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The BBC outdoes itself

On BBC Radio 4’s “Today” Programme it was announced that Karl Marx was the greatest philosopher of all time and a leading Marxist historian was invited on to the show to explain the ideas of my near namesake. This was not an example of bias – simply a result of people e-mailing the BBC in response to the “In Our Time” Programme asking this question.

Of course, people who listened to BBC Radio 4’s “In Our Time” programme (or any other BBC show) would not have heard a sustained attack on Karl Marx in recent years. And today (July 14) shows this point – on the “In Our Time” programme the presenter (who is a supporter of the Labour party but, by the standards of the BBC, is actually rather fair minded) asked if any of the experts on the show thought that there was a connection between the ideas of Karl Marx and events in Russia, China…

None of three academic “experts” thought that there was. Karl Marx was, in fact, a great supporter of freedom.

A glance at say The Communist Manifesto (1848) would show that Marx favoured (even in the early stages of the revolution) the confiscation of the property of anyone who tried to flee the new regime, and that he also favoured the creation of industrial and agricultural “armies”.

For a man who was normally careful to say he could not describe what the future society would be like, this is quite revealing.

Marx believed in “freedom of speech” for himself – not for anyone else (this is quite clear, both from his doctrines and his life). The academics were simply following the tradition of Plato – that of the “noble lie”.

Is it any wonder that people who were educated by such academics would have a favourable view of Marx?

But we must move on.

On the 1pm. BBC television news we were told that although the bomb in Baghdad had killed 30 children it was really targeted against the Americans (after all one American had died), and that the bomb in September that also killed about 30 children had also really been targeted against the Americans.

So that is OK then, if one supports killing Americans.

Except, of course, it does not make sense. If a bomber waits till a crowd of children has gathered (to get sweets or for any other purpose) and then sets off his bomb, then the target is THE CHILDREN.

By the 1700 Radio Four “PM” programme, things had got truly bizarre.

A “leading astrologer” was interviewed to examine the theory that the evil Americans had altered our destiny by shooting a space probe at a comet.

Most of the questions were respectful (rather than ironic), and the astrologer said that he did not know, but seemed most concerned at the “arrogant” action of the Americans, which might have pushed us into a “parallel universe”.

So we went from Marxism to Islamic fundamentalism, to barking mad mysticism – all in one day.

It would not be true to say that the BBC will support “anything” that has “death to America” at its heart (for example it would not support a return to a strong Monarchy that demanded that the colonists return to loyalty to the Crown), but it will certainly support a lot of rather different anti-American ideological positions.

I remind readers that unlike the “Guardian” or the “New York Times”, people are forced to pay for the BBC – via their television “licence fee”.

39 comments to The BBC outdoes itself

  • foucault's buddy

    I don’t accept your analysis, but could you explain why anti-Americanism is a bad thing? If the anti is confined to policy rather than people, it seems eminently reasonable to me. I would be surprised if most British people didn’t share this ‘bias’. That’s your problem, you see: even the jolly old ‘man in the street’ knows that Bush and his cabal are corrupt bullies.

  • Bernie

    Karl Marx is the greatest philosopher of all time? Karl Marx is the greatest philosopher of all time? Karl Marx is the greatest philosopher of all time?

    I feel overdosed on incredulity right now.

  • Given that I have never seen that particular comet analyzed in even the most comprehensive charting, I would assert that if a slight alteration in its mass and course were to have any effect on our destinies it would just as likely be positive.

  • foucault’s buddy,

    Criticsm (or even an active dislike) of America and/or its current government is perectly legitimate. But when it develops into an ‘ism’ (i.e. systemised as a principle) then it has become a bigotry which is as unfair and distasteful as every other strand of bigtory.

    Besides, I do not think that the BBC is particularly driven by anti-American sentiment. Today’s selection of insulting sewage is more symptomatic of the British intellectual classes long-standing infatuation with every and any anti-civilisational and primitivist impulse that they clap ears on.

