Matter, Spirit, and Karl Marx
Is our Science all wrong?
Startling Claims from a Spiritualist Angle
The Rally of an Expelled Communist
(first published July 1927)
An Unbridged Gulf.
Let us be quite frank and say that there is no explanation of how matter thinks. We know what neurosis is, but we do not know how it becomes psychosis. We touch hot iron and instantaneously the contact is telegraphed along the nerves to the brain. But how that neurotic process, which is physical, should become a psychological experience, we do not know. Consciousness has yet to find its Newton. All that we know is that spirit has an ‘invariable and concomitant’ relationship with matter, the matter being first as the basis of spirit. There is no thought without a material thinker. And, testing the relationship, there may be a dead thinker without thought. The young thinker has youthful thoughts, indicating a soul no older than his body. The dependence thus meets the test by being exclusive, inclusive, and conditional. A live brain thinks, a dead body does not think, a youthful body thinks youthfully in accordance with lack of long training and experience. The Pythagoreans believed in the transmigration of souls. In their view the ego of Shakespeare existed before his body was born and still exists in some lowlier incarnation. This seems wildly unthinkable; but granted the independent, separable, eternal life of the soul, what more feasible, if the soul must function through a body? Spiritualism seeks to dispose of the necessity for transmigration by asserting the existence of an astral body for us all. There is no evidence of the existence of anything so unlikely, and there would need to be the best. Attendance at séances is the best way of finding out how little is to be seen, and how trivial and inept is all that is to be heard.
I have no pleasure in discussing the obvious; but one further remark on these definitions may be made.
Spirit in the Universe.
Of ‘spirit in the universe’ we have no knowledge. All talk of final causes is jargon. If every effect can be related to its natural antecedent causes, does it not seem obscurantism to posit a final cause behind the natural, obvious antecedents pursued as far back as science, assisted by telescope and microscope, can go? It is a law of the mind, the basis of all reasoning whatever, that there must be an Absolute, independent of time and destruction, and comprehending, rather than existing throughout, infinite space. Why object to regard the Universe itself as this Absolute? Is it not big enough, grand, varied, beautiful, majestic, powerful enough? The teleological craving is so strong with some, and especially with people who are not busy with any kind of finite work, that if by searching they could find out god, they would want to question him as to his antecedents, and would probably, if put off, wax scornful over the idea that he should not have an origin like everything else. Logic is satisfied with one infinity and incapable of conceiving two - an infinite God and an infinite Universe as well. There must be one sole entity that, unlike all finite things, had no origin. A Roman Catholic casuist said ‘ God and the Universe are co-existent eternities.’ That is as good a theory as any other theological doctrine. We would not expect a theologian to explain how the creation was as old as its creator. Theology is essentially concerned with a mystery; though, happily, religion itself is plain and simple and entirely concerned with the known and the knowable – with love and kindness and fair dealing between man and man.
The attitude if not the expressed question, of the wise workaday man will be: Why drag in God? The Cosmos is equal to all its work. One thinks of it as the only system of perpetual motion, self-sufficing, kept going by its own momentum, with a complete circle of conservation in all its forces and elements, the only system that repairs its own waste in one part by building up another, that has had no conceivable beginning and can have no conceivable end. To posit intelligence behind it – the old exploded Design Argument of Paley – is a poor finite craving born of incapacity to apprehend the infinite. This persistent discounting of the Universe is not so much ungrateful blasphemy as just the cry of a distressed child for its mother even when it knows that Mother is not there. For the sake of truth and humanity, let jus recognise that after Nature has done her best, man takes up the tale, and, acting as his own Adjunct Providence, makes good her absence of design, correcting her extremes of cold and heat, her crudeness, the unintentional cruelty of the machine, the imperfections of structural forms – as in eye, ear, throat, stomach and teeth – the disabilities of rudimentary organs and vestigial remains, the perverse distribution of plant life which placed the medicinal cinchona on the inaccessible heights of the Andes, though it has been found to thrive on the low grounds where it is wanted, and the maleficent palmella or ague plant where it could communicate the maximum of contagion; and lastly to correct the wildness and awkwardness of the natural man himself.
The Materialist Conception of History.
It is because I think that Mrs Kingsley has a good case against the Materialist Conception of History that I regret she should fall back upon Spiritism, which at best is occult, to justify beliefs which may be demonstrated by simple proofs of every day. What, for example, could be less materialistic than the love of a mother for a child? An infant is a cause of expense and trouble in the present and of anxiety for its future. The lucky parent may rejoice in the credit that a clever or prosperous son or daughter may bring, and there are parents who batten on their children; but as a rule the most that a good parent can hope for is that the boy or girl will do well and not be either a burden or a heartbreak in after life. Or what could be more disintegrated, what could be less materialistic, than the love of a wife for an ailing and slowly dying husband whom perhaps she may have to work to maintain?
I shall not traverse ground I have covered in these pages on previous occasions to point out the disinterestedness of patriotic surrender of life, martyrdom for a cause, the zeal of crusaders, Mahometan and Pagan as well as Christian, the love of country which induces men not only to die for it, but to go on living in it in spite of disastrous earthquakes as in Japan, or volcanic devastation as in Italy. Nay, the falsity of the materialistic conception is shown even by the persecuting sovereigns who by Bartholomew massacres and Jewish pogroms have decimated their own subjects and cess-payers in their zeal for what they regarded as religion. If vulgar materialism moves men to set store chiefly by whatever increases their wealth and comfort, who could be less materialistic than a doctor who poisoned his paying patients, or a merchant who murdered his customers? Yet Charles IX of France and the last Nicholas of Russia did the like in their zeal for a form of theology.
