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The Marx Renaissance

PRINCETON – Karl Marx has returned, if not quite from the grave then from history’s dustbin. German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrück recently said that Marx’s answers “may not be irrelevant” to today’s problems. French President Nicholas Sarkozy allowed himself to be photographed leafing through the pages of Marx’s Das Kapital . A German filmmaker, Alexander Kluge, is promising to turn Das Kapital into a movie.

Few of today’s new “Marxists” want to spell out the attractions of a man who wanted to unite German philosophy (building on Hegel) with British political economy (carrying on from David Ricardo), and thereby turn two rather conservative traditions into a theory of radical revolution.

Marx was certainly a perceptive analyst of the nineteenth century’s version of globalization. In 1848, in The Communist Manifesto , he wrote: “In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations.”

To be sure, there were plenty of other nineteenth-century commentators who analyzed the creation of global networks. But we do not see a new rush for the works of such figures as John Stuart Mill or Paul Leroy-Beaulieu.