Commentary on Political Economy

Monday 16 January 2012

Apologies to our friends for the long interval between posts due to my being "in transit" both physically and intellectually with a second book, after the one on Nietzsche, this time on Max Weber that will form "chapters" in the overall compendium that I have called Krisis: Exegesis and Critique of Capitalism. As a reward for the trust our friends have confided in us (the readership is rising constantly - we have now reached 30,000 page-views!), I have decided to post this lengthy draft of Section 8 of the Weberbuch. Thanks for your support and "Happy New Year!"

PART THREE - Methodology and Rationalisierung in Weber’s Sociology


The Concept of Freiheit in Weber’s Negatives Denken

The criteria of value which political economists have naively identified or given prominence to have alternated between the technical economic problem of the production of goods and the problem of their distribution ('social justice). Yet, again and again both these criteria have been overshadowed by the recognition, in part unconscious, but nevertheless all-dominating, that a science (Wissenschaft) concerned with human beings - and that is what political economy is - is concerned above all else with the quality of the human beings reared under those economic and social conditions of existence. Here we should be on our guard against one particular illusion: As an explanatory and analytic science, political economy is international, but as soon as it makes value judgements it is tied to the particular strain of humankind (Menschentum) we find within our own nature. (CWP, p.15)

The German Historical School and other early opponents of Neoclassical Theory objected to marginal utility on the ground that “utility” is an entity whose “homogeneity” fails to account for the obvious diversity of the “motivations” behind “economic action” which evince instead the “heterogeneous” character of its manifestations (see Schumpeter’s account of this in the last chapter of his Economic Doctrines). One of the constant objections to capitalist enterprise is precisely this – that it reduces all aspects of human social interaction to the “homogeneous” pursuit of “profit”. The most convenient feature of economic theories of Value (whether based on “labor” or “utility”) is that they eliminate the need to explain how disparate aspects of human activity can be homologated and homogenized into a single monetary measure in capitalist societies – something that had never happened in previous historical formations characterized by the prominence of incommensurable mechanical social bonds impossible to subject to the organic fluidity of the monetary equivalent. Our purpose in this chapter is to elucidate how such homologation and homogenisation – in short, how such a “rationalisation” – is possible by conducting a thoroughgoing review of Weber’s scientific methodology. Weber himself fails to confront the central question that we are addressing here – that is, how such a reduction of the heterogeneity of human activity to “homogeneous” and “rationally calculable enterprise” or “profit” is at all possible! On the contrary, we have seen that Weber worked on the presupposition of just such “homogeneity” of what he called “modern industrial labor [Arbeit]” which he did not analyze in terms of the reproduction of the society of capital.
In economic analysis again - as with legal, political and other social institutions - Weber makes the colossal Neo-Kantian mistake of assuming that there is a specific “form” of human “knowledge” or “action” that is singularly “economic” – just as he conceded to Kelsen that there is a specific dimension of human social activity that is “legal”. Weber simply mistakes what are mere and highly contingent “institutions” of human groupings – the “economy” and “value”, the “law”, “the State” and “power” – for hypostatic and ineluctable “forms” of human knowledge that a social scientist or “observer” can analyse in their epistemological specificity and “autonomy” from other “disciplines” or “sciences”. This is why for Weber “as an explanatory and analytic science, political economy is international”.  