Das Kapital (Karl Marx)

If Marx had decided to end this volume after chapter 2, he would have given us a relatively interesting philosophical analysis of labour.  It would have been completely wrong, of course. Part of the book is his labour theory of value and several theorems deduced from it.  The rest of the book is a scare tactic on how bad industry is. Whenever argument is lacking, in come the sob stories.

We should perhaps cut off one argument at the pass. You will hear some say that Marx anticipated problems in today’s marketplace.  He did no such thing.  When Marx uses terms like alienation, he means something entirely different than why the minimum wage advocate means today.

This review will focus mainly on the first part of the book.  The reason is simple: it is the heart of his argument and if it is wrong, it really doesn’t matter what he gets right.

Chapter 1: Commodities

A commodity is a thing outside of us that satisfies our wants.

“The utility of a thing is its use-value,” and this is independent of the labor that goes into it.  Consumption of a product actualizes the use-value.

A thing’s exchange-value must be equal to another commodity.  (Marx also says that exchange value is a mode of a thing’s existence.  It is a “phenomenal” form, “contained in it, yet distinguishable from it.” For someone who hated metaphysics, Marx uses many metaphysical concepts).

Marx then moves to the heart of his system, and indeed, the most fatal problem to it.  Since a thing’s exchange-value is equal to another thing’s exchange-value, how do we make this work? In other words, how do I really know that x weight of corn = y weight of iron?  Marx sees this problem, so he introduces a third term: each entity must be reducible to this third term.

What is this “something?”  Marx tries really hard to find it.  He notes that “exchange-value” is just an abstraction, and since any abstraction is as good as any other, we can do away with that.  What seems to be left is “labor.”  In language reminiscent of Renaissance alchemy, Marx notes that the “material thing is put out of sight.”

Let’s summarize the problem: there is a common substance (metaphysics-language again!) but it keeps manifesting itself as “exchange-value.”

Let’s go back to use-value.  Marx says a thing is valuable “only because human labor in the abstract has been embodied or materialized in it.” The only way we can measure this value is by the quantity of labor. I don’t think Marx is saying that the hours spent making a watch determine how much we can sell it for.  He says “the total labor power of society,” the sum total of the values, “counts here as one homogenous mass of human labor.”

That does nothing to help me find out how much to sell my watch.  Marx’s answer isn’t much different from the earlier one: we take the average sample.

Conclusion: “The value of one commodity is to the value of any other, as the labor time necessary for the production of the one is to that necessary for the production of the other.”  As Sir Roger Scruton remarked in Fools, Frauds, and Firebrands, Marx isn’t dealing with empirical data but with some occult entity embedded in the exchange. There is always a hidden essence in the exchange.  Whereas real economists would focus on how supply and demand influence pricing, Marx thought that irrelevant since it said nothing about the hidden essence.

In earlier metaphysics, either Christian or Neo Platonist, there was a cycle of exitus and redditus, of exit and return.  Imagine a circle with God (or Being or Good) at the top and a movement downwards along the circle.  That is the exitus.  There is then a return movement to the top, the redditus.  Marx does the same thing with currency and commodity.  We begin with C, Commodity.  It is exchanged for Money, M, and that money is then used to purchase another Commodity, giving us:

C → M → C

Marx takes it a step further: there are antagonisms within these oppositions.  Even more so, the commodity actually changes into the form of money.  This is alchemy. This transformation is itself an alienation (chapter 3, sect. 2).  

In the next chapter, Marx explains how this transformation completes the cycle.  We now move to M → C → M.  After further transmutations, Marx concludes that this is the general formula of capital.  All of this is very interesting, but the reader might be asking: what does this have to do with how much something should cost?  That’s the problem with Marxist economics: facts are subservient to theory.  Marx is always considering the matter in the abstract.  That’s completely backwards.

We’ll refute this in detail at the end.  It is worthwhile, in the meantime, to explain some of his other concepts:

Labour power: the aggregate of those mental and physical capabilities in a human being when he produces value.  Its value is specifically determined by labour time.  If the owner sells the product at a profit, the surplus doesn’t go back to the labourer.  He is thus alienated from his labour.

