Words from Brother West

I am a non-Marxist socialist in that, as a Christian, I recognize certain irreconcilable differences between Marxists of whatever sort and Christians of whatever sort. Since my conception of Christian faith is deeply, though not absolutely, historical, the disagreement is not primarily a metaphysical issue; rather, it is a basic existential difference on the weight I put on certain biblical narratives, symbols and rituals that generate sanity and meaning for me. My Christian perspective-mediated by the rich traditions of the black church that produced and sustains me-embraces depths of despair, layers of dread, encounters with the sheer absurdity of the human condition and underground leaps of faith alien to the Marxist tradition. Like so much of black music, Christian insights speak on existential and visceral levels neglected by the Marxist tradition. This is not so because the Marxist tradition is Eurocentric… Rather, the Marxist tradition is silent about the existential meaning of death, suffering, love and friendship owing to its preoccupation with improving social circumstances under which we people pursue love, revel in friendship and confront death. I share this concern.

Yet, like Russian novelists and blues singers, I also stress the concrete lived experience of despair and tragedy and the cultural equipment requisite for coping with the absurdities, anxieties and frustrations as well as the joys, laughter and gaiety of life. In this deep sense, Marxism is not and cannot serve as a religion. And if it is cast as a religion, it is a shallow secular ideology of social change that fails to speak to us about the ultimate facts of human existence. To put it charitably, Marxist thought does not purport to be existential wisdom-of how to live one’s life day by day… Social theory is not the same as existential wisdom. Those theories that try to take the place of wisdom disempower people on existential matters, just as those wisdoms that try to shun theory usually subordinate people to the political powers that be.

Dr. Cornell West


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