Scientific activity must be “international” because its “categories” and “laws” cannot preserve their “scientificity” if they end up prescribing “ultimate goals” whose ineluctably “normative value” will necessarily negate the “neutrality” and “universality” that are indispensable to all “activity” that pretends to be truly “scientific”. Nevertheless, no scientific activity, as activity, can entirely extricate itself from the sphere of human action. And this is why “as soon as it makes value judgements [the analytic science of political economy] is tied to the particular strain of humankind (Menschentum) we find within our own nature”. Two are the inextricable a-spects (the “per-spectives”) of “science” that Weber isolates, therefore: - the “formal and technical” side, the pure or axiomatic aspect, and then the inevitably “practical” side, the applied or practical aspect, that is not “inter-national” and that is indeed partial and chauvinistic. Yet it is precisely the impossibility of extricating these a-spects of “science” from each other that will enable us to identify and to overcome the aporetic limits of his methodology.
This is not to say that Weber commits the fallacy of identifying an underlying sub-stance or “reality” (be it “labor” or “utility”) that may “explain” or help “determine” social behaviour.  Indeed, once the Weberian Entwurf is properly understood, it will be immediately apparent how incongruous and inapt is that entire critical and  “scientific” approach to Weber’s oeuvre which lingers exclusively on the voluntaristic and formalistic aspects of his sociology, chief among them “charisma”, the “ideal types” and “rationalism” – not without the complicity of Weber himself who is in part “responsible” (this is written tongue-in-cheek) for this mis-interpretation and mis-apprehension of his work precisely because of his repeated attempts to preserve the “scientific autonomy” or “epistemological validity” of various “fields” of the Geisteswissenschaften in the Neo-Kantian tradition initiated by Hermann Cohen, which Weber pursues in its “interpretative” or “hermeneutic” elaborations by Rickert and Dilthey in the historical sciences, whilst at the same time prescinding from the “content” of these “scientific fields” in line with the Machian obliteration of all “meta-physical” concepts that might seek “to capture” the “reality” behind the “phenomena” or “sensations” – the “facts” – of “scientific empirical research”, particularly in the “field” of political economy.
It is not surprising, then, if the first methodological obstacle that Weber tackles is precisely this “appropinquation” by the German Historical School of Law, from which Weber hails, and then by its “economics” strand with Roscher and Knies, of the “freedom of the will” and the “creative irrationality” of its actions. Nor is it surprising that he should often flounder in the “relativism” induced by the formalism and phenomenalism he inherits from the Neo-Kantians and from Machism, respectively. - Because in genuine Nietzschean fashion Weber cannot allow that the field of scientific research be “divided”, as both German Historical Schools propose, according to their “subject-matter”, the Cartesian res, cogitans or extensa: that is to say, either “nature” for the “natural sciences” (Natur-wissenschaften) or “the soul” for the “historical sciences” (Geistes-wissenschaften). For Weber as for Nietzsche no such “transcendental” dichotomy is possible: it is not the subject-matter that determines  the content of the science for the simple reason that “science” has nothing to do with “the real course of events” but is rather a “technique” that con-nects “rationally” means and ends. For Weber in particular, and here begins his “distancing” from Nietzsche’s “trans-valuation of all values”, although no “metaphysical” categorization of empirical research of “the real course of events” is legitimate because its only ratio would be the onto-theo-logy of Western metaphysics that seeks an “ultimate cause”, a ultima ratio or causa finalis, or Value from which the rest of existence can “emanate” hierarchically, still it is possible “to isolate” a technical rationality that can retain the axiomatic characteristic of “scientific objectivity” and of “value neutrality” – aetiological rather than deontological, empirical rather than axiological.

