Common sense is in the political arena right now in a big way. On the one hand, the federal leviathan and the ruling elite have declared war on common sense. Males who “identify” as females must be granted access to bathrooms and showers traditionally reserved for females, and illegal aliens must be granted the rights traditionally reserved for American citizens.
Meanwhile, a candidate who describes himself as a “common sense conservative” has ridden a populist upsurge against the leviathan and the elite to become the Republican nominee for president. Voters rallying around a candidate perceived to be a champion of common sense may well be the explanation for Trump’s rise. How did we arrive at this unusual moment in the American story?
Marxism Goes Mainstream
We need to go back a bit in time to find the answer. When I was a university student in the 1960s, Herbert Marcuse was all the rage on campus. The dictum of the New Left was Marx is the prophet, Marcuse is his interpreter, and Mao is the sword. Marcuse (1898-1979) was associated with the Frankfurt School of Marxist “critical theory.” He trained in philosophy in his native Germany, but came to America where he enjoyed great celebrity.
Here he is in two of his best-known works: “[T]he struggle against common sense is the beginning of speculative thinking,” from “Reason and Revolution.” “Philosophical thought begins with the recognition that the facts do not correspond to the concepts imposed by common sense and scientific reason—in short, with the refusal to accept them,” from “A Note on Dialectics.”
Fashions have changed. Today college students no longer hold aloft Mao’s “Little Red Book” as they march in their demonstrations, but the influence of Marcuse and others like him endures. The Left rejects common sense. The struggle against common sense and the refusal to accept common sense have permeated thinking on the political Left. Because the Left has captured the federal government, it is now forcing issues on the American public that involve rejecting common sense.
At its most basic level, common sense is simply our shared understanding of the way things are and the way we do things together. Yet the Left has a problem with common sense. Why? For the simple reason that common-sense thinking led to the wrong revolution. It led to the American Revolution. Even worse, the American Revolution was a success. The American republic provided its citizens with liberty and opportunity far beyond anything human beings had ever known before.
A Refusal to Acknowledge Failure
In contrast, the revolutions based on Marxist thinking failed, and failed spectacularly. The Soviet Union murdered its own people in the tens of millions and then collapsed, in part as the result of attempting the impossible—trying to run a country according to Marxist economic ideas. The rulers of countries like Cuba or North Korea who continue to declare their allegiance to Marxist doctrines keep themselves in power by force and run their countries for their own benefit.
Yet it is a remarkable fact that the Left refuses to accept the clear lesson of history. This requires some kind of an explanation. To begin to understand this strange state of affairs, whether or not you find Marx’s ideas appealing, you must accept the fact that many people did. Whatever else is true about those ideas, they inspired vast numbers of people. Those numbers and the intensity of that inspiration changed the course of history. All this is undeniable.
What is, somehow, deniable for the believers in Marxist doctrines is that the failure of those ideas to work means those ideas were wrong.
Marx claimed he had founded a science. Because he believed it was a science, he believed it enabled him to make predictions about the future, and make predictions he did. Those predictions did not materialize. In addition, attempts by various countries to set up systems applying his “science” have not worked as he claimed they would, or even worked at all well. It is clear that those Marxist “experiments” falsified the Marxist doctrines. The misery of those who have suffered poverty and oppression under Marxist systems tells us all we need to know to conclude that Marxism fails the ordinary tests of common sense.
However, Marxists did not want to accept that outcome. What is remarkable is how far they were willing to go. Instead of accepting the clear verdict, they stuck by Marxism. They were even unwilling to accept that a verdict had been reached. Amazingly, they decided they faced not a verdict but a choice: Marxism or rationality. So great was their attachment to Marxism that they chose to abandon rationality. Marxism has failed as science, then out with science. Marxism has failed the tests of common sense, then out with common sense.
This is how we arrive at the political left’s war on common sense. Better to make war on common sense than to accept that Marxism has failed.