Book Review from the February 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard
The Philosophy Book. DK Publishing. £16.99.
This is a compendium, in chronological order, of philosophy throughout the ages and the men and women who were the key figures in shaping philosophical developments and movements. In hardback A4 size, it is packed with graphical representations, images and quotes in an attempt to make sometimes difficult issues more accessible. It succeeds in this well enough, as it is both highly readable and thought-provoking. If you’veever wondered about the ways in which Aristotle developed the thought of Plato, or of the main points of difference between empiricists like Locke and Hume, then this is the book for you.
Such anendeavouris always going to be contentious though. What is written about each of the philosophers under consideration and the choice of who should be included and who shouldn’t in such a book, are the major issues here, though it is probably true to say that it has carried it off better than most. Baudrillard is mysteriously absent and perhaps the biggest omission (especially when other postmodern and post-structuralist thinkers get their own entries –Lyotard, Foucault, Derrida, etc).
The entry on Marx is always likely to be a particular bone of contention. It attempts to explain his ideas without too much jargon, and while it neglects to mention the Materialist Conception of History and the theory of surplus value by name, they are there by implication.
While we’ve seen worse, the section explaining how Marx envisaged a socialist revolution occurring is certainly not as clear as it might be. Writing of socialism, it says ‘Marx thought this perfect society would not require government, but only administration, and this would be carried out by the leaders of the revolution: the communist ‘party’(by which he means those who adhered to the cause rather than any specific organization)’. While the book goes on to explain that the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’was envisaged by Marx as being a transitory period before political power as currently understood and the state disappears, this passage is open to misinterpretation.
Marx did not regard socialism or communism (he used the words interchangeably) as likely to be a ‘perfect society’and he certainly did not regard a socialist society as being one where administration would be carried out by anything other than society as a whole. Indeed, for Marx the key task of the working class of wage and salary earners was to win ‘the battle of democracy’. This was to capture control of the political machinery of society for the majority so that production could be socialized. Then the coercive powers of the state could be dismantled as a consequence of the abolition of class society. The idea that the dictatorship of the proletariat was a new kind of state dominated by revolutionary ‘leaders’was primarily to be found in Lenin and his followers, rather than in Marx.
Otherwise, this is a useful book in the main, a good addition to any library of political thought, and written in an open, accessible style that is to be commended.