As we are about to show in this section, it is this Weberian attempt to distinguish “logically” the element of “purpose” from that of “finality” (ends and means, Zweck and Wert or Ziel) in his affirmation of the “objectivity” of “social science” that leads him to forget or neglect the problematic of the “finality” in every “purpose” and the “purposivity” in every “finality” that makes any “objective” or “technical” definition of “rationality” an illusory hypostasis. The early tract on Roscher und Knies betrays in fact Weber’s early jurisprudential formation in that the correlation between “freedom” and “irrationality”, the “unscientificity” of “history” as a subject-matter (recalling the a-methodon hyle [form-less matter] of early Greek historiography) and that between “necessity” and “regularity” which form the pars delenda of that tract had constituted also the central tenet of Savigny and his Historical School of Law whose theoretical premises were then adopted and adapted faithfully by the German Historical School of Economics. Long before Weber replaced Knies at Freiburg, this “Thucydidean” Historismus of both German Historical Schools had been challenged by Rudolf von Jhering’s  attack on the Hegelian holistic concept of Volksgeist and his application of Windelband’s distinction between “ideographic” and “nomothetic” scientific methods in social studies to jurisprudential history, stressing the “purpose” (Zweck) or causa efficiens of “laws” in serving social needs as against the “ideal aims” (Ziele) or causa finalis of “Law” as understood in Neo-Kantian “Normativism”.  (See on this Jhering’s Der Zweck im Recht and Windelband’s ‘Normen und Naturgesetzen’ in Praeludien, both published in 1882-83.)
Weber’s great merit in resuming this novel assault on the entrenched orthodoxy of the Kathedersozialisten twenty years later consists precisely in applying Nietzsche’s revolutionary critique of Western metaphysics and science in an original synthesis that turns it from the “formalistic” Kantian notion indicated by its concept of “rationality” into its “operational version” as Rationalisierung indicating the “active”, “willful” role of “the instincts of freedom” and of “the ontogeny of thought” in the “intellectualization” of practical historical conduct. (The name “negatives Denken” serves to emphasize the “negative” approach to the Ratio-Ordo and the Freiheit of the philosophia perennis, but not its converse, the “passive” approach of the latter to the “becoming” of Being and its transformation of the operari into opus, of facere into  factum, and of agere into actus. [Again on this, see Heidegger’s Schelling’s Essay on Freedom and Vol.2 of his Nietzsche.])
Whereas the Historical Schools seek to differentiate the “natural sciences” capable of determining “laws” that con-nect phenomena causally, “regularly and predictably”, from the “historical or spiritual sciences” that can merely describe the contingent and the individual e-vents or “happenings” (Geschehen) in their “idiosyncrasy”, Weber adopts von Jhering’s and Windelband’s approach that establishes instead the epistemological and methodological “continuity” and “contiguity” of all sciences in their search for objective generalizations based on empirical facts and reality that are never “deducible” but that rely instead on the “falsifiability” of existing scientific generalizations. Like Nietzsche in the Gaya Scienza, Weber perceives that there is no difference between “natural” and “historical” sciences from an epistemological standpoint but only in terms of the practical “aim or goal” (Ziel) or purpose (Zweck) pursued by each science – certainly not in terms of an “ultimate truth” from which all future events may be “deduced”! Such “deductionism” or, as Weber calls it, “emanationism”, is yet another version of the “moral theology” of German Classical Idealism from Leibniz through Kant to Hegel and Fichte that attempts to en-compass the whole of reality in ever more “com-prehensive” concepts that end up having little connection with any “reality” whatsoever! (This is, in nuce, also the platform of Kierkegaard’s “existential” critique against Hegel’s “essentialism”.)
Weber’s predecessor in the Chair of Political Economy at Freiburg and head of the Young German Historical School of Economics, Karl Knies, had based his entire classification of “science” on the impossibility of reducing sciences dealing with “history” to the predictive status of positive sciences dealing with nature because the former, though “con-fined” or “bounded” by natural factors or “con-ditions”, rely nevertheless on the “creative” and therefore “irrational” actions of human beings that are not open to “scientific” or logico-mathematical “measurement”. To this position disputing the “scientificity” of “the social sciences”, Weber objects as he did with Roscher that it will never be possible to conceptualize the totality of reality in either the “natural” or the “social” sciences because scientific research constitutes an “infinite regressus” into reality itself, and that in any case “mathematization” of reality cannot be the ultimate aim of science nor can it indeed “define” scientific activity or methodology. The very fact that it is impossible to specify with any degree of exactitude a “scientific methodology” goes to show that scientific activity will always be “negative-regressive”, due to the inevitable “falsifiability” of its “laws”, and that the human sciences, even the most exact, will always be open to the “interpretation” (verstehen) of human actions so that they too, or especially they, involve an infinite regressus. 
In this specific context, Weber opposes also in part Windelband’s ideographic-nomothetic distinction in the sense that, given that we are positing a single “causal chain” for each empirical inquiry, it is incorrect then to conclude that behavior that is by definition “irrational” or “idiosyncratic” [ideographic] for the individual case can suddenly turn “rational” [nomothetic] for the “mass” simply by weight of its numbers! From a “scientific” viewpoint, it matters not how many people in a social group engage in similar conduct. Nor does it follow that “mass” behavior is “less free” or “more rational” than that of single individuals. Rather, what matters is that the social scientist be able to determine whether a given behavior (by individual or by a group) adopts “means” that are “adequate” or “empirically appropriate” to the “ends” that the individual or group have set for themselves. In such a case, from the “scientific” standpoint, it is far more likely that “rational” behavior is “free” – because it is “adequate” to the proposed “goals” – than that “irrational” behavior is because the latter can be explained only by some “co-ercion” or “con-straint” by which the behavior of the observed agent may be influenced that cause it to deviate from “the rule”. It is precisely this “rule” or “ideal type” that the social “scientist” devises as a “hypothesis” that must be submitted to “empirical verification”.
« Ils [the ideal types] présentent une série d'événements construits par la pensée qu'on retrouve très rarement avec leur pureté idéale dans la réalité empirique et souvent pas du tout, mais qui d'un autre côté, parce que leurs éléments sont pris à l'expérience et seulement accentués par la pensée jusqu'au rationnel, servent aussi bien de moyens heuristiques à l'analyse que de moyens constructifs à l'exposé de la diversité empirique » 67.
66 Max Weber , Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Wissenschaftslehre p. 393.
67 Ibid. pp. 396-397.

