Commentary on Political Economy

Wednesday 16 January 2019

Nietzsche versus Confucius (Consolidated Version)

Nietzsche contra Confucius (or, how to dance around Xi Jin Ping’s severed head spiked on a sharp stick)

Jesus taught us to love our neighbor. Nietzsche teaches us to hate our enemies. We know whose advice to heed: we must hate our enemies with every fibre of our being, with every cell in our body, every neuron of our brain. If I could put Xi Jin Ping on a nuclear warhead, I would gladly press the switch that lights the fuse. We must hate our enemies until we have shredded every cell in their being, until we have disintegrated every neuron in their brains – because they pose a deadly threat to us, because they have dared to attempt to kill us! And whatever does not kill us makes us stronger…
The core of Western philosophy has always been the Hegelian Ver-sohn-ung (German for “reconciliation”) – the undying hope that opposites attract until they reconcile in a harmonious union. This is a concept that Lukacs inherited and then re-formulated with the notion of Totalitat. The Marxian proletariat is the cosmic identical subject-object, the historical human agency that will lead us to the pacification of existence and the end of history. Even in Heidegger, and then in the neo-Marxist Sartre of the Critique de la Raison Dialectique, Totality plays a central millenarian role (cf. Question de Methode, prefaced to the Critique).

And yet, if we take a closer look at Marx’s own theorization of human history, we see that it is underpinned by a thoroughgoing Realism that defies and perhaps refutes all notions of human historical synthesis (the Hegelian negation of the negation) and of reconciliation. In Das Kapital, Marx derides “Thucydides-Roscher” precisely because the Hegelian Roscher had sought to etherealize economic reality into cultural elements as the emanation of the Volks-geist, the national spirit, in earnest polemical opposition to the growing popularity of mathematical economic analysis centred on the social engineering of neoclassical economics (Gossen, Menger, Jevons). Later, Max Weber too will engage in this critique of the “emanationism” of Roscher’s Old German Historical School of Economics in favour of his own neo-classical leanings; but what is telling in Marx’s histrionic pass at Roscher’s political economy is his thorough misrepresentation of Thucydidean historicism. Here, Marx adopts a one-sided interpretation of Historismus, in which only the “spiritual” pole of its diametrically opposed meanings is highlighted. - Because historicism has also come to mean the opposite of the predominance of the human spirit in history apotheosized in German Classical Idealism. The opposite reading of historicism is the one that stresses the particularity of each individual historical experience – hence, history as empeiria as against telos.

There is no “end” to history – no overriding “goal”, no eschatology. In the empiricist view, we must interpret history according to concrete experience, not according to wishful ideals. - It is Tory versus Whig, in the characterization of R.G. Collingwood and R.H. Tawney. The removal of a telos in the interpretation of history opens the field to a pessimist, Schopenhauerian worldview in flagrant contrast to the linear progressive view that Nietzsche identified with Judaeo-Christianity.
This is the conundrum that Hobbes faced when deliberating upon his own universal theory seeking to draw an uninterrupted thread (deductive or inductive) from atomic physics to the nation-state and geopolitics. It is obvious why in the end the author of the Leviathan had to start from the macroscopic world of politics and trace his way back to the microscopic realm of atoms rather than the other way round – because that was the only way in which both a deductive and inductive approach was open to him. To have moved in the other direction, from atoms to nations, would have presented insuperable non sequiturs.

Where history is concerned , then, if indeed we are to focus on experience, how can we draw any “lessons”, let alone “laws” from this inductive approach? The tendency to draw “lessons” from history leads invariably to the outline of a “scientific methodology” which, in turn, soon metamorphoses into a deductive logic – precisely the vice in Cartesian philosophy that Hobbes detected and denounced. How to avoid the Logos without receding into a vision of human history (Heidegger says the “human” is superfluous; humans are the only historical beings) that is reduced to Shakespeare’s “tale of sound and fury”?