  • foucault's buddy

    David, If “anti-civilisational and primitivist” impulses equate to an abhorrence of the genocidal policies of Bush and his friends then I plead guilty. I don’t believe that you are so naive to think that the current US regime is enacting anything other than a neo-imperialism fuelled by fundamentalism.

  • Was Karl Marx a philospher of any kind, whether good or bad? I thought he was just a bad economist and political theorist?

  • foucault’s buddy:

    You are an idiot.

    Julius Blumfeld:

    Yes indeed; Marx was not a philosopher of any sort. He was a political theorist who is celebrated by people like those who would be called to typical BBC panels. Aside from token others, there is undoubtedly a BBC left-wing bias (no matter how much they refuse to admit it). What is abhorrent is that its funding is a duty imposed on ‘license fee-payers’.

  • Otis

    foucault’s buddy,

    There’s nothing wrong with being Anti-American if you want to be. The problem is a lack of “pro-American” viewpoints to provide the essential balance requisite of an impartial broadcaster.

    I would be surprised if most British people didn’t share this ‘bias’. That’s your problem, you see: even the jolly old ‘man in the street’ knows that Bush and his cabal are corrupt bullies.

    You may well be right – hardly surprising given the lack of balance I mentioned above from the nation’s premier (state-backed, taxation-reliant) broadcaster. The media are not just reflectors of public opinion, but sometimes do have a teensy role in helping forming that opinion also.

  • When was the last time we heard phrases like “anti-French” on the BBC? America is an easy target for lefties in Europe. But I know which one I’d choose to live in anyday.

  • foucault’s buddy,

    ‘Genocidal impulses’???!!! Are you completely out of your mind or have you just been sucking on the old sauce bottle tonight?

    Listen, chum, if the Bush administration had even a trace of ‘genocidal impulse’ then the whole Arab world would have been a heap of smouldering radioactive ashes by 12th September 2001. Instead, ‘Fuhrer’ Bush strode calmly out onto the lawn of the Whitehouse and announced that Islam was a ‘religion of peace’.

    You have just forfeited the right to be taken seriously.

  • Paul Marks

    First I must point out that most of my bit of writing was about the B.B.C. on July 13th – somehow that got lost from the title.

    “foucault’s buddy” says he does not agree with me. Sadly he does not explain what he does not agree with.

    Does he claim that Karl Marx was not as I have described – in which case F.B. should go back and check the historical record (both for what Marx wrote, and how he acted in relation to the socialist organizations he was involved in – he always wanted total control).

    Or perhaps F.B. thinks that the noble resistance in Iraq does not target children – in which case F.B. is simply wrong. Indeed the vast majority of the people killed by the “resistance” are Iraqi (both adults and children) and they are the people who are normally targeted.

    Or perhaps F.B. thinks that astrology is a good foundation for an attack on American actions – in which case I do not agree with him (although he may wish to present his arguments to Nancy Reagan).

    As for President Bush.

    Well I do not agree with the policy of extending Medicare, or the “No Child Left Behind” absurdity. Nor do I agree with the increase in aid to Africa (Peter Bauer explained long ago the harm such aid does).

    However, I doubt that F.B. really does not agree with the high spending policy of President Bush (he most likely knows nothing about the policy of President Bush, it is just a matter of “American Republican and Christian – kill, kill”).

    On the question of Iraq I did not support of the war, but to call a policy of trying to spread democracy “genocidal” is a bit odd.

    I thought that the left liked democracy? I thought that it was old Tories like me who had their doubts about it – at least about whether it was worth President Wilson style wars to spread it.

    Of course there are some leftists who really do support democracy – such as the old leftist warhorse Chris Hitchins (who has ended up supporting President Bush).

    On “fundamentalism” it is true that both George Walker Bush and his brother John Ellis Bush (“Jeb”) broke with their father’s denomination (the American version of Anglicanism is collapsing even faster than the British version – I am C. of E. myself).

    “Jeb” became a Roman Catholic and “George W.” became a Methodist (like Mrs Clinton).

    Being a Christian is not a crime in the United States – however much progressive people like F.B. might like to make it one.

