Monday, March 05, 2007

Helen Macfarlane's Idealism and Marxism.

April 2, 2011 at 11:33 A.M. This text was scrambled by a worm or other nefarious program that prevents me from posting text with normal spacing between pargraphs, requiring that I make use of the blockquote device to post writings on-line.
This is only one of hundreds of computer crimes committed against me with the permission of American authorities doing nothing to arrest and punish the persons rsponsible for these offenses who are also stealing my writings and publishing them under their names and for money. ("What is it like to be plagiarized?" and "What is it like to be tortured?")
August 18, 2007 at 6:15 P.M. "errors" have been reinserted in this essay. I will try to correct them again, until they are reinserted, once more. I am blocking: (NJ) (OAE?) (Senator Bob?)
August 15, 2007 at 10:34 P.M. "errors" have been inserted again in this essay. I will do my best to correct them. August 14, 2007 at 6:00 P.M. I tried to post a corrected version of this essay at my msn group this morning, but I am prevented from doing so (at this time) by harassment of one sort or another: hackers, viruses, spyware and other "security risks" are my daily reality. I am running a scan of my computer. I will try again throughout the day to post corrections at msn.
I do not believe that this sustained assault on civil liberties can take place without the cooperation of New Jersey government officials.
To accept the world as it is, is to prolong a state of grave danger. This world, accomodating and countenancing too much of what ought not to be tolerated -- plain, persistent injustice, stark, avoidable human suffering -- is a world very receptive to present and future atrocity, a world overpopulated with bystanders. It is one in which the idea is harder and harder to resist that just anything at all may be done to people while others look on; and there be no consequence. As long as the situation lasts, it degrades the moral culture of the planet. It poisons the conscience of humankind. -- Norman Geras.
David Black, Helen Macfarlane: A Feminist Revolutionary Journalist, and Philosopher in Mid-Nineteenth-Century England (Oxford: Lexingnton Books, 2004).
Steven Brust & Emma Bull, Freedom and Necessity (New York: Tom Doherty, 1997) (I highly recommend this historical novel. The thriller plot -- which would make a great movie -- and epistolary debates between characters allow for explorations of ideas dramatized against an exciting historical setting.)
Amazing Grace, Samuel Goldwyn, Michael Apted (Diretor), Steven Knight (Screenwriter), 2006. (Best movie I've seen so far this year.)
"Welcome to my philosophical tupperware party."
Feminism is a troublesome word these days. American culture is Balkanized. Adherents of the various ideologies are at one another's throats. Americans no longer talk to each other across political and cultural divides. They no longer make much of an effort to understand rival views. There is little appreciation of the theoretical difficulties associated with competing political philosophies. The result is a "war of all against all," besides lots of confusion and chaos. Mention of philosophical subtleties and logic produces only derisive laughter or attempts at censorship. It's all "relative," we are told, or "it's all about power."
My attempts to post this essay at my msn group were obstructed by hackers, more than once. Anything is possible in response to these ideas by reactionary forces. The word "feminism" is right on the edge of those political divisions, producing strong favorable and equally strong unfavorable responses from poll "subjects" (both men and women) reacting to its use in sentences: 28% of American men between 25 and 45 would not vote for any woman candidate for the Presidency of the United States. Why?
Feminism reveals deep divisions in the American collective subconscious. The worst approach by a candidate for higher office who is a woman is to ignore this reality. Much better is to confront it and say: "O.K., you would not vote for any woman because you have reservations about the intellectual and moral capacity of women. You wonder whether women can lead in a time of war or in the midst of a crisis."
Let's examine this prejudice in a rational and philosophical manner. Suppose I can show you examples of women who have overcome great social obstacles, accomplishing astonishing, brave and ingenious things; women who have fought for social justice and equality; who opposed slavery, while demanding the right to vote; who have led men into battle and governed nations; created philosophies and literature; painted masterpieces and done scientific work. Suppose I can point to women who have done such things despite being denied access to higher education and personal power for most of Western history. Would you agree that such women's lives and deeds refute any assumption that women are inferior? (See my essay "David Stove and the Intellectual Capacity of Women.")
Ask yourself where that assumption of female inferiority comes from? Are "other kinds of people similarly part of this classification scheme that makes them seem less than fully 'normal' or 'unworthy of consideration' -- since what they say is bound to be less interesting than what someone 'more normal' will say"? How do we define the concept of "normality"? Specifically, how about African-Americans? Or Latinos? Homosexuals? Are those people in a similar "hybrid category" when it comes to "normality"? What if a person is both placed in one of those categories and is (worse!) also a woman? You can pretty much ignore that person, right?
