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                 The Reactionary Utopian
                      March 4, 2008

by Joe Sobran

     To my shock, dismay, and grief, a leading 
Shakespeare scholar recently referred to "neo-Marxists" 
in the English departments of our universities. He wasn't 
criticizing such scholars; on the contrary, he called 
them "men and women of the greatest independence of 

     Funny how you can exempt yourself from the crimes of 
Marxism by adding the prefix "neo." A neo-Nazi isn't 
usually regarded as a higher life form than a regular old 
Nazi, but a neo-Marxist is supposed to be unrelated to 
the folks who gave the world the gulag, the reeducation 
camp, and the vast boneyards of Siberia, China, and 

     What's more, the original Marx is being honored with 
a fancy new edition of THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO, which is 
now 150 years old.

     So Marx is good, and neo-Marxists are good. It was 
just the people who ruled countries in the name of Marx 
who were bad, you see. They "betrayed" Marx -- Lenin, 
Stalin, Mao, Castro, Pol Pot, and the rest of those 

     Was there anything about Marx's ideas that made them 
especially susceptible to "betrayal"? This is the 
question you're not supposed to ask, because the answer 
is so obvious. When an idea is "betrayed" every single 
time it's put into practice, the fault doesn't lie with 
the practitioners alone.

     There has never been a humane communist regime. 
Marxism is inherently totalitarian. It recognizes no 
moral limits on the state. It's the most convenient 
ideology for aspiring tyrants; it also retains its appeal 
for intellectuals, who have proved equally skillful at 
rationalizing abuses of power and at exculpating 

     If the tyrants had really "betrayed" Marx, you'd 
expect the true-blue Marxists to be nervously vigilant 
against pseudo-Marxist despots. But they never are. They 
are always willing to trust every new ruler who acts in 
the holy name of Marxism.

     The most successful ideology of the 20th century 
denied any divine element in man or the universe 
warranting modesty in the state. That meant the end of 
privacy. People were punished for their thoughts -- even 
thoughts they hadn't had yet, but which the Marxist 
rulers could predict they would have because of their 
class membership. ("Scientific" socialism didn't have to 
wait until they had really committed crimes, not even 

     There are few avowed Marxists left, and not many 
"neo-Marxists." But the Marxist style has left its mark 
on the liberal political culture of the West, especially 
in the area of "civil rights." The peculiarity of "civil 
rights" and associated legislation ("hate crimes," for 
instance) is that they criminalize motives, as opposed to 

     The oddity of these laws lies in this. You have the 
traditional rights of property and association, provided 
you don't exercise them with forbidden motives. You may 
hire or refuse to hire whom you please, for example, as 
long as the person's race or sex isn't your chief 

     But since those who "discriminate" in the forbidden 
ways aren't likely to admit their real motives, the state 
can only judge their motives by results, which means 
statistical patterns. By the same token, the only way to 
prevent accusations of "discrimination" is to make sure 
you hire a safe number of "women and minorities," even if 
you have to pass over some white males you judge more 
suitable on the merits.

     In other words, the only way to avoid a charge of 
discrimination is to discriminate.

     Conservatives who think you can have "civil rights" 
without "quotas" are deluding themselves. Such "civil 
rights" are essentially different from civil rights in 
the old sense, because, far from being limitations on the 
state, they authorize new state powers of intrusion. 
Sooner or later, they must both rely on quotas as 
evidence and prescribe them as "remedies."

     We are indebted to Marx for the general assumption 
that everything is the state's business, and that even 
privacy is something that can exist only by the grace of 
the state's rather suspicious permission.

     An idea has really triumphed when people are no 
longer aware that there is any alternative to it. Like 
the Moliere character who finds he has been speaking 
prose for 40 years without knowing it, many of our 
politicians have been practicing Marxism all their lives 
without realizing it.

[This column was originally published by Universal Press 
Syndicate April 28, 1998.] 


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