  • Paul Marks

    First I agree with those people who say that the problem is the licence fee (although I would argue it is also the government oversight regulations of broadcasting media).

    Of course people like F.B. should be allowed to express their opinions – the Guardian in Britian and the New York Times in the United States are full of such opinions.

    It is being forced to PAY for this stuff that I object to. And I object to the lack of an alternative.

    In the United States Fox (weak though it often is) is an alternative to A.B.C., C.B.S., N.B.C., C.N.N. – and to “public” (i.e. government_) broadcasting. There is no alterntative here as C4 and I.T.V. are much the same as the B.B.C. (and Sky is not quite the same thing as Fox).

    Let there be open opinions in broadcasting – which there is not even in the United States (Fox boasts of being “fair and balanced”). There should be different stations with OPENLY different points of view.

    i would love to see the return of the “old days” before the notion of “balance” became the phony religion of the American media, where newspapers like the Chicago Tribune (under the great R.M.) openly expressed a political point of view (actually I suspect that F.B. would agree with the old Chicago Tribune – at least as regards policy overseas), and other newspapers openly expressed other points of view.

    Political philosophy out in the open – not claims to be “fair and balanced” are what is needed. But in broadcasting it is not allowed. Although (it could be argued against me) that in print journalism it has collapsed in the United States without regulations – instead their is the phony “balance” and the hidden slanting of the modern press.

    Let the people decide what they want to watch.

    On the question of Marx the philospher – well he had a doctorate in this subject. But I do not think that makes him a “great philospher”.

    My view of Marx as a philospher would be much the same as Antony Flew’s opinion (see Flew’s introduction to Western Philosophy).

    As for the “greatest philospher” – well it is a bit of an silly question. However, if I have to choose I would choose Aristotle.

    Not because he was a political libertarian (he was not – see his attack on Lycrophon in “The Politics”), but because of his work on the basic laws of reasoning (logic) and for his writings on ethics (although, I also hold his work in political philosphy in high regard – one does not have to agree with him to see his greatness).

  • GCooper

    As I said in another thread a few days ago, I consider the BBC to be the single most pernicious influence on life in the UK today – and yes, I do include playground heroin dealers in that. They only corrupt a few minds.

    As for the ringing endorsement of Marx, it isn’t hard to understand. Radio 4 has long been the broadcast version of the Guardian and if you consider how many teachers and ‘university’ (as in the University of Luton) lecturers there are, you can easily account for the votes Uncle Karl’s half-baked nonsense received.

    It’s a lot like the farce of Any Questions where every week the Great God Dimbleby intones that the phone-ins and e-mails ‘accurately reflect the balance of calls received’. You bet they do! The programme (and the entirety of R4) has for so long been a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Guardian-reading classes that no one else bothers listening, or responding.

    You can see the same principle at work on the Beeb’s fatuous ‘have your say’ online section where, if you happen to upset the flow of Leftist drivel, the Corporation’s censors step in to silence you. Then lie about it.

    Until the BBC’s licence fee is removed, we will be at the mercy of these idiots. It is a little like having to pay to have your own family poisoned by slow, agonising degrees.

  • In my humble opinion, John Stuart Mill is the greatest philosopher of all time. I have read no more profound book, nor one which influenced me more, than On Liberty.

    (And he was a Brit, so I don’t understand what the BBC had against him. Well, yes I do, actually.)

  • Sylvain Galineau

    It is claimed the bombs are targeted at Americans – without evidence – so that yoyos such as ‘foucault’s buddy’s can hold Bush responsible for the random slaughters. See ?

    No American soldiers. No bombs. No problems. ‘Neo-imperialists’ US soldiers are the source of all evil. Just like they were in Vietnam and Cambodia. Didn’t things get so much better after they left ?

  • John S

    Am I the only one who thinks it’s possible that Marx won on sheer name recognition? I don’t think the average radio listener knows which was Plato and which was Aristotle, or can discern Mill from Locke from Hume. But there’s only one man on the list whose “-ism” is still widely spoken of today.

