Friday, 8 December 2017

Chronicles of A Crisis Foretold - 4

The Great Moderation involved a “mobilisation of resources” the likes of which this world had never seen. In its pursuit of profit - in other words, in its bloodthirsty pursuit for ever greater command over living labour - the Western bourgeoisie confided in the much greater truculent ruthlessness of the Chinese Dictatorship, which was indeed facilitated by the millennia of enslavement to which the populations of China have been subjected by various Dynasties of very different ethnic origins. (The myth of One China is just that, a myth.)

Yet equally mesmerising is the pace at which the Western and now the Chinese Han bourgeoisies have exhausted this tremendous mobilisation of human and natural resources - which, of course, are vastly responsible for the mortal threat to which our planet is subject in terms of overpopulation and overconsumption, both ecologically unsustainable.

These are themes to which we have returned repeatedly here and which indeed form the core and motivation of nearly al the theoretical studies to which we have devoted ourselves here. China can truly be said to have been “the last resort” or the last frontier for global capital. The speed at which this enormous last frontier, last refuge (!), for global capital has been exhausted is utterly frightening. The Weberian “room for manoeuvre” (Ellebongsraum) for the world bourgeoisie is now very narrow and narrowing by the day. The Chinese Dictatorship is perhaps the first to have recognised the limits of its internal expansion - which is why now it is extremely busy trying the experiment that Western capital has tried before but which is destined to failure - military and financial imperialist expansionism. What the Chinese Dictatorship wishes to achieve is the export outside its geographical boundaries of all the class tensions that thirty years of unrelenting and unprecedented “growth” (mobilisation) of human and natural resources has permitted it to avoid and circumvent.

Yet this “China Dream” - to avoid a “China Nightmare” - is already turning into an incubus as the Dictatorship is caught in the deathly vice of (a) reducing mobilisation through the expansion of domestic consumption, and (b) the impossibility of achieving this within a global capitalist framework founded on profitability without (c) the absolute repression of domestic politico-economic  class conflict that factors (a) and (b) render absolutely necessary. It is this Unholy Trinity that the Chinese Dictatorship is called upon to confront, and that now it has decided can only be “resolved” by doing away with (a) and (b) by insisting on external imperialist expansion and releasing internal class tensions through the “migration” of its own capitalist class.

Quite obviously, however, Chinese Dictatorial imperialist expansionism is already hitting the Great Wall of Western bourgeois opposition which, specifically under Trump (but he is only a beginning) is bringing us, via North Korea, to a global conflagration. Make no mistake: the global bourgeoisie (Western and Chinese alike) has built its social domination over propaganda in the form of “marketing” whereby the world appears all rosy and blessed when in fact it is in a in a deathly spiralling turbine: turn on your TV set, listen to the radio, and it will appear as if everything is going according to plan. Check the daily highs on Wall Street and the explosion of bitcoin, coupled with low bond yields, and again it seems as if global capitalism had never been in greater shape.

Yet, look more closely and dispassionately at all “economic indicators”, and you will see that the global capitalist system has barely survived the last decade through, again, an unprecedented expansion of liquidity by central banks in the face of compressed profitability, despite wage repression, resulting instead in low productivity and asset-price inflation. The consequent growing disparity in wealth distribution is engendering uncontainable political tensions within nations through political polarisation and between nations through currency, trade and even military conflicts. The final straw for the system will be wage inflation combined with stagnation - in one word, stagflation. Western capitalist regimes simply cannot allow unemployment to rise. But with asset price inflation galloping, central banks will be forced to raise interest rates to avoid the bubbles that we are now witnessing the in financial and asset markets the world over. Here is where central banks are caught in a bind between either maintaining low rates and sow inequality conflict or else raise them and foment political tensions over unemployment and underemployment.

The growing politicisation of central banks is reaching explosive levels, which global bourgeoisies are seeking to defuse by relying on external markets for capital accumulation. The result is entirely predictable: financial implosion and trade and currency wars. Here is a taste of what is to come through the eyes of a former Bank of England official in the Financial Times:

Charles Bean, BoE:

The past couple of decades have witnessed a remorseless fall in the real rate of interest consistent with macroeconomic equilibrium — the “natural” rate. The causes are still a matter of debate. Some point to higher savings, others to the impact of slow productivity growth on investment. Balance-sheet repair has surely been important, too.
While central banks can set any policy rate they want in the short run, if they are to achieve their objectives over the long term it must converge to the sum of the natural rate and their target inflation rate. Criticism from politicians that central banks’ policies are penalising savers and driving up asset prices misses the point: the decline in interest rates ultimately reflects forces that central bankers are powerless to change.  ......

Broadly speaking, the monetary arrangements introduced in 1997 have served us well. But two aspects are worthy of note. The distinction between monetary and fiscal policy has become increasingly blurred. And the distributional consequences of monetary policy have become increasingly contentious.
Monetary policy has fiscal consequences even in normal times, but issues are starker when large quantities of government bonds or private sector assets sit on the central bank’s balance sheet. Even small changes in the yield curve have significant consequences for the public finances. Fiscal considerations become more prominent if the central bank buys risky private credits. And purchasing equities is potentially even more contentious since it involves the acquisition of control rights.
For these reasons, the fiscal authorities need to own the fiscal consequences of the central bank’s asset purchase decisions. Happily, the BoE’s Asset Purchase Facility meets that requirement, with the Treasury holding the economic interest, even though the MPC decides the amount of assets to buy. Moreover, whenever the MPC wants to increase the stock of assets there is an exchange of letters with the chancellor.
Adding distributional concerns to the MPC’s objectives would be worrying. It is one thing for the MPC to use its “constrained discretion” to limit output volatility. It is quite another to refrain from cutting interest rates or undertaking asset purchases to protect one segment of society at the expense of another. That goes to the heart of politics; such decisions should not be delegated to technocrats.

If the government of the day is unhappy about the side effects of the monetary policies necessary to maintain macroeconomic stability, then it is better for them to take mitigating fiscal action. And, if a government is really set upon the need for a different monetary policy, it should do so directly and openly by invoking the monetary policy override clause.

But now take a look at what Alberto Gallo writes, also in the FT:

Several macro analysts have called this an environment of rational exuberance. Volatility and asset prices are justifiably low, they say, given healthy macroeconomic conditions. Instead, we believe markets may be in a period of irrational complacency. The signs are widespread. Yields on European junk bonds have fallen below US Treasuries. Emerging market countries with a history of default, such as Argentina, have issued 100-year bonds. Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Snapchat together are worth more than the whole German Dax. Banks are again marketing CDOs. Cash-park assets including property, art, collectibles and cryptocurrencies are soaring in a parabolic fashion, like life rafts in a sea of central bank liquidity. Not only have asset prices soared, volatility is at rock bottom too: the S&P 500 index just experienced the lowest amount of swings in the last 50 years. Investment strategies betting on a stable market have grown exponentially since the start of quantitative easing in 2009. We estimate $60bn capital in bets on low volatility and as much as $2tn that indirectly relies on stable volatility for performance. The combination of high asset prices, short volatility bets and herding, confirmed by IMF data, means losses may be more concentrated in a tail scenario. While regulators have focused on strengthening banks over the past few years, the largest risks may have moved to capital markets. Price action in late November provided a small-scale preview of what an unwind of goldilocks trades would look like: EM, tech stocks and utilities moving down in tandem with long-end Treasuries and gilts. There are three ways the current goldilocks era may come to an end in 2018. One ending could materialise if central bankers turn more cautious on the financial stability risks fuelled by loose policy. The People’s Bank of China and some US Federal Reserve FOMC members have already raised red flags. As the recovery matures, new leadership at the helm of the Fed and later at the European Central Bank could mark such a change of tack towards faster monetary normalisation.

