For Miriam Chiaromonte

Was it later than we thought? But this was precisely what we thought, or thought we had been thinking. In point of purpose—of socialist purpose, if you please—it was late, very late indeed. In point of fact, it was late in 1945—mid-November of that year.

The Second World War had in August come to its ambiguous close with the all's-well-that-ends-badly-bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These bombings dismayed American liberals and left-wingers and seemed to confirm the judgment of people like Dwight Macdonald, who had opposed our entrance into the war from the start, holding it could not be won “democratically.” There were those, too, who thought the war had not really ended—even as at the present time Noam Chomsky and Joseph Buttinger (and they have arguments) insist that the war in Asia is continuing. But I should like to remark in this connection that those who in 1945 took the view that the Second World War was still going on—in the main, the Trotskyites of both the Workers' party and the Socialist Workers' party—were the very ones who had held at the beginning of the war, that is to say, in 1939, that it had not in fact begun. What looked to political neophytes like a “beginning”—Hitler's invasion of Poland—was, to the Trotskyite sophisticates, merely a “continuation” of the war of 1914-18. But in any case, by the fall of 1945, the war, for most New York City intellectuals, was no longer an issue. The question now was: what would follow it?

Dwight Macdonald, who had resigned from Partisan Review and commenced the publication of his own magazine, Politics, after a split with Philip Rahv and William Phillips—they supported the American war effort which he opposed1—now organized a series of public lectures, in the main by contributors to Politics, on the problems of the postwar period. One of the most interesting of these lectures, and one of the most dramatic in what it revealed about things intellectual in New York City at that time, was the one given by Nicolà Chiaromonte.

How describe the general mood? It was, I think, very like the one which in The Magic Mountain overwhelms Hans Castorp at the close of his own private war with tuberculosis in the Berghof Sanitorium at Davos. Thomas Mann writes:

Everything appeared to have gone permanently and increasingly awry. As though a demonic power—which had indeed for a long time given hints of its malign influence—had suddenly taken control, in a way to induce secret consternation and almost thoughts of flight. The name of the demon was Dumps.

At the end of the war, we were all in the power of the demon Mann has called “The Great God Dumps,” or of one very like it, perhaps the Great God Political Dumps. This was, I suggest, because we were so dissatisfied. Those of us who had supported the war had to face the prospect of a peace not good enough to make us forget the killing. And those who had opposed the war had to face a peace less dreadful, and also less illusory, than the one they had prophesied. Anyone who has researched some problem will recall the kind of emotion stimulated by having to hunt down a volume very hard to come by. You make trips to the libraries, then to the bookshops. You persecute your friends. Finally, when hope has quite left you, the volume is obtained—and you do not open it. Only with the sought-after book before you do you fully comprehend that the solution you had wanted will not be found in it. When we went to the lectures organized by Politics, it was very much in the spirit of someone looking for ideas yet to be discovered, the discovery of which, he suspects, will not serve his purposes. We did expect something new from Nicolà Chiaromonte.

An anti-fascist exile, Chiaromonte had appeared in New York in 1941 after the fall of Paris, which for some years had been his home. He never propagandized for the Allied side during the Second World War—he used to say that the last “real” cause was that of the Spanish Republic in its war with Franco. He had fought in that war, alongside André Malraux, about whom he wrote the lucid and revealing article published in the early 50's by Partisan Review. What distinguished Chiaromonte at the time in New York intellectual circles was his commitment to politics, together with his refusal to commit himself to Marx—even to those ideas of Marx almost everyone else thought “good.” Moreover, there were many notions of Marx, generally accepted by the New York intellectual elite, which Chiaromonte thought positively “bad.” What would he have to tell us?


