Commentary on Political Economy

Wednesday 16 November 2011

Max Weber's Transition to the Leitender Geist

This is another extract from the review of Max Weber's political sociology that I am conducting at present. It is a difficult piece. But it will repay close study because here is contained the thematic analysis of the "crisis" that European capital is experiencing right now with the co-option of "technocratic governments" in Italy and Greece at the behest of Franco-German Finanzkapital! Max Weber, as you can read here, would turn in his grave - or rather, "could not help smiling at the anxiety" of these pathetic bourgeois!


Assuming that precisely this possibility were to be an inescapable fate who

could help smiling at the anxiety of our litterateurs lest future social and political

developments might bestow on us too much 'individualism' or ‘democracy' or

the like or that 'true freedom’ would not emerge until the present

‘anarchy' in our economic production and the ‘party machinations'

in our parliaments had been eliminated in favour of ‘social order’ and

an ‘organic structure’ - which means in favor of the pacifism of

social impotence under the wing of the one quite definitely inescapable

power, that of the bureaucracy in the state and the economy?(169)

The laughable incomprehension of “the nature of the matter” by the literati, the decadent liberal intelligentsia (an orientation that persists to the present day!), is to believe that the capitalist economy is “anarchical” and that parliamentary politics is “Machiavellian” – that the problem that besets society is “too much individualism” or “democracy”, and that only “social order” will restore “true freedom”. Yet it is precisely this “yearning” for a lost paradise of “true freedom” – the Schumpeterian Individualitat of the “entrepreneurial spirit” (Freedom) reconciled with the “scientific rationality of Economics” (Truth) -, this unwillingness to grapple with the “anarchy” of capitalism and the “machinations” of politics that constitutes “the pacifism of social impotence” (the Nietzschean Ohn-Macht), it is the unwillingness to tackle the “inescapable fate” of conflict that will condemn us to “one definitely inescapable power, that of the bureaucracy in the state and the economy”!

Weber gives ample proof in this passage of how well he has understood Nietzsche’s pitiless “de-struktion” of the Vollendung, the “com-pletion” of Western values in morality, science and philosophy. Schumpeter’s vain attempt to reconcile the Individualitat of the Unternehmergeist with the “scientificity” of the Economics is definitely “overcome”. Not only is it not possible to retain any “scientific” analysis of the Economy that can “quantify” its “conflict” and reduce it to the “rational individual choice” of the market; not only can there be no “development” of the capitalist economy due to the “subjectivity” of the entrepreneur because “development” originates from a “system of needs and wants” that curtails and conditions any “subjectivity”; but it is also the very conflict over the provision for needs and wants “liberated” by capitalism with the formation of “free labor” organized as a class that now finally subsumes “scientific activity” itself to that conflict by means of the “rational organization of free labor”.

In other words, far from being the outcome of the unstoppable expansion of the sphere of “empirical science” to the realm of social life and of the Economics in particular, the Rationalisierung theorized by Nietzsche (philosophically) and Weber (sociologically) engenders the subsumption of the scientific process to the explosive, uncontainable conflict and antagonism between “the system of needs and wants” aimed at “the care for external goods” (“the iron cage”) and the ability of the capitalist mode of production “to guide and govern” it through a program of  “development and growth” that “preserves and reproduces” the existing capitalist social relations of production. Any rational evaluation of capitalism in the sense of “empirical science” as understood by Schumpeter in the Theorie and by the Economics is therefore quite impossible! Scientific rationality itself is now subsumed to the conflict that capitalism generates as a motor of its own development. It is this “triptych” of the relationship between social conflict from the democratization of “labor”, its rational and scientific organization in the direction of “capitalist development”, and the “political governance” needed to mediate the effects of “growth-through-crisis” that concerns Weber in the all-important period between 1917 and 1919 and that covers the lectures on Politik als Beruf and Wissenschaft als Beruf and then the series of papers on Parlament und Regierung.

It is the very “freedom” of “labor” that allows workers to organize as a class and that permits therefore the “organization” of conflict in a “rational” manner by “the living machine” of private capitalist and state bureaucracy, that is to say, “under the regular discipline of the factory”, - of the factory as “lifeless machine” with its “congealed spirit” of “the system of wants and needs”! The “lifeless machine” of capitalist production possesses a “congealed spirit”, and the “machinery of bureaucracy” is a “living machine” that stands “in the closest relation” to both capitalist “enterprise” and “state administration”. No “rationality” is possible without the “free” expression of social antagonism over the wage relation. The reality of Western “economy and society” – against Schumpeter’s misunderstanding of Weber’s Rationalisierung as “empirical science” replacing the “teleological rationality” of “metaphysics”, against Werner Sombart’s interpretation of “modern capitalism” as “rationality”, soon to be repudiated by Weber in the Vorbermerkungen of 1920 – is that capitalism is “the rational organization” of “free labor”!