The rest of the book is a collection of sob stories.  Now to the refutation:

First, as Bohm-Bawerk notes, Marx rests upon Aristotle’s theory of equality in exchange.  Aristotle said that goods of equal value are traded in an exchange.  Marx agrees but puts labor as one of the terms.  But if that’s true, then there is no reason to even exchange anything.  Nothing would disturb the equilibrium (Bohm-Bawerk 2007:70).

Further, Bohm-Bawerk continues, some goods that are exchanged do not involve any labor time: such as the soil, wood in trees, water power, coal beds, stone quarries, petroleum reserves, mineral waters, gold mines, etc.” 

There are even more damaging criticisms of the labour theory.  Labor isn’t homogenous, so how can it serve as a uniform medium of exchange?  Furthermore, Marx thinks that the businesses that are labour-intensive are the most profitable (which he has to say, since there has to be an active agent putting his labour into the product).  This means that the more machinery one employs, the less profit there will be.  Experience tells us the complete opposite.

Moreover, Marx sees all credit systems as the fat cat capitalist oppressing the poor borrower.  He never imagines a situation where the creditor lends to the government.

Marx has no concept of time-preference, where he sees production only as the gratification of immediate selfish needs.

Throughout his writings Marx says that the worker is on the side of society, and the interests of capitalists is against the interests of society, yet it is undeniable that capitalists produce technology (medicine, scientific advancements, etc) that benefit society.

It is true that there were many abuses in the Industrial Revolution.  We can be grateful for child-labour laws and the like.  None of that, however, requires a Marxist outlook on life.

Böhm-Bawerk, Eugen v. 2007. Karl Marx and the Close of His System. Auburn: Mises Institute.

The Strange Case of Tory Anarchism

Wilkin, Peter.  The Strange Case of Tory Anarchism. Faringdon, Oxfordshire: Libri Publishing, 2010.

What relevance does a niche subculture from 20th century Britain have for Americans today?  Sociologists have pointed to the phenomenon of “the empty self,” the reduction of happiness to my own personal feelings.  A corollary is a mindless conformism to consumerist society.  The Tory anarchists, by contrast, show how one can resist such mindless conformism. 

Summary statement: The Tory Anarchist is the “Young Fogey.” As Wilkin notes, “To be a Tory anarchist is to share a conservative moral and cultural critique of the modern world, rather than a right-wing political ideology” (Wilkin 12).  This allows Wilkin to label a socialist like George Orwell as a “Tory.” If I may translate into American lingo, a right-wing conservative simply wants to “own the libs” or get the next interventionist Republican into office.  A Tory, by contrast, wants to preserve a nation’s cultural practices.

The more I think about it, a Tory anarchist is basically a hipster who has style and class and is usually quite favorable to religion. With hipsters they protest bourgeois culture, but they probably wouldn’t join the Democratic Socialists, nor would they approve of the soycialist attack on religion. As Evelyn Waugh notes, “The disillusioned Marxist becomes a fascist; the disillusioned anarchist, a Christian” (Brideshead Benighted: 206).

A Tory disbelieves in revolutions because what will come next will usually be worse.  A Tory anarchist strongly disapproves of all politicians. Tory anarchism is not a political ideology or program.  It is a set of social practices.  It will come as no surprise that a Tory is a traditionalist.  He takes it a step further:  he believes in classes in society. Their opposition to things like the welfare state is merely to oppose the encroaching power of the state.  Otherwise, they are quite comfortable with “safety nets” on the market.

A Tory anarchist take on the market is a bit more complex.  They see market forces as reducing man to a philistine culture.  Nonetheless, most Tories, Orwell excluded, make peace with capitalism as it is the least of all evils.

Tories have championed both high and low culture.  There is a unifying theme, though.  Both Waugh and Orwell agree that culture cannot be reduced to mere preference.  Beauty is objective, even if pretty is not.

The Tory, like the real conservative, prioritizes the local over universal theorising (29).  This means that neo-con nation-building was never conservative.  The anarchist label is a bit more troubling, as anarchism not only protests the existence of the state, but that of class distinctions as well.  Tory anarchism, if such there be, remains a rebellion within limits, rather than without, and often possesses a reactionary cultural perspective” (33).

