Cornel West and Marxist Humanism

Humanity has experienced an explosion of anti-humanism in the form of authoritarian capitalism, postmodern filter bubbles, and global problems. Marxist/Socialist Humanism is the proper answer to the deep crisis of humanity. In this context, this article asks ‘How can Cornel West’s works inform a contemporary Marxist humanist theory of society?’ Taking West’s works as a starting point, what are the key elements of a Marxist humanist theory of society?

Cornel West is one of the leading critical intellectuals today. His work has fused anti-racist theory, Black Liberation Theology, Marxist theory, pragmatism, and existentialism.

This article especially focuses on West’s understanding of humanism and culture. It shows how his works and praxis can inform the reinvigoration of Marxist Humanism in the age of authoritarian capitalism as a socialist response. West’s thought can and should also inform the analysis of alienation, exploitation, domination, culture, the public sphere, the critique of ideology, and popular culture.


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Communication and Capitalism – A Critical Theory

Communication and Capitalism outlines foundations of a critical theory of communication. Going beyond Jürgen Habermas’ theory of communicative action, Christian Fuchs outlines a communicative materialism that is a critical, dialectical, humanist approach to theorising communication in society and in capitalism. The book renews Marxist Humanism as a critical theory perspective on communication and society.

The author theorises communication and society by engaging with the dialectic, materialism, society, work, labour, technology, the means of communication as means of production, capitalism, class, the public sphere, alienation, ideology, nationalism, racism, authoritarianism, fascism, patriarchy, globalisation, the new imperialism, the commons, love, death, metaphysics, religion, critique, social and class struggles, praxis, and socialism.

Fuchs renews the engagement with the questions of what it means to be a human and a humanist today and what dangers humanity faces today.


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Wittgenstein, The Structuring of the Ego, and Autopoiesis

We see that the egoic life basically does not respect the autopoietic nature of the soul; it tends to make the open, living system that is the soul in a closed and isolated one, more like a machine. The difference between the egoic and the essential life is not absolute, for the soul cannot become completely a machine. She is inherently an open and dynamic system, and hence rigid ego structuring only limits this openness and constrains her dynamism; it cannot completely eliminate them (559)

This is a little off from the biological Autopoietic theory, but it is very useful. Autopoiesis is not only “open” but it is also “closed”. The theory speaks of autopoietic systems as being “organizationally closed”, but “structurally open”. As long as the changes do not (radically) change the organization of the system it remains autopoietic and in that way “closed”. What Almaas is describing is the structural closure of the system, in a way, that which could starve it. The calcifications of the ego would close off it’s dynamic of exchange. It would begin to suffer entropy at a rapid rate.


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A Neurophilosophy of Fake News, Disinformation and Digital Citizenship

While early fears of misuse of the Internet centered around small-time theft and the ensnaring of minors into inappropriate or dangerous activities, recent years—particularly since 2016—have demonstrated the profound political capacities of the Internet to manipulate popular opinion and influence critical outcomes in the world. The power of “fake news,” so-called deep fakes, and systematic disinformation campaigns is now being studied more actively, and, for once, insights from neuroscience have been a significant part of that debate and analysis.


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A Politics of Peripheries: Deleuze and Guattari as Dependency Theorists

Given that Deleuze and Guattari came to prominence after May 1968, many readers attempt to determine the political significance of their work. The difficulty that some encounter finding its political implications contrasts with Deleuze and Guattari’s commitment to radical causes. In response, Patton and Thoburn elaborate on the Marxist elements in the pair’s oeuvre, a line of analysis I continue. Focusing on A Thousand Plateaus, I discuss their references to the theorisation of the ‘dependency theorists’, a group of Marxist-inspired scholars who became influential during the 1960s. Does their engagement with dependency theory provide the basis for a political project?