Weber draws a clear line between “scientific research” or “facts” and “the philosophy of history”. Because “value ideas” are both infinite and indefinite and because scientific research is also “infinite and indefinite” – because no “final cause” or “ultima ratio” can be found, all “evaluations” founded on “absolute values” or “purposes” or “goals” assigned to “empirical reality”, to “the real course of events” (which is itself “foreign to interpretation”) cannot but amount to mere value judgements that pretend “to integrate in a nomothetic science” what is instead “always and everywhere an aspect of the intensive infinity of diversity”! We should note right here that this of the “in-comprehensible totality” of a “reality” that, in any case, can be “con-ceived” as such, as a “totality”, is a fundamental error into which Karl Jaspers will fall years after Weber with his philosophical postulate of an “all-encompassing truth” as an “ideal ontological goal”. Yet this is precisely the error Weber himself commits – namely, to believe that there is a “real course of events” and an “infinite empirical reality” or “external facts” or “empirical facts” that can be abstracted from the human activity that inevitably ascribes interpretations (Nietzsche) to this “real course of events”, to this “empirical reality! - Because this “inevitability of interpretation” does not mean in the least that “it is interpretations all the way down” (relativism) as Weber (and Foucault, to invoke the ridiculous!) believe; nor does it mean that, with Marcuse, “science is ideology”! What it means is that “science” is a human activity whose “effectuality” or “consequences” are “practical” and have very little to do with “neutral empirical scientific research” or “the pursuit of Truth”, but everything to do with what Nietzsche calls “the Will to Truth”! The “facts” of science are not a “real course of events” independent of “scientific activity”. This “activity” is the very fact that “scientific research” means to establish and determine! It is Weber’s attempt to divorce human praxis from the “objectivity” of “empirical scientific research”, from its “instrumental rationality”, that lands him in the desert of nihilism, into that hypostatized “totality” that leads inexorably to the Ohn-macht of the philosophia perennis.

