To be, or not to be? That is The Question – Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, And, by opposing them, end them.
We will stop here.
This A Journey post presents the second in a series of five posts, the first linked here, on Dr. Samuel Baron, featured in the video clip above. Dr. Baron supervised my undergraduate History Honors Paper, linked here, a two-year project, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the 1970’s.
I call Dr. Baron “Sam” because he became a friend between first meeting him in 1975 as a student and his death at age 96 in 2017.
Sam is the first Praxis Circle Contributor featured in A Journey on the Home page as a “Featured Contributor,” and we will review the other “Selected Contributor Profiles” listed there over the course of the next six months. You can click on any one of these Contributor’s pictures and link to a short video, we call a Profile, that gives an overview of that person’s background. The Home page’s Contributor Profiles are arranged currently to illustrate the logical order of how A Journey’s worldview analysis will progress this year.
As mentioned before, A Journey has two themes:
- To explain Praxis Circle’s origins, founding, and mission (to explore and build worldviews), unavoidably involving a bit of personal history about my own worldview development.
- To explain why conscientious Americans, especially Christian Americans, should lose the word capitalism from their vocabulary and replace it with new words that actually describe our Western story and accomplishments.
The first theme is relatively easy to explain. The Why reasons for Praxis Circle are outlined on our About Page, including Read More, and they will become more obvious in time. The Praxis Circle team hopes to present a good case for free Membership. It’s fun to study worldview with the goal of understanding your worldview and those of others. If Hamlet could have lightened up and expanded his thinking, he could have exited stage right or left at any time and would still be alive on stage today. Killing himself directly via suicide or indirectly by murdering his father were not his only alternatives.
On the other hand, gaining an understanding of the second theme in red above will require some time and attention, and I’m giving it what time I have left, which I hope is a lot.
As you know by now, Praxis Circle is a non-profit video company, and we center our work on interviewing some of the most interesting people available who can comment on worldview subjects. As you would expect, we knew going into our interviews that some of our Contributors, like Dr. Baron, could contribute to helping us make a case for Theme #2.
So, today, we will tackle not Hamlet’s Question, “To be, or not to be?”, but my own key question to Dr. Baron, sheepishly delivered in 2013:
Do you think of America as being in stages of Marxist history?
He provides his answer to this question, one I had wanted to ask him since college, in the very short playlist above (two clips totaling 1:05).
Well, maybe my question does relate somehow to Hamlet’s, but you should be the judge.
As I mentioned in the last A Journey post, I still do not know whether Dr. Baron would have considered himself a Marxist. In my experience he never brought politics into the classroom or the professor-student relationship.
After my graduation from college in 1978, we had lunch together sometime around 1985 in Chapel Hill to catch up, when I remember him using the phrase “bourgeois regime” for our American government. Regime is the type of word one would use having spent most of one’s early career doing biographical research guided by Georgi Plekhanov’s voluminous works. Today I believe that is what America has in a very limited sense, a bourgeois regime, if bourgeois means “people living today, in part, by working in commerce.” People like Deirdre McCloskey have recently gotten me over thinking bourgeois is a bad word, though I doubt I will ever use it in regular conversation.
In fact, in his answer at top, Dr. Baron mentions being a social democrat and then the importance of unions. I’ve always believed unions have been and sometimes still are necessary (except in the public sector, where having them, to me anyway, is like unionizing one’s family). I have friends and acquaintances who are members of or are leaders of unions. I fully support America’s labor laws, after having studied them carefully in law school after UNC, which are meant to give unions a way to exist with sufficient bargaining power to make the needed difference, if that’s what the situation requires.
Still, I consider their existence in the business sector today more the result of management failure or lingering business custom than “greedy capitalist intent.” Undoubtedly, good, privately-owned companies operate much more efficiently and competitively without them, especially when facing global competition and markets. Western management culture has vastly changed since the “Robber Baron” days, much thanks to workers standing up for themselves, but also thanks to business people changing how they think. Shareholders, boards, management, and employees in America understand this well today. We were taught to think this way in MBA School.
