Millennials Help Drive Revival of Marxism

Monday, 21 Apr 2014 01:44 PM

By Courtney Coren

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There is a Marxist revival underway, and it's time to recognize the movement, The New York Times columnist Ross Douthat writes.

"Not on a Soviet-style scale, mercifully, and not with the kind of near-scriptural authority that many Marxists once invested in him," Douthat writes. "But Marxist ideas are having an intellectual moment, and attention must be paid."

Douthat describes "two pillars" to this modern return to Karl Marx — the first is what has been called the "Millennial Marxists," strongly influenced by the most recent financial crisis, which have lead some to take "a new look at Old Karl's critique of capitalism."

Among the accomplishments of the "Millennial Marxists," The Times columnist names the Occupy Wall Street movement, "newish" academic and philosophical journals where they write about their ideas, and books.

"What they lack, however, is a synthesis, a story, of the kind that Marx himself offered," he writes. But this is also where the second pillar comes in — from the book, "Capital in the Twenty-First Century" by the French author Thomas Piketty, even though he "abjures the Marxist label."

"But as his title suggests, he is out to rehabilitate and recast one of Marx's key ideas: that so-called 'free markets,' by their nature, tend to enrich the owners of capital at the expense of people who own less of it."

Piketty argues that with increasing labor and income inequality combined with an economy that is recovering slowly, we are headed for an economic future similar to that of the 19th century, known for "vast inherited fortunes" alongside a weakening middle class.

Piketty's argument has been analyzed by Scott Winship of the Manhattan Institute, who says that "Piketty's data seems to understate the income gains enjoyed by most Americans over the last two generations."

They are not quite "as impressive as during they post-World War II years, but they do exist: For now, even as the rich have gotten much, much richer, the 99 percent have shared in growing prosperity in real, measurable ways."

This would explain "why the far left remains, for now, politically weak even as it enjoys a miniature intellectual renaissance."

Douthat says that it might also help explain "so much populist energy" on the right, as well, with movements like the tea party.

"The taproot of agitation in 21st-century politics, this trend suggests, may indeed be a Marxian sense of everything solid melting into air," he concludes. "But what's felt to be evaporating could turn out to to be cultural identity — family and faith, sovereignty and community — much more than economic security."

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