« [L]a recherche interprétative des motifs de la part de l'historien n'est rien d'autre qu'une imputation causale dans le même sens logique que l'interprétation causale d'un quelconque phénomène singulier de la nature; en effet son but est l'établissement d'une raison suffisante (au moins à titre d'hypothèse), à l'image de l'investigation naturalistique lorsqu'elle se propose d'établir les caractères singuliers d'un complexe de phénomènes naturels. A moins de devenir la victime de l'émanantisme hégélien ou de n'importe quelle autre variété d'occultisme anthropologique moderne, elle ne saurait se donner pour but la connaissance de ce qu'il faudrait faire (au sens des lois de la nature), car le concret humain aussi bien que le concret extrahumain (vivant ou inerte), quand on le considère comme un fragment de la totalité du devenir cosmique, ne se laisse jamais intégrer dans sa totalité dans un savoir nomologique, pour la bonne raison que partout et toujours (et non pas uniquement dans la sphère du personnel) il est un aspect de l'infini intensif de la diversité. Or, du point de vue logique, tous les éléments singuliers pensables, pourvu qu'ils soient donnés à la constatation scientifique, peuvent entrer en ligne de compte comme des facteurs causalement importants d'un enchaînement historique causal » 55.

Nietzsche’s question regarding “rationalization” was: how is it possible for human activity to become “scientific”, that is, to be turned and, above all, to be enforced methodically and nihilistically against human beings (from the sketch on Uber Wahrheit und Luge to the final section on ‘Die asketische Ideale’ in Genealogie der Moral)? How can “con-cepts” become “social reality”? Weber instead insists on the “impossibility” of turning concepts into reality – which is a “meta-physical” statement because it poses the “enigma” philosophisch and not praktisch for what it is, because it re-affirms negatively Fichte’s “projectio per hiatus irrationalem”! – except this time in the semblance of “ideal types” that can link “rationally and scientifically” available means to proposed ends. For this is a practical reality, not a metaphysical conundrum or, as Weber calls it, “an enigma”. And therefore Weber is also missing the point completely because it can easily be argued that it is precisely in this regard, according to this criterion and discrimen at least that the “natural sciences” are far superior to any of the “historical sciences”, no matter how much “interpretation” we exercise in the latter! The real point, the all-important clue to solving the “enigma”, is that “the natural sciences”, no matter how “reliable” their “regularities and predictions”, remain aspects of “human action” whose “object” or “domain” is certainly not “the real course of events”, “the external or empirical facts”, but rather their “effectuality”, their “effect” on human lives! But once “regularity and predictability” is made the criterion and discrimen of “scientificity”, however “negatively”, it is evident that the only way left for Weber to maintain any distinction between the various “scientific fields” is precisely to rely on their “object”, on their “subject-matter”, which brings him back to the “epistemological idealism” of the Neo-Kantian tradition. (One may sympathise with Schumpeter, then, that after all the Methodenstreit was, to roll his conclusion into a ball, “much ado about little”!) Weber himself concedes the point, limiting himself to a timid deference to “extending scientific research in all possible directions…”, pre-serving thus the “autonomy” of different disciplines, and avoiding methodological squabbles over scientific boundaries.

Even more important, by focusing on the “im-perfection” of “scientific activity” owing to the “infinite regressus” of causation, Weber is paradoxically turning this particular aspect of scientificity – the ability of a science “to predict” events intensively and extensively - into the “negative” criterion and discrimen for the “scientificity” of “science” that he wished to avoid and at the same time he is seeking to insulate or isolate “scientific hypothesis” from human political action by artificially separating “instrumental action” from what he calls “the kingdom not of this world”, “the ethics of absolute values”. Indeed, so certain and determined is Weber to impetrate this point that he is even disposed, within strict parameters, to introduce the term “rational progress” in the “technical” evaluation of his “wert-frei” science of “ideal types”:

One can naturally use the term "progress" in an absolutely non-evaluative
way if one identifies it with the "continuation" of some
concrete process of change viewed in isolation. But in most cases,
the situation is more complicated. We will review here a few cases
from different fields, in which the entanglement with value-judgments
is most intricate. (p.27)

The most obvious “example”, of course, is in the deontological sphere of the Sozialismus, and Weber turns to this with exquisite virulence:

The central concern of the really consistent syndicalist must be
to preserve in himself certain attitudes which seem to him to be
absolutely valuable and sacred, as well as to induce them in others,
whenever possible. The ultimate aim of his actions which are, indeed,
doomed in advance to absolute failure, is to give him the subjective
certainty that his attitudes are "genuine," i.e., have the power of "proving"
themselves in action and of showing that they are not mere swagger.
For this purpose, such actions are perhaps the only means. Aside
from that — if it is consistent — its kingdom, like that of every
"absolute value" ethics, is not of this world. It can be shown strictly
"scientifically" that this conception of his ideal is the only internally
consistent one and cannot be refuted by external "facts." I think
that a service is thereby rendered to the proponents as well as the
opponents of syndicalism — one which they can rightly demand of
science….The task of an ethically neutral science in the analysis of syndicalism
is completed when it has reduced the syndicalistic standpoint to its most
rational and internally consistent form and has empirically investigated
the pre-conditions for its existence and its practical consequences.
Whether one should or should not be a syndicalist can never be proved
without reference to very definite metaphysical premises which are never
demonstrable by science. (pp.24-5)

