Limited Access Printing Press and Karl Marx: The Effect of Restricted Publishing on the Marketplace of Ideas
Limited public access to publishing opportunity in the past retarded the evolution of political intelligence. The 19th century political philosopher Karl Marx was an unquestionably brilliant sociological analyst, historian and philosopher as well as writer. The author of Das Kapital is challenging to classify as an intellectual. If he were writing and publishing today where would one place his work categorically, and would it be much noticed?
Selecting a publishing classification for Karl Marx or for any author for books-in-print in this era of liberal studies surpassing liberal arts can be regarded as the new normal of difficulty. In the mid 19th century publishing opportunities were far more limited. In fact comparatively few publishing houses existed in England-it wasn’t the print-on-demand Internet publishing era when a thousand new philosophy books might be printed each day for no-author cost except the energy used to produce it.
A freedom to publish new philosophical ideas about society from an interdisciplinary foundation has taken hold; those books needn’t pass the political review and approval of social elites before publication. The public reading environment has grown into a tangled bank sheltering spirit and substance.
Karl Mark was a friend of F. Engles who was the son of a rich industrialist and able to afford to pay for Marx’s publishing efforts if necessary. Very few aspiring authors in Marx’s day could afford a self-publishing project if they could even find a publisher willing to accept the book and the public risk of publishing.
With much social illiteracy and fewer philosophers than today Marx’s 19th century break-through book was a much larger fish in a much smaller intellectual pond. The people yearning to breathe free and escape the shackles of poverty had their Karl Marx and the Bible and if American maybe Ben Franklin’s Almanac for inspiration. Books were far costlier and a smaller percent of the public spent money to buy them-especially philosophy books.
What was absent from the social political experience was the thousand other philosophical books of political and social analysis that might have been written by bright individuals commonly literate and able to publish at very low or no cost. Karl Marx’s historical influence was in part a result of the lack of intellectual competition.
Das Kapital was a ground breaking work of social analysis for its combination of history, economics, politics and sociology as well as of course, political philosophy. Thomas Hobbes book of political philosophy ‘The Leviathan’ had set the fundamental British paradigm for writing political philosophy-of course in support of the absolute power of monarchy-by social elites.
In Germany the tradition of idealism may have been a product of a political environment of juxtaposition of Hapsburg imperialism, dynamic tension between Catholicism and protestant reformer affiliated themselves with various German polities under aristocratic authority flexing independence and a view toward the intellect and independent evolution as expressions of reality-for-itself. G.W.F. Hegel’s ‘Phenomenology of Mind’ is an example of the existential evolution of a world view philosophical loosely reflecting the historical circumstances of the time abstracted. Hegel’s dialectical evolution of matter as an expression of the spirit seeking to realize itself is obviously also readily adaptable as a paradigm for political self-expression.
Immanuel Kant’s ‘Critique of Pure Reason’ seems to abstract thought and ideas themselves a step beyond Hegel’s phenomenology that was tied to history. One may readily appreciate Kant’s epistemological descriptions of categories of thought and yet wonder what the effects might have been if contemporary Internet publishing opportunities had existed in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries for philosophers.
David Hume, the author of an essay on human understanding-simultaneously an epistemological, metaphysical and political tract moving toward democracy rather than monarchy influenced the economic philosopher Adam Smith substantially. Smith was a pupil and friend of Hume as each were part of the British liberal enlightenment that was a sort of post-monarchical development of social thought for the masses philosophically and politically.
Adam Smith’s belief that economics could be advanced through free enterprise was taking a step away from the power of monarchy and aristocracy. Smith did not intend that free enterprise would become dominated by any concentration of wealth that could usurp the accumulated wealth and power of the aristocracy. He was pro free enterprise more so than pro-capitalism.
Capital itself is virtually anything of value. The government may own all of the capital, and individual can own all of the capital or several large corporations-capital itself is only incidental to the vitality of free enterprise and of the well being of a democracy. Adam Smith was most concerned with the well being of democracy and of free enterprise-not so much was he concerned about the abstract accumulation or distribution of capital except as it would improve the well being of the people.
Capital may be made into about anything as an abstract concept politically speaking. It is possible to make capital as capitalism a kind of ultimate good or highest religion justifying any means. If Satan returns to take over a rebuilt Temple he might well be able to claim to be the Capitalist numero uno advocating mass murder, holocaust and death of all human beings that are not his slaves. That seems a fair enough paradigm for those that believe capitalism is the ultimate good expression of self interest, yet of course such believers are very dumb.
Free enterprise as the means through which a people in a democracy may pursue their vital economic interests may be reinforced with laws preventing the over-networking of economic power and the over-concentration of wealth. As intellectual power when concentrated and restricted as in the mid-19th century may abort competing philosophical thought, free enterprise inventions and ecospherically valuable business actualization including transport and energy may be aborted by the over-capitalization of a tiny minority of society or of government.
Free enterprise within a democratic paradigm should advance the ecopheric health and economic prosperity of all the people. Government should provide basic social insurance for medical, food, housing and education that should be phased out as the improvement of low cost free enterprise products can instead provide those necessary services. If all the people rise with the advance of free enterprise, and if the difference of income between the most rich and most poor is far smaller than today-perhaps 1500%, then the most brilliant have an interest in enriching society as well as themselves in order to enrich themselves. It would be very easy to put excess individual profit into ecospheric recovery and space exploration the next 500 years as each are sorely underfinanced. Space free enterprise working off a government space dock infrastructure can thrive to farther ventures.
Twentieth century political revolutionaries seemed to have few philosophical alternatives to Marx’s communism. The idea of existentialist revolutionaries may be a little ponderous-‘Being and Nothingness’ in the hands of Vladimr Lenin or Mao Tse Tung would have produced different revolutionary results and perhaps ineffective war psychology support against opposition forces.
Communism became a kind of atheist religion initially because of the failure of publishing to distribute hundreds or thousands of alternative social structure analyses that could be broadly distributed for reading by the grupenfurhers of the peasants. The first mass distribution of a social political philosophy had a much greater impact upon readers back in the day. If ‘Das Kapital’ had been released as just another Oprah book of the month its influence amidst so many others would have been far less.
The Internet today is reaching farther into the realm of the world’s peasant population even as they are forced to move off the land and become homeless people or shanty-town slum squatters listening for the whopping thoppers or silent high tech aircraft with the killer elite snipers overhead encouraging them to move. Some of the restive poor are able to find work being exploited as cheap labor by foreign corporations, are victimized by corrupt government officials, criminal gangs or the pollutants de jure. Even in the darkness of a world over-populated under-resourced and badly managed increasing numbers are able to access Internet publishing spaces to share ideas.
With luck capitalism as religion will not develop the absolute-power-is-best point of view collaterally destroying the opportunity to create an ecospherically rational free enterprise democracy that would be so much better than any of the myriad forms of authoritarianism that Thomas Hobbes preferred.