Commentary on Political Economy

Wednesday 30 November 2011

Durkheim, Smith, Weber - On Social Labor

[The English translation of Emile Durkheim’s, the great French sociologist, work La Division du Travail Social is almost universally rendered as “The Social Division of Labor”. The obvious mis-translation illustrates brilliantly and perfectly the gross misconception that gives rise to it: Durkheim was speaking of the division of social labour – certainly not of the “social division of labour”! For there can clearly be no “labour” as an entity that is abstracted from the ineluctable “sociality” of human beings. Our living activity, our very “being” from eating to dreaming to speaking and therefore also working, is simply unimaginable independently of our belonging to our species. Just as Leibniz could enjoin that “a being must be a being” – that, in other words, it is impossible to conceive of “being” except as a “unity” – so we may say that “human beings” (individual physical human bodies) are really and truly aspects of “being human”. In other words, it is utterly impossible to conceive human beings as separate atomic individuals whose lives and activities can be described independently of their “humanity”, of their “being human”. And this applies a fortiori to our living activity as living labour.

To speak of “labour” abstractly is to believe that there is a “quantity”, a material and spatial and homogeneous entity that can be “measured” according to, say, time or productivity or definite tasks. But what we know for certain about human activity is that its act of objectification, however much it may be “conditioned” by our natural environment, is categorically different from its pro-duct!

It is absolutely impossible therefore to describe human living activity in terms of “individual labour” – there is simply no such “thing”! Living labour is an activity that cannot be “measured” and that therefore cannot be “divided”: there can be no such thing as “the division of labour”! What is possible, however, is for human beings as “being human” to divide the totality of their social labour into different but interdependent tasks. Social labour then is a “totality” that belongs to the human species (leaving out for a moment its impact on the environment) and that is by that very fact only divisible in a “political” sense – never “scientifically” or “mathematically” or “rationally” or “systematically”! Only “politically”! And the question then becomes what kind of political decision-making is in place so as “to organize social labour” – again, not “labour” (!), but “social labour”.

Similarly, Adam Smith, in chapter two of ‘The Wealth of Nations’, argues that it is the human “natural tendency to truck, barter and trade” – to exchange – that engenders “specialization” or “the division of labour”. But as we can infer from our analysis, Smith has inverted the historical sequence! It is the necessity for “being human” to divide social labor – the only kind of “labor” possible to us – that makes “exchange” between human beings at all possible. And it is the “generalization of exchange” as a specific form of political-social relations that can lead to the fiction of “measurable individual labors” remunerable with individual money-wages. As a result of this violently-imposed fiction, the imprescindible unity of social labor, as against its aggregation in “individual labors”, comes to appear not as the property of living labor, but rather as the property “of the machine” (!), of “capital”, of “the means of production” – as the “congealed spirit” of Weber’s “lifeless machine”!

Durkheim, incidentally, distinguished between the “mechanical solidarity” of early social groups and the “organic solidarity” of advanced human societies. But when Max Weber considers “modern capitalism” (the phrase is Werner Sombart’s, though Weber borrows it), he speaks invariably of its “mechanical foundations” – indicating metaphorically the complex “machinery” of what he calls “the capitalist organization of labour”. Given his “spiritualist” bent, Weber considers that capitalist society is less “organic” than earlier human groupings. Yet here again we must side with Durkheim: what makes advanced industrial capitalist societies “organic” is the fact that despite the imposing and ubiquitous “machinery”, the interdependence of human beings has now reached such a stage that it has become truly “organic”, rather than “mechanical”. Even in a “metaphorical” sense, heavy industry is becoming a smaller component of capitalist industry, leaving greater space for services and, above all, “information”. The “viruses” that we attribute to computer systems are becoming ever more “organically” real with each passing day!]

Tuesday 29 November 2011

Hannah Arendt and 'The Bonds of Necessity'

In this sense, affluence and wretchedness are only two sides of the same coin; the bonds of necessity need not be of iron, they can be made of silk. Freedom and luxury have always been thought to be incompatible, and the modern estimate that tends to blame the insistence of the Founding Fathers on frugality and 'simplicity of manners' (Jefferson) upon a Puritan contempt for the delights of the world much rather testifies to an inability to understand freedom than to a freedom from prejudice. (H. Arendt, On Revolution, ch.3, p.193)



[I]t is beyond doubt [62] that the young Marx became convinced that the reason why the French Revolution had failed to found freedom was that it had failed to solve the social question. From this he concluded that freedom and poverty were incompatible. His most explosive and indeed most original contribution to the cause of revolution was that he interpreted the compelling needs of mass poverty in political terms as an uprising, not for the sake of bread or wealth, but for the sake of freedom as well. What he learned from the French Revolution was that poverty can be a political force of the first order. (ch.2, pp.61-2)

The subject-matter of the Economics – its subjectum, its substratum, its nervus rerum – is the “system of needs and wants”, it is the sphere of “necessity”, of “pro-duction” that “gravitates” ultimately around “reproduction”. Whether “labor” is seen as the source of “value” or whether value is seen as arising from the “saving” of “labor”, the fundamental reality remains that “labor” is at the heart of “the social question”. That “freedom and poverty” may be incompatible is a problem or “social question” that may be resolved simply by eliminating poverty: but if “freedom and luxury” also are incompatible, as Arendt suggests, then humanity has an even greater problem – and freedom has found an insurmountable barrier!

What Arendt means here, if one subtracts the silly wordiness, is that “the pursuit of luxury” or “private happiness”, may tend to shrink the social, “public” space or universe of human beings so as to render them a-political – with the consequent neglect of the forms of political activity that “freedom” must stand for, in opposition to “passive” liberties. To be “free” is for Arendt to engage actively in the political life of one’s community. To be “at liberty” to do something, instead, is to be the passive beneficiary of a right or benefit “conceded” to oneself by the powers that be. In this sense, one may say that “freedom” and “the pursuit of luxury” may well be at odds, but not be necessarily “incompatible”!

With Classics and Neoclassics, the sphere of “happiness” or “utility” is always “private” because “labor” can be “divided” so the whole point of the “sociality” of social labor is lost. The private sphere is what must be protected from the State – the escape from the state of nature and its necessity. “Freedom” is confused with “liberty”. There is no notion of “public happiness” because “happiness” or “utility” or “pleasure” is limited to the oikos – the household (Alberti in Della Famiglia, to Franklin).

Arendt rebukes Weber (implicitly) because the latter assumes that the “frugality” of the Founding Fathers was purely Puritanical – when in fact it could have been the “opposite” of retreat from the world, of “renunciation”: it could have been due to a greater concern for “public happiness” and therefore “freedom” than for “private happiness” and therefore “luxury”. This again would contrast with Weber’s interpretation of the spirit of capitalism. Here the “citizen” would prevail over the “bourgeois”. We note that in Weber this “antithesis” does not even begin to exist.

At the same time, Arendt is chastising Marx for equating “freedom from poverty” with “freedom” itself. So the mere fact that people are de-livered from poverty and lifted into luxury does not mean that “freedom” will be instored. Here Arendt is divorcing “wealth” or “value” – economic action – from political institutions: - which is something that neither Marx nor Weber seem able to do because they tie “the most basic needs”, including that for “freedom”, to “the care for material or external goods”, and thereby “reduce” the notion of “freedom” to that of a “material or external good”.

This helps explain why in Weber there is concern for parliamentary democracy only to the extent that it is “functional” to “the rational organisation of labor” and ultimately to “the iron cage”. Both the ascetic ideal and the iron cage are “irrational”. Weber sees the “freedom” of “labor” only as “autonomous market demand” and not in broader “political” terms. This is Arendt’s reproach to Weber. But she forgets, as Marx would pointedly remind her, that her own high-brow conception of “freedom” does not deal integrally, let alone fairly, with what is the most important aspect of human existence under capitalism: - wage labor, which Weber confuses with human living labor.

There can be precious little “freedom” if one is under the yoke of “the rational organisation of ‘free’ labor under the regular discipline of the factory”, as Weber defines “capitalism”. Arendt succeeds only in demonstrating her “poverty of philosophy” by mistaking Marx with Proudhon, the bathetic author of “The Philosophy of Poverty”! That poverty and freedom are two different concepts is blatantly evident. But that Marx ever made the mistake of confusing deliverance from poverty with freedom when in fact he was stating merely that “freedom” offers very little solace to those who are poor, is an accusation unworthy of Arendt’s otherwise admirable intellect.

The crucial difference between Marx and Proudhon is that Marx did not waste time “philosophising” about poverty, preferring instead to find out the social “causes” behind its indisputable existence in capitalism. And the difference between Marx and Weber is that, having found out that capitalism reduces “living labor” to “labor power” – that is, in Weber’s own words, to “the rational organisation of (formally) ‘free’ labor under the regular discipline of the factory” -, Marx could see that the social power of the bourgeoisie consists precisely in this violent “reduction” of human living labor to mere “labor power”. Weber’s phrase “free labor” is not an oxymoron because his “labor” is an entity that can be either “free” or “not free” because he wrongly identifies all human activity with “labor power”. For Marx, instead, it is impossible for “living labor” to be anything but “free”: it is only under the violent command of the capitalist that living labor is turned into “labor power”.