Because Weber defines  “rationality” procedurally as causa efficiens and not substantively as causa finalis, which is a “value or ethical norm”, he thinks that he can “reduce” the assessment of “rationality” to a purely “technical” question, that he can reduce the bourgeois ethos to an eidos. But in terms of causae efficientes it is evident that these can be assessed or judged to be “rational” only in terms of that “teleology”, of that “freedom of the will”, of that “subjectivity” or “value judgements or ethical norms” and of that causa finalis that Weber seeks to e-liminate but without which his purported “interpretation” of the causa efficiens or “purposive rationality” could lay no claim to any “rational” status whatsoever! It is in this “methodological” ocean that Weber sinks because he seeks to anchor his concept of “rationality” to a “necessity” or “purpose” that does not and cannot ex-sist in “reality” outside of its being a dira necessitas or ultima ratio – that is to say, a politically-enforced “co-action”, as Hobbes and then Nietzsche clearly perceived (although each drew very different socio-theoretical and philosophical conclusions). Weber wants to eliminate the (ethical or value or normative) “finality” in the “purpose” of “rationality” by distinguishing neatly between Zweck- and Wert-rationalitat. Yet by so doing he ends up eliminating any “rationality” that the “purpose” might have, whether instrumental (Zweck-rationalitat) as causa (!) efficiens – because no “causality” can be established  “empirically” between disparate events except in a “rational-teleological” sense that Weber does not accept methodologically -, or normative (Wert-rationalitat) as causa finalis – because, ex hypothesi, Weber correctly excludes this as “emanationism”. Thus, by eliminating any notion of “substantive rationality” of the “purpose”, with its “causality”, he eliminates any and all “purposivity” that the conduct under investigation (Untersuchung) may possess as well! What Weber fails totally to see is that “rationality” is always and everywhere a “value judgement” with “ethical” and “normative” qualities that are present regardless of how distant in the causal chain the “purpose” or “instrument” of that “rationality” is from its “final cause”! And even when he sees this, he still clings ultimately to a notion of “scientificity”, of wert-frei or “value-neutral” science that, unbeknownst to him and as we will demonstrate shortly, turns out to be a Wittgensteinian “language game”.
By seeking to trans-late the Rationalisierung into “scientific rationality”, Weber ends up tra-ducing both! As Schopenhauer showed in his critique of Kant’s synthetic a priori judgements,  either we adopt the Leibnizian Principle of Sufficient Reason and attribute no ratio essendi to phenomena outside of their mere ec-sistence (they are only “representations” to him [Vorstellungen]), and so these become an inert “real course of events” (the equivalent of Kant’s thing-in-itself); or else we attribute a ratio essendi that is identical with the ratio cognoscendi, which is what Kant did by attributing (arbitrarily) a theo-logically or trans-scendentally “necessary” causal con-nection to the phenomena that we experience. Weber falls into Kant’s confusion by seeking to retain the “quality” of “rationality” – its “Value”, its “Norm”, its Ratio, its Sollen or “Ought” - whilst confining his “objectivity” to a finite segment of the causal chain that he decrees to be the Sein, the “Is”! By so doing, he confuses the “practical distance”, the causal regression, of the “rational chain” from the “ultima ratio”, with the “causa finalis”, the causa sui (God) that is toto genere different from the “chain of events”, and that alone can confer “rational” status to that chain! In a way, the confusion is made excusable by the fact that “ultima” and “finalis” can be used both as “last” [in time] and “paramount” [in value] (the way principium stands for both “start” or “beginning” [in time] and “principle” [in value]). (Similarly, Habermas in his attempts to establish a “theory of communicative competence or action” engaged in an utterly futile exercise that can have no “cognitive” or “scientific” basis – that cannot be prescribed [recall Schopenhauer’s “where is it written”?] – in terms of mere “communicative action”.)
Weber’s mistake is to believe that it is possible to prescribe “rationally” – that is, “scientifically” – various “links” or “con-nections” between purposive means  (causa efficiens) and teleological end (causa finalis) in given historical situations. This may be plausible from a “practical” point of view, of course; but such a methodology has nothing to do with the evaluation of the “conditions” that limit the sphere of choice of particular courses of action, an evaluation that will always and everywhere involve the practical political activity of the “scientific observer” in defining the “rational meter” to be adopted! (One may think here of Herbert Simons’s apoplectic stupidity with his non-sensical notion of “bounded rationality” – “bounded” by what, if not by “the irrational” [which includes “asymmetric information”] whose very “ex-sistence” dis-solves any “boundaries” that Simons may arbitrarily “draw” between the two “spheres” of “rationality”, bounded and un-bounded?) The separation is not between “empirical” or “external” facts on one hand and “hypotheses”, “theories” or “ideal types” on the other – for the simple reason that no “facts” or “truth” ec-sist outside of the human activity of establishing those “facts”. Again, this is emphatically not to say that all human action is an “interpretation” – because that statement would presume that there is some thing that requires “inter-pretation”. Instead, the act of “inter-preting” or of “theorising” is itself a political strategy that is capable of being “rationalised”, of being presented as “science” but that is in fact a specific political practice that needs to be confronted as such.

