Marxism’s exhausted legacy:
A conservative reads Norman Birnbaum

If there is really a such thing as “Cultural Marxism,” it is no doubt represented in the person of American socialist sociologist Norman Birnbaum, who has taught for a long time at Georgetown University. I happened to pick up his book The Radical Renewal: The Politics of Ideas in Modern America because it was either free or quite cheap. Also, it had a back-cover blurb by Robert Bellah, author of Habits of the Heart, which I enjoyed in my undergraduate political theory studies.

Recently I’ve been exchanging pleasantries on Twitter with a professed Marxist who is distressed by the lack of political solutions advanced by Marxists. I thought I would read this book on his behalf, since, if any discipline is likely to to advance political recommendations worth heeding, it is certainly sociology and not economics.

So I’ll be reading and blogging about this book with no particular program other than to explore and engage with Birnbaum’s ideas. Continue reading Marxism’s exhausted legacy:
A conservative reads Norman Birnbaum

Are we proving Marx right?

This commonplace is dedicated to our comrades at Jacobin.

Karl Marx supposed that industrialized capitalism would eventually result in the elimination of labor, Brian Domitrovic explains. “Thanks to capitalism, machines could soon do all useful work.” Without the need to labor, the working class would overthrow the corrupt capitalist class and establish an economy where everyone’s modest needs would be met by technology.

Peter Lawler suggests that Marx’s vision is coming all too true—in a way. Technology—the robots—are taking over more and more of our jobs. The value of labor is in steep decline. More and more, the industrious working class is left with nothing to do. It is not even controversial now to observe that industrial capitalism is overripe and getting rotten. This is the point at which the proletariat was supposed to seize control of the means of production.

Unfortunately for Marx, they show no likelihood of doing so. Continue reading Are we proving Marx right?

C.S. Lewis on movie adaptations; also my Hobbit review

My wife and I went to see the second Hobbit film this afternoon. In many ways it was a fun movie, but it lacked, shall we say, the wonder of Tolkien’s imagination. It reminded my wife of this excellent bit from C.S. Lewis’s essay “On Stories” in which he reflects on the problems involved in adapting literary adventure to the screen.

I was once taken to see a film version of King Solomon’s Mines. Of its many sins—not least the introduction of a totally irrelevant young woman in shorts who accompanied the three adventurers wherever they went—only one here concerns us. At the end of Haggard’s book, as everyone remembers, the heroes are awaiting death entombed in a rock chamber and surrounded by the mummified kings of that land. The maker of the film version, however, apparently thought this tame. He substituted a subterranean volcanic eruption, and then went one better by adding an earthquake. Perhaps we should not blame him. Perhaps the scene in the original was not ‘cinematic’ and the man was right, by the canons of his own art, in altering it. But it would have been better not to have chosen in the first place a story which could be adapted to the screen only by being ruined. Ruined, at least, for me. No doubt if sheer excitement is all you want from a story, and if increase of dangers increases excitement, then a rapidly changing series of two risks (that of being burned alive and that of being crushed to bits) would be better than the single prolonged danger of starving to death in a cave. But that is just the point. There must be a pleasure in such stories distinct from mere excitement or I should not feel that I had been cheated in being given the earthquake instead of Haggard’s actual scene. What I lose is the whole sense of the deathly (quite a different thing from simple danger of death)–the cold, the silence, and the surrounding faces of the ancient, the crowned and sceptred, dead. You may, if you please, say that Rider Haggard’s effect is quite as ‘crude’ or ‘vulgar’ or ‘sensational’ as that which the film substituted for it. I am not at present discussing that. The point is that it is extremely different. The one lays a hushing spell on the imagination; the other excites a rapid flutter of the nerves. In reading that chapter of the book curiosity or suspense about the escape of the heroes from their death-trap makes a very minor part of one’s experience. The trap I remember for ever: how they got out I have long since forgotten.

The female elf-warrior of the movie does not quite fit Lewis’s description of the “totally irrelevant woman in shorts,” but that whole action sequence, along with the overworked one involving molten gold under the mountain, seems to have been invented to fill hours that might have been better spent in enjoying Beorn’s hospitality or even observing the councils of the High Elves, who were entirely missing from this episode.

Image of Bilbo Baggins looking above the Mirkwood canopy surrounded by butterflies in the evening light
The Hobbit needed more of this, less pinball physics (credit: OneRing.net)

All that said, the second Hobbit was probably better than other recent action movies and not a terrible way to spend a few hours, so you might as well go see it.

Dorothy L. Sayers on “Envy”

ENVY

Excerpted from Dorothy L. Sayers’ essay, “The Other Six Deadly Sins”

Hand in hand with covetousness goes its close companion — invidia or envy — which hates to see other men happy. The names by which it offers itself to the world’s applause are right and justice, and it makes a great parade of these austere virtues. It begins by asking, plausibly, “Why should I not enjoy what others enjoy?” and it ends by demanding, “Why should others enjoy what I may not?”

Envy is the great leveler, If it cannot level things up, it will level them down; and the words constantly in its mouth are “my rights” and “my wrongs.” At its best, envy is a climber and a snob; at its worst, it is a destroyer; rather than have anybody happier than itself, it will see us all miserable together.

Continue reading Dorothy L. Sayers on “Envy”