Tom Holland on Marx

I may have mentioned how much I enjoyed Tom Holland’s book Dominion, which explains the Western mindset as something that emerged, like lentils, made edible after a good soaking – in this case a soaking in two milliennia of Christian thought. Here’s his take on Karl Marx.

[Marx claimed] All his evaluations, all his predictions, derived from observable laws, ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.’ Here was a slogan with the clarity of a scientific formula.

Except, of course, that was no such thing. Its line of descent was evident to anyone familiar with the Acts of the Apostles. ‘Selling their possessions and goods , they gave to everyone as he had need.’ Repeatedly, throughout Christian history, the communism practised by the earliest Church had served radicals as their inspiration … [ p441]Marx’s interpretion of the world appeared fuelled by certainties that had no obvious source is his model of economics. They rose instead from profounder depths. Again and again, the magma flow of his indignation would force itself through the crust of his scientific-sounding prose. For a self-professed materialist, he was oddly prone to seeing the world as the Church Fathers had once done: as a battleground between cosmic forces of good and evil … The very words used by Marx to construct his model of class struggle – ‘exploitation’, ‘enslavement’,’avarice’ – owed less to the chill formulations of economists than to something far older: the claims to divine inspiration of the biblical prophets. If, as he insisted, he offered his followers a liberation from Christianity, then it was one that seemed eerily like a recalibration of it. (pp440-441)

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