Another risk could be a return of inflation. Even though technology, demographics and globalisation are still likely to cap reflationary pressures, betting against the Phillips Curve (the link between unemployment and inflation) may become riskier as US unemployment falls below 4 per cent and oil prices rise. If inflation accelerates, the spillover from rising term premia in interest rates could disrupt several other carry trades. The real endgame, however, may come from the will of the people — politics. The current combination of monetary debasement, populism and social unrest is neither a new phenomenon nor a coincidence. The late Roman empire shaved silver coins as it disintegrated; Henry VIII replaced silver coins with copper to pay for wars against France and Scotland; the British empire allowed double-digit inflation to erode bondholders’ wealth following the War of Independence; the Weimar Republic precipitated an inflation spiral. Comparing these examples to QE may sound extreme. Yet the biggest debasement in history may be the one we are experiencing now under the form of a $20tn central bank experiment, which is de facto depreciating money by boosting the price of all assets it can buy. Monetary policy has increased inequalities between the rich and poor, the old and the young and between large cities and suburban peripheries left out of the recovery. Brexit, Trump’s plan to exit trade agreements and the calls for independence across European regions all envision a return to past glory with the use of national borders, identifying an external enemy to polarise people’s angst and pursue disruptive policies in the process. Absent redistributive policies to rebalance inequality and promote social mobility, excess spending and protectionism from populist regimes are likely to result in higher public debt, higher inflation and losses for investors. Economist Rudi Dornbusch noted that crises take a much longer time coming than you think and then they happen much faster than you would have thought. Today’s markets price in that earnings will keep rising, volatility will stay low despite rising geopolitical risks and central bankers will continue to support growth without generating inflation. The Goldilocks party may go on a little longer but we all know how it will end.

It is utterly evident that the rush to secure assets that are beyond the control of governments betrays a ballooning growth in distrust of political and economic institutions in nation-states the world over. Here is John Authers also in the FT:

It would make sense if this [frenzy for illiquid assets] were part of a broader loss of confidence in fiat currencies. Central banks have continued easy monetary policy since the crisis in a bid to prop up asset prices and spark activity. Stocks look blatantly overvalued. Bonds look even more so. Art has never fetched such big prices. The bitcoin is only an absurd appendage to what is already a “bubble in everything”. Thus bitcoin might be seen as a bet against rampant asset price inflation, and an attempt to protect against a forthcoming implosion as higher interest rates finally lead the financial house of cards to collapse. But that does not explain everything. Gold is up about 10 per cent for the year. That is less than the growth in stocks, and it has been falling during the latest overdrive phase in bitcoin. Rather, bitcoin mania can be attributed to broader social conditions. Demand is greatest in the countries of the Pacific Rim, with South Korea, Taiwan, Japan and China all trying to curb extreme interest in trading the currency. Especially in China, demand reflects a distrust in governments, and not just in their currencies. This also seems to be true of demand for bitcoin in the US, where backers seem keen to go far beyond doing without banks or central banks. They seem far more interested in cutting governments out of the equation altogether. If not truly anarchist, the demand for bitcoin reflects a radical and global breakdown of trust in existing institutions.

Decentralised technology plainly permits this possibility. But it is horrifying that people find the notion appealing. Computer networks, we now know, are easily attacked. Cryptography helps, but there are weak points when people enter and leave the blockchain system. Thursday brought news of a major theft of bitcoins. In a decade or so, quantum computing may well be able to sweep aside the best current defences. Meanwhile, most governments around the world are democratic and derive their legitimacy from elections. But trust in democracy itself seems so low that putting trust in wholly unelected developers seems more appealing. The bitcoin craze can take its place with the various shocking election results of the last few years as a symptom of a breakdown in trust in western institutions — and also of frustration in Asia with the institutions that have guided growth there.

So, with bubbles in bitcoin to go with bubbles in stocks and bonds and cash, where are the “anti-bubbles” that Mr Parrilla was seeking? Given the desperation for a store of value, gold might be one of them. He also suggests that volatility and insurance against it are now far too cheap. One final possibility may be that there is an anti-bubble in government. Faith in the ability of governments to do anything that helps anyone seems to be reaching a crisis point — the rewards could be there for anyone who can demonstrate to people that their governments are working for them, and can deliver something.

Given the growing disparities and inequalities and concomitant social conflict within nation-states, it should come as no surprise that conflict between nation-states is intensifying rapidly as each national elite seeks to discharge its internal antagonism onto other nation-states and their populations, either through mercantilist or protectionist economic policies involving exchange rates and trade, or else through active interference in the political and military affairs of one another. In this regard, the Chinese Dictatorship's program of "One Road, One Belt" is nothing more than a last desperate attempt to extricate itself from the rapid decline in its ability to mobilise further its internal resources so as to maintain control over its already extensive Empire - in particular the Central Asian Muslim regions that share absolutely nothing with the Han population (least of all the language), and the more commercially successful regions around Guangzhou, Shanghai and perhaps Tianjin. Already, this particular policy of imperialist expansion is running into dire difficulties: only this week the Dictatorship was forced to sue Venezuela over missed payments of interest on loans of $13 billion US. The Dictatorship has already sunk no less than $62 billion in loans to Venezuela which that impoverished country has already defaulted on and will never be able to repay. Far from extending its power, these loans (Pakistan is next in line) are merely turning recipient countries into mortal enemies of the Dictatorship - a process that is likely to worsen over time, especially in Africa.

The blatant inability of the Chinese Dictatorship to rein in its most impoverished and neighbouring vassal State - the Kim Jong Un preserve of North Korea: indeed, the evident contempt with which that despicable dictatorship has shown toward its much more powerful Chinese counterpart, give a clear and incontrovertible hint as to the level of desperation of Xi Jing Ping and corrupt company in the face of growing intractable problems on the domestic front. Unwilling to dissolve the Communist Party to save the country, the Dictatorship is now destroying the country to save itself!

Friday, 1 December 2017

Chronicles of A Crisis Foretold - 3

Time is money. The vital formal characteristic of capitalism is the maximisation of profit. But profit is, first, a monetary expression; and second, profit is a rate in the sense that there can be no meaningful expression of profit in static terms: profit is always and everywhere a rate, in the sense that profit can only be expressed and understood as “profitability”, that is, as the rate of profit over the amount of capital invested. It follows that capital itself can never be a static, quantifiable entity - because capital can be understood only in relation to profit. Capital can never stand still: it is always and incessantly in circulation because its essence is a social reality that projects the present into the future. In the words of JM Keynes (General Theory), “money [capital] is a bridge between the present and the future”.

But what does capital “bridge” exactly? Capital is a social relation. Its rate of increase, its yield or profitability is a measure of its ability to control the living activity of human beings - workers - in terms of the money wages paid to them. Capital is therefore a wager by the capitalist, the employer, that he will be able to employ workers to produce commodities that the employer will be able to sell for a money profit that will enable him to employ more workers at the same money wage. In other words, capital is the use of the monetary medium to produce commodities by means of the worker’s living activity so as to be able to purchase the living activity of more workers when these commodities are sold to the existing labour force. All production ultimately resolves itself into the cost of means of production and money wages. But means of production are themselves produced by workers. Therefore, all production is ultimately the product of the living activity of workers. Workers are forced to alienate their living activity in exchange for the dead labour embodied in the commodities they  produce! It s evident that the exchange of living labour for dead labour is really no exchange at all and can only take place through violence either blatant or disguised, immediate or latent.

