CHAPTER 15: HEGEL AND MARX
IT WOULD BE satisfying in some ways to make Hegel the culmination of the history of ethics: partly because Hegel himself saw the history of philosophy as ending with himself; more importantly because by Hegel’s time all the fundamental positions have been taken up. After Hegel they reappear in new guises and with new variations, but their reappearance is a testimony to the impossibility of fundamental innovation. The young Hegel set himself a problem which has already appeared in the argument: why are modern Germans (or Europeans in general) not like ancient Greeks? His answer is that through the rise of Christianity the individual and the state have become divided, so that the individual looks to transcendent criteria rather than to those implicit in the practice of his own political community. (Christianity separates the man whose destiny is eternal from the citizen; its God is the ruler of the world, not the deity of hearth and city.) Greek ethics presupposed the shared structure of the πόλις, and the consequent shared goals and desires. Modern (eighteenth-century) communities are collections of individuals. Hegel usually writes as if the Greek πόλις were more harmonious than in fact it was; he often ignores the existence of slaves. But then, so did Plato and Aristotle. Yet if Hegel’s vision of Greek harmony is exaggerated it provides him with clues for the diagnosis of individualism, and with clues of a historical kind. For Hegel is the first author to understand that there is not a single permanent moral question. His whole philosophy is an attempt to show that the history of philosophy is at the core of philosophy. And he believes this because he believes that philosophy clarifies and articulates the same concepts which are implicit in ordinary thought and practice. Since these have a history, philosophy too must be a historical discipline. It is true that Hegel, especially in his later writings, often treats concepts as if they are timeless entities somehow independent of the flux of the changing world. But even here there is usually some saving clause to make it clear that this is only a façon de parler.
If, then, for Hegel the clue to ethics is in the history of ethics, the Hegelian philosophy must cover the ground already traversed in these essays-and more. So it does, and in a variety of ways. The accounts of morality and its history given in the Phenomenology of Mind and in the Philosophy of Right are by no means identical. Moreover, in the Phenomenology at least, Hegel covers the same ground more than once in different ways. What I shall do, therefore, is to try to outline Hegel’s general view of the history of morality and of the role of moral philosophy in that history; then look at what is illuminating in Hegel’s changes of mind; and finally, criticize Hegel’s own solution.
Hegel envisages the most elementary forms of human life as essentially unreflective. The individual is absorbed into a closed society in which he acts out his customary role. In such a society the questions, What shall I do? how shall I live? cannot arise. It is as I become conscious through my relationships with other people of my status as a person, apart from the roles which I fill, that room is made for these questions. As society becomes more complex, as possibilities of alternative ways of life grow, so choices multiply. But in choosing I cannot discount the criteria of contemporary social practice. Seventeenth- and eighteenth-century writers, like Greek sophists before them, write as if the individual with his psychologically determined passions approaches social life with ends and aims already given; for Hegel this is a profound illusion. What passions and what ends the individual has and can have are a matter of the kind of social structure in which the individual finds himself. Desires are elicited and specified by the objects presented to them; the objects of desire, and especially of desires to live in one way rather than another, cannot be the same in all societies. But it is not necessarily the case that the desires elicited by a particular form of social life will find satisfaction within that form. The working out of the ends of contemporary practice may, in fact, destroy the very form of life which brought the desire for those ends into being. The reflective criticism of both ends and means may have unintended consequences.
In the light of these considerations Hegel pictures developed society in terms of a succession of forms of life, each of which, by a natural transition, is transformed into its successor. In the Phenomenology there is no suggestion-there is, indeed, a denial -that actual historical periods must rigorously follow out this pattern. Rather, the suggestion is that insofar as they do follow out this pattern, their history exhibits the logic of these Hegelian transitions. There are two particular sequences which any interpretation of Hegel must take seriously. The first of these is not specifically concerned with morality, but it is concerned with the nature of the framework within which moral questions arise. It is also an excellent introduction to Hegel’s own fundamental attitudes.