Speaking to us from the platform of a shabby hotel on West Broadway, he told us that Marxism was not really, not truly “scientific.” Now this disappointed almost everyone and excited nobody, for the charge was not new; we had heard it before. And it was not clear what Marxists had meant by “scientific” in relation to socialism (it is not clear today, either); nor was it clear what Chiaromonte meant. Raymond Aron has recently made the point in Marxismes Imaginaires that when Marx called for a socialism that would be “scientific” rather than utopian, he never meant that such socialism was to be “scientific” in the very same sense that physics is. Perhaps. It has been held, on the other hand—this view still has defenders—that the science of socialism was intended to be even more “scientific” than physics is or can be (history, from a Hegelian viewpoint, being more rational than physics). In 1945, though, such distinctions had not been argued with any thoroughness in left-wing circles in New York, and I suppose for most of us the term “scientific,” when we applied it to socialism, was intended to have the same sense as when we applied it to physics—although we seldom talked about physics. And it was this sense of the term “scientific,” in connection with socialism, that Chiaromonte was asking us to set aside. In recent philosophical discussions, arguments have been advanced for “descriptive” as against “revisionary” metaphysics. Applying this contemporary terminology to Chiaromonte's talk, we might say that his argument was in favor of a “revisionary” and against a “descriptive” socialist thought. And he left us with the clear impression that whatever course socialist thinking chose to follow, it could not help but be some kind of metaphysic.

Chiaromonte's second point, that socialism ought not to be scientific, but candidly utopian, was the more interesting one, but it was his first point which provoked the audience. When Chiaromonte had done there were questions, a great many questions, of which, of course, I can recall only a few. I do remember that the tone of the questioners was sharp, tense, often inquisitorial. Why, Harold Rosenberg wanted to know, did Chiaromonte criticize Marxism for not being scientific when he himself did not want it (or socialism) to be scientific? Of course there was something to criticize in Marxism if it was not what Marxists claimed it to be. But I do not remember this to have been Chiaromonte's reply. What he said was this: if Marxism were found satisfactory as science, then it would have to be accepted, and there could be no further arguments about it. As for socialism, he added: “I not only say that it ought to be utopian; I say further that I ought to say this.”

I think it was at this point that James T. Farrell, who had thus far contained himself, burst out with a remark that was like a slap. From his seat Farrell shouted: “At least Marxism isn't boring, and you are!” Chiaromonte reddened, but kept his temper, and elegantly apologized for any boredom he may have occasioned others. But Farrell's attack on the speaker unsettled everyone, and finally Mary McCarthy, whose personal friendship for Chiaromonte was quite well known (he was to be the one positive character in her stunning little satire The Oasis), took the floor and breathlessly begged the audience—“In the name of humanity!”—to desist from further attacks on the speaker.

James T. Farrell's sally shocked everyone in the hall. Why, it may be asked, had he chosen to be rude? To answer this question I think one must look beyond the incident itself, and even beyond psychology, as far back, maybe, as John Millington Synge's remark that literature would have to become brutal before it could once again become human. (I should say that the opposite is true now: literature will have to become human again before it can again have the right to be brutal.) Farrell had not neglected brutality in both the matter and the manner of his novels, and in Studs Lonigan, at least, the results were impressively human. Then, too, there was, at the time, the appeal of Bolshevik rudeness; all the intellectuals present who had been members of left-wing parties had been schooled in name-calling. I must add that in the audience were the two editors of a famous left-wing review, one of whom had shouted at the other during an editorial meeting: “Now don't give me that crap about friendship!”2

Miss McCarthy's appeal was no doubt motivated by a desire to help the speaker. But it amounted to asking the audience not to respond to him at all. And Chiaromonte had not come with the aim of reducing his audience to silence. He had come for an argument, and in an argument, as he well knew, there have to be elements of give and take. Perhaps he could have used a subtler logic to meet the attacks that were made on him. This Miss McCarthy was unable to supply. All she accomplished was to make Chiaromonte seem weaker (for the moment) than in fact he was, and this by exhibiting the depth and force of her concern for him. Her request was not followed—it simply cancelled out whatever sense of outrage had been felt at Farrell's sally, after which the audience got back to what most interested it, namely attacking Chiaromonte.


