Commentary on Political Economy

Friday 13 September 2013

Nietzsche and History (Part Two)

In our recent piece on 'Keynes and Einstein' (Part One), which is to be followed by a "Part Two", we noted how Keynes lumps together in The General Theory under the umbrella of "Classics" both the essentialist classical economists from Smith to JS Mill and JB Say and Marx, and the "neo-classical" authors from Menger to Hayek. We also noted that this con-fusion made by Keynes is attributable to the fact that all of these economists treated "the laws of economics" as a Ratio-Ordo, a natural rational order pertaining to all human societies and indeed to all human reality. On this aspect of the question, Keynes was undoubtedly right. But the foundations (epistemological and ontological, no less than political) of what constitutes this "Ratio-Ordo" are significantly different between "classics" and "neo-classics". So far as "rationalism" is concerned, von Mises and Hayek or Weber for that matter were no less "rationalist" than Marx and Mill: yet their "rationality" is exquisitely Hobbesian, certainly not Spinozan!

The confusion that Keynes made with this con-fusion of Classical and neo-classical economists, is that the former group work with a Newtonian essentialist vision of the physical world, whereas the latter have already moved to a Machian empiricist and phenomenalist perspective - the same perspective that Keynes himself embraces.Furthermore, the Ratio-Ordo of the Classics has a con-cordant humanist-illuminist and Christian matrix, whereas that of the Neo-Classics is distinctly Hobbesian. (Elsewhere on this Blog we have traced the Spinoza-Hegel-Marx lineage, on one hand, and the Hobbes-Schopenhauer-Nietzsche lineage.)

And here is an intriguing distinction between Keynes and Einstein that we hope to highlight in Part Two of 'Keynes and Einstein', that is to say, that Keynes himself falls in the empiricist camp of Ernst Mach and the neo-classics, whereas Einstein still hankered after the rationalism of Newtonian physics even after his own general theory of relativity had completely overturned the Newtonian universe by replacing the notions of space and time, displacement and force with those of space-time, mass and energy. Our readers can find important further hints on this crucial discussion which can also be seen through the prism of its most important philosophical exponents (Kant for Newton, and Berkeley, together with Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, for Mach) in the fascinating essays by Karl Popper collected in his Conjectures and Refutations (see especially the essay on "Berkeley as the Precursor of Mach and Einstein" at p.166). 

Some aspects of this fascinating engagement with the "significance" of science are only lightly touched upon in the short essay that follows.

Historiographical Excursus

We know that Nietzsche placed Thucydides and Machiavelli foremost among “what I owe to the ancients”. What both these “antiqui auctores” (Machiavelli’s own expression) do is present or “report” on actual events (reality) without seeking to find a “reason” or a “meaning” or a “telos” behind the events: they “inform” us as to “what is” (cf. Heidegger), they relate “stories” (istorein, Historie) so that we “know” (er-kennen, “are acquainted with”) the occurrences, without pre-tending or a-spiring to a “scientific knowledge” (Wissenschaft) or “understanding” (Verstehen) or “interpretation” (exegesis) of these events – without a “moral narrative” or “in-struction”. For, just as “consciousness” is the false “reconciliation” of conflicting “impulses” or “instincts” (Triebe), so “historicism” is the equally false search for “ideal values” or “knowledge” (Wissen) to be “researched” from these events so as to a-scribe a “meaning” to history (istorein) that is “social” and not “natural”, “physical”. The greatness of Thucydides for Nietzsche lay in this, that he restricted himself to simple observation, to the analysis of “completed” events within their narrow confines (autopsia) and did not pretend to engage in “scientific research” (empeiria) for broader “meanings” or “significance” in a generic “interpretation” of human history, however eclectic or “hermeneutic”. From such a standpoint, Nietzsche could chastize the “historical school” of Roscher and Ranke and Niebuhr – Hegel’s history of “reflection” and Dilthey’s “Geisteswissenschaften” – for its post-Hegelian “emanationism”, for its idealism, for its “astute theology” (cf the second ‘Untimely Meditation’ – a critique and themes reprised in Weber’s ‘Knies und Roscher’).