A Latina with some African ancestry becomes a non-person for such an ideology. A problem, however, is that if you do ignore such people, it may turn out that the person who will develop a cure for cancer or a new theory that solves the mind/body problem happens to be a woman of color and a lesbian. It's definitely a concern whether such prejudices are always self-limiting and destructive for a people. As one of the male geniuses from the neighborhood said: "It's one thing to be prejudiced, but you don't want to be stupid about it." Definitely not.
Has a culture of deeply-rooted racism and sexism "programmed" YOU to hold irrational views? If so, then maybe it is not only women who are injured and enslaved by sexist thinking, or African-Americans who are hurt by racism, but also anyone seeking freedom of thought. Are you a philosophical slave? Is it time to declare our philosophical emancipation? I think so.
If you cannot rationally defend sexism, then you are holding the opinion that one sex is superior to the other for irrational and non-philosophical reasons. Do you normally hold beliefs and opinions on such a basis? I hope not. If you want to fly from New York to L.A., would you get on a plane going to London? No, right?
Well, if you want to think about politics and ethics -- about where society should go and how to get it there -- should you not rely on reason? If so, then no prejudice or assumption is insulated from rational examination -- not the worship of science or any religion, not beliefs about the superiority of any one group of persons as compared with others, nothing is beyond questioning (including reason) -- and one must be prepared to offer "reasons" to support opinions and beliefs, even about reason.
In thinking about feminism, it may be a good idea to pause so as to reflect on where we are, then to decide whether progress can be made from this "place" or whether (as Billy Idol might say) we need to "start again" in our thinking about politics and gender. I will say something about what feminism is, in my opinion, and why it is both a valid and necessary philosophical stance, even as I illustrate the need for philosophical sophistication and theoretical insight by way of the life and work of Helen Macfarlane.
If you're feeling guilty about not recognizing the name "Helen Macfarlane," don't. I read a lot of history and philosophy. I mean that I read A LOT of stuff. I never heard of her until recently. The guilt -- and the word "guilt" is appropriate -- for most people at not having heard of this important figure in the history of nineteenth century thought and politics is closely connected to the topic of this essay.
Macfarlane's name does not appear in Robert Payne's biography of Marx nor in my anthology of Marx's writings. She is not included in Chambers' Biographical Dictionary. This is strange considering that Macfarlane was Marx's friend, an early defender of Marxist thinking, an original thinker and activist, Mr. Black says. She was also the translator of Marx's works before he was famous or much admired. Ms. Macfarlane is shown in this scholarly work to have been the first translator of Hegel's introduction to "The History of the Philosophical Sciences" in 1850.
The next attempt at an English translation of this work by Hegel, that would have a definitive impact on English thought in the century of the greatest global British power, would not arrive in London until 1855. Macfarlane was the first translator of "The Communist Manifesto" into the English language. Yet her name has mostly been lost to history. An effort must be made to correct this injustice.
Please bear in mind that Macfarlane could not attend any university in Britain during much of the nineteenth century. This correction of the historical record is a pretty tall order for a book-length examination, much less for an essay. So I will limit my comments to a definition and defense of one understanding of feminism (don't jump down my throat just yet!). I was once told that men cannot be feminists. This statement is an example of a kind of "sexism" which feminism should oppose.
Sexism is any assumed "natural" intellectual and moral superiority or distinction on the part of one sex (usually men) compared with the other (women). I illustrate my arguments with a summary discussion of this important and neglected thinker's use of Hegel and Marx. That's what philosophical ideas are "for," incidentally, to be "used" for the benefit of humanity.
Ms. Macfarlane actually knew and was a "comrade" of Karl Marx. She may be described as a journalist and revolutionary, not only an intellectual. Like her contemporary, Mary Ann Evans (George Eliot), Macfarlane sometimes used a male pseudonym (Howard Morton). This need to write "as a man" should tell us something about her society -- and ours. I know why she used that name: to be taken seriously as a thinker and writer by mostly male readers in a sexist society. For similar reasons, I may publish this essay under the name "John Pumpernickel, III."
There are so many outstanding women philosophers and writers who are simply ignored or forgotten. Many women in the past (even today) must have experienced the kind of insults and cruelty -- to say nothing of stupidity -- that I deal with on a daily basis in my efforts to write. Any effort to rescue these women's thoughts and works is worthwhile, since it is a form of opposition to censorship and sexist oppression. The philosopher who interests me in this essay hoped to come to terms with her precarious and unenviable situation in a society that was far more sexist and unjust than contemporary America. And that's saying a lot.