When the self-consciousness of individuals realizes itself in social roles, a central part is played by the relationship of Master and Serf. In this relationship the Master at the outset envisages himself alone as a fully self-conscious person; his Serf he seeks to reduce to the level of a thing, a mere instrument. But as the relationship develops the Master, too, is deformed, and more radically than the Serf is. For the relationship is defined in terms of their relationship to material things. These provide work for the Serf, but merely transient enjoyments for the Master. The Serf is indeed deformed, for his aims are so limited by the aims and the commands of the Master, that he can do little more than assert himself in the barest possible way; but the Master, insofar as he sees himself as Master, cannot find in the Serf any response through which in turn he could find himself as a fully developed person. He has cut himself off from the kind of relationship in which self-consciousness grows through being an object of regard by others, through finding itself “mirrored” in others. Whereas the Serf can see in the Master something at least that he wants to become. But for both it is true that growth in self-consciousness is fatally limited by the Master-Serf relationship.
Hegel then looks at three false solutions to the problem posed by that relationship. And in doing this he is thinking back to imperial Rome and to the attitudes engendered in a society actually dominated by the Master-Serf theme, not only in the institution of slavery itself, but in the relation of Caesar to his subjects and in the whole ranking of superiors and inferiors. The first false solution is stoicism: the acceptance of necessity, the identification of oneself with the universal reason of the cosmos, whatever one’s rank or relationship. Emperor and slave equally envisage themselves as citizens of the world. But this is to mask their real relationship, rather than to transform it. This is to try to think away the reality of serfdom by invoking the idea of freedom. So equally with skepticism, a frame of mind which casts doubt on all received beliefs and distinctions enforced by those who are Masters, but which has to exist in an individual who continues to live in that same world of received beliefs and distinctions. So the skeptic always has two attitudes of mind, one reserved for his academic reflections, in which he defies the ruling ideology, one for his daily commerce with social reality, in which he conforms to it. The dilemma of being unable to extract oneself from a social world which deforms at one and the same time both one’s relations with others and one’s own personality is finally given social expression in the form of life which Hegel calls that of the Unhappy Consciousness.
This is the epoch of Catholic Christianity. In it, the essential distress of the deformed, because unfree, character of human life and the consciousness of the possibility, indeed the necessity, of overcoming this, are represented in the form of the contrast between the fallen world of humanity and the perfection of the divine. The ideal is seen as something transcendent, existing outside and apart from human life. In the doctrine of the atonement the reconciliation of man as he is, with the ideal is portrayed in symbolic form. But those who remain within the symbolism and take it for a reality are thereby denied the reality which is symbolized. The crusaders try to find the ideal in militant action; instead of the ideal they find-a grave. The monastic orders try to find the ideal in asceticism; in so doing, they become prey to that very preoccupation with the flesh, with finitude, which they sought to escape. The way out is to see that Christianity symbolizes the human condition aptly enough, but that Christianity understood as literal truth is not the cure, but part of the disease. What condition? What cure? What disease?
One might begin from the Master-Serf relation again; but it is important to see that this for Hegel only provides a special case of a more general feature of human life and thought. This feature is what Hegel calls “the negative.” This concept can be explained as follows. If we wish to understand any concept or explain any belief, we must first locate it in the system of which it is a part; this system will manifest itself both in a characteristic mode of life and in characteristic forms of theorizing. The relation between the mode of life and the theorizing will not always be the same, but to some degree the theorizing will make articulate the concepts and beliefs implicit in the mode of life. (Hegel here anticipates the later treatment of religion in simpler societies by social anthropologists; and also Weber’s treatment of Protestantism and capitalism.) Yet in so doing, the more conscious the agent becomes of the form of life in which he is involved as a whole, as a form of life, the more he will acquire goods which lie outside and beyond that form of life, the achieving of which demand that it be transcended. The form of life now appears as setting limits to the agent, limitations against which he must struggle and which he must overcome. What were horizons become barriers. But in so doing, they play a positive role; they define the obstacles the transcending of which is the contemporary achievement of freedom. For freedom is the core of characteristically human life. Hegel is not here quarreling with Aristotle or with Kant, who see man as essentially rational. What he believes is that human rationality has a history, and that its history is the criticism both in life and in thought of the limitations of each of its own specific historical forms. “The negative,” the limiting factors, the role of the horizon and the obstacle, these are what is original in Hegel. So the Hegelian methodological injunction about any epoch is, “Understand its life and thought in terms of its aims and goals, and understand its aims and goals by means of identifying what men saw as the obstacles in their path.” You will then have identified their concept of freedom, even if they did not use the word freedom in that connection.