2. What I Owe to the Ancients…  My recreation, my preference, my cure from all Platonism has always been Thucydides. Thucydides and, perhaps, Machiavelli's Principe are most closely related to myself by the unconditional will not to gull oneself and to see reason in reality--not in "reason," still less in "morality." For the wretched embellishment of the Greeks into an ideal, which the "classically educated" youth carries into life as a prize for his classroom drill, there is no more complete cure than Thucydides. One must follow him line by line and read no less clearly between the lines: there are few thinkers who say so much between the lines. With him the culture of the Sophists, by which I mean the culture of the realists, reaches its perfect expression--this inestimable movement amid the moralistic and idealistic swindle set loose on all sides by the Socratic schools. Greek philosophy: the decadence of the Greek instinct. Thucydides: the great sum, the last revelation of that strong, severe, hard factuality which was instinctive with the older Hellenes. In the end, it is courage in the face of reality that distinguishes a man like Thucydides from Plato: Plato is a coward before reality, consequently he flees into the ideal; Thucydides has control of himself, consequently he also maintains control of things. (ToI)

It is of the utmost importance to realize that what Nietzsche opposes is not the “instrumental” approach to society and community: Nietzsche understands that not only is this “instrumentalism” possible, but it is also valid “as a tool or strategy of power”! This may sound surprising in a philosopher who spared no effort to lampoon British Empiricism in science whilst at the same time constructing his entire philosophical Entwurf on the reality of “happenings”, of “events and appearances” and of “becoming” against all “rationalisms” – something that would normally have brought him closer to the Empiricists and even to the Machian Menger and the Austrian School. But what Nietzsche does not admit of is the validity of the “values” – scientific (truth), moral (good or evil) and ethical (justice) – that the “historicists” and the empiricists and Machians alike seek to ascribe to the “reality” of the istorein. Far from being or representing a “value”, history is an amethodon hyle – the “formless matter” of Herodotus and Thucydides – that exemplifies, e-veniences the “nature” or “physis” of the “individuals” involved. There is no “virtue” (arete’) or even “providence” (Herodotean “pro-noia”) or “spirit” (Geist) in history, but there is “fate” which is certainly not “Tyche” or “fortuna” (chance!), but rather nothing more than, most important for Nietzsche as we shall evince dramatically in Part Two of this work, the manifestation of the Will to Power as the Rationalisierung of life and the world!

Three kinds of “rationalities” are possible, therefore. One is the empiricist rationality of scientific research, another is the “teleological”, “idealist” rationality introduced by Hegel, and finally we have the Rationalisierung that Nietzsche expounds as the objectification of the Wille zur Macht. How difficult and confusing it may be to separate the three is perfectly illustrated by the most “philosophical” economic theoretician of the neoclassical and Austrian schools, Joseph Schumpeter, who combined a solid Machian background in the Vienna of Karl Renner with a Nietzschean vision of reality filtered through Max Weber. Schumpeter begins Chapter Two of his Theorie with this sweeping and suggestive summation:

“The social process which rationalizes our life and thought has led us away from the metaphysical treatment of social development and taught us to see the possibility of an empirical treatment; but it has done its work so imperfectly that we must be careful in dealing with the phenomenon itself, still more with the concept with which we comprehend it, and most of all with the word by which we designate the concept and whose associations may lead us astray in all manner of directions. Closely connected with the metaphysical preconception…. is every search for a ‘meaning’ of history. The same is true of the postulate that a nation, a civilization, or even the whole of mankind must show some kind of uniform unilinear development, as even such a matter-of-fact mind as Roscher assumed…” (p.57)

The footnote at “rationalizes” was expanded for the English translation and reads as follows:

“This is used in Max Weber’s sense. As the reader will see, “rational” and “empirical” here mean, if not identical, yet cognate, things. They are equally different from, and opposed to, “metaphysical”, which implies going beyond the reach of both “reason” and “facts”, beyond the realm, that is, of science. With some it has become a habit to use the word “rational” in much the same sense as we do “metaphysical”. Hence some warning against misunderstanding may not be out of place.”