The problem is then to understand what relationship there is between “freedom” and “labor” in Weber’s work. If Weber is concerned about “profit” or “capitalistic economic action”, it is because it is this that “provides” rationally for those “freely expressed” wants and needs of workers that can be provided for most efficiently by “the rational organisation of labor (meaning, “labor power”) under the regular (capitalist) discipline of the factory”.

There is a sense in which the Neoclassical notion of “equilibrium” has to do with the “necessity” of “scarcity” of “provisions” in proportion to endless “wants”. Both Schopenhauer and Robbins understand the Will and “wants”, respectively, as “insatiable”. But whereas Schopenhauer sees this as a motive “to renounce” the world of wants, Robbins takes it more realistically as the “budget constraint” of Neoclassical Theory as “the science of choice” – what makes “choice” subject to “scientific and rational” treatment.

But in order to escape from the “gravitational orbit” of “equilibrium” the “freedom” of the entrepreneur is needed. Indeed, the entire point to Neoclassical value theory is precisely the ability of the capitalist-entrepreneur “to free” himself from “immediate consumption” by “deferring” it and thereby “substituting” it with “labor-saving tools”. It is not the “renunciation” of Schopenhauer whose society is entirely “eristic” and the State can only keep individuals from descending back into the bellum civium. For Neoclassical theory the State can reward the productivity of labor by protecting the “deferral of consumption” of the capitalist entrepreneur.

For Schumpeter this “deferral” is not sufficient because it belongs to the “Statik”: value and profits can arise only from the “creativity” of the entrepreneur who “elevates” and therefore “frees” himself from the gravitational pull of the “static” and reaches the heights of “innovation” by distinguishing his “individuality-personality” (Unternehmer-personalitat) from that of the “mass”. The State must therefore do more than just protect property rights: it must also protect intellectual property from the “rentier” capitalists (finance). Not “labor” but “enterprise” is the gateway to “freedom” and “profit” as against “interest” and “rent”.

With Classical theory, instead, the capitalist appears “redundant” from the start, because “labor” is the source of value. Even Marx’s version preserves this “socially necessary labor time” and the “reproduction of society”. – Whence comes the “surplus value” that capitalists exploit from workers.

But Marx introduces the “use value” of living labor. - So here the sphere of “necessity” is labor-power and that of potential “freedom” is “living labor” (Grundrisse).

Friday 25 November 2011

Structuralist Neo-Nietzscheans - Pre, Post, and Pre-Posterous

C. Structuralist Neo-Nietzscheans - Pre, Post, and Pre-Posterous

“A fetishism! Consciousness and its cultural creations are fetishistic!” the postmodernists cry out: “Here is Nietzsche’s equivalent of Marx’s and Hegel’s ‘false consciousness’, the ‘royaume des ombres’ – in the double sense of ‘idolatrous’ (kingdom) and ‘mystifying’ (shadows) like the Hades of Antiquity.” But they are sorely mistaken, as we have shown! Hegel and Marx insisted on the innate, phylogenetic human ability for “reflection”, for self-consciousness, of which “false consciousness” was only a historical product in the course of human interaction with the World (including other human beings), - a dis-tortion and per-version, an alienation of the “inter-esse” of being human. Nietzsche by contrast reduces “consciousness” to a historically specific human praxis (from religion to metaphysics to “science”), as a “communal and  gregarious utility”, therefore as an “instrumentality” and ultimately - through language, logic and science - as expression of the Will to Power, the “rationalization of the world” - thus relegating this most intrinsically human, all too human of faculties in all its manifestations to the status of  “the perspective of the herd”, of Ohn-Macht, of “power-lessness”. - But not “inauthenticity” (as Heidegger [man, Un-eigentlichkeit] and Sartre [mauvaise foi] will do later). Recall, in this regard, Sartre’s inability to maintain his promise to define “authenticity” just as Heidegger could describe it in extremis only as “being-before-death” (cf. Negri’s critique in Spinoza essays), precisely because of the “impossibility” of these ontologies to understand human reality as anything other than “condition humaine” (see Lowith’s ‘Heidegger’)!  By contrast, as Cacciari notes with superb critical acumen and as we will discuss soon, Nietzsche’s and Weber’s concept of Rationalisierung is light years more advanced in its “political” application and alertness to the antagonistic reality and needs of capitalist society (Cacciari, ‘PNeR’, p.72).

For the philosopher from Rocken, as we shall see in great detail, whilst science remains inevitably a narrow corner of human experience, it remains a “practice” that can take many forms and directions once we “be-aware” of its possible “uses” and “deep sources” and also of its purely “instrumental” relation with the “tools” of logico-mathematics and remember to keep these separate from all velleities of “mathesis universalis”. Again, there is no “Zerstorung der Vernunft” precisely because - therefore (!) - there is no “salvation” from Rationalisierung and Entseelung, as every “idealistic” Vergeistigung like Lukacs’s Hegelian Marxism or, the other face of the coin, post-modernist readings of Nietzsche, wish to reassure us. The former pounds Nietzsche with the idealist bludgeon of “Reason”, and the latter sanctify him with the equally stultified late-romantic “Grand Refusal” of “subjective liberation from (instrumental or technological) Reason” (a “straw man” for Nietzsche if ever he imagined one!) – what Cacciari (‘K’, p.66) rightfully mocks as “tardo-romantiche, geniali ‘creativita’”.

This Marcusean link between Foucault first and then, as a “radicalization” of his approach, people like Deleuze, is sharply drawn by JG Merquior in his delightful “stroncatura” [Umberto Eco’s word for critical “truncation”] of Foucault’s inveterate charlatanry in an erudite work titled ‘Foucault’ (at pp.100-101). But Merquior fails to distinguish, as we are vigourously attempting to do here, between Nietzsche’s own uncompromising “eristic” denial of anything resembling a “common humanity” or of ludicrous notions such as “the irreducible variety of human nature” - let alone Marx’s species-conscious being! - and the absurd post-structuralist parody of his work in just such an “emancipatory” light.

(As with Deleuze, we shall not trouble with Giorgio Agamben’s delirious nonsense either. Utterly ludicrous is his maladroit and “gauche” [even before it is “gauchiste”!] attempt at the critique of capitalism in his ‘What Is An Apparatus?’’ which takes up Foucault’s original confabulatory notion of “dispositif”. One cannot but laugh at the pathetic manner in which all these “philosophes” seek to depict themselves as opponents of capitalism without having even the slightest clue as to what “capitalism” actually “is”! One can only imagine the loud laughter bellowing out of Westminster and Whitehall or Montecitorio and Palazzo Chigi by the representatives of the European bourgeoisie if indeed the insurgent forces in Europe had only the ideas of people such as these with which to oppose the capitalist Leviathan! By contrast, Antonio Negri’s own peccadillos [with the lamentable Michael Hardt] in this regard need quite deservedly to be excused in light of the vital political support he received from the Parisian neo-Nietzschean and Althusserian academic circles in his terrifyng fight to avoid a lifetime jail sentence in Italy – something to which I was witness in a Paris encounter with Negri in July 1988. Negri’s own independent efforts before his exile and, after his return to Italy, his studies on Spinoza, deserve far greater credit and will be reviewed in our study on Marx’s ‘Grundrisse’.)

Merquior is right to point out that paradoxically the very post-structuralist “de-construction” of the Subject (mirroring and extending the earlier structuralist ob-literation of it in reified “structures” or “semiology”) ends up re-introducing all the nauseous nonsense about “the liberation of man” and the absurd dilution of “power” to a meaningless ubi-quity (“power under the table”, I once dubbed it, but see Merquior’s devastating critique of Foucault’s vapid vapourisation of the concept in Ch.8 of his study). Justly poking as much fun as he can at these laughable notions, Merquior, quoting Hayden White, speaks of “the subjectification of objectification”!

“Alienating history, therefore, works as a full prop of the Foucauldian purpose: the critical grasp of modernity as a mode of existence. [Hayden] White puts Foucault in a structuralist wing which he labels ‘dispersive’ because it glories in the ‘mystery’ of the ‘irreducible variety of human nature’. Instead of integrating differences into a common humanitas, ‘dispersive’ structuralists rejoice in cultural heterogeneity, in the social dispersal and differentiation of man,” (p.72).

It is precisely such a generic (necessarily and paradoxically “humanistic” – whence “the subjectification of objectification”) notion of “man” that Nietzsche would have condemned fiercely! Just how little Foucault understood Nietzsche – and how much he distorted his philosophy – can be discerned from one of his early essays (1964, a contribution to the well-known Cahier de Royaumont on Nietzsche) encyclopaedically titled ‘Nietzsche, Freud, Marx’ (surely an allusion to the Master, Henri Lefebvre’s ‘Hegel-Marx-Nietzsche’?) in which, writes Merquior,

“Foucault attributes to the trio a position which in fact belongs eminently to Nietzsche. The position consists in holding that every interpretandum is already an interpretation. The death of interpretation, says Foucault, is the belief that there are signs of something, that is to say, some hidden essence waiting for us at the end of our interpretive journeys; ‘the life of interpretation is, on the contrary, to believe that there are only interpretations,” (p.74).

