Marxists and Creationists: Peas in a Pod?

Are Marxists and Creationists sharing carrel space at American universities?

A query by Kurt Newman at the ever-interesting US Intellectual History blog generated a lively discussion of the question: How many Marxist historians are out there?

Reading the discussions led me to wonder a different question: Are academic Marxists and creationists flip sides of the same coin?

Darwin. Image Source: Humanist Life

Full disclosure: I’ve got thoroughly Marxist intellectual roots myself.  As an undergraduate, I found Marxism and its derivatives intensely interesting; those years remain profoundly influential in my thinking.  On the other hand, I’ve never been a creationist, though recently I’ve been accused of being one.  My intellectual world in my formative years had absolutely nothing to do with religion, the Bible, or creationism.

I’m not trying to promote one or the other, but the similarities between the two traditions jumped out at me.  Allow me to list a few of the obvious parallels:

  • Both Marxists and creationists remain surprisingly common on mainstream college campuses.  As David Long discovered when he began his ethnographic study of creationism on secular campuses, creationists are far more common than one might think.  The same result for Marxists becomes starkly clear when we read the responses to Newman’s query at USIH.
  • Both Marxists and creationists could make some claim to being persecuted.  Certainly, many mainstream scientists would not want to have creationist faculty in their departments.  And, as Newman points out in one of his comments, Marxist professors have a long history of institutional controversy.  Newman astutely mentioned in one aside, “(This is to say nothing of the apoplexy that would be induced in large swaths of the political class upon learning that any state-funded school was offering Marxist classes under the guise of US history, which might also say something about the stakes of doing Marxist research in 2012).”
  • Both Marxists and creationists could be accused of clinging obdurately to an intellectual tradition whose heyday has come and gone.
  • Both Marxist and creationist intellectuals and academics have always been famously and ferociously sectarian.  Gramsci-ites might not speak with Trotskyites, who might look down their noses at Bernsteinians, etc.  The same is true with today’s creationist galaxy of “evolutionary creationism,” “young-earth,” pre-Adamics, post-Adamics, day-agers, gap theorists, etc. etc. etc.

Marx. Image Source: Georgia Spears

Of course, some obvious differences jump out at us.  Here are a couple:

  • Marxism is profoundly secular, though some have called it a religion.  Creationism is profoundly religious, though some have insisted on its secular merits.
  • The two groups have enormous sociological differences.  Creationism does not thrive at elite schools, while Marxism seems to. The background of each group of scholars likely differs immensely.
  • Marxism seems to be losing influence outside the academy, while creationism has been steadily gaining strength in politics and popular culture for the past century.

So, are these flip sides of the same phenomenon?  Intellectuals who pride themselves on their superior insight into the workings of humanity and history?  Folks who take encouragement from the cultural slings and arrows directed their way?

Just askin…



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