Evident here is the maladroit manner and dis-comfort (not aided, and perhaps exacerbated, by the disjoint prose) with which Schumpeter approaches the question of the “meaning” of history. The Rationalisierung, which Schumpeter adopts from Weber, has made “possible” a scientific “empirical treatment” of “social development (Entwicklung)”, but has done so only “imperfectly”, not to such a degree that we are able to free ourselves entirely of “metaphysical” concepts – which is why “we must be careful in dealing with the phenomenon [Entwicklung] itself”. Nevertheless, Schumpeter believes that it is possible to leave “metaphysics” behind and to focus on “both ‘reason’ and ‘facts’”, and therefore on the “realm of science”. In true Machian empiricist tradition, Schumpeter completely fails to see the point that Weber was making in adopting the ante litteram Nietzschean conception of Rationalisierung to which he gave the name. “The social process which rationalizes” is an exquisitely Weberian expression: far from indicating that there is a “rational science” founded on “reason” and “facts” that can epistemologically and uncritically be opposed to a non-scientifc idealistic and “metaphysical rationalism”, Weber is saying what Nietzsche intended by the ex-ertion of the Will to Power as an ontological dimension of life and the world that “imposes” the “rationalization” of social processes and development in such a manner that they can be subjected to mathesis, to “scientific control”! What Weber posits as a “practice”, one that has clear Nietzschean onto-logical (philosophical) and onto-genetic (biological) origins, Schumpeter mistakes for an “empirical” and “objective” process that is “rational” and “factual” at once – forgetting thus the very basis of Nietzsche’s critique of Roscher and “historicism”, - certainly not (!) because they are founded on “metaphysics” (!), but because they fail to “question critically” the necessarily meta-physical foundations of their “value-systems”, of their “historical truth” or “meaning”!

Far from positing a “scientific-rational”, “ob-jective” and “empirical” methodology from which Roscher and the German Historical School have “diverged” with their philo-Hegelian “rationalist teleology”, Nietzsche is attacking the foundations of any “scientific” study of “the social process” or “social development” that does not see it for what it is – Rationalisierung, that is, “rationalization of life and the world”, the ex-pression and mani-festation of the Wille zur Macht! By contrast, Schumpeter believes that the mere abandonment of any “linearity” in the interpretation of history, of any “progressus” (as Nietzsche calls it), is sufficient to “free” his “rational science” from the pitfalls of “metaphysics”!

This contrast between Nietzsche’s approach to the world of experience and perception and appearance as “becoming”, against the Machian “empiricist” approach to “scientific reality and fact and truth” is quite revealing: both Nietzsche and Mach start from the opposition of “experience” and “perception” to any “meta-physical reality” that may lie “beyond” the human perception of life and the world – including, even for Mach, the Newtonian conception of space and time! But, a most crucial distinction, whereas Mach still believes in the epistemological “reality” of Newtonian physics and of the “laws of science” tout court, Nietzsche in extreme and radical contrast comes to question the very “scientificity” of this “science” and of this “reality”, whether Newtonian or indeed Machian, questioning in the process even the Kantian epistemological foundations of logico-mathematics! (We shall pay the closest attention to these matters – which constitute the whole thrust and import of our present work – in Part Two of this study.)

Here it will suffice to reiterate that Nietzsche shares wholeheartedly – nay, makes it a point of pride of his philosophy dating from Birth of Tragedy  - the anti-historical notion of “fate” not as “pro-noia” or pro-vidence, and not even as the “cyclical” and “pagan”, pre-Judaeo-Christian interpretation of historical time, but certainly against the mediaeval Scholastic “linear” interpretation of Christian millenarism. (Cf. Mazzarino, ‘PSC’, Vol.3, refs. to Nietzsche.) “Cyclicality”, whether in its cosmological version (the exact repetition of events or palingenesis with final apokatastasis) more attributable to Epimenides, with whose concept of “prophecy” Nietzsche would have disagreed, or even historical-analogical (the repetition of “cycles”, anakyklosis) as with Polybius and Vico (“corsi e ricorsi”), was certainly not what Nietzsche intended to oppose to his presumed Christian “linearity”, but rather the “a-historicity” or “realism” of a Thucydides or Machiavelli intent on the study of “completed actions” (autopsia, dia-gnosis).

Nietzsche may well have approved of Karl Menger’s attack on “the errors of historicism” for its unwillingness “to theorise” mathematically certain social phenomena, economic ones in particular; but most certainly not in pursuit of a “scientific empeiria”, a factual “research” that could follow “empirical methodological or scientific standards”. Rather, he would stress the “instrumental” nature of any such “mathesis”: in other words, he would insist that such “regularities and tendencies” as the neoclassical Menger and Jevons sought (the phrase is Keynes’s, who uses it to describe the latter’s innate “statistical” quest, in ‘Essays in Biography’) – a search joined even by Marx in his “scientistic” mode - exist not as “absolutes” or as “explanations”, but purely as “descriptions” of a “reality” that changes and is “trans-formed” continuously! This would explain Mazzarino’s “perplexity” [‘PSC’, Vol3, p.362] when confronting Nietzsche’s attack on Roscher for his “historicist” divergence from the Thucydidean focus on individual events and Menger’s equally virulent “anti-historicist” diatribe with this most “pro-Thucydidean” of German historians and his successor, Gustav Schmoller, for refusing to draw scientific generalizations from history because of their focus on just such individual events! Mazzarino’s perplexity can be overcome if one considers that whilst Nietzsche did not admit of a “linear history” from which a “telos” or a “scientific truth” could be deduced, nevertheless he could have agreed with Menger that “scientific instruments” could be applied in a “practical” or “strategic” sense to the study of a given “historical space” as nothing other than ex-ertions of the Will to Power, as “the rationalization of life and the world”!

