Commentary on Political Economy

Sunday 9 December 2018

Nietzsche Contra Confucius - Part 2

Inverting Lenin’s maxim, we stated that “Economics is a concentrate of politics”; and inverting one by von Clausewitz, we proposed that “Politics is the continuation of war by other means”. Yet this is not to say that the extremes of this equation, economics and war, do not have their own autonomy, their specific weight, that makes them instances of a distinct political reality. The question is: what is the distinguishing mark of economics and war as extreme political realities?

There is a remarkable ambivalence at the centre of the Marxian notion of “social relations of production”. The ineradicable conflict at the heart of Hobbesian social theory makes it irredeemably ontogenetic because it is impossible to reconcile congenital conflict between human beings with any notion of their phylogenetic interdependence. With Marx, however, the phylogenetic interdependence intrinsic to his concept of social relations of production is entirely compatible with its pessimistic realism in that, in direct opposition to Hobbes, Marx maintains that phylogenetic cooperation, not ontogenetic conflict, is the fall-back condition of human being. For Marx, conflict is only a degeneration or a corruption of what is a necessarily benign human interdependence: for him, human beings are not just zoa politika as they were for Aristotle; they are instead animalia socialia. For Hobbes as for Nietzsche, of course, “at the end of metaphysics stands the statement, ‘Homo est brutum bestiale’” (Heidegger, Nietzsche, Vol. 4).

Clearly, then, the all-important puzzle to be solved is this: how is it possible for beings such as humans that are biologically, phylogenetically interdependent to operate, and indeed to co-operate, in conditions of ubiquitous conflict? The hitherto unquestioned assumption in all social and political theory has been that the world is rational and that irrationality alone needs to be explained. But at least since Nietzsche’s implacable ‘systematic’ demolition of the Western Ratio, the much more fateful question is: how is ‘rationality’ possible in an irrational world? And what does the irrationality of the world tell us about the ‘rationality’ that we supposedly discern in human society and institutions? With the question posed in these terms, an answer to it is immediately perceptible. The rationality that we seem to detect in human society is one that preserves the existing irrational order of things by setting strictly enforceable limits to the phylogenetic interdependence of human beings. In other words, what we misname as ‘rationality’ is really a logico-mathematical rule imposed violently on society by one of its groupings on the rest of society that preserves, propagates and perpetuates its rule over society. The very word ‘rule’(or ‘regulation’) suggests the nature of this ‘rule’: it must be logico-mathematical so as to be easily and promptly and precisely, jointly and severally applicable and calculable and reproducible and expandable. By virtue of such a rule, human beings are subjected to something similar to an inexorable fate whereby they become “the inmates of closed institutions” (Habermas, Toward A Rational Society). (Cf. Wittgenstein, “The law always catches the criminal”. But if it does, it is no longer a ‘law’; it becomes an inexorable fate, as in Kafka – see M. Cacciari, Krisis, Part 2

In a capitalist society, and now in the capitalist world market, the law of profit is the overriding monetary rule, based on the money wage as a global exchange standard between living labour and dead labour (workers and capital), that regulates the rational functioning and expanded reproduction of capitalist social relations of production. Surprisingly, it was left to Max Weber to articulate in blunt terms what Marx failed to make explicit – because of his eschatological and ‘scientific’ bent -; and that is that the law of profit is dependent on the “exact calculation” of monetary profit based on the “real cost of labour-power” dependent in turn on “free [wage] labour under the regular discipline of the factory”. Labour (workers) are “free’ because they are paid in money wages and not in kind – which allows them to spend the wages freely as consumers in the market -, but must work under “the regular discipline of the factory” that homologates capitalist factory discipline through “market competition”, that is through independent capitalists, not oligopolies or monopolies. Importantly, it is the relative “freedom” of the labour force to decide where to spend money wages that guarantees “market competition”.

So there we have it: the external binding rule that determines the “rationality” of the entire capitalist system in “mathematical” or accounting terms – in terms of “profitability” – is the ability of capital to discipline the labour force (workers) through the money wage. The money wage serves for capitalism the role of absolute frame of reference that the speed of light serves in Einsteinian physics. That may well be the reason why Keynes titled his major work “The General Theory”, echoing the title to Einstein’s work on relativity.

No comments:

Post a Comment