|Marxism: “carrying too much dead weight in the shape of relics from the age in which it was born”|
[I]t is a dangerous matter to surrender principles for the sake of expediency. Only in so far as a people has no liberalism in its bones, can a dictatorship flourish in it for however short a time; and every day of that time means a further weakening of all liberal principle throughout the body politic. [Collingwood here goes on to discuss Russia and contrast it the England [sic], France, and the U.S.]
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[Collingwood critiques Marxism as “carrying too much dead weight in the shape of relics from the age in which it was born,” and he identifies these (intellectual) relics.]
All these ideas [such as enlightened despotism, the need for crisis and revolution expressed in war, and “class war as the glorious consummation of political activity”] are obsolete: they have been exploded once for all by that very liberalism against which they are now used as weapons. Enlightened despotism as a political ideal has yielded to the conception of a people governing itself by a dialectic of political opinion. The dualism between a time of troubles and a millennium lying beyond it has yielded to the conception of conflict as a necessary element of all life and (as yet) not destroying its peace. The conception of war as at once glorious in itself and necessary to the achievement of human ends has yielded to the conception of war as something anti-political and, so far as it is merely war, merely evil. In all these three ways socialism, in spite of its affiliation to Hegel’s dialectic, shows itself radically un-dialectical, and it is liberalism that has proved the true heir of the dialectical method.
If the abandonment of all attempt to live by liberal principles is madness, why has this madness come upon us? . . . Nothing is gained by blame: something perhaps, by trying to understand. What I find most intriguing about this set of quotes is the passing remark that Collingwood makes when he writes that "conflict as a necessary element of all life and (as yet) not destroying its peace." Why did he say "as yet"? What worm in the bud may he have been thinking about? I have to suspect that given his deep knowledge of classical sources that he had in mind that democracies and republics have a history of instability. This is something that deeply concerned the American Founders as they drafted and argued in favor of the Constitution. This is what Francis Fukuyama wrote about in his Political Order and Political Decay ((his Pollyannish reputation--unfairly gained--notwithstanding). Peter Turchin and William Ophuls have also addressed this issue; in fact, it's not just democracies and republics that face this challenge of what I think might fairly be termed 'political entropy.' The challenge becomes, can a nation talk its way out of decay? I think so--but it's extremely difficult, at best, and some violence always erupts. Along with Peter Turchin, I believe we are in such a time now in the U.S. Perhaps the alarm among elites will be strong enough to rectify our current state of affairs, but this hope must balance against the anxiety and disharmony that have brought us to this state and the temptation to impose a new order from above.