I think it fair to say that while there was not a single person, with the exception of Dwight Macdonald, in the hall that night, who agreed with Chiaromonte, on the other hand there was hardly a person present whose views since 1945 have not shifted toward the position which Chiaromonte took. Why is this? During the last ten years, the main emphasis of the critics of American foreign policy has been precisely moral rather than scientific, and many of those who objected in 1945 to what Chiaromonte said, had by the 60s, scrapped the “scientific” criticism of American capitalism for a moral criticism of the American state, especially for its policies in Southeast Asia. Incidentally, something very similar had happened in France during the struggle against the Algerian war. There, too, the moral criticism of French military policy in Algeria, voiced often by writers, moralists, and priests, replaced the old class analysis of French imperialism in which “scientific” Marxism had specialized.

Now I am not suggesting that the movement which in this country called itself the New Left began with the speech delivered by Chiaromonte on that November night in 1945. As a matter of fact, years later, when the New Left had put in its appearance, Chiaromonte was rather unsympathetic to it, though he did admit to a sympathy and liking for the writings of Norman Mailer. But I think it interesting to note right here that a good many of the important literary and intellectual productions of the late 40's anticipated, predicted, or called for, something very like the New Left. Take, for example, Anouilh's play Antigone, produced in 1943 in Paris, under the German occupation. In this reworking of Sophocles's masterpiece, the novelty Anouilh introduced was to strengthen the logic of Creon's argument in his confrontation with Antigone, and to weaken hers. If, in Sophocles's play, Antigone has somewhat the better argument than her antagonist, in Anouilh's play the very reverse is the case. A member of the French Resistance who had not liked the play told me in 1948, “It was offensive to me as a Resistance fighter. It made me feel that one had to be illogical, even crazy, to take up arms against the occupiers.” Perhaps it is stretching things a bit to say that the politics of Anouilh's Antigone were not so unlike the politics which in his speech Chiaromonte outlined for socialists. Who could deny the moral lightness of Antigone in burying her brother? Who could assert that the justification she gives (in Anouilh) for her action is a completely clear one? I have been struck by the continued interest shown in Anouilh's play over the years despite its many (some serious) faults. One reason for this interest may be the prophetic anticipation by the playwright, if we may judge him by his heroine, of the mood which was to grip so many intellectuals some years later, and perhaps even more in this country than in France.

But to make understandable the dislike felt by Chiaromonte's audience for the candidly anti-scientific view he was asking them to support, I shall have to describe what might be called the intellectual atmospherics of the period. Certainly there were very few—if any—scientists among the writers and the intellectuals present. But I think it can be stated that for the most part here were people who believed in science, or at the very least were not deeply disturbed by doubts of it. To put it simply, science had an intellectual prestige it just does not have today. Since the 40's, even laymen have become aware of the very great difficulty, and perhaps impossibility, of proving any kind of statement. For Karl Popper and his disciples no positive statements can be said to be proved, and the difference between scientific statements and non-scientific statements is simply that the former have been so put that it is possible to show them to be false. For some contemporary thinkers, it is even impossible to prove that any statement is false. As the pragmatist W. V. Quine has it: “Any statement can be held true, come what may, if we make drastic enough adjustments. . . .”

Very few of us in 1945 could have imagined a state of intellectual affairs in which the evidence produced by Galileo for his hypothesis by means of the telescope he had fashioned, but not invented, could be used against his hypothesis. But it is said now (by Imre Lacatos) that the evidence obtained through his telescope was in fact determined by Galileo's theory, and any observations properly supporting that theory would have to be independent of it. But Galileo's telescope was a part of his theory. And we could not have imagined a cavalier judgment of science like the following by Paul Feyerabend, who is not a man of letters, but a philosopher of science:

It is good to be constantly reminded of the fact that science as we know it today is not inescapable and that we may construct a world in which it plays no role whatever (such a world, I venture to suggest, would be more pleasant than the world we live in today).

