Materialism vs. Idealism in Analyzing and Discussing Modern-Day Politics
This essay was written by Celine Qin of the 25th of December, 2021.
In a Marxist sense, materialism refers to the material world, or all things matter. The material world is perceptible to senses and is the objective reality independent of spirit or mind. Looking at at the world’s circumstances through a materialist lens, it can be determined that all events, facts, and movements are dependent on physical, material conditions that shape the course of history.
Philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels discuss materialism through the approaches of dialectical materialism and historical materialism. (These concepts will be broken down in a later time.)
In contrast, idealism is considered a view that interprets ideas or the spiritual as the root behind experience, events, and circumstances. Moreover, in socio-political analyses, idealism assesses people’s prejudices, perceptions, and biased beliefs as solely irrational or ideological phenomena, whereas in actuality, these ideas are byproducts manufactured by a material force, a system, aiming to feed people particular narratives.
Within a political setting, analyzing matters through a materialist view versus an idealist view can lead to drastically different outcomes in people’s perception and stance on many socio-political issues. Inaccurate analysis that does not focus on material system can lead to dangerous misconceptions that fail to help liberate our world from oppression.
The root causes behind and solutions to problems such as poverty and homelessness, racism and white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, ableism, xenophobia, and so on, cannot be deciphered if people focus on these issues through the framework of individual unfortunance, surface-level bias and prejudice, or any method of analysis that views these issues as separate from a system that directly targets material conditions.
In order to tackle problems that were created by and relentlessly exist through a system, it is imperative to develop material and systemic consciousness of how poverty, white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, etc. were built into the system’s intrinsic way of functioning, acting as fertilizer to keep the oppressed in line and the oppressors in power.
Systems of oppression and violence operate materially, meaning regarding material conditions is crucial to overthrowing them.
Idealism and surface-level analysis are employed by liberals and the right. Idealist thinkers come up with ideals and attempt to make the world conform to their morals.
This reduces issues to dissociate from the larger picture and neglects an intersectional, material analysis, especially class analysis (such as how class struggle and class politics tie into race, gender, etc.)
Instead of regarding issues as random prejudices with no rhyme or reason, Marxism and material analysis prompts people to ask WHY these situations occur- and through various dimensions. Surely enough, there is a systemic explanation behind it. Looking at the world materially and structurally leads to developing radical and effective solutions.
“Instead of thinking that racism is an irrational output of a basically rational and benign system, we should see it is a rational output of a basically irrational and unjust system.” -Michael Parenti
“A Marxist perspective helps us to see injustice as rooted in systemic causes that go beyond individual choice, and to view crucial developments not as neutral happenings but as the intended consequences of class power and interest.” -Michael Parenti