Since outlawing titles of nobility in The Constitution, Americans have strived at every level to avoid thinking in terms of class conflict or to imbed it into any system. We the People are equal at creation, and Americans strive to offer equal opportunity under the law to the greatest practical extent that a most unequal Nature allows. This is the challenge for us, balancing our precondition liberty with equality.
While there is no equality without liberty, we also insist on equal protection for and non-discrimination among basic human categories, when sensible, like race, class, and gender. Discrimination is natural and necessary for survival and, most important, to be fully human, but Americans want to keep it mostly to merit in the public sector, as best they can. Regrettably, perhaps, there are no fail-safe rules available here that work in every situation; yet too much rule-following restricts freedom and, worse still, gets down-right boring.
More than anything else, however, seeing the mutual benefit of working together without institutionalizing conflict in the face of a global world explains the radical decline in unions in America during my lifetime. It is far better to “do the right thing” of one’s own free will, and I call that The Shane Principle . The most successful societies producing the most human flourishing, whatever that is, are built upon citizens capable of virtue at key moments that make laws unnecessary. Use of force via laws or otherwise only squeezes out virtue in society or radically limits its applicability. In order to remain human, Americans must preserve this fundamental free space.
Once lost, liberty rarely returns without a tragic fight, explaining most of Hamlet’s action scenes.
America’s social system continues to evolve, and, as Sam notes, who is to say whether America will move toward Germany or in other directions? My hope is that we go where we want to go in freedom for all of the right reasons now and in the future, not to be like any other country where, of course, they must know better. After all, only we are the American Experiment, and we need to keep on being a leading light for the good of the world.
On this Sam might agree if he were still alive, but I really can’t say. I want to be as kind, cautious, and humble as Sam is the clip above. He sets the standard in the classroom for me. What I can say, however, is this: In the classroom, Dr. Baron was dedicated to seeking and doing the truth by following the evidence wherever it leads, and this still seems like a most worthy goal to me.
After lunch with Dr. Baron in the 1980’s I got busy with married life, soon-to-be three children, and my career in investment banking. We lost touch. The Fall of the Berlin Wall intervened just a few years later in 1989, and that probably began changing the world’s ideas about Marxism and Marxist stages of history more than anything else. It must have influenced Dr. Baron’s thinking, and it certainly influenced Marxist dictators to change their ways toward free markets or to double-down on totalitarianism. China and North Korea are key examples. In his later professional years, Dr. Baron focused his research and writing on aspects of the early middle class or bourgeoisie in Muscovite Russia. For reasons that will become clear in a later post, I suspect he wanted to dial-back from the Russian Revolution of 1917.
By 2010, however, I found myself again wanting to pursue worldview discussions, activities, and thinking. That’s when I realized I really needed an answer from Dr. Baron to The Question in blue above. I had to go back to my source to begin again, and he was my original source of radical worldview expansion.
Was I ever delighted to discover he was still alive and well and more than happy, even glad, at age 92 to offer this thoughts. Sam was a dignified and fun-loving man, and I am eternally grateful for his interview and, afterwards, the several times we connected over the phone and for lunch between 2013 and his death in 2017. Dr. Baron would be 100 next year.
For the time we have remaining in this post and over the course of the next three that complete my presentation of Dr. Baron’s interview, I will try to explain why The Question and his Answer were so important to me back on June 26, 2013. We filmed the interview that day at the Love House (I am not kidding here), also called The Center for the Study of the American South, on Chapel Hill, North Carolina’s Franklin Street, its shady, picturesque, Old South “Main Street.” The Love House has a wrap-around front porch and a low stone wall across the front lawn by Franklin Street’s sidewalk.
In a sense, the location for the interview was showing signs of cultural changes that had occurred since my graduation 35 years earlier. The “American” South? Oh, that means The South. No one in the 1970’s was confused about the object of the Love House’s dedication, and I doubt many are today. All Southerners then and now feel that love intensely, no qualifiers needed. It has to do with its people, place, and past. The South Center’s staff are dedicated to it – hard to define, called home wherever it may be.