Few in Chiaromonte's audience had any such doubts about the “pleasantness” or validity of science. On the other hand, the issue between Chiaromonte and those who were not doubtful of the sciences was not, in fact, a purely intellectual issue, but to a very large degree a moral one. I think most of those who heard Chiaromonte that night and who thought of themselves as believers in science also thought that it was moral to believe in science, and moral to try to be scientific in whatever one asserted. “What are we to be, if we are not to be scientific?” members of Chiaromonte's audience, practically none of whom were scientists, asked themselves. And Chiaromonte for his part was asking them to be something other than that. They thought he was asking them to dream, and if they were going to dream, why couldn't they dream of being scientists?


For his part, Chiaromonte's moral impulse expressed itself in the need to represent that which we desire but which is not present, that for which there is no evidence other than our will to cause it to be; Utopia, for him, was the idealization of social life, comparable to the idealization of nature in a Cezanne landscape. To be sure, there was a natural kind of evidence for Cézanne's landscapes. There was what he called his petite sensation. Perhaps Chiaromonte had similarly a petite sensation, or something comparable to it, of a better social order. The experience of friendship, for example, may have been his model of what social life might be, and ought to be.

And here I must distinguish what Chiaromonte meant by friendship from what Chiaromonte's friend André Malraux must have meant by the term “virile fraternity,” to which he gave a good deal of what I think it perfectly fair to call publicity. “Virile fraternity” certainly sounds like a slogan, and in fact was employed as a slogan by Malraux. It was the promise that comrades-in-arms would feel warmly toward each other in situations of danger, warmly enough not to notice just what cause had joined them. But by friendship, I think, Chiaromonte meant a small-scale model for any social unity that was in fact worth fighting for. And the term “friendship” had no semblance of a slogan in his usage of it. Now in Chiaromonte's audience that night there were persons united with others in bonds of “virile fraternity.” Also, there were friends. And one of those whom Chiaromonte himself thought of as a friend was the American novelist James T. Farrell, who had challenged him so sharply from the floor.

Some intellectuals rely on their feelings for logic, others on their command of fact. Chiaromonte, while scholarly, was neither a logician nor an academic, and I think what gave one confidence in his judgment was this personal quality: he meant what he said. And there was a Roman soberness in his appearance and manner that made him particularly appealing. Stockily built, with good shoulders, rather like Sartre's, he had large and rather soft brown eyes that looked out of a broad, unwrinkled face with a glance that seemed never to expect, or indeed to have met with, any kind of accusation. I must add that his face was further ennobled by the kind of classical nose which one can still find among the good-looking of southern France, Italy, and Greece, and for which there is no better qualifier than the one supplied by a modern poet (Durrell? Carpentakis?) who has called such noses “aimed.”

The reader may wonder: if Chiaromonte was so attractive, why did he antagonize rather than persuade his audience? I think I have already explained this in part by the commitment of his audience to science, to a socialism conceived as scientific. But this is only a partial explanation. And the other part is to be found in a certain weakness in Chiaromonte's presentation of his ideas. I have ventured to compare Chiaromonte's experience of friendship to the experience Cezanne referred to as his petite sensation. But Cezanne did not ask the viewers of his landscapes to share the petite sensation that was his. He did not ask them to have confidence in his vision from the fact that he himself had such confidence. For him there was the petite sensation, for the viewer there was its objectification in his paintings. Now I think Chiaromonte's weakness lay in his inability somehow to objectify in some intellectual or artistic work the petite sensation that served him as a model for what social relations should be. And because he was unable to transform this experience into some objective work, he was always reduced to asking his hearers or readers to share it with him. And this, without having provided them with any sufficient incentive for so doing.