We still live in a sexist society. This point has nothing to do with moronic cultural or "language police" nonsense that says you shouldn't look at attractive women. No words (not even "chic") are prohibited in my moral universe. There is merely a price attached to the use of some terms and a need to be prepared to defend that usage. Context and intention are everything in language use. A woman with a great body may still earn a Ph.D. in philosophy and kick your ass in debate. Just as a Latino may be in a position to instruct YOU in the proper use of philosophical terms, physics, Milton scholarship, French cinema, together with lots of other things -- even as he takes care to remain physically attractive and charming in social settings. Do not be fooled by my shapely legs into failing to respect my mind. I'm good at multitasking. However, I can't cook. And my legs are shapely.
Is feminism relevant to the humor in this statement? What is revealed by the humor associated with this discussion? Does the laughter reveal some unease? Is that unease significant? Why does "feminism" still make many of us -- especially men -- uncomfortable?
Perhaps we can use humor to drag some of these issues into the light of day and examine them without fear or guilt. By the way, insults or questioning my masculinity (whatever that means) don't keep me up at night. I am secure in my sexuality and identity. It is only people who need to prove something to themselves who wonder about how "heterosexual" everybody else in the room happens to be.
I. What is feminism?
A. Do all feminists hate men?
Feminism is defined as:
"The approach to social life, philosophy and ethics that commits itself to correcting biases leading to the subordination of women or the disparagement of women's particular experience."
Simon Blackburn, ed., Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), p. 137.
I guess this will do as a working definition. I am aware that there are some women who will say that any definition of "feminism" by a man is worthless because men simply "don't get it." This is exactly what men have always said about women's views of, say, war or politics, philosophical truth or social justice. (Again, see my essay "David Stove and the Intellectual Capacity of Women" and "Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin.")
Here is one typical example of male wisdom on the subject of women's capacities:
"You need only look at the way in which she is formed, to see that woman is not meant to undergo great labor, whether of the mind or body. She pays the debt of life not by what she does, but by what she suffers; by the pains of child-bearing and care for the child, and by submission to her husband, to whom she should be a patient and cheering companion. The keenest sorrows and joys are not for her, nor is she called upon to display a great deal of strength. The current of her life should be more gentle, peaceful and trivial than man's, without being essentially happier or unhappier."
Arthur Schopenhauer, "On Women," in Essays of Arthur Schopenhauer, p. 434.
Feminism is incomprehensible apart from sexism. You do not need to free yourself in a society which grants and respects your freedom and equality. It is because people are not treated as free and equal "persons" that they find it necessary to rebel and insist on recognition of their full humanity. All else flows from this recognition, once it is granted. Needless to say, it is not so easily granted by those whose privileges usually result from inequality -- inequality supported by a network of ideas, along with structures of power and advantages resulting from those ideas (or conceptual "pictures") of social reality.
Cornel West asked the rhetorical question: "If there were no racism, then why were these people singing the blues?" If there were no sexism, or oppression of women, then why did women find it necessary to develop feminist theories of freedom and revolution? There is no Stonewall riot if homosexuals are treated equally.
I am about to infuriate some people: I am "for" gay marriage rights, full legal equality for everyone regardless of sexual-orientation or gender-status. Clear enough? Feminist thinking exists because it is needed. And if freedom is sought by any of us, then it must be a cause for all of us that freedom be granted to those who are denied it. Notice that I am suggesting that feminist struggle is both internal and external.
I think this is the lesson of Ms. Macfarlane's life. If she had been a man, there is no doubt in my mind that she would have been, say, T.H. Green -- a lecturer at Oxford, working on government committees, whose books are still in print, theorizing a historical moment for posterity. I will quote a relevant passage from T.H. Green's philosophy. I am sure that Macfarlane eventually read both the younger Green and Wollstonecraft, their possible influence or association is, strangely, not discussed by Mr. Black. Notice the beauty of the writing:
"Through certain media and under certain consequent limitations, but with the constant characteristics of self-consciousness and self-objectification, the one divine mind gradually reproduces itself in the human soul. In virtue of this principle in him man has definite capabilities, the realisation of which, since in it alone he can satisfy himself, forms his true good. They are not realised, however, in any life that can be observed, in any life that has been, or is, or (as it would seem) that can be lived by man as we know him; and for this reason we cannot say with any adequacy what the capabilities are. Yet, because the essence of man's spiritual endowment is the consciousness of having it, the idea of his having such capabilities, and of a possible better state of himself consisting of their further realisation, is a moving influence in him. It has been the parent of the institutions and usages, of the social judgments and aspirations, through which human life has been so far bettered; through which man has so far realised his capabilities and marked out the path that he must follow in their further realisation."
T.H. Green, Prolegomena to Ethics, p. 189.