Yet we know very well from our present study – and again it is a distinction that Merquior fails to draw - that even Nietzsche (let alone Marx, in whose regard Foucault’s comments are simply laughable) does believe that there are “signs”, and “symptoms” and “symbols” aplenty that can be “interpreted” pragmatically in history! Nietzsche, to say it once more, was far too penetrating and serious a thinker not to see that “elephants all the way down” (Lukacs’s derisive reference in ‘GuK’ to “the critical mind” that when told how “the earth rests on the back of an elephant” queries on what the elephant rests and is satisfied with the answer that the elephant stands on the back of another elephant!) is nothing on which to build a philosophy, let alone a life, as he did! True it is, as Merquior cites Foucault, that for Nietzsche “interpretation has become an infinite task”: – but this must be read in the context of “the Eternal Return” and its precise ontological context in which “interpretations” belong in the “intra-temporal” and “intra-mundane” (or “ontic”) sphere of life and the world which is, in turn, en-compassed by Nietzsche’s entirely original vision of the Will to Power as the new Weltprincip: “It is our needs that interpret the world; our instincts and their impulses for and against,” (Aph.481, ‘Will To Power’).

“Needs” inter-pret the world, that is, stand between us and the world – certainly not “values” or “interpretations”! This is the vice of all neo-Nietzschean readings of Nietzsche – that they ignore completely the “physiology” of his ontology, the “materiality” of his Entwurf, and therefore the “pragmatism” of his “Semeiotik” or “Symptomatologie” (remember that CS Peirce, one of the founders of “semeiotics”, was also a “pragmatist”). Alain Badiou is yet another paragon of this appalling mis-interpretation (see his L’ Anti-philosophie de Nietzsche):

Il faut donc l’entendre au sens fort: lorsque Nietzsche dit «ce qui a besoin d’être prouvé ne vaut pas grand-chose », c’est un jugement essentiel, parce que, bien entendu, le valoir, l’évaluation est justement l’opération clé chez Nietzsche, car … la philosophie nietzschéenne est fondamentalement une philosophie de l’évaluation, de la transvaluation et, en tant que ses 2 opérations sont les 2 opérations clé de cette pensée, elle s’adresse à ce qui vaut de manière essentielle ou elle interroge tout ce qui est en tant qu’il vaut,” (pp4-5).

But Badiou clearly contradicts himself in mid-sentence! Because if “Nietzsche’s philosophy addresses all that has essential value or it interrogates whatever is to the extent that it has value”, then it is as clear as daylight that Nietzsche’s philosophy goes well beyond “values” because “it addresses… essential value” and “it interrogates whatever is” – which is to say that it is far more than “a philosophy of evaluation”, a mere “critique of values”, but aims instead at an ontological yet pragmatic de-finition of life and the world by way of a “trans-valuation of all values”!

When finally Badiou confronts the question of Da-sein (“il y a”), he acknowledges that this “being there” is “inevaluable” (ineffable), and that all attempts to name it, to assign a “value” to being, amount to assertions of power (the infamous Foucauldian “enonce’”). Charlatanry of this magnitude never ceases to amaze and stupefy, nor should it! The entire “problem” of course, is precisely not to “value” the “inevaluable” or to name the “ineffable” – just as one should not try to stop the unstoppable force! -, but to delineate pragmatically the manifestations and forms of being, of life and the world, so that philosophy may suggest a way of life! Contrasted to Badiou’s and Deleuze’s cretinously delirious sophistry, Nietzsche’s “ontogeny of thought” is a paradigm of incisive sociological acumen that these pathetic epigones can only dimly perceive, let alone comprehend!

(Just to exemplify the bizarre stupidity of Badiou, he pretends to show that Nietzsche was not a “counter-revolutionary” by arguing that he chastised past revolutionaries only because “they were failed revolutionaries”! [See the section on “l’interpretation heidegerienne”.] Mystifyingly, Badiou, hoping perhaps for the next succes de scandale, devotes nearly his entire study to a serious analysis of Nietzsche’s writings, letters and notes dated 1888, a year when sadly the philosopher of Rocken had already succumbed to mental illness! Faced with such nonsense, one begins to understand why French philosophes cut so miserable a figure vis-a-vis the majesty of their German counterparts. Badiou’s discussion of the motley collection on Nietzsche that goes under the title of Cahier de Royaumont [under the title “acte et nihilisme”, see also reference above to Foucault’s contribution discussed by Merquior, which Badiou also treats next under the title “Nietzsche par Foucault”], and particularly the absurd praise he heaps on Deleuze’s utterly insensate concluding remarks [which he quotes at length!] must rank among the most bathetic exercises in sycophancy in the history of philosophy!)   

Again, returning to Merquior, he cunningly cites Max Weber’s allusion to Nietzsche, “history enjoys eternal youth”, explaining that “it amounts to a permanent creation, knowing neither causal law nor final goal” (p.72). As a “negative” description of Nietzsche’s vision of history and time, this is in perfect harmony with our interpretation. But it leaves out the most important part – the “positive” part (in ontological terms) about the role of the Wille zur Macht and (in terms of social analysis) its “embodiment” (or Entseelung) as Rationalisierung in the “Entwicklung” of life and the world, in the Eternal Return which is, as we expounded earlier, neither a “cosmological” (exact) nor a “historical” (cyclical) re-currence of historical events.

Merquior is entirely right to warn that with Nietzsche “truth is overpowered by wanton will – and history as a former knowledge becomes just a free-for-all for warring perspectives,” (p.74). Yet, and this may be taken to be the entire rationale of our work, such “humanistic” protestations, however “admirable” and “principled”, are easily countered and dismissed as sheer Wille zur Ohnmacht not just “theoretically” by Nietzsche or even by us, but worse still by the very crushing “reality” of the historical record itself (one may wish to recall here James Joyce’s devastating vision of history in Ulysses as “a nightmare from which I am yet to awake”), and worst of all by present forces, still horrifyingly active and real (those that instill “the worst fear that can ever be hurled, […] threatening my baby, unborn and unnamed”, Bob Dylan in Masters of War) and for whom Nietzsche’s philosophy is a veritable “operation manual” on how to rule the world! Much more than humanistic shibboleths are needed to counter Nietzsche’s challenge – for in Nietzsche the negatives Denken finds that unity of theory and practice that Marx may be said to have sketched for the party of human emancipation and that Gramsci called “the philosophy of praxis”.

Squarely on this point, one where Merquior again hits the mark, is his derisively contemptuous and sardonic “stroncatura” of the Foucauldian well-nigh meaningless concept of “discourse” (and “statement”, enonce’) and its “neo-Nietzschean” per-version of Nietzsche’s valiant and astonishingly insightful description of “the Will to Truth”:

“In no time the leader of the growing legion of neo-Nietzscheans would salute in Foucault ‘the conquistador of this terra incognita where a literary form, a scientific proposition, a daily sentence, a schizophrenic nonsense, etc. are equally statements, despite their lack of a common measure. As Deleuze explains in the same breath, the flaw in Bachelard is that he still insisted on separating science from poetry. Nobody runs such a risk with neo-Nietzscheans,” [!] (pp.83-4).

(One is reminded here of Althusser’s analogous literally extravagant claim that Marx had discovered “a new continent of knowledge” – which he proceeded to substantiate [one should say, “excoriate”!] with the most appalling “structuralist” charlatanry [cf. his ‘Reading Capital].)

We can only characterize as “inqualifiable” Deleuze’s insistence in Nietzsche et la Philosophie that Nietzsche’s philosophy is not about “struggle” – supported (would you believe?) by a solitary allusion to the German philosopher’s saying that he was “much too well-bred to struggle”! To prove that we are not making this up and to illustrate Deleuze’s “temerary” imbecility, we can do no more than quote him in full:

“One cannot overemphasise the extent to which the notions of struggle, war, rivalry or even comparison are foreign to Nietzsche and to his conception of the will to power, (p.82, Deleuze’s emphasis!)

In his stultified attempt to shield Nietzsche from the consequences of his eristic philosophy, Deleuze’s “beautiful soul” conveniently forgets (something that Nietzsche would view with contempt) that struggle, strife and conflict are the very essence of the negatives Denken (from Schopenhauer onwards) and of Nietzsche’s “ontogeny of thought”, that in Nietzsche’s unforgettable words (already quoted earlier, but re-proposed here to dismiss Deleuze’s charlatanry once and for all): -

259…[L]ife itself is essentially appropriation, injury, conquest of the strange and weak, suppression, severity, obtrusion of peculiar forms, incorporation, and at the least, putting it mildest, exploitation [Ausbeutung]; -- but why should one for ever use precisely these words on which for ages a disparaging purpose has been stamped? Even the organisation within which, as was previously supposed, the individuals treat each other as equal--it takes place in every healthy aristocracy -- must itself, if it be a living and not a dying organisation, do all that towards other bodies, which the individuals within it refrain from doing to each other: it will have to be the incarnated Will to Power, it will endeavour to grow, to gain ground, attract to itself and acquire ascendancy - not owing to any morality or immorality, but because it lives, and because life is precisely Will to Power. (BGE)

We refuse adamantly to fathom the oceanic depths of execrable stupidity that Deleuze’s work has “inspired” in his acolytes and epigones (from Nancy to Agamben to Hardt).