It is the chief characteristic of capitalism to be the civilisation of forced labour whereby human living activity is turned into a quantity measured by the discipline of the factory or workplace and of the market. The discipline of the factory is enforced by the capitalist; that of the market is enforced by the consumer, which can be both a capitalist and a worker. It is evident that these two forms of discipline - one imposed on the worker, the other on the capitalist as a seller of dead labour embodied in commodities - rely entirely on an expanding reserve army of workers (relative overpopulation) to ensure that workers compete for employment, and on competition amongst capitalists for both workers and for means of production as well as for consumers.

It follows from this analysis that although the immediate motivation of the capitalist is that of maximising profit, the mediate or indirect effect of the capitalist search for profit is the expansion of the working population, either actively employed or as a reserve army of the unemployed. Again, this is so because the essence of profit is politico-economic control over living labor. Thus, the search for profit transforms itself in reality in the rapid expansion of the working population, and therefore in relative overpopulation. Overpopulation is relative in the sense that it is not an absolute number. But it is overpopulation in the sense that the number of potential workers is greater than the active employment required by capitalist employers; and also, most important, in the sense that this population consumes resources in excess of what can be produced sustainably because the competition amongst the population of workers for work and money wages and ultimately for consumption goods is “competitive” because the resources available are “scarce”! Herein lies the link between capitalism and the destruction of the ecosphere. Capitalism must ensure the reproduction of the wage relation so that “free workers” are forced to alienate their living activity in a false “exchange” with the dead labour embodied in the commodities they themselves produce. But for this “free” labour force to be “forced” into alienated wage labour, the number of workers available must exceed the amount of resources, social and natural, available for a socially acceptable standard of living. That is why the population required by capitalist industry is always and everywhere “in excess” of what the environment can sustain. 

In other words, capitalist industry necessarily engenders the destruction of the ecosphere. The consequent scramble for social and environmental resources (minerals, land, water, and now finally even fresh air!) leads to geopolitical tensions that we now see coming to an apocalyptic crescendo. It is important to note that even the “democratic” Western bourgeoisie has always relied on the survival of brutal dictatorial and autocratic powers from Russia to China to Angola and Congo so long as they made their excess populations available for exploitation by capitalist industry. It is essential to remember in this context that “the Great Moderation” in Western capitalist industrial and financial conditions over the last 30 years coincided with the doubling of the global labour force brought about in large part by China and India and by the growth of the global population by 35 per cent in 25 years!

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Chronicles of A Crisis Foretold - 2

Perhaps the greatest service that Friedrich Nietzsche rendered to humanity was his genial enucleation of the Western notion of Truth, not just in its ethical-moral dimension as “the Good” (summum bonum, in Latin); but also and above all in its logico-mathematical and scientific dimensions. This great discovery, however, is one that is comprehensively ignored by the entire multitude of commentators and scholars who have hitherto pored over Niezsche’s copious but lamentably aphoristic, “unsystematic” writings (recall “I detest all systematisers”, in Twilight of the Idols). The perversion of this concept of Truth - the perverse uses to which Western philosophy, religion and science have put it - is what Nietzsche sought to expose with every fibre of his intellect. This Will to Truth (Wille zum Wahrheit) is something that he denounced and destructed with tremendous clear-minded analytical incisiveness - matched in the social studies only perhaps by Karl Marx’s critique of capitalism. Yet, this is the least researched and understood aspect of the philosopher of Roken’s work!

What does Nietzsche tell us about the notion of Truth? With regard to ethico-moral values, he tells us that they are all relative and mostly anthropomorphised rationalisations of instinctive behaviour observable in the rest of the animal kingdom. The far more interesting aspect of the concept of Truth uncovered by Nietzsche concerns the logico-mathematical sphere, first, and the scientific one, second. Logical and mathematical equivalences are not “true”: they are mere tautologies, empty identities of the type A=A; they tell us nothing. When logico-mathematical identities tell us something, when they are not pure identities, when they are “useful tools”, then they are simply not “true” in the sense that they present a particular, empirical version or representation of reality. And because logico-mathematical identities, when useful, are so because they are “partial”, not “absolute” - because of their “partiality” logic-mathematical operations have to be analysed closely for their intrinsic bias. The early practitioners of the mathesis of “nature” - from Leonardo to Galileo to Kepler, even Newton - thought that the mathematical regularities they were discovering in experimental observation were part of a divine plan (in the case of Newton, even the black arts of magic applied - see JM Keynes’s superb essay in Essays in Biography). But as we have found out since, they were very disingenuous in failing to perceive that more often than not this divine plan “turned a blessing into a curse” (to invoke Sting in “If I Ever Lose My Faith In You”). 

Thus, it is not that that the world has contracted thus - there is absolutely no ordo et ratio rerum et ideorum, no order and reason of things and ideas in the life world: rather, the reality is that human beings seek to order the world in a manner that makes it exploitable by them! There are no mathematically formulable events “in” the life world that constitute an “objective reality”. Instead, mathematical “laws” are established by human beings so as to exploit the life world in a determinate specific direction. Far from being an intrinsic attribute of the physical world, physical-mathematical “laws” constitute a specific human “practice” that needs to be guided consciously by humans. Mathematical physics reifies this conscious human activity and transfers and projects it onto a mythical “objective reality” or “physical world” - “the world out there”.  This instrumentalisation of Reason and Nature is brought to a cataclysmic climax by the capitalist social system that has been with us since the Industrial Revolution.

The foremost and paramount bias exerted by logic-mathematics lies precisely in its facilitation of the equiparation or homologation of heterogeneous and sui generis realities or phenomena. The second bias is that of the irrelevance of quantities - that is, the neglect of the simple reality that quantities are invariably “qualities”, or “values” that must be perceived as such. The third bias is that whatever can be measured and predicted or controlled - whatever is “repeatable” - is “true”, or “good” in the sense of “certain” and therefore “exploitable”. The central credo of Western science is that whatever is measurable and predictable is “true” in the sense that it is “objectively real”. Yet the very “objective reality” that science seeks to discover is not “objective” at all - for the very reason that the activity of discovery itself changes the behaviour of the scientist and of all of us to the point where it establishes a novel, entirely different “reality”! An “experiment” is not something that can be reproduced infinitely - because such reproduction would destroy, erase and annihilate the very conditions that led to the experiment. Every experiment is indeed an “experience” and must be treated as such. Every experiment does not “dis-cover”; it is actually an “in-vention”, a human activity with a determinate “purpose”.

By seeking to distinguish between “value-rationality” and “purposive rationality”, Max Weber neglected the reality that every purpose has an implicit value and that therefore no “rationality” is possible as a neutral-technical tool or activity. Every human activity has a purpose and a meaning, and thence a value that makes the notion of “rationality” wholly devoid of substantive content and, indeed, of any “formal validity” or “objective truth”! Although Weber never stated an explicit belief in rationality as an absolute measure, he certainly believed that it was possible to devise rational parameters linking available means with proposed goals (see the essay “On the ‘Objectivity’ of the Social Sciences”). That is why Weber could aim to theorise the Rationalisierung of social life perpetrated by capitalist industry as a process independent of capitalism itself. This is perhaps the biggest flaw in Weber’s otherwise imponent and enlightening sociological oeuvre.

