Commentary on Political Economy

Sunday 9 October 2011

THE WILL TO TRUTH: Foundations of Political Economy from Hobbes to Nietzsche

To show our appreciation to our friends who follow this site in growing numbers - perhaps as a token of reverse-appreciation to our "Occupy Wall Street" friends - we present here exclusively the beginning of a chapter in our book on Nietzsche that sets out the philosophical premises of the bourgeois self-understanding of "civil society". We invite our friends to read this text closely and to reflect upon it because in it are the ingredients of bourgeois "individualism" - of that Individualitat that finally formed the basis of Schumpeter's Unternehmergeist (entrepreneurial Spirit). The recent disappearance of Apple CEO Steve Jobs has occasioned a torrent of bourgeois self-congratulatory hagiographies of "the captains of industry" who, so we are told, represent the true "spirit of capitalism". Ironically, of course, it was the very "individual" Steve Jobs - the anointed prophet of the bourgeois spirit - who sought to turn millions of young and not-so-young "consumers" into the mindless zombies that flaunt their brightly-colored iPods and iPhones not because they are "needed" or because they are of any use (!!), but rather because the Apple "marketing" was so efficacious! - Now, we all know that successful "marketing" is the very antithesis of that mythical "Individuality" that Steve Jobs presumably epitomised! The real irony, however, is that it is the very obliteration of "Individualitat" in the social needs that "marketing" exposes that is the profoundest reason why capitalism can no longer satisfy our interdependent needs! Please read on and enjoy!

The Hobbesian social contract is founded on the apprehension of imminent and violent death at the hands of other human aggressors in the state of nature in which “man is a wolf to man” (homo homini lupus) and in which reigns the total civil war of all against all (bellum omnium contra omnes, bellum civium). But wherein lies, upon what rests, the “rationality” of this “decision” to reach, to con-vene on, a social com-pact and erect a “Common-wealth”? Surely if this decision is “rational” in the state of nature, then the state of nature could never exist “historically” because human beings would have agreed to a “Common-wealth” or status civilis from time immemorial? There is a sense in which Hobbes’s State is not a “state by institution”, then, but a “state by acquisition” – acquired from the beginning of human history. But the “rationality” of human beings remains yet to be established – and Leibniz formulated it some years after the publication of Hobbes’s Leviathan with “the principle of sufficient reason”.

Thus, Hobbes invokes the appetitus for life, for existence, and its rational fear of death – and not just its “violent apprehension” – as the motivations that allow human beings to escape the state of nature so as to enter the civil state, the Economic bourgeois society protected and preserved by the Political state. Easily superseding the fallacious jusnaturalist theories of liberal society that flourished from Locke to Mill, Hobbes’s schema constitutes the most potent combination of free convention and necessary hypothesis. (Cf. Koselleck.) The subiectum of the Hobbesian construction, its foundation or ground (Grund), and therefore what determines the transition from the state of nature to that of civil society under the Sovereign State, is the rationality of preserving existence. Hegel will follow in Hobbes’s and Leibniz’s steps in erecting his own theory of the origins of society and the State, though basing himself this time on the dialectic of self-consciousness, the mediation of Self and Other through the Ob-ject whereby “labour” becomes the material carrier of human emancipation.

Both Hobbes and Hegel seek to identify the “corpus”, the hypokeimenon, the sub-iectum, the rock bottom of human and social reality. For both, human and social motivations and institutions are subject-matters (sub-iecta) over which human beings claim to have “in-sight” by virtue of the “fact” that “we originate” or “initiate” them. Therefore, the “subject” of this “initium” (beginning) must be able “to know” the “subject-matter”, the sub-iectum, of human reality for the simple reason that the “initiator” or “author” of the “action” is also able to cogitate (co-agitare, co-act) on the “motive” of its ex-ertion or execution. It is thus that human beings can imagine that “consciousness” or “thinking” (cogitare) is by itself proof not merely of existence, but also of the existence of an “agency”, an Ego or Ich-heit, of the “entity” that thinks. The entity that thinks is “conscious” of itself, and therefore acquires an “id-entity”, an Ego. Thus, all reality is finally sub-ordinated to the logos, the ratio of the Subject, the Ego, the Ich-heit: that is to say, the “unity” of appetitus and perceptio is posited as the only possibility of being (Leibniz). To ec-sist, to be real, a “being” must be perfect. But to be perfect, a “being” must also be a “unity”, a “monad”, not a composite, for that would beg the question of how “being” could be “many”. Therefore, as Leibniz puts it, “only ‘a being’ can be ‘a being’”! Being is unity; unity is simplicity; simplicity is the seal of truth. Simplex sigillum veri.

