oh dear (via). very embarrassing. or as it puts it:
"Making use of the time-dishonoured rhetoric so beloved of anti-intellectual columnists (a tautology, to be sure), namely, "I know this stuff so you don't have to", Liddle meanders his way through a lazy stream of putrid unthought, with the sole purpose of making himself look like someone who is clever enough to know what "dialectical materialism" is, and, even more "intelligently", how to dismiss it."
Let’s have Marxist Love Island
Ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together, please, for Mr Karl Marx, the sage of Trier, who has scooped the top prize in Radio 4’s exciting competition, Who’s the Bestest Philosopher Ever, Ever, Ever? Step this way, Karl, and collect from Lord Bragg your prize — a fabulous, all-expenses-paid trip through time to visit the Soviet gulags, Mao’s fabulous Cultural Revolution, Pol Pot’s wacky Year Zero, three days in a Düsseldorf basement with Ulrike Meinhof fiddling about with gelignite — and ending with the complete and utter defeat of every philosophical, political and economic idea to which you owe your reputation.
The trip is called — guess what? — the Historical Inevitability Tour. Pack your bags, dude.
I don’t know how much can be read into Karl’s momentous victory; there may well be, as the recently deceased French thinker Jacques Derrida would have put it, a multiplicity of meanings. Or it might be that Marx is the only philosopher most British people have heard of.
Karl once foresaw a time when the working classes would spend their many hours of leisure happily reading Plato, but he had not envisaged the competing attractions of, say, watching Rebecca Loos offer manual relief to a pig on Five’s The Farm.
If the Brits were given a choice between debating the complex issues raised in Henri Bergson’s Duration and Simultaneity and watching Midsomer Murders, my guess is that John Nettles would beat the plucky French challenger every time.
Nor do our home-grown philosophers, with maybe the exception of Hume, really punch their weight in the international arena: they pass the ball around nicely, but they lack that killer punch in the penalty area and are sometimes suspect at the back.
British philosophers tend to fall into two equally alienating and hostile camps. On the one hand there are those who are not entirely certain what a table is. And then there’s a whole bunch of rather forbidding Scottish people, stereotypically terribly worried about money, who have spent too many interminable Saturday evenings, friendless, in the granite and drizzle of Aberdeen or Leith.
I suspect that the rest of us, despite the unwelcome presence of Ikea on the edge of many of our teeming conurbations, are perfectly content with our understanding of what is meant by the word “table”, those bloody flatpacks notwithstanding.
In fact, it may be that Karl Marx won this daft competition because he is not, actually, a philosopher at all. In so far as the reputation of his work remains, or has been rehabilitated (by Lord Desai, among others), it is as a flawed economic critique of global capitalism. The abstract stuff of Marx, the bits he nicked from Feuerbach and Hegel and Vico — that is, the philosophy — we are no longer familiar with, or no longer credit to him.
And, of course, he was himself famously disparaging about the nature of philosophical discourse — in an agreeably British way: philosophers have debated the nature of the world, he said, “the point, however, is to change it”.
This Anglophile impatience with esoteric abstract debate may well have endeared him to the Radio 4 audience rather more than that bothersome business about dialectical materialism. Even the most intellectual of us have tended to weary of continental — and especially Gallic — pontificating: remember George Orwell once called Jean-Paul Sartre a “bag of wind”.
Philosophy, for us Brits, is nothing more than the airy-fairy, unwanted middle bit of that famous Oxbridge degree course, PPE — something a little wet sandwiched between the laudable pragmatism of politics and economics.
Radio 4, though, you have to say, has done its best to engage the intellectual sensibilities of its audience through that tried-and-tested tabloid formula: the top 10. We await with interest a tie-in CD — Now That’s What I Call Manichean Dualism! — and the TV spin-off, Celebrity Marxist Love Island, wherein Desai, George Galloway and the Manic Street Preachers vie for the attentions of Abi Titmuss, nationalise the top 100 companies and win a Fiat Punto.
I should be so snide. Six years ago I ran a competition on the Today programme for listeners to vote on who was the greatest Briton of the millennium. If I remember rightly, it ended up neck and neck between Churchill and Shakespeare. The Bard won.
It is our predilection for these interminable lists that defines us these days — and this is, you might argue, a philosophy all of its own. A sense of order and a sense of place are more important to us than musing about whether or not a “table” exists as a “table” regardless of what use we might put it to.
Just as we now know, through popular vote, that Only Fools and Horses is a better television comedy than Are You Being Served?, we also now have it confirmed that Karl Marx is almost twice as good as Wittgenstein. So stick that in your pipe and smoke it, all you boring logical positivists.