This book by Tom Rockmore is a history of Lukács' changing views on Marxist Rationalism and Bourgeois Irrationalism. ThereIs There a Marxist Ontology?
This book by Tom Rockmore is a history of Lukács' changing views on Marxist Rationalism and Bourgeois Irrationalism. There are basically four phases, according to our author. The first is best exhibited in "History and Class Consciousness". The second is (what Rockmore considers) the early Stalinist phase (see "The Young Hegel"). The third is the 'late Stalinist' phase, which includes "Existentialism or Marxist" and "The Destruction of Reason." The last phase our author finds in the largely unpublished (and partly unfinished) "On the Ontology of Social Being." (Henceforth, 'The Ontology'.) And it is this late work that will concern us in this review. Rockmore specifically considers 'The Ontology' only in the final chapter of this book.
Rockmore, unlike the few (and especially Marxist) commentators that I have seen, is excited by this late work. Why? György Lukács tones down what had been his carefully maintained strict separation of Marxism and non-Marxism. (As an aside I will note that we saw Sartre complain of Lukács inability to simply see what was on the page of non-Marxist texts in Sartre's "Search for a Method". But Rockmore says of Lukács' Ontology that the "development of a critical attitude toward the main figures of Marxist orthodoxy transforms his capacity to not only appreciate, but even to accept the value of non-Marxist views.") Rockmore points out that a main theme of 20th century philosophy was ontology, - and Marx left no ontology. 'The Ontology', which began as a mere introduction to an Ethics, grew into a 1400+ page manuscript!
It was not well received even by his students. (More on that later.) Lukács wrote a 324 page prolegomena to defend his work to the tiny few who had seen (all or parts of) it. Rockmore argues that by abandoning the idolatry of Marxist Orthodoxy, the demonization of non-Marxists, and the notion that Marxist thought is primarily economic, Lukács transforms his whole understanding of Marxism. When I was young, it was typical to think of Heidegger, Lukács and Wittgenstein as the 'Big 3' of twentieth century philosophy. But no one outside of Marxism even thinks of Lukács today! I believe, as does Rockmore, that a full translation of 'The Ontology' will help make both him and Marxism interesting again to those outside the Marxist orbit.
[For those interested, we only have the following volumes (really, chapters) of 'The Ontology' published in English: Ontology of Social Being, Volume 1. Hegel Ontology of Social Being, Volume 2. Marx Ontology of Social Being, Volume 3. Labour This amounts to not even half of 'The Ontology'. (I have read both the Hegel and Marx volumes.) Another problem is that the secondary literature in English is very scanty. Besides this book we are reviewing, there are three essays in a collection by Lukács' former student Agnes Heller called "Lukács Revalued". None of them appreciative. The only full length study in English is "Lukacs' Last Autocriticism: The Ontology" by Ernest Joós. Joós, a non-Marxist, is quite critical, if not hostile. In Joós book we do learn the names of the missing chapters: Neo-Positivismus und Existentialismus Nikolai Hartmanns Vorstoss zu einer echten Ontologie Die Reproduktion Das Ideelle und die Ideologie Die Entfremdung Die Prolegomena Die gegenwartige Problemlage 'Die Prolegomena' was written last to convince students and friends of the soundness of the Ontology. I really would like to see the Prolegomena translated next. (More on Joós book later.)]
As a student of the history of philosophy what interests me in 'The Ontology' is that Lukács (as in "History and Class Consciousness") now sees less rupture and more "continuation through development" between German Idealism and Marxism. By this Rockmore means that Lukács sees Marx's thought "as preserving in itself all that is of value in preceding philosophy but going further than prior thinkers." This is similar to Lukács understanding in his early phase. I believe that the Stalinoid notion of rupture between Marxism and philosophy was a calamity. If there is, or ever were, a deep (or an _entire_) break in any development (of thought or activity) Dialectical Theory itself would be falsified and in ruins! But now, Lukács sees Marxism (correctly, in my opinion) as part of the philosophical tradition.
Lukács finds in Marx an Ontology that is Historical. This is a novelty; but not a radical break with the philosophical tradition. Work remains the defining characteristic of Man. "Lukács believes that the essence of human social being lies in teleological positing (teleologische Setzung)". (Rockmore complains that Lukács does not define this term. But in the notes Rockmore does remind us that Setzen is "the German equivalent of the Greek tithemi, as in the term 'hypothesis'.") Rockmore explains the term saying that things "do not change in and of themselves; rather, they change as the result of conscious positing in which the result corresponds to the aim. We can understand human society through the notion of teleological positing more precisely as following from the effort to achieve value through goal-directed activity." That seems right.
Another important point that Rockmore makes is that for Lukács "Marx's position is not fully complete, but requires additional development. The criterion of acceptable theory is no longer mere allegiance to a view, such as Marx's theory. For Lukács, in this study even Marx's thought is finally interesting insofar as it contains the resources necessary to permit the development of a social ontology toward which Marx only pointed." Marxist theory must be further developed, like any philosophical theory, - otherwise one inevitably ends up with scribes attempting to always show that nothing significant has changed since the advent of (the final form of) 'The Theory'. Another change is that Lukács steps back from the Marxist notion that economics is the bedrock of Marxist thought. Economics is embedded in the historical character of Social Being. That is to say, economics itself is now treated as Epiphenomenon!