One very clear instance of this comes to mind. Chiaromonte, who went regularly to the movies—he used to say, to justify his habit, “When you live in big cities you go to the movies”—was resolutely opposed to regarding films as works of art. And he would not yield on this judgment no matter what argument one gave. “What about Chaplin?” I remember asking him. “What about City Lights?” which in fact he adored. But lie would not yield on this film, either. For him it was not a work of art. Those who read the magazine Instead, which 1 edited with the painter Matta some twenty-odd years ago, may recall the article by Chiaromonte attacking films as works of art which I published, I believe, together with a reply by Parker Tyler. Now the argument Chiaromonte gave in that essay against regarding films as art works could hardly convince anyone. The argument would hold for any stage play not written in verse, and would require us to think that Ibsen, Chekhov, Pirandello, and Shaw are no more artistic than Antonioni or John Ford. So Chiaromonte's argument was inadequate. But yet his judgment may very well have been right. If we think of what films have become, what they represent in the experience of people in today's cities, it is certainly something altogether different from what poetry, the theater, opera, and the visual arts meant in times past. I have no doubt that Chiaromonte was quite right to trust his petite sensation. Very few intellectuals have any such model in forming their judgments. On the other hand, he was not able to persuade many of the Tightness of his views.


Much the same point about film was made by Walter Benjamin in his essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” Benjamin equated the modern film with the modern photographic process for reproducing on a mass scale masterpieces of visual art. The result of both techniques—that of the film and that of the reproduction of paintings—would be, Benjamin predicted, the destruction of the “aura” that had prior to now shielded from vulgar contact and inspection the whole art of the past. So for Benjamin the film was not only not art; it was anti-artistic in essence.3 And anti-artistic in essence, too, was the reproduction of paintings. Benjamin, however, was in favor of the film and in favor of the mechanical reproduction of paintings, for he saw in these techniques a means of weakening the social power of the cultivated elite to which he himself belonged. To be completely fair to Benjamin, it was only because this friend of Brecht looked forward to a revolutionary transformation of society that he could see a positive side to the making of films and mechanical reproductions. Chiaromonte, while he also looked forward to a revolutionary transformation of society, was not interested in destroying the social power of whatever elite existed that was still cultivated. So he was against films and against mechanical reproductions. But however one judges films, Benjamin's essay is, in a way, a masterpiece. His vote in favor of the film and of the reproduction of paintings we are free to disregard. The genius of his essay was in the connection he traced between the film industry and the reproduction of paintings, and in the formulation of the injurious effect of both films and reproductions on the “aura” of art works. So if Chiaromonte's judgment of the film was more prophetic, yet what he had to say about films was less interesting.

And I think I must make a similar judgment of the speech Chiaromonte delivered that night in 1945. It appeared under the title, “On the Kind of Socialism Called Scientific” in Politics, February 1946. Reading the article today, we would find much in it about Marxism which is dated. But even in the criticisms which are dated there are still a number of real hits: “And, even more remarkable, those . . . who are tormented by all kinds of misgivings about Marx and his disciples, and even speak of giving up ‘Marxist dogmatism,’ usually end up by insisting that ‘Marxism is however essentially right,’ or, what amounts to the same thing, by actually making use of essentially Marxist notions, without, however, using them consistently. . . . In fact, both what is serious in their doubts and what is Marxist in their thoughts, is nullified by their neither sticking to Marxism and striving to perfect it, if really Marxism is ‘essentially right,’ nor carrying through their doubt, so as to reach some other, firmer ground.” Now we all know people whom these remarks take off rather perfectly.

On the other hand, Chiaromonte's effort to reduce the so-called “scientific” side of Marxism to a concealed and vestigial Hegelianism seems to me biased, dated, and even wrong-headed. I think it was dated even at the time that Chiaromonte gave his speech, for Sidney Hook had already distinguished Marxist dialectic, which embraced society and history, from Hegel's dialectic, which also embraced nature. And in recent years the French Marxist, Louis Althusser, has gone even further in separating Marx from Hegel, and much more concretely than either Hook or Chiaromonte may have thought possible in 1945. Althusser has shown very successfully, I think, that while Hegel and Marx both think in terms of “totalities,” what they mean by “totality” is very different. Althusser writes: “Surprising as it may seem to those who know Hegel only in Marx's judgment of him, in his theory of society Hegel is not the inverse of Marx. The ‘spiritual’ principle that constitutes the internal unity of the Hegelian historical totality cannot be assimilated at all to the one that Marx himeslf features in the form of the ‘determination in the last instance by the economy.’ The inverse principle—determination in the last instance by the state, or by philosophy—is not to be found in Hegel.” I think on this point Althusser is quite correct and we ought to be grateful to him for the clear thinking behind this and a number of other distinctions he has made between Hegel's views and those of Marx. The trouble with these distinctions of Althusser, I must remark in passing, is that while they seem clear and apt enough when so stated as to indicate differences in the social theories of Hegel and Marx, they become altogether unclear in Althusser's handling when stated as to indicate an important philosophical difference between Hegel and Marx—which is Althusser's main purpose in bringing up these distinctions.4