By freedom Hegel meant neither some property either possessed by (Kant) or available to (the Stoics) all men, no matter what they did, nor some specific state of social life (J. S. Mill). What freedom is in each time and place is defined by the specific limitations of that time and place and by the characteristic goals of that time and place. So it is correct to say in the Hegelian sense that the Levellers, the American colonists, John Brown at Harpers Ferry, and the South African Bantu today are all claiming their freedom, even though what they claim is substantially different in each case. To put it in another way, when we speak of men as being unfree, what we mean is always relative to an implicit normative picture of human life, by means of which we identify what human bondage is. And this is true not only of societies but also of individuals. The Hegelian concept of freedom is equally relevant to the problem of political freedom and to the traditional philosophical free-will problem.
We have already encountered fragments of this problem in Aristotle and the Stoics, in Hobbes and in Kant. For Hobbes and Hume, to be free is to be unconstrained by external factors, by bonds or threats; the actions of both free and unfree are equally susceptible of causal explanation in terms of factors sufficient to produce their actions. So Hobbes and Hume insist that all human actions are determined, but that some are nonetheless free. Doubt about this account springs not so much from any belief that to be free is to be uncaused, as from the fact that in certain cases the discovery of a causal explanation for actions leads us to cease to blame the agent, to treat him as not responsible for his actions. There does, therefore, seem to be some connection between actions being free and their not having certain sorts of cause. What is needed here is an extension of the kind of investigation of words like voluntary and deliberate which we find in Aristotle to other expressions involved, and to provide this has been part of the original contribution of analytical philosophy in the twentieth century. What Hegel does usefully point out is that the norms of voluntariness are not necessarily the same in all societies; the factors which we can demand of an agent that they should be under his control vary. With individuals this is clear: whether we blame someone for something often depends upon how much he does know of the factors involved and upon how much he could be expected to know. Thus the extension of reason is always an extension of the area in which we can exercise responsibility; and freedom cannot be extended without increasing understanding. It is on these grounds that Hegel links freedom and reason.
It is often difficult in reading Hegel to be sure how far he thinks he is offering us a-priori conceptual truths, how far he is offering us large-scale empirical generalizations, and how far he is pointing out what are characteristics rather than universal connections between concepts. Hegel’s dialectical logic is specifically concerned with the last, but the obscurity of his language can leave the reader very unclear on large issues. So Hegel was perhaps trapped by his own obscurity when he increasingly concluded that history is an inevitable progress of freedom to higher and higher forms, the Prussian state and Hegel’s own philosophy providing the culmination of this progress. But this later equation has unhappily discredited two key points that Hegel makes about freedom.
The first is that the concept of freedom is such that once it is presented no one can deny its claims. The testimony to this is the way in which conservative theorists insist that they are not enemies of freedom, they merely offer a different understanding of it. Illuminatingly, the differences between conservative and radical theorists usually turn out to be rooted in different and rival claims about the goals and desires of some social group. (This is the source of the conservative myth about agitators, men who pretend to be spokesmen for what would otherwise be, and is in their heart of hearts, a thoroughly contented group.) According to Hegel the reason why no one can deny the claims of freedom is that everyone seeks it for himself, and seeks it for himself as a good-that is, the merits he claims for freedom are such that it must be a good for everyone and not just for himself.
