There’s nothing the left loves more, says Andrew Sullivan in The Weekly Dish, than cancelling historical figures for having said things that would be considered bigotry today. Thomas Jefferson, David Hume, Immanuel Kant – all have been unceremoniously binned in recent years, in each case for single sentences or asides that merely reflected the “lazy bigotries” of the past. But when it comes to their own heroes, liberals are rather less critical.
Take Karl Marx, “one of the most repellent anti-Semites and racists of the 19th century”. The German philosopher described Jews as money-obsessed hucksters, argued that it was hard to tell which of the Balkan nations was “the least fit for progress and civilisation”, and said England’s mission in colonial India should be the “annihilation of old Asiatic society”. Yet Marx “remains a core source for the woke worldview”: at top US universities, The Communist Manifesto is the third most taught book on history courses. On his bicentennial in 2018, The New York Times ran an opinion piece entitled: “Happy Birthday, Karl Marx. You Were Right!”
Now obviously Marx’s work deserves study today, if only to understand Marxism’s “uniquely murderous role in human history”. And as any genuine liberal knows, ideas and works of art “should be considered on their merits, and not on the virtue or vice of their proponents”. But if the left wants to cancel old philosophers for bigotry, Marx should surely be near the top of their list. The fact that he’s not demonstrates perfectly “the bad faith of so much critical theory”. These people don’t want to “see the truth” – they just want to score points and shut down debate.