Thursday, July 14, 2005

The Greatest Philosopher...

is, according to a poll of Radio Four listeners, Karl Marx. I don't think this is true, although Marx is, at his best, a wonderfully provocative thinker, and capable of a quite impressive turn of phrase (and he is, contra Chris Dillow, at least sometimes a philosopher: The German Ideology and the Paris Manuscripts are undoubtedly philosophical). A number of people have got a bit upset about this: the spectre of the murderous regimes of the twentieth century claiming Marxist inspiration is, to steal and horribly misuse a phrase, stalking the blogs of Britain. In particular, some people are claiming that the second-placed philosopher, David Hume, never inspired anyone to take a human life. A kind of refutation of this claim has already been provided here, but I think there's a better one. Hume was an unashamed conservative, particularly about property rights, and so, if it's fair to attribute the genocidal manias of various despotic regimes with a patina of intellectual respectability to Marx, it surely must be fair to attribute the undoubted suffering caused by the upholding of putative property rights since the mid-eighteenth century to Hume. Marx supported dictatorships of the proletariat, so we can lay wrongs committed by supposed dictatorships of the proletariat at Marx's door. Likewise, Hume supported whatever established set of property rights existed in a given society at that time, so we can lay wrongs following from the established set of property rights in any given society at Hume's door. I'm guessing that's a fair few...

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