But the main idea expressed by Chiaromonte in his lecture and the very idea felt to be most provocative and disturbing by his audience, composed mainly of intellectuals, is contained in the following remarks on justice:

Against the kind of socialism called “scientific,” the contention is raised that no socialist idea or consistent line of action is conceivable if not based on the idea of justice, the very same idea at which Marx, Engels, and all their realistic disciples, including the idealist Rosa Luxemburg, so consistently jeered.

In other words, to quote a sentence which the same Rosa Luxemburg meant as annihilating sarcasm: “We thus . . . return to the principle of justice, to the old hobby-horse on which the reformers of the earth have rocked for ages, for lack of surer means of historic transportation. We return to that lamentable Rosinante on which the Don Quixotes of history have galloped toward the great reform of the earth, always to come home with their eyes blackened.”

Against such thoughtless scoffing the present writer maintains that, as long as human reason has any relevance to human affairs, we do not need any “surer means of historic transportation” than consistent ideas consistently and uncompromisingly believed, and exposed to the test of reason and experience. That one might “always come home with one's eyes blackened,” or not come home at all, will not be considered a deterrent, and not ridiculous in the least. It will be the normal price to pay for having firmly willed one thing, and for having refused to calculate what substantial crumbs one might steal from the dubious feast of history by shifting one's will according to expediency. On the other hand, it might indeed look ridiculous to come home with blackened eyes after having blatantly proclaimed that only a march to victory in a “sure means of historic transportation” is worthy of our efforts.

There is always a certain amount of conversation while a lecture is going on, but the remarks on justice I have cited were made by Chiaromonte to a completely hushed audience whose silence signaled the ensuing storm. Why were people so disturbed? For one thing, Rosa Luxemburg was probably the revolutionary figure members of Chiaromonte's audience were the least willing to criticize. Her revolutionary credentials were unquestionable, her humanity was attested to by the beauty of her sentiments, also by her deeds. All this was in the minds of Chiaromonte's auditors, and made them want to defend her against his criticism. Many felt if they could not defend her, how could they defend Lenin, Trotsky, or themselves, for that matter? But there was something else, too. If we look at that statement of Rosa Luxemburg once again, we must be struck by this fact: it has lost all appeal between the time Chiaromonte cited it and the present, while it had suffered not at all during the period between 1899, when first expressed (in a polemic against Eduard Bernstein) and when referred to in mid-November 1945. I think very few audiences of intellectuals would object today to the kind of criticism made by Chiaromonte of Rosa Luxemburg's disparagement of justice. And think of what the expression of such a criticism of Rosa Luxemburg would mean nowadays if stated in the Soviet Union before an audience of Russian intellectuals! Today there would be an immediate disposition to think Chiaromonte correct and Rosa Luxemburg in error, and I believe this would hold true even for many of those intellectuals who, hearing Chiaromonte out that night, were so disturbed by what he said.

As I already noted, during the last ten years the main criticism of American foreign and domestic policies has been made by those who were morally appalled by such policies, and the same must be said for the criticisms made of Soviet policies by Soviet citizens, like Andrei Sakharov. These have been fundamentally moral, and based on an appeal to justice. No really significant criticism of Russian policy has been voiced which has founded itself on the kind of “scientific” calculation dear to Marxist-Leninists, or Bolshevik-Leninists, or whatever such people nowadays call themselves. The scientific criticism of Soviet policy from a standpoint which shares the moral perspectives of the Russian bureaucracy is interesting to no one. The moral criticism of Soviet policies is interesting to everybody, and most especially to the victims of Marxism-Leninism, the citizens of the Soviet Union.

