Darkness at Noon

William Brafford points me to this excellent essay on Alasdair MacIntyre’s political philosophy. MacIntyre, a former Marxist, underwent something of an ideological conversion later in life:

And yet, MacIntyre’s journey from Marxism to Thomism is instructive in our moral chaos, for his sympathy for Marx gave him the initial radicality toward liberalism that grounded all his later analyses. Take, for example, those Marxists who felt a moral revulsion toward the Moscow Show Trials of the thirties or the Soviet invasions of Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968. “A Communist who broke with his Party on account of such actions,” writes MacIntyre, “and who did so not merely because he felt such actions to be imprudent from the Communist standpoint, but because he believed them to be wrong, was and is peculiarly vulnerable to the question: ‘What do you mean by “wrong”?’“

It is one thing to laud Marxists who had not been too corrupted to object to Stalin’s crimes. But it is another thing to claim that contemporary alternatives are any better, and we can see here the importance of MacIntyre’s journey from Marxism. The revulsion felt by an ex-Communist must have its roots in an innate sense of right and wrong, that is, in conscience. But “the ex-Communist is bound to ask in what way contemporary liberalism has offered any moral alternative to the morality of communism.” Not many ex-Communists in fact posed this question, because to do so would be to undermine the presupposition that binds Marxism with all modern forms of moral calculation; “the utilitarian attention to consequences rather than to actions themselves is liable to lead to a continuous evaluation of the present only as it leads on to some future.” This is what Marxists and liberals share in their system of moral evaluation, and this is why for MacIntyre the rejection of the one entails the rejection of the other.

After reading this, I was irresistibly reminded of a passage from Koestler’s Darkness at Noon:

“I don’t approve of mixing ideologies,” Ivanov continued. “There are only two conceptions of human ethics, and they are at opposite poles. One of them is Christian and human, declares the individual to be sacrosanct. and asserts that the rules of arithmetic are not to be applied to human units. The other starts from the basic principle that a collective aim justifies all means, and not only allows, but demands, that the individual should in every way be subordinated and sacrificed to the community – which may dispose of it as an experimentation rabbit or a sacrificial lamb. The first conception could be called anti-vivisection morality, the second, vivisection morality. Humbugs and dilettantes have always tried to mix the two conceptions; in practice, it is impossible.”

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