The Tools of the Tory Satirist

Tory satire embodies silliness, empiricism, irony, and the surreal (49).  Silliness simply exaggerates the manners of a certain class.  The best example is Monty Python. Empiricism is a bit more challenging, as empiricists were basically skeptical of authority and religion.  For the Tories, however, empiricism was a style of writing that aimed to be clear and precise (59).  So far, that is good.  I do think there is a contradiction in the project at this point: Tory anarchists, at least on this reading, want to be both surreal and empirical/clear.  I maintain you can’t be both, since that is more or less the point of surrealism.  Dream-like writing and thinking is by necessity ephemeral.  It avoids clarity.

Wilkin’s examination of the Empire and Tory is particularly good.  The British Empire was neither all bad or all good.  Rather, it embodied contradictions that revealed the best of British culture, although usually at the expense of other cultures.  There is an even more pointed contradiction. Tory anarchists embodied the real Britain, the local Britain at home.  Empire, however, is always an amalgamation of various cultures.

Although most Tory anarchists would gladly see the demise of the Empire, they realized that its replacement, the Nanny State, is just as malignant to human liberty and flourishing.  Instead of a traditional class at the top, society would now be ruled by elite “experts.”  

The expert class came as a result of global capitalism.  It’s not that capitalism per se is the enemy for Wilkin; rather, “the state tried to take the risk out of capitalism by shifting the burden of research and investment costs onto the general population–in effect, the socialization of risk” (146).

Orwell was the most interesting.  On the surface he appeared a man of contradictions.  He was a socialist who warned against Soviet intrusion in the West.  Moreover, he seemed to support the British monarchy.  Most startingly, at the end of his life he gave a list of communist sympathizers to MI6.  I think, rather, that Orwell was more or less consistent in all of this.

For Orwell, the monarchy played a unifying role in national life (As I Please: 1943-1945, 102).  On socialism, for whatever else its faults, Orwell wanted a uniquely British socialism that resisted the threat of Sovietism.  He saw that both Thatcherism and Sovietism reduced man to a faceless blob.

Some sections are savagely funny. While many Tory anarchists revered the military and the crown, they could poke fun at their own stereotypes. See for example:

Commanding Officer: Sorry to drag you away from the fun, old boy. War’s not going very well, you know. War is a psychological thing, Perkins, rather like a game of football. You know how in a game of football ten men often play better than eleven?

Perkins: Yes, sir.

CO: Perkins, we are asking you to be that one man. I want you to lay down your life, Perkins. We need a futile gesture at this stage. It will raise the whole tone of the war. Get up in a crate, Perkins, pop over to Bremen, take a shufti, don’t come back.

Goodbye, Perkins., I wish I was going too.

Perkins: Goodbye, sir – or is it – au revoir?,’

CO: No, Perkins.

List of Tory anarchists:

Evelyn Waugh

George Orwell

Peter Cook

Michael Wharton

Auberon Waugh

Richard Ingrams

Chris Morris

Spike Milligan

Alistair Sim

The Chap magazine.

Criticisms:

The printing is somewhat odd.  The first chapter begins in verso, or on the left-hand side of the page.  Also, the book repeats itself.  Many times we are told that Tory anarchism is “a form of English nonconformism.”

Notwithstanding, the book is a fascinating exploration into 20th century British culture.  

The Portable Karl Marx

Marx, Karl. The Portable Karl Marx. ed. Eugene Kamenka. New York: Penguin Books, 1983.

Even though Marx was completely demonized, this is a lucid volume and well organized, though that probably speaks more of the editor than of Marx. This book is like one of God’s spies stole Satan’s battle plan and now we get to read it.

Marx’s style is often criticized. Kapital has the reputation of being one of the worst books ever written.  Actually, his transitional writings are usually quite lucid and forceful.  His journalistic writings are mostly bombastic nonsense–much like journalism today.  They can be safely ignored.

TRANSITIONAL WRITINGS

“1844 Manuscripts.”  By not owning the means of production, the worker is alienated from his labor.  He only has an external relationship to it; hence, he is alienated from it.  This labor is “self-sacrifice” (Marx 136).  This alien labor now becomes an alien power that confronts me.