Indeed, it would not even be possible to speak of “true freedom”, of Individualitat, of individualism and democracy and “the Rights of Man” without the imponent push of the “conflict” that capitalism has “organized under the regular discipline of the factory”. “It is a piece of cruel self-deception to think that even the most conservative amongst us”, even those of us most opposed to “freedom and democracy”, “could carry on living at all today without these achievements from the age of the ‘Rights of Man’”, that is, the American and French Revolutions and the Enlightenment, which have led through the “liberation of labor”, through “free labor” and its “autonomous market demand” to the kind of “rational organization of free labor”, of social conflict and antagonism represented by the “all-powerful trend toward bureaucratization” – that is to say, the “provision” of “the most basic needs and wants of social life”, to the “socialization” that is the necessary pre-condition of bureaucracy.

It is vital to discern how Weber traces a strict link between “freedom and democracy”, and therefore the Demokratisierung, through to the “liberation” of “labor”, its constitution “as a class” that can press its “autonomous market demands” in terms of “the care for external goods”, of its “needs and wants” – all the way to the Vergesellschaftung, the “socialization” of these conflicting needs and wants as a result of the need for capital “rationally to organize this free labor” in the pursuit of “rationally calculable profit” (in opposition to the Gemeinschaft theorized by Tonnies as an echo to Kant’s “ungesellige Geselligkeit”) – that is, of its own “private” form of bureaucratization to which the State bureaucracy is “most closely related”. Once again here Weber retraces the conceptual Schematismus of the Neo-Kantian “sociological Forms” theorized by Simmel, distinct from their “content” not in terms of “historical-materialist experience” but only in terms of “durability” (the “Forms” being Kantian “concepts” or “categories” that have epistemological and scientific validity whilst the “content” is purely variable and “contingent”). The same distinction applies to Rationalisierung and to “bureaucratization”. Not until the Vorbermerkungen will Weber seek to deal coherently with these matters.

In view of the fundamental fact that the advance of bureaucratisation

is unstoppable, there is only one possible set of questions to be

asked about future forms of political organisation: (1) how is it at all

possible to salvage any remnants of 'individual' freedom of movement

in any sense given this all-powerful trend towards bureaucratisation?

It is, after all, a piece of cruel self-deception to think that even the

most conservative amongst us could carry on living at all today without

these achievements from the age of the 'Rights of Man'. However,

let us put this question to one side for now, for there is another

which is directly relevant to our present concerns: (2) In view of the

growing indispensability and hence increasing power of state officialdom,

which is our concern here, how can there be any guarantee

that forces exist which can impose limits on the enormous, crushing

power of this constantly growing stratum of society and control it

effectively? How is democracy even in this restricted sense to be at all possible? (169)

Therefore, “in view of the “growing indispensability and hence increasing power of state officialdom [bureaucracy]” that has been brought about by this growing “socialization”, the second question is “what limits” can be imposed on this “enormous, crushing power” so as to be able – and this is the first question - “to salvage any remnants of ‘individual’ freedom of movement in any sense at all”! These two questions have to do crucially with “the future forms of political organization”. The attempt “to control growth” in such a manner that the explosive push of the system of needs and wants and its ineluctable “conflict” can be mustered and then channeled into the preservation and reproduction of existing capitalist social relations of production – the profit motive – engenders an “increasing power of State bureaucracy”, a “growth of control”, that becomes inexorably more “indispensable” in terms of gauging and monitoring the “rationally calculable” functioning of the “system” – both the “needs and wants” and the “profit motive” -, but at the same time grows ever less capable to decide “legitimately” the “direction” of the “system”! The “control of growth” required for the preservation of existing relations of production – the “rational conduct of capitalist business” - engenders a “growth of control” designed “to maintain” these relations of production that tends to stifle and smother the very “conflict” that “the system of needs and wants” rationally organized as “free labor” with an “autonomous market demand” inevitably and irrepressibly generates. The result is exactly the same as Weber had apprehended for “rational Socialism”. The living machine cannot exorcise the “congealed spirit” of the lifeless machine: - only the “leading Spirit” can guide and govern it.

Yet this too is not the only question of concern to us

here, for there is (3) a third question, the most important of all, which

arises from any consideration of what is not performed by bureaucracy

as such. It is clear that its effectiveness has strict internal limits,

both in the management of public, political affairs and in the private

economic sphere. The leading spirit, the ‘entrepreneur’ in the one

case, the politician in the other, is something different from an

‘official’. Not necessarily in form, but certainly in substance. The

entrepreneur, too, sits in an 'office'. An army commander does the

same.(170)… In the sphere of the

state the same applies to the leading politician. The leading minister

is formally an official with a pensionable salary.

