Sunday, 9 December 2018

Nietzsche Contra Confucius - Part 2

Inverting Lenin’s maxim, we stated that “Economics is a concentrate of politics”; and inverting one by von Clausewitz, we proposed that “Politics is the continuation of war by other means”. Yet this is not to say that the extremes of this equation, economics and war, do not have their own autonomy, their specific weight, that makes them instances of a distinct political reality. The question is: what is the distinguishing mark of economics and war as extreme political realities?

There is a remarkable ambivalence at the centre of the Marxian notion of “social relations of production”. The ineradicable conflict at the heart of Hobbesian social theory makes it irredeemably ontogenetic because it is impossible to reconcile congenital conflict between human beings with any notion of their phylogenetic interdependence. With Marx, however, the phylogenetic interdependence intrinsic to his concept of social relations of production is entirely compatible with its pessimistic realism in that, in direct opposition to Hobbes, Marx maintains that phylogenetic cooperation, not ontogenetic conflict, is the fall-back condition of human being. For Marx, conflict is only a degeneration or a corruption of what is a necessarily benign human interdependence: for him, human beings are not just zoa politika as they were for Aristotle; they are instead animalia socialia. For Hobbes as for Nietzsche, of course, “at the end of metaphysics stands the statement, ‘Homo est brutum bestiale’” (Heidegger, Nietzsche, Vol. 4).

Clearly, then, the all-important puzzle to be solved is this: how is it possible for beings such as humans that are biologically, phylogenetically interdependent to operate, and indeed to co-operate, in conditions of ubiquitous conflict? The hitherto unquestioned assumption in all social and political theory has been that the world is rational and that irrationality alone needs to be explained. But at least since Nietzsche’s implacable ‘systematic’ demolition of the Western Ratio, the much more fateful question is: how is ‘rationality’ possible in an irrational world? And what does the irrationality of the world tell us about the ‘rationality’ that we supposedly discern in human society and institutions? With the question posed in these terms, an answer to it is immediately perceptible. The rationality that we seem to detect in human society is one that preserves the existing irrational order of things by setting strictly enforceable limits to the phylogenetic interdependence of human beings. In other words, what we misname as ‘rationality’ is really a logico-mathematical rule imposed violently on society by one of its groupings on the rest of society that preserves, propagates and perpetuates its rule over society. The very word ‘rule’(or ‘regulation’) suggests the nature of this ‘rule’: it must be logico-mathematical so as to be easily and promptly and precisely, jointly and severally applicable and calculable and reproducible and expandable. By virtue of such a rule, human beings are subjected to something similar to an inexorable fate whereby they become “the inmates of closed institutions” (Habermas, Toward A Rational Society). (Cf. Wittgenstein, “The law always catches the criminal”. But if it does, it is no longer a ‘law’; it becomes an inexorable fate, as in Kafka – see M. Cacciari, Krisis, Part 2

In a capitalist society, and now in the capitalist world market, the law of profit is the overriding monetary rule, based on the money wage as a global exchange standard between living labour and dead labour (workers and capital), that regulates the rational functioning and expanded reproduction of capitalist social relations of production. Surprisingly, it was left to Max Weber to articulate in blunt terms what Marx failed to make explicit – because of his eschatological and ‘scientific’ bent -; and that is that the law of profit is dependent on the “exact calculation” of monetary profit based on the “real cost of labour-power” dependent in turn on “free [wage] labour under the regular discipline of the factory”. Labour (workers) are “free’ because they are paid in money wages and not in kind – which allows them to spend the wages freely as consumers in the market -, but must work under “the regular discipline of the factory” that homologates capitalist factory discipline through “market competition”, that is through independent capitalists, not oligopolies or monopolies. Importantly, it is the relative “freedom” of the labour force to decide where to spend money wages that guarantees “market competition”.

So there we have it: the external binding rule that determines the “rationality” of the entire capitalist system in “mathematical” or accounting terms – in terms of “profitability” – is the ability of capital to discipline the labour force (workers) through the money wage. The money wage serves for capitalism the role of absolute frame of reference that the speed of light serves in Einsteinian physics. That may well be the reason why Keynes titled his major work “The General Theory”, echoing the title to Einstein’s work on relativity.


Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Nietzsche Contra Confucius - (or, how to dance around Xi Jin Ping’s severed head spiked on a sharp stick!)

Nietzsche contra Confucius (or, how to dance around Xi Jin Ping’s severed head spiked on a sharp stick)

Jesus taught us to love our neighbor. Nietzsche teaches us to hate our enemies. We know whose advice to heed: we must hate our enemies with every fibre of our being, with every cell in our body, every neuron of our brain. If I could put Xi Jin Ping on a nuclear warhead, I would gladly press the switch that lights the fuse. We must hate our enemies until we have shredded every cell in their being, until we have disintegrated every neuron in their brains – because they pose a deadly threat to us, because they have dared to attempt to kill us! And whatever does not kill us makes us stronger…
The core of Western philosophy has always been the Hegelian Ver-sohn-ung (German for “reconciliation”) – the undying hope that opposites attract until they reconcile in a harmonious union. This is a concept that Lukacs inherited and then re-formulated with the notion of Totalitat. The Marxian proletariat is the cosmic identical subject-object, the historical human agency that will lead us to the pacification of existence and the end of history. Even in Heidegger, and then in the neo-Marxist Sartre of the Critique de la Raison Dialectique, Totality plays a central millenarian role (cf. Question de Methode, prefaced to the Critique).