Theses on Feuerbach

Marx is aware of the limitations in earlier materialism.  If we’re just atoms bumping around, then we really can’t speak about much.  Marx takes it a step further: materialism is now defined as praxis (155).  While he takes the standard line that truth = power, he draws a different conclusion.  If truth is power, then it can only be demonstrated in praxis.

With ominous portents to come, he defines man as the aggregate of social relations (thesis VI).

Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy

Social relations determine man’s consciousness (160). It’s at this point that Marx rejects Hegel.  For Hegel, essence determines existence.  For Marx, it’s the other way around.

German Ideology

Marx gives a relatively accurate account of the division of labor (almost certainly copying from Adam Smith).  There isn’t much to disagree with here. The division of labor is a necessary development. Unfortunately, it cleaves man’s relation in two. Marx sees this as alienation.  What he doesn’t see is that it allows man to produce more food and not starve to death.

He pauses his analysis to talk about consciousness again. Our “mental intercourse” is “the direct efflux of [our] material behavior” (169).  Consciousness is just conscious existence.  It is a “social product” (174).  I could be wrong, but I don’t think Marx completely rejects (at least here) the idea of a nonphysical consciousness.  He could be simply saying that consciousness supervenes on the physical.  That’s still wrong, but it is a bit more sophisticated.

Division of labor now becomes “an alien force existing outside them” (177).  Alienation, as a result, renders men propertyless.

On History: history develops by opposing forces clashing into each other, which generates a new contradiction.  Specifically, it is a contradiction between productive forces and social community (192).  This provides the sharpest contrast with Christianity:  the Church sees society held together by the bonds of love (Augustine, Book 19, City of God).  Marx sees society’s essence as the clash of forces and contradiction.

Grundrisse

Here is Marx’s famous (and debunked) labor theory of value.   Value is “proportional quantities in which it is exchanged for other quantities” (Marx 401).  If I want to exchange wheat for iron, I must refer both to some third term which is neither (cf. 439).  For Marx this is labor. When I produce a commodity, a certain amount of labor goes into it.  This crystallization of social labor is a commodity’s value.  Indeed, it is a “social substance contained in it” (396).

A profit, therefore, is a surplus to my labor.  This profit doesn’t come back to me, though. Boss Man, according to Marx, has literally taken my substance.

It is not necessary to continue this discussion.  This is the heart of his system.  If this is false, then everything he says is flawed.

Das Kapital

Famous discussion of labor’s being the 3rd term in exchange value.  The quantity A being exchanged for B must be equal to labor, C.

Human labor is a substance which is embodied in production (441). Marx then abstracts labor-value from use-value.  Upon further abstractions, the human person is eclipsed altogether.  Marx sees a “homogenous mass of labor power” (442).  This isn’t all that different from the grim and chilling term “human resources.”

I’m not overanalyzing Marx.  He reifies labor, calling “commodities congealed labor-time.” Labor is almost a physical substance, whereas the human person, for Marx, is simply the result of social forces.

Then it gets weird.  Marx gives labor and value an almost magical creating-power.  He writes, “It is value, rather, that converts every product into a social hieroglyphic” (449).  And: “The character of having value, when once impressed upon the products, obtains fixity only by reason of their acting and re-acting upon each other as quantities of value” (450).  This sounds very similar to medieval and alchemical grimoires, instead of lead we have humans, and instead of the sulphur we have the re-acting agent of value.  What he has completely missed is that it is humans who act, not abstract concepts.

Places where Marx almost gets it right

Marx sees a world-market existing with propertyless workers (179).  These workers are cut off from capital.

Criticisms

Labor theory:  while sociologists and journalists might praise the labor theory of value, few economists take it seriously.  First, as Bohm-Bawerk notes, Marx rests upon Aristotle’s theory of equality in exchange.  Aristotle said that goods of equal value are traded in an exchange.  Marx agrees but puts labor as one of the terms.  But if that’s true, then there is no reason to even exchange anything.  Nothing would disturb the equilibrium (Bohm-Bawerk 2007:70).

Further, Bohm-Bawerk continues, some goods that are exchanged do not involve any labor time: such as the soil, wood in trees, water power, coal beds, stone quarries, petroleum reserves, mineral waters, gold mines, etc.” 

