics, lifestyles and so on that create both a map of what the New Age community is supposed to look like, and a recipe book for adherence and identity.

In this way the New Age helped well-educated, middle-class white folks in the U.S. and U.K. reform their identity, spiritual practices and sense of purpose. It reframed what it meant to be “enlightened,” with an emphasis on personal freedom, growth and potential. And, in truth, many of the practices and ideals that grew out of the New Age movement do have value IMHO. The challenge, as with so many “institutionalized” belief systems that came before it, is that the New Age firmly held on to the very destructive cultural meme that inspired its birth: individualistic materialism. Although quite often drawing upon an authentic spirit, the New Age all too soon became a commercialized imitation of itself, an elaborate and jingoistic “demand and supply” distortion of its original intent. Such is the corrosive power of capitalist culture that it subsumes all nuance and truth in a frenzy of consumerism, oversimplifying anything subtle or complex into a sales-pitch commodity.

My 2 cents.

After further discussion on Facebook, here are some additional resources on the details of how the New Age movement migrated from Germany, as perhaps inspired by a much older movement:





(Thanks Eric Pierce, Mark Niblack & Jennifer Grove!)