Is there a future for Marxist humanism?

Jacob M Held, Marquette University


The goal of this project is to both rephrase Marxism as a more explicitly ethical humanist program and also reinvigorate it as a social and political philosophy. This project is composed of two parts. Part one presents the problematic of capitalist society as described by Marxist humanism and addresses modern detractors, namely, postmodern theorists represented here by Jacques Lacan and Jean-François Lyotard. Lacan rejects traditional notions of subjectivity that Marxist humanism relies upon. Lyotard rejects the possibility of universal liberation that Marxism promotes. These objections are addressed, disarmed, and sublated. In part two, Marxist humanism is more fully elaborated from its roots in the work of Karl Marx through its adoption and transformation in the work of the early Frankfurt School, most notably Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, and Erich Fromm. Marx begins from a philosophical anthropology of human essence that defines humanity as essentially social, rational, and productive, or a "species-being" exemplifying "free-conscious activity." It is in this regard that Marx determines production to be the most fundamental human relationship. Political economy becomes, therefore, the medium through which proper sociality is either achieved or denied. Drawing from the classical German tradition, most notably the work of J. G. Fichte and G. W. F. Hegel, Marx grasps recognition to be the ideal form of human relatedness and the precondition for proper human development. In his analysis of capital, Marx fords this relationship to be lacking. Instead he fords a relation of subservience and exploitation resulting in failed recognition which manifests itself as alienation. This work is subsequently continued by the Frankfurt school. The Frankfurt School integrates Freud and psychoanalysis and is thus able to more fully document and assess the psychological impact of the commodity relation and capitalism on the psyche of those subject to it. Recognition is again adopted as the ideal and is found to be lacking. The dissertation concludes with a summary of contemporary work by Axel Honneth and a discussion of how best to understand the relation between Marx and recognition in the construction of a more comprehensive Marxist humanism.

Recommended Citation

Held, Jacob M, "Is there a future for Marxist humanism?" (2005). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3201923.