Moreover, the connection between freedom and the other virtues is emphasized by Hegel as by no other author. In the Philosophy of History the Master-Serf relationship is exemplified in different types of kingdom, the Oriental, the Greek, and the Roman; and in the account of the struggle between patricians and plebs in ancient Rome we are shown how the virtues of both parties degenerate, so that power and ambition dominate the scene. More generally, Hegel’s attitude to the qualities which we take to be virtuous is a much more complex one than that of, say, Aristotle. Hegel shares many of Aristotle’s valuations; he allows certain dispositions to be virtues in any society. He is certainly not a complete relativist. But, unlike Aristotle, he is keenly aware that circumstances alter virtues; a precept or a quality which is admirable in one society may be used to oppress in another. Courage may be transformed into senseless desperation- compare the last stands of the heroes of the Icelandic sagas, of Gisli the Soursop, for example, with the last stands of the Hitler Youth in 1945. Generosity may become weakness. Benevolence can be an instrument of tyranny. To this a number of replies may be made. An Aristotelian may insist that by definition this cannot be so; what is not done in the right time and place, to or by the right person, cannot be benevolence, or generosity, or courage. The doctrine of the mean shows it to be so. But this is too easy. Certainly the critic may use the Aristotelian criteria after the event; but the agent who is acting with the only criterion he has is exhibiting courage, or benevolence, as he knows it. Then the reply will be that he does not know enough. But although this may be so, it would be odd therefore to say that what young Nazis exhibited was not courage or loyalty, but a mere counterfeit. The lesson is rather that virtues themselves may for some people in some circumstances be weaknesses and not strengths. To this a Kantian will reply that we are served by our motives and intentions. To which the Hegelian answer is that motives and intentions, too, are transformed in different settings. Even the Kantian “good will” may be corrupted. Again the Kantian may seek a definitional defense. If corrupt, not the good will. But once again this will not do. For by all the criteria available to the agent his motives may exemplify the good will, and yet be instruments of corruption.
How this is so comes out very clearly in Hegel’s sketches of various moral forms of “false consciousness.” By a false consciousness Hegel means a conceptual scheme which both illuminates and misrepresents; so the conceptual schemes of individualist society are genuinely illuminating in that they bring out authentic features of that society and of its characteristic modes of theorizing, but misrepresent in that they conceal the limitations of individualism, partly by representing as universal and necessary features of the moral life what are only features of individualism.
The first of these individualist doctrines is the kind of hedonism in which the dominant principle is the pursuit of one’s own happiness. The trouble with this is that, as each person pursues his own satisfaction, he finds himself assessed by others in terms of his role in their pursuit of their happiness. He assists in creating a general situation in which the intersection of the various pursuits of private ends produces a series of dramatic crises; each person becomes “the fate” of another. Impersonal forces of disharmony seem to rule. This leads to disillusionment, to the acceptance of the fact that life is ruled by impersonal necessities. This acceptance is then turned into a kind of inner nobility. The individual is one brand of romantic hero. He follows his way through a world he disdains. He is, in fact, a kind of high-minded hedonist whose doctrine equally with its predecessor leads to anarchic clashes. He does not seek pleasure now, but to follow the dictates of a noble heart. But in so doing, he finds others impersonal and heartless. In the next stage of individualism’s self-development the individual opposes himself to the external social reality which has proved his enemy. In the name of Virtue he takes up arms against the World. The World must be defeated by Virtue so thoroughly that it scarcely exists as an adversary. And once the World is no longer the enemy, Virtue becomes Virtue in the world, Virtue that does the worldly duty which lies to hand. This is the phase of the individualist dialectic which Hegel calls “the spiritual zoo and humbug, or the affair-on-hand itself.”
In this phase the agent does his duty in his immediate sphere without asking about the context within which he acts or the wider effects of his actions. He accepts deliberately a limited vision both of his actions and of his responsibilities. His is not to reason why. (He lives in a spirtiual zoo; the animals are all in separate cages.) He boasts of minding his own business. He is the outcome of all good bureaucrats, of those technical specialists such as Eichmann who boasted that they merely discharged their function in arranging for so much transport to he provided between point X and point Y. Whether the cargo was sheep or Jews, whether points X and Y were farm and butcher’s slaughterhouse or ghetto and gas chamber, was no concern of theirs. But, of course, Hegel’s characterization applies also in every other sphere where the matter-in-hand is absolutized. Professor J. N. Findlay53 has pointed out how it illuminates the cult of “pure” scholarship, where a care for the truth alone is used to diguise the kind of self-seeking and competitive rivalry which pervade academic life.
