Classical Marxism, the Frankfurt School, and Contemporary Identity Politics

by Daniel A. Kaufman

My dialogue with Brian Leiter of the University of Chicago, on classical Marxism, the Frankfurt School, and contemporary Identity Politics.  Originally aired on MeaningofLife.TV, July 31.

7 Comments »

  1. So what was the big disagreement with Peterson about? He never claimed the Frankfurt School to be the culprit behind his so-called “Post-Modern-Neo-Marxists.” Rather he blames Derrida, Foucault et. al. for the current relativism in both epistemological and ethical areas and claims that the resulting vacuum then gets filled by cultural marxist ideas (such as fuck the mainstream culture, oppose traditional gender roles, wahtever else). Which also renders your critique “poor black people & poor white people should stick together” obsolete, as they are no longer concerned with monetary status but with “power”; the ability to influence culture and the societal consciousness Hegel talked about. Then they divide the population into groups based on their appearance and make them vie for this power. So I don’t really see what’s so wrong with Peterson’s analysis at the end of the day.

    In general though I would say that these distinctions/disagreements are largely inconsequential. Whether you stick to historical dialectics or material dialectics or go the postmodern route doesn’t matter, because they are all completely useless modern worldviews that are completely lacking in the spiritual domain and so cannot satisfy man’s needs and wants even in potentia.

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  2. Great dialogue. Enjoyed it.

    I get what you guys say about diversity blather: a cover for capitalists (google, etc); it divides people who should be united in their economic concerns, etc. All good points.

    But one thing motivating diversity didn’t come up: the culture of America is changing – in big ways. The cultural marxists focused on culture to explain why the revolution isn’t happening. But surely there is a different, positively defined sense of culture, as in the culture of a people, a country, etc; the stories they tell about themselves, their histories, their values, language, habits, etc. It is not just diversity blather which is keeping the inner city blacks and the midwest white farmers from aligning (though diversity blather isn’t helping). What is also keeping them apart is their sense of “their” culture, of who they are, and who they think they are not (“not like them”). Identity politics is not helping this division and is making it worse. But simply avoiding diversity issues to focus on economics seems implausible, given how deep cultural identity is to people. The cultural and economic issues have to be addressed together, rather than privileging one over the other. Why Marcuse caught hold in the 60s: he represented such a synthesis approach, even if the students misread the way Marcuse was thinking of culture. Maybe we need a better version of such a synthesis now.

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  3. good stuff DK, you should consider talking to http://davidharvey.org about his updates of Marx, a couple of quibbles not right to say that there is nothing to connect Marxists with post-structuralism/modernism for example Derrida did write a book on the Specters of Marx , Foucault was very interested in understanding the means of organization around capital/neoliberalism, and Deleuze was quite taken with aspects of Marx/accelerationism (google his interview with Negri), all of those 68’ers had a pretty strong foundation in the earlier Marxists,
    as for the identity politics BL is right to note that these were originally struggles against oppression what he fails to note (and mistakenly sees the civil rights movement as largely successful in terms of economic empowerment) is that these were often liberation/anticapital movements that weren’t simply interested in inclusion/representation but in fundamental( even revolutionary) reforms,
    and on a more minor note “diversity” came not from the corporate world to academia but from the struggles on campuses for minority studies programs, student enrollment, and faculties that then got translated to other work environments, all sadly without any changes (especially on campuses) to any real structural/organizational factors, now we have domesticated minority faculty and administrators selling students into debt peonage, yoking grad student and adjunct phds into precarious work, and so on…

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  4. Absolutely wonderful discussion. Professor Leiter is very well read in the subject matter and has clearly given it a great deal of thought. At the end, I think he provides a cogent argument about the “Left” of current identity politics which clearly has little to do with the historical left of even Marxism, let alone the original Civil Rights movement. Thanks for this!

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  5. Thanks, Dan! I enjoyed Leiter’s presentation. It’s been some time since I listened to a 90 minute without skipping forward.

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  6. An excellent dialogue, very informative and engaging. I am not a Marxist myself but it is an important position and it is good to clarify what Marxism is and isn’t.

    I was just reading an article in the online magazine Quillette in which the author claimed that Marx didn’t see work as a virtue at all and saw it as inherently exploitative. That seems to me to be getting Marx backwards.

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