The setting for all the books in Peter Kreeft’s Socrates Meets _____ series is Purgatory, where Socrates engages a famous philosopher in dialogue about one of the latter’s best-known books. Inspired by both Plato’s dialogues and Dante’s Divine Comedy, this setting gives Kreeft the opportunity to unpack—and even unwind—a philosopher’s arguments by use of close, but often humorous reasoning. Philosophers examined in this series include Descartes, Hume, Kant, Machiavelli, and Sartre.
This volume examines Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto. The juxtaposition of Socrates and Marx allows for a theme that runs through the entirety of the dialogue, namely, the opposition between Socrates’ idealism and Marx’s materialism. Can ideas be universal and absolute, as Socrates maintains, or are they relative to the material forms of life that give rise to them, as Marx maintains? For example, is logic the same in every age, or does it change over time, resulting in a feudal logic, a bourgeois logic, and a proletarian logic, among others?
As post-Cold War readers, we know—at least, we should know—that Marx’s communist project is an abysmal failure, a historical tragedy that slaved millions rather than liberating anyone. And Socrates makes sure Marx understands this failure. (Evidently, in Purgatory, the past, present, and future are equally present to Socrates—a helpful literary device.)
This historical criticism of Communism, however important, does not occupy more space than it needs to in the dialogue. Far greater and closer attention is paid to Marx’s ideas themselves, not simply the consequences of those ideas. Where Kreeft’s Socratic dialogue succeeds brilliantly is in showing the self-contradictions of Marx’s philosophy, its lack of empirical evidence, and its incredibly dour picture of the human race, one not supported by the reality of actual humans.
Socrates Meets Marx is well written, clearly argued, and humorously entertaining. I’d recommend reading a contemporary English translation of The Communist Manifesto, then picking up Kreeft’s little book as its constant companion. Highly recommended to students of philosophy!
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