As this study is hopefully making clear, and will do so more emphatically and precisely in the pages that follow, for Nietzsche “the rationalization of the world”, its dis-enchantment and de-spiritualisation are an ineluctable “destiny” within the “logic of the Wille zur Macht” (see Part Two) dictated by the “need-necessity” of the “ontology of thought” that we have traced out. Far from crudely denying the scientific process as an illusory figment or imaginary fabrication or a mere “discourse” or “statement”, we will show how Nietzsche identified the frightful “effectiveness” of mathesis as an instrument of the Will to Power. Nietzsche draws no distinction between “consciousness” as an inevitable aspect of “socialization”, as a “distancing” of thinking from “the body”, from the “instincts” as a consequence of social interaction – inevitable because of “need-necessity” -, and, at the same time, the “Cultur” (the mirror-imaging) to which this “socialization” gives rise and that provides the fertile soil on which the “bad conscience” of ressentiment and the nihilistic-rationalistic Entseelung will flourish. But this latter development still leaves room “effectively” for “resolve” (Gewissen) which is the Will exercising its Power in the “distance of Pathos” whereby the “instincts” manifest their affirmation of their “freedom”, intended as domination and overpowering and “overcoming”.

Thus, consciousness (whence Schopenhauer’s con-scientia and sym-pathy are derived) must be distinguished from resolve (Gewissen - Nietzsche’s “distance of Pathos” or “competence to promise”) not as states of “false consciousness” and “authenticity”, respectively, as all the romantic idealists from Lukacs to Foucault would have them. Although ideally, so to speak, Nietzsche hankered for that “forgetful” and “blame-less” state of the herd in the fields, for the “mimesis” with “nature” (“naturalism of morality”) where the Will to Power still presides and rules but without the “reflective distancing”, the “mirroring”, the “out-of-body” experience of consciousness, - he never lost sight of the “reality of the Rationalisierung” – of its “effectiveness”! – as the imposition of the Will to Power. In Heidegger’s languorous words (Nietzsche, Vol 2 p.148), “at the end of Nietzsche’s metaphysics stands the statement: ‘Homo est brutum bestiale’”.

It is this resolve (or conscience) that makes possible the terrifying state of mind of the Wanderer (to be discussed later in Part Two). And in this lies the fundamental importance of “tragedy” for Nietzsche, namely, in the fact that this consciousness and this Cultur with its Rationalisierung disguised first, in its ascendant phase, as Vergeistigung (the pro-gress of the Spirit in the world as Hegel’s “ruse of reason” or Weltweisheit) and then, in its “bureaucratic and technological” phase, as Entseelung (Weber’s dis-enchantment, alienation), becomes the necessary instrument and vehicle (Trager) of the social and cultural affirmation of the Will to Power by “those who know” and who do not “misunderstand the body” – by the Ubermenschen of the grosse Politik! The greatness of Nietzsche is to have theorised this inextricable double aspect (Doppelcharakter) of “Cultur and Zivilisation”, as Ver-geistigung (the ascetic-idealistic aspect of “interiorisation” [Verinnerlichung]) and Ent-seelung (the institutional “iron cage” [stahlhartes Gehause] of Weberian fame), where his confused neo-Nietzschean hagiographers, from Lefebvre to Klossowski and Agamben, champion him as the romantic opponent of the latter and the humanist messiah of a “biopolitical” version of the former!

Tuesday 22 November 2011

Absolute and Relative Exploitation Revisited: From Weber to Keynes.

From the moment we posted it, we have noticed great interest from the friends who visit this site in the piece on "Absolute and Relative Exploitation". This distinction plays a central role in the work we are conducting now, called collectively "Krisis" - particularly the final chapters. This piece is meant to illustrate and enucleate the meaning of this conceptual and historical distinction to our visiting friends by analysing closely Max Weber's own insights that serve as a pro-paedeutic to Keynes's economic analysis. I hope you enjoy this.

The Weberian interpretation of capitalism focuses on its operari, its mechanical functioning which is “rational and systematic” not in a normative or purposive or still less a teleological sense, but only because its “economic action” can be “measured” according to mathematical relations that serve “to maximize” the “profit” expressed in monetary terms of the capitalist activity. The ultimate “rationality”, the basis upon which the “rational-mathematic” and “systematic-scientific” measurement of capitalist economic action is at all possible is the Kalkulation of “profit”, which Weber defines as the difference, monetarily expressed, between expenses and receipts. All other “impulses” must be subordinated to this overriding calculating “rationality”.

Let us now define our terms somewhat more carefully than is generally done. We will define a capitalistic economic action as one which rests on the expectation of profit by the utilization of opportunities for exchange, that is on (formally) peaceful chances of profit….


Where capitalistic acquisition is rationally pursued, the corresponding action is adjusted to calculations in terms of capital. This means that the action is adapted to a systematic utilization of goods or personal services as means of acquisition in such a way that, at the close of a business period, the balance of the enterprise in money assets (or, in the case of a continuous enterprise, the periodically estimated money value of assets) exceeds the capital, i.e. the estimated value of the material means of production used for acquisition in exchange. (pp17-8)

From the outset, the Vorbermerkungen published in 1920 and meant as a general introduction to the Aufsatze zur Religionssoziologie are intended as a recapitulation of Weber’s reflections on and theory of the origins and nature of capitalism. This is the culmination of a reflection that was already well advanced with the “triptych” of 1918-9 and the intensification of the political debate around the Verfassungsfrage in 1919 in which Weber seems finally to veer toward authoritarianism. Here therefore we have the fruit of Weber’s “mature” reflections on his exegesis and critique of the capitalist economy and its social institutions. In the process, Weber seeks to reconcile the “irrational” calling (Beruf) or “ascetic Ideal”, as the esse, the “Will” or “Spirit” at the origins of “the spirit of capitalism” with the “rationally calculable” operari of capitalistic economic action itself.

Capitalism is only one form of “economic action” that relies on “opportunities for exchange” which, by definition, have a degree of legitimacy and are therefore “peaceful” and that, where they are “rationally pursued” involve the “periodic excess” of the “balance of the enterprise in money assets” over the preceding period. Already, therefore, capitalistic economic action involves a “system” that ensures its legitimate reproduction on an expanded scale. It involves the “systematic utilization of goods or personal services as means of acquisition” for profit, that is, the difference between the cost of utilizing goods and personal services as a means of acquisition and “the estimated value of the material means of production used for acquisition in exchange” or “capital”. Weber’s awkwardness in describing capitalist economic action is on full display here, despite his resolve “to define our terms somewhat more carefully than is generally done”, and it reflects clearly his unwillingness to separate the “institutional” aspects of capitalist enterprise from its narrower systemic elements.

We notice next that Weber does not distinguish between goods and personal services utilized systematically in capitalism from “the means of production”. This indicates that Weber sees no distinction, where capitalist economic action is concerned, between “means of production” and “labor” (personal services). In other words, he treats “labor” as a simple “homogeneous quantity” that is “utilized” just like other “goods” in the production of “means of acquisition”. Weber is not saying that the aim of capitalist enterprise is “to acquire more means of acquisition”, (as Don Patinkin put it, in capitalism “goods do not buy goods”), but it is an awkward way of saying that the “money assets” of a capitalist enterprise at the end of a given period have to be systematically higher than at the start. Thus, what really matters for capitalist “profit” is the value of “money assets” and not “means of acquisition”.

Yet this does not mean that if the “measurement” of profit and the economic actions taken in its “pursuit” can be calculated mathematically so as to maximize that profit then the “pursuit” of profit itself is “rational” in any substantive sense – in terms of what Weber himself called “Wert-rationalitat”. The “rationality” of capitalist economic action is limited to and defined by the sheer “calculability” of the steps taken in the pursuit of profit maximization: it is a “Zweck-rationalitat”, a rationality limited to and circumscribed by its “purpose”. But the “pursuit” itself cannot be “rational” in the sense that the ultimate “motive forces” of human action cannot be subjected to the formal “rationality” of mathematical calculation and maximization.

