Posted by: Harold Knight | 09/09/2010

. . . just thinking about – Marxism? and other unpopular ideas

(In which I use the word “Marxism” more times than you’ve read it in your entire life.)

Dedman College is the College of Humanities and Sciences of Southern Methodist University, the home of departments ranging from Philosophy to Physics. The course offerings of Dedman College are multitudinous. Non sequitur: The enormous catalogue of course offerings at Southern Methodist University lists only seven courses in which the name “Marx” or the terms “Marxism” or “Marxism” occur:

Clash of Cultures, 1450–1850. General Education Curriculum –Cultural Formation
Europe From Bismarck to World War I, 1870–1918. Dedman College International Studies
From Marx to Market (SMU-in-Paris) Dedman College International Studies
Nineteenth-Century Philosophy. Dedman College –Philosophy
Twentieth-Century European Philosophy. Dedman College –Philosophy
Introduction to Comparative Politics. Dedman College –Political Science
Chinese Politics. Dedman College –Political Science



None is listed in the Cox School of Business.

Can it be that the Cox School of Business is the least academically free school in the university? Apparently Cox teaches only one view of economics—capitalism, of course. If I wanted to understand capitalism thoroughly, I would want to know about other economic systems in order to understand how capitalism stacks up in comparison.

Perhaps Cox avoids Marx because, when Mr. Reagan said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” as we all know, Marxism ended.

I was just thinking.

I was indoctrinated early in the value of the exchange of ideas. In my senior year in College, when “free speech” was finding its voice (1967), students of the University of Redlands, including my roommate, invited Bettina Aptheker, daughter of Marxist historian Herbert Aptheker, to speak on campus in violation of the university’s ban of Communist speakers. The students helped change the entire ethos of the university.

I’m currently reading a work of Ernst Bloch, Atheism in Christianity. I say that with impunity because I’ll bet virtually no one who might stumble upon this blog will know of Ernst Bloch (1885-1977). He was a Jewish atheist German philosopher whose work was influenced by Hegel and Marx. Bloch was a Marxist (the last chapter of the book is titled, “Marx and the End of Alienation”).

Bloch’s signature epigraph is from Atheism in Christianity: “Only an atheist can be a good Christian; only a Christian can be a good atheist” (2).

Let’s get things straight. I’ve never read anything by Hegel, and I’ve read The Communist Manifesto only for classes long ago. If you want to think I’m a Marxist, that’s your prerogative. Reading Ernst Bloch’s writing—and, more importantly, articles about him, to have some idea what his dense prose means before I started—is one of the inspirations for my thinking about Marxism today. Thinking about. Not accepting or believing in.

The other inspiration is a hangover from yesterday. I wrote about “reverend” Terry Jones, and about the Johnny-Come-Lately establishment rush to condemn him for carrying to the farthest logical extreme anti-Islam furor in this country that has been allowed to continue unabated by the establishment folks who could have shown some leadership in stopping it.

Endlose Treppe, by Max Bill, inspired by Ernst Bloch

Endlose Treppe, by Max Bill, inspired by Ernst Bloch

The problem with “reverend” Jones’s idiocy is that it could have (and should have) been a non-issue—if there were any prophetic voices in this country. I have wondered for years why the fundamentalist christians seem to have complete dominance over religious life.  Virtually no public voice for religion stands squarely with orthodox religion, religion that doesn’t daily invent new and more oppressive and repressive theologies. For those of us who have trouble caring what religious organizations do and say it has become nearly impossible to take religion seriously.

Stumbling upon a book like Bloch’s Atheism in Christianity is a welcome respite from what appears to me to be egomania on the part of the fundamentalists and fear-of-their-own-shadows on the part of the so-called “mainline” churches.

I grew up with the Bible. The Bible colors and informs all of my thinking—even my agnosticism. But the Bible I read is not the one that Pat Robertson or Terry Jones read. For decades I’ve thought it’s almost as if one can’t think and read the Bible, too. In researching Ernst Bloch, I discovered a few scholars who confront this problem.

I know of no sustained, collective attempt by professional biblical scholars to actively contest fundamentalist claims to the Bible, apart from the late Bob Funk and his quirky Jesus Seminar, itself hardly a hotbed of political radicalism.(3)

“How the Bible can be RED.” For most of my life, I’ve thought the Bible could be red. Again, George Aichele:

I am still astonished that many of my well-educated, more-or-less leftist friends–people who all would support the ideals of liberation from oppression and the end of exploitation. . . .automatically and without question accept highly ‘spiritual’ or even fundamentalist readings of the Bible as the only correct ones. Of course they immediately reject the Bible as irrelevant or barbaric precisely because of these readings, and I think they are perplexed that I bother to study the Bible. (4)

Fundamentalism has browbeat both christians and non-christians alike in this country into believing that the Bible is about sex and money—and these days about the evils of Islam—rather than justice, love, and mercy. So we watch the terrifying antics of Terry Jones (and the heretical rantings of Pat Robertson) and their obsession with Islam. We wring our hands. We encounter what Jones and Robertson tell us is “Islamist radicalism,” and wonder what has gone wrong.

Perhaps what has gone wrong is

. . . .we began to believe that the West was on a one-way track toward modern secular democracy and that other societies, once placed on that track, would inevitably follow. Though this has not happened, we still maintain our implicit faith in a modernizing process and blame delays on extenuating circumstances like poverty. . . . This assumption shapes the way we see [Muslims]. . . as representatives of frustrated, irrational societies, nothing more. We live, so to speak, on the other shore. (5)

We live on the other shore.



Perhaps we are looking for a bridge, a bridge that is not to be found at the Cox School of Business or in christian fundamentalism. In an article on Bloch (6), Susan McManus quotes words of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, the rebels of Puebla, Mexico, from 2001. They say they are looking for a word,

A word which might not, perhaps, find its true meaning immediately.

A word which requires time and wind in order to find its place in the heart of the all that we are.

A word which speaks tomorrow.

A word which comes from very far back and, because of that, walks very far ahead of us.

A word which is greater than us and which, nonetheless, must be spoken.

A word which is only spoken together, which demands that everyone walk it in order for it to be able to be pronounced.

“Dignity” is how this word speaks.

And dignity is a bridge.

It needs two sides which, being different, distinct and distant, are made one by the bridge, without ceasing to be different and distinct, but ceasing, then, to be distant.

When the bridge of dignity is extended, the We that we are speaks, and the Other which we are not speaks.

The One and the Other are on the bridge which is dignity. (7)

Not the Bible, but prophetic?
(1) SMU Online Catalogue.
(2) Bloch, Ernst. Atheism in Christianity. Trans. J.T. Swann. London: Verso, 2009.
(3) Aichele, George. “How the Bible can be red: some thoughts on Roland Boer’s Rescuing the Bible.” Bible and Critical Theory 5.2 (2009): 21.1+.
(4) ibid.
(5) Lilla, Mark. “The politics of God.” Current 497 (2007): 15+.
(6) McManus, Susan. “Fabricating the future: becoming Bloch’s utopians.” Utopian Studies 14.2 (2003): 1+. Trans. J.T. Swann. London: Verso, 2009.
(7) ELZN. “Words of the ELZN.” February 27, 2001. Web. 7 Sep. 2010.


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