At the centre of Weber’s concept of Rationalisierung lies the notion of “the iron cage” (stahlharte Gebaude) which, in its proper interpretation, refers to the secularisation of irrepressible self-interested wants. It is this Ent-seelung - this “soul-lessness” - that drives the Rationalisierung in capitalist society. In this key, Weber’s sociological account of capitalist industry runs the risk of being co-opted, as it regrettably has, by late-romantic critiques of bourgeois society and culture, starting with Lukacs’s extrapolation of Marx’s concept of alienation and reification derived from his politico-economic critique of “the commodity” (see the very first chapter of Das Kapital). Despite this, it is possible to rescue Weber’s own analysis of capitalism to a neo-Marxist critique by focussing on his splendid intuition of the foundation of capitalist profit on the exakte Kalkulation (exact calculation) of “disciplined labour power in capitalist factory production”. By insisting on the social basis of profit as the ability of the capitalist employer to impose competitive labour discipline on factory workers, Weber genially and correctly identified the whole crux of capitalist industry and the real kernel of “the iron cage” (consumerism) on which the entirety of bourgeois society is built.

It is on this tension between the dictatorship of the factory (the “exact calculation” of the intensity of disciplined labour or labour-power for the production of commodities) and the “democracy of the market” (rampant consumerism) that capitalist production and bourgeois society teeter on the brink of self-annihilation. The capitalist system of production and the bourgeois society of consumption are - to ape Donald Trump - on a suicide mission because their survival depends, on the supply side, on relative overpopulation to discipline workers (the “exact calculation’) and on the demand side they depend on the endless grasp for the gratification of false needs and wants leading to the mass alienation of popular constituencies from “democratic” institutions (Weber’s Entseelung or Ent-zauberung, literally soul-lessness and dis-illusionment, dis-enchantment).

From this perspective, it is easy to descry the twin symptoms of what is called widely in the bourgeois mass media “populism”: on one side, revulsion at falling living standards due to the massive expansion of the global labour force (this is the basis of “globalisation”) even through immigration (labour mobility); and then, on the other side, disenchantment with “democratic institutions” that promise heaven on earth only to deliver catastrophic hell, first and foremost the consumerist destruction of the ecosphere.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Chronicles of A Crisis Foretold

That the capitalist mode of production is in dire straits is something that no intelligent observer of global politico-economic reality can deny. One need only read the published opinions of all manner of informed commentators in the major news media, let alone more sedulous academic researchers, to understand that it is no longer a question of “the capitalist system” being in deep trouble; it is rather a matter of whether it is in a death spiral. First of all, regardless of what else happens henceforward in the political and financial spheres, it is the very survival of the biosphere that capitalism has placed almost beyond the point of no return. If there is to be a return from the now almost irretrievable collapse of the ecosphere, this will with utmost certainty involve the demise of capitalism as a socio-economic system because, as we have argued time and again in this Blog, capitalist industry is utterly dependent on “relative overpopulation”, which means that the system needs an over abundance of available labour power which, in turn, places unsustainable strains on available ecological resources - that is, not just mineral but also biologically indispensable resources such as water and clean air.

In this regard, it is amusing to see some of the more idiotic among observers wonder whether the authoritarian turn of the Chinese Dictatorship is a way forward for the global capitalist system. In reality, far from being a far-sighted plan for the future of capitalism in China, let alone the world, the clear and irreversible arriere-marche by the Dictatorship is quite simply a retrospective surrender to the evidence that capitalist industry is incompatible with the survival of the Dictatorship itself. But before Western bourgeoisies can rejoice, they need to reflect on the fact that once the Chinese economy implodes as the workshop of the Western capitalist world, having supplied cheap consumer goods to drive down labour costs the world over, the consequent crisis of consumer demand and most  of all of labour supply will engender the collapse of Western capitalist economies with it.

The inarrestable decline of the global rate of profit (what morons call “the natural rate of interest”) is a harbinger of the impossibility of the capitalist system to survive even after the global work force has more than doubled in the last 30 years! The catastrophic effect on the ecosphere and on living standards in the West are evident to all but the blindest of imbeciles. The fear is, of course, that even this crisis has not resulted in a boost to progressive forces but rather, quite evidently and seemingly inexorably, to a right-wing regression that threatens to place people like us in concentration before long! And all the whole we have the utterly insensate spread of “identity politics” by people who ought to know that no-one but no-one who counts for the political future of global states gives a hoot about the rights of “transgender” or homosexual couples! “Sleep tight, you morons!” One is tempted to cry out with the protagonist of The Catcher in the Rye. Here are the Greens in Germany seeking to enhance the “rights” of family reunification, and thereby bring down the Merkel government, just as the neo-Nazis of Alternative fur Deutschland are preparing plans for fresh-minted gas chambers for all of us! Cheers everyone!

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Individual and Cosmos - Reprise

In our previous post, we presented a novel approach to the theory of knowledge, particularly with regard to logic-mathematics, which emphasised how capitalism, and to be precise “capitalists” or the bourgeoisie, mystifies the life world by presenting it, first, as revealing a Truth that is infinitely manipulable by human beings; second, as being purely an affair between human beings, and hence excluding the environment of which we are part; and finally as being entirely capable of being homologated logico-mathematically so that everything can be homogenised. Here is an article that appeared recently in The Guardian that replicates almost verbatim our philosophico-sociological argument without addressing, however, the politico-economic and epistemological aspects.