Sunday 1 January 2012

Liberum Arbitrium - Reflections on the Constitution of Freedom

These are preliminary notes that will form part of the chapter on Weber's Methodology. In the current politico-economic climate, the task of devising new approaches to the re-founding of "constituent power" is ever more pressing and the subject of these reflections.

The problematic of “free will” in terms of the reconciliation of the “freedom of the will” with the “co-existence” of “many wills” is already implicit in the Christian eschatology of the fate of the soul after death whereby human beings are “free” through their earthly actions to decide whether to be summoned to heaven or to hell. In the words of Saint Augustine, “it was so that there might be a ‘beginning’ that the human being was created”. The Scholastic notion of ‘liberum arbitrium’ neatly encapsulates this problematic of the will that has become central to our own theorization of the political and economic shape of a free and rational post-capitalist society.

This problematic may be made explicit through close analysis of the notion of ‘arbitrium’ with its twin connotations of “arbitrariness” and “arbitration”. Both connotations involve the supreme element of “decision” in the sense that all human action, however “arbitrary” or “arbitrated”, involves a form of “autonomy” of the subject who decides without which no ‘arbitrium’ would be possible. In this regard, the expression ‘liberum arbitrium’ is clearly pleonastic. But the notion of the “autonomy” of the “arbitrium” runs into the difficulty that the other connotation of “arbitrium”, that of “arbitration”, involves the element of “judgement” that makes the “decision” in its very “auto-nomy”, subject to the “laws” of judgement, of “rationality” itself! In other words, the very “autonomy” that in the Kantian systematization of the problematic of the Will (in the Praktischen Vernunft) rescues the Will from the heteronomy of the operari – from the “laws of physics” – also threatens to bind the Will to the “law” of the Categorical Imperative, that is to say, to a “formal” subordination to “the rule of Reason”. The fact that Kant himself in the Opus Postumum expressed worried reservations about the validity of even logico-mathematical “laws” as applied to physical events goes to show that ultimately the only source of the Kantian Vernunft could be a Leibnizian intuitus originarius or divinus to which Kant himself alluded in the Third Critique – the one appropriately devoted to “Judgement”.

The negatives Denken from Schopenhauer to Nietzsche, through to Weber, Schumpeter and even Heidegger, approaches the problematic of freedom from this “negative” angle: the expression “freedom of the will” is understood in the subjective genitive: it is not “the will” that is “free” – free to decide whatever it “wills” – but rather it is “freedom” that de-fines the “will”, that “de-limits” its “sphere of competence”. Thus, for the negatives Denken the Will is “free” to do whatever it “can” do – the “free will” becomes “will to Power” where the “Macht” is what defines the will – and the “Macht” is defined not “trans-scendentally” in the manner of German Idealism, as in the “dialectic of self-consciousness” whereby the “individual wills” engage in a discursive “diachronic” process of “reconciliation” leading up to the harmonious “freedom” of a “rational society”. Instead, “freedom” is now defined “immanently” in terms of the material “power” of individual wills to exert their “volitions”.
Weber is quite explicit in this regard – [Quote]

