The circuit between material relations and ideas

Following my comments in yesterday’s post about the relationship between material relations and human consciousness, it is interesting to see Samuel Brittan mentioning these two factors in the opening paragraph of his article in today’s ft as potential drivers of social evolution or, as he puts it, what ‘governs’ the world. Specifically he asks whether ‘material interest in the form of class conflict, the latter driven by the state of technology’, or ‘ideas’ are the key factor. He says that Marx claimed the former were, while Keynes favoured the latter. Ideas are part of human consciousness, but if we take a circular view of the forces governing social evolution, the two theories need not be separate, as they are in Brittan’s piece, where he claims that either one or the other are right.

Putting the two together, as I mentioned yesterday, we can see that material forces and relations can determine human consciousness, which in turn can affect those material relations, in a circular fashion. In fact, I think that Marx, in suggesting that the force of men’s will can transform society, through revolution in his view, also points to his emphasis on continuous change, from the material to ideas or consciousness and back again, as society evolves. Capitalism need not lead to socialism as Marx claimed and hoped it would, but social evolution is a continuous process and society can be thought of as transforming in this way.


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