It is most important to note at this juncture that, as we argue in our study on the origins of “The Neo-classical Revolution in Economics”, the Austrian and German Schools, however “heated” their controversy over the “methodology” of the social sciences (the famous “Methodenstreit”) constituted powerful forces in the concerted effort by capitalist bourgeois interests across Europe to counter the emergence of socialist parties and their ideologies in the name of an overall “methodological subjectivism” that displaced the entire focus of Political Economy from “Labour” to “individual Utility” and therefore from the dramatic transformation and concentration of the labour process (Taylorism and Fordism), of the composition of the working class (from the skilled [Gelernt]to the mass worker), and that of capital (the rise of large cartels and corporations vertically and horizontally integrated) in what has been generally described as “the Second Industrial Revolution” (see Alfred Chandler Jnr’s The Visible Hand),  to a vision of the liberal “free and competitive” market that championed the Planlosigkeit (spontaneous plan-lessness, anarchical freedom) of bourgeois civil society (Ferguson’s and Hegel’s burgerliche Gesellschaft) against the regimentation of the “planned”, “organized” economy advanced by the Sozialismus. It is the “abandonment” of all “metaphysical illusions” – the better to conceal the greater illusion of “marginal utility” - that will allow the conceptual fusion by the German ruling elites in the period to World War Two and beyond of the German Historical School’s focus on “individual”, interventionist specific projects of German industrial domination in Europe, on one hand, and of the Austrian School’s elevation of “individual” consumer choices on the other. In this context, Nietzsche’s own philosophical Entwurf, together with the spread of Machism in science that subtended both the Austrian (Menger, Bohm-Bawerk, Mises and Schumpeter, then Hayek) and the Lausanne (Walras and Pareto) Schools, must be seen as one co-ordinated and massive intellectual counter-attack by capital against the emergent working class whose political expression will culminate with the overarching intellectual vision of Max Weber. (For an initial outline of these arguments, see Cacciari’s “Sul Problema dell’Organizzazione” in ‘PNR’.)

The mathesis, which again will be the central theme of Part Two of this study, is a politically-charged praxis that Nietzsche brilliantly identified but failed to enucleate sufficiently. Despite vague warnings about the dangers of “scientisation” from far-sighted critical thinkers such as Gunnar Myrdal (‘The Politics of Economic Theory’) and Hannah Arendt (in ‘The Human Condition’) and Jurgen Habermas (in ‘Theorie und Praxis’), no serious attempt has been made to date to “theorize” or “identify” and spell out its nature and import. (We shall have occasion to explain later why Heidegger’s conception of Technik is at once inapplicable and irrelevant to the critique of capitalist social relations despite his most valiant efforts in that direction [in Die Technik und die Kehre and in Brief am Humanismus], capably but unconvincingly supported by Cacciari [‘Confronto con Heidegger’ in ‘PNR’].)

Thus, to repeat, the “difference” between Nietzsche and Menger is that whilst the former denied the possibility of a “science” of history, he may have agreed on the “instrumental” use of scientific techniques to societies and of economics in particular – what constitutes the Rationalisierung –, whereas the latter took the “historicist” denial of the “possibility” of economic “science” as “erroneous”, just as did Schumpeter. Whilst Nietzsche would agree with Roscher’s “historicism” in exalting historical “uniqueness” (except perhaps for the “analogical cyclicality” of the Eternal Return), he would also agree with Menger that this “historicism” cannot prevent (except epistemologically) the adoption of certain scientific “techniques” as strategies (ideologies) in the overall Rationalisierung of life and the world. Menger, for his part, starting from a Machian position, would argue that these “techniques” are also “scientific”. So, whereas Nietzsche understands “historicism” as “historical science” and deprecates it, Menger interprets it as “refusal to be scientific in economic matters” – which Nietzsche would allow! Marx will go even further than Menger by “historicizing” the laws of motion of modes of production in a historical-materialist sense, which is why he could deride jokingly the philo-Hegelian idealist “emanationism” of “Thukydides-Roscher” (in ch.9, Vol.1 of Das Kapital).

