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To Hell with Karl Marx (Poetry vs. Power)

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Given the murderous 20th century would Dante (1265-1321) have cast Karl Marx into one of his rings of fire Marx (1818–1883), who quoted Dante’s line Segui Il Tuo Corso, and, as some scholars claim, shaped his Das Kapital to the contours of the great poet's Inferno. Author William Clare Roberts, in his book Marx’s Inferno says of Das Kapital, “I treat it as a work of political theory. Its tropes, metaphors, allusions and citations are approached as signs to be interpreted, as the linguistic traces of intuitions that can be fleshed out in theoretical terms.”


Dante was a medieval poet, inventor of the Italian language. His poem The Divine Comedy was an allegory that captured the classical world transformed into Christendom and reborn in the Renaissance. Virgil guides Dante on his spiritual journey, but it is Thomas Aquinas who provides the architecture for a new universe, just as George Hegel did for Marx. Dante begins with an admission of being lost:

     “In the middle of the journey of our life I found 

     myself within a dark woods where the straight

     way was lost.”

Dante uses Virgil. Marx uses money as his mediator. 

Professors continue to assign Marx the spirit of noble causes such as freedom, human dignity, and equality. Yet, his words never meant to heal, but rather to “activate,” incite, and divide. Marx was suspicious of human dialogue, the underpinnings of philosophy and religion, and placed it under a blanket of suspicion “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.“ The words etched on his gravestone and, by implication, the gravestones of millions.

In the name of science, Marx condemned our world to a secular hell, without faith, human aspiration, or good will, not realizing he had been escorted on his journey by the demons of power, envy, and wrath. In doing so, he transformed history into a secular cult of paranoid, binary dualities: Bourgeoisie and Proletariat. Man vs Woman. Black vs White.  In the name of scientific dialectic, Marx set the modern world ablaze and on course for an inevitable doomsday.


Dante, well aware of human foibles inherent in a weak and frail human cloak, shared his journey not in hell alone, but in purgatorio, and ultimately paradise. Yes, quite aware of human passions and basic needs, even bare injustice, nevertheless he forged a path of transformation of spirit:

     “Consider your origin. You were not formed to live 

     like brutes but to follow virtue and knowledge.”

The blind Marx, unlike Dante, responded by externalizing blame on “the others,” and dismissing individuals seeking God’s redemption.

One hundred and fifty years later, we have recorded proof of the lie of Marx’s science, given two world wars, the Soviet experiment, and now a rising China. A reminder, once again of Augustine's two cities, one in an unawakened psycho-spiritual malaise named pure science—and Marx as the aimless soul who calls belief an opiate and transforms human community into political war settled by material gain and power for a Utopia that never arrives. Dante warns when you enter this hell, “All hope abandon ye who enter here.''

Marx had a worthy critique of societal wrongs but lacked insight into human personality. He, the failed philosopher, only borrowed the building stones from Hegel in order to stand and preach absolutist vendetta and revenge. He was an unsettled soul in a state of perpetual mental adolescence. Marx was born under the dark clouds of the 19th century’s industrial revolution with its struggle for basic human rights, but lost his roadmap as a revolutionary and opened the door to sociopaths Lenin, Stalin, and Mao.


When Marx quotes Dante’s Segui Il Tuo Corso in Das Kapital he makes a subtle but revealing change with his Vieni Dietro A Me, a recognizable difference to readers of Dante.  The ‘sommo vate’ supreme poet, repeats his point in “Non ti curar di loro, ma guarda e passa (Don’t pay attention to them/don’t care about them but just see them and move forward/go on)” again, as an exhortation to follow your individual path and not be distracted by the mob. Marx’s Vieni Dietro A Me is an invitation to follow him as leader (the same emphasis of Jesus’ s parables). 

For a moment let us pause to ponder that while Dante created hell in a spiritual allegory, Marx inspired a hell on earth. His was a hyper-focus on the most basic self and a license to persuade that cruelty was needed for higher ideals. He was no philosopher (“lover of wisdom”) who sought coherence, but in the end a reactionary without the path to find redemption. Dante’s world leads one to embrace a man on a cross, so we might strive in suffering toward equality. Marx offered a pathology of power destined to ruin.

In Dante’s final words, when after his long journey he finally sees the light, “l'amour che move il sole e l'altre stele,”  the knowing of oneself in harmony with others, human love as mirror of the divine purged of corrosive fears and passions. Only then can our alienation be absolved and the science of nature be all knowing, for it is “the love that moves the sun and the other stars.”


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