Whatever exists, ec-sists because it strives “to come out”, it strives to be. Ec-sistence is the ultimate reason for what is, because what is has greater reason to be than what does not exist at all: This, in a nutshell, is the principle of sufficient reason. Already with Hobbes, the “being” of each in-dividual is measured by his Power, the power of self-preservation. And this Power is dependent on the individual ability “to command” other individuals, other Bodies and their Powers. This “command” depends in turn on the ability of an individual to force other individuals to ex-ercise (ex-ertion, from Greek ergos, work) their “labour-power” so as to maintain themselves in existence, to preserve themselves and survive. And this “command” over the “labour-power” of other individuals can be obtained with one’s own labour-power as well as with one’s “possessions” so long as these can provide the means of sustenance needed by other individuals. Beyond the “free will” of each in-dividual, therefore, the Hobbesian schema decrees axiomatically the “mechanical and physical necessity” – the Power – of individuals to exercise control over the labour-power of other individuals through the control of “possessions” that can ensure their survival. Thus, ownership of the means of production determines the command of dead objectified labour (possessions) over living labour considered as a “mechanical quantity”, as work, as labour-power. It is the “separation” of living labour from the means of production that allows this “quantification” of living labour, and therefore of the human experience of “time”.

At the dawn of the rule of the bourgeoisie, at the very beginning of capitalist industry, Hobbes had hoped to formalize its rule “scientifically” through the combination of the “con-vention” of free wills to erect the Political, on one side, and the “hypothesis” of the necessity of their survival from the state of nature into the “equal exchange” of labour-powers and possessions between in-dividuals in the new civil state or Common-wealth, the Economy, on the other. These were the philosophical foundations that allowed the homologation of the free convention of the social contract “instituting” the Political with the scientific hypothesis based on the necessity of individual survival and reproduction in the “acquisition” of an “automatic”, self-regulating market Economy. Hence, Political Economy, the dismal science: “dismal” because still founded on the value-positing “free will” of in-dividuals, and “science” because it derives its “laws” from what it understands to be the “necessity” of the state of nature.

Hobbes and Hegel invoke the apprehension of death to rationalize and explain the exit of individuals from the state of civil war into that of bourgeois civil society (the Economic) and the State (the Political). But whereas Hobbes simplistically assumes an axiomatic, almost Euclidean, “mechanicism” about the homologation of individual self-interest or Power and their social synthesis or mediation in the new Common-wealth, Hegel understands that no such mechanical equivalence is possible and that the social syn-thesis must allow for the satisfaction of “human needs” - material through “labour” and symbolic through “interaction”. Nietzsche instead denounces this “social syn-thesis” for what it is - mere con-vention; he opposes it for its con-venience, for its being an “arbitrary substitution” that transforms the real world of the state of nature into an anthropomorphic fable of symbolic exchange, into a metaphor of language, science and numbers – into the artificial categories of “truth” and “lie”. Hobbes and Hegel and even Schopenhauer assume that the human beings that con-stitute civil society are virtually and essentially the same as those who now live in it – that the transition from the state of nature to civil society does not essentially trans-form the character, psychological if not physical, of individual human beings to the extent that the categories themselves that we employ to con-ceptualise the state of nature may be the pro-duct of civil society and therefore be in-applicable to that state!

And it is this “transition”, as we saw earlier, that will interest Nietzsche in his mature work. Yet even as early as 1873 when he dictated the short notes on Uber Wahrheit und Luge, Nietzsche is already questioning whether the “categories”, the “concepts” that we utilize to com-prehend civil society and the state of nature that preceded it are not fundamentally dis-torted by our very belonging to this civil society. In other words, it is inappropriate to analyse the transition from state of nature to civil society by applying to both “states” the perspective of civil society! It is essential first to subject the perspective of liberal civil society, the categories of bourgeois civil society themselves, to a thorough critique so that we do not let them unduly “colour” our interpretation and analysis of the “transition”.

No comments:

Post a Comment