Marx Primarily a Moralist.
Mrs Kingsley is very right and says what needed to be said when she points out that Marx was stating ‘a moral ideal’ when he claimed that ‘the value of the commodities produced by labour is equal to the quantity of labour socially necessary to produce them.’ The same idea was promulgated by Adam Smith in 1775 as an application of his Theory of Moral Sentiments. He wrote (Ch v of The Wealth of Nations)
Labour is the real measure of the exchangeable value of all commodities. The real price of everything… is the toil and trouble of acquiring it, Labour… is the only universal as well as the only accurate measure of value, or the only standard by which we can compare the values of different commodities at all times and at all places
In Chapter VI he re-states with interesting variants: -
In that early and rude state of society which precedes both the accumulation of stock and the appropriation of land, the proportion between the quantities of labour necessary for acquiring different objects seems to be the only circumstance which can afford any rule for exchanging them one for another… In this state of things the whole produce of labour belongs to the labourer; and the quantity of labour commonly employed in acquiring or producing any commodity is the only circumstance which can regulate the quantity of labour which it ought commonly to purchase, command, and exchange for.
Adam Smith was professor of Moral Philosophy in Glasgow University, and it was a part of his duties that he expounded in extempore lectures the views afterwards written down for the ‘Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.’ The idea of labour being the basis of wealth is so obvious that one is surprised it should be regarded as in any way notable. That it is an ethical as well as a merely factual claim is equally clear. Why should the work of a man’s hands belong to him? Why should it not belong to the idler? Because that is ethically unjust. Rent, profit, and interest, as taken, are robbery. Adam Smith (chap vi) says:-
As soon as the land of any country has all become private property, the landlords, like all other men, love to reap where they never sowed, and demand a rent even for its natural produce.
The cool ‘like all other men’ there embodies the difference between Smith and Marx. It is customary to speak of Marx’s science; but Marx was not typically scientific. He was a master of irony and invective, which do not belong to the scientist. Marx, says Mrs Kingsley, was ‘a sharply indignant moralist,’ and his book is a ‘passionate indictment of expropriation.’ The ‘Capital’ is, indeed, not at all ‘the Bible of Socialism,’ as it has been called.
The Jewish Bible contains the law, the Commandments, and the Beatitudes (The Beatitudes are in the New Testament, but they were spoken by a Jew and the New Testament is itself a Jewish Book); but Marx’s book is ‘A Criticism of Political Economy’ without any pretence of constructive teaching. Laurence Gronlund’s ‘Co-operative Commonwealth,’ which used to be referred to as the New Testament of Socialism, is constructive.
About Marx’s moral indignation there can be no question. Among other phrases quoted by Mrs Kingsley are:
The thing that you represent has no heart in its breast (which is certainly not the language of mental science) the capitalist is a national miser.
To Marx the defender-exponents of capitalism are ‘fish-blooded doctrinaires.’ Capitalism itself is ‘as merciless vandalism’ and ‘comes into the world dripping from head to foot and from every pore with blood and dirt.’ The capitalist himself is a ‘vampire.’
The Class War in the Bible.
This moral indignation against the taking of surplus value was not a new thing. There is a Chinese proverb, doubtless thousands of years old, that ‘If one man lives in laziness another will die of hunger.’
Isaiah said to the rich of his day: ‘Ye have eaten up the vineyards; the spoil of the poor is in your houses.’ He also said of the exploited class, referring to a golden time still ahead: ‘They shall build houses and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards and eat the fruit of them. They shall not build, and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat.’
The apostle James wrote: ‘Behold the hire of the labourers which … is of you kept back by fraud.’ ‘Woe unto you that are rich,’ Jesus said. ‘It is as easy for a camel to go through the eye of a needle as for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven’; and in the parable of Lazarus there is nothing against the rich man except his riches to warrant him being consigned to the pit.
Paul said: ‘Let him that stole steal no more, but rather let him labour, working with his hands.’ This is a recognition that the only alternative to stealing a livelihood is to work for it. He did not even contemplate the third way, namely begging it. He himself worked at his calling of tent-maker, even when on a mission.
The Fathers Also.
The Fathers of the Church were violently anti-capitalist,
Opulence (says St Jerome) is always the product of theft committed, if not by the actual possesor, then by his ancestors. Some persons imagine that usury obtains only in money, but the Scriptures, foreseeing this, have exploded every increase, so that you cannot receive more than you gave.
And St Ambrose said: -
It is the bread of the hungry thou keepest; it is the clothing of the naked thou lockest up; the money thou buriest is the redemption of the wretched.
St. Basil, St Chrysostom, Origen, Tertullian are all emphatic in condemning the rentier, without having anything to suggest an alternative to private-enterprise methods.
John Ball, one of Wickliffe’s russet priests, had got his cue from the newly translated Bible when in 1381 he said:
They are clothed in velvet, and warm in their furs and ermine, while we are covered with rags. They have wine and spices and fair bread, and we oatcake and straw, and water to drink. They have leisure and fine houses; we have pain and labour, the rain and wind in the fields. And yet it is of us and our toil that these men hold their state.
Dr Barrow, the seventeenth century divine, said: -
A noble heart will disdain to subsist like a drone upon other’s labours, like a vermin to filch his food out of the public granaries, or like a shark to prey upon the lesser fry.
No Communist ever delivered a more vehement ‘class war’ diatribe than Lord Chancellor Sir Thomas More, who in the long indignant conclusion of ‘Utopia’ found the contemporary State just ‘a conspiracy of rich men procuring their own commodities under the name and title of the common wealth.’
The final part will be published in next month’s Gateway.
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