And yet, if we take a closer look at Marx’s own theorization of human history, we see that it is underpinned by a thoroughgoing Realism that defies and perhaps refutes all notions of human historical synthesis (the Hegelian negation of the negation) and of reconciliation. In Das Kapital, Marx derides “Thucydides-Roscher” precisely because the Hegelian Roscher had sought to etherealize economic reality into cultural elements as the emanation of the Volks-geist, the national spirit, in earnest polemical opposition to the growing popularity of mathematical economic analysis centred on the social engineering of neoclassical economics (Gossen, Menger, Jevons). Later, Max Weber too will engage in this critique of the “emanationism” of Roscher’s Old German Historical School of Economics in favour of his own neo-classical leanings; but what is telling in Marx’s histrionic pass at Roscher’s political economy is his thorough misrepresentation of Thucydidean historicism. Here, Marx adopts a one-sided interpretation of Historismus, in which only the “spiritual” pole of its diametrically opposed meanings is highlighted. - Because historicism has also come to mean the opposite of the predominance of the human spirit in history apotheosized in German Classical Idealism. The opposite reading of historicism is the one that stresses the particularity of each individual historical experience – hence, history as empeiria as against telos.

There is no “end” to history – no overriding “goal”, no eschatology. In the empiricist view, we must interpret history according to concrete experience, not according to wishful ideals. - It is Tory versus Whig, in the characterization of R.G. Collingwood and R.H. Tawney. The removal of a telos in the interpretation of history opens the field to a pessimist, Schopenhauerian worldview in flagrant contrast to the linear progressive view that Nietzsche identified with Judaeo-Christianity.
This is the conundrum that Hobbes faced when deliberating upon his own universal theory seeking to draw an uninterrupted thread (deductive or inductive) from atomic physics to the nation-state and geopolitics. It is obvious why in the end the author of the Leviathan had to start from the macroscopic world of politics and trace his way back to the microscopic realm of atoms rather than the other way round – because that was the only way in which both a deductive and inductive approach was open to him. To have moved in the other direction, from atoms to nations, would have presented insuperable non sequiturs.

Where history is concerned , then, if indeed we are to focus on experience, how can we draw any “lessons”, let alone “laws” from this inductive approach? The tendency to draw “lessons” from history leads invariably to the outline of a “scientific methodology” which, in turn, soon metamorphoses into a deductive logic – precisely the vice in Cartesian philosophy that Hobbes detected and denounced. How to avoid the Logos without receding into a vision of human history (Heidegger says the “human” is superfluous; humans are the only historical beings) that is reduced to Shakespeare’s “tale of sound and fury”?

Any attempt at a “scientific” explanation of the cosmos, every theoria,  must display or exude a certain faith in a Reason that is both a formal instrument (deductive logic) and a Value (an ultimate reality or substance) that is the embodiment or the “carrier” (Trager) of human history. Again, the eschatological motif in the notion of “science” is inescapable. Yet, history is sound and fury, it is a tale of woe and destruction, “signifying nothing” (Shakespeare, Macbeth). Behind the seeming “progressive tale” of Thucydidean historicism, behind the scientific “inquiry” (the etymological meaning of “history”) of Herodotean historein, there lies the unpalatable reality of human conflict and antagonism. The “lessons” of history – with the presumption that history holds teachings that can be read or deciphered for our future edification – break down inexorably when they clash against the grim truculence of the Peloponnesian Wars. This is the other side of Thucydides that neither Roscher nor Marx detected, convinced as they were that the Greek historian hunkered toward one pole of the antipodean meanings of historicism – the German Idealist pole. This is the “realism” that Hobbes knew he shared with the Greek historian whose work he translated, and that Marx could not bring himself to acknowledge because of that eschatological bent he inherited from Hegel and never truly relinquished.

