The Moral Imagination -  Michael Matheson Miller
The Moral Imagination
Ep. 15: Gary Saul Morson Ph.D: Thinking Like Lenin
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Ep. 15: Gary Saul Morson Ph.D: Thinking Like Lenin

Vladimir Lenin's ideas are alive and well today: Party-ness, politics as win-lose, zero-sum game, Who-Whom, rejection of truth, ideology, violence, philosophical materialism, adherence to lying.

Are we really influenced by Vladimir Lenin's ideas and way of seeing the world?

In this episode, I speak with Professor Gary Saul Morson about the thought of Vladamir Lenin and his New Criterion essay, "Leninthink." Morson argues that many of Lenin’s ideas still dominate our thinking and discourse including Who-Whom: adherence to politics and life as a zero-sum game, the rejection of truth, Party-ness ideology, affirmation of violence, and philosophical materialism. We also discuss moral relativism and the adherence to lying that many Western intellectuals failed to understand. Morson gives examples from Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon, Richard Wright's American Hunger, and G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown stories. You may be surprised to find that "Leninthink" sounds too much like the situation we are in today.

Lenin on Morality:

“We repudiate all morality derived from non-human and non-class concepts. We say it is a deception, a fraud in the interests of landlords and capitalists. We say that morality is entirely subordinated to the interests of the proletariat’s class struggle. . . . That is why we say that to us there is no such thing as a morality that stands outside human society; that is a fraud. To us morality is subordinated to the interests of the proletariat’s class struggle.

When people tell us about morality, we say: to a Communist all morality lies in this united discipline and conscious mass struggle against the exploiters.

We say: morality is what serves to destroy the old…We do not believe in an eternal morality.”

Mussolini on Relativism

If relativism signifies contempt for fixed categories and men who claim to be bearers of an external objective truth, then there is nothing more relativistic than fascist attitudes and activity. The modern relativist deduces that everyone is free to create for himself his own ideology and attempt to carry it out with all possible energy”

Some quotes from Lenin from Morson’s essay:

When we are reproached with cruelty, we wonder how people can forget the most elementary Marxism. —Lenin

Introduce at once mass terror, execute and deport hundreds of prostitutes, drunken soldiers, ex-officers, etc.

—Lenin’s instructions to authorities in Nizhnii Novgorod, August 1918

“The only choice is: either the bourgeois or the socialist ideology. There is no middle course (for humanity has not created a ‘third’ ideology, and, moreover, in a society torn by class antagonisms there can never be a non-class or above-class ideology). Hence to belittle the socialist ideology in any way, to turn away from it in the slightest degree, means to strengthen bourgeois ideology.”

Lenin, Italics original

Note from Lenin:

“The kulak uprising in [your] 5 districts must be crushed without pity. . . . 1) Hang (and I mean hang so that the people can see) not less than 100 known kulaks, rich men, bloodsuckers. 2) Publish their names. 3) Take all their grain away from them. 4) Identify hostages . . . . Do this so that for hundreds of miles around the people can see, tremble, know and cry . . . . Yours, Lenin. P. S. Find tougher people

Books and Resources

Leninthink at the New Criterion

Richard Wright, American Hunger

Arthur Koestler, Darkness at Noon

G.K. Chesterton Father Brown Stories

Minds Wide Shut: How the New Fundamentalisms Divide Us

By Schapiro, Morton, Morson, Gary Saul

Prosaics and Other Provocations: Empathy, Open Time, and the Novel (Ars Rossica)

By Morson, Gary Saul

Prosaics and Other Provocations: Empathy, Open Time, and the Novel (Ars Rossica)

By Morson, Gary Saul

Anna Karenina in our time

By Morson, Gary Saul

Hidden in Plain View: Narrative and Creative Potentials in ‘War and Peace’

By Morson, Gary Saul

Cents and Sensibility: What Economics Can Learn from the Humanities

By Morson, Gary Saul, Schapiro, Morton Owen

The Words of Others: From Quotations to Culture

By Morson, Gary Saul

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The Moral Imagination -  Michael Matheson Miller
The Moral Imagination
Welcome to the Moral Imagination Podcast.
The overarching theme of my podcast is what it means to be a human person and what makes for a meaningful and good life.
We will discuss philosophy of the human person, culture, religion, social philosophy, and many other related topics, like education, learning, economics, food, technology, artificial intelligence, and intellectual history. My goal is to interact with ideas and people whose work I find challenging, and intellectually and socially important.