  • The Wobbly Guy

    I think John S is right. The average man on the street does not know of great thinkers other than Marx, which in itself is a sign of how much Marxism has permeated into society.

    Wonder why virtually nobody ever mentions Locke and Mill as the philosophers who articulated the basis for modern capitalist liberal society, but everybody points to Marx as the harbringer of communism…


  • Verity

    No. You’re not alone. The British are deeply ignorant and ill-educated, especially those who involve themselves in polls styled by the ignorattis of the BBC. They will have heard of Marx and figured he was the most “popular”, so voted for him in order to be on the winning team.

  • Paul Marks

    I suspect that John S. may have a point.

    Of course Aristotelianism is a term used in philosophy (if I have spelt the word correctly at this time in the morning), but it is indeed not in such common general usage as “Marxism”.

    Even though (in terms of general, as opposed to political philosophy) there really is not any such thing as “Marxism” – after all Karl Marx did not invent a new form of materialism.

    Unlike Karl Popper I do hold that Marx presented a scientific theory (in the sense of a theory that could be tested). For example, Marx held that held that, under capitalism, wages would fall.

    Marxists since his time have tried to redefine what Marx claimed, or have cribbed Edward Gibbon Wakefield or Hobson to try and claim that “imperialism” has increased wages or (most absurdly of all) have claimed that Marxism was “a method not a doctrine”.

    However, Marx himself was clear enough about this matter – he even misquoted Gladstone in order to pretend that W.E.G. agreed with him.

    As for the general doctrines of Marxism – labour theory of value (Adam Smith’s greatest error? Sometimes Smith understands that economic value is about what we would call marginial utility, it is only at other times that he is baffled by the so called “paradox of value” and so falls into the labour theory of value error – so perhaps David Ricardo should be blamed).

    Still in Marx’s early life Gossen and Rau in Germany, did not hold with the Labour theory of value, nor did Ferrara in Italy or the Say faimily in France – even in Britian Samual Bailey torn it apart, and then there is the little matter of one of the best known textbooks of Political Economy (Richard Whately’s at Oxford) refuting the concept.

    So there is really no excuse for Marx falling for the Labour Theory of Value.

    The best work on Marx’s economic opinions is most likely those chapters of the first volume of Murry Rothbard’s history of economics that cover them.

    Theory of history?

    Well so the “mode of production” is determined by the technology and this “mode of production” eventually determins the “relations of production” 9or there are contractictions which will lead to trouble) and together this “economic base” determins everything else – the “superstructure”.

    Well this does raise the problem of why socieities with the same technology have wildly different “relations of production” (some area’s of Europe had serfdom and others did not – the tech was much the same, and the conditions of the soil were no guide).

    Of course Marxists try and make “scientific use” of the theory, claiming (for example) that the Royalists in the English Civil War of the 1640’s somehow represented the “economic system” of feudalism and the supporters of Parliament the rising Capitalist order (in fact both sides were led by landowners who ran their estates on a market basis, and the ecomomy had been a market one for centuries – the Civil War was about many things, political ideology, religion, personal likes and dislikes, but it was not about “the mode or relations of production”).

    Or they will claim that the French Revolution was a “capitalist revolution” (which would have come as a shock to the few factory owners that there were in France – they had their factories nationalized).

    The more one examines the economics or the history of Karl Marx the more it falls apart.

    But then he did not even take his own theory seriously.

    For example, Marx claimed that his favourate man in history was Sparticus.

    Now according to Marxism slavery rose because it was the most efficient use of the technolgy of the time, and morality (like the rest of the “superstructure”) should (if “contradictions” are to be avoided) reflect this “economic base”.

    So Sparticus (by leading a slave revolt) was actually a bad man according to Marxist theory, as he was rebelling against the most sensible “relations of production” (slavery) for the technology (the “mode of production”).

    The idea that slavery was not the most sensible use of the technology of the time is not allowable under Marxist theory – as it would invalidate the “slave mode of production”. And the idea that morality can be independent, and not develop out of the economic base, can not be allowed either.