Any attempt at a “scientific” explanation of the cosmos, every theoria,  must display or exude a certain faith in a Reason that is both a formal instrument (deductive logic) and a Value (an ultimate reality or substance) that is the embodiment or the “carrier” (Trager) of human history. Again, the eschatological motif in the notion of “science” is inescapable. Yet, history is sound and fury, it is a tale of woe and destruction, “signifying nothing” (Shakespeare, Macbeth). Behind the seeming “progressive tale” of Thucydidean historicism, behind the scientific “inquiry” (the etymological meaning of “history”) of Herodotean historein, there lies the unpalatable reality of human conflict and antagonism. The “lessons” of history – with the presumption that history holds teachings that can be read or deciphered for our future edification – break down inexorably when they clash against the grim truculence of the Peloponnesian Wars. This is the other side of Thucydides that neither Roscher nor Marx detected, convinced as they were that the Greek historian hunkered toward one pole of the antipodean meanings of historicism – the German Idealist pole. This is the “realism” that Hobbes knew he shared with the Greek historian whose work he translated, and that Marx could not bring himself to acknowledge because of that eschatological bent he inherited from Hegel and never truly relinquished.

There is a sense, however, in which the approaches to history of the pessimist empiricist Hobbes and the optimist rationalist Marx converged that is not confined to their shared materialism. By associating Thucydides with Roscher and deriding the latter for applying the historicist approach to political economy, Marx meant to lay emphasis on the “hard rock” of social reality that goes well beyond the passionate speeches of a Pericles and thus also the valiant ideals of Athenian democracy. Marx referred to this hard rock with the Teutonic phrase “social relations of production”, the “economic base” from which a “superstructure” of cultural and political institutions emerges and of which the latter are a purely “ideological” reflection. But when we take as much as a peek at these “social relations of production”, we find that they are firmly founded on the very pessimistic assumption of irreconcilable human and social conflict that Hobbes premised as an Euclidean axiom of human existence – his hypothesis on which any and all human conventions or contracts had to be erected -, and that he gleaned from his very thorough early reading of Thucydides. (Hobbes’s major systematic work is titled Elements in obvious reference to Euclid’s own Elements of Geometry, which he also translated.) Marx’s fateful misreading of The Peloponnesian Wars may have induced him into the failure to recognize the equally pessimistic roots of the concept of “economic base” and of “social relations of production” – the failure to recognize that Thucydides’s historicism was at bottom, from the historical side, identical with his own economic realism. “It is far more likely that the Church will renege on 38 of its 39 precepts than that it will forfeit one thirty-ninth of its tributary income!” Marx’s cynicism in this footnote to Das Kapital illustrates conclusively the realism that lies at the heart of his critique of political economy. Despite all his vaticinations about a future coming of the communist republic, Marx knew that – again, “at bottom”, in extremis, in the extreme - “man is a wolf to man”.

So, the wheel has run full circle to Hobbes’s fatidic saying, “homo homini lupus”. But what exactly is this “extreme”? It is a “necessity”, dire necessity (dira necessitas), replies Hobbes. A consensus, a convention, a social contract between humans is possible only upon the assumption of a dire necessity – only because the very existence of each individual is equally endangered by each and every other individual – because all human beings are capable in equal measure to harm or kill other humans. This violent hypothesis is the “extreme” upon which all social conventions and bonds are based. This basic violent hypothesis is the only “rational axiom”– a Euclidean axiom – on which all other superstructural political and cultural conventions are subsequently (chrono-logically) and consequently (logically) founded. Indeed, the logical and the chronological aspects of Hobbesian axiology are so intimately connected that it is hard to determine whether his state of nature or status naturae of “the war of all against all” was ever a historical reality or whether it is really an ineluctable axiomatic assumption to lay the constitutional foundations of all human civil society or status civilis.

The Hobbesian hypothesis extends, of course, to groups of individuals with what Carl Schmitt defined (in The Concept of the Political) as the true ambit of the Political  – the groupings of “friends” and “foes”. And it extends to Nations! Those abysmal fools who believe that “free trade” is the panacea for all world ills have not dealt with the Will to Power of the Chinese Dictatorship. But I should warn them that they have sorely underestimated ours!