Not that other Americans or anyone else couldn’t love The South just as much or more, or that there aren’t certainly many Souths worthy of equal affection across the world. But we all know there’s only one South on Franklin Street, USA.
Since that day, it’s taken seven years to get into a position to write this post. Like Hamlet, I most certainly should be accused of needless delay, but unlike Denmark’s most famous fictional prince, I’m dedicated to producing a much better ending. This is an organizational thing, as well. No reason why we can’t live happily ever after in Praxis Circle Land, on a basis, and we intend to give it a shot.
With that in mind, please watch this short video clip involving our often humorous, we think, Expert Contributor, Dr. Rodney Stark, a well-known and leading sociologist who has written much on well-researched history:
While we will go at Theme #2 in A Journey bit-by-bit going forward, please, let me put it to you as straight as possible right now:
I realized back in the 1970’s working with and for Dr. Baron, the foremost expert on the Father of Russian Marxism, as I pored over volumes of primary sources of Russian revolutionary writings for hours in UNC’s libraries, classrooms, dormitories, fraternity houses, and even in our rented home out in the country outside Carrboro, NC, near the Reservoir (on one particular time I painfully recall, while my best friends were enjoying “Beach Weekend” in the spring of 1978 at Myrtle Beach) that, yes, my admired Russian hero, Leon Trotsky, and all of the Russian revolutionaries, were calling my family, friends, fellow countrymen, ancestors, and me, expressly or by implication, Reactionary Pigs.
Needless to say, this did not sit well, and never mind Myrtle Beach and its implications. As mentioned last time, those Marxist writers are still wrong today, over 100 years later. My family, friends, and life associates and I are in no way reactionary pigs.
While we Monroes and friends, every now and then, might bend over to pick up a dollar on the sidewalk, especially when no one’s looking, the exact opposite of what those Marxists were saying and what many continue to say today is true. It isn’t funny anymore. I don’t know what the opposite of a pig is in the animal kingdom; pigs are actually sociable and bright. I like pigs. Pigs and we humans have a lot in common.
But “reactionary”? No, the Monroes certainly are not that.
In fact, we like to think we set the pace for all pigs with whom we choose to associate, assuming they’ll have us when on our best behavior.
Rather, we are the ones who are shaping Western history. It is Marxists who are reacting to us and have been since the first half of the 19th century with a steadily weakening position in every passing moment.
But as you will see if you continue to hang in here with me today, Point #2 goes far beyond being sick and tired of constant ad hominem attacks administered to various degrees well out in the open for no fewer than 250 years. To help explain why this is true and offer further background, let’s dwell a bit more on Red Theme #2.
Many people do not understand that Marxists are deeply devoted to truth with a capital “T” because they’ve been told truth is whatever a Marxist State says it is in communist or socialist nations. However, genuine Marxists, like Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin, believed that Marx’s historical materialism assures that capitalism is an inevitable historical epoch of human time, not only a political-economic system based on various nation-state models. They see the Epoch of Capitalism as featuring a political-economic-legal-military system supported by other structures in religion, culture, art, and family designed with the primary purpose, if not sole purpose, of protecting capitalist private property. The central point is to enable a small minority of capitalists to exploit the majority of their fellow countrymen and the rest of the world. This was true in the 1800’s when Marxism was initially created and developed out of predecessor historical events and philosophies, and it’s equally true today.
Here’s where the Marxist argument is now:
In capitalism, the top 1% in the West are still screwing all the Rest everywhere, and the system as constructed remains primarily designed to assure that result will continue.
As you know, most Marxists believe capitalism is necessary to create sufficient material surplus to advance society, while also being plagued by contradictions that will inevitably lead to its downfall, ushering in linear history’s next two inevitable stages – socialism and communism. These points remain Marxist dogma, even as they’re still seriously debated.
And let’s be even more specific, it’s not the word “dogma” or even Marxism that I have the biggest problem with. No, we pigs can apply lipstick anywhere we want, and they can still call us pigs; I personally have no problem with that. As beautiful as we are, it cannot be denied: Sometimes we deserve it.