Böhm-Bawerk, Eugen v. 2007. Karl Marx and the Close of His System. Auburn: Mises Institute.

Evaluation

Given the attacks on liberty today, understanding Marx is essential.  The reader should familiarize himself with the philosophical writings.  That is where the attack is coming from.  Class consciousness is being weaponized.  True, socialism is on the rise, but it is more of a “gimme free stuff” than it is a serious analysis alienation and labor.

Zizek: First as Tragedy, then as Farce

In Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings there is a scene where Pippin takes the Palantir and looks in it, not realizing that he is giving Sauron access to his own thoughts (and also having access to Sauron’s). As a result, he is given a clear glimpse into the mind of the enemy. Likewise, it is not often one reads an actual Communist proposal. While there are constant tirades that Obama is a Marxist, the truth of the matter is that he strengthened neo-liberal capitalism. Zizek, on the other hand, honestly evaluates the likelihood of a future Communist movement.

The book is divided into two long chapters. In the first chapter Zizek thoroughly deconstructs the capitalist narrative in the light of the 2008 financial meltdown. He pursues themes he will later develop further (Living in the End Times, 2010). He offers the standard critique of modern capitalism: by lowering taxes and leveling the playing field, the market allows predatory forces in the form of Big Business outbid and monopolize the market, marginalizing “the little man” (see Archer-Daniels Midland’s attack on rural America). The irony is too rich: by attacking “socialism” the American conservative allows the corporate elite to force him out of a job. The rest of the chapter is a dense exposition of Lacan, interesting to only those who are already interested in Lacan.

The rest of the book is a modern Communist proposal. Zizek must face the fact that Communism seemed to fail immediately, even by Lenin’s own standards. After each failure, Communism must “go back to the beginning.” Zizek rightly notes that it is a form of Plato’s Idea, and an eternally recurring one. Zizek hints what Communism needs is an eschatology and a Personal realization of that Idea: it has neither.

Conclusion

As with any Zizek book, tracing the actual argument is notoriously difficult since he can’t stay on topic for more than two pages. This is complicated by the fact that this particular book consists of two 65+ page chapters

Zizek: Living in the End Times

Zizek organizes each chapter along the famous psychological responses to a crisis: denial, anger, bargaining, acceptance, and depression. In between each chapter is an interlude which applies the current insights to numerous cultural phenomena. This review won’t analyze each chapter if only because it is hard to follow Zizek’s argument at times: he has some excellent thoughts which he is incapable of extending for more than a few pages. Secondly, I don’t understand what he is saying in a lot of places.

Denial

Premise: the global capitalist system* is about to fall because, in good Hegelian fashion, it is predicated on the contradiction(s) of Liberalism. There is a contradiction between market liberalism and political liberalism. The market liberals of today want family values, less government, and maintain the traditions of society (at least in America’s case). However, we must face the cultural contradiction of capitalism: the progress of capitalism, which necessitates a consumer culture, undermines the values which render capitalism possible (pp. 35-37).

Second contradiction: there is in liberalism a tension between private freedoms and the public mechanisms which control society. This is more obvious in the case of left-wing democrats. They want a society that allows individual freedoms, yet end up encroaching on individual freedoms in the name of tolerance, multiculturalism, etc.

The contradictions of liberalism demonstrate why Hegel was such a brilliant observer of the problems of modernity (even if we demur with his conclusions). Zizek writes,

traditionally, each form of liberalism necessarily appears as the opposite of the other: liberal multiculturalist advocates of tolerance as a rule resist economic liberalism and try to protect the individual from unencumbered market forces, while market liberals as a rule advocate family values, and so on. We thus get the double paradox of the traditional Rightist supporting the market economy while rejecting the culture and mores that economy engenders, and his counterpoint, the Leftist, resisting the market while enthusiastically supporting the culture it engenders (p. 37).

This is Hegelian deconstruction of a false ideology at its best: demonstrate something is false by exposing the contradiction upon which it is built. However, like Hegel, Zizek shows that the advocate of liberalism cannot escape his plight because one Liberal cannot fully reject the “other” liberal. I suppose this is what Hegel meant in the “identify of identity and difference.”

Of course, I temper my praise somewhat. Most of Zizek’s theological conclusions, as well as morality, are suspect elsewhere.