Macfarlane anticipated this statement of 1879 by about thirty years. Yet T.H. Green is usually listed as the first of the British Hegelians. ("Master and Commander.")
Macfarlane does not exist in the history of philosophy, not even as a footnote in most texts. This is representative of the plight of women intellectuals. We students of philosophy are the losers because of this stupidity. Most people have never heard of the men and women who have provided the furnishings and decorations for their minds. Even a philosophical genius may be "seduced" by pernicious systems of thought, developed over centuries, in which we reside -- often unwillingly. Remember that those same systems of thought may well contain the key to unlock mental chains we drag around with us. To ignore the importance of ideas is always lethal, especially today.
Mr. Black may not have appreciated that Helen Macfarlane was the first of the British idealists in the neo-Hegelian movement. When I speak of "breaking chains that enslave us," I mean not only the literal kind (those are still around). More important sometimes are the philosophical chains that tie us to injustice and -- like it or not -- to one another.
My freedom is your freedom. The denial of freedom for any of us is the enslavement of all. A recent film explores these themes through a symbolic enchainment of a white woman by a black man, producing idiotic and non-comprehending literal interpretations and responses from many reviewers who should know better.
Ideas determine material realities as much as material realities may determine ideas. The young Marx understood this; the older Marx, who saw himself as the prophet of history, did not. History is without determining material forces. Economy is certainly important to culture. However, the relationship between economy and culture is not best thought of as one between base and superstructure, I believe, but more as a kind of "alternating current." In a media-saturated age, where reality itself is a commodity, we see that old truth about reality in idealist (and now structuralist) systems even more clearly than people did in the nineteenth century -- with the possible exception of Hegel, whose genius may exceed (sorry, if you don't like this) even that of Marx or Nietzsche, being comparable only to Kant's supremacy in modern thought.
Why is Kant supreme? Modernity and the revolutions in thought to which that epoch has given rise is largely the invention of a physically unprepossessing man from Konigsberg called: Immanuel Kant. Every philosopher after Kant -- including Marx -- is thinking within his terms. Macfarlane's position is close to that of the young Marx and British idealism, whose chief works Ms. Macfarlane anticipated, as I have said, by a generation at least. Macfarlane's philosophy (as with American philosopher Mary Whiton Calkins and her predecessor Mary Wollstonecraft) is more timely today than when it was written. This is especially true in light of current understandings of science and scientific rationality, indeterminate or chaos thinking in physics being especially relevant.
Macfarlane and Calkins are mostly ignored by scholars in search of yet another monograph on Foucault. Reviews of this book that I have read are o.k., but often shy away from the big issues. Mr. Black's book is important, if somewhat weak in the history of philosophy that he seeks to summarize.
A beer-guzzling fellow admirer of "The Man Show" may wonder: "But aren't all feminists lesbians?" Sadly, no. Feminism is popular with all kinds of women and men, regardless of sexual-orientation or preferences as to breakfast cereals. I like Opera and "The Man Show" (I only "guzzle" Diet Coke), especially the part at the end of the show when attractive women jump on a trampoline. I am sure that heterosexual women delight in seeing men jump on a trampoline. These pleasant cultural interests are distinct from our political and philosophical thoughts. We feminists can both "shimmy" and "shake."
When will America grow up on the subject of sex? Never, I guess. Feminism does not require persons to hate men. I am a man. I do not hate men. I hate stupidity -- especially when it hurts people. Feminists tend to share this hostility towards stupidity. A woman who hates all men or who claims that men cannot understand, say, "feminism" is exactly the opposite of a feminist, in my opinion, also in the opinion of many distinguished feminist philosophers -- Mary Wollstonecraft, for example. (A new "error" has been inserted in this last sentence since my posting earlier today.)
A former Congresswoman from New Jersey (for whom I did not vote), who happened to be a Republican, Millicent Fenwick, was attacked by a fellow Congressman: "I always thought of women as beautiful and nurturing," He said, "loving and welcoming me home from my efforts to care for them -- not running for Congress!"
Ms. Fenwick took a pensive drag on her pipe, and gently responded: "But that is exactly how I've always thought of men."
II. Macfarlane on Hegel.
Macfarlane's biography is not adequately discussed in Mr. Black's book. Her upbringing or how she came to be in Vienna -- as the revolutionary upheavals of the mid-century erupted -- remain a mystery. A biographical chapter might have been a good idea. Perhaps there is not enough information about her life. The history of philosophy in this work also has some problems, but it is roughly accurate. I will make use of it in providing my own reconstruction.