But what really grates is applying the Marxist materialist word “capitalism” to describe what is “True, Good, and Beautiful Western Dualist historical Time/Space” that has narrative goals and meaning in direct opposition to those embedded in their Marxist, materialist vision. Our American Era and political-economic system should not be described with the word capitalism.
Looking back, the fall of the Soviet Union changed nothing; dedicated Marxists have adjusted their arguments, since we all know good socialism and communism have never existed, and further embedded themselves in our educational institutions. Many are good people, and all have every right to be there. They have even been quite helpful to the world, but they have no right to mischaracterize what’s going on in America and has been since inception.
In my worldview and, I believe, the worldview of the vast majority of Americans, the Marxist worldview and historical construct is false. It is a terrible error that has murdered countless millions.
Westerners with the Western Dualist worldview that we call CJC (Classical Judeo-Christianity) simply cannot convey their worldview to others in the global public square accurately by using the word capitalism. We have tried for as long as Marxists have co-opted the word capital in the early 1800’s, and this attempt has produced nothing but confusion and failure in communication. Such efforts have become Shakespearean tragedies in themselves in that we are steadily winning on all of the political and economic facts, while doing much worse than we ought in the far less concrete arena of ideas.
In using the word capitalism Americans are inadvertently admitting a poor-to-evil use of human history while reducing themselves to a starting position of weakness every time they open their mouths to express national goals or explain national systems. Clearly, this is how trained Marxists hear us when we speak, and it’s how much of the secular world in the West today hears us. The reason for this is our national, close-to-bankrupt liberal arts educational programs are educating us and our youngest generations to hear it that way, and because we haven’t been doing our jobs to think for ourselves more carefully.
That one is busy with family and work is no excuse.
To summarize the primary worldview point here so far: Marxism is a specific type of truth-based “Matterism” worldview, a worldview name introduced for the first time formally in a recent Praxis Circle post, that is diametrically opposed to the CJC worldview that created what we have in the West. The CJC worldview and our world have been under steady construction since at least the Fall of the Roman Empire, but probably around 2,000 years prior to that. (If you haven’t noticed that chart already, please take a quick look at the bottom of this post.)
Our worldview, Dualism, as shown there, includes the world’s three dominant monotheisms, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. With CJC praxis, we have Christianity and Judaism creating Western Civilization since Christ in Europe and America, though other worldviews and geographies have also played significant roles.
It will not be enough simply to stop using the word capitalism and replace it with preexisting, amiable micro-words, like free enterprise or free markets. We will need to reoccupy the huge language & mental void created with capitalism’s elimination and replace it with new words of equal import, offering credit where credit is due. Such words would need to take our world from cap “C” Creation all the way forward and down into the details of our everyday lives today. Our Founders started America formally down this path recognizing the Creator in The Declaration. After all, for better or worse, Now time & space is where we create all of our Futures. But Now is also informed in every moment through our Past.
With God’s help it is beautiful.
In sum, we Americans must learn to communicate much more clearly among ourselves and the rest of the world.
Like many personal nicknames or political party names, capitalism as historical epoch and economic system was “christened” by the West’s moral adversaries as soon as they had the chance, and they did it so fast no one noticed, until too late. In other words, CJC peoples throughout the West, primarily Europe and America, were just living their own lives in their own most-of-the-time peaceful, 19th century worlds before they knew what had hit them. In fact, at first, Marx himself probably didn’t fully understand what he’d stumbled on in studying Hegel and Hobbes-to-his-present day materialists; though, one of Marx’s undeniably good traits was extreme persistence in working through a brilliant, appealing, and useful materialist scheme.
In America, we’re still asleep and need to wake up. In fact, we can do woke, and even some co-opting on our own.
Over the many years since the 1970’s, my research has relied on trusted sources, and it indicates the word capital originated from the Latin word caput, meaning head of cattle. Cattle was a form of currency in parts of the Roman world, just as it was in the American West in the mid-1800’s. The word capitalist, meaning a person who invests money in businesses for a living, seemed to surface during the early Enlightenment.