Unlimited greed for gain is not in the least identical with capitalism and is still less its spirit. Capitalism may even be identical with the restraint or at least a rational tempering of this irrational impulse. But capitalism is identical with the pursuit of profit, and forever renewed profit, by means of continuous, rational, capitalistic enterprise. For it must be so: in a wholly capitalistic order of society, an individual capitalistic enterprise which did not take advantage of its opportunities for profit-making would be doomed to extinction. (p.17)

Thus, “capitalistic enterprise” consists of “exchange for profit” defined as the monetary excess of receipts over expenses. Nowhere does Weber attempt to define “profit” except in monetary terms. And the profit is the simple result of “exchange” of goods so long as the monetary value of these goods at periodic intervals is greater than the goods and personal services “utilized to acquire them”. Weber here isolates three elements, namely, “rational” action, exchange and profits. The problem remains, however, that Weber does not define or explain “profit” and therefore we do not know yet how the simple act of “exchange” can give rise “rationally and systematically” to the realization of “profits” unless this is done through extortion or trickstery, which Weber has already excluded. But capitalist enterprise is hemmed in between two pincers: - from below, capitalists are forced by competition to take advantage of profit opportunities that are, therefore, necessarily “limited” or “scarce”. From above, instead, capitalist investment cannot be so foolhardy that it is not checked by “reasonable” opportunities for profit that ensure its “renewed” character. This upper limit can be constituted by “risk” and by “social limits” (values, religion, institutions, social cohesion, the environment – “externalities”).

Already therefore we have a definition of capitalist economic action that requires two fundamental limitations: on the low side, capitalist enterprise requires the regulation of competition so that “regular opportunities for profit” actually exist on a “renewed” basis and are not defeated by monopoly or else by other practices that endanger the “entry” of new competitors into “the market”. And the preservation of the possibility of “renewal” of this action is what sets the upper limit to capitalist industry. It is evident from Weber’s broad definition that there is no “independent” de-finition of capitalistic economic action, but that instead capitalism depends on a number of “institutional” presuppositions or con-ditions that allow it to operate “rationally and systematically”.

But when Weber confronts the meaning of this “rationality” he makes clear - unlike Schumpeter who (as we saw in our piece on Nietzschebuch) completely confused Weber’s use for a kind of “empirical scientific truth” – that there is neither a teleological nor a “scientific” meaning to this – and that indeed it cannot even be defined in terms of “systematic empirical methods” (as Langlois does stupidly in his peevish attempt to saddle Marx with the “teleological” aspect of “rationality” – as if, as we are about to see, Weber had not thought that Lenin’s greatness consisted precisely in the attempt to achieve “the rational organization of labour” in Russia!). The Rationalisierung is not for Weber a process of “substantive rationality” intended teleologically, nor is it a process of “systematization”, which in itself would amount to an empty “formalistic” definition. No. Let us see more closely what he means.

It is hence our first concern to work out and to explain genetically the special peculiarity of Occidental rationalism, and within this field that of the modern Occidental form. Every such attempt at explanation must, recognizing the fundamental importance of the economic factor, above all take account of the economic conditions. But at the same time the opposite correlation must not be left out of consideration. For though the development of economic rationalism is partly dependent on rational technique and law, it is at the same time determined by the ability and disposition of men to adopt certain types of practical rational conduct. When these types have been obstructed by spiritual obstacles, the


development of rational economic conduct has also met serious inner resistance. The magical and religious forces, and the ethical ideas of duty based upon them, have in the past always been among the most important formative influences on conduct. In the studies collected here we shall be concerned with these forces.

No finality, then. No telos. Rationality of the Western kind is a “practical rational conduct” that is conditioned and determined by “non-rational”, even “magical and religious forces, and the ethical ideas of duty based upon them”. These are “forces” that Nietzsche had already explored in works that culminate with Genealogie der Moral and Gaya Scienza. Weber is simply continuing from where Nietzsche left off, but in his own exquisitely genial manner. Remember that Weber was a member of the German Parliament and that his “ideas” embodied also the interests and the will of the German bourgeoisie whose very existence was now threatened by the catastrophe of the Great War and the collapse of Wilhelmine Germany together with its Zivilisation.

Hence in a universal history of culture the central problem for us is not, in the last analysis, even from a purely economic view-point, the development of capitalistic activity as such, differing in different cultures only


in form: the adventurer type, or capitalism in trade, war, politics, or administration as sources of gain. It is rather the origin of this sober bourgeois capitalism with its rational organization of free labour. Or in terms of cultural history, the problem is that of the origin of the Western bourgeois class and of its peculiarities, a problem which is certainly closely connected with that of the origin of the capitalistic organization of labour, but is not quite the same thing. For the bourgeois as a class existed prior to the development of the peculiar modern form of capitalism, though, it is true, only in the Western hemisphere.

Thus, although “the peculiar modern form of capitalism” is “closely connected with that of the origin of the capitalistic organization of labor” or rather “the rational organization of free labor”, still this “peculiar modern” or “sober bourgeois” capitalism “is not quite the same thing” as the “broader” kind of capitalism because “the bourgeois class existed prior to the development of [this] peculiar modern form of capitalism”. There are two types of capitalism, then: - a “broader” type and a “peculiar modern, sober bourgeois” form of capitalism. This second type is “sober” because it involves the “rational organization of free labor”. This “broader” definition seems inconsistent with Weber’s own position that “the rational organization of free labour” and therefore of “production” and “productivity” (see below) is crucial to the definition of “sober capitalism” – indicating thereby that in this second type of capitalism “profit” is to be found in the sphere of production and not in the sphere of exchange. Or at the very least the two “spheres” need to be connected through that qualification of “labor” that Weber makes by calling it “free”. What is the nature of this “freedom”?

Indeed, having considered a number of “peculiarities” of capitalist economic action, Weber then comes to this startling statement:

However, all these peculiarities of Western capitalism have derived their significance in the last analysis only from their association with the capitalistic organization of labour. Even what is generally called commercialization, the development of negotiable securities and the rationalization of speculation, the exchanges, etc., is connected with it. For without the rational capitalistic organization of labour, all this, so far as it was possible at all, would have nothing like the same significance, above all for the social structure and all the specific problems of the modem Occident connected with it.

Exact calculation—the basis of everything else—is only possible on a basis of free labour. (p22)

The shift from “opportunistic exchange”, which would define a capitalism that is far from “systematic” or indeed “rational” or “scientific”, to one that is founded on “the rational capitalistic organization of labour” is as obvious as it is dramatic. Weber has touched – however unwittingly – on the all-important difference between the early forms of “mercantilist” capitalism which do rely on gains derived from the greater “value” of goods exchanged for goods of “less value”, to a form of “organized capitalism” that “rationally and systematically” ensures the production of goods with “higher value” than the means of production utilized on the basis of “the rational organization of labour”!

Not only that! But Weber also makes a statement of truly earth-shattering significance:

Exact calculation—the basis of everything else—is only possible on a basis of free labour.

In other words, capitalism is a social system founded on the exchange for profit (in monetary terms) between goods of “less value” for goods of “more value” on the “basis” – “the basis of everything else”! – of “exact [rational] calculation” made “only possible on a basis of [the rational organization] of free labour”!

Eine exakte Kalkulation: – die Grundlage alles andern, – ist eben nur auf dem Boden freier Arbeit möglich. Und wie – und weil – keine rationale Arbeitsorganisation, so – und deshalb – hat die Welt außerhalb des modernen Okzidents auch keinen rationalen Sozialismus gekannt.

Note how “exact calculation” – that is, rational calculation – here means “regular profitability”! Weber is certainly getting very close to the mark. Unfortunately, however, he fails to give any indication at all as to why and how “exact calculation… is only possible on a basis of free labour”! Clearly, “free labour” is at the very centre of capitalism with the added attribute or characteristic that capitalism is responsible for “its rational organization”. But how does this lead us to profit? Weber has failed to explain how the quantification of the “content” of profit as a social relation of production can be operated by capital and therefore enable the “rationalization” of production and distribution of commodities for the realization and maximization of profits from their sale on the market.

Weber seems to have extensive insights into the workings of industrial relations and of the labour process for the production of goods for exchange as well as of the “antagonism” of free labour and capital with regard to the wage relation, that is, with regard to the antagonism of living labour to being alienated by being placed under the command of the capitalist:

A man does not "by nature" wish to earn more and more money but simply to live as he is accustomed to live and to earn as much as is necessary for that purpose. Wherever modern capitalism has begun its work of increasing the productivity of human labour by increasing its intensity, it has encountered the immensely stubborn resistance of this leading trait of pre-capitalistic labour. And to-day it encounters it the more, the more backward (from a capitalistic point of view) the labouring forces are with which it has to deal.

Another obvious possibility, to return to our example, since the appeal to the acquisitive instinct through higher wage-rates failed, would have been to try the opposite policy, to force the worker by reduction of his wage-rates to work harder to earn the same amount than he did before. Low wages and high profits seem even to-day to a superficial observer to stand in correlation; everything which is paid out in wages seems to involve a corresponding reduction of profits. That road capitalism has taken again and again since its beginning. (p60)

But the effectiveness of this apparently so efficient method has its limits. Of course the presence of a surplus population which it can hire cheaply in the labour  market is a necessity for the development of capitalism. But though too large a reserve army may in certain cases favour its quantitative expansion, it checks its qualitative development, especially the transition, to types of enterprise which make more intensive use of labour. Low wages are by no means identical with cheap labour. (p61)

Weber starts from the most blindingly obvious fact visible to the most “superficial observer” with even the slightest knowledge of capitalist industry:

Low wages and high profits seem even to-day to a superficial observer to stand in correlation; everything which is paid out in wages seems to involve a corresponding reduction of profits.