The focus first is on Hegel's The Science of Logic and Philosophy of Right. A good look at the Phenomenology of Spirit might have helped Mr. Black (pseudonym?) to make his argument. Incidentally, this is an important scholarly work that Mr. Black has written, one which merits the attention of the intellectual public. This is not a book which should be relegated to the ghetto of "women's studies." If I repeat this often enough some readers may go out and buy the book.
Hegel's political work is primarily concerned with the unity of natural and spiritual existence -- which is called -- the "innate freedom of Man [and woman]" -- only implicitly found in the philosophies of antiquity. It is only in "the sensuous representative consciousness [that] it must appear." It does so in the Christian religion, with the "representativeness" of Christ, as symbol, for humanity and in the unification found in the Trinity. Hegel "restates and resituates the Christian concept of the Incarnation within the wholeness of the movement of the Idea." (p. 62.)
This abstract restatement of Christianity allows the message of the Scriptures to transcend gender and race, even its mythic expression in sacred texts. (See the film "The Colors of the Cross.") Most people will not think in abstractions. They have not been taught or encouraged to do so. To reach them you must deploy a language of archetypal images. This is the language of religion and art, especially cinematic art today. Macfarlane's reading of Hegel allowed her to absorb this insight, which would lead directly from Hegel to hermeneutic theory in Hans Georg Gadamer (see Gadamer's book on Hegel's dialectic) and to Hegelian-Structuralism and Post-Structuralism, for example, in the work of Jacques Lacan.
This connection is also not mentioned by David Black. This idealistic philosophical tradition -- from Kant to early Hegel -- was inspirational for Carl Jung, since the archetypes are akin to the categories as a prioi forms for thought/thinking. In pondering the ideas of evil in Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight," I cannot do better than Paul Ricoeur's Hegelian "symbolism of evil." "... whereas in the Islamic and Jewish religions the authority of the all-powerful One appears as an abstract and external force," Hegel writes,
"in the Christian Incarnation the relationship of God with Nature is revealed through the sensuous and concrete images of pictorial thought. (Vorstellung) ... Spirit is postulated as pure Identity that 'separates itself from itself' in order to enter 'existence for and in itself as contrasted with the Universal.' ... Finite Spirit itself therefore is posited as as a constituent element [moment] of Divine Being. Man [and woman] is therefore comprehended in the Idea of God." (p. 62.)
The unification of Spinoza's "substance" -- which is a concept drawn as much from Aristotle and Aquinas as from Hebrew mysticism -- with Protestant individualism leads to a conception of the universal worth of ALL persons sharing in this divine essence. Western thought moves from mythic sources into an explicitly philosophical articulation of freedom as "Spirit" that Macfarlane calls "pantheism." Today we might speak of "panpsychism."
The idea of movement or dialectic is crucial, as Macfarlane comments: "In this religion [Christianity] we find the doctrine that the whole human race is equal in the sight of God, redeemed from bondage, and introduced into a state of Christian freedom by Jesus. These modes of representation make freedom, rank, birth, cultivation, and the like [immaterial;] and the progress which has been made by these means has been immense. Yet this mode of viewing the matter is somewhat different than the fact that freedom is an indispensable element in the conception -- man. The undefined feeling of this fact has worked for centuries in the dark; the instinct for freedom has produced the most terrible revolutions, but the idea of the innate freedom of man -- the knowledge of his own nature -- is not old." (pp. 62-63, emphasis added.)
From a view of concepts as static entities existing in a Platonic realm of forms, Hegel shifts Western thought to a dynamic understanding of human nature and ideas by looking to intellectual forces operating in the world, as they undergo transformations, historically. Hegel sees, as Macfarlane does, a logic to the unfolding of freedom in the world, leading to ever "greater emancipation of oppressed persons." The goal of humanity is freedom, Hegel says, for this is the only way in which humanity can "be." As with Augustine's prayer, Hegel's project of liberated THOUGHT is offered with a hope that humanity will "be."
Marx's goal in interpreting the laws of history is to account for the "necessary" liberation of human MATERIAL forces and capacities. Now put the two together, Hegel and Marx, and you have Macfarlane. It was this dialectical thinking which would help, first, to end slavery in Britain. Secondly, this philosophical "wave" improved the lives of workers. As Macfarland was among the first to see, such dialectical thought also offered much-needed hope to women in their early quest for freedom.
One senses in Macfarland's writings all that she is not saying, even under a man's name, because it could not yet have been thought or accepted by her readers. Crucial to this history is the idea of logic being propelled by its own contradictions and orientations, and thus emerging from competing values and intuitions. Also, notice Hegel's expanded scope of logical thinking in discerning a trajectory to thought as a progressive spiral, not bounded by the purely formal, allowing for feelings and insights:
"Logic is rather than something Super-natural which enters into the natural behavior of man -- [more like] Feeling, Intuition, Desire, Need, Impulse -- and thereby alone transforms [objective reason] to something human -- to ideas and purposes." (Hegel, Science of Logic, pp. 31-32.)