There is a sense, however, in which the approaches to history of the pessimist empiricist Hobbes and the optimist rationalist Marx converged that is not confined to their shared materialism. By associating Thucydides with Roscher and deriding the latter for applying the historicist approach to political economy, Marx meant to lay emphasis on the “hard rock” of social reality that goes well beyond the passionate speeches of a Pericles and thus also the valiant ideals of Athenian democracy. Marx referred to this hard rock with the Teutonic phrase “social relations of production”, the “economic base” from which a “superstructure” of cultural and political institutions emerges and of which the latter are a purely “ideological” reflection. But when we take as much as a peek at these “social relations of production”, we find that they are firmly founded on the very pessimistic assumption of irreconcilable human and social conflict that Hobbes premised as an Euclidean axiom of human existence – his hypothesis on which any and all human conventions or contracts had to be erected -, and that he gleaned from his very thorough early reading of Thucydides. (Hobbes’s major systematic work is titled Elements in obvious reference to Euclid’s own Elements of Geometry, which he also translated.) Marx’s fateful misreading of The Peloponnesian Wars may have induced him into the failure to recognize the equally pessimistic roots of the concept of “economic base” and of “social relations of production” – the failure to recognize that Thucydides’s historicism was at bottom, from the historical side, identical with his own economic realism. “It is far more likely that the Church will renege on 38 of its 39 precepts than that it will forfeit one thirty-ninth of its tributary income!” Marx’s cynicism in this footnote to Das Kapital illustrates conclusively the realism that lies at the heart of his critique of political economy. Despite all his vaticinations about a future coming of the communist republic, Marx knew that – again, “at bottom”, in extremis, in the extreme - “man is a wolf to man”.

So, the wheel has run full circle to Hobbes’s fatidic saying, “homo homini lupus”. But what exactly is this “extreme”? It is a “necessity”, dire necessity (dira necessitas), replies Hobbes. A consensus, a convention, a social contract between humans is possible only upon the assumption of a dire necessity – only because the very existence of each individual is equally endangered by each and every other individual – because all human beings are capable in equal measure to harm or kill other humans. This violent hypothesis is the “extreme” upon which all social conventions and bonds are based. This basic violent hypothesis is the only “rational axiom”– a Euclidean axiom – on which all other superstructural political and cultural conventions are subsequently (chrono-logically) and consequently (logically) founded. Indeed, the logical and the chronological aspects of Hobbesian axiology are so intimately connected that it is hard to determine whether his state of nature or status naturae of “the war of all against all” was ever a historical reality or whether it is really an ineluctable axiomatic assumption to lay the constitutional foundations of all human civil society or status civilis.

The Hobbesian hypothesis extends, of course, to groups of individuals with what Carl Schmitt defined (in The Concept of the Political) as the true ambit of the Political  – the groupings of “friends” and “foes”. And it extends to Nations! Those abysmal fools who believe that “free trade” is the panacea for all world ills have not dealt with the Will to Power of the Chinese Dictatorship. But I should warn them that they have sorely underestimated ours!

The Marx of Das Kapital, then, is certainly a realist in spite of the German Idealist foundations of his worldview – and indeed even of his unquestionably eschatological stance in the Paris Manuscripts of 1844. This realism, embedded into the central notion of “social relations of production” from which the distinction between “economic base” and “political superstructure” is derived, allows us to draw Marx closer to what would be otherwise a most fervent foe of his – Thomas Hobbes. From Hobbes’s strictly ontogenetic postulates, Carl Schmitt proceeds to define the Political as the domain of “friend and foe” where human individuals seek to prevail over others by pooling their strength and power with allies that share common interests. The basic Hobbesian postulates that underpin Schmitt’s concept of the Political are (a) the irreconcilable self-interests of individuals and (b) the metus mortis, the fear of death at the hands of any other individual. Thus, the basis of all civil society for this early exposition of the negatives Denken (negative thought) is the axiomatic hypothesis that any and all social contracts and conventions – including the political alliance of friends against their foes - must be founded on the dire necessity to survive the bellum omnium contra omnes – the war of all against all.

For Hobbes as for Marx, then, to paraphrase and invert Lenin’s famous maxim, economics is a concentrate of politics. And, to paraphrase and invert an even more famous maxim by von Clausewitz, politics is the continuation of war by other means! Those beautiful souls ( the phrase is Weber’s) who would have us believe that free trade and world commerce and capitalist globalisation are the perfect panacea against the evils of war and nationalism (look no further than Benjamin Constant) are quite simply delusional and dangerous – for the reason that we are expounding here and that was valiantly if imperfectly theorised by Friedrich List that the underpinning of “wealth” is not “wealth” itself, however we may define it, but rather “the ability to produce wealth”. Hence, all wealth, whatever its definition and make-up, is dependent utterly and completely on the ability to control and command social resources. This is the naked Nietzschean Will to Power that the excrementious maggots of the Chinese Dictatorship exhibit and exert through every pore of their filthy Han skins: this is the Will to Power that we must vanquish and annihilate if we want our values, our culture, our interests – in short, our own Will to Power – to prevail and triumph over theirs! And triump we will! Because our values are forged with our Will to Freedom when all Asia has ever known is Slavery and Serfdom.

