That headline is a rhetorical question, because I think I actually know what it is.
An affair built on a lie.
In an op-ed at the New York Times, one celebrating Karl Marx’s birthday by engaging in some extraordinarily pretentious word garbage (which is generally how academics discuss socialism: by making it sound pretty), Jason Barker, an associate professor of philosophy at Kyung Hee University in South Korea, tries to sell the notion of socialism and Marxist communism as one that equalizes people in a way capitalism doesn’t. And that a classless society is the utopian ideal.
But, like so many socialists/communists before him (Kim Jong Un, Mao Zedong, Stalin, Maduro, the Castro brothers) he lies.
Take this gem (emphasis mine):
In 2002, the French philosopher Alain Badiou declared at a conference I attended in London that Marx had become the philosopher of the middle class. What did he mean? I believe he meant that educated liberal opinion is today more or less unanimous in its agreement that Marx’s basic thesis — that capitalism is driven by a deeply divisive class struggle in which the ruling-class minority appropriates the surplus labor of the working-class majority as profit — is correct. Even liberal economists such as Nouriel Roubini agree that Marx’s conviction that capitalism has an inbuilt tendency to destroy itself remains as prescient as ever.
What our intrepid socialist celebrator is suggesting here is that the natural inclination of mankind to compete for scarce resources is what keeps capitalism alive, and if only we could get rid of those natural desires we could live in a utopian society where no one covets anything.
If you think ridding mankind of the need to compete is do-able (much less desirable because competition fuels innovation; there’s even a proverb about necessity being the mother of invention), I’ve got some south Florida swampland to sell you.
And they lie in all kinds of ways. One of the most clever is by omitting relevant information to shift the narrative. Mr. Barker uses that tool to great effect here (emphasis mine):
First, let’s be clear: Marx arrives at no magic formula for exiting the enormous social and economic contradictions that global capitalism entails (according to Oxfam, 82 percent of the global wealth generated in 2017 went to the world’s richest 1 percent). What Marx did achieve, however, through his self-styled materialist thought, were the critical weapons for undermining capitalism’s ideological claim to be the only game in town.
Mr. Barker declines to define the term “wealth”. Which is an important definition here because families being able to eat and live comfortably, maybe taking a vacation and being able to afford to educate their children, might not be considered “wealth” by some standards. But it’s a good life and one afforded through the natural tendency of capitalism to create jobs and economic stability for more people because it shuns burdensome government restriction via regulation on innovation and growth. And it’s a much better life than what’s offered in places like North Korea and Venezuela, socialist and communist societies, where people starve and are threatened by their dear leaders as they try to implement Marx’s classless society.
The proof is in the pudding.
Yet when these celebrators of socialism/communism are forced to face the reality of socialism and how it rarely leads to healthy and content societies of people, they just gloss right over it as some weird anomaly without trying to understand the irony (emphasis mine):
The idea of the classless and stateless society would come to define both Marx’s and Engels’s idea of communism, and of course the subsequent and troubled history of the Communist “states” (ironically enough!) that materialized during the 20th century. There is still a great deal to be learned from their disasters, but their philosophical relevance remains doubtful, to say the least.
Sure they were wrong, Mr. Barker says. But we can learn from their mistakes and try again!
And they keep trying. In this country, there are young opinion journalists like Elizabeth Bruenig working at national media outlets like The Washington Post calling for the U.S. to just give socialism a try already. And there are stories coming out of the states about how progressives democrats are finally dropping the facade and running on socialist tickets.
Reading Barker, there’s no doubt he understands that socialism has failed. And failed dramatically and almost everywhere it’s been tried. So he seems to understand it’s a lie.
The question is, why on earth do he and others like him want so badly for this lie to be true?
I suppose illicit affairs are like that, though. Maybe one day the affair partner will leave the spouse and be all the things they’ve promised to be for you.
And maybe you can build a house on swampland.