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Episode 103: Brian Leiter explains why we should think about Marx

This month, Brian Leiter (University of Chicago) makes his third (!) appearance on the program to talk about how Karl Marx can help us understand our current political moment. Click here to listen to our conversation.

Karl Marx thought that industrial capitalism had an in-built self-destructive tendency. Capitalism would lead to great technological progress, which would in turn lead to more menial and repetitive careers being replaced by automation processes. Remember how in Modern Times, Charlie Chaplin develops a twitch in his wrists from doing nothing but tightening pairs of bolts for months on end? Why not have a robot do that? The idea was that after the technological boom, we’d be able to get robots to do this type of stuff for us. But then what? It seems we’ll get a big vacuum in the job market for people without elite educational degrees. And if we don’t do anything about that, presumably, we’ll get mass unemployment. And if there’s mass unemployment, no one will be able to buy anything, which will tank the entire economy, including the fortunes of the one percenters, who rely on people purchasing things to continue turning a profit.

But according to our guest, when people read Karl Marx today, they often lose sight of two important things. One is that he’s actually kind of a fan of capitalism, in the sense that he thinks capitalism and technological process will lead to the elimination of menial labor. Communism can only gets going once that process is finished. The second thing is that the purpose of communism isn’t for us to altruistically spread the wealth around. The purpose of communism is just to prevent the world economy from imploding! So in a way, it’s just as easy to pitch communism as a project driven by self-interest/self-preservation.

Sound familiar? It should. As our guest observes, Donald Trump tapped into these exact worries during the 2016 presidential campaign. Tune in to hear Brian Leiter explain how Marx can help us make sense of where we’re at!

Matt Teichman

Posted in Podcast.


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