SV: [OPE] Gone and Being Forgotten (Freud, Marx, Hegel]

From: Martin Kragh (
Date: Fri Aug 29 2008 - 14:26:58 EDT

When I read this article as Jerry had it circulated on this list, I asked myself exactly how Hegel, Marx and Freud should be taught then, if taught at all. To my knowledge, Freud is still read at the departments of psychology in Sweden, but as regards Hegel I have no clue (as to whether the departments of philosophy teach his works). As regards Marx, there is to my knowledge only one or two specialized courses on his writings at all in Sweden. However, if you study courses in history of economic thought, he will be generally included. 


My question is this: Why just these three persons? Why should Marx be given more priority than the German Historical School? The latter was extremely important in German economic institutions at the turn of the last century.  Or why not Thorstein Weblen, a founding member of the American institutional tradition? Every time I hear the argument that this or that specific person is so important they should be taught more extensively, perhaps be given specialized courses, I wonder on what grounds exactly. No one ever asks that the French Phsysiocrats be taught more extensively, but Marx and Freud come back in these discussions as if they were some self evident, naturally given authorities in the social sciences. Well, one can always try to argue, that it was Hegel, Marx and Freud specifically who got a lot of things right, but then some other person may always argue, that it should not be Hegel, Marx and Freud but Kant, Keynes and B.F. Skinner. Who is more credible than the other? No one.  


As soon as you get intertwined in this sort of debate, your argument will be lost immediately and no one at your institution will pay any attention to what you say (you will be labeled a "heterodox" economist who is pursuing only your own self-interest). It is better in my opinion, to argue that the history of social sciences be taught more adequately, and that every institution in philosophy, economy and psychology took their responsibility in this question. In such a course, the students can choose freely among a wider field, and they in turn will be stimulated, and will not feel that their professor is pushing theories down their throats. In turn, they will discover Hegel, Marx and Freud naturally (and much, much more, which is how real knowledge is created). 


Kind regards,







Från: [] För Jurriaan Bendien
Skickat: den 29 augusti 2008 19:42
Ämne: [OPE] Gone and Being Forgotten (Freud, Marx, Hegel]


Russell Jacoby queries:

"How is it that Freud is not taught in psychology departments, Marx is 
not taught in economics, and Hegel is hardly taught in philosophy? (...)
Instead of confronting recalcitrant thinkers on their own terms, the new 
disciplines slice them up. Freud turns into an interpreter of texts, 
Hegel into a philosopher of art, and Marx into a cinema theorist. That 
saves them from oblivion, but at the price of domestication. Freud no 
longer excavates civilization and its discontents but merely unpacks 
words. Hegel no longer tracks the dialectic of freedom but consoles with 
the beautiful. Marx no longer outlines the movements of capital but only 
deconstructs the mass spectator."

Leaving aside the parochial self-interest of bureaucratic minds, the reality I think is that these intellectual giants and pioneers have generally been badly taught for generations anyway, so that you have to plow through a lot of literature before you wise up to it, and can recognise the difference between genuine scholarship and faddish bunkum. At least that was my experience (and I don't claim to be an authority on any of these three thinkers). In the case of Marx, the New Zealand-born scholar of political economy Ronald L. Meek once stated politely: "All too often, writers seem to assume that when dealing with Marx it is permissible to relax academic standards to a degree which they themselves would regard as quite illegitimate if they were dealing with any other economist" (Studies in the Labour Theory of Value, p. 241). 

The American Marx-scholar Hal Draper, who cites Meek's remark, adds that "There are few writers or thinkers in history whose every word and grunt has been examined by hostile critics so minutely as Marx's has. This is quite in order, provided the words and grunts are evaluated with ordinary common sense and decency. Marx came into the world to challenge all the established authorities, governmental authorities and intellectual authorities, and he can hardly complain if the authorities react with some hostility. (...) I have [however] seen remarks by Marx that were hastily dashed off in a letter to a friend, or a few words jotted down in a note, solemnly quoted (without identification) as if they were long-pondered programmatic statements every syllable of which has been thought out for its exact scientific meaning - indeed without regard to other statements on the subject of greater reliability. I wonder how many figures would come through such a working-over, done with a view to discreditment. In any case, several dozen "interpretations" of Marx can be fabricated, with little difficulty, through proper exegesis of the proper "quotations" thus wrenched off; and this has been going on industriously for a hundred years" (The Politics of Social Classes, p. 2).   

This being the case, it might in fact be a good thing if academia has lost any serious interest in the questions asked by Hegel, Marx and Freud - it leaves the field clear to those private researchers who are genuinely motivated to understand what they meant, for the love of the subject, without being distracted by all sorts of bad scholarship on them... which must be read and commented on in academia, to get an A-grade, a job, or a promotion. 

But suppose - just suppose - that Hegel, Marx, and Freud were generally well-taught in universities. What would you get? You would get people steeped in historical knowledge, capable of providing useful comment on, and relativising the greatest problems which humanity faces now, in broad historical perspective. You would get people who are not only able to place the modern problems of logic into perspective, but make genial new discoveries in the theory of logic. You would get people who can really explain how modern capitalism functions, in the contemporary world, and why some emancipatory strivings are bound to succeed, while others will not. You would get people who, for the first time, make available to all holistic, interdisciplinary reference works on human sexual development and the human psyche, based on all the valid findings of the neurological, psychological and other behavioural sciences, plainly explaining for all what the effects of the varieties of human behaviours are for optimal human development. 

You would get these people, because they would be genuinely and truly "standing on the shoulders" of these pioneering intellectual giants, developing their highest intentions in a modern setting, focused not on every trivial and time-bound letter of what they actually said, but on their highest aspirations, and on the methods they used to pursue them. 

All told, this may seem a terribly frightening prospect. It would mean that millions or even billions of people suddenly would have access to knowledge about the real nature of the wider world they live in, which they can otherwise get only through paying for years of study with all sorts of false starts, through laborious personal research, or only by wheedling their way into an informative association with people who are really "in the know". Mobile phones are fine of course, but in the end you do need somebody who really knows, because they've done the research. 

If the truth be told about the modern political economy of knowledge, it is that the rewards and power go to those who retain a de facto monopoly of knowledge about a subject area - knowledge having become a commodity, a saleable good, like any other. It's the very fact that people don't know things, that provides the knower with financial reward and power. Inversely, the knower has the problem that his or her knowledge, if shared, can be abused for all sorts of purposes he or she never intended, to a truly astronomic extent.

Knowledge is power, most often not even mainly because of what its content equips the knower to do, but simply because others do not have it, or cannot buy it.  


I'll give you all I got to give 

if you say you love me too 
I may not have a lot to give 

but what I got I'll give to you 
I don't care too much for money, 

money can't buy me love 
Can't buy me love, everybody tells me so 
Can't buy me love, no no no, no 


- The Beatles, "Can't buy me love"

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