    So Sparticus (according to Marxist theory) was a baddie – at least he was if opposed slavery.

    But then Marx never allowed logic to pin him down – in such a situation he would always have “dialetic” to get him out of difficulty, and would (of course) accuse his foe of being a tool of the capitalists.

    But we can still have fun. After all “when the revolution comes” Prince Phillip will be liberated as he is (or was) a worker managing the Crown Estates whose “surplus value” does not go to the Queen. Whereas a window cleaner (if he employs someone to help him) will be cast down as an evil exploiter.

    After all the window cleaner is an owener of the means of production – (bucket, cloth, ladder) and he must take “surplus value” from his helper.

    If Marxism were true trade unions would use their (often very large) assets to found factories without capitalists (after all they would be more efficient – no surplus value being taken away), and these enterprises would sweep the board of the competitors.

    But (of course) Marx did not tend to support the founding of workers co-ops.

    “Society” would “organise production” so that we could all be hunt in the morning, and fish in the afternoon and be critical after dinner without ever being hunters, fishermen or critics (“German Ideology” 1845).

    It is not philosophy it is day dreaming (like the “utopian spocialists” Marx attacked), all he does is dress it up in a lot of serious sounding mumbo jumbo. Full of laws of history and the results of his research.

    The research and presentation of statistics were all part of the mumbo jumbo – his early manuscripts show that his basic egalitaria and anti private property ideology was there from the start.

    The “laws of history” stuff was all an effort to justify it.

  • veryretired

    Paul Marks—

    My respects for one of the nicest thumbnail sketch eviscerations of Marxist pretension I’ve seen in a long time.

    My take on the poll in question is that it very nicely highlights the utter irrelevance of modern philosophy, and philosophers, to the lives of ordinary people. Unfortunately, it also demonstrates that the bankruptcy of philosophy in our time leaves most people with little or no concept of what such a thing might be, or the meaning it could have for their lives.

    Thus they are reduced to believing that someone like Marx, most likely because they have heard his name mentioned reverently all their lives, and whose impenetrable gibberish they have never even tried to read, must be a great philosopher because he’s one of the few they have ever heard of.

    If the maxim that ideas have consequences is valid, (and I certainly think it is), then the converse must also have some value, i.e., that the lack of ideas has a consequence of its own.

  • Johnathan

    I suspect Marx topped the poll due to name recognition. I bet a lot of people have never heard of J.S. Mill, Locke, Aristotle or Kant. As Verity said, a lot of Brits aren’t very well educated, even though every other man and his pet dog has a degree. Take the mindless meanderings of Foucault’s Buddy, written by someone choosing his moniker from an over-rated waste of French DNA.

  • You can see the same principle at work on the Beeb’s fatuous ‘have your say’ online section where, if you happen to upset the flow of Leftist drivel, the Corporation’s censors step in to silence you. Then lie about it.

  • Jamie Young

    Auto Parts: “You can see the same principle at work on the Beeb’s fatuous ‘have your say’ online section where, if you happen to upset the flow of Leftist drivel, the Corporation’s censors step in to silence you. Then lie about it.”

    Do you write from experience? Would you care to expand upon your comments?

  • Jacob

    Marx was no philosopher and no political theorist.
    He was, as my father used to say, a political agitator and a charlatan. He published the Communist Manifesto some 15 years before Das Capital.

    But you have to hand it to him – he was a successful agitator and charlatan.

    “… it also demonstrates that the bankruptcy of philosophy in our time…”
    Yes. Philosophy, at least in the last 200-300 years has abandoned reality, and adopted reality-denial as it’s most basic and fundamental tenet, thus rendering itself utterly irrelevant and repulsive.

    “As for the “greatest philospher” – ….I would choose Aristotle.”

    A realist. Agreed.

  • Jamie Young:

    Auto Parts is a spammer who has taken something GCooper said verbatim and posted it to advertise his website, which presumably sells auto parts.