If the First Act demonstrated the failure of capitalism and liberal democracy (praise be to thee, O Christ!),Act Three evaluates the problems in the many forms of Marxism. Ultimately, he examines the value-theory debate from many different Hegelian perspectives, offering an interesting take of Substance as that which is already lost but in whose loss reconciliation is possible.

His take on the Hegelian “Substance” as loss-in-giving reminds the Christian reader of the long-neglected doctrine of Kenosis. Following, he offers his own way out of the socialist-capitalist dilemma: a basic income society which gives away everything except the capitalist machine (236). This is interesting, but it doesn’t fully get away from the problem of the welfare mom staying home to watch Oprah while still getting full benefits. I am not convinced Zizek has gotten away from the standard market rebuttal: you get more of what you subsidize (laziness).

Acceptance

Zizek analyzes a lot of moments in the past fifty years that outwardly look like triumphs for socialism and Leftism (’68, the Obama presidency, etc.), but ended up strengthening the liberal-capitalist status quo. Zizek’s question in this chapter is how to overthrow the current system in a way that utilizes all of the anger of the “proletariat” without resorting to the violence that is so common to Leftism.

Similar to his critique of social liberalism in the first chapter, he is aware of potential problems in his analysis: does not Leftism negate many (all?) of our freedoms? Zizek mentions Sarah Palin’s “death-panel” objections to Obamacare. While I demur at Palin as much as the next person, Zizek mentioned but never answered Palin’s challenge: given limited resources (and hyper-incompetency) by the State that will necessarily follow Obamacare, which means that there will be limitations to these benefits, the government then will have to decide. Leftists might not like this reductio, but they still have to answer it.

The larger point is that Zizek makes a distinction between formal freedoms and actual freedoms: formal freedom is the freedom to choose within a set of coordinates while actual freedom is freedom on the more normal sense of the word (358). Zizek wants to negate the latter. We have freedom to choose between various sets of government-sponsored solutions. He does have a response to Palin: Obamacare can work because look at Scandinavia. Here’s why that is an inappropriate analogy: Scandinavian countries have good diets, a highly-literate populace, a homogenous population, and a strong work-force—qualities that are severely lacking in America.

Will it Work?

Will Zizek’s appeal to embrace a modified form of Communism that seeks to utilizes the passions of the Left without the violence of the Left? True, Occupy Wall-Street has since taken place, but the police and security have had little trouble dealing with the unwashed hippies who are just standing around. It does not seem like Zizek’s Leftism can be accomplished without violence. At this point, obviously, I am in full disagreement with Zizek.

Conclusion

The book is quite interesting and we should welcome is penetrating analysis of liberalism and capitalism. The book does suffer from a wandering argument and the conclusion either doesn’t go far enough or it goes too far.

*I’m willing to entertain the idea what we call capitalism today is not what Adam Smith had in mind

Mises on the Industrial Revolution

From Human Action.  This is Mises’s analysis. pp. 614-615.

Such are the ideas permeating most of the historical studies dealing with the evolution of modern industrialism. The authors begin by sketching an idyllic image of conditions as they prevailed on the eve of the “Industrial Revolution.” At that time, they tell us, things were, by and large, satisfactory. The peasants were happy. So also were the industrial workers under the domestic system. They worked in their own cottages and enjoyed a certain economic independence since they owned a garden plot and their tools. But then “the Industrial Revolution fell like a war or a plague” on these people.14 The factory system reduced the free worker to virtual slavery; it lowered his standard of living to the level of bare subsistence; in cramming women and children into the mills it destroyed
family life and sapped the very foundations of society, morality, and public health. A small minority of ruthless exploiters had cleverly succeeded in imposing their yoke upon the immense majority.

