Karl Marx, You Were Right!

Marx - NYT.jpg

The New York Times is today running a think piece by philosophy professor Jason Barker bearing the bouncy title "Happy Birthday, Karl Marx. You Were Right!"

And what was Herr Marx right about? The need, according to Prof Barker, to change "the very foundations of society." Marx "does not offer a one-size-fits-all formula for enacting social change," Barker avers. "But he does offer a powerful intellectual acid test for that change. On that basis, we are destined to keep citing him and testing his ideas until the kind of society that he struggled to bring about, and that increasing numbers of us now desire, is finally realized."

No doubt owing to the fickle finger of fate that governs the academic job market, Professor Barker teaches philosophy at Kyung Hee University in Seoul, South Korea—which is to say that he is employed in a private educational institution in one of the most successful democratic and capitalist countries in the world, a mere 35 miles from one of the most repressive tyrannies ever to have been inspired by Karl Marx. A Londoner by birth, Barker attended the Surrey Institute of Art and Design and Cardiff University, and has since logged a colourful career in the European academic and art worlds—making films, writing books and essays, and burnishing his reputation as a clever leftist iconoclast. He appears, to judge from his CV at least, to be as privileged a product of elite European liberalism as you're ever apt to meet.

Is it not therefore ironic—in a postmodernist, post-Marxist sort of a way—that Prof Barker should find himself selling revolution in the world's most stridently anti-Communist capital? It will be a good long while before the kind of society that Marx struggled to bring about will be "finally realized" in Seoul, no matter how wistfully the New York Times continues to indulge the idea.