We continue to plan for the future as if climate scientists don’t exist. The greatest shame is the absence of a sense of tragedy
After 200,000 years of modern humans on a 4.5 billion-year-old Earth, we have arrived at new point in history: the Anthropocene. The change has come upon us with disorienting speed. It is the kind of shift that typically takes two or three or four generations to sink in.
Our best scientists tell us insistently that a calamity is unfolding, that the life-support systems of the Earth are being damaged in ways that threaten our survival. Yet in the face of these facts we carry on as usual. 
Most citizens ignore or downplay the warnings; many of our intellectuals indulge in wishful thinking; and some influential voices declare that nothing at all is happening, that the scientists are deceiving us. Yet the evidence tells us that so powerful have humans become that we have entered this new and dangerous geological epoch, which is defined by the fact that the human imprint on the global environment has now become so large and active that it rivals some of the great forces of nature in its impact on the functioning of the Earth system.
This bizarre situation, in which we have become potent enough to change the course of the Earth yet seem unable to regulate ourselves, contradicts every modern belief about the kind of creature the human being is. So for some it is absurd to suggest that humankind could break out of the boundaries of history and inscribe itself as a geological force in deep time. Humans are too puny to change the climate, they insist, so it is outlandish to suggest we could change the geological time scale. Others assign the Earth and its evolution to the divine realm, so that it is not merely impertinence to suggest that humans can overrule the almighty, but blasphemy.
Many intellectuals in the social sciences and humanities do not concede that Earth scientists have anything to say that could impinge on their understanding of the world, because the “world” consists only of humans engaging with humans, with nature no more than a passive backdrop to draw on as we please. 
The “humans-only” orientation of the social sciences and humanities is reinforced by our total absorption in representations of reality derived from media, encouraging us to view the ecological crisis as a spectacle that takes place outside the bubble of our existence.
It is true that grasping the scale of what is happening requires not only breaking the bubble but also making the cognitive leap to “Earth system thinking” – that is, conceiving of the Earth as a single, complex, dynamic system. It is one thing to accept that human influence has spread across the landscape, the oceans and the atmosphere, but quite another to make the jump to understanding that human activities are disrupting the functioning of the Earth as a complex, dynamic, ever-evolving totality comprised of myriad interlocking processes. 
But consider this astounding fact: with knowledge of the cycles that govern Earth’s rotation, including its tilt and wobble, paleo-climatologists are able to predict with reasonable certainty that the next ice age is due in 50,000 years’ time. Yet because carbon dioxide persists in the atmosphere for millennia, global warming from human activity in the 20th and 21st centuries is expected to suppress that ice age and quite possibly the following one, expected in 130,000 years. 
If human activity occurring over a century or two can irreversibly transform the global climate for tens of thousands of years, we are prompted to rethink history and social analysis as a purely intra-human affair.
How should we understand the disquieting fact that a mass of scientific evidence about the Anthropocene, an unfolding event of colossal proportions, has been insufficient to induce a reasoned and fitting response? 
For many, the accumulation of facts about ecological disruption seems to have a narcotising effect, all too apparent in popular attitudes to the crisis of the Earth system, and especially among opinion-makers and political leaders. A few have opened themselves to the full meaning of the Anthropocene, crossing a threshold by way of a gradual but ever-more disturbing process of evidence assimilation or, in some cases, after a realisation that breaks over them suddenly and with great force in response to an event or piece of information in itself quite small.
Beyond the science, the few alert to the plight of the Earth sense that something unfathomably great is taking place, conscious that we face a struggle between ruin and the possibility of some kind of salvation.
So today the greatest tragedy is the absence of a sense of the tragedy. The indifference of most to the Earth system’s disturbance may be attributed to a failure of reason or psychological weaknesses; but these seem inadequate to explain why we find ourselves on the edge of the abyss. 
How can we understand the miserable failure of contemporary thinking to come to grips with what now confronts us? A few years after the second atomic bomb was dropped, Kazuo Ishiguro wrote a novel about the people of Nagasaki, a novel in which the bomb is never mentioned yet whose shadow falls over everyone. The Anthropocene’s shadow too falls over all of us. 
Yet the bookshops are regularly replenished with tomes about world futures from our leading intellectuals of left and right in which the ecological crisis is barely mentioned. They write about the rise of China, clashing civilizations and machines that take over the world, composed and put forward as if climate scientists do not exist. They prognosticate about a future from which the dominant facts have been expunged, futurologists trapped in an obsolete past. It is the great silence. 
I heard of a dinner party during which one of Europe’s most eminent psychoanalysts held forth ardently on every topic but fell mute when climate change was raised. He had nothing to say. For most of the intelligentsia, it is as if the projections of Earth scientists are so preposterous they can safely be ignored. 
Perhaps the intellectual surrender is so complete because the forces we hoped would make the world a more civilised place – personal freedoms, democracy, material advance, technological power – are in truth paving the way to its destruction. The powers we most trusted have betrayed us; that which we believed would save us now threatens to devour us. 
For some, the tension is resolved by rejecting the evidence, which is to say, by discarding the Enlightenment. For others, the response is to denigrate calls to heed the danger as a loss of faith in humanity, as if anguish for the Earth were a romantic illusion or superstitious regression. 
Yet the Earth scientists continue to haunt us, following us around like wailing apparitions while we hurry on with our lives, turning around occasionally with irritation to hold up the crucifix of Progress.

Friday, 10 November 2017

Individual and Cosmos

In this final instalment of  our "The Philosophy of the Flesh", our aim is to replace the opposition between individual and society with the participation of individual and cosmos. Events of all kinds surrounding our lives, point us every moment toward the need to supersede this sociological understanding of human being with an ecological notion that places human interests not between human beings inter se but rather between being human and the lifeworld.

The role of science and mathematics in the instrumentalisation of the human abuse and destruction of the lifeworld is absolutely central in a number of ways. First, science and technology are seen as neutral-technical paradigms that allow us to penetrate "the Truth". In reality, instead, science and technology are "specific directions" of human interests and conflict and activity. Second, scientific truth is seen as the result of infinitely repeatable experiments - with the consequent neglect of the fact that repeating an experiment changes the very conditions under which the experiment was performed originally, and therefore obscures the fact that human activity changes the very nature and import of "scientific truth". Finally, logico-mathematics is seen as a neutral-technical tool for the crystallisation of scientific truths. The fallacy here is to think ignore that (a) logico-mathematical identities are not "truths" but mere empty tautologies that, when identical, possess no "truth" because they tell us absolutely nothing, and when not identical they possess no truth by definition! Two apples and two apples do not make four apples - because by the time we "add" one aspect of reality to another aspect of it....we have a very different reality! This is the mystification that logico-mathematics operates and to which we are blinded, through ignorance or through violence.

If we return to the problem of “inflation” and other economic categories, for instance, we will see that – as Arendt herself points out intelligently in ‘HC’ – these can be given a meaningful and measurable role as “a box of tools” (Robinson, Schumpeter) only once the social environment (institutions) has been pre-determined by a certain praxis of political power! (Contrast this devastating insight with the idiotic platitudes of the “New Institutional Economics”.) Yet Arendt never develops this penetrating conception in ‘LotM’, confining herself instead to observing that “scientific truth” is guided by the research choices of scientists and to the fact that this has changed the attitude of scientists to their findings as one of “verities” (infinitely perfectible in the chain of “progress”) rather than “truths” (final and certain), (‘LotM’, pp55-6). Here the problem is that Arendt speaks of “science” in general and fails to understand its “subsumption” to social relations of production. It is this unwarranted, fallacious “separation” of scientific research from social relations that leads her to the equally fallacious separation of the interested use of what she calls “scientific common sense” and the dis-interested use of “sheer thinking” which, through its “critical capacity”, alone is capable of providing “safeguards” against the tendency of scientific research “to force the non-appearing to appear” in its quest for “infinite cognition or knowledge” (p56). Again, like Plato and Mach and Heidegger and myriads of other thinkers, Arendt draws the now well-established confrontation of “philosophers” against “sophists” – a banality that Nietzsche denounced (in ‘ToI’). Unlike Nietzsche and Weber, however, she has failed to integrate this “will to truth” in the broader socio-political context of the “real subsumption of science and technology” by the capitalist social relations of production. 

Once more, the thought of Nicholas of Cusa can assist us in this regard by “bringing into focus” the problem we are confronting.

But Cusanus does not consider ideas to be creative forces in the Neo-Platonic sense. Instead, he requires a concrete subject as the central point and as the point of departure for all truly creative activity. And this subject, according to him, can exist nowhere but in the mind of man. The first and foremost result of this point of view is a new version of the theory ofknowledge. Genuine and true knowledge is not merely directed towards a simple reproduction ofreality; rather, it always represents a specific direction ofintellectual activity. The necessity we recognize in science, and especially in mathematics, is due to this free activity. The mind attains genuine insight not when it reproduces external existence, but only when it 'explicates' itself and its own nature.Within itself, the mind finds the simple concept and 'principle' of the point; and from this, after con- tinuously repeated movements, it produces the line, the surface, and the entire world ofextension. Within itself, the mind fmds the simple idea of'now', out ofwhich unfolds the infmity oftemporal series. Andjust as the basic forms of intuition-space and time-are in this sense 'implied' by the mind, so too are the concepts ofnumber and ofsize, as well as all logical and mathematical categories. In the development of these categories the mind creates arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. In fact, everything logical-the ten predicates, the five universals, etc.-is included in this basic power of the mind. It is the necessary prerequisite to all 'discretion', i.e., all categorization of mul- tiplicity according to species and classes; and it is the necessary pre- requisite to the possibility of tracing the empirical-mutable back to strictly defined laws. (P.41)

Again, we see Nicholas’s insistence on the notion of “Subject” and “the human spirit” as the “source” of the intuition of time and space and in the “creation of ideas and concepts” that are “expressions of human freedom” and that above all bestow “values” that seek “to unite opposites” (Nature and Reason), to oscillate between chorismos and methexis, and even to intuit the divine or the totality from the consciousness of finitude. What is truly novel and most insightful in the thought of Nicholas of Cusa as explicated by Cassirer, however, is the intuition that human science and logico-mathematics itself, far from being pro-ducts  or ef-fects of the per-ception by humans of an “objective reality” that lies beyond our ability to com-prehend and that yet lends itself to being described as “truth” or “error”– far from this, Nicholas finally intuits as Nietzsche will do much later that science and logico-mathematics may be an expression of human activity aimed in a pre-determined or deliberate direction[determinada direccion]!