The truth is that economic conditions were highly unsatisfactory on the eve of the Industrial Revolution. The traditional social system was not elastic enough to provide for the needs of a rapidly increasing population. Neither farming nor the guilds had any use for the additional hands. Business was imbued with the inherited spirit of privilege and exclusive monopoly; its institutional foundations were licenses and the grant of a patent of monopoly; its philosophy was restriction and the prohibition of competition both domestic and foreign. The number of people for whom there was no room left in the rigid system of paternalism and government tutelage of business grew rapidly. They werc virtually outcasts. The apathetic majority of these wretched people lived from the crumbs that fell from the tables of the established castes. In the harvest season they earned a trifle by occasional help on farms; for the rest they depended upon private
charity and communal poor relief. Thousands of the most vigorous youths of these strata were pressed into the service of the Royal Army and Navy; many of them were killed or maimed in action; many more perished ingloriously from the hardships of the barbarous discipline, from tropical diseases, or from syphilis.15 Other thousands, the boldest and most ruthless of their class, infested the country as vagabonds, beggars, tramps, robbers,
and prostitutes. The authorities did not know of any means to cope with these individuals other than the poorhouse and the workhouse. The support the government gave to the popular resentment against the introduction of new inventions and labor-saving devices made things quite hopeless.

….

That the factories couId thrive in spite of all these hindrances was due to two reasons. First there were the teachings of the new social philosophy expounded by the economists. They demolished the prestige of Mercantilism, paternalism, and restrictionism. They exploded the superstitious belief that labor-saving devices and processes cause unemployment and reduce all people to poverty and decay. The laissez-faire economists were the pioneers of the unprecedented technological achievements of the last two hundred years.

Then there was another factor that weakened the opposition to innovations. The factories freed the authorities and the ruling landed aristocracy from an embarrassing problem that had grown too large for them. They provided sustenance for the masses of paupers. They emptied the poor houses, the workhouses, and the prisons. They converted starving beggars into self-supporting breadwinners. The factory owners did not have the power to compel anybody to take a factory job. They could only hire people who were ready to work for the wages offered to them. Low as these wage rates were, they were nonetheless much more than these paupers could earn in any other field open to them. It is a distortion of facts to say that the factories carried off the housewives from the nurseries and the kitchens and the children from their play. These women had nothing to cook with and to feed their children. These children were destitute and starving. Their only refuge was the factory. It saved them, in the strict sense of the term, from death by starvation.

It is deplorable that such conditions existed. But if one wants to blame those responsible, one must not blame the factory owners who-driven by selfishness, of course, and not by “altruismn-did all they could to eradicate the evils. What had caused these evils was the economic order of the precapitalistic era, the order of the “good old days.”

Post-Brexit 2.0

I initially looked at Brexit with glee.  Anything that makes leftists cry is always a good thing.  But this glee was always tempered with suspicion–so voting is now an honest thing and isn’t manipulated? So even though Brexit appeared to be legit, you can understand my skepticism.  A friend of mine pointed out John Milbank’s twitter account.  That surprised me since Milbank has historically been reticent about blogs and social media.

After reflecting on some of Milbank posts, other thoughts on Brexit solidified. So, here goes a list:

  1. No one is seriously saying the world should go back to post-Napoleonic nationalism and nation-states, so calm down.
  2. Even if we wanted to, it is simply not possible given global capital and technology.  Dugin has a point here (Eurasian Mission).
  3. Ironically, people fear Dugin but he has the most level-headed approach to globalism.
  4. Milbank is correct that both alternatives represent neo-liberal capitalism–and both are fraught with problems (problems, I think, cannot be fixed)
  5. Milbank (more on this below) thinks that the EU is a Christian institution interested in preserving the fragments of Christian civilization.  The romanticism in Milbank has always been very attractive, but could he be more mistaken?

Now for some of Milbank’s other comments:

Christians are duty bound for theological and historical reasons to support the ever closer union of Europe (which does not imply a superstate) and to deny the value of absolute sovereignty or the lone nation-state.

Sez who? Unless you are thinking of the Eastern Roman Emperor I am not sure what kind of argument you can make?

Towards a Better EU?

Maybe not in the future, since NATO is making sure that future can’t exist.  But I think a lot of the reasons behind Milbank’s reasons are quite sound and worth considering.  In the future, after modern Atlanticism is in dust and ashes, a real European Union is worth considering around Dugin’s lines.

