Because I am a masochist, I could not pass up this bit of nonsense from Chait, once more on the topic of liberalism’s greatness:
The problem with Marxism, I argue, lies in its class-based model of economic rights. Liberalism believes in political rights for everybody, regardless of the content of their ideas. Marxists believe political rights belong only to those arguing on behalf of the oppressed — i.e., people who agree with Marxists.
The bolded part simply is not true, at least not if by “liberalism” you intend to refer to the formations coming out of liberal enlightenment philosophy and the nations they birthed. It is cliche at this point to note that liberal societies have not believed in political rights for everybody. Look at nonwhites. Look at women. Look at the propertyless (i.e. the poor). Liberal societies have always treated these groups as second-class citizens, not as political equals.
When confronted with this fact, liberal apologists like Chait typically respond that the political inequality present in liberal societies is a departure from the liberal ideal. On this view, Marxism’s ideal explicitly endorses the political privileging of some groups over others while liberalism’s ideal does not. But anyone who has ever bothered to read the writings of the philosophical fathers of liberalism know that that this isn’t true either.
Liberals denied nonwhite people political equality by categorizing them as subhuman. Immanuel Kant was the most explicit in this regard. Consider the following choice quotes:
The race of the [Native] American cannot be educated. It has no motivating force, for it lacks affect and passion. They are not in love, thus they are also not afraid. They hardly speak, do not caress each other, care about nothing and are lazy.
The race of the Negroes, one could say, is completely the opposite of the [Native] Americans; they are full of affect and passion, very lively, talkative and vain. They can be educated but only as servants (slaves), that is they allow themselves to be trained. They have many motivating forces, are also sensitive, are afraid of blows and do much out of a sense of honor.
[“The Hindus, Persians, Chinese, Turks and actually all oriental peoples”] do have motivating forces but they have a strong degree of passivity and all look like philosophers. Nevertheless they incline greatly towards anger and love. They thus can be educated to the highest degree but only in the arts and not in the sciences. They can never achieve the level of abstract concepts. A great hindustani man is one who has gone far in the art of deception and has much money. The Hindus always stay the way they are, they can never advance, although they began their education much earlier.
When explaining how to properly train “Negroes,” Kant advises the use of a bamboo cane rather than a whip (from Emmanuel Eze’s paper):
“Training,” for Kant, seems to consist purely of physical coercion and corporeal punishment, for in his writings about how to flog the African servant or slave into submission, Kant “advises us to use a split bamboo cane instead of a whip, so that the ‘negro’ will suffer a great deal of pains (because of the ‘negro’s’ thick skin, he would not be racked with sufficient agonies through a whip) but without dying.” To beat “the Negro” efficiently requires “a split cane rather than a whip, because the blood needs to find a way out of the Negro’s thick skin to avoid festering.”
Kant’s remarks about nonwhites aren’t mere sidenotes either. As Charles Mills skillfully explains, given the way that the ability to reason functions in Kant’s moral philosophy, Kant’s denial of reason to nonwhites necessarily commits Kant to the view that nonwhites are not subjects of moral concern. This is why you can enslave and then beat a Black person to a bloody pulp with a bamboo cane without violating Kant’s categorical imperative not to use persons as means to an end. The lack of political and moral equality for nonwhites in Kant’s philosophy follows straightforwardly from his categorization of them as nonpersons.
And its not just Kant. Here is David Hume:
I am apt to suspect the negroes to be naturally inferior to the whites. There scarcely ever was a civilized nation of that complexion, nor even any individual eminent either in action or speculation. No ingenious manufactures amongst them, no arts, no sciences. On the other hand, the most rude and barbarous of the whites, such as the ancient Germanys, the present Tartars, have still something eminent about them, in their valour, form of government, or some other particular. Such a uniform and constant difference could not happen, in so many countries and ages, if nature had not made an original distinction between these breeds of men. Not to mention our colonies, there are negroe slaves dispersed all over Europe, of whom none ever discovered any symptoms of ingenuity; though low people, without education, will start up amongst us, and distinguish themselves in every profession. In Jamaica, indeed, they talk of one negroe as a man of parts and learning; but it is likely he is admired for slender accomplishments, like a parrot, who speaks a few words plainly.
I could go on with the quote parade, but it suffices to say that this was the prevailing belief about nonwhites among political liberals. It was not some fluke that all of the liberal societies espousing adherence to this formation denied political equality to nonwhites. It was baked into their entire understanding of the world. “All men are created equal” was not perversely at odds with American slavery, as American slaves were not considered fully man. You cannot divorce political liberalism from the anthropology that it operated within, an anthropology that specifically endorsed the political privileging of whites over nonwhites. This is especially true in historical debates of the sort Chait seems to be weighing in on.
There is a reason Mary Wollstonecraft had to write a philosophical treatise urging for the full inclusion of women in liberal society. Political liberals explicitly advocated that women be politically and socially subordinated.
Rousseau’s remarks in Emile are perhaps the most famous in this regard:
In the union of the sexes, each alike contributes to the common end, though in different ways. From this diversity springs the first difference that may be observed between man and woman in their moral relations. One should be strong and active, the other weak and passive; one must necessarily have both the power and the will, it is sufficient for the other to offer little resistance.
This principle being established, it follows that woman was specifically made to please man. If man ought to please her in turn, the necessity is less direct. His merit lies in his power; he pleases simply because he is strong. I grant you this is not the law of love; but it is the law of nature, which is older than love itself.
Thus the whole education of women ought to be relative to men. To please them, to be useful to them, to make themselves loved and honored by them, to educate them when young, to care for them when grown, to council them, to console them, and to make life agreeable and sweet to them—these are the duties of women at all times, and should be taught them from their infancy.
Ah liberalism. Of course, it’s not just Rousseau. As with the racial remarks highlighted above, this was the prevailing view among political liberals generally about the role of women. You can read more about it in Carol Pateman’s wonderful book The Sexual Contract. Liberalism’s denial of political equality to women was not a fluke, but integral to the worldview of philosophical liberals.
If Marxism is the philosophy of denying political equality to the bourgeois, it’s quite clear liberalism has been the philosophy of denying it to the proletariat. In Theory and Practice, our old friend Kant was quite clear about this when writing about why proles shouldn’t vote (note the shot at women too!):
In the question of actual legislation, all who are free and equal under existing public laws may be considered equal, but not as regards the right to make these laws.
Anyone who has the right to vote on this legislation is a citizen (citoyen, i.e. citizen of a state, not bourgeois or citizen of a town). The only qualification required by a citizen (apart, of course, from being an adult male) is that he must be his own master (sui iuris), and must have some property (which can include any skill, trade, fine art or science) to support himself. In cases where he must earn his living from others, he must earn it only by selling that which is his, and not by allowing others to make use of him; for he must in the true sense of the word serve no-one but the commonwealth. In this respect, artisans and large or small landowners are all equal, and each entitled to one vote only.
What’s so fun about this quote is that Kant has defined the disenfranchised proletariat in basically Marxist terms: a person who allows “others to make use of him” and who is thus not “his own master.” Class-based restrictions on voting were of course common until very recently in liberal societies that in Chait’s imagination “believe in political rights for everybody.”
From day one, political liberalism was a philosophical formation that only aimed to extend political rights to rich white men. Liberalism’s egalitarianism was an egalitarianism among rich white men who were thought to have the natural right to subordinate (socially and politically) everyone else. If Chait’s right, and Marxism is the theory that only the oppressed should have political rights, then it’s certainly at least as accurate to say Liberalism is the theory that only the oppressors should have political rights.