This is the Organisationsfrage for Weber, the point at which the Problematik of rational Socialism coincides with that of capitalism: how can the present conflict-ridden “system of needs and wants” – the congealed spirit of the lifeless machine – which under capitalism takes institutional shape as the “rational organization of free labor as a class” that is represented by the social democratic workers’ parties of the whole of Europe be reconciled with that “rationality”? If indeed the “system” is founded on an irrational “iron cage” of “care for external goods”, how can its irrational conflict, its needs and wants, its “freedom”, be reconciled with the “rational conduct of capitalist business” for “profitability”, its “science”? Indeed, how is it at all possible “to conduct business for profitability” rationally when the “system of needs and wants” expressed through the “autonomous market demand” of “free labor” is not itself rational? This is the point at which the “content” of the presumed “rationality” of the overall “system of capitalist production” must be enucleated, discovered and explained. And the content itself cannot be rational merely in the sense of “calculable”. Either we find a “substantive rationality” or else Weber’s Rationalisierung is sheer “mechanical violence” whose “increasing power”, its “growing control” stands in the way of, obtrudes and represses, those “most basic needs of social life”, those “needs and wants” that make it “indispensable”!

This is where the “effectiveness [of bureaucracy, state and capitalist] has strict internal limits, both in the management of public, political affairs and in the private economic sphere” in that there are things that “are not performed by bureaucracy”! The bureaucracy can only measure and monitor and perhaps even “repair” the existing “system”. But it cannot determine either the modalities of its own “growth” nor those of the “system” whose operation it is supposed to measure and monitor: its “growing power” grows the more oppressive and repressive the more it requires the “responsibility of the leitender Geist”. The leitender Geist can only become the ultimate safety-valve of “the system” by assuming the “responsibility” for the “decisions” that must be made to guide and govern and direct “the system”. The “leader” is the expression of a particular, specific, historical institutional expression of the conflict and antagonism of the capitalist “rational organization of free labor under the regular discipline of the factory”. The leader is the culmination of social antagonism and its ultimate “legitimacy”.

This shows yet again how deficient was Schumpeter’s attempt to explain the phenomenon of capitalist “development” purely in terms of the subjective Individualitat of the entrepreneur able to trans-form the “wants and provisions” of capitalist society, rather than in terms of the “conflict” intrinsic to these “wants and provisions” and its “rational organization”! The leader is not “different” or “separate” from the bureaucratic machine: the leader represents merely the “moment of decision”, the function of responsibility” for the entire “system”. But the concentration of legitimacy in the “figure” of the “leader” serves merely to display “disastrously”, “catastrophically” the inability of the living machine of bureaucracy to live up to its “indispensability”. As the legitimacy of the leitender Geist declines so does the “effectuality” of the State administration – and so does the “systematic risk” of the entire system grow.

The Parlamentarisierung is supposed to facilitate and allow the “control of the controllers” (Cicero’s paradox – quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”) so as to preserve “the autonomy of market demand” and “the remnants of ‘individual’ freedom of expression in any sense at all”. But this presupposes that (a) the “conflict” inherent to “the iron cage” is itself inescapable – a “fate”; (b) that “the growth of control” is occasioned blindly and irrationally by “the system of needs and wants” – that there are no other reasons outside of “the iron cage” for the “socialization” of production and the increasing power of bureaucracy; and (c) that the very possibility of “governance” under capitalism through the Parlamentarisierung does not itself allow for an alternative form of “governance” that, apart from the “leitender Geist” and its responsibility for decisions, cannot resolve the conflict between wants and provision – a conflict that, far from being “an inescapable fate”, Weber himself had traced back to its “historical origins”! The question of “the alternative” must then be posed.

In other words, is there not an “inter esse” that is finally expressed, however distortedly, by the “growth of control” engendered by the “need” to control growth? Is the growth of control not itself the pro-duct of that need to control growth within the bounds set by the capitalist “rationality” of “profitability”? And does this “rationality”, this “profitability” not rest on the “rational organization of free labor under the discipline of the factory” – and not on “autonomous market demand”?

Clearly the problem here is that Weber’s “iron cage” itself needs to be revisited, its “inescapability” questioned, its “creation and maintenance” by “the spirit of capitalism” traced to its historical origins. Above all else, the very possibility of “conducting capitalist business for rational and systematic profitability”, through “the rational organization of free labor under the regular discipline of the factory” needs to be examined.

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