The Tragedy of Marx and Justice: A Critique of Marx's Failed Attempt to Dispense with Principles of Justice
Gray, Paul Christopher
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In 'The Tragedy of Marx and Justice: A Critique of Marxs Failed Attempt to Dispense with Principles of Justice,' I critique Marxs belief that his theory of history, as well as the socialist society it would help to bring about, are beyond the need for justice. Although there have been three waves of debate about the relation between Marxism and ethics (1890-1900s; 1950-70s; 1970-90s), no one has yet provided the definitive interpretation of Marx on the question of justice. Furthermore, each of these debates ended in the same basic impasse between consequentialism and deontology, both of which Marx explicitly rejects. This occurred for three reasons. First, they misinterpreted Marxs immanent critique, which demonstrates how capitalism systematically contradicts its own principles. I explore Marxs use of this method with regard to principles of justice. Second, they not only neglected the use of immanent critique in Marx, but also of Marx. They do not critique him according to his own standards. They fail to subject Marx to a historical materialist critique which roots his evasive relation to justice in the transformations of the theory and practice of justice in the transitions to capitalism. I discuss the major aspects of these transformations, the most important of which is the devaluation of justice relative to the ethical systems of non-capitalist class societies. I contend that Marxs dismissal of justice is an uncritical absorption of the capitalist social relations that, otherwise, he did so much to critique. Third, the debates tended to focus on one or another aspect of justice, and in particular, the question of exploitation. Conversely, I argue that we need a comprehensive theory of justice that includes commutative justice, distributive justice, corrective justice, and complete justice. Only then can we appreciate the full ethical implications of the silence on justice in Marx and many Marxisms. Indeed, this more robust theory is necessary if justice is to be not only a principle of judgement by which we assign praise or blame, but also as a guide to activity, especially for those who aspire to something as dangerous as dramatic societal transformation.