The worst of it is that in its devotion to the affair-on-hand the individual reason now presents itself as a moral legislator: the task before you is your duty. First uttering imperatives to us and then offering us a test of self-consistent universalizibility, as we have already noticed in discussing Kant, lets in almost any action. It is not irrelevant to note here that the moral basis on which Eichmann himself claimed to have been educated was that of the categorical imperative.
What is common to all these doctrines is that they are attempts by the individual to supply his own morality, and at one and the same time, to claim for it a genuine universality. As such they are all self-defeating. For what gives a sanction to our moral choices is in part the fact that the criteria which govern our choices are not chosen. Therefore, if I make up my mind for myself, if I set myself my goals, I can at best provide a counterfeit of morality. Where, then, do I find criteria? In the established social practice of a well-ordered community. Here I find criteria proposed to me which I can make my own in the sense that I can frame my choices and my actions in accordance with them, but their authority is derived not from my choice but from the way in which in such a community they cannot fail to be regarded as normative. Thus Hegel’s final standpoint is that the moral life can only be led within a certain type of community, and that in such a community certain values will prove indispensable. He thus adopts a position different from both the subjectiveness and the objectiveness of the eighteenth century-and of their later heirs. From the standpoint of the isolated individual, choice between values is open; but for the individual integrated into his society it is not. Seen from within such a society certain values impose themselves as authoritative upon the individual; seen from without, they appear a matter of arbitrary choice. Plato and Aristotle saw the good as objective and authoritative because they wrote from within the society of the πόλις. The eighteenth-century individualist sees the good as the expression of his feelings or the mandate of his individual reason because he writes as it were from outside the social framework. Society appears to him an aggregate of individuals. But what for modern man can take the place of the πόλις? It is in his answer to this question that Hegel is at his least convincing.
The Hegelian notions of reason and freedom are essentially critical; their use is to point to the inadequacy of any given social and conceptual order. But Hegel in the culmination of his systems speaks as if they represent ideals that can in fact be achieved, as if they are specifications of an ideal, and finally true and rational, philosophy and of an ideal, and finally satisfactory, social order. With them the Absolute will have come upon the scene. The final reconciliation of God and man symbolized in the Christian doctrine of the Last Things will have been achieved. And this Hegel after the Phenomenology seems to believe. In the Logic he can write that the thoughts he is uttering are the thoughts of God. Indeed, his mature philosophy entails that he and King Frederick William are parts of the contemporary incarnation of the Absolute.
The arguments by which Hegel reaches his conclusion are exceptionally bad ones. But his conclusion is not quite so entirely absurd and despicable as it is sometimes represented to be. Those to whom it is said that Hegel exalted the state-and the Prussian state at that-often conclude that Hegel was therefore an early totalitarian. In fact the form of state which Hegel exalts is a moderate constitutional monarchy, and his praise of the Prussian state is based on his (not entirely correct) belief that the Prussian state of his own day was such a monarchy. Hegel can rightly be called a conservative; but insofar as he praises the state, it is because the state incarnates in fact-so he believes-certain social and moral values.