    However, it’s a good question, although you asked the wrong guy. GCooper?

  • Joe

    Marx is appalling as a philosopher, but he did excel in one very nasty little area of philosophy- a philosophy of how to gain personal benefit through the abuse of others, twisting their higher ideals to selfish ends.

    As to the greatest philosopher: Its hard to beat Lao Tzu – author of the Tao Te Ching – a book of concise ethical philosophy that contains more wisdom in one verse than is contained in all the combined turgid spewings of Marx and his ilk.

  • Johnathan

    Joe, I agree with your take on Marx. His treatment of economic data, as Paul Marks says, was actively dishonest. Paul Johnson’s book, Intellectuals, is a first-class demolition job. Francis Wheen’s biog tries to paint a rosier picture, but cannot quite hide the manifest failings. I also recommend Lezek Kolakowski’s writings, and David Conway’s A Farewell To Marx, a lucid, polite but devasting analysis of the bearded one.

  • J.Cassian

    The BBC poll was for “Greatest Thinker of the Millennium” (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/461545.stm), so obviously Aristotle, Plato, Lao Tze et al. were not eligible. But Einstein, Newton and Darwin were – and Karl beat the lot of them! Clear proof that Marx was the greatest scientist who ever lived as well as a philosopher of bottomless profundity.

  • GCooper

    Jamie Young asks:

    “Do you write from experience? Would you care to expand upon your comments?”

    A ‘Have Your Say’ (sic) thread was doctored by a BBC censor (they call them ‘moderators’) leaving one side of a debate very much advantaged. There was no apparent breach of BBC rules or protocols.

    The incident took place in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. I’ll leave you to guess which side of the argument got the better of the intervention.

  • The Wobbly Guy

    Joe-Lao-Tzu’s Dao De Jing was pretty good on libertarian principles, but certain parts of it that suggested inaction just didn’t sit well with me.

    Back to the point. It’s not just in Britain that almost nobody gives credit to the other philosophers who laid the foundation for modern civilization. It’s the same everywhere.

    In many ways, Marx did have a devastating effect on the world through his ideas, killing millions, so maybe that’s why he’s so (in)famous compared to his peers who are anonymous due to their success.


  • Johnathan

    The Wobbly Guy is correct. If you measure the impact of a thinker by sheer body count, then arguably Marx wins by a mile.

    Apparently, the beardo had terrible boils all over his body, for what it is worth.

  • Joe

    Johnathan, I haven’t read David Conway’s book – I’ll have to take a look.

    Wobbly Guy- The way I see the philosophy of Inaction is that Inaction is itself an action to be used as well as the more active types of action giving us greater parameters for movement.

    The Idea of Marx topping the philosopher bodycount definitely deserves wider spreading.

  • Paul Marks

    First I must thank veryretired for his kind words.

    I most also apologize for my mistake about the B.B.C. poll – so it was the greatest philosopher of the last thousand years. Why?

    Well I suppose that is a stupid question.

    I know little of eastern philosphy – I must confess that all I know of Taoism is second hand.

    As for modern academic philosphers who are easy to read and have interesting things to say. Well the Oxford realists of the 1920’s and 1930’s (men like Harold Prichard and Sir William David Ross) were good -anything by them is worth reading.

  • Bernie

    It occurs to me, somewhat too late to be read probably, that having Marx “voted” the greatest philosopher of any period of time is to celebrate one of the greatest inspirations of opressive and genocidal statism in all known history. To have voted Bin Laden to that position would have created an outrage yet his statistics are so far behind Marx’s as to render him insignificant.

  • wetzel36

    I think Groucho was a better philosopher than Karl.

  • Susan

    I think Groucho was a better philosopher than Karl.

    Hear, hear! And he had a much lower body count too.

  • Bernie

    Even Harpo was.

  • Julian Taylor

    Having read Das Kapital alongside Mein Kampf, as a school history project a very long time ago, I can honestly say that the only Marx I ever want to encounter is generally followed by Spencer and sells a particularly decadent chocolate mousse …