Certainly Chiaromonte's position, as we scan it today, was clearly stated. But the issue between him and his audience on that night in 1945 was by no means clearly drawn. Chiaromonte's position was for what might be called a “science-free” political outlook based on the idea of justice; and I think the position taken generally by his audience was in favor of a value-free politics based on what they took to be “Marxist science.” And the audience, as I suggested, had a moral commitment to a value-free politics, even as Chiaromonte had a moral commitment to a politics I think it perfectly fair to, describe as “science-free.” I must add here that (many years later) Chiaromonte supported Leo Strauss in his attack on the “value-free” sociology of Max Weber, an attack which during the 60s was repeated, with much less finesse, by Herbert Marcuse at the sociology conference in Berlin. Marcuse directed his fire at the foremost contemporary defender of Weberian sociology, Talcott Parsons. Now the foremost exponent of a value-free Marxism, the Communist and anti-humanist, Louis Althusser, was called by the late George Lichtheim “the Talcott Parsons of Marxism.” So the debate is still with us.


Is it easier to decide the issue today than it was on that night in 1945? Is it possible to say today who was more in the right, who more in the wrong, Chiaromonte or those who disputed with him? As I've already indicated, the prestige of science has seriously declined since 1945. Karl Popper, who is right to protest that he never called science an “illusion,” yet tells us in his latest book, Objective Knowledge:

Although we have no criterion of truth, and no means of being even quite sure of the falsity of a theory, it is easier to find out that a theory is false than to find out that it is true. . . . We have even good reason to think that most of our theories—even our best theories—are, strictly speaking, false; for they oversimplify or idealize the facts.

Evidently confidence in the truth-finding character of science, taken in the strictest sense, has waned. Correspondingly, there has developed a sense of just what we have to sacrifice in order to have science at all. For example, the French philosopher of science, Michel Serres, author of the recently issued and excellent Le Système de Leibniz, tells us that science developed by liberating the how from the why. If we take this as a correct interpretation of what has been happening in natural science since the formulations of 18th-century mechanics, and as an indication of the meaning of science taken as a whole, and if then, with this meaning in mind, we look at the debate between Chiaromonte and those who opposed him that night in 1945, we arrive at this judgment: it was Chiaromonte who was defending the why of socialism against an audience committed to its how. Cannot the two be joined? But Serres tells us that science, as we have understood it, is an activity in which the why is eliminated. He is thinking of physics, of course, not of the “science” of arriving at socialism; but if we look around the contemporary world, at wherever an effort was made to arrive at socialism through Marxist science, we see, too, that the why of socialism was in every instance eliminated, always, we were told, for greater success in arriving at socialism.

Thus it is that most of the members of that audience which disputed with Chiaromonte have moved intellectually during the intervening years to a position if not identical with, yet much closer to the one he, with no air of prophecy, took that night. If there was a weakness, political or intellectual, in the point of view he outlined, I think it was of the same sort that I have already indicated about his judgment of film. He spoke of justice, of the idea of justice, and of its importance to a socialist outlook. But he was unable to say with any great clarity what he meant by “justice.” Perhaps he should be commended for his obstinacy in holding to what I have called his petite sensation, his model of what he took to be the good in social life. This may sound strange, but it is, I think, important in our intellectual history; it was not at all easy for an American intellectual to be really in favor of justice in 1945. Probably this was true in England, also. G. E. M. Anscombe told us as late as 1958 that English academic moral philosophy has, since Sidgewick, endorsed injustice. In her essay, “Modern Moral Philosophy,” Miss Anscombe writes:

. . . consider that every one of the best known English academic moral philosophers has put out a philosophy according to which, e.g., it is not possible to hold that it cannot be right to kill the innocent as a means to any end whatsoever, and that someone who thinks otherwise is in error.5