Sunday, 2 December 2018


Please use the sharing tools found via the share button at the top or side of articles. Copying articles to share with others is a breach ofFT.comT&Csand Copyright Policy. Email licensing@ft.comto buy additional rights. Subscribers may share up to 10 or 20 articles per month using the gift article service. More information can be found here

hina’s crackdown on Muslims in Xinjiang province has spread to Ningxia, signalling a hardening in Beijing’s management of ethnic and religious groups. Authorities began a security clampdown in Xinjiang last year, detaining at least 1m Muslim Uighurs in internment centres, a move that has drawn international condemnation . China’s leaders said the detentions were necessary and have recast them as “vocational education” facilities. Efforts by Beijing to broaden its control over China’s ethnic minorities were highlighted last week when Ningxia signed a counter-terrorism co-operation agreement with Xinjiang. Zhang Yunsheng, a senior Ningxia party official, has praised Xinjiang’s counter-terrorism efforts, calling on his province to “better integrate with Xinjiang” and to “strengthen the deep co-operation between the two places in antiterrorism, social stability, and ethnic religion”. Mr Zhang’s entourage last month visited an internment centre in Urumqi, the provincial capital, as well as two Xinjiang prisons, according to the Legal Daily, a newspaper managed by the Communist party’s political and legal commission. The high-level exchange has paved the way for the export of Xinjiang’s techniques to Ningxia, home to the largest concentration of the Muslim Huis, one of China’s largest ethnic minority groups numbering more than 10m. Even before the agreement, there had been tight religious restrictions in Ningxia. This summer, residents in Weizhou gathered in a rare protest over the planned demolition of the city’s recently completed Grand Mosque. Religious classes for children have been suspended region-wide since February while Islamic symbols and halal signs have been removed as part of a campaign to “Sinocise” Islam. “The Hui, for the most part, are extremely well integrated economically and socially. They have been well entrenched in China since the 12th century,” said Reza Hasmath, a political science professor at the University of Alberta. Beijing’s hardening religious approach also amounts to a tacit admission that its decades-old ethnic policy, aimed at replicating the country's economic success among ethnic minorities, has failed.  In the early days of Communist party rule, the largest ethnic groups, including Muslim Huis and Uighurs, were allocated “autonomous regions” where they were promised a higher degree of independence in governing religious and cultural affairs. Minority groups were also exempted from the country’s former one-child policy and continue to receive preferential access to certain social welfare benefits, particularly in education.  A vocational skills education centre in Dabancheng, Xinjiang © Reuters But under Chen Quanguo, the hardline party secretary of Xinjiang who formerly governed Tibet, China’s two largest autonomous regions have been heavily policed. James Leibold, an expert on ethnic policy at Melbourne’s La Trobe University, said there used to be a “belief that economic development will ultimately solve the ethnic question: if you bring development to the frontier, people will be gracious and loyal to the party”.  “There is a belief now,” he added, “that that approach has failed and what is required is a far more coercive or assertive approach, one that puts stability first even if it means sidelining economic development”.

Friday, 30 November 2018

Convention and Hypothesis: Thomas Hobbes's Foundations of Bourgeois Nihilism.

This is a synopsis of the last chapter of our study on "Descartes's World". A much lengthier version of this study will be posted as soon as possible. Cheers.

Science and Technology as the Nihilist Ideology of Capitalist Enterprise.

The almost ubiquitous approach to the study and analysis of philosophy and science is to see them as the spontaneous offspring of the human faculty of thought and of experimentation. What we are seeking to do here instead is to present both disciplines as products of determinate historical social relations of production. Broadly, our aim is to show that whilst philosophizing is a faculty co-generate with human action, there is no such human aptitude or faculty as “science and technology”, but that these must rather be deciphered as “scientific enterprises” or praxes that play a highly functional role in the development of capitalism as a system of mass production. More specifically, here we are trying to interpret Cartesian idealism and the reaction to it in the British empiricism of Bacon and Hobbes as byproducts and emblematic of the struggle between the old feudal theocratic social order that prevailed in the Middle Ages and the commercial and industrial capitalism that began to emerge forcefully in northern Europe between the sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries.

In this historical-materialist perspective, Cartesianism represents the first valiant attempt by philosophy to accommodate and integrate the incipient nihilism of bourgeois scientific ideology within the boundaries of the essentialism embedded and ingrained in Classical philosophy, Scholastic theology and Renaissance humanism. (Later attempts principally centre on and spring out of German Classical Idealism from Kant to Cassirer.) For this reason, it may be useful to call Cartesianism, with Antonio Negri, “the reasonable ideology”: - ideology, because it constitutes a rationalization of industrial capitalist exploitation in the guise of scientific research and technological progress; and “reasonable”, because it seeks to identify this ideology as, and to reconcile it with, the practical application of Substantive Reason as distinct from Instrumental Reason.

The transparent aim of this Cartesian reasonable ideology was to seek to preserve the millennial and millenary values of Judaeo-Christian and Hellenistic theology and philosophy, above all the omnipotence and benevolence of the Divinity and the centrality of humanity in the created universe, whilst at the same time integrating and absorbing into these values the novel and revolutionary productive techniques of the nascent capitalist industry. Descartes’s goal proved to be unachievable because he burdened Instrumental Reason in its formal components (logic and the understanding) with the task of reconciling the Freedom of human thought with the ultimate ethical values of Substantive Reason and with establishing the existence of Reason itself as an entelechy or Substance (in line with Platonic realism).

