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Part 5 Praxis and Marxian Criminology 738 Part 5 Praxis and Marxian Criminology Part 5 Marx's preoccupation with revolutionary political movements grew out of his attempts to grapple with the philosophical legacy of Hegel. In the 1830s and 1840s, the Young Hegelians-a circle of philosophers who extended and modified Hegel's ideas-had come to regard philosophy as a form of social criticism. They compared the world as it was with a philosophical ideal of how the world should be. The youthful Karl Marx was one of these Young Hegelians, and his early social criticism is of this type. For example, he attacked the wood-gathering laws in Germany on the grounds that a "true" state upheld the rights ofall citizens , whereas the wood-gathering laws defended only the rights of forestowners (see Chapter I, by Linebaugh, in Part 2). Albert von Cieszkowski, a Polish count who was part of this group, published his Prolegomena to a Science ofHistory in German in 1838. In this book, Cieszkowski argued that philosophy should be applied to practical problems. This idea was met with enthusiasm by a number of Young Hegelians , including Marx (McLellan, 1970:64-65). Soon after, Marx was writing in the same vein, pointing out the limits implied by the traditional conception of philosophy: that is, that criticism remained contemplative. It could point to what was wrong in the existing order, but did nothing to change it.l He made this point succinctly in the often-quoted Eleventh Thesis on Feuerbach , "The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point, however, is to change it" (Marx, 1959:245; emphasis in original). Marx was by no means repudiating philosophy in this passage. Rather, he saw action as a way of realizing philosophical thought. This type of action he called "praxis," using a term originally introduced by Cieszkowski. More broadly, the word "praxis" is used by Marxists to refer to action that is guided by theory and that has social change as its goal. A particular conception of human nature and its possibilities is implied by the concept of praxis. Marx views human beings as both determining and determined. As objects, people are shaped by historical process, much of it beyond their control. They are born into particular societies, with particular economic arrangements, political institu.tions, languages, modes of raising children, ideologies, and so forth. But at the same time, they are not wholly objects. They can imagine what does not exist, conceive projects, and intervene in the world in order to realize those projects; in short, they can create history as well as be created by it.2 It is this potential for creating history that makes social change possible. This conception of action implies a particular role for social theory. Theory offers visions of possible futures and indicates how they might be attained. At the same time, theory tells how objective conditions constrain Praxis and Marxian Criminology 739 and shape human action. It can thus tell us what are the limits to possible change, and what we might do to direct change in desired directions. Praxis in turn changes conditions and so reveals new information to the theorist (Mathiesen, 1974), permits theory to be modified or extended, and makes new phenomena accessible to theorizing. Theory, then, is not dogma. It does not descend to earth from on high, or from the brow of Karl Marx. Marx himself always insisted that his ideas were not fully worked out, and that they were not to be taken as unchangeable doctrine. That some of his followers have transformed Marx's writings into "Articles of Faith" is a drastic departure from his own intentions. For Marx, theory is not an unquestioned doctrine, but something that develops dialectically, in interaction with empirical knowledge (Greenberg, 1980). MARXISM AND CRIMINOLOGICAL PRAXIS The development of a criminological praxis based on Marxist theory has been a matter of great concern to Marxist criminologists. To be sure, Marxists are by no means the only criminologists who are concerned with social change. Late-nineteenth-century positivists self-consciously saw themselves as doing work that would help governments prevent or control crime.3 Modern-day criminologists who are liberals or conservatives often propose or criticize policies on the basis of their work. It seems likely that few criminologists study crime for the sake of intellectual stimulation alone. There are great differences, though, in the sorts of change criminologists have advocated. Some have hoped that their research would...


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