It is this inevitable “clash of wills” that determines the “free-dom” of the individual will. It is certainly not “the will” that “chooses” its own “free-dom” but rather “free-dom” is the by-product of the “room to manoeuvre” available to each individual will from its eristic “Strife” (Schopenhauer) or “struggle” against other wills. And it is this “Strife” that allows individual wills to ex-ercise their “Macht” instrumentally, in terms of “choosing” means that are “adequate” to the proposed ends. As Weber calls it, this is “causation in reverse”: in the physical sciences, the aim is to establish what “causes” lie behind given “effects”, whereas in the social sciences the aim is to select the effects or means that will satisfy or be conducive to certain “causes” or “goals”. This is why the “freedom of the will” can be ascertained or “measured” only from the adequacy of the human utilisation of certain “means” to achieve proposed goals. In social science we must assume that the human will is “freest” when it chooses the “appropriate” means, determined “scientifically” in the pursuit of given goals: “freedom” here is understood in a wholly “instrumental” sense – as a means to an end -, a far cry from the German Idealist concept of “freedom” as the apotheosis of the human spirit.
In this context, “irrationality”, far from being the hallmark of “freedom” in the sense of “liberation from the laws of nature”, is actually the clearest sign of the human subjection to these “laws” – the fact that human action has been “constrained” or “conditioned” by “powers external” to the Will. Freedom is therefore the “resultant” of the conflicting and opposing wills striving and struggling against one another in Life and the World.

In Weber’s own words, “future generations will judge us not by our discoveries and wealth but by the ‘room to manoeuvre’ that we will have bequeathed them”. There is no “progress” in the constitution of human consciousness, no Hegelian “Idea” extrinsicating, unfolding in time and in space. Even the technical progress of humanity can be assessed as “progress” only in terms of “technical rationality”, certainly not in terms of “Reason” or “Civilisation” or “culture” – not in terms of “Aufklarung”. Weber’s concern, then, is not “freedom of the will”, but rather the ability of a social system to allow the satisfaction of human wants in a “rational” manner, one that provides for the selection of means “adequate” to the achievement of given goals through the ex-ercise of “free individual choice”, not through the hypostasis of extrinsic “final goals” including that of “rationality”. – Which is why the Sozialismus is doomed in that it aims at the attainment of an ideal society of “equality” through the centralisation of political power such that “only certain dictatorships have ever achieved”.

The danger posed by the Demokratisierung is that the “freedom of the will” turns into a collective “freedom from the will” in the manner feared by de Tocqueville – and Nietzsche no less than by Schopenhauer and Kierkegaard – and that leads to the Schmittian “total state”. In Kierkegaard’s words, since the idea of “equality” has spread, popes, kings, ministers and diplomats have not been able to rule society any longer. The idea of “equality”, as Nietzsche has shown, is incompatible with that of “justice”, that of Demokratisierung is incompatible with the Parlamentarismus. For the negatives Denken the State can only seek to govern “the instincts of freedom”, to protect the disintegration of society into the bellum civium. The question is “how” this can be done, and indeed it is whether and how it can be done “rationally”. There is no question that this is Weber’s leitmotiv, the guiding problematic of his entire oeuvre. And the difference between Weber and Nietzsche is the belief that this can be done according to a “technical rationality” that does constitute “scientific progress” in the history of humanity. True it is that Abraham died in contentment just as much as any modern man, and that Robinson Crusoe’s adaptation on a desert island is “experientially” similar to that of any modern entrepreneur. But although the “experience” of life cannot differ because human instincts remain unchanged, the “technical rationality” of the means and methods adopted to achieve stated human goals is amenable to “scientific verification”.

This leads Weber straight into the “evaluation” of various scientific approaches to social life, chief among them that of the Economics, and then straight onto the question of the State, whose Vergeistigung is destined to turn into the Enr-seelung of the Rationalisierung. And this Rationalisierung, far from constituting a restriction of the will, means only that the “free” ex-ercise of the will, its “rational” and “responsible” application, can be ensured ever more “scientifically”. Weber here con-fuses (mis-takes by “fusing” them) the con-cepts of Rationalisierung and “rationality” – the second being the “ideological rationalization (apology and justification)” of the first. It is because Weber seeks to justify the Rationalisierung that he needs to dress it up in “scientific” terms. But his eventual realisation of the im-possibility of this task, finally turns Weber to the examination of the “standard of value” (in the Freiburg lecture) which he finds in the nation-state.