 “The necessity of science and mathematics” displays in reality- not “the truth”! - but only the “discretion”, the arbitrariness of human action, its de-liberation, its “value-lessness” or, as Nietzsche would say, its “extra-moral sense”! The apex of human arbitrium, of human discretion, is the all too human ability to decree “the necessity of logico-mathematical or scientific laws” that are then traduced into “laws of logico-mathematical and scientific necessity”! That is why Nietzsche claims – with profound intuition – that “human beings find in nature, in the world, what they had already hidden in it”. Far from being “necessary”, such deliberate or discretionary action is “auf Nichts gestellt” – originating from the void or nothingness (Nichts) – in exactly the same way in which Carl Schmitt will challenge the “vicious circle” of legality and legitimacy and the ultimate foundation of sovereignty and the State on the “decision on the exception”. Schmitt, like Donoso Cortes before him, acutely identifies the similarity of “the state of exception” or “dictatorship” that suspends the legal and constitutional order with the status of “miracles”, which suspend the physical order! 

Nicholas of Cusa himself had anticipated Nietzsche with his notion of “conjecture” (cf. his De Conjectura), which is the “hypothesis” behind the “convention”, where the “convention” (axioms, for instance) crystallizes human action so that “hypotheses” (modes of conduct toward the cosmos) can be made about life and the world.

 [Euclid. Extra-temporal time and extra-mundanity]

That is the second basic thought in the docta ignorantia. In relation to theology, this concept affirms the idea of knowing ignorance; with relation to experience and empirical knowledge, it affirms the idea of ignorant knowledge. Experience contains genuine knowledge; but cer- tainly this knowledge must recognize that, although it may go far, it can only reach a relative aim and end, never an absolute. And it must further recognize that in this realm of the relative there can be no exactness, no praecisio: rather, every pronouncement and every measure- ment, be it ever so precise, can and will be superseded by another, more precise. In this sense, all of our empirical knowledge remains a 'proba- bility', an attempt, a hypothesis which, from the very beginning, is reconciled to being superseded by better, more exact attempts. Through this concept of probability, of conjecture, the notion of the eternal 'otherness' ofidea and appearance isjoined with the notion ofthe par- ticipation of the appearance in the idea. Only this union renders pos- sible Cusanus' definition ofempirical knowledge: 'conjectura est posi- tiva assertio in alteritate veritatem uti est participans.'17
Now we have a negative theology together with a positive theory of experience. Neither contradicts the other; rather, each represents one and the same theory of knowledge seen from two aspects. The one truth, ungraspable in its absolute being, can present itself to us only in the realm ofotherness; on the other hand, there is no otherness for us that does not in some way point to the unity and participate in it.18 We must renounce any attempt at identifying the two, any thought of resolving the dualism or ofletting the one realm overlap into the other. But it is just this renunciation that gives our knowledge its relative right and its relative truth. In Kantian language, it shows that our knowledge, to be sure, is bounded by insurmountable limits; but that within the domain assigned to knowledge there are no limits placed upon it. (P.24)

It is clear from the above that “scientific language” (logico-mathematics) is the “instrument” that dis-covers “regularities” in life and the world – but these do not “belong to”, are not “properties of”, life and the world; rather, they are “dictated” by the ability of certain “experiences” to be described in and by that “language”. And this “language” is not simply an “inert and impartial tool”; it is much rather the expression of a certain “attitude” toward life and the world. Not only Nicholas of Cusa, but especially his scientific “inventors” like Galileo, Leonardo and then Kepler and Leibnitz understood that what they were “dis-covering” was quite similar to the Platonic anamnesis in that the “laws of nature”, although independent of the mind were nothing other than the extension and application to life and the world of a “harmony” that was already located in the human spirit and was now “re-called” or “re-collected” by human reason (see Cassirer quotation below at [79] re Leonardo and Galileo and Kepler). 

Nevertheless, this turn towards experience could not have been fruitful and could not have led to a true liberation from Scholasticism ifit had not created a new organ. In his Geschichte der neusprachlichen wissenschafilichen Literatur Olschki has masterfully demonstrated that the two tasks are interconnected and that they could only be solved through each other. The liberation from medieval Latin, the gradual construction
and development o f the volgare as an independent scientific form ofexpression was the necessary prerequisite for the free develop- ment ofscientific thought and its methodological ideals. This confirms the truth and depth of Humboldt's basic view, according to which language does not merely follow thought but, rather, is one of the essential moments in its formation. The difference between Scholastic Latin and modem Italian is not merely a 'difference of sounds and of signs'; rather, it expresses a 'difference in views of the world'. Here again, language did not merely serve as the vessel for the new view of the world; rather, it brought that view forth from within itself, letting it be born together with the form and shape ofthe language itself. The technical thought of the Renaissance moved in the same direc- tion as the linguistic.
In this, too, surprising though it may seem, Cusanus led the way. For in his philosophy, a new meaning and a new place are given to the technical spirit, the spirit of the 'inventor'. When Cusanus sets up and defends his basic view ofknowledge, when he explains that all knowledge is nothing but the unfolding and explica- tion ofthe complication that lies within the simple essence ofthe mind, he is referring not only to the basic concepts of logic, of mathematics, and of mathematical natural science, but also to the elements of tech- nical knowledge and technical creation. The mind develops space out ofthe principle ofthe point, which is in the mind; it develops time out of the simple 'now', and number out of unity. In like manner, an ideal 'blueprint' must precede the mind's working upon nature. Every art and every skill is based on such a blueprint. Besides the categories oflogic, the concepts of geometry and arithmetic, music and astronomy, Cusanus cites such technical accomplishments as the lyre of Orpheus and the astrolabe of Ptolemy as evidence of the independence and eternity ofthe mind.22 To be sure, in exercising its own creative power, the mind does not remain within itself but must have recourse to sensible 'matter', which it forms and transforms. But this does not indicate a retreat from the purely intellectual nature and essence o f the mind.
From this we can understand that a strong 'realistic' influence could stem from the Idealism of Cusanus. And we can also understand that the man who revived the Platonic doctrine of anamnesis could become the founder of modem empirical science and the leader of the great 'empiricists'. They also see no contradiction between 'apriorism' and 'empiricism'; because what they seek in experience is necessity-it is reason itself. When Leonardo refers to experience, it is to discover there the eternal and unchangeable order of reason. His true object is not experience itself but the rational principles, the ragioni that are hidden and, so to speak, incorporated in experience. And he emphatically states that nature is full of 'rational principles' that have not yet been part of experience: Ia natura e piena d' infinite ragioni che non Jurono mai in isperienza.24 Galileo follows the same path. Though he considered himselfa champion ofexperience, he nevertheless emphasized that the mind can only create true, necessary knowledge by its own principles (da per se). In view of this attitude on the part of the leading scientific minds, it becomes understandable that while science was freeing itself from Scholasticisn1, it felt no need to sever the bond that joined it both to ancient philosophy itself, and to the efforts at its restoration. In fact, that bond could now be strengthened.