According to Rockmore, one can even say that "at the close of his career Lukács returns to his early quasi-Spinozistic understanding of thought and existence as different aspects of the same process, now identified as historical." Of course, Rockmore does not fail to mention that Heidegger, 'in a rather different fashion', also finds ontology to be historical. Indeed, one of the really novel points of 'The Ontology' to my thinking was Lukács notion that the "relevant difference lies in Marxism's insight that history is the history of categorical change. It follows, as Marx stresses, that even the categories undergo change over time." Of course, now we are here speaking of ontological categories! Typically in philosophical ontology, Being is thought of as Ground. Here, in Lukács late thought, the Ground moves! So we see that in Marx, according to Lukács, everything moves - and now with Lukács even the categories of Being. This is really new.
Now, with Heidegger, Being is also historical. But (I think) for Heidegger, we can only Know within the framework of each separate 'gift' of Being. So all we know is 'contemporary circumstances' (the epoche in which we live, which may of course last many ages). But with Marx (/Lukács), I believe we are intended to have real Knowledge of Being; - but this knowledge changes as Being endlessly unfolds. Thus one can perhaps say that there are now no ontological invariants (at least vis-à-vis human knowing) with either thinker. Once Being and Time are seen to be entwined, this becomes an extremely probable understanding of ontology. The largest stumbling block to 'The Ontology' in the book by Joós (mentioned above) is precisely the fact that in Lukács the categories themselves refuse to stay still!
Now, Joós mentions something in his book that I would like someone to pin down. He says, "I do not want to attribute much importance to insinuations that the Ontology has been tampered with. (p. 62-63, Joós, Lukacs' Last Autocriticism".) The note hanging off this sentence (note 52, p.121, Joós) reads 'Spiegel, 14 June 1971.' While Joós dismisses the possibility, I have seen Heller (in the book mentioned above) speak of 'The Ontology' as if it was in some sense a collaborative effort between Lukács and his students. If my memory is not faulty regarding this, it would not surprise me at all if at the masters death the students sought to 'tidy' things up a bit. Joós dismisses the possibility because in such a complex ontological work any tampering would be noticeable.
But Rockmore here notes that the editor of the Prolegomena (which was itself written after the rest of 'The Ontology' and seen by those outside the circle of students, therefore impossible to 'tidy' up) suggests that the prolegomena differs from the rest of the book in its avoidance of the rigid dualism characteristic of its historical and systematic parts. It further exhibits an increased freedom from Marxist orthodoxy, for instance in a salutary tendency, unprecedented in Lukács's earlier Marxist writings, to criticize all the main figures of classical marxism." By 'dualism', I believe it is also meant the strict delimitation between Marxist and non-Marxist that occurs throughout Lukács' oeuvre. If this is true, then the only tampering that could have been done would have been of a political/ideological nature (i.e., to rid 'The Ontology' -minus the Prolegomena- of the "increased freedom" regarding Marxist dogma) and not of a philosophical/ontological nature. Again, if anyone knows more about this please leave a note.
Why should anyone be interested in 'The Ontology' today? Rockmore and Joós are not Marxists but they are knowledgeable; that is something. Rockmore's chapter on the Ontology is quite positive and appreciative in tone. In the end, Joós thinks Lukács failed with this his last project. That is not in itself surprising; - where are the successful ontologies? Each 'ontologist' changes something. No one is an Aristotelian, a Husserlian or even a Heideggerean tout court. Marxists should not be expected to be Lukácsian ontologists purely and simply either. I wish Marxists (or ontologists) would write about this (almost) forgotten work. I am in the habit of telling people that the two greatest dialecticians of the last century, Lukác and Merleau-Ponty, ended their lives working on Ontologies. Dialectical thought (and ontology) has to face this eventually...
And that is why 'The Ontology' remains relevant today. Four stars for Rockmore's book. While it will not satisfy Marxists (non-Marxists never do) I thought it quite good. The neo-Kantian of Lukács thought may be a bit overplayed early on and in the middle chapters but I did not find it annoying. I will warn my Marxist and anti-Marxist friends that Rockmore approaches Lukács as a philosopher, not merely as a Marxist political thinker or marxist ideologue. If you expect the latter, perhaps it is best to find another book.
The reason, btw, I have not gone in depth into our authors understanding of Lukács is because I've read so little of 'The Ontology' or the secondary literature to judge it. From a distance 'The Ontology' seems a very important work. However, I usually like reading the whole book and more of the secondary literature before coming to conclusions. I believe this work may be quite important, but the dearth of studies of a book almost fifty years old belies that. Perhaps that has to do with Lukács students downplaying the importance of the work and convincing other marxists to ignore it. Also, I think Lukács decision to ignore the well-known school of phenomenology (he wants to avoid their subjectivism) and use the little read realist ontology of Nicolai Hartmann also contributes to the obscurity of Lukács Ontology. (It may be that his notion of categorical change derives from Hartmann. But the Hartmann chapter of Lukács book would need to be translated before I could assert that.) And since after the fall of the Soviet Union non-marxists tend to think of Marxism as dead a dog, they have no interest in Lukács either. To the best of my knowledge, there are only a few books on 'The Ontology' in English: Lukács Revalued, Agnes Heller (ed.) (3 chapters only) Lukacs' Last Autocriticism: The Ontology, Ernest Joos The Ontology of Georg Lukacs: Studies in Materialist Dialectics, Fariborz Shafai (very difficult to find, scarce) The Place of Law in Lukács World Cpncept, Csaba Vaega (a very specialized study published, in English, in Budapest.) I am not aware of any others. You see this list is very short. I am sure there are more essays in academic journals, but I am not in academia and know next to nothing about that....more
A Brief Note on the "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses" Essay
Recently, I had reason to return to this important essay. I found its revision oA Brief Note on the "Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses" Essay
Recently, I had reason to return to this important essay. I found its revision of the old marxist materialism cum 'economism' surprisingly compelling. But certainly not in the way our author intended. Althusser, with Lacan and Deleuze, have all become the 'master-thinkers' of post-marxism. The impossibility of revolution in any economically advanced nation has brought us to this impasse. It is my contention that Marxism today is but another Ideological State Apparatus (ISA) that explains and (therefore) controls suffering. I know, our author, and his readers, all thought very differently...
