Sunday, September 23, 2007

Marxian Reductionism

Marxian Reductionism

Reductionism is what happens when a complex, multifactorial problem gets reduced to a single explanation. I mentioned a few weeks back Addicted to War, a ridiculous example of Marxian reductionism that, because it is so dishonest and inaccurate, is now a textbook in San Francisco public schools. Addicted to War is addicted to the reductionistic claim that every U.S. war was caused by capitalist greed.

You can find reductionism in many different forms, of course. Marxists aren't the only ones that suffer this defect. Intellectuals (or at least people that assume that because they professors, that makes them intellectuals) seem to be especially prone to reductionism, perhaps because they are in love with ideas. A single explanation for everything is a very attractive idea.

I went through a phase in my 20s and early 30s where libertarian reductionism was intellectually very satisfying. As I studied history more, I discovered that even when a particular libertarian explanation was generally right in explaining historical events, it was very, very seldom 100% right. (Maybe these claims were never 100% right, but I'm not sure of that, and I'm trying to avoid reductionistic thinking about reductionism.)

Hence, the socialist idea that wars are always fought about capitalist greed was very popular in some circles at the start of the twentieth century. There were doubtless wars fought for that reason. But once this idea had grabbed hold of the brains of the intellectuals, everything had to fit that model: hence, Addicted to War.

I'm reading Saul Friedlaender's Nazi Germany and the Jews: Volume I, The Years of Persecution, 1933-1939, and he makes an interesting claim about the rather famous January 30, 1939 Reichstag speech by Adolf Hitler. Most people know of it for Hitler's insistence that the suffering of the Jews in Germany wasn't Germany's fault--he was ready to let the Western democracies that were complaining have all of Germany's Jews--but the Western democracies didn't want any more refugees. You can find that section of the speech quoted all over the Internet.

Friedlaender's remark that caught my eye, however, was this:
After referring to the American intervention against Germany during World War I, which, according to him, had been determined by purely capitalistic motives.... [p. 309]
This was a pretty widely held belief in some circles in America by the mid-1930s, especially after the Nye Committee's report blamed (with little evidence) U.S. intervention into World War I on American munition makers trying to protect their investments in loans to the British government. Too bad for Senator Nye (R-ND)--he moved from trying to blame U.S. involvement on munitions makers to trying to blame President Wilson (a Democrat) for misleading Congress about the reasons for the war--and as this February 10, 1936 Time magazine article points out, the Democratic majority eliminated the Nye Committee's funding. (This seems to be an executive summary of the Nye Committee report--not very persuasive.)

I've tried to find the exact language that Hitler used in that speech--but I can't seem to find the full text of it anywhere. It would be amusing (although perhaps not terribly useful or significant) to see the exact language that Hitler used, and see how similar it is to Addicted to War's claims.

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