These ideas lead to Macfarlane's radicalized (and feminized) humanistic Hegelianism, paving the way for her encounter with Marx, as she calls for ... "... a Republic without helots, without poor, without classes. ... A society such indeed as the world has never seen -- not only of free men, but of free women; a society of equally holy, equally blessed gods." (p. 70.)
And again:
"Upon the doctrine of man's divinity, [or spiritual worth,] rests the distinction between a person and a thing ... the most heinous crime I can perpetrate is invading the personality of my brother man. ... [socialism] is a protest against the using up of man by man." (p. 71.)
In this passage and others like it, Macfarlane reaches back, through Hegel's dialectics, to a Kantian idea of human dignity rooted in Christian apologetics as well as to the notion of rights that transcend material interests for the sake of human dignity. She makes use of the thinkers of the Scottish Enlightenment and English rights theorists, like John Locke and William Blackstone.
These newly-born ideas were in tension not only with the prevailing economic order, but also with slavery as a still thriving institution in the world, even as they support an emerging radical consciousness among a few extraordinary men and women. These religious roots are also sources for Marx in thinking about social liberation. A British woman expressed these views concerning human equality regardless of gender or race -- probably equality despite one's sexual-orientation -- around 1850, ten years before America's civil war that ended slavery.
Macfarlane was among the first to recognize the revolutionary impact of these German ideas, translating these works and making them available to English readers, while working for progressive political causes. Helen Macfarlane is a philosophical and political genius. In 1830, Macfarlane could not attend a public school or university in England; she could not run for office or even vote; and after marriage, her property might have passed to her husband's "supervision." (I have just corrected this last sentence, after correcting it in an identical way earlier today.)
A society or set of ideas that does such things to any human being -- especially to a genius -- is profoundly unjust and in need of reform or radical alteration, not to mention being idiotic. Now take a look at the statistic I mentioned about men who would not vote for any woman for the presidency. Still feel that way? I thought not.
Even a curious and energetic student (like me) might never have encountered Macfarlane's work, while the writings of an obvious mediocrity -- such as the pompous Herbert Spencer -- continue to be examined by academics today. If this is not sexism, then I don't what is.
Notice that my point is about excellence, not political correctness. This is what should concern feminists: the destruction of lives by sexist stupidity. Whether a political figure has sex with an intern is of much less concern to me, so is the existence of such things as "The Man Show," than the reality of human suffering produced by sexist idiocy. (Can anybody get me a signed picture of "Vanessa Kay"?)
III. "The philosophers have only interpreted the world, the point, however, is to change it." -- MacFarlane's Collaboration With Marx.
Macfarlane learned from Hegel that by their "interpretations" philosophers can change the world. She later would learn from Marx in what direction change must come. "It is not enough for thought to strive towards realization," Marx writes, "reality must also strive towards thought." (pp. 121-122.)
Both God and the workers' revolution only "help those who help themselves." So how do we help ourselves? Only one word will answer this question: "struggle." People who prefer grand political phrases will speak of "revolution." The key term is "praxis." Now think about the concept of jihad, in a moral sense. I direct the reader to Germaine Greer's The Female Eunuch and The Autobiography of Angela Davis.
I revised and posted this essay hours ago, only to find the same "errors" introduced into the essay, once again, at 12:34 A.M. when I reviewed the work. People engaging in this deliberate, intentional infliction of harm and destruction of creative work -- over a period of years -- must enjoy political protection in a society ostensibly committed to freedom of expression, privacy, autonomy and democracy.
I suggest a careful reading of Fidel Castro's letter to Lidia Castro in The Prison Letters of Fidel Castro (New York: Nation Books, 2007), pp. 59-62: "If they think they can exhaust my patience, and that I am going to concede, they are going to find that I am wrapped in Buddhist tranquility ..."
Most of Macfarlane's essays appeared in something called "The Red Republican" -- which was a nineteenth century British "Chartist" equivalent of The Nation -- run by a guy called "George Julian Harney," whose wife (Mary) got into the Victorian version of a "cat fight" with Helen, after a notorious New Year's Eve bash in 1850.
Mr. Black does not know what happened. He can only report that Macfarlane disappeared from print shortly after this "unpleasantness." I can put the pieces together for him. Mary Harney was reportedly a beautiful woman. Her husband was curiously silent when this little tiff occurred. My guess is that Mary was worried that Helen had eyes for her husband. More likely, her husband had eyes for Helen -- which means that in addition to her scholarship, Macfarlane must have been an attractive woman or Mary would not have worried over the possibility of some hanky-panky between these two would-be revolutionaries.