The Marx of Das Kapital, then, is certainly a realist in spite of the German Idealist foundations of his worldview – and indeed even of his unquestionably eschatological stance in the Paris Manuscripts of 1844. This realism, embedded into the central notion of “social relations of production” from which the distinction between “economic base” and “political superstructure” is derived, allows us to draw Marx closer to what would be otherwise a most fervent foe of his – Thomas Hobbes. From Hobbes’s strictly ontogenetic postulates, Carl Schmitt proceeds to define the Political as the domain of “friend and foe” where human individuals seek to prevail over others by pooling their strength and power with allies that share common interests. The basic Hobbesian postulates that underpin Schmitt’s concept of the Political are (a) the irreconcilable self-interests of individuals and (b) the metus mortis, the fear of death at the hands of any other individual. Thus, the basis of all civil society for this early exposition of the negatives Denken (negative thought) is the axiomatic hypothesis that any and all social contracts and conventions – including the political alliance of friends against their foes - must be founded on the dire necessity to survive the bellum omnium contra omnes – the war of all against all.

For Hobbes as for Marx, then, to paraphrase and invert Lenin’s famous maxim, economics is a concentrate of politics. And, to paraphrase and invert an even more famous maxim by von Clausewitz, politics is the continuation of war by other means! Those beautiful souls ( the phrase is Weber’s) who would have us believe that free trade and world commerce and capitalist globalisation are the perfect panacea against the evils of war and nationalism (look no further than Benjamin Constant) are quite simply delusional and dangerous – for the reason that we are expounding here and that was valiantly if imperfectly theorised by Friedrich List that the underpinning of “wealth” is not “wealth” itself, however we may define it, but rather “the ability to produce wealth”. Hence, all wealth, whatever its definition and make-up, is dependent utterly and completely on the ability to control and command social resources. This is the naked Nietzschean Will to Power that the excrementious maggots of the Chinese Dictatorship exhibit and exert through every pore of their filthy Han skins: this is the Will to Power that we must vanquish and annihilate if we want our values, our culture, our interests – in short, our own Will to Power – to prevail and triumph over theirs! And triumph we will! Because our values are forged with our Will to Freedom when all Asia has ever known is Slavery and Serfdom.

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.

OIKUMENE: The Capitalist Chimaera and the Han Chinese Dragon

There are two implicit assumptions that all economic theory, bourgeois or Marxist, shares – both of them quite erroneous and utterly pernicious. The first is that economic activity involves only “social relations”, that is to say, only socio-logical relations that are relative to human individuals and do not therefore affect the ultimate metabolism of human interaction with our ecosphere. The second is that capitalist social relations of production are “natural” and therefore (a) capable of “scientific” precision and certainty, and (b) entirely immune to human efforts to obstruct their “necessary” and “inevitable” progress to universal application.

Even the greatest critic of bourgeois political economy, Karl Marx, was not immune to these erroneous and pernicious assumptions: nowhere in his writings is there any mention of the catastrophic effects of capitalist development on the ecosphere; and, by contrast, everywhere Marx envisages the development of capitalism from the individual firm to what he called “the world market” as absolutely inevitable and unstoppable or irresistible.

One of the most insistent aims of our theoretical work has been to establish the folly of these twin assumptions: “twin” because, though quite distinct, these assumptions share the common matrix of the purely socio-logical yet bio-logical, hence entirely “logical” character of human being.  Whether capitalism or communism (for Marx) is identified as the ultimate stage of human social development, in both cases the process or “progress” that leads to this ultimate stage is all implicit in the very nature of human being – and is, accordingly, entirely historically necessary. Even the Marxian critique of capitalism envisages the bourgeoisie as the historical carrier (Traeger) of a Kapital-Geist – capitalism as the teleological extrinsication of the Idea leading to the apotheosis of the Absolute Spirit, the Parousia of the Hellenistic Paideia, the revelation of the Second Coming in Christian soteriology.

