Reviewed by Curtis Price
“Early Marx also threatens the academy, being critical of the very professors who now stand guard over Marxian scholarship.”
This unusual book (unusual because it’s written by a conservative physician and political scientist involved with the right-wing Hudson Institute) offers a penetrating, lucid and well-documented analysis of alienation in contemporary capitalism based on Marx. Dworkin to his credit has thoroughly read his Marx and more important, approaches Marx respectfully. He unsparingly attacks free-market values as these values have seeped into and distorted every aspect of U.S. life (and he doesn’t exempt fellow conservatives from his critiques). Below are some excerpts:
“In advanced capitalism, both men and women must be more mobile; they also have more ‘needs’ to meet, and they must preserve their options. Conservatives trying to resuscitate the nuclear family today are like lost Lancelots pining away for the vanished beauty of chivalry during the age of the railroad and spinning jenny. To declaim against the modern ‘relationship’ is dull and ill-contrived; for conservatives, it is also hypocritical, as capitalism itself contributed to the nuclear family’s decline”
“Far from being an anti-abortion movement (the abortion issue ranked lowest among Tea Party concerns), the Tea Party was not even anti-tax or anti-budget deficit, as the media implied. Like Occupy Wall Street, the Tea Party’s concerns were more fundamental: a lousy economy, the lack of good jobs, and government colluding with business. . . By drawing distinctions between the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street, the two political parties hoped to continue dominating, organizing, and directing the electorate as they had for decades”
“Mass loneliness has led to an explosion in the number of therapists in the United States to deal with these sort of problems. Today, in the United States there are seventy-seven thousand clinical psychologists, 192,000 clinical social workers, 105,000 mental health counselors, fifty thousand marriage and family therapists, seven thousand nurse psychotherapists, and thirty thousand life coaches. Most of these professionals spend their days helping people cope with their everyday life problems, not true mental illness.”
“Since anyone can love, the caring professional guild turned caring into an area of study and eventually a technique, with methods devised to teach it and schools created to promulgate it. In Marx’s phraseology, these schools made possible a new social division of labor, whereby caring became an official occupation that now required a credential.”
“Wherever there is a corporation, a school, a church, a prison, a nursing home or a military base, for example, there is typically a unit of the caring industry – sometimes an official part of the institution (for example a company’s department of human resources), other times working on a consultant basis.”
“Yet people are not really commodities,; human labor is not really produced for sale. In fact, the idea of ‘labor as a commodity’ yields an abstraction. According to the theory of capitalism the perfect laborer is someone with no ties, someone who is completely mobile and willing to uproot in search of the best return on his labor . . Yet the only person who fits this description is a hobo.”
“Some industrial workers still hankered after cash, yachts and diamonds, but fussing over food trends, conforming to complicated ‘taste’ signals’ or marginally differentiating themselves from their neighbors were not proletarian obsessions. Such behavior was the preserve of the new urban, upper-middle-class – that is, of dependent knowledge workers paid reasonably well but stifled in their work.”
“Many conservatives balk at supporting new reproductive technologies that involve the buying and selling of eggs and sperm as if they were commodities. Yet conservatives champion capitalism and the ‘labor as commodity’ principle, which turn the entire human being into a commodity. It is hypocritical of them to drape sperm and eggs with the flag of religious sanctity, only to yank that flag off the entire human being when ordering a person to behave like any other market commodity and move a thousand miles to find work.”
“Much of this book has been devoted to the application of early Marx to private life in America, as this is where advanced capitalism’s weak points reveal themselves. A capitalist society is like a great building – impressive, magnificent, but press hard enough on its weak points and the whole thing comes crashing down into so much wood and steel.”
Dworkin sees early retirement as a “mass breakout from the division of labor” and documents how anti-depressant prescriptions decline once people retire. About 90% of the book could easily appear on this blog and some of the phenomenon Dworkin documents, such as the exercise craze as one area of life where people can feel they exercise control, I haven’t seen mentioned elsewhere with the same depth.
Unfortunately the book was published by a small overpriced academic publisher and hasn’t gotten much critical attention, but as these excerpts show, it is well worth hunting down.