Katharine Gorka from The Heritage Foundation was a recent guest of the John Locke Foundation, and she discussed her essay How Identity Politics Revives Slaveholders’ Argument For Group Rights published by The Federalist. In her essay, Gorka draws a line from identity politics today to the ideas brought back from Europe by rich slaveowners. She summarizes in her writing the work of historian C. Bradley Thompson, “Southern intellectuals found the argument they were looking for in the thinking of the German philosopher George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.” She continues, “Hegel argued that truth is not fixed but changes with time.” I found this particular relationship fascinating because the socialist movement today is predicated on Marxist ideology—and Karl Marx is viewed by some scholars as the proverbial successor of Hegelian philosophy.
Indeed, Marx is a student of Hegel. In fact, the Marxist equation for social reform is simply a tweaked version of Hegelian philosophy. As a significant amount of my philosophical studies has been in German philosophy, I will briefly provide some background into some Hegelian principles to better show the relationship between Hegel and Marx and ultimately between the ideology shared between slaveowners and the progressive neo-Marxist as Gorka has eluded to in her essay.
In perhaps what is Hegel’s most notable work, The Philosophy of History, he argues that the goal of individuals, society is to know geist (roughly translated from German as mind or spirit) and to realize that reason and existence are a function of geist. The process for how individuals and society come to know geist is through what Hegel calls the dialectical. When Gorka refers to the fact that Hegel does not hold truths as fixed but changes over time, she is indirectly speaking to the dialectical process. In short, the dialectical process is the means by which society synthesizes modes of living at different intervals in time in order to move towards knowledge of geist and ultimate freedom. At the political level, the dialectic moves the state towards an organic or constantly evolving society.
Marx is trying to advance the same Hegelian philosophy but not with geist. Marx is a materialist, and he wants to advance material well-being (a.k.a economic egalitarianism) as what achieves the organic society.
Hegel put forward the notion we are fighting against history as a process that affects our thinking and action. We must control these forces to achieve a harmonious state and individual liberation. Here, Marx changes the equation from geist to production. If the proletariat controls the means of production, then society will achieve ultimate freedom.
Gorka continues to draw the line between the southern oligarchy’s rejection of nature for history. Gorka quotes Thompson, “Proslavery writers repudiated the Enlightenment proposition that there are absolute moral truths grounded in an unchanging nature” to support the line drawn from the reprehensible notions held by slaveowners to modern progressivism. Gorka highlights the progressive’s longing to address social inequalities caused in part by industrialization and how they believe with “enough social engineering, society could be perfected.” Not surprisingly, Marx also held the belief that if you change human nature, then you can make society better. The brilliance of the American Founders is that they understood human nature is not something to be perfected and they set up checks and balances to place checks on power.
Marx argued in his work Das Kapital that if you changed the economic structures, then you will change human nature. In doing so, Marx argues, society will overcome the divisions that stem from economic competition. However, as Gorka notes with the rise of fascists and Communist regimes across Europe and Asia, it doesn’t change human nature to be less competitive—it just redirects competition from wealth to more politicized forms of power and tyranny.
This is not a better alternative. In fact, societies that advance these aggressive socialist policies morph into totalitarianism when the competition is solely focused on politics. Gorka correctly notes that “[w]hile Progressivism in the United States never exacted the horrors seen in Nazi Germany or the Communist Soviet Union, it did rationalize all kinds of other injustices.”
It is ironic if you step back and think about it: those in the pursuit of egalitarianism are often the worst offenders of equality and human rights.
Joshua Peters is vice chair of the Wake County Young Republicans.