But the fact that Nietzsche, who championed Thucydides for confining himself to “happenings”, could attack Roscher’s “historicism” whilst Marx could do the same (although from a “historico-materialist” perspective) by lambasting “Thukydides-Roscher” ought to have warned the philosopher of Rocken about the possible different interpretations of Thucydides, with Marx placing the Greek historian clearly in the “historicist” camp. Later, Hayek and Schumpeter will assume a position similar to Menger’s. Even the Mengerian assault on Roscher and the German Historical School is evidence of Nietzsche’s mistaken “strictures” on the compass of Thucydides’s historical method, which could lend itself to broader “historicist” use in the “reflexive history” tradition (Hegel) of what Dilthey sought to theorise as the hermeneutic “Geisteswissenschaften”. (For a review of the “hermeneutic” current of historical interpretation, the obligatory reference, although from a heavily Heideggerian “perspective”, is H. Gadamer’sWahrheit und Methode.)

As Mazzarino sharply perceives, Nietzsche’s entire false attribution of “a-historicity” to the Greeks and of “linearity” to Christian historiography – something that Weber (in ‘Knies und Roscher’) and Schumpeter (quoted above) also thought to glimpse in Roscher’s post-Hegelian “emanationism” and that Lowith later reprised (in The Meaning of History) – finds its real origin in Hegel’s own attempt to reconcile Spirit and Nature, Logic and History, the history of philosophy and the philosophy of history and thence conclude (what Nietzsche abhorred most) that “whatever is real is rational and whatever is rational is real” (in Preface to Grundlinien der Rechtsphilosophie). In reality, no such notion of historical “linearity” can be found in pre-Hegelian Christian or pagan historiography, even in Augustine for whom God is “outside” of time, and whose denunciation of the pagan cyclical notion of time rests still on the “decadence” of the civitas mundi and the coming of the civitas Dei at the end of history – a regressus, rather than a progressus, but with the Parousia [the Second Coming of Christ] marking the end of time and the requiem animarum with the entrance of the civitas Dei into the divine Empyrean of crystalline admiration of souls.

Again, note also Mazzarino’s account of how mediaeval “linearity” (if it ever existed, contra Nietzsche, Croce) was not that of “progress”, but that of a “regressus a perfectione ad defectum” where the finis is “anomie”. The mediaeval notion of “progress”, if anything, referred back to classical antiquity, as with the astounding similarity (remarked upon earlier) of Nietzsche’s opening lines of the “Historie fur das Leben” in ‘UB’ (“Betrachte die Heerde, die an dir voruberweidet; sie weiss nicht was Gestern, was Heute ist…”) to Cicero’s ascription of “progress” from the time when “in agris homines passim bestiarum more vagabantur” (De Inventione, I, 2, in Mazzarino, V3, p.357) – which is perhaps, together with Hegel’s idealism, another source of Nietzsche’s mistaken notion. Given Nietzsche’s proclivity for the “realism” of Thucydides and the sophists (in the quotation at the start of this excursus), it is “significant” that the “invention” to which Cicero attributes the “progress” of humanity from its beastly status was rhetoric or oratory as the practical foundation of political decision-making, of “resolve”. (Cf. the importance placed on oratory in the glorification of the polis by Hannah Arendt in Vita Activa.)

Consistently with his approach, the concept of “revolution” is virtually absent from Nietzsche’s conception of society and State. Change (metabole) occurs and “decline” or “disease” (malaise, cor-ruptio, the Ent-wertung) seen as a “Dis-gregation” of original primordial instincts or impulses. So it is always a question of conflicting “needs and instincts”, which Nietzsche unfailingly places at the origin of “psychological” evolution – the ontogeny of thought with its pathos of distance. Even the State is a “balance of forces” or “barter” or “exchange” – subject to corruption and decline and to “stasis” (“paralysis” seen classically as the effect of insurrection or civil war). (For all this, see Mazzarino, p.253.) Interestingly, despite his emphasis on “the Eternal Return”, there seems to be no reference by Nietzsche to anything like the “anakyklosis” of Polybius or to Vico’s “corsi e ricorsi” – no mention of palingenesia and apokatastasis, despite the equations “tradition=nomos, democracy=anomie” (again, Mazzarino, V3, pp.255ff). This we have attributed, as we are soon to discuss, to his novel intuition of time.

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