ASK Musings

No matter where you go, there you are.



February 2023



Why Marx Was Right by Terry Eagleton

Written by , Posted in Politics, Reviews

Three Stars

Best for:
People who are already VERY familiar with Marx’s work and are looking for an outside opinion on how to defend different aspects of it.

In a nutshell:
Author Eagleton looks at what he believes are common arguments uses against Marxism and refutes them.

Worth quoting:
“Only through others can we come into our own.”

Why I chose it:
I thought it would be an interesting and easier to read way to learn more about Marx’s thoughts and writing. (Spoiler alert: it wasn’t, at least not for me.)

What it left me feeling:

I might have been led slightly astray by the pull quotes from reviews on the cover of the copy I purchased. ‘Irresistibly Lively and Thought-Provoking.’ ‘Short, Witty, and Highly Accessible.’ I think this is probably true (except the short part – a 250 page book is not short. It’s not long, but it’s not short), but the caveat should be on there somewhere that those only apply to readers who are already very well acquainted with the writing, theory, and discussion of Marx and Marxism. This is not a book where one LEARNS about Marxism. This is a book where one thinks more about it in relation to other areas of thought.

It is an easy read, in that the author is a decent writer. However, after reading the first half of the book very carefully, I ended up just skimming the latter half because I knew what was coming, and I knew it wasn’t going to be what I was looking for. Each chapter starts with what I think is a flaw in the set-up of the book: instead of pulling real quotes at the start to highlight the arguments opposing Marxism that he’s about to refute, he just has a sort of paragraph where he paraphrases the complaints. I think I get why he made that choice, but it doesn’t work nearly as well as real-world examples. It leaves Eagleton too open to complaints of strawmen.

In the chapters I read closely, a lot of Eagleton’s arguments seemed to boil down to this: Capitalists might make a claim about Marxism, but even if the claim is true, it’s also probably true of Capitalism. Or, because Marx (notoriously) doesn’t really talk about the details of what his version of society would look like, it’s easy to impose outside opinions on it in a negative way, and that’s not fair.

But here’s the thing – these arguments all sounds fine to me, but I don’t know enough about Marx to know if Eagleton’s commentary is accurate. Now, this is going to be an issue with pretty much all non-fiction books, right? We rely on the author to be something of an expert in their field, to have thought through and researched. When I read a Mary Roach book, I don’t just accept everything at face value, but generally I assume that her interpretation of the facts is generally accurate.

But with things like political philosophy, for me it gets much murkier. What values is the author bringing into the discussion? Are they the same as my values? What have they chosen to leave out that would change the entire discussion? Without some of my own first-hand reading of the text, this type of book isn’t really going to work. When I was in grad school for philosophy, yes, I definitely needed to read articles by contemporary writers that discussed Aristotle, but I also needed to read Aristotle myself, so I could come into the discussions with some first-hand understanding. And I think that in the same way, before I (or others) read works like this, we need to read the original arguments first.

Now, is that the author’s fault? Probably not, and that’s why this is a three star and not a two star rating for me.

Recommend to a Friend / Keep / Donate it / Toss it:
Keep and maybe revisit later

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