Most Depressing Fact Encountered Today

by Don Boudreaux on August 31, 2006

in Religion

Here’s a depressing fact.

[In Britain] in a 2005 BBC Radio poll listeners voted Karl Marx "the greatest philosopher of all time."…. Marx received 28 percent of the votes cast, more than Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, and Kant combined.  David Hume came second with 13 percent.

This from page 92 of Tony Judt’s essay "Goodbye to All That?" appearing in the latest issue of The New York Review of Books (Sept. 21, 2006).

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Bret August 31, 2006 at 10:56 pm

The primary definitions of "great" relate to "large", "intense", "powerful", etc., and not necessarily "good". I think that Marxist ideas are the most powerful (non God related) ideas of all time. Look at the impact they've had on mankind. They've caused more death, destruction, oppression, and misery than anything else. They had more impact on the 20th century, negative or positive, than any other ideas period. Indeed, more people have probably died because of Marxist ideas than have died because of all other bad ideas combined during the entire course of human existence on earth.

Thus, I consider Marx a truly great – and truly terrible – philosopher (ya know, sort of like the wizard of Oz :-) . If I have to pick a single individual, I also consider Marx to be the greatest philosopher of all time.

olivier blanchard August 31, 2006 at 11:06 pm

"The Dude" should be a close second.

Aaron Krowne August 31, 2006 at 11:08 pm

More proof that showmanship sells better than substance… at least, outside the "hard" disciplines.

stephen c September 1, 2006 at 4:32 am

You have to remember that BBC radio 4 listeners are typically the very luvvie-est of the middle class latte left (pro-recycling, anti-GMOs, pro-organics, pro "fair trade", anti – free trade). So clear thinking is not their strong point. The results of this survey should be treated with the approporiate level of caution.

Gavin Kennedy September 1, 2006 at 5:04 am

Before we get carried away by the tyranny of quantitative headlines, we might ponder that if 27.83 per cent voted for Karl Marx, then 72.07 per cent voted for other philosophers, which suggests the Red Dawn is postponed again.

That David Hume received ‘only’ 12.67% of the vote is remarkable, given general lack of knowledge of him and his works.

Adam Smith attracted even fewer votes that David Hume, though not surprising in that most people consider Smith to be an economist, not a philosopher, though he was more of the latter than the former.

But features of the so-called poll of listeners to Radio 4 should raise worries when commentators jump in with silly assertions that even Don seems to have bought.

The poll was ‘open’ – you could vote as often as you liked and many did. Several ‘left’ leaning people I know voted more than once (some do not even listen to radio 4 on a regular basis or at all) and some voted in what passes for ‘organised’ lobbying in Marxist fringe groups (‘Comrades, go forth an multiply votes for Comrade Marx!'). But even with this wide open goal, they still managed only a miserable 27.83 per cent!

But worse. They did not have to do better than 27.83 per cent to get the silly headlines in the ‘capitalist press’ and associated Blogs. With 27.83 percent turned into a ‘majority’, or, as good as, into more votes than the ‘respectable’ philosophers did, shows remarkable leverage on the critical faculties of those with otherwise intelligent and well-trained minds.

For a steadying influence on so-called ‘depressing facts’ I suggest a simple remedy. Google ‘Adam Smith’ and check out the number of items on the search engine compared to references to Karl Marx. By a very large margin Smith wins hands down.

Al September 1, 2006 at 7:46 am

I'm on the fence-

Trey Parker? Or Mat Stone? Parker . . . Stone . . .


Chris Meisenzahl September 1, 2006 at 8:27 am

Sad, but very scary! ;-(

dearieme September 1, 2006 at 8:36 am

Yep. Hume in second place seems pretty fair. The guy who came first: perhaps they confused him with the famous British shopkeeper, Marx Expensive.

JoshK September 1, 2006 at 9:28 am

At least they didn't pick the guy in Iran or Hitler…

Chuck September 1, 2006 at 10:55 am

Gavin Kennedy nailed it.

PJGoober September 1, 2006 at 2:17 pm

"Google ‘Adam Smith’ and check out the number of items on the search engine compared to references to Karl Marx. By a very large margin Smith wins hands down."

I did the experiment and Marx won. "Adam Smith" gets 11,400,000 results. "Karl Marx" gets 11,700,000.

Gavin Kennedy September 1, 2006 at 4:27 pm

Google Adam Smith and you get 47,400,000 hits.
Google Karl Marx you get 12,300,000 hits, which is just over a quarter of Smith's total.

I repeat: "By a very large margin Smith wins hands down."

Your call, PJGoober.

The point is that Google is a reference record of quantitative statements about Smith and Marx.

The Radio 4 poll was an 'open' listener 'poll' that counted 'votes' on a proposition to which some people could (and did) respond more than once.

Xmas September 1, 2006 at 5:24 pm

No need to fear, Britain has gone loopy anyhow. Another survey asked, "Which British Band would you like to see re-unite and go on tour?"

Who won? Pink Floyd? Led Zepplin? The Beatles? Oasis, even?


It was the Spice Girls. (Link in my name goes to article.)

Swimmy September 1, 2006 at 6:47 pm

Gavin Kennedy: Adam and Smith being two of the most common names in the english language and all, you might want try try putting both names in quotes. (Which, of course, returns Marx as the winner.)

Gavin Kennedy September 2, 2006 at 3:04 am

Mea Culpa

When you are corrected for an error of fact it is incumbent upon you to acknowledge the correction immediately you become aware of it. Hence, I do so on reading Swimmy this morning (UK time).

Apologies to PJGoober and thanks to Swimmy.

SavingSoldier September 2, 2006 at 7:59 am

I am unimpressed by this "poll." In statistical polling circles, it means nothing, because the results cannot be generalized to any population – not even to the limited population of the BBC radio listeners, primarily due to its lack of randomness.

Like every other "voluntary poll" on the internet, it is basically junk. It is neither depressing (or exhilirating, depending on your leanings) because it means absolutely nothing.

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