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Public Reason

Public reason requires that the moral or political rules that regulate our common life be, in some sense, justifiable or acceptable to all those persons over whom the rules purport to have authority. It is an idea with roots in the work of Hobbes, Kant, and Rousseau, and has become increasingly influential in contemporary moral and political philosophy as a result of its development in the work of John Rawls, Jürgen Habermas, and Gerald Gaus, among others. Proponents of public reason often present the idea as an implication of a particular conception of persons as free and equal. Each of us is free in the sense of not being naturally subject to any other person’s moral or political authority, and we are equally situated with respect to this freedom from the natural authority of others. How, then, can some moral or political rules be rightly imposed on all of us, particularly if we assume deep and permanent disagreement amongst persons about matters of value, morality, religion, and the good life? The answer, for proponents of public reason, is that such rules can rightly be imposed on persons when the rules can be justified by appeal to ideas or arguments that those persons, at some level of idealization, endorse or accept. But public reason is not only a standard by which moral or political rules can be assessed: it can also provide standards for individual behavior. Because we make moral and political demands of each other, if we are to comply with the ideal of public reason, we must refrain from advocating or supporting rules that cannot be justified to those on whom the rules would be imposed. We should instead, some insist, only support those rules we sincerely believe can be justified by appeal to suitably shared or public considerations—for example, widely endorsed political values such as freedom and equality—and abstain from appealing to religious arguments, or other controversial views over which reasonable people are assumed to disagree. In this way, public reason can be presented as a standard for assessing rules, laws, institutions, and the behavior of individual citizens and public officials.


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Jacques Derrida

Jacques Derrida (1930–2004) was the founder of “deconstruction,” a way of criticizing not only both literary and philosophical texts but also political institutions. Although Derrida at times expressed regret concerning the fate of the word “deconstruction,” its popularity indicates the wide-ranging influence of his thought, in philosophy, in literary criticism and theory, in art and, in particular, architectural theory, and in political theory. Indeed, Derrida’s fame nearly reached the status of a media star, with hundreds of people filling auditoriums to hear him speak, with films and televisions programs devoted to him, with countless books and articles devoted to his thinking. Beside critique, Derridean deconstruction consists in an attempt to re-conceive the difference that divides self-consciousnes (the difference of the “of” in consciousness of oneself). But even more than the re-conception of difference, and perhaps more importantly, deconstruction attempts to render justice. Indeed, deconstruction is relentless in this pursuit since justice is impossible to achieve.


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Friendship, as understood here, is a distinctively personal relationship that is grounded in a concern on the part of each friend for the welfare of the other, for the other’s sake, and that involves some degree of intimacy. As such, friendship is undoubtedly central to our lives, in part because the special concern we have for our friends must have a place within a broader set of concerns, including moral concerns, and in part because our friends can help shape who we are as persons. Given this centrality, important questions arise concerning the justification of friendship and, in this context, whether it is permissible to “trade up” when someone new comes along, as well as concerning the possibility of reconciling the demands of friendship with the demands of morality in cases in which the two seem to conflict.


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Never Mind the Camus: Sartre’s Typhus is the Existential Plague Fiction We Need

Albert Camus has been having a good pandemic, sixty years after he died. Copies of The Plague have sold faster than publishers can print them in many languages across the world, an abundance of newspaper and magazine articles have extolled its lessons for our time, and the BBC have made it into a radio play.

But another work of existential plague fiction, written around the same time by his friend and rival Jean-Paul Sartre, has far more important things to say about our experience of coronavirus.


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Designing a Philosophy Course for Relevance

My first semester as lead instructor of a philosophy course, I taught for laughs. I’d suffered through some painful core requirements as an undergrad, and my greatest fear was that my students would leave my course feeling like the material was completely irrelevant to their lives. So I treated short presentations in class like stand-up routines, and I thought of all kinds of quirky ways to get students involved. The strategy worked, in a way. There was never a dull moment in class, and the students told me every week how much they enjoyed showing up. But midway through the class I realized that I’d implicitly equated entertainment with relevance. When I tried to get the generally lively students to engage with course content the room went quiet. And on my end-of-year reviews, I repeatedly saw variations of a double-edged compliment: “This was one of my favorite classes, but I didn’t learn much philosophy.”


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