Suppose, however, that one dispensed with the Hegelian Absolute but otherwise remained a Hegelian. What conclusion would one reach about morals then? In the first instance, perhaps the conclusion of the Young or Left Hegelians that the free and rational community which will be the modern version of the πόλις is not yet; that it has to be brought into existence. But how? Hegel’s own mature belief was that the whole of human history exemplified the self-development of the Absolute Idea in its progress through self-estrangement to a final reconciliation with itself. This cosmic pageant is a drama which gives meaning to each separate historical episode. The Absolute, not to be identified with any finite part of the historical process, achieves its own realization in the development of the whole. The older Hegel treats the Absolute and its progress in history more and more as Christians have treated notions of God and his providence; less and less does he note his own earlier warnings against the danger of construing Christianity literally, of confusing symbol and concept. He thus treats the whole of history as exemplifying some kind of logical necessity, as exhibiting a development in which one stage cannot but give way to its successor. And, as the connections between stages are logical, as they are exemplifications of the movement of the Idea, it is natural to construe Hegel as believing that the rational progress of man in history is essentially a progress in thought. One epoch replaces another by thinking more thoroughly and more rationally. It follows that historical progress depends on progress in thinking. This conclusion was retained by the Young Hegelians long after they had abandoned belief in the Absolute. They took it in fact that their task was to cleanse Hegelianism of its religious and metaphysical elements, and to do this by philosophizing better than Hegel himself; so also in the political sphere what counted was the success of their theorizing. They therefore embarked upon the criticism of religion and of political institutions. Of their works, D. F. Strauss’s rationalistic Life of Jesus achieved lasting note in the history of New Testament criticism. But their most lasting memorial was the recruitment of the young Karl Marx.
Marx’s starting point is that of the earlier Hegel. His own wish to criticize Hegel’s heirs, whether Left or Right, led him later on to emphasize the contrasts between himself and Hegel, and subsequent Marxists have had other reasons for suppressing the Hegelian aspects of Marx. But this has led to a falsification of Marx, whose central concept is that of freedom, and of freedom in the Hegelian sense. Hegel had written of the idea of freedom that “this very idea itself is the actuality of men-not something which they have, as men, but which they are.” Marx wrote that “Freedom is so much the essence of man that even its opponents realize it. . No man fights freedom; he fights at most the freedom of others.”54
Like Hegel, Marx envisages freedom in terms of the overcoming of the limitations and constraints of one social order by bringing another, less limited social order into being. Unlike Hegel, he does not see those limitations and constraints as primarily the limitations and constraints of a given conceptual scheme. What constitutes a social order, what constitutes both its possibilities and its limitations, is the dominant form of work by which its material sustenance is produced. The forms of work vary with the forms of technology; and both the division of labor and the consequent division of masters and laborers are divisive of human society, producing classes and conflicts between them. The conceptual schemes through which men grasp their own society have a dual role; they both partly reveal the nature of that activity and partly conceal its true character. So the critique of concepts and the struggle to transform society necessarily go hand in hand, although in different periods the relation between these two tasks will be different.
This replacement of the Hegelian self-development of the Absolute Idea by the economic and social history of classes leads to a transformation of the Hegelian view of individualism. For Hegel the various individualist conceptual schemes were both an achievement and a barrier to further achievement, stages in the development of human consciousness about morality which in turn reveal their particular limitations. So, too, they are for Marx. But they can only be understood by being interpreted in the context of bourgeois society.
The essence of bourgeois society is technical innovation in the interests of capital accumulation. The bonds of feudal society are destroyed, a spirit of enterprise is unleashed, and the power of man over nature is indefinitely extended. Hence in bourgeois social life the concept of the freedom of the individual, liberated into a free-market economy, is central. But the freedoms which the individual enjoys in what Hegel called civil, Marx bourgeois, society are partly illusory; for the social and economic forms of that same society imprison the free individual in a set of relationships which nullify his civil and legal freedom and stunt his growth. In all societies the nature of human labor and of social organization has resulted in an inability of man to understand himself and his possibilities except in distorted forms. Men see themselves in the grip of impersonal powers and forces, which are in fact their own forms of social life, the fruits of their own actions falsely objectified and endowed with independent existence. Equally, they see themselves as free agents in areas of their life where the economic and social forms are in fact dictating the roles they live out. These twin and inescapable illusions constitute the alienation of man; his loss of the grasp of his own nature. In bourgeois society alienation exemplifies itself in the institutions of private property, which in turn exacerbate alienations. Individualist moral philosophers share in both the liberating and the constricting characteristics of bourgeois society. They represent both the genuine advance in human liberation which it represents and its specific form of human alienation.