It is this obvious fact that leads one immediately to suspect that capitalist profitability has to do with “the rational organization of labor”. Minimising wages tends to maximize profits. But the relationship is far more complicated than that, because it is often possible for individual capitalists to offer higher wages to their workers so as to get them to work harder or longer. Yet this runs up against the undeniable reality that

[a] man does not "by nature" wish to earn more and more money but simply to live as he is accustomed to live and to earn as much as is necessary for that purpose. Wherever modern capitalism has begun its work of increasing the productivity of human labour by increasing its intensity, it has encountered the immensely stubborn resistance of this leading trait of pre-capitalistic labour. And to-day it encounters it the more, the more backward (from a capitalistic point of view) the labouring forces are with which it has to deal.

Weber is absurdly wrong here – because this “immensely stubborn resistance” is not merely “a leading trait of pre-capitalistic labor” but it is indeed a trait especially of workers in the most advanced industrial capitalist sectors or nations! Workers are keen to accept higher wages, but only on the condition that their working conditions, which include wages and labor process, are not extended or “intensified” significantly. It is because of this “immensely stubborn resistance” that the capitalist either increases wages significantly or else replaces existing means of production (machinery and labor process) “to types of enterprise which make more intensive use of labour so as to increase the “productivity” of the workers. There is an obvious quid pro quo involved here between the “technology” of the means of production and the “wage and working conditions” of workers. It does not seem possible therefore for Weber to hold to the notion that the workers’ “stubborn resistance” to the increase “in the productivity of human labor by increasing its intensity” is a “leading trait of pre-capitalistic labor” because in fact and in reality this “exchange” between high productivity and high wages and conditions is unquestionably the most evident aspect of advanced capitalism! Weber himself admits as much when he writes,

Another obvious possibility, to return to our example, since the appeal to the acquisitive instinct through higher wage-rates failed, would have been to try the opposite policy, to force the worker by reduction of his wage-rates to work harder to earn the same amount than he did before….That [is a] road capitalism has taken again and again since its beginning.

And this “opposite policy” of “forcing the worker to work harder”, consists not so much, as Weber says, “of reducing his wage-rates to earn the same amount as before”, which only happened in the “putting-out” system of “piece-rate wages”, but rather by deploying “a reserve army of labor” prepared to work for lower wages – which is an indispensable ingredient of capitalism, not just “a road capitalism has taken” repeatedly! Weber finally gets to this violent reality:

But the effectiveness of this apparently so efficient method has its limits. Of course the presence of a surplus population which it can hire cheaply in the labour  market is a necessity for the development of capitalism. But though too large a reserve army may in certain cases favour its quantitative expansion, it checks its qualitative development, especially the transition, to types of enterprise which make more intensive use of labour. Low wages are by no means identical with cheap labour.

Once again, Weber displays the awkwardness of someone who, by his own admission according to his wife, “attended his first lessons on political economy when he began giving them”! But Weber is making a terrifically valid and extremely insightful point here that deserves close attention: Capital may “expand quantitatively” by employing a greater number of workers at low wages. But these “low wages” may not mean that the labor employed is “cheap” if the productivity of that labor is so low that its output becomes uncompetitive because it is “relatively” expensive. So, rather than “expanding” – that is, seeking to maximize revenue – by what we may call “absolute exploitation” of workers, capital may “develop qualitatively” by “making more intensive use of labor” through the employment of new technologies and labor processes - what Weber calls here “types of enterprise [Betrieb]”. We may call this “relative exploitation”. But we should note above all the “difference” in Weber’s terminology between “expansion” and “development”, and then the emphasis on “the type of enterprise”. These are analytical features first outlined by Marx, especially in the Grundrisse, and adopted and adapted by Schumpeter in his “theorie der wirtschaftlichen Entwicklung”.

Four major elements emerge already from the thrust of Weber’s analysis of capitalism thus far:

The first is the distinction between “opportunistic” or “mercantilist” capitalism and the more “serious bourgeois” modern capitalism that Weber subdivides further into the “entrepreneurial” capitalism of “innovators” and “risk-takers” who create new opportunities for “profit”, and the “capitalistic” or “rentier” or “financial” capitalism constituted by “passive investors” happy to collect “dividends, interest and rent” from their mere “ownership” of capital. This distinction Weber would have taken straight out of Schumpeter’s pioneering theory of economic development glorifying the Unternehmer-Geist (entrepreneurial Spirit) and the corresponding Unternehmer-Gewinn (profit).

The second is that “labor” is seen as a homogeneous “force” (labor-power or Arbeits-Kraft) that is interested only or predominantly in “wages and wage-rates” – in its “purchasing power” – rather than in working conditions, technologies and labor process.

The third point is that this “labor” is “free” in the sense that the ultimate “spirit of capitalism” consists precisely of “the care for external goods” that has now rigidified or “crystallized” into a “steel-hard casing” and that determines ultimately the “rational allocation” of the means of production on the part of capitalists for the provision and satisfaction of “the iron cage”. The “freedom” of “labor” is the fundamental condition that will ensure both the “competition” required from below and the “checks and balances” required as a limitation to capitalistic profit-seeking.

The fourth element is that because workers care only for their wages (their needs and wants), the conflict between workers “as a class” and capitalists boils down ultimately to their being employed for satisfactory wages and does not extend to other more “utopian” demands. These “socialist” demands are “utopian” firstly because capitalist production is so rational that it ensures the efficient production and distribution of social resources (in accordance with Marginal Utility Theory) so that essentially “rational Socialism” coincides with “rational capitalism”; and secondly, as a corollary, socialist demands are utopian because they are inflated by the political representatives of workers in the new social democratic and communist mass parties – in effect, they are a by-product of the very Demokratisierung engendered by “sober bourgeois capitalism”.

Weber sees “free labor” as a homogeneous malleable “mass” or “force” that can be “organized rationally” by “sober bourgeois capitalists” in order to maximize the “profits” and the “productivity” of the “lifeless machine” of production which is seen to embody the “crystallized Spirit” of “the iron cage” – of “labor” as “calling” at first, and then as “the care for external goods” – expressed “freely” by workers as their aggregate market demand for goods. Although he is aware of the historical difference between “quantitative expansion” and “qualitative development” as specific capitalist “types of enterprise”, Weber does not see the antagonism in production that this “difference” so evidently demonstrates! For him, conflict exists only in consumption – and the combination of “free labor” and “rational organization for profit” make capitalist enterprise capable of rational calculation and resolution of this pervasive conflict in the “congealed Spirit” of the “lifeless machine” guided by the “living machine” of State and private capitalist bureaucracy. - In the same manner as Hobbes resolved the bellum omnium contra omnes by hypothesizing the convention in metu mortis of the Leviathan, of the State-machine as a “mechanical ab-solution” of all human conflict, Weber envisages the possibility of “resolving” the conflict of the Demokratisierung in the Kalkulation of “compromise” within the Ratio of the “parliamentary oversight of the bureaucracy”, the “selection” of the “responsible” leitender Geist. But, like Hobbes, Weber then faces the problem of the “trans-formation” of the system, of its Entwicklung, of its Dynamik, which he can understand only in terms of “political representation and compromise” – of the Parlamentarisierung. This is the Aufklarung – the “spirit of Enlightenment” – that Carl Schmitt will definitively demolish in his response to Thoma in The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy.

Weber saw “the problem” of the State that Schumpeter ignored almost completely, but he was unequal to the task precisely because “parliament” alone did not have the “instruments” it needed if the “rational profitability” of market capitalism failed. “Demand” may well come from “free labor”: but it does not “automatically” guarantee “profitability”. As Keynes was about to discover and theorise, it is “aggregate demand” that requires specific policies and instruments that the German State lacked and that no “parliamentary compromise” could deliver. (This is at bottom the charge Schmitt will move in Parlamentarismus.) Weber ignores that without this ability of the State to manage aggregate demand, the “rational profitability” of capital may collapse. And if it does, the temptation on the part of capital will be to resort to that “quantitative expansion” or absolute exploitation that is the opposite of “qualitative development” or relative exploitation. And what this means ultimately is that “sober bourgeois capitalism”, far from acting “in opposition” to the State bureaucracy, will then unite with it in an all-out attempt to suppress (!) that “freedom” of “labor” on which Weber’s entire Parlamentarisierung was absolutely dependent! This was the Problematik that only a trained economist blessed with uncommon political insight could tackle: the Kafkaesque meta-morphosis of the Weimarer Verfassung into the Nazi dictatorship could now find an emphatic riposte in the Rooseveltian New Deal.

Monday 21 November 2011

Heidegger and History

We leave Max Weber for a moment and turn to Gianni Vattimo’s “Introduction to Heidegger” which is linked below. Unfortunately all quotations are in Spanish – I have no time to translate them so I will have to seek forgiveness and ask friends to use Google Translate. We will soon return to Keynes (who seems very popular with our friends). As you can see, I have given up the day-to-day commentary of economic and financial events because I am concentrating on the final chapters of “Krisis” – on Weber, Schumpeter and Keynes and then finally on Marx’s “Grundrisse”.