Then, in the early 1800’s, it became a popular word in French urban areas benefiting from the spread, even in France, of the early Industrial Revolution. Such a capitalist might have been similar to a “petty” – petty being a favorite Marxist word – venture capitalist or entrepreneur today; you know, the kind who helped me make a living in investment banking and benefited so many businesses prior to founding Praxis Circle.
And should such capitalists or investors expect to be called “grand or magnanimous capitalists” rather than petty, given how the French king, nobility, or church disliked businessmen and dirty commerce, in general? That is, before Marxists took the French word “bourgeois” (middle class) and ran with it?
No, the French love wordplay as much as wine and amour, even though the French Academy allows very few new words anymore, like computer. Though Marx rarely used the word capitalism himself, he frequently referred to the capitalist system or capitalist mode of production. The word capitalism was first cited in the 1850’s, after the publication of The Communist Manifesto in 1848 and before Das Kapital, Volume I in 1867. Clearly, it often takes time for words to sink deeply into language. In other words, it took a while to get into this mess, and it will certainly take a while to get out.
In any case, let it be said that far-Left Marxist groups back in the 1800’s, just beyond the turn of the century, and today get the importance of narrative construction and word invention, control, and change far better than we do; you know, we quite average, hard-working, and generally happy Americans.
To close, I was hoping in the spring of 1978, while my best male and female friends were at Myrtle Beach, that America would have lost the word capitalism by now. My optimism rose after the astonishing collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc in 1989. Instead, it seems the entire world has come to accept it even more, with a few important exceptions. Furthermore, some emerging out of completely different camps have expressed opinions that capitalism is all the world has left in the 21st century.
Could that be true? Would that be good or bad?
Most of you are probably familiar with Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man (1992), but possibly not Branko Milanovic’s Capitalism, Alone: The Future of a System That Rules the World (2019). The latter book demonstrates how insane this capitalism idea has gotten in labeling America and the rest. It’s finally official now: We are in the Global Epoch of Capitalism, and Dr. Milanovic labels America’s political-economic system “Liberal Meritocratic Capitalism” and China’s “Political Capitalism.” He is saying America’s and China’s systems are one (as does his book title; it’s an important book we’ll be reviewing this year).
Are you feeling comfortable yet? CCP China as a legit capitalist option? Is America’s national system on a moral par?
Nothing could be further from the truth.
World Wars I and II were not good enough. Is capitalism’s true global fall still ahead?
Not that we couldn’t have another disastrous worldwide conflagration. We never know what humankind will do, and we are constantly underwhelmed. And not that America doesn’t have plenty of its own serious problems. It’s just that the West is based on CJC narrative, practice, and freedom as it has evolved, and it is nothing like China and other totalitarian countries, whether secular or otherwise.
So, you can see we average Americans have a serious problem that needs attention, and the fact that we haven’t dealt with it since first sighting in the 1970’s could explain some of today’s seemingly unprecedented social pathologies. That’s what Beach Weekend was about, wasn’t it? Exploring pathologies?
Come to think of it – “To be, or not to be, Western Civilization?” Maybe that is The Question today.
Like Hamlet, wanting to move on from The Question, but feeling more like Yorick: Here are my last words until next time:
Let me see. (takes the skull) Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio, a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy. He hath borne me on his back a thousand times, and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is! My gorge rises at it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft. —Where be your gibes now? Your gambols? Your songs? Your flashes of merriment that were wont to set the table on a roar?
PS – This article expresses the same sentiment. The issue is not a matter of Left or Right. In fact, we’ll be rethinking those words in time, as well. Finally, if you need a good binge watch with your Covid-19 downtime, please see Kenneth Clark’s introduction to his classic 1969 TV series, Civilisation, linked to the left. It is a masterpiece just like its subject matter. We have so much to be proud of. The Civilisation series is available on Amazon Prime or in DVD. As Dr. Clark says in the introduction, this isn’t the first time Westerners have considered The Question, and it won’t be the last. At the very least, forgetting all this capitalism argument, concede this: Western-types don’t know the word, over.