What brings about progress or change? From a Marxist perspective, the answer has to do with materialism. Not the colloquial meaning of materialism as an interest in material things, but materialism in the sense that change comes about due to changes in material conditions. Further, Marxist thought chooses materialism over idealism, in which change comes about due to changing ideals or beliefs.
Here’s an oversimplified, though hopefully helpful, example.
I have a hypothetical friend who lives here in New York City. This friend recently moved in with his girlfriend. If I ask why he decided to take that step, he might offer a materialist or idealist answer.
The idealist answer might be because he is in love, and when people are in love, they often move in together as the step before getting engaged. So moving in together is simply a manifestation of how they feel about one another and a logical evolution toward marriage.
The materialist explanation is less fluffy. Splitting rent is more cost-effective than living alone, especially given that one of their apartments is usually empty. Further, given how much time they spend together, they also save on cabs and subway rides traveling to and from each other’s homes. In short, living together is an economic and pragmatic decision.
Of course, this example is rather trivial. The point here, though, is that idealist explanations are often accepted as true when there are more materialistic forces at play. And idealist explanations are often fraught with contradictions.
Take the founding of the United States as an example. From an idealist perspective, you somehow have to grapple with vehemently opposed ideas in the same breath. The country was founded on principles of freedom, liberty, and justice for all, meanwhile, native populations were being extinguished and forcibly removed from their land. All men were created equal, but of course, African slaves were an exception. It doesn’t make sense that these ideas exist simultaneously in the same people.
It’s more likely that slavery and the appropriation of native lands were selfish and economically driven behaviors. Settlers were more concerned with getting rich than upholding lofty ideals.
Are there areas in your life in which you’ve accepted idealist explanations as true that might warrant further consideration?