More than simply a “teleology”, this rationalist exegesis of the socially antagonistic and ecologically catastrophic denouement of capitalist industry constitutes in fact an absurd optimistic leap of faith that serves merely to obfuscate and conceal its self-fulfilling prophecy of human annihilation, leading us to a fast-approaching apocalyptic precipice from which humanity will never recover and that will almost certainly lead to the early demise of human existence. – Because, as is vastly evident by now to all but the blindest and stupidest members of our species, far from leading to a futuristic Utopia, capitalism is making our lonely blue planet entirely uninhabitable. In short, capitalism’s chimeric delusion of achieving an oikumene – a harmonious and sustainable civilisation – once its mythical “market mechanism” expanded to all corners of the globe through free trade is unfolding into the manifest destiny that it always gestated - a nightmarish kakotopia of planetary desolation, a funereal pyre of cosmic conflagration. The real destiny of the capitalist oikonomia (economics) is not the attainment of the oikumene (note the telling common root of the two words in oikos, Greek for “village” or “home”), but rather the nihilistic curse of a scorched earth.

What Marx seems to have forgotten is something of which Max Weber – the only worthy, real bourgeois answer to the bearded genius from Trier – was supremely aware (cf. his lecture on “Sozialismus”) – and that is that capitalism does not univocally concentrate the labour force and turn it into a cohesive working class. Instead, capitalist industry, wage labour, serves also to divide workers and proletarians, first, by favouring overpopulation, and therefore by creating a “reserve army of the unemployed”; and second by creating political antagonism not just between bourgeoisie and capital, but also and above all between workers from different social, cultural and racial backgrounds – especially between those workers in the advanced industrial capitalist nation-states and those in the less advanced ones under the tyrannical control of ruthless totalitarian dictatorships.

The Red Dragon of the Chinese Communist Party from Mao Zhe Dung to Xi Jin Ping is the most abominable, execrable, pernicious and catastrophic exemplar of this process of the bourgeois “transmission mechanism” of global capitalist domination. Unlike what seemingly diametrically opposed theoreticians of capitalist economic development such as Karl Marx and Benjamin Constant believed, capitalist globalisation – “the world market” – leads neither to democracy nor to world peace (Constant); least of all does it lead to the unity of proletarians worldwide (Marx). It is true, as we have established in our Blog, that capitalist industry relies on the formal freedom of the labour force by means of money wages that workers are “free” to spend buying goods produced by workers under the command of capitalist employers other than their own. But this does not amount to democracy! Far from being pleonastic – as in the absurd phrase “liberal democracy” -, liberalism and democracy are utterly incompatible!

Whilst the capitalist bourgeoisie seeks to preserve its relative “freedom” to exploit workers by mustering their powerful antagonistic push within the dynamic of its own expanded reproduction and accumulation, and so must therefore preserve the “formal freedom” of workers, it is also very keen to undermine and subvert the potential political unification of working-class solidarity by (as we pointed out just above) facilitating the expansion of a reserve army of the unemployed through overpopulation; and, worse still, by moving part of its industry to geographical nation-states where this reserve army is under the oppressive domination of ferociously murderous dictatorships such as the Chinese one headed by that master monster Xi Jin Ping. The capitalist bourgeoisie exports the otherwise explosive antagonism of its own working class to populations under the tyrannical control of truculent dictatorships such as the Chinese. But by so doing the Western capitalist bourgeoisie ends up creating powerful dictatorial regimes whose political rationale and survival are ultimately antithetical to the logic and dynamic of capitalist industry itself!

But wait! There is more. Those friends who may be nonplussed by our own ferocious assault on the murderous, barbaric hordes of Han Chinese who have been aided and abetted and armed by the craven traitors of our own Western bourgeoisie – those friends may be wondering why we make no distinction between the murderous leadership of the Chinese Dictatorship and its own people, the Han Chinese race! Wherever you look, you will find hordes of fools selling you the tall tale of how we should distinguish between dictators and the people over which they dictate. Do not be fooled! With very few exceptions, throughout history dictatorships succeed on the back of overwhelming popular support! Why? Simple. Because dictatorships are universally founded on imperialist expansion, on rewarding their populace on the back of pillage, theft and rapacity. And no dictatorship in history has displayed and effected more genocidal ferocity than the Han Chinese Dictatorship and its people! – Which is why we must spare no effort, no molecule of hatred against this most despicable mass of maggots and welter of worms!
Make this your New Year’s Resolution against all the puny beautiful souls who preach “love and peace”: We shall have no peace and shall spare no love until we have hunted down and reduced to slavery the Han Chinese race of rodents, snakes and maggots!

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