Of course, friends would not have failed to notice that most of our “predictions” have come true – including the impending decline of China’s economy and the “encirclement” of the Chinese dictatorship by the US and other Asian nations. But who could predict the recalcitrance of the German politico-financial elites that is close to destroying Europe? (I will be there in the next few days. Depressing stuff and I have run out of foul epithets for the European elites!) Cheers.


En Ser y tiempo, el hombre no es pensado como sujeto, porque esto haría de él una cosa «simplemente presente»; es, por el contrario, Dasein, ser-ahí, es decir, sobre todo, proyectualidad. El sujeto, piensa Heidegger, tiene una sustancialidad que el ser-ahí como proyecto no tiene; el hombre se define, no como una sustancia determinada, sino como «poder ser», como apertura a la posibilidad. El ser-ahí sólo se piensa como sujeto, esto es, como sustancia, cuando se piensa en términos inauténticos, en el horizonte del «ser» público y cotidiano150. (p.98 – the note is to parr.10 and 25 of SuZ.)

La muerte es la posibilidad de

la imposibilidad de toda otra posibilidad, “la posibilidad de la pura y simple

imposibilidad del Dasein”64; La muerte es la posibilidad más propia del Dasein:

esto se puede ver atestiguado por el hecho de que todos mueren, es decir, que esa

posibilidad es coesencial al Dasein; pero la raíz del hecho empírico de que todos

mueren es la circunstancia de que la muerte es la posibilidad más propia del

Dasein en cuanto lo afecta en su mismo ser, en su esencia misma de proyecto,

mientras que cualquier otra posibilidad se sitúa en el interior del proyecto mismo

como su modo de determinarse65. (Vp.41)

The “authenticity” of Dasein, its “openness” to the being of being, its “liberation” from the “inauthenticity” of its “thrown-ness” as being-in-the-world, can be located in its totality only upon its comprehension of death, of its “contingency”, upon its “appropriation” of its “being-toward-death”! One may reflect bitterly or ironically about the authenticity of a Dasein whose “care” for the world ultimately cowers wimpishly into the “Angst” of its apprehension of Death!

El miedo a la nada, que es la angustia, se explica sólo admitiendo que en ella aquello de que se siente amenazado el Dasein no es este o aquel ente en particular, sino qué es la existencia misma como tal. En cuanto proyecto que abre e instituye el mundo como totalidad de los entes, el Dasein no está “en medio” de los entes como un ente entre los demás; cuando advierte este hecho - y, como podemos decir ahora, cuando advierte su propia trascendencia - se siente en un ambiente extraño, ajeno en el mundo, en el cual no se siente como en su casa porque justamente advierte que no es un ente del mundo como los otros entes. En cuanto modo de existir en la trivialidad cotidiana, el Dasein se concibe como ente entre otros entes, y hasta

se siente protegido y tranquilizado por los entes que lo rodean; el simple miedo atestigua esto, ya que tener miedo de algo significa concebirse siempre como “dependiente” de ese algo de alguna manera. La angustia, como miedo que no se puede explicar de ese modo, como miedo de nada, coloca al Dasein frente a su propia trascendencia, frente a la existencia como tal (y para entendernos major diremos también, frente a su propia “responsabilidad”: porque es el Dasein el que abre e instituye el mundo). (p.61)

“La liberación anticipante por la propia muerte libera de la dispersión en

las posibilidades que se entrecruzan fortuitamente, de suerte que las posibilidades

efectivas, es decir, situadas más acá de aquella posibilidad insuperable, puedan

ser comprendidas y elegidas auténticamente. La anticipación abre a la existencia,

como su posibilidad extrema, la renuncia a sí misma y así disuelve toda

solidificación en posiciones existenciales alcanzadas... Puesto que la anticipación

de la posibilidad insuperable abre al mismo tiempo a la comprensión de las

posibilidades situadas más acá de ella, ella lleva consigo la posibilidad de la

anticipación existencial del Dasein total, esto es, la posibilidad de existir concretamente como poder-ser-total.”66 (pp.395-6)…. “Así la muerte se revela como la posibilidad más propia, incondicionada e

insuperable.” (Ibíd., pág. 378).


Heidegger’s notion of “authenticity-totality” opposed to the “inauthentic-fragmented” quotidian reality of the “one” (German, man) invites the obvious parallel with Lukacs’s earlier vision of the scientific “totality” of the proletariat escaping its “alienated” condition as “the individual Subject-Object” of history! (The link is drawn by L. Goldmann in his Lukacs et Heidegger who even argues that Sein und Zeit was written as a reply to Lukacs’s ‘Geschichte’.) In sharp contrast, Nietzsche saw “the perspective of the herd” as a “need-necessary” out-come, result (Folge) of the Will to Power in its operari, in its manifestation as the ontogeny of thought in life and the world: his entire focus is on the historical significance of the Will to Power in its physiological, albeit ontogenetic, manifestations – in morality, in science, in politics, with art playing only an “illustrative” and marginal role despite Heidegger’s efforts to place it at the centre of Nietzsche’s thought – as “creativity”, thus wrongly defining the “content” of the Will to Power (see discussion below). This explains why human history and institutions are so much more central to Nietzsche’s explorations of the Will to Power: physis and istorein are much more intimately connected with and central to Nietzsche’s philosophy than they are to Heidegger’s where they play a marginal, if at all congruous, role. (In this regard, one may well agree with Cacciari’s judgement that Nietzsche’s attitude to “mass democracy” is far more complex and even favourable than many imagine. We will revisit this argument later.)

This is indeed a far cry from Nietzsche’s affirmation of life! Heidegger’s petty-bourgeois revulsion at the “mundanity” of everyday life, at its “inauthenticity”, is nonchalantly betrayed by Vattimo – who seems blissfully unaware of the enormity of what he is saying:

“…el Dasein auténtico es tal precisamente y sólo en cuanto se relaciona con el mundo

en términos de posibilidades. Y, de manera más general, en el análisis

preparatorio de la primera sección de Ser y tiempo, la autenticidad permanecía en

suspenso y en cierto modo “abstracta”, pues era todavía principalmente la

estructura de fondo que la reflexión existenciaria descubre sólo en la

inautenticidad de lo cotidiano. El concepto de anticipación de la muerte pone de

manifiesto lo que es, precisa y concretamente, la existencia auténtica.” (p.44)

Heidegger in the end finds himself precisely back at the point upon which Hobbes erected his entire axiomatic political theory and psychology – the decision:

En sustancia, ahora que se ha precisado la noción de autenticidad-totalidad mediante el concepto de anticipación de la muerte, se trata de ver si en el plano existencial, no en el de la reflexión filosófica sino en la vida concreta, el ser para la muerte se presenta como término efectivo de una alternativa que el Dasein puede elegir…. La busca de una posibilidad existencial de la anticipación de la muerte conduce a Heidegger a elaborar una compleja doctrina de la


decisión, que implica el empleo de conceptos objetivamente “enredados”70, como los conceptos de conciencia y de culpa…

This about “com-prehension” is a point entirely similar to Heidegger’s exposition of Dasein in SuZ [cf. Vattimo’s first essay in ‘Introduction to H.’.] But note how Heidegger’s understanding of Dasein differs from the Wille zur Macht in that the latter is “physiological” rather than “existential” and phenomenological! Nietzsche is concerned with conflict in life and the world as an immanent physiological – almost “biological” - process, whereas Heidegger’s final concern is exquisitely “ontological”, and therefore “transcendental”; it is the phenomenology of Being within the horizon of time, and therefore “being-toward-death” and philosophical anthropology – authenticity (Eigentlichkeit) and art above all. Worse still, Heidegger is able to understand the passage from “com-prehension” to interpretation of life and the world by the Dasein purely in terms of “authentic” individual experience that is not “mediated” by the “doxa” of “public opinion” or of socially-constructed reality! The mere “thought” of “authenticity”, so dear to Heidegger in his openly “bourgeois” vision of the world, would seem scandalously artificial to Nietzsche who sees the ontogeny of thought itself as a manifestation of the Will to Power in life and the world – as a “perspective of the herd”, but as a “need-necessary” perspective that cannot be subjected to the moralizing examen of Heideggerian “authenticity”! Here is Heidegger:

En el pasaje en que habla del círculo comprensión-interpretación, Heidegger dice que:

“en él se oculta una posibilidad positiva del conocer más originario, posibilidad que es captada de manera genuina sólo si la interpretación comprendió que su tarea primera, duradera y última es la de no dejarse imponer nunca pre-disponibilidad, pre-videncia y precognición (son los terminus constitutivos de la precomprensión) por la situación o por las opiniones comunes, sino que debe hacerlas surgir de las cosas mismas con lo que quedará garantizada la cientificidad del tema”59.

[Again, Vattimo, ibidem.]

