Little known in the U.S., the British journalist Paul Mason has emerged as one of the foremost thinkers associated with the hard-left faction, led by Jeremy Corbyn, that has come to dominate the Labor party. His recent book, Clear Bright Future: A Radical Defense of the Human Being, which in part is intended to prop up Corbyn ideologically, is one of several recent works attempting to update Marxism for the current era, with particular attention to technological changes. Neil Rogachevsky writes in his review:
Its principal aspiration—to herald the coming of a world that abolishes private property as well as any need for work—is absurd on its face. And yet in arguing this position ardently, Clear Bright Future presents a good opportunity to study the principal features of the New Marxist mind.
Like some “moralist” Marxist writers of old, Mason is refreshingly critical of the degradations in contemporary culture. The lazy postmodernism of the last few decades does deserve every word of the critique that Mason offers. In adamantly rejecting discussions of human nature as “essentialist,” postmodernism contributes mightily to the sense of powerlessness and anomie that predominate in our societies. Social and political thinkers do need to take up Mason’s challenge to return to human nature.
And yet, . . . Mason’s atheistic, materialistic depiction of the human being is no more persuasive than previous articulations of the same thesis. . . . Mason expresses the unexamined faith that man is only a wolf to man under the conditions of capitalism, and that it’s possible to bring about an order in which the desire for mastery or oppression is eliminated.
Though he dismisses religion as superstition, Mason’s materialist view of human beings leaves basic problems unanswered. When confronted by questions such as “what is the soul?” or “what is thinking?”, materialists can only utter something about “brain wiring” that tells us about the material function of the brain but nothing about what a thought actually is. The inability of materialists definitively to refute such questions, or to stop them being asked, keeps open all sorts of other questions about the proper task of human beings in the world. And the inability to resolve those questions stands in the way of achieving heaven on earth.