  1. With the collapse of the USSR, the pole of Atlanticism shifted further to the West (America) leaving Britain adrift between the US and Europe.
  2. Disentangle Europe from NATO.  There is no reason the Balts must die for false promises.
  3. Go back to the distinction between a Common Market (good) and Single Market (bad).  This was a good idea based on the best of European subsidiarity.
  4. Rethink the open labor laws.  Flooding a market with cheap labor benefits CEOs, never the common man.
  5. Whenever the EU remained antagonistic to Atlanticism (like in the Iraqi war), it did well.
  6. Dugin’s final point is the heart of the matter:  the same globalist forces that created it are dissolving it.

So, if that’s true, there is little cause for Brexiteers to rejoice.  And Milbank is right on that point:  isolated nation-states cannot resist globalist economic networks.  Only superpowers united around polar zones can do so.

Eros and Civilization (Marcuse)

Marcuse reworks Freud’s categories from the individual to society. To paraphrase Henry van Til, Marcuse is Freud externalized. There is a dialectic between the Eros principle and the Thanatos principle. In order for civilization to thrive, it has to suppress the libido, the free drive.

Freud identifies civilization with repression.

The Frankfurt end-game is a “non-repressive civilization” (Marcuse 5). “The very achievements of repression seem to create the preconditions for the gradual abolition of repression.” “The reality principle materializes in a system of institutions” (15). In other words, our continually suppressing the Eros-drive reshapes our very psychology which is further instantiated in institutions. Yet this pleasure principle remains latent in civilization.

Man experiences a dialectical conflict between the “life instinct” (Eros) and the death instinct (Thanatos). Key argument: man’s primary mental processes are sustained by the life principle, which is the pleasure principle. The problem: how can man continue in civilization if civilization is a suppressing of this life principle?

Key argument: correlation between progress and “guilty feeling” (78). Civilization will be violent in its structure because civilization is simply an expanding of the Father-figure, against whom the sons will always war. technology allows man to increase output while minimizing input, thus freeing “time” for Eros. In other words, in previous eras an emphasis on Eros meant denying civilization, but now with technology we can emphasize Eros while promoting civilization (93).

But the “Regime” (for lack of a better word) won’t allow this to continue uncontrolled, for if man is utterly free, then he is free from external control. How will the Regime do this? Possibly by technology, since technology can abolish both the individual and the “social function of the family” (96). Since technology has negated the family, who is the new father-figure? The corporo-capitalist bureaucracy. Marcuse notes, “Social control and cohesion are strong enough to protect the whole from direct aggression, but not strong enough to eliminate the accumulated aggressiveness” (101).

Key argument: Man’s history represents a splitting between the fantasy principle and the reason-principle (142). Man has a divided ego. For Marcuse aesthetics is self-defeating. If art is committed to form, then it is negated for it cannot then pursue freedom. Form = negation.

reason has been reduced to the rationality principle (159). Narcissus gazes into the river, which symbolizes the flux of time. Narcissus and Orpheus represent latent desires which are at odds with rationality-principle.

Kant: the aesthetic judgment is the realm where sense and imagination meet; it is the medium b/t freedom and nature.

Marcuse wants to use Kant and Schiller’s aesthetic to base a non-repressive civilization, one that contains a new rationality-principle. But here is the problem: Marcuse claims to unify art with reason, but most of his discussion (184-185) seems like an antagonism between the two. For Marcuse sees art-beauty as arising from the dark, latent forces.

Combine this with the Eroticization of society where one frees the libido from non-repressive civilization, and you have the nightmare which is modern art. This explains why most National Endowment for the Arts is pornographic and interested in bodily fluids. They take the correct insight that we have these dark, primal forces and they externalize them in society.

Pros

(1) Marcuse has put his finger on the tendency of modern industrial world to alienate workers, and this alienation often moves in dialectical ways.

(2) Marcuse points out the dangers of reducing economics to simply raising production while lowering costs–such leads to alienation (156).

Criticisms

(1) As Nancy Holland notes, “ Although scarcity may not have seemed to be an irreducible given when Marcuse wrote his book, the limits of the world’s supply of food, water, energy, and even clean air are now all too obvious” (Holland 76).

(2) As it stands Freud’s apparent definition of freedom is untenable: freedom from authority (be it ego or society) to pursue the id. Such chaos would necessarily reduce to anarchy, which is no freedom at all. How far does Marcuse go with this? I can sense he rejects (correctly) Freud on the personal level but applies him on the social level.