Hegel, Heraclitus and Marx’s Dialectic

This provocative book deals with the explanatory power of the concept of ideology in the social and historical sciences. Howard Williams takes three competing concepts of ideology from across the political spectrum—those of Marx, Mannheim and Oakeshott—and asks what light they shed on fascist doctrine, a particularly crucial ideology.

The objectives of this book are threefold. The first, historical, objective is to demonstrate where the idea of dialectic enters into the work of Heraclitus, Hegel and Marx and to show what function it performs for them. The second, philosophical, objective is to provide an assessment of the worth of the use they make of dialectic and to criticize this use where necessary. The third, methodological, objective is to present and defend what I think is valuable in the dialectic and to recommend some fields in which it might profitably be employed. These objectives are, of course, closely interrelated but all three represent equally valid angles from which to approach the problem of dialectic. Those of historical bent will want to know what precisely dialectic meant for its main practitioners; those of a philosophical bent will want to know what sense we can make of the logic of dialectic; and those of a methodological bent will want to know what we can make of the dialectic in our scientific, historical and social enquiries. I hope not to have set myself too ambitious a task in trying to interest all three types of reader.

One of the main themes of this book is to demonstrate how Marx draws extensively on Heraclitus and Hegel in presenting his dialectic. The debt he owes to Hegel in particular is enormous. But this should not blind us to the fact that there is also a marked difference between Hegel’s and Marx’s interpretation of dialectic. This difference is that for Hegel dialectic is both a method of argument and an ontology whereas for Marx dialectic properly describes only his method of argument. This difference is of great consequence to their work. One of the main purposes of Hegel’s philosophical system is to demonstrate that reality is dialectical. It might be argued that Marx’s main purpose in writing Capital is similar, namely, to demonstrate that the essence of human society is dialectical. However, it is my contention that Marx does not, in Hegel’s fashion, see reality as dialectical but rather takes the view that reality can only be understood dialectically. This may seem only to be a minor distinction to make. But it has the implication that Marx does not devote his lifetime’s work to demonstrating the identity of rational thought with reality but, rather, to demonstrating the lack of identity between the two. For Marx, unlike Hegel, neither is the real necessarily rational nor is the rational necessarily real. Marx, on the contrary, comes to the conclusion that the real has to be made rational and the rational real.

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