One of the most consequential lives of modern times began 200 years ago last Saturday. Karl Marx was born on May 5, 1818, and looking back, it is clear that Marx represents one of the most monumental figures of the modern age, but monumental is just the start of the conversation that we should have about him. As we reflect upon Marx, we need to understand that once again, we have a clear demonstration of the fact that ideas come from human beings, and those ideas have consequences; in the case of Marx, devastating consequences to millions.
In his book entitled 'Intellectuals', when he begins talking about Marx, the historian, Paul Johnson summarized the situation this way: "Karl Marx had more impact on actual events, as well as on the minds of men and women than any other intellectual in modern times." Now, embedded in that sentence are a couple of issues that might escape us. First of all, we're talking about the intellectual in modern times.
In this sense, the intellectual only emerges in modern times, the man or woman of ideas whose ideas have immediate public consequence, and intellectual is to provide leadership by ideas for the society. That is a rather distinctive modern idea. That's not to say that intellectual ideas did not emerge, and they were not figures of intellectual consequence before the modern age. It is to say that in the modern age, worshiping as it were human reason, the 'Intellectual' takes on an entirely new significance, and amongst those intellectuals who themselves symbolize the modern age, no one has had such a massive impact as Karl Marx, and as we shall see, an impact that led to tragedy for untold millions. The immediate media interest in Karl Marx has to do with the fact that for the last several decades, he has been not only a major intellectual figure in the background of world events, he has also been a figure of pop culture.
What we are seeing right now, especially amongst younger people in the United States and Europe is a newfound fascination with Marx, or at least what they believe is Karl Marx, the kind of image or symbol that they believe that Karl Marx represents. To get to the bottom line in our cultural context, Karl Marx has all of a sudden become cool once again, and that should raise all kinds of very significant worldview questions. In the late 1980's, in the early 1990's, with the collapse of Soviet communism, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, and with the victory of what appeared to be western ideals of democracy and economic ideas, such as capitalism, the belief was that the ghost of Karl Marx had finally been chased away, but now, on the other side of contemporary events, we come to understand that Karl Marx is back. In one sense, he never left. Karl Marx has always been very influential amongst the liberal intelligentsia, and in particular, Karl Marx has been long ensconced as a major figure amongst American and European academics.
Marxist economics has never been far from view. Even though it has very little to do in most western societies with the actual economic transactions and policies that are undertaken, the reality is that in the academic world, Marx has never been vanquished. He has never disappeared. The nation it seems at this point to most celebrate the bicentennial of Marx's birth is not by accident, China, still under the total control of the communist party that claims Marx at least symbolically and historically as inspiration and ideological source. Chris Buckley reporting from China about the celebration of Marx's bicentennial said, and I quote, "Saturday was the 200th anniversary of Marx's birth and Mr. Xi, that is the Chinese President and Head of the Communist Party, trying to assert the Communist Party's dominance over an increasingly complex society has used the occasion to call for a renewed devotion to the founding tenets of communism."
He gave a big speech the day before the bicentennial days after visiting Peking University, where he also stressed Marx's education. President Xi told the students, "No idea or theory in the history of human thought has produced a broader or deeper impact than Marxism." He went on to call Karl Marx "The Greatest Thinker in Modern Times." The Chinese Communist Party has undertaken a new ideological crusade entitled 'Marx Got It Right', but of course, the interesting thing to note here is the sheer irony. What you have in the continuation of communist rule in China is not actually communism, specifically is not Marxism in economics any longer.
What you have here is a claim to a kind of tradition and a kind of credibility that the Chinese President and the Chinese Communist Party need even as they have kept all of the political aspects of communism, but they long ago abandoned what was central to communism in the first place, which was an economic theory. The reality is that modern China is not communist in this economic program. It is under the control of the Chinese Communist Party, but the expansion of prosperity and the growth of the economy in China has grown entirely by the fact that China has begun over the last several decades to incorporate market economics, which are themselves the very reputation of Marxism. While President Xi was speaking to the students there in China, making the argument that Marx was the greatest thinker of modern times and that Marx got it right, China was also trying to celebrate Karl Marx in Trier, Germany. This led to a headline in The Wall Street Journal, 'The Stories by Valentina Pop and Andrea Thomas'. They wrote, "Karl Marx is long dead, but his specter still haunts Europe."
"The author of the 'Communist Manifesto', whose statues were torn down across the former East Bloc after the fall of the Berlin Wall, is again at the center of clashing world views." The reason, says The Wall Street Journal, "An 18-foot-tall statue of Marx in his hometown of Trier that was unveiled last Saturday on Marx's 200th birthday." A clear generational divide was very evident in Germany with younger Germans, celebrating the unveiling of the Marx statue, while older Germans, especially those in the east who had experienced actual communism were appalled. Václav Klaus, the former President of the Czech Republic was appalled by the fact that European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker was present at the unveiling of the Marx statue. President Klaus said, "This shows that the European Union is turning into a Marxist project."
Now, Kalus is one of those who represents the older generation that had experienced decades of communist repression and worse. There were other divisions very much present as the statue was unveiled on Saturday. Once again, you have Václav Klaus on one side. He represents those whose experience was in the east that actually experienced communist rule and domination. On the other hand, you have many of the Eurocrats currently in power, including Jean-Claude Juncker who is himself the Head of the European Commission, but was basically from the west, you have a romanticization amongst those in the west of communism as it was actually experienced in horrifying form in the east.
Once again, the point must be understood that this statue of Marx, all 18 feet of it was actually paid for by the Communist Party in China, so statues of Marx that were put up decades ago under Russian influence came down only for a new statue, even bigger of Marx to go up in the year 2018, paid for by communists in China.
Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, offers a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview. This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.