The importance of this “attitude” or “view” cannot be over-emphasised. The earliest and greatest representatives of modern science and technology, as well as the greatest modern exponents of logico-mathematics, had no doubts or qualms about the fact that their “discoveries” were really an “un-covering” of “the truth”, of the laws of nature. The “necessity” of these laws lay for them not principally in the independent phenomena of nature that they sought to rationalize, but rather in the “instrument” that they adopted to describe them! It goes without saying that “science” thereby was interested only (!) in what could be described and encapsulated in mathematical formulae! Put in other words, “science” does not “dis-cover” the world but rather “orders” it in terms of the instrumental needs of the scientist and the inventor – indeed, the scientist as inventor! -, needs that are now ex-pressed through a new instrumental language, that of logico-mathematics, which, as Cassirer superbly reminds us, is “an essential moment” of the development of theories. The earliest scientists and inventors of the bourgeois era came very close to identifying the implicit nihilism of the transcendental attitude: what stopped them from recognizing it was the very “transcendentalism” that they espoused with regard to the supremacy of the human spirit or Reason, of the “divinity” of the Subject as opposed to “the created world of nature”, the Object.

Depending on the direction this analysis takes, it may lead either to a new metaphysic or to an exact science ofnature. The natural philo- sophy of the Renaissance took the first path. It took up the idea that nature is the 'book ofGod', and then transformed it into a host ofnew variations. Campanella built his entire theory of knowledge and his
entire metaphysics upon this foundation. For him, 'to know' means simply to read the divine signs that God has written into nature. Intelligere means nothing but intus Iegere. 'The world is the statue, the living temple, and the codex of God, into which He wrote and designed those infmitely worthy things He carried in his spirit. Blessed is he who reads in this book and learns from it the way things are and who does not invent things according to his own fancy or according to the opinion of others.'16 Here, a new and specific feeling for nature is expressed in an old parable that can be traced through Cusanus to medieval philosophy, to Augustine and Thomas. But it is significant that these sentences occur at the end ofthe work entitled De sensu rerum et magia. The bond that holds together the innermost recesses ofnature and that joins nature to man is still conceived of completely as a magical-mystical bond. Man can only understand nature by inserting his own life into it. The limits of his feeling for life, the barriers to a direct sympatheticfeeling ofnature, are at the same time the limits ofhis
knowledge ofnature.

The opposite form of interpretation is found in that study of nature
that leads from Cusanus through Leonardo to Galileo and Kepler. It is not satisfied with the imagistic and sensible force of the signs in which we read the spiritual structure of the universe; instead, it requires of these signs that they form a system, a thoroughly ordered whole. The sense ofnature must not be mystically felt; it must be understood as a logical sense. And this requirement can only be fulfilled by means of mathematics. Only mathematics establishes unequivocal and necessary standards against the arbitrariness and uncertainty of opinions. For Leonardo mathematics becomes the dividing line between sophistry and science. Whoever blames the supreme certainty of mathematics feeds his mind with confusion. Whoever relies on individual words falls prey to the uncertainty and ambiguity characteristic o f the single word, and fmds himself entangled in endless logomachies.17 Only mathe- matics can give a purpose to these disputes in that it fixes the meanings of words and subjects their connections to defmite rules. Instead of a mere aggregate of words, mathematics gives us a strictly syntactical structure of thoughts and propositions.
Galileo takes this path to its very end. For him, the individual sense
perception, no m4tter how intense or forceful it may be, is a mere 'name'; it neither 'says' anything nor has any objectively definite meaning.18 Such meaning is born only when the human mind relates the content of the perception to the basic forms of knowledge, the archetypes of which are in the mind itsel£ Only through this relation- ship and this interpenetration does the book ofnature become readable and comprehensible. Thus, from Cusanus' basic notion of 'indestruc- tible certitude' (incorruptibilis certitudo), which is proper to none ofthe symbols necessary and possible to the mind except the mathematical signs, we move in a continuous historical line and arrive at those famous fundamental and guiding principles by which Galilee defines the aim and the character ofhis research. And when the revelation of the 'book of nature' is juxtaposed to the revelation of the bible, the process of secularization is completed. There can be no fundamental opposition between them since both represent the same spiritual sense in different forms, i.e., since the unity ofthe divine originator ofnature is manifested in them. But if a disagreement between them should nevertheless seem to arise for us, it can only be settled in one way: we must prefer the revelation in works to that in words; for the word is something ofthe past and oftradition, whereas the work, as something at hand and enduring, stands before us, immediate and present, ready to be questioned.19

This is a point of the greatest importance that can be derived from, but is not made explicit in Heidegger’s Kantbuch, his lamentably much-neglected “sequel” to Being and Time. Indeed, the opposite is the case because Heidegger, as we shall see, remains chained to the “transcendental attitude” that we are de-structing here. In the tradition of the negatives Denken, Heidegger seeks to re-found metaphysics through a punctilious critical review of Kant’s epistemology which, he claims, was always intended as a meta-physics, though an ultimately flawed one. The “flaw” lies precisely in what we are discussing here: - the Kantian pre-requisite of a “separation” (chorismos or “gap”, hiatus) between noumenon and phenomenon between which he coveted a “bridge” (Ubergang) through the “mediation” of per-ception and con-ception by the Understanding or Intellect and its “constitutive” Schematismus that is ultimately “regulated” by Pure Reason. Kant’s “logic” – the Analytic that is founded on the Aesthetic – is so “formal”, so much the product not of experience itself but of Kantian moral formalism, the Sollen, that it invited the recriminations of Schopenhauer. Above all, it inspired the dialectical idealism of Fichte, Schelling and Hegel, in whose direction Nietzsche poured his atrabilious ridicule for what he lampooned as “cunning theology”. Of course, Marxian philosophy sprang from these transcendental, indeed theo-logical, loins - so much so that in Marx the valiant attempt at immanence is always threatened by the teleological tendency of his critique, which is what prompted R H Tawney to immortalize him as “the last of the Schoolmen”.

Now, we agree with Kant that for a sequence of homogeneous concepts or events it is impossible to be described consistently and coherently by individual elements that are dependent on that sequence for their meaning. And we agree with Heidegger that Leibnitz’s Principle of Sufficient Reason is flawed in that the “criterion” of what makes a “reason to be” sufficient needs to be made explicit given that “what is” is only an aspect or “moment” of becoming. But this does not apply to the “materiality” of our perception of life and the world which, whilst it does not com-prehend life and the world, yet at the same time is a part of it without which the very notion of life and the world, of “totality”, would have no meaning whatsoever. The notions of “Totality” and “Truth” can ec-sist as “notions” only because there is no such “thing” or “being” as totality or truth. Hegel’s “dialectic of self-consciousness” seeks to overcome the dualism of Kantian formal logic by introducing an “evolutionary” dimension that is “historical” only as a “moment” in the extrinsication of the Idea. Hegel supersedes Cartesian and Kantian transcendental idealism by “radicalizing” the Subject – in effect by making the Subject objectify itself. This is the Eskamotage to which all post-Hegelians (from Feuerbach to Bruno Bauer to Marx) and the negatives Denken (from Schopenhauer to Heidegger) objected with varying degrees of relevance and success, and then tried to supplant with their own teleologies.  