It ought to be obvious that any formal Reason whose evaluative criteria are deemed to be inconfutable and irrefutable (or “irresistible”, with Arendt) is immediately incompatible and contradictory with the very “freedom” that the human faculty of thought, of awareness or conscience, entails! Worse still, Reason as a formal faculty is obviously unable to confirm the existence of ontological entities or substances and is also incapable of identifying and prescribing any Values or Substantive Reason which, instead, are the exclusive province of human agency and reflection. Simply stated, Instrumental Reason (known as “the intellect” or “the understanding” or “logico-mathematics”) cannot dictate ultimate values to Substantive Reason because these values are the exclusive province of the latter. (This is the basis of Max Weber’s genial distinction between Wert- and Zweck-Rationalitat [Goal- and Purpose-rationality].) Yet this impossible task – the determination by means of logical analysis (notably the syllogism and apodosis) of ultimate ethical entities (God, the soul) and their implicit values - is precisely what Descartes attempted to do! The consequent dualism between res cogitans and res extensa, Subject and Object, Reason and Nature, Soul and Body, or Mind and Matter, was the unfortunate by-product of this Cartesian attempt to integrate bourgeois ideology and capitalist industry within the dictates of Christian values and the imperative aim of preserving the primacy of the Divinity and the centrality of human beings in the universe.

We have seen that a first response to Descartes came from Francis Bacon. Essentially, Bacon’s “novum organum” is the first major animadversion against the mainstays of the feudal-theocratic absolutist social order, that is, the Classical (Platonic and Aristotelian) and Scholastic insistence on the centrality of God and consequently of the human soul in the cosmic order – and therefore also of logic and rhetoric – the Ratio - as the quintessential tools of human scientific advancement – where “science”, episteme or gnosis, is understood as the adaequatio rei et intellectus (the congruence of intellect and thing). British empiricism is really the combined fruit of a pre-existing sceptic Pyrrhonistic tradition in European thought (see R. Popkin, The History of Scepticism) with what will soon become an incipient nihilism that replaces the theo- and anthropocentrism of Christianity and the Renaissance with the nihilism of what Nietzsche called “an undefinable X”. (Cf. F. Nietzsche, On Truth and Lies, where science is rightly seen as an attempt to pinpoint a cosmic order that, in reality, is filled “…with no forms and no concepts, and likewise with no species, but only with an X which remains inaccessible and undefinable for us”.)

Yet again, as we saw in our study on Bacon, the substitution of Cartesian deductive rationalism with the inductive empiricism of Bacon’s “new organon” method is itself guilty of this dual fallacy – namely, first, that no amount of induction (or, in Descartes’s case, of deduction) can ever lead to a “scientific method” or to “laws of nature”; and second, that any such “laws”, if taken to be “objective”, would be inconsistent with our awareness of them! Viewed “objectively”, the cosmos has no “laws” (cf. Nietzsche, “Viewed morally, the world is false!”): - it is what it is. The claimed “legality” of scientific observations is itself the ultimate ineluctable proof of their conventionality, of their being mere rules of thumb aimed at rationalizing human interests. There is no “scientific truth” outside of what suits human interests, be they “good” or “evil”. (This is the reality behind Nietzsche’s acute observation in The Genealogy of Morals that the object of all scientific experimentation is…the human body!)

Bacon’s claim that human beings are subject to the “laws of nature” clashes with the insurmountable objection that if indeed such “laws of nature” existed, they would have to correspond (a) with scientific knowledge or evidence that is immediately evident, and (b) with the immediate perception by human senses of the “objective reality” to which these “laws” presumably referred. Yet this “immediate certainty” is precisely what is lacking in any and all scientific evidence and indeed is quite impossible for humans to attain! Hobbes’s “annihilation thesis” illustrates quite devastatingly the untenability of Bacon’s na├»ve empiricism – not just because, if human ideas are taken to be separable from the “external world”, then ideas survive the annihilation of this external world, and are therefore conventional, ideal; but also and above all else because the hypothetical annihilation of the external world must entail the annihilation of all human ideas as well!

The vacuum left by scientific empiricism as the handmaiden of industrial capitalism will be filled by the mechanistic materialism of Thomas Hobbes which remains to this day the ideological hard core of the bourgeoisie and of the society of capital. Hobbes’s philosophy, however, is in this regard almost a carbon copy of Bacon’s and is subject to the same objections. Already in the Elements, Hobbes wavers between the twin untenable positions of scientific laws that are the products of “logical” deductions and laws that are instead inductive conclusions based on empirical observations. Equally, Hobbes’s mechanicist materialism whereby every event in the universe is the causal product of the interaction between bodies and motion clashes with the insurmountable objection that such objective laws of mechanical causation, if real, could never be accessible to human conscious knowledge – because human awareness would itself be the unconscious effect of causal interaction between bodies and motion!