No, Chiaromonte was not able to validate the importance which justice had for him. But sometimes one man's insight may be validated by another. I am thinking in this instance of John Rawls's recently issued A Theory of Justice, which has already achieved the status of a classic. It is the first modern theoretical work which attributes social and political importance to a particular virtue, the sense of justice. To be sure there is a foundation for this view in what is known as classical political theory. But there is no foundation for such a view in modern theory. And Rawls has done nothing less than provide this, basing his analysis not on Plato and on Aristotle but on Rousseau and on Kant.6 Nothing produced by any Marxist, Leninist, Deutscherite, or Maoist comes anywhere near it as an aid to understanding what is necessary for the good in social life. I think this does prove something.

1 Today Macdonald admits that they were right and he was wrong. So Politics, as he sees it today, was founded on a political mistake.

2 The matter under discussion at the review was, of course, not the division of Poland, but how to cut up the article of a “friend.”

3 One of the anti-artistic effects of film has been the idea that film criticism is in some ways superior to or more interesting than literary and dramatic criticism. This idea has all the qualifications of a perfect platitude. It is often repeated, widely believed, and quite false.

4 In Althusser's book of essays, Lenin and Philosophy, he replies to a question in an interview conducted by Maria Antonietta Macciocchi, as follows: “Marx founded a new science: the science of history. Let me use an image. The sciences we are familiar with have been installed in a number of great ‘continents.’ Before Marx, two such continents had been opened up to scientific knowledge: the continent of mathematics and the continent of physics. The first by the Greeks (Thales), the second by Galileo. Marx opened up a third continent to scientific knowledge: the continent of history.

“The opening up of this new continent has induced a revolution in philosophy. That is a law: philosophy is always linked to the sciences. Philosophy was born (with Plato) at the opening up of the continent of mathematics. It was transformed (with Descartes) by the opening up of the continent of physics. Today it is being revolutionized by the opening up of the continent of history by Marx. This revolution is called ‘Dialectical Materialism.’ ”

I find these notions of Althusser very self-serving. If Marx really made possible, and for the first time, a true science of history, why should Althusser's efforts to indicate this acquisition be expressed in statements that are surely distortions of the history of philosophy? Did philosophy really begin with Plato? Was then Socrates, so prominent in Plato's dialogues, not a philosopher? Apparently not, for mathematics is hardly stressed by Socrates, and to admit this would require Althusser to give up his notion that philosophy begins with a discovery in one of the sciences. As for Descartes, was not his inspiration linked more closely to mathematics than to physics? Berkeley, Althusser does not mention at all, for Berkeley could hardly be shown to be indebted to Newton, against whom he argued successfully. Kant is not mentioned, who was indebted to Newton for that part of his philosophy which made Bertrand Russell call him a misfortune, and which we avoid discussing today. And finally, Hegel is not mentioned. Hegel, who made the historical more important than the mathematical, and for the first time in the history of philosophy. But to have mentioned Hegel would have been to admit that science can take its cue from philosophy, and Althusser is determined to assert the contrary.

5 I would like to call attention to Miss Anscombe's phrase, “any end whatsoever.” She is not saying, as some have claimed, that it is wrong to kill one innocent person to save the whole human race. There are some, though, who would argue that it is right to kill one innocent person to save the whole human race. Against them we can argue the artificiality of this instance. I cannot conceive of any circumstances, however odd, in which the safety of the whole human race could depend on the killing of an innocent person. And I might add that here is indeed an argument for the proposition that life is worth living (a proposition often hard to defend): surely it is good that it is so difficult to conceive of any real circumstance in which humanity requires the sacrifice of someone innocent.

6 It may be asked, but is not Rawls's A Theory of Justice a scientific work? Certainly it is a reasonable one, but it is not part of what is known as scientific philosophy or philosophy of science. Whatever Rawls says about justice is quite independent of any proposition we can form or have formed about the sciences.

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