The difficulty of Heidegger’s position, its profound a-historicity, its dis-embodiment of the Dasein from its “physiological” roots - which are the crucial focus in Nietzsche (however “ontogenetically” he may understand these) - is neatly evinced by Vattimo in what is a desperate, unconvincing attempt to validate his “socio-historical” credentials (much in the manner Cacciari does in ‘PNR’):

Hay pues una precomprensión que no se limita a expresar que la situación histórico-social pertenece al mundo del se; trátase de una precomprensión que surge de alguna manera de la cosa misma: no evidentemente en el sentido de que la cosa se dé de algún modo como simple presencia, sino en el sentido de que la comprensión que realmente abre al mundo es nuestra relación concreta con la cosa. La charla habla de todo y especialmente de las cosas con las que no tiene una relación directa; la autenticidad es apropiación fundamentalmente en este sentido: se apropia de la cosa al relacionarse directamente con ella. (p.36)

But far from anchoring the existential Dasein in physiological and historical concreteness, one detects immediately in Vattimo’s churlish (he deserves this because it is he who speaks of the “charla”, gossip) - dare one call it “inauthentic”? - “apologia” for Heidegger’s clumsy “pre-comprehension of the historico-social situation” its yawning “abstrusion” and “asportation” from the world of “common opinion” (Vattimo calls it “charla”, gossip!) - an esoteric revulsion at that very phenomenological world of “quotidian life” from which Heidegger ostensibly derives the “concreteness” of his existential analytic! With mindless disinvoltura, Vattimo brilliantly epitomizes the gnawing self-disgust of the estranged intellectual in the bourgeois era.

Construed in this purely “negative” or, to adopt Vattimo’s terminology, “weak” sense, Heidegger’s discussion of metaphysics as the history of Being rapidly turns into a vapid and meaningless abstraction – a novel edition of the qualitas occulta, the inscrutable quality of the prima philosophia, from Plato’s Ideas to the Kantian thing-in-itself or Schopenhauer’s Will to Life! Even if we agreed that the “subject-matter” of Western metaphysics, Nietzsche’s included, was a “presence”, an essence, a substance and finally a Subject whose totality stood as a timeless “quality” or quidditas or “value” inscrutable to human reflection but “knowable” to philosophical reflection at least from its “subjective” side (cf. Vattimo, ‘Intro’, p.73), - even then we would fail to see the difference between Heidegger’s own “position” and, say, the exordium of Genesis, where the whole quaestio of the complementarity of Being and Nothing, of “creation ex nihilo” is most vividly posed (cf. Lowith), to the near entirety of German Idealism in which, as Nietzsche always acknowledged, there is always a “side” of Being that “conceals” itself and that philosophy consciously aims to comprehend “theoretically” but never “empirically”, except in the case of Fichte for whom the Subject posits the non-Subject (the “empirical I”), and whose solipsism, in any case, has been universally repudiated ever since. (Schopenhauer was most scathing in his regard.)

Heidegger insists on interpreting Nietzsche’s Will to Power as a relation of Will with itself, with a “self”, with “oneself”. Hence, for him, Will is “resoluteness toward oneself” (ch.10) and will to power is “to go further than oneself”, self-assertion. Yet in this self-assertion Heidegger, the phenomenological and existentialist philosopher, cannot see “beyond” the self-assertion to the very “object” of that assertion – which is not “self” but… another Will! Will to Power is not self-assertion as self-mastery – resolve as “resoluteness” Heidegger’s “dis-closure” (Ent-schlossenheit) of the Dasein. Rather, it is mastery and command and domination over others!

Nor is Nietzsche’s Will to Power filled with the Angst, the fear of death that characterizes its “decision” or “responsibility” from Hobbes to Hegel through to Kierkegaard and Heidegger. In the former couple, the fear of death comes from an external, objective “threats”. In the latter couple, it always originates “ec-sistentially”, hence “transcendentally”, in the “possibility of death”, of non-existence, of “nothing-ness”. In all cases, its ultimate foundation, as Nietzsche discovers, is nihilism – despair in the worth of existence.

Heidegger perceives the ec-sistence of Da-sein, its “thrown-ness” into the world of beings, its lack of “totality” and therefore its “contingency” as a “fall” (Verfall), as a lack of “authenticity” in a “quotidian life” whose “triviality” he execrates. It is this “de-jection” that reveals the brittleness of Heidegger’s Sorge (care) which no sooner it is articulated than it turns into its real essence – anxiety and alienation, fear and loathing (Kierkegaard)! Angst for the “finitude” of ec-sistence; loathing for its “error”, for the “averageness”, the anonymity (man) of “publicity”, for the “triviality of quotidian life”. And therefore a wish for that “totality”, the totality of Being, which is only accessible to Dasein as the “anticipation of death”, as the “apprehension of nothing-ness” (“why is there something rather than nothing?” is the leitmotif of the Einfuhrung).

Al ser-para-la-muerte Heidegger llega, en efecto165,

planteando un problema que a primera vista parece exquisitamente «metafísico»,

en la forma y en el contenido: ¿la analítica existenciaria, desarrollada en la

primera parte de la obra, nos ha puesto a disposición el Dasein en la totalidad de

sus estructuras? Pero, se pregunta en seguida Heidegger, ¿qué significa para el

ser-ahí ser una totalidad? Este problema, perseguido coherentemente, lleva

justamente a ver que el ser-ahí se constituye en una totalidad, y por consiguiente

se «fundamenta» (ya que la asignación del Grund, en que consiste la

fundamentación, ha significado desde siempre el cierre de la serie de las

conexiones, la constitución justamente de una totalidad, contra el regreso in

infinitum) en la medida en que se anticipa para la propia muerte. Traduciendo el

lenguaje heideggeriano un poco libremente diremos: el ser-ahí está ahí

verdaderamente, es decir, se distingue de los entes intramundanos, en cuanto se

constituye como totalidad histórica,…(p.113)

But however he twists it, Vattimo simply cannot extract from the mere “being there”, the sheer “thrown-ness” of the Dasein, from the “contingency”of its being and its “anticipation of death”, the sense of “ontic” reality requisite for historical analysis and action:


insiste mucho sobre el hecho de que no se debe leer esta relación con la muerte

en un sentido puramente óntico, y por tanto tampoco en sentido biológico. Sin

embargo, como todos los momentos en que la filosofía encuentra análogos

puntos de paso (ante todo aquél entre naturaleza y cultura), también esta

distinción heideggeriana es densa de ambigüedades. Si, en efecto, es cierto que el

ser-ahí es histórico - tiene una existencia como discursus continuo y dotado de

posibles sentidos - sólo en cuanto puede morir y se anticipa explícitamente para

la propia muerte, es también cierto que él es histórico, en el sentido de disponer

de posibilidades determinadas y cualificadas, teniendo relaciones con las

generaciones pasadas y futuras, precisamente porque nace y muere en el sentido

literal, biológico, del término. La historicidad del ser-ahí no es sólo la

constitución de la existencia como tejido-texto; es también la pertenencia a una

época, la Geworfenheit que, por lo demás, califica íntimamente el proyecto

dentro del cual el ser-ahí y los entes se relacionan el uno con los otros, vienen al

ser en modos improntados de vez en cuando de manera diversa. Es este doble

significado de la historicidad, en su relación con el ser-para-la-muerte, uno de los

puntos en que más explícitamente, si bien problemáticamente, sale a la luz el

nexo fundamentación-desfundamentación que es uno de los sentidos, más aún,

quizás el sentido, de Sein und Zeit. (p.114)

But Vattimo misses the essential point! And that is that it is not sufficient to conceive of Da-sein as a “contingent” and “mortal” mode of Being – even in the “active” sense of “Lichtung” – to make it “historical”! The very fact that Vattimo refers to “historical totality” means that Da-sein cannot be situ-ated “within” that “totality”! The “historical” point about human beings is not that they die or that they must die – the “finitude” of their “being”, its contingency – but rather the manner, the causes and reasons of “how” they live and die! This is the biggest difference between Hobbes and Hegel to the extent that they theorise the human “apprehension” of death. Heidegger instead is almost exclusively concerned with the “anticipation” of death - that is, with death as an event that occasions the distinction between being and not-being, the relationship between Being and nothing-ness.

At best, such a de-finition can situate the Da-sein within the “ontic” sphere as opposed to the “ontological” one – and then only as “philosophical anthropology”. After all, it is precisely Heidegger who claims originality in his “remembering” the question of Being as against that of being-as-essent. But Da-sein remains “locked” within its philosophical “birth certificate” precisely because its very “concept” is incurably philosophical and abstract. Da-sein remains “walled” within its own self-referential phenomenological categories. It describes the “existential” questions confronting human beings to the extent that they are “beings” – only in this “onto-logical” dimension. Da-sein cannot even remotely begin to tell us how Da-seins inter-act, not only with one another in social relations, but not even with the natural world in a manner that goes “beyond” the most remote “existential” categories that, again, concern the Da-sein only as Da-sein, only as “being” in its ontological acceptation.

Contrast Nietzsche’s ‘Of First and Last Things’ in HATH which deals very much not with either “thing” (the "first thing" is birth or genesis, and the "last thing" is death or eschaton) – but with the “be-tween”, with "life"! Heidegger is more concerned with the “sum” of the cogito (cogito ergo sum - I think, therefore I am) – Nietzsche with the “vivo” (vivo ergo cogito - I live, therefore I think)!