Hobbes’s attempt to present a unified materialist philosophy starting with physics and the body (De Corpore) and proceeding to politics (De Cive) comes unstuck on this fundamental fallacy – namely, the impossibility of a purely “formal” reason or understanding to comprehend deductively, or be conscious inductively of, what are supposedly “objective” laws. A science that purports to understand the universe mechanistically is in direct contradiction with the very mechanical formal reason or understanding that presumes to formulate the scientific laws themselves!

Yet it is precisely here that Hobbes’s novel worldview comes into its own – and what provides the very nexus between his physics and politics that many critics have claimed is inconsistent or absurd. If humans are confined to their imperfect perceptions of the life-world, then it is inevitable and undeniable that any “laws of nature” that we may identify amount to nothing more than “conventions” on how to proceed in the world, on how to attain particular goals that are set by human beings themselves! The so-called “laws of nature” then amount to nothing more than a “convention”, an agreement among humans about what practical goals to achieve and on how to achieve them. Scientific laws become mere agreements on interacting with the human and natural environment – with our life-world – in a manner consistent with the goals that humans have set for themselves. Indeed, this is true even to the extent that humans transform and “stage-manage” their life-world so as to render it amenable to exploration and exploitation (“scientific experimentation”) through the metaphorical “laws” that they think they can identify as “objective laws of nature” corresponding to a mythical “objective reality”.

The key to understanding Hobbes’s entire philosophy – ranging from his ontology to epistemology and finally to his political theory – lies exclusively in this exquisite Hobbesian realization – one that is stunningly revolutionary for his time and that will be enucleated with even greater cold-blooded ruthlessness by Nietzsche two centuries later. Of course, if we took Hobbes’s professed materialist mechanicism at face value, then his philosophical system, which extends from atomic structures to political theory, would turn out to be hopelessly inconsistent. But in reality Hobbes’s philosophy is a genial mixture of convention and hypothesis that on one hand allows for the conventionality of social reality, which encompasses scientific enterprise, whilst on the other it latches this “free” conventionality around a “coercive” hypothesis founded on the ineradicable conflict of human self-interests. The “freedom” of convention is tied indissolubly to the “free-dom” of conflict, of the universal Eris. Thus, the conventions that arise from human epistemology – how we theorize our perception of the world “scientifically” – hinge and are pinned on the central fundamental hypothesis that human beings must preserve their own lives in a world in which humans are equal in their ability to threaten one another.

It is fair to assert that Hobbes’s worldview starts from his politics and percolates down to his physics rather than the other way around! That is the crucial reason why Hobbes abandoned his initial project to publish the Elements sequentially beginning with the De Corpore and ending with the De Cive – hence, from physics to politics – and preferred instead to begin with the politics based on “experience” (Thucydidean historicism) and end with the physics based on logic (Euclidean axiology). (Recall that Hobbes translated both Euclid’s Elements [same title as his opus magnum] and Thucydides’s Peloponnesian Wars.) Hobbes’s worldview hinges on the absolute paramountcy of the self-interest hypothesis whose only logical requirement to avoid annihilation in the physical as in the political sphere is convention. The rigid Euclidean-geometric hypothesis is needed for the discursive convention to have any social force at all. Hobbes’s philosophical system as laid out in the Elements is contradictory only if we begin from his physics and proceed to his politics – because then the initial premise is that of atomistic materialism (as in Democritus) from which the politics do not follow logically. But if instead we start from his political theory – universal conflict -, then the uncanny and diabolical consistency of Hobbesian nihilism emerges in its full crushing immediacy to permeate and percolate from the dira necessitas of the politics to the conventionality of the scientific experimentation and theorization on which physics is based.

The paradox implicit in Hobbes’s theorization of the life-world is that unalloyed self-interest is by definition incompatible with the ability (a) to reach the consensus necessary to reach a “con-vention” (coming together of minds) between conflicting self-interests, and (b) to allow for the rationality required for self-interested agents to reach any consensual convention. Of course, Hobbes’s axiomatic assumption is that self-interest is logically subordinate to self-preservation, given that each agent is equally likely to destroy each other agent. (We have shown elsewhere that the axiom of universal conflict is vital to general equilibrium theory in neo-classical economics.) But once these assumptions – (i) self-interest as (ii) the war of all against all (bellum omnium contra omnes) – are allowed as a matter of realistic necessity (or of “experience”, as Hobbes argues in the De Cive) then Hobbes’s initial paradigm becomes unassailable.