For Marx in his early systematic writings the key contrast in bourgeois society is between what bourgeois philosophy and political economy reveal about human possibility and what the empirical study of bourgeois society reveals about the contemporary human activity. The freedom destroyed by bourgeois economy and the human needs which bourgeois industry fails to meet stand in judgment on that economy and industry; but this is not merely an appeal to the ideal against the real. For the goals of freedom and of human need are the goals implicit in the struggle of the working class in bourgeois society. But the goals have to be specified in terms of the achievement of a new form of society in which class division-and with it, bourgeois society-would be abolished. That is, within bourgeois society there are two social groups and at least, constituted by the dominant and the dominated class. Each of these has its own fundamental goals and form of life. It follows that moral precepts may find a role within the social life of each class. But there are no independent, transcendent norms which are above those issues which divide the classes. Certainly, many of the same precepts will occur in the moralities of each class, simply in virtue of each class being a human group. But these will not serve to determine the relations between classes.
When this background has been filled in, one can, I think, understand Marx’s attitudes on various occasions to the passing of moral judgments as entirely self-consistent. Marx on the one hand believed that in matters of conflict between social classes the appeal to moral judgments was not only pointless but positively misleading. So he tried to excise from documents of the First International appeals for justice for the working class. For to whom are these appeals being made? Presumably to those responsible for exploitation; but they are acting in accordance with the norms of their class, and although individual philanthropic moralists may be found among the bourgeoisie, philanthropy cannot alter class structure. But one may nonetheless use morally evaluative language in at least two ways. One may use it simply in the course of describing actions and institutions; no language adequately descriptive of slavery could fail to be condemnatory to anyone with certain attitudes and aims. Or one may use it explicitly to condemn, appealing not to some independent classless tribunal, but to the terms in which one’s opponents have themselves chosen to be judged. So in the Manifesto Marx throws back the charges leveled against communism by bourgeois critics, arguing that they stand condemned not on his premises but on their own.
We can express Marx’s attitude to morality in another way. The use of moral vocabulary always presupposes a shared form of social order. Appeal to moral principles against some existing state of affairs is always an appeal within the limits of that form of society; to appeal against that form of society we must find a vocabulary which does not presuppose its existence. Such a vocabulary one finds in the form of expression of wants and needs which are unsatisfiable within the existing society, wants and needs which demand a new social order.
So Marx appeals to the wants and needs of the working class against the social order of bourgeois society. But he never raises two questions which are crucial for his own doctrine. The first concerns the role of morality within the working-class movement. Because he sees the creation of the working class as economically determined by the development of capitalism, and because he believes that the necessities of capitalism will force the working class into self-conscious antagonism to capitalism, he never discusses the question of what principles of action are to inform the working-class movement. This omission is part of a more general lacuna in his argument. About the nature of the decline of capitalist economy Marx is sufficiently specific; about the details of a socialist economy, although what he says is sparse, we may take him to be adequate from his own point of view. But about the nature of the transition from capitalism to socialism he is unclear. Hence we remain uncertain as to how Marx conceives it possible that a society prey to the errors of moral individualism may come to recognize and transcend them.
Marx’s second great omission concerns the morality of socialist and communist society. He does indeed speak in at least one passage as though communism will be an embodiment of the Kantian kingdom of ends. But he is at best allusive on this topic. The consequence of these two related omissions is that Marx left later Marxists room for interpolation at this point. What he could not have foreseen is what would be interpolated. Bernstein, the revisionist Marxist, who did not believe that socialism would arrive in the predictable future, tried to find a Kantian basis for the labor movement’s activities; Kautsky saw that in Bernstein’s hands the appeal to the categorical imperative became exactly the kind of appeal to a morality above class and above society which Marx condemned. What he offered in its place, however, was simply a crude utilitarianism. The weakness to which this exposed latter-day Marxism can only be made clear when we have examined utilitarianism itself.