A letter to Walter Rhett

Dear Walter,
Your reply to Mr. Douthat’s essay of April 19, 2014 melodramatically titled Marx Rises Again,  was, as always, beautifully argued and written. What Mr. Douthat leaves out of his rather weak propagandizing, which is a companion piece to his essay of March 22,2014 Russia Without Illusions, advocating a New Containment without a New Cold War, was the fact of Liberation Theology as an indigenous occurrence of Marxist doctrine inside the Catholic Church. It was inconvenient to the attack on the ‘Specter of Marx’ that now haunts the West and America in particular, as Mr. Douthat presents it. Sounding in more muted tones Opus Dei religious zealotry, in a political/religious context.  The focus of his attack Mr. Piketti’s new book, based on empirically verified facts- Mr. Picketti speaks for himself in this interview with Prospect Magazine:
An excerpt demonstrates the inspiration/impetus for his book:

‘By studying wealth and capital—and in my book I use these two terms interchangeably—I am returning to the pre-Kuznets tradition of 19th-century economists who looked at wealth and inheritance. And novelists were of course very much interested in wealth in this period, because the entire society was constructed around wealth and capital.

One aspect of the book that many reviewers have commented on is the way you use examples from literature, particularly the dilemma that confronts Rastignac in Balzac’s novel Le père Goriot. Now you’re clearly not using those literary examples merely as decoration or light relief are you?

The primary reason for using these examples is that they influenced me a lot in my research. For a long time I’ve been trying to answer the “Rastignac dilemma” [that by marrying Mme Victorine, he’ll be able to get his hands on her fortune and achieve an annual income ten times that which he could earn as a royal prosecutor]. And I’ve been asking myself why it is that inheritance flows today seem to be lower than at the time of Balzac. What has changed? And it took me a long time to understand that, in a way, we are returning to very high inheritance flows. I’m not claiming that we’re returning to a world identical to Balzac’s, but in some ways we are in a transition.

Reading those 19th-century novels helped me to explore the question what has really changed since Balzac’s times. What are the deep reasons for those changes? Are they going to continue? Or can things go into reverse? What these novels show is that income and wealth are not only about numbers. They are about power relations between different groups of people. So using these literary references is a way to acknowledge that. It’s important to understand that behind the numbers, the data, you have social groups, people with hopes and disappointments. Money is always more than money.’

This, a confirmation of, or better yet, an echo of Mr. Richard Bronk’s the Romantic Economist? Just a thought.
Then the rhetorical embrace of the most dubious – the recrudescence of Neo-Faschists in Europe  and the Tea Party in the USA:

‘This possibility might help explain why the far left remains, for now, politically weak even as it enjoys a miniature intellectual renaissance. And it might hint at a reason that so much populist energy, in both the United States and Europe, has come from the right instead — from movements like the Tea Party, Britain’s UKIP, France’s National Front and others that incorporate some Piketty-esque arguments (attacks on crony capitalism; critiques of globalization) but foreground cultural anxieties instead’.

Then, Mr. Douthat demonstrates, in his last sentence, that he has missed the reality of the failure of the Free Market Delusion and the misdirected rage of the Tea Party, UKIP etc. The rage directed at the ‘Other’ in all it’s political manifestations might better be directed at the Free Market Buccaneers and their apologists, Mr Douthat being prominent among them. In the Douthat World View, politics is not the art of the possible, but the art of the self-serving.

‘Which is to say that while the Marxist revival is interesting enough, to become more relevant it needs to become a little more … reactionary.’

Best regards,





About stephenkmacksd

Rootless cosmopolitan,down at heels intellectual;would be writer. 'Polemic is a discourse of conflict, whose effect depends on a delicate balance between the requirements of truth and the enticements of anger, the duty to argue and the zest to inflame. Its rhetoric allows, even enforces, a certain figurative licence. Like epitaphs in Johnson’s adage, it is not under oath.' https://www.lrb.co.uk/v15/n20/perry-anderson/diary
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