The Real Karl Marx by John Gray
In many ways, Jonathan Sperber suggests, Marx was “a backward-looking figure,” whose vision of the future was modeled on conditions quite different from any that prevail today:
The view of Marx as a contemporary whose ideas are shaping the modern world has run its course and it is time for a new understanding of him as a figure of a past historical epoch, one increasingly distant from our own: the age of the French Revolution, of Hegel’s philosophy, of the early years of English industrialization and the political economy stemming from it.
Sperber’s aim is to present Marx as he actually was—a nineteenth-century thinker engaged with the ideas and events of his time. If you see Marx in this way, many of the disputes that raged around his legacy in the past century will seem unprofitable, even irrelevant. Claiming that Marx was in some way “intellectually responsible” for twentieth-century communism will appear thoroughly misguided; but so will the defense of Marx as a radical democrat, since both views “project back onto the nineteenth century controversies of later times.”
Marx, of course, remains the boogeyman to many much as Smith remains the gilded hero of economics to the same set of people. It is little coincidence that many, if not most of them, have read neither but rather depend upon the accidents of history to tell them what to think about them.
This looks to be a good look at a controversial thinker that remains important to this day. His analysis remains quite good even if his Utopian fantasies remain forever out of touch with human reality.
It would be good if there were an equivalent book on Adam Smith but his hagiographers would have nothing of it, either, alas.