Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Review: Vico's "New Science" + Thoughts on Its Influence on Marx

As a fan of mythology and history, Vico's New Science had long been on my 'must read' list. New Science is an interesting read on the origins of civil society, the ancients, the pre-Greek barbarians, mythology and the most cited piece of his work, the course of nations. Vico uses the actual language of the ancients to try to unlock the foundation of their early, pre-recorded societies. There are countless passages that are memorable and spectacular. I loved the interpretation of myths, which are original and would eventually be the basis for some of my professors' theories nearly 300 years later. Vico's interpretation of the Hercules myths are fascinating, but make perfect sense when one considers what early European settlers switching to farming endured. A couple parts not discussed in many reviews that are recurring themes are Vico's description of how important legitimate children were and are, which the ancients enforced strict laws to encourage, and the aristocracy-democracy-monarchy arc. His approach to legitimate children is common knowledge, but something that we don't follow today with our legal system. It shows how the overturning of the legitimacy customs of the 1970s in our legal codes was truly revolutionary. Vico constantly refutes the idea that monarchies became tyrannical and created the need for democracies. Vico's view is that aristocracies were the first forms of government as heroic, armed men would set boundaries and the rules of civil society, forming a bond or social contract with the plebeians that they offered protection or conquered. This was followed by plebeian emancipation or empowerment, which created democracies. Democratic problems and layer upon layer of laws and degeneracy created the need for a monarch who would lead armed forces to control and restore liberty and security to the population. Vico stresses the idea that religion and marriage predate government and that combined with shame, form the basis for the bonds of any nation state. It is very interesting and a quick read once it gets going. I recommend it.
There are some drawbacks. Some of Vico's work has been shown erroneous due to newer research. Vico is also a serious Christian, so everything has that Christian doctrine mindset woven throughout it. Vico believed in giants as well as the literal truth of the Bible's history. It's an entirely different point of view compared to our modern one, so it is a bit interesting to read but could be annoying for modern readers. Vico also uses the word 'golden' a lot. It's cool but gets old after 400+ pages. He used it so often that it reminded me of my dad when my dad learns a new word or catchphrase that he likes and beats it to death. My dad liked 'golden' in the '80s, so I kept hearing my dad's voice when I read a sentence with golden in it. These are the bad bits, and considering the positives cited above, I still recommend the book.
Vico and Marx
Whenever I searched for Vico, I found articles citing that Vico influenced Marx. Marx even mentions him in some letters he wrote as a must read. The writers all say that Vico's idea of a course of nations (rise, peak, decline, destruction) influenced Marx. This seems like a simple influence, and for Marx to cite Vico and to have stressed the importance of Vico, it seems to be avoiding how Vico's entire book influenced Marx. Marx was critical of the 19th century European system of society. He disliked how the existing order was and wanted to overturn it to a communistic set up for the workers to own things. The intelligentsia vanguard would run things until the dream had been realized and everything was perfectly equal, all was shared and all was owned by everyone (very simplistic breakdown). Marx needed to build something new, but he had to first destroy what existed at the moment. Vico lays out the groundwork for the foundation of society, which western Europe was built on through the ancients. Vico mentions how the Justinian code of law went out of fashion but then came back into fashion as western nations left barbarism behind, which reveals the modern basis on fundamental, classic concepts. Because Vico laid out the foundation for the traditions that built the ancient system of civil government, Vico also showed what to attack in order to destroy it.
Marx mocked religion. Marxists constantly called marriage an oppressive system, subjugating women for the benefit of men. Vico states that religion and marriage came before government and are the foundations of any society. Vico also cites the power of shame in restraining behavior to build an orderly society for the benefit of its citizens. Vico constantly mentions the ancient rules with regards to legitimacy as well as the concept that marriage allowed for reliable heirs who helped pass on culture, wealth and civilization. Since Marx, his followers have been attacking religion, attacking marriage, changing societal norms and laws that encourage illegitimacy, and creating the no shame culture that permeates our western media and lifestyle. Marx's foot soldiers have been destroying the very basis for society that western civilisation was built on in order to set up their system, which is completely out of line with the customs and norms that built western civilization to the heights it reached. Rules were created to encourage behavior that, through thousands of years of experience, Europeans knew created a healthy society. To borrow from Vico, the drive for equity above all else in democracies has chipped away at those rules, creating the chaos that we have now. As Vico states, the concept of Chaos has roots back to when society was barbarous due to the unknown paternity of wild men during the era of promiscuous women. Marxists need this chaos to then fit their technocratic socialist government structure on top of it to order and control society along lines opposite of traditional western thought. No writers discuss this bit of Vico's influence on Marx because it would be revealing the game plan and motives behind all of their policies. Being on the side of the Marxists, they couldn't allow that.

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