Monday, 26 November 2018


Scholars slam China over internment camps

More than 200 academics from around the world are condemning China for its mass internment of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in its far-western region of Xinjiang.
In an open letter posted online on Monday, the scholars, hailing from 26 countries and regions, are demanding international sanctions against Chinese officials and companies who are benefiting from the mass internment and surveillance in Xinjiang.
An estimated 1 million Uighurs are being held in internment camps in the restive region, according to human rights groups. Former detainees and family members speak of torture, malnutrition and beatings inside the camps.
China says it needs the camps - which it calls "vocational training" centres - to fight against terrorism, but people are often held there for seemingly innocuous acts such as praying, talking to relatives abroad or having encrypted messaging apps on their phones.
"There are concerns that such extreme measures could be replicated to address other segments of the Chinese population who are perceived as threatening the Party's monolithic vision of [China]," the scholars said.
Countries and institutions need to pressure President Xi Jinping and Xinjiang's Communist Party secretary Chen Quanguo to abolish the camps, they said.
States should also grant expedited asylum to Uighurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and other minorities from Xinjiang, while foreign companies should demand that China close the camps as a condition for doing business, they said.


Perhaps China’s richest man really did miss teaching.
When Jack Ma announced in September that he would step down as chairman of Alibaba, the eCommerce giant he founded in his Hangzhou apartment 19 years ago, to return to his chosen profession of English teacher, eyebrows were raised.
The 54-year-old was at the top of his game. His online trading behemoth had grown from small start-up to China’s largest corporation with a market capitalisation of $US382 billion ($527.9bn). Ma himself was worth an estimated $US35bn. Why quit now?