"Ideology has a material existence", Althusser tells us. And certainly this is an advance over cold war orthodox marxism. ideology is no longer merely in minds, it is out here in bodies and institutions and their activities. With Althusser, ideology becomes a material force. Why is this important? Control the ideology of individuals and institutions and you control their behavior. Instead of thinking of individuals as causes, we now think of them as effects. They are all made (i.e., produced and reproduced) within the various ISA's. This process of control/production our author calls interpellation. ISA's, btw, are never to be confused with the Repressive State Apparatus. It consists of the Government, Police, Military, etc. ISA's consist of the Church, Family, Education, and so on.
The hope, the dream, of readers of this essay, was that by going into the universities (the Gramscian 'long march' through the institutions), leftist intellectuals could snatch interpellation from the ruling class and use it to revolutionize the ruled. It has been over 40 years since this essay first appeared. The ineffectiveness of the project is easy to see. Our scholars have become but another clerisy; explaining suffering, but powerless to change it. I give four stars because of the advance that Althussers understanding of ideology represented in its time.
After reading this essay I came away feeling that what historically is (and has been) called "Freedom" is little more than the arguments that (elements of) the ruling strata has with itself. And that in the end, all these new (post-marxist) movements that the liberals and soi-disant 'leftists' so enthuse over, such as vegetarianism and ecology and sex revolution, are so privileged because they in no way attack property. In this way they are not really any different from the role religion traditionally has had. Whether you are busy getting your life 'right' with God, with Tantra, with Mother Nature, or with Cauliflower, it threatens property relations not at all. And this is why these various positions (and there are many others) are so easily supported by factions within the ruling strata. It is exactly as Colonel Ireton indicated at the Putney Debates so long ago, everything is always said and done with an eye towards (protecting) property. Everything. The ISA's of our author are but another way to theoretically come to terms with the varied ramifications of this inescapable fact in ever-changing circumstances.
And certainly the situation has changed! Ireton was speaking at a time (1647, during the English Civil War) when most forms of property were fixed (land, housing) and one strove to pass it on intact to future generations. Yes, certainly Ireton was aware of nascent capital relations. In his replies to the Levellers he strives to win over the bustling market towns and their guilds and manufacturers to his position. But in Ireton's conception of property there is so little movement! It was the restlessness of Capital that would destroy ye olde landowners and their world far better than the levellers had ever imagined. It is this restlessness that produces not only new means of production and new relations of production, but also new forms of labor too. And the new worker, the ever-new workers need ever new forms of ideology in their ever changing circumstances. This explains the necessity of the proliferation of leftish 'new movements' while the old USSR was going through its decades long death throes. And it also suggests that in the decades (perhaps centuries) long process of globalization the theory of ISA's will find much more to explain...
Postmodern nihilism, ultimately, is the result of the failure of the socialist revolutionary project to overcome capitalism. This failure is the root cause of the proliferation of theory in the academy. Given the inescapable fact of the dissatisfaction of people with/in capitalism, new ways, and ever new ways, had to be found to deal with this dissatisfaction. The multiplication of theoretical positions in the academy was one way; the antics of mass culture beyond the ivy tower was another. All of this was necessary; people always need explanations for their sacrifices and sufferings. - And they also need to forget or ignore the fact that these explanations change nothing at all.
The inability of socialism to overcome capitalism, not only through the USSR but in the streets of the advanced capitalist states, means that the battle for socialism must be fought on a different terrain than it was fought in the twentieth century. The question that now needs to be asked, the problem that now needs to be faced by marxists everywhere, is if all that is left of marxism is that it is nothing but another ideological position within theory manufacturing academia, how is marxism itself not another 'Ideological State Apparatus' that is enthused over by trend setting liberal cum leftists within and beyond the ruling strata?