Maybe there was more than intellectual admiration between Helen and this "Harney" guy. If so, then Helen just needed to "get her groove on," as it were, with some other guy. Sir Robert Peel maybe. Anyway, that's the soap opera angle. Unfortunately, we lost a great writer because of this nonsense.
Marx was prudently silent on the details, since he had knocked up his cleaning lady while his wife was on a trip to Switzerland at about the same time, thus anticipating the adventures today of Jude Law ("I was just being nice to the nanny, I swear!") and Siena Miller in the pages of Hello! magazine. "The more things change ..."
Anyway, back to philosophy: Marx recognized the merits of Macfarlane's translation in his 1872 edition with a new introduction of The Communist Manifesto. Marx went out of his way to acknowledge Helen's efforts, describing Macfarlane as a person with "original ideas" and a "rare bird." (p. 118.)
This is high praise from a genius who regarded most people as "morons." Sensibly, Macfarlane avoided the fate of Marx's cleaning lady by keeping large pieces of furniture betwen herself and Marx at all times. How do we get from Hegel to Marx?
"Hegel had spoken of the necessary development of spirit towards the idea. While it is true that this spirit and 'idea' were abstract things, and not be confused with any individual consciousness, nevertheless it is impossible to conceive of them in other but spiritual terms."
Notice what Marx does, in order to "put Hegel on his feet," which from our perspective more than a century later, actually turned Hegel upside down:
"Marx wished to argue that the social essence was, as it was for Feuerbach, a material and not a spiritual reality. He did not regard this 'social essence' as residing in any Hegelian idea or 'spiritual substance.' It lies rather in the collective activity Marx was to identify as labour. ..."
Roger Scruton, Modern Philosophy, pp. 214-215.
What is labor now? Where's the proletariat today? Sitting at a computer doing a graph on insurance statistics for the meeting by teleconference on Monday. Labor is "information management." Marx's picture of industrial society and workers is outdated, in other words, and his scientific laws of history are fiction in the advanced or late capitalist societies.
However, Marx's understanding of the social nature of humanity; his Kantian-inspired concern with the ethics of a human dignity that refuses to reduce persons to objects (commodities) is more timely today -- despite the horrors resulting from the misuse of his thinking in the twentieth century -- than ever before. Persons are not things. My freedom is your freedom. We are equally free or we are equally enslaved. These early Marxist insights remain inspirational and true. There is nothing un-American about them.
If reality has now become a "commodity" (ideas, symbols), then all of us must contribute to the making of that commodity, sharing in its distribution and benefits, or we will become or remain slaves. Cinema culture becomes very important. Marx understood that humanity has reached a stage in its development at which freedom -- what Hegel meant by "the realization of the Idea" -- implies equality, which means basic or fundamental human dignity of enabling conditions becomes a collective moral obligation.
This conclusion was foreshadowed in such documents as the United States Constitution and in the brave efforts of early feminists and Chartists in Britain. Marx was ahead of his time. But then, Marxism is not so different from that early, equally Jewish "revolutionary's" cry: "Whatsoever you do to the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, that you do unto me." See Alasdair MacIntyre's book Marxism and Christianity (Indiana: University of Notre Dame, 1968), pp. 103-117 ("Marxism and Religion").
I can understand that, in every society there is crime and organized crime. I am saddened and dismayed to discover how much of state government in dismal places (like New Jersey) is now indistiguishable from mob activity. It is the guilty bystanders who are truly disgusting, especially when they comment on the ethics of others. How can you permit or be indifferent to the commission of these crimes, New Jersey? How can you participate in the suppression of freedom while speaking of freedom or ethics to others? ("New Jersey's 'Ethical' Legal System.")
Today's struggle on the part of Third World peoples for recognition in media portraiture and "reality-creation," which is taking place primarily in the First World, but also universally -- a move increasingly welcomed in Hollywood (see "Babel" and "Dogma") -- is a unification of ideas found in Hegel and Marx, also in Jefferson, Lincoln, and King. American artists and creative business people, not surprisingly, are way ahead of politicians and judges.
The word "recognition" has an importance in the Third World -- especially among intellectuals -- that is not fully appreciated in Washington. To "re-cognize" is to see again, maybe for the first time, the importance of something or someone. I suggest that we "recognize" the importance of our Constitution and abolish torture, assassination or incarceration without trial, allowing for full transparency of all governmental action upon the lives of citizens.