Adding to the speculation was that Ma’s announcement came as China’s government was exerting unprecedented control of the country’s corporate sector.
Small Communist Party committees are being imposed on private corporations as part of a push by Chinese President Xi Jinping to reassert party control over all aspects of Chinese life. The move has unnerved executives and has raised questions about how much influence party cadres will have in commercial decision-making.
“I suspect Ma had had enough,” Michael Shoebridge, former senior defence policy and intelligence official and now head of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s defence and strategy program, tells Inquirer. “I suspect Ma didn’t want to run his company with the CCP looking over his shoulder.”
To Shoebridge, Ma’s resignation is symptomatic of larger problems emerging in Chinese society. Shoebridge is one of a growing number of China experts sceptical of what may be termed the “China narrative”, the belief that Chinese supremacy is inevitable because of the country’s size and governance model, which allows it to set far-reaching national priorities untroubled by the social and political pressures that play on democracies.
Shoebridge says this narrative has clouded thinking about China’s rise and risks distorting policymaking. China’s strengths are in fact weaknesses and its long-term growth is far from assured.
In short, we have swallowed the Chinese Communist Party’s version of itself.
“The CCP narrative about the inevitably of China’s rise and strategic power is not well contested in Australia or any other Western capital,” Shoebridge says. “I think it’s accepted uncritically.”
There are signs that is starting to change. Last week’s Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in Papua New Guinea was supposed to showcase Beijing’s growing prestige in the region.
Instead, a squabble over the wording of the final communique, blunt words about Beijing’s pernicious debt diplomacy from US Vice-President Mike Pence and a string of infrastructure announcements in which the West, and not Beijing, would partner with Pacific nations exposed the limitations of Chinese power. It also was the clearest signal yet that Washington is willing to push back in meaningful ways against China’s influence campaign in the Pacific.
The US has been startled by the rapid gains China has made in the South China Sea, where in the space of a few years Beijing has been able to construct and fortify a string of disputed islands, entrenching its strategic position and potentially threatening sea lanes. In remarks aimed squarely at China, Pence said the US offered a “better option” for developing Pacific nations dependent on foreign aid and investment.
“We don’t drown our partners in a sea of debt,” he said. “We don’t coerce or compromise your independence. The United States deals openly, fairly. We do not offer a constricting belt or a one-way road. When you partner with us, we partner with you, and we all prosper.”
From an opaque economy to an untested military to soaring income inequality, the signs are Chin­ese society is set to be roiled by a series of problems that will undermine growth and challenge the legitimacy of its ruling party. Its economy is being stifled by a resur­gence of central planning.
Its much-vaunted military is large but untested in battle. Its population is ageing.
“Authoritarian regimes can force stakeholders to endure pain in the short term, but in the long term they’re dependent on results,” US Studies Centre senior fellow John Lee says. “It’s telling that Xi feels that if there’s not a six in front of China’s growth rate figures, their legitimacy could be in question. That’s not indicative of a very secure regime.”
Nor is mass surveillance. China’s government is developing a “citizen credit score”, a compulsory system that will assign each citizen with a score based on their civic virtue. Citizens will get extra points for donating blood or volunteering at a homeless shelter and deductions for liking the wrong social media post or jaywalking on a public street.
According to Chinese officials, about seven million people have already been banned from boarding flights and three million from riding high-speed trains after their credit scores fell below the requisite level.
No doubt the scheme is a masterful way of ensuring an orderly populace. But what does it say about the security of the regime? “The fragility of the Chinese state, the inability to control the population, has always dominated CCP thinking,” Shoebridge says. “But we don’t understand that; we act as if it’s all powerful.”
Lee says more than 40 per cent of the central funds raised by the CCP after local transfers go to internal and external security. It is a colossal, unsustainable figure. As a result, China is spending less on social goods than most middle-income or low-income economies as a proportion of gross domestic product. This is causing internal tensions that sooner or later will have to be addressed. China also has the worst income inequality for any major economy, barring Brazil. The benefits of China’s amazing national prosperity have not being shared evenly.
It is also getting older. Lee says that by 2030, China will have a demographic bulge like western Europe, where a shrinking pool of young workers will be required to foot the bill for an ageing population. But unlike Europe, China has no across-the-board pension system to support these older citizens. Lee traces blame for the problem to the one-child policy, a classic example of the kind of unintended consequences yielded from central planning.
“China is going to have the worst kind of demographics because of the one child policy,” says Lee. “And they’re not prepared for it. The bottom line is they’re going to have to spend more on social goods and obviously that has implications for national power.”
The CCP has always wielded a heavy hand: China is, after all, a communist country.
But Xi’s 19th party congress reversed a trend followed by every Chinese leader since Deng Xiaoping, who recognised that a vib­rant corporate sector uncon­strained by ideology was the fastest way to economic growth and national power.
According to Lee, it was those reforms that set China up for its current era of growth.
“President Xi has said what we need is state champions to become dominant,” Lee says. “In a sense, economics has become sub­ordinate under politics.”
Lee says that whereas the tiger economies of Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan began to liberalise their politics as their economies grew wealthier, Xi has intensified China’s authoritarian model. The risk is that China’s corporate sector will become less agile in responding to market pressures and opportunities.
“The lesson of the Soviet Union and the lesson of the pre-Deng era in China is that Communist Party decision-making does not lead to vibrant business outcomes,” Shoebridge says.
Market economist and former senior adviser to the federal treasurer during the Asian crisis Stephen Joske agrees. In fact, he says in many ways the problem is worse. Joske predicts that China’s opaque credit markets are headed for a crash. This looming financial crisis could tip the country into an extended recession, shaking the country’s political foundations.
“In my view, in a few years’ time they’ll go into negative growth,” Joske tells Inquirer.
“That’s not something they’ve experienced before. They’re lending at a rate that outstrips deposits so they’re funding from the wholesale markets and that’s where the risks appear.”
Modern China has never had a recession, although most analysts believe Beijing fudged its GDP numbers in 1999 to hide a temporary dip. Countries experience and recover from recessions all the time, but Joske says in China’s case the risk is that the political stress associated with a slowdown can undo the compact between China’s ruler and its citizens, which is based on power in exchange for prosperity.
Beijing’s trade war with Washington also is causing unexpected stresses. Lee says the general assumption was that Beijing would be able to stare down US President Donald Trump, who eventually would yield to pressure from domestic lobby groups.
If anything, the opposite is true.
“There’s some support for the trade war in the US, but in China President Xi is under heavy criticism. That’s not something most economic analysts were expecting,” he says.
Joske, like Lee and Shoebridge, holds that the belief in China’s economic potential rests on a series of lazy assumptions about the robustness of the Chinese growth model. He gets frustrated with what he describes as the “complacency of the China narrative”.
“There’s a whole lot of things that can go wrong. China’s got this long history of civil war. It has been disunited more than it has been united throughout its history. It has always required a strong central government to keep it together. If they blink it tends to fall apart.”
It is China’s economy that ultim­ately will determine the extent to which it can project hard power in the world. China has been expanding its military rapidly but the results have been mixed.
Shoebridge says that unlike the US, whose military has been fighting continuously for two decades, the People’s Liberation Army is untested in battle. The rapid growth of the PLA also has led to questions about its cohesion. Modern warfighting is heavily networked and it is unclear how effectively integrated China’s sprawling military is.
China has developed cutting-edge capabilities such as the J-20, its own version of the fifth-generation fighter plane technology that will determine air supremacy in the decades ahead.
But unlike comparable aircraft developed in the West, little is known about them. The lack of information could be a strategic advantage, but it could equally be a sign of the weakness of China’s development process, which takes place without the relative transparency that occurs in the West, and the rigour that goes with it.
Shoebridge says: “I would say they have an impressive order of battle with a wide array of new systems, some of which have novel capability which could surprise, but being able to operate support and integrate those capabilities effectively, is a question mark.”
None of this means the China project is about to fail, although Shoebridge says that remains “a credible scenario”, one that Xi and his contemporaries inside the CCP are acutely aware of.
Rather than economic collapse, Joske predicts an abrupt adjustment as the Chinese economy evolves, probably followed by a Japan-style slowdown. Lee says China is set for an internal squabble over competing budgetary pressures, meaning the present focus on national power is not sustainable.
Either way, Shoebridge says, the combination of internal economic and political pressures combined with an increased resistance to Beijing’s pushy foreign policy means China’s current trajectory cannot continue. “That’s the inevitability,” he says.