The collapse of the communist bloc finished off Marxism as a theory of political economy. But the Marxist theory of class struggle remains, under a variety of different aliases.
Marx's original idea was that workers and capitalists necessarily engage in a struggle. The differences in their functions and interests lead inevitably to conflict, ultimately culminating in the proletarian revolution.
Classical and neoclassical economists offer an alternative view of the world: The differences between people offer opportunities for exchange and mutual benefit. Workers need capitalists and capitalists need workers. Needless to say, this theory of natural harmonies has a better track record than the theory of natural conflict.
In America, worker incomes are high and unemployment is low. This general rise in wealth gives lie to the Marxist claim that capitalists necessarily win their gains at the expense of workers. Indeed, many workers have become capitalists. The percentage of employees who own stock is at an all-time high. Many Silicon Valley firms give stock options to all workers, right down to the custodians.
Class conflict among social groups, however, has replaced economic class conflict (in Marxist lexicon and in practice). Activists, academics, and politicians promote these constructs: whites against nonwhites; men against women; abled against disabled; humans against the environment. Deprived of economic reasoning, radicals actively foster these divisions, and the hostilities that accompany them.
This mentality has made unfortunate inroads, even among people who have never had a Marxist inclination in their lives. The feminist version of gender conflict is particularly insidious. Everyone experiences conflict sometimes. Husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, sooner or later, somebody is going to hurt us or just get on our nerves. Feminist theory offers an all-purpose explanation for everyday discomforts: It's the patriarchy.
This knee-jerk response precludes more serious reflection on the particulars of our interactions. With few exceptions, both parties share responsibility for the condition of their relationship. Most of us, most of the time, would prefer to overlook our misbehavior and overstate the other person's. We don't want to look bad in our own eyes or in the eyes of others. We'd prefer to avoid the effort and embarrassment involved in correcting our own faults. Blaming the patriarchy provides us with a socially acceptable excuse.
When we take this bait, we inadvertently move the Marxist power struggle into our own homes, poisoning our most intimate relationships. Even worse, we miss the opportunity for personal growth that family life brings.
The theory of natural harmony applies inside the family, just as in economics. Accepting our own fallibility allows us to stand in solidarity with our equally fallible family members, rather than rejecting them as members of a hostile and alien life-form: the patriarchy.
The article can be found on the Hoover Institution website. Reprinted with permission.