Archive Civic Polity Economics Nota Bene Peter Escalante

The Opiates of Magical Deliverance

John Gray at NYRB, reviewing Sperber’s new biography of Marx:

The programs of “free market conservatives,” who aim to dismantle regulatory restraints on the workings of market forces while conserving or restoring traditional patterns of family life and social order, depend on the assumption that the impact of the market can be confined to the economy. Observing that free markets destroy and create forms of social life as they make and unmake products and industries, Marx showed that this assumption is badly mistaken. Contrary to what he expected, nationalism and religion have not faded away and there is no sign of their doing so in the foreseeable future; but when he perceived how capitalism was undermining bourgeois life, he grasped a vital truth.

This is not to say that Marx can offer any way out of our present economic difficulties. There is far more insight into the tendency of capitalism to suffer recurrent crises in the writings of John Maynard Keynes or a critical disciple of Keynes such as Hyman Minsky than in anything that Marx wrote. In its distance from any existing or realistically imaginable condition of society, “the communist idea” that has been resurrected by thinkers such as Alain Badiou and Slavoj Žižek is on a par with fantasies of the free market that have been revived on the right. The ideology promoted by the Austrian economist F. A. Hayek and his followers, in which capitalism is the winner in a competition for survival among economic systems, has much in common with the ersatz version of evolution propagated by Herbert Spencer more than a century ago. Reciting long-exploded fallacies, these neo-Marxian and neoliberal theories serve only to illustrate the persisting power of ideas that promise a magical deliverance from human conflict.

By Peter Escalante

Peter Escalante is a founder and editor of The Calvinist International. He holds a MA in Philosophy.