What We’re Reading: “When Will They Cancel Karl Marx?”

May 5, 2022

“Never, of course. On the revealing double standards of the woke left.”

Andrew Sullivan is an author, blogger, and editor known for his provocative and fiercely independent brand of political and social commentary. He’s been called “the most influential political writer of his generation.”

He writes a weekly column called “The Weekly Dish.” We read it every week. Below are excerpts from his most recent column on the hypocrisy of the woke left, “When Will They Cancel Karl Marx?”

Read his column (and subscribe if you’d like) here.

When Will They Cancel Karl Marx?

Discrediting a thinker’s broad worldview or legacy by discovering some statement from the distant past revealing him or her to be a bigot by today’s standards is a depressing degeneration in our intellectual life. It speaks of a compulsion to moralize rather than to understand, to shut down rather than expand debate.

 . . .

 But what makes this illiberalism even more repellent is how selective it is. For a few generations now, critical race theorists have attempted to cancel one Enlightenment thinker after another, excoriating Thomas Jefferson as a bigot and hypocrite, David Hume as a vicious racist, Immanuel Kant of all people for white supremacism. The Age of Reason has been recast as the Era of Hate. . . And so one wonders if the same standard would apply to every philosopher in the past — way beyond the Enlightenment.

 Well, one doesn’t wonder very much … because the bad faith of so much critical theory is a feature and not a bug. The goal is not to see the truth, but to gain power in order to impose their truth. And to accuse you of hate if you dare to demur.

 Few examples demonstrate this better than Karl Marx, one of the most repellent anti-Semites and racists of the 19th century. . . What did Marx think of a multicultural society? Roughly what Richard Spencer believes today.

. . .

The lesson I draw from all this is a pretty simple one: Marx’s work deserves study today because of a handful of insights and Marxism’s uniquely murderous role in human history. But if you are going to cancel a thinker for bigotry by today’s standards, Marx is far more cancelable on leftist grounds than any of the Enlightenment figures under assault.

And yet he remains a core source for the woke worldview, after being strained through the nihilism of postmodern thought and repackaged for American undergrads.