Our aim here is to overcome the “transcendental attitude” (Merleau-Ponty) by exposing its fallacies and antinomies; and then to pursue a return to immanence. Indeed, the point we are making is that once we understand properly the character and content of our perception of life and the world – its full immanence and materiality -, the very notion of “totality” (Kant’s “Thing in itself”, Schopenhauer’s “qualitas occulta”, Heidegger’s “Totalitat” or Jaspers’s “Um-greifende”) becomes contra-dictory. This is a conclusion that Nietzsche reached originally and that we have styled (partially, because as we have seen there are important corollaries to it) “Nietzsche’s Invariance” – and one that even Merleau-Ponty has articulated with great acumen and indeed…”perceptiveness”.

In a nutshell, philosophy has always perceived that human consciousness is “consciousness of some thing”, and therefore it is only a “partial” perspective on life and the world because it is “only a part of it”. Yet at the same time consciousness attempts to com-prehend the world: to de-fine it, to en-compass it and to encapsulate it – which it cannot do because life and the world are “greater” than consciousness. This “greater” – that without which consciousness cannot aspire to or claim “totality” – can be called the qualitas occulta, the “whatness” or quidditas of the world, its “essence”, its sub-stance (what “stands under” the world), that which subtends the world in its totality. Yet it is precisely this con-ception of “life and the world” as an ob-ject (“that”) that constitutes a “quantity”, a “whole” (“totality”, “part”, “greater”) that is the proton pseudos, the fundamental fallacy of this “Welt-anschauung”, of this “view” or perspective of the world! Starting with Kant, and continuing particularly with Schopenhauer and the negatives Denken, philosophy has renounced the task of com-prehending life and the world understood as a whole, as a “totality”. Utterly mis-conceived and mistaken, therefore, must remain for us Jaspers’s attempt to interpret Nietzsche’s critique in the perspective of “totality”, of the Um-greifende. It is exactly this “totality” as well as the Schopenhauerian “powerless” [ohn-machtig] illusion of “renouncing” it [!] that Nietzsche shatters forever. This “renunciation” or Entsagung represents the attempt by the bourgeoisie to eschew every “totality”, every inter esse or “common being” of humanity, preferring instead to highlight the ineluctable “conflict”, the “strife and struggle”, the Eris that characterizes relations between human beings as in-dividuals – that is, not in their “species-conscious being” or Gattungswesen (Marx) or phylo-genetic shared traits, but rather in their “onto-genetic” idiosyncrasies (Nietzsche). But whereas the bourgeoisie always relegates the construction of a humanized society to the unreachable horizon of utopian dreams, to the empyrean of “the human spirit”, the better to underline the futility of all attempts to overturn the established order of things, Nietzsche pitilessly de-structs precisely this bourgeois U-topia, this “opium of the masses”, this “kingdom of shadows” – this “true world” as well as the “apparent” world because these two worlds have “meaning” only in their op-position! By overcoming their opposition, Nietzsche was able to dispose of both worlds and to enter a wholly new dimension of the human perception of reality. It is thus that Nietzsche overcame both the Hegelian “spiritualization” (Vergeistigung) and the Weberian “dis-enchantment” (Ent-zauberung, Ent-seelung) – which are still products of the transcendental attitude and whose progeny is nihilism itself.

The peculiar praxis of the bourgeoisie resides precisely in this: - that whilst it posits the dualism of idea and reality, of subject and object, of soul and form, so as to interiorize or spiritualise life and the world – to reduce all praxis to Utopia -, at the same time the bourgeoisie renounces and denounces this U-topia (literally, no place) as inter esse, whilst it still traduces, exalts and elevates it as “in-dividuality”, as (private) inter-est for its own purposes, the better to seize on the effectuality of its instrumental praxis by constructing an entire “technico-scientific” reality around it. 

The problem is to show how it is possible for this instrumental praxis to become “scientific”, how this praxis can be “crystallised” (a term that Marx then Nietzsche and Simmel and Weber used) to become an “objective reality” – a reification. Part of the answer is that the bourgeoisie narrows, restricts and reduces the scope and sphere of human action to such an extent that its “science” becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy! Contrary to what both Marx and Lukacs (or Weber with the homologous concept of Rationalisierung) believed, it is quite impossible – indeed, contra-dictory – for reification (or the fetishism of commodities) to be “a necessary illusion” in a “scientific” or mechanistic sense – because what distinguishes “reification” (or Nietzsche’s Verinnerlichung, that is, the “interiorisation” of social values) is precisely its “arbitrariness”, its utter contingency. The “necessity” of the “illusion” consists not in any “scientific” inevitability or logical inexorability, not in any “automatism”, but precisely in its arbitrariness (!), in its ec-sistence as a sheer ex-ercise of naked power, co-ercion and co-action made possible by the very “instrumentality” of the “science” or “the will to truth” that mathesis allows! In other words, it is exactly and precisely the ab-straction from life and the world that mathesis allows that permits the so-called “rationalization of the world”. The “iron necessity” of the “illusion” that reification represents is given by and made possible by the reduction of power relationships, of “violence”, to the status of mere ciphers, of mathesis. 

This is the “truth” (intended as the out-come, the “success” or effectuality [Er-folg], of “the will to truth”) of Nietzsche’s Invariance! Contrary to an almost universal belief, it is precisely (!) the precision of the mathematical exakte Kalkulation(Weber’s phrase) that enables, not the dis-covery of “truth”, but instead the en-forcement, the co-action of violent strategies! The limit of the Weberian Rationalisierung, re-cast in Marxist garb as “reification” by Lukacs, is that it hypostatizes “reification” itself (!) because it presents it either as the outcome of Zweck-rationalitat (Weber) - which, as we have shown in the ‘Weberbuch’, is an im-possible operation if we adopt Weber’s notion of “technical rationality”, the product of a flawed (Simmelian) formalism. Or else it presents it (Marx-Lukacs) as the “quantification” of labour-time – again a task that is either contra-dictory because human labour cannot be quantified; or else it is self-defeating because it admits what it seeks to condemn, - that labour time is “quantifiable” as “socially necessary labour time” and that therefore all that is wrong with reification is the “theft of labour time” as surplus value extraction. In effect, Marx-Lukacs concede the “possibility” of the quantification of human living labour, shifting the emphasis of “exploitation” from the social relation of alienated labour – the violent reduction of human living labour to dead labour - in the process of production to that of “distribution” of the social product. Interestingly, whereas the former notion (of alienated labour) points to a broader political scope of capitalist exploitation, the latter (the moralistic notion of “theft of labour time”) becomes frankly "reductionist" and “scientistic” – in effect “reifying” living labour and the notion of “production” in a “technical-scientistic” sense in terms of “the reproduction of society”, as well as “moralistic” in the sense denounced by Nietzsche. This is exactly what Habermas seeks to expose with his neo-Kantian “meta-critique” of Marx; and yet simultaneously it is the problem he elides and thus con-serves by “spiritualizing” or “idealizing” it through the notion of “reflection”! By op-posing “reflection” as theoretical action to “labour” understood as instrumental action, Habermas regresses to that dualism of Nature and Reason that Merleau-Ponty so elegantly indicts in our opening quotation.