Saturday, 25 June 2016

Humpty Dumpty

One of my favourite bits in Through the Looking Glass is when Humpty Dumpty tells Alice how he uses words:

"'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.'
'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.'
'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master—that's all.'
Alice was too much puzzled to say anything, so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. 'They've a temper, some of them—particularly verbs, they're the proudest—adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs—however, I can manage the whole lot of them! Impenetrability! That's what I say!'"

I thought of this passage, when I read this blurb on the BBC website, promoting a forthcoming programme:

"Bettany Hughes investigates the revolutionary ideas of Karl Marx. Born to an affluent Prussian family, Marx became an angry, idealistic radical, constantly on the run for his political agitating and incendiary writing. In Paris he first formulated his explosive analysis of capitalism and its corrosive effects on human nature. In Brussels he co-authored the Communist Manifesto with Frederick Engels. In London his obsessive theorizing dragged his family into poverty and tragedy. 

Marx's masterpiece Das Capital was largely overlooked in his lifetime, and only 11 people attended his funeral. Yet his ideas would generate one of the most influential, and divisive, ideologies in history. Drawing on expert opinion and new evidence, Bettany reveals the flesh-and-blood man and his groundbreaking ideas."

All well and good, except that the programme is called "Genius" and Marx is being presented as the first example of the species.

No. No. No. The last half century or more endured by those who have lived in countries run along Marxist lines does not provide evidence that Marx can be classified a genius - at least not from where I'm sitting wearing this nice cravat - or is it a belt? - atop this very fine wall*.

*  "What a beautiful belt you've got on!' Alice suddenly remarked.
(They had had quite enough of the subject of age, she thought: and if they really were to take turns in choosing subjects, it was her turn now.) 'At least,' she corrected herself on second thoughts, 'a beautiful cravat, I should have said—no, a belt, I mean—I beg your pardon!' she added in dismay, for Humpty Dumpty looked thoroughly offended, and she began to wish she hadn't chosen that subject. 'If I only knew,' she thought to herself, 'which was neck and which was waist!'
Evidently Humpty Dumpty was very angry, though he said nothing for a minute or two. When he did speak again, it was in a deep growl.
'It is a—most—provoking—thing,' he said at last, 'when a person doesn't know a cravat from a belt!'"


  1. A genius, as I understand it, is someone who creates something or develops an idea that changes the way people live. Whether the outcome is good or bad is irrelevant. By these standards, Marx was a genius.

    1. When I read your comment, I thought, "Maybe that's right". Then I thought of the idea for the so-called "Final Solution". That has undoubtedly changed the way people live, very profoundly, in a number of different ways, but Hitler was no genius.