It was the ceaseless movement of capital, not theory, that destroyed Ireton's beloved landowners. And I have come to believe that it is only the same relentless movement that will one day destroy Capitalism....more
Comments: Our author chooses in this book (waaay back in the thirties) fascism basically because he does not believe that, in american circumstances, cComments: Our author chooses in this book (waaay back in the thirties) fascism basically because he does not believe that, in american circumstances, communism is necessary to reach a well managed economy. Communist revolution is, for our author, all well and good in economic conditions where there are very few managers, engineers and sophisticated physical assets. In situations like that, everything having to do with rapid industrialization remains to be done. Communist revolution is conceded to be useful in these situations because there is so little of value that can be destroyed. But there is, in any advanced economy, simply too much of value to lose in an all out revolution. For our author, this book is an exercise in pure pragmatics. There is no wild-eyed preaching regarding class or race. All he asks is how can we get to a well managed society with the least expenditure of life, wealth and resources. Our author, cognizant of the unifying ability of class war among workers, opts for nationalism to provide the missing unity. He goes out of his way to argue that there is too much religious and racial diversity in America to make either of them useful as a societal glue. You see, this is almost a technocratic fascism! He asks what is the quickest way for america to become a better managed full employed state and then goes about excluding the less useful in favor of the more useful. A very peculiar fascism indeed! This is another book, born in the 1930s, on political convergence. The drive towards greater bureaucracy in government and management of the economy was discernible everywhere. We see this in Bruno Rizzi ("The Bureaucratization of the World"), in James Burnham ("The Managerial Revolution"), and at a much higher level, we see it in Kojève. And on the American scene we find it in our author here and also in John T. Flynn. (-Who was appalled by it, btw.) But whether one was thrilled by, resigned to, or disgusted with the tendency towards greater similarity between the 'isms' that dominated around a century ago; many saw it coming. For instance, earlier investigators like Pareto, in "Rise and Fall of the Elites" and Robert Michels "Political Parties" were already patiently explaining that managers and leaders were everywhere pretty much the same. How could their similarities not lead us into some form of managerial society? In religious times one always encounters the phenomena of syncretism between religions that are in close contact with each other but can neither eliminate the other nor disengage from any contact with the other. Once Europeans make their capitalist and technological revolutions, and also their rush to colonize and explore the world, some form of political convergence becomes inevitable and appears eventually. What we today call Globalization has been going on a long long time. I do not mean that globalization cannot be stopped at some point. Of course it can. How many syncretisms become world religions? Political Islam is fighting mightily not to become yet another modern bureaucratic society that is busily becoming like all other such societies. As, I believe, is Russia. (Yes, I know, about this last one can have doubts.) Nobody knows whether convergence (oops, globalization) can be stopped. I am convinced, however, if it is stopped, it will be in the deserts of the middle east or on the frigid expanse of central eurasia. Wouldn't mind seriously reviewing this in order to speak of the theories of political convergence of the last century. Other books to include in any review of twentieth century political convergence theory would be Daniel Bell's "End of Ideology", Max Shachtman's "Bureaucratic Revolution" and "Evolutionary Socialism" by Eduard Bernstein. Of course, the libertarians should be consulted too. Perhaps von Mises' "Omnipotent Government" would be best. There are several more recent books that also would need to be mentioned. For instance, "Three New Deals: Reflections on Roosevelt's America, Mussolini's Italy, and Hitler's Germany", by Wolfgang Schivelbusch and the famous "End of History and the Last Man" by Francis Fukuyama, -both of which I've read. Of course, today, no one any longer really believes in political convergence. Secular Universalism is everywhere in retreat, -for better and worse... Which is why any serious review of political convergence would need to be a book length essay. A little over twenty years ago Fukuyama could argue cogently that the world was becoming One. My God! How much has changed! With the world now careening helplessly towards WWIII, no one today believes convergence is any longer possible. A long review essay of how that came about would be very interesting indeed....more
Since this book is long out of print let me start with the (abbreviated) table of contents:
Contents: Preface Introduction 1. The naturMarxist Geopolitics
Since this book is long out of print let me start with the (abbreviated) table of contents:
Contents: Preface Introduction 1. The natural setting of hydraulic society 2. Hydraulic economy,- a managerial and genuinely political economy 3. A state stronger than society 4. Despotic power, - total and not benevolent 5. Total terror, total submission, total loneliness 6. The core, the margin, and the submargin of hydraulic societies 7. Patterns of proprietary complexity in hydraulic society 8. Classes in hydraulic society 9. The rise and fall of the theory of the Asiatic mode of production 10. Oriental society in transition Notes Bibliography General index Index of authors and works
Politically Incorrect Marxism
This book could be (and indeed has been) understood as an attempt to marry a marxist understanding of modes of production with a geopolitical understanding of history. It is very sharp, but of course very dated. I believe it has been tossed down the memory hole because the reigning left-liberal political correctness won't allow any discussions of world politics that might discomfort non-westerners. (And you can only mock certain westerners to boot!) If the author had been worried about political correctness he might have titled this book indifferently either 'hydraulic society' or 'hydraulic empire' rather than the indignation provoking 'Oriental Despotism'. The book I have read is the 1967 sixth printing, not the 1957 first printing. We are told in the Preface that the "present volume reproduces the original text of 'Oriental Despotism' with a few additions and corrections from the third American printing and the German edition." And since that is all he says, I am assuming that the additions and corrections were of no great import.
That said, the book is almost certainly damaged by its Cold War perspective. Wittfogel, a strong anti-Stalinist, likely purposefully exaggerated the "hydraulic-empire" nature of the USSR/Russia because of the (perceived) necessities of the times. And it is not impossible that he exaggerated how bad (i.e., unfree) historic hydraulic societies actually were for the same reasons. But nevertheless, I do think he is on to something. While this book has a deep anti-Soviet / anti-Stalinist animus, I believe it is too much to say it is anti-marxist. There are simply too many marxist categories, notes and tools that he utilizes to say that.