Anglo-American theater and cinema has become global. Filmakers from all nations adopt our cinematic language, thereby altering and enriching that language, as with English literature, even more so with imagery. We are in the midst of inventing ourselves as one humanity -- Marx's dream come true! -- and this is happening first aesthetically, with political consequences and (so far) without bloodshed. Politicians have not seen it.
Cinema now is a global self-portrait of humanity in pigments and on a canvas bearing the stamp of Anglo-American societies. No one will change or alter this extraordinary and powerful political and economic as well as cultural reality. Politicians in America are ignoring this crucial fact, as they ponder the best way to steal public funds. "On the one hand; but on the other hand ..." (This essay has been hacked into and altered on several occasions, including several times today.)
I do not wish to get sidetracked into a discussion of Marx, who is worthy of separate treatment, so I will focus on some comments by Macfarlane which should make it clear how much of a philosophical genius this woman happened to be, then I will say something concerning Marx's youthful understanding of philosophy's role. (This sentence has been corrected for the tenth time, perhaps, and I expect to find the "error" reinserted by tomorrow.)
I am sure that this yearning for philosophical freedom was a topic of conversation between Helen and Marx. These comments are more timely today than ever before in the feminist struggle. Since some people are hostile to my reading list, I will make a point of discussing Marx and his Latin American interpreters in a future essay. I will not be censored from the Left or the Right of the political spectrum.
"We know that the battle between the old and new epochs -- between falsehood and truth, selfishness and love, despotism and freedom -- will be long, bloody and terrible." Macfarlane writes: "Through revolutions which have already begun, through fearful social convulsions, through wars and calamities, will the children of light triumph -- after long years, it may be -- over the powers of darkness." (p. 130.)
These words were written one hundred years before the Holocaust. What is this triumph? Christianity and all ethics of love, ethical traditions found in Judaism and other spiritual traditions provide the only lasting solutions:
"The idea of perfect Liberty, of Equality and Fraternity -- the divine idea of love, incarnate in the gentle Nazarean, is the idea we earnestly worship." (p. 71.)
Helen Macfarlane achieves a level of eloquence and insight in this passage, anticipating Green and Bradley, earning her the right to be read by posterity, while indicating the importance of her contribution to the history (and "herstory") of political thinking and philosophy:
"[Love] freed itself from the dead weight of a lifeless past in the days of Luther, bursting forth from under the accumulated rubbish of the ages, like waters of life -- like a fountain to refresh the wanderer fainting in desert places: it found an expression free from all symbols, sagas, and historical forms, in 'The Declaration of the Rights of Man,' by Maximilian Robespierre, and in the immortal pages of the 'Contrat Social' and 'Emile.' [Rousseau] The next step in the development of this divine idea will be its practical realization: the ethical political regeneration of society." (p. 71.) ("Manifesto or the Unfinished American Revolution.")
Consider Marx's definition of philosophy in his doctoral dissertation, which amounts to a call to end the "philosophical slavery" of humanity:
"We thus arrive at the consequence that the world's becoming philosophical is at the same time philosophy's becoming worldly," Marx says, "that the realization of philosophy is at the same time its loss, that what it struggles against outside is its own inner defect, that it is precisely in this truggle that it falls into the defects which it fights in its opponents, and that it can transcend these defects only by falling victim to them."
"The realization involved in the [development of a] philosophy in opposition to the world implies that these individual self-consciousnesses always have a double-edged-demand, one edge turning against the world and the other against philosophy itself."
The Portable Karl Marx, pp. 81-82. (From Marx's doctoral dissertation, 1841.)
This recognition of philosophy as dual, self-alteration, thought that changes us and the world, is MORE timely today than ever before. Philosophy is at the center of the feminist revolution. Philosophy is in the streets with our new freedoms about roles and our willingness to be objects of ridicule and ostracism in order to destroy stereotypes of masculinity and femininity. Take another look at my jokes about "shapely legs."
"Some cake before you go?"
Thanks for stopping by. I hope you liked the new curtains and enjoyed the cheesecake. I hope that you'll take with you a commitment to reimagine yourself, beyond sexist stereotypes and categories, by contributing to our social reinvention as a people with a prophetic mission: to fulfill the task outlined in our Constitution of being free and equal men and women, served by -- and not serving -- government.
Today, that freedom requires a recognition of the equal worth and dignity of all persons, rooted in religious insights, that can only be strengthened by scientific findings and never undermined by them. Helen Macfarlane restores an unapologetic humanism to the Western philosophical agenda in her quest for equality between the sexes and among all kinds of workers in the state (including sex-workers), as well as recognition and RESPECT for all women's deprivations and sufferings in a world that is still far from achieving her vision of the just society.
Please join Macfarlane's revolution. We will struggle together for that better world where all chains binding human beings are finally broken.

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