Yes, Marxist! A whole chapter (8) is dedicated to the fate of classes in hydraulic society! And the next chapter, "The Rise and Fall of the Theory of the Asiatic Mode of Production" concentrates quite single-mindedly on the twists and turns of this theory at the hands of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin. The strongest criticism, in this regard, is reserved for Lenin and Stalin. Indeed, one could say that Wittfogel is attempting to set the Marxism of his time (and ours) aright regarding the Asiatic Mode of Production [AMP]. At the beginning of chapter 9 our author indicates that contemporary Marxists were even referring to pre-modern Russia, China and India as feudal! (More about Marx and the AMP below.)
But with the above problems in mind, I still say that this book desperately needs to be reprinted! This book, in many ways, reminds me of the younger Pirenne's 2 volume study "The Tides of History". The Pirenne book took the account of the non-AMP side of pre-modern history in order to write a history of sea trade (cum freedom) from antiquity, through feudalism, to modernity with many geo-political points stressed. Of course, the Pirenne book too was written with Cold War realities in mind. But like this Wittfogel book it too deserves a rereading. Together, they present the smartest geopolitical, as opposed to merely ideological, understanding of the cold war written at the time that I have seen.
Why is geopolitics important today? Well, I believe that it is a self-inflicted blindness to geopolitical realities that leaves both Marxists and liberals helplessly lost when trying to understand post-Soviet Russia. Right now (= from spring 2014 -> early 2015) Russia is trying to annex parts of the Ukraine. Only an understanding of the geopolitical significance of Ukraine from the Russian point of view can make sense of this. The notion that this annexation is a return to the ideologically driven situation of the cold war is either silly, or an exercise in propaganda - at best. I believe the annexation is a return to nineteenth century 'Great Power' geopolitics pure and simple. In the nineteenth century 'the Great Game' was played between Great Britain and Russia in central asia regarding their respective 'spheres of influence'. Now it seems it will be played between America and Russia in eastern europe and the middle east. And who knows? - Perhaps elsewhere too.
When this book was first written our author was doubly a heretical Marxist. He was an ex-communist and a fierce anti-Stalinist who could go to extremes to attack those who defended the USSR. In spite of that, he remained enmeshed in Marxist thought and defended the AMP at a time when most Marxists had abandoned it. I suspect that the reason they ultimately abandoned it is that the form of exploitation that occurred within the AMP (in its original form) indicates that private property is not necessary for workers and peasants to be exploited. I am sure that at the height of the cold war this was far too important a point to concede. Now, let's take a brief look at chapter 9 to see how the Marx's early understanding of AMP developed and laid the groundwork for its rejection.
The Asiatic Mode of Production in Marx
The biggest problem that Wittfogel has with Marx regarding the AMP is that Marx doesn't think of this as rule by a class (i.e., the state bureaucracy) but rather as rule by a despot/state. Why doesn't Marx find a ruling class in the Asiatic mode of production? (Note that he unfailingly finds classes in all other modes of production.) I suspect that ultimately (but perhaps unconsciously?) Marx gets this from Hegel and his characterization of the East as the Rule of One. Of course, our author finds other problems with the Marxist understanding of hydraulic societies too. But I believe that Marx's inability to find classes in the AMP is, for our author, the most egregious. I suspect that another reason that Marx doesn't find classes in the AMP is that the mere existence of classes would imply dialectical movement; and oriental despotism does not appear to change.
There are other problems. Most importantly, Wittfogel also suspects that both Marx and Engels were responding to the withering criticism of the anarchists that Marxist communism "would inevitably involve the despotic rule of a privileged minority over the rest of the population, the workers included. (p. 387-388)" Wittfogel thus suspects that Marx/Engels watered down their understanding of the 'Asiatic mode of production' for practical, not theoretical, considerations. And of course he wants us to infer this too.
Yes, yes, I know; one can criticize Wittfogel of exactly the same thing. His book was written to tie 'really existing' socialism to the tradition and practices of Oriental Despotic regimes. We all need to get over this. (Wittfogel included.) All important books are written with a purpose in mind. They want to convince people of a certain time and place of something that they are (at least) not entirely convinced of yet. Evidence is shaped and cut to achieve that specific purpose. This shaping and cutting (which necessarily happens) will always eventually present opportunities at a later date for much indignation and consternation. I have always found trying to understand authors in their specific situations with their specific purposes more enlightening than throwing a fit because the necessities of yesterday were unlike those of today.
What was the Asiatic Mode of Production to Marx? Broadly speaking, dispersed villages required a central authority to take charge of irrigation and canal projects. And this permitted the central authority to perpetuate itself indefinitely. With this term Marx / Engels are most usually thinking of China and India, Russia was called semi-Asiatic; but of her Engels (1875) said, "Such a complete isolation of the individual [village] communities from each other, which in the whole country creates identical, but the exact opposite of common, interests, is the natural foundation of Oriental despotism, and from India to Russia this societal form, wherever it prevailed, has always produced despotism and has found therein its supplement. Not only the Russian state in general, but even its specific form, the despotism of the Tsar, far from being suspended in mid-air, is the necessary and logical product of the Russian social conditions. (cited pg. 376)" Note that Russian conditions do not seem to be especially promising ground for a socialist revolution.
[I want to digress a moment and underline that Marx and Engels, even with their mistaken (according to our author) understanding of the AMP, are very aware of the problematic nature of revolutionary prospects for Russia. For the 1882 Russian edition of the "Communist Manifesto" they write:
-The Communist Manifesto had, as its object, the proclamation of the inevitable impending dissolution of modern bourgeois property. But in Russia we find, face-to-face with the rapidly flowering capitalist swindle and bourgeois property, just beginning to develop, more than half the land owned in common by the peasants. Now the question is: can the Russian obshchina, though greatly undermined, yet a form of primeval common ownership of land, pass directly to the higher form of Communist common ownership? Or, on the contrary, must it first pass through the same process of dissolution such as constitutes the historical evolution of the West?
The only answer to that possible today is this: If the Russian Revolution becomes the signal for a proletarian revolution in the West, so that both complement each other, the present Russian common ownership of land may serve as the starting point for a communist development.
Karl Marx & Frederick Engels January 21, 1882, London-
So you see, there were strong marxist grounds for the rejection of the USSR. Without european proletarian revolution the jump from peasant society to socialist society, skipping capitalism, seemed to Marx & Engels highly unlikely. Perhaps we can say that, avant la lettre, Marx & Engels were anti-Soviets. Digression ended.]
According to Marx, under the Asiatic Mode the state (the despot) is the real landlord and there is a general slavery insofar as the despot is the coordinator of all crucial hydraulic and communal works (pp. 376-377). Lenin accepts the Marxist notion of the Asiatic Mode until 1914. (He abandons it in 1916.) But of course, Marx is interested in the question for theoretical reasons, Lenin for practical ones. But that does not mean that Marx cannot alter theory for practical reasons.
Now, what is a ruling class? Those who control the "decisive means of production and the 'surplus' created by them (p. 380)." Regarding Marx's inability to find classes in the AMP and instead only see there the sovereign and/or the state our author writes, "[t]his was a strange formulation for a man who ordinarily was eager to define social classes and who denounced as a mystifying 'reification' the use of such notions as 'commodity' and the 'state', when the underlying human (class) relations were left unexplained (p. 380)." I found this a convincing point. Wittfogel adds that of Marx's sources, JS Mill, Francois Bernier, and Richard Jones had all spoken of functionaries of the oriental states (i.e., bureaucrats) receiving portions of the surplus. Therefore Marx was well aware of it. Our authors judgement of this in a nutshell:
"Marx' interest in the class issue, the data at his disposal, and his objection to the mystification of social relations point to one conclusion, and one conclusion only. They all suggest that from his own standpoint Marx should have designated the functional bureaucracy as the ruling class of oriental despotism. But Marx did nothing of the kind. Instead of clarifying the character of the Oriental ruling class he obscured it. Measured by the insights reached by Bernier. Jones. and Mill, Marx' mystification (reification) of the character of the ruling class in Oriental society was a step backwards. (p. 381)"
You see our authors criticism of Marx/ism is that he (and his movement) wasn't Marxist enough! Whether this happened because of anarchist criticism or the later need to justify a socialist revolution in Russia or some other reason (or combination of reasons) is immaterial. Wittfogel does not understand himself to be a mere anti-Marxist. Rather, he sees himself as more consistently applying the insights of Marx in order to find classes in the AMP. How should Wittfogels 'Marxism' be judged? György Lukács once said: "Let us assume for the sake of argument that recent research had disproved once and for all every one of Marx's individual theses. Even if this were to be proved, every serious 'orthodox' Marxist would still be able to accept all such modern findings without reservation and hence dismiss all of Marx's theses in toto - without having to renounce his orthodoxy for a single moment. Orthodox Marxism, therefore, does not imply the uncritical acceptance of the results of Marx's investigations. It is not the 'belief' in this or that thesis nor the exegesis of a 'sacred' book. On the contrary, orthodoxy refers exclusively to method. ("History and Class Consciousness", 'What is Orthodox Marxism', Lukács)"
After reading this book, I think that Wittfogel should be judged a Marxist (however heretical). And his arguments accepted or rejected by marxists in those terms.
It is tempting to treat this book as a successful attempt to commingle marxist analysis with geopolitical analysis in order to enrich our understanding of history. Surely, Wittfogel is right to think that geopolitics would benefit from a marxist analysis. (And, I would add, vice versa.) And yes, this book is richly suggestive, thoughtful and shows years of study. But, for example, in asserting that, "his goal was to prepare a marxist geopolitics as an alternative to nationalist varieties" (John Agnew, "Making Political Geography", p. 81) one can be mislead into thinking that this has (or can) be achieved. Why do I think this?
Because to simply equate the Marxist notion of AMP with a geopolitical understanding of Land-Power (which, I believe, at the theoretical level will prove necessary) is very misleading - at best. Why? The Marxist understanding is dialectical; everything moves. This is untrue of geopolitics. Here there are invariants: most obviously geography, and the resulting unsurpassable geopolitical difference between land and sea powers. The Marxist historical stages dialectically go through the 'primitive communism' of tribalistic prehistory, our Asiatic Mode, ancient slavery, feudalism, and then on to capitalism. (And one day, according to Marx, socialism.) Of course, the Asiatic Mode sticks out like a sore thumb because it doesn't seem to develop into another mode while all the others do (or, in the case of capitalism, one day will).
Now this progressive 'stagism' was common in early modern thought and certainly is not unique to Marx; see, for instance, Montesquieu, Turgot and Adam Smith. What was entirely new in Marx was his methodology. And this is why the AMP must remain such a contested notion within Marxist theory. That methodology (dialectical materialism) was one of movement, while to the consternation of all the Asiatic Mode did not seem to move (i.e., change into another stage due to contradictions within itself). If the Asiatic Mode was unmoving in this sense, could there be another mode of production that was also unmoving? Of course, no marxist wanted to think this of capitalism!
I would argue that the historically later marxist modes of production (slavery, feudalism, capitalism) all can be brought into fruitful contact with the geopolitical notion of seapower, while this cannot be said of the Asiatic Mode vis-à-vis landpower. The contemporary histories of capitalist states Marx studied while in England were those of western europe. And its history, geopolitically, was the triumph of sea-powers over lesser sea-powers and land-powers. I think that Arrighi (see his "The Long Twentieth Century: Money, Power and the Origins of Our Times") has nicely shown how well marxist theory can explain the transformations of Capitalist Regimes as the succession of hegemonic sea powers. (-Although this certainly wasn't his intent!) The sea-powers that Arrighi focuses on, btw, are Genoa, the Dutch, the British, and the USA. These are all classical examples of what nineteenth century geopoliticians meant by seapower.
But I doubt strongly that what Arrighi has certainly achieved for capitalist political economy / history can be done, in a Marxist manner, for a geopolitical-informed world history. Why? Marxism posits the oneness of Man and History. This 'oneness' becomes ever more exact, dialectically, over time. (Of course this is never fully achieved. Every step in the dialectical process leads to new contradictions. There are no utopias or end-points.) While Marxism teaches this (ever more exact) monism, Geopolitics teeters upon an unsurpassable dualism: landpower versus seapower. I don't believe that there is anything unsurpassable in a material dialectical history. Therefore I think that any marxist geopolitics that seeks to be internally consistent, will be always tempted to, and eventually forced to, either deny the unmoving nature of the asiatic mode (i.e., landpower) or do away with the category entirely.
The other possibility, explored by Wittfogel in this book, is to find classes in the AMP. The objection to this move will be: if the absence of private property (in the AMP) doesn't equate to the absence of exploitation then how can we be certain that socialism itself won't become but another exploitive society? It will probably be eventually agreed that if the AMP is retained within the edifice of marxist thought then the possibility of exploitation in a socialist society cannot be theoretically ruled out. So again, AMP will be discarded.
Now, from a geopolitically 'landpower' point of view, what might one say? Well, our nationalistic geopolitician might say that this history of capitalism as delineated by Arrighi (and others) was but the history of western european seapowers and their north american / australian avatars. He might add that what we currently refer to as 'globalization' is merely the attempt of these powers (and alliances thereof) to impose their will on the rest of the world. And he would consider the distinct international institutions of late modernity (for instance, the UN, the World Bank, the IMF, the WTO, the OECD, and most NGO's), to varying degrees, to be part of this conspiracy to remake the world in the image of western european seapowers. Who thinks like this? ...Well, Vladimir Putin for one.
But the geopolitical understanding of landpower vs. seapower will one day (I hope!) be the subject of another review. Four stars for a wonderfully suggestive, thoughtful book marred by the excesses of its time. (- But again, name a book or individual that hasn't been.) It really should be reprinted....more
When I was but a young man, so many moons ago, I used to delight in annoying my oh-so enlightened sA Great Introduction to Epigenetics, but...,
When I was but a young man, so many moons ago, I used to delight in annoying my oh-so enlightened scientistic brethren by doubting that the current Darwinist Settlement (Blessed be Its Name!) had given a final account of evolution. I leaned in the direction of some sort of Lamarckian materialism, of course never really settling on the physical mechanism of cultural-inheritance because there were no obvious contenders.
By 'cultural inheritance' I meant back then that behaviors and events in parents lives could somehow influence and even change the genes they passed on to their children and their childrens children. What made me think this likely was all the anomalies that Darwinism (as then understood) could not explain. (For those interested, Rupert Sheldrake has, in his many books, detailed them quite exhaustively.) I am now quite satisfied that Epigenetics, this latest addition to the Darwinist understanding, will eventually take that mountain of anomalies and turn it into a mound. God, how I hate toeing the party line! But even those who merely repeat received wisdom are not always wrong... Dammit.
So, what is epigenetics? Well, there are genes, and then there is the material that surrounds the genes. Epigenetics studies how this material influences (the correct term is 'expresses') the genes. The material "can alter the behavior of the genes to which they are attached; and they can cause genes to be more or less active." And this influence can even (in certain rare circumstances) be passed on for several generations. ("... epigenetic states, some environmentally induced, can be transmitted from grandparent to grandchild.") So you see, Lamarck was right; there is some sort of heritability of acquired characteristics. But the Darwinists were right too; these epigenetic changes do not effect the genome itself and eventually evaporate, like a surging river inevitably disappearing into some endless, feckless desert it had so blindly sought to cross.
So No. Epigenetics is not Lamarckian; but all intelligent Larmarkians (imho) will eventually accept epigenetics, - and therefore Darwinism!
This is a very good first book to read on the subject of epigenetics. But I agree with the reservations of earlier reviewers. It is very anecdotal and I am certain that anyone with a background in biology will find it rather thin. After reading this book I am not sure I understand the mechanisms of epigenetic change fully. But I am sure there will be more books to come. Four stars for an excellent introduction. But where does one go next?
While reading this book I was struck by the notion (I should rather say 'the fear') that epigenetics will one day be used as a means of population control. I had always thought and hoped that no government would use genetic manipulation to control the behavior of people because of the risk involved. What risk? The world is no longer as safe as the scientific uniformitarianism and gradualism that was commonly taught when I was young assumed. The comet Schumacher-Levy 9 twenty years ago was probably the nail in the coffin. We are all, to varying degrees, neo-catastrophists now.
Why would any government monkey with the Human Genome? Well, any change through genetic manipulation would obviously be done to make the populace more obedient and useful to the powers that be. The only parameters to this manipulation would be that the people must be fit enough to reproduce themselves and continue to work in order to produce material civilization. So you see, not every genetic manipulation would be useful. People must have babies and go to work.
In my judgement it is a good thing that old myths that no longer serve any purpose die. Uniformitarianism and gradualism were but scientistic fairy tales. They assured us that we could both know everything (I mean by this a 'Theory of Everything') and that we would always have time to react to some unexpected change in the natural world. We now certainly have reason to doubt the latter... (I doubt the former too, but that is another review.) Besides the real danger of asteroids and comets, recent work in climate change throughout prehistory shows how terrifyingly fast climate change can happen.
For those of you who remain committed uniformitarians and gradualists I will point out that only a couple of weeks ago (3/26/2014) the discovery of a 'dwarf planet' (2012 VP113) in the Oort cloud was publicly announced with an orbit inexplicable by our current understanding of the greater solar system. When I was young the solar system was a simple thing: rocky inner and gaseous outer planets. (Pluto was something of an anomaly, later resolved.) Now, we have inner and outer planets, the Kuiper belt, and the Oort cloud. And of this last we know fleetingly little. One of the possible explanations for the orbit of 2012 VP 113 is there may be, somewhere in the Oort cloud, a planet (or planets!) to rival the size of earth! Of course, there are other explanations. As our technology improves, we are certainly likely to find other dwarf planets outside of the classical solar system with long period eccentric orbits. Any one of them could be a potential threat.
So you see, neo-catastrophism really does seem now to be our fate. And because of this I serenely thought that genetic manipulation was off the table as a means of controlling populations. Why? We know that the human species in pre-history survived catastrophic events. Change our genetics base, for whatever reason, and one could not be certain this would be true in a catastrophically altered future. Every change has unexpected and unwanted consequences. This would also be true of any and all supposedly 'useful' changes to our genome.
But I fear that epigenetics changes all that. In radically changed conditions, any previous epigenetic manipulation of humanity would disappear quite rapidly in those radically changed conditions. I fear that the elites who rule the world, and intend to continue to do so, have noticed this.
This is a review of Mark Musa's translation of 'The Prince' in the excellent 1964 bilingual edition. SinceMachiavelli: Translation and Interpretation
This is a review of Mark Musa's translation of 'The Prince' in the excellent 1964 bilingual edition. Since this is an old edition I will start my review with the table of contents.
Table of Contents:
Introduction, v; Note to the Text, xvii; Selected Bibliography, xviii; Contents, xxi;
Niccolò Machiavelli to the Magnificent Lorenzo de' Medici, 1; I. On Principalities, 5; II. Hereditary Principalities, 7; III. On Mixed Principalities, 9; IV. Why the Kingdom of Darius, Which Was Occupied by Alexander, Did Not, After the Death of Alexander, Rebel Against His Successors, 29; V. How Cities or Principalities that Lived by Their Own Laws Before They Were Occupied Should Be Governed, 37; VI. On New Principalities Acquired by Means of One's Own Arms and Ingenuity, 41; VII. On New Principalities Acquired with the Arms and Fortunes of Others, 49; VIII. On Those Who Have Become Princes Through Iniquity, 67; IX. On the Civil Principality, 77; X. How the Strength of All Principalities Should Be Determined, 87; XI. On Ecclesiastical Principalities, 93; XII. The Different Kinds of Troops and Mercenary Soldiers, 99; XIII. On Auxiliary, Mixed, and Native Troops, 111; XIV. What a Prince Should Do with Regard to the Militia, 121; XV. On Those Things for Which Men, and Especially Princes, Are Praised or Blamed, 127; XVI. On Generosity and Parsimony, 131; XVII. On Cruelty and Compassion and Whether It Is Better to Be Loved Than Feared or the Opposite, 137; XVIII. How a Prince Should Keep His Word, 145; XIX. On Avoiding Being Disdained and Hated, 151; XX. Whether Fortresses and Many Other Things Which Princes Use Frequently Are Useful or Harmful, 175; XXI. How a Prince Should Act to Acquire Esteem, 185; XXII. On the Private Counselors a Prince Has, 195; XXIII. How Flatterers Are to Be Avoided, 199; XXIV. Why the Princes of Italy Have Lost Their States, 205; XXV. How Much Fortune Can Do in Human Affairs and How to Contend with It, 209; XXVI. Exhortation to Take Hold of Italy and Liberate Her from the Barbarians, 217;
Those who have a different copy of 'The Prince' will wonder why there are over 200 pages in this edition. First, this is a Bilingual Edition so all the pages consisting of the text of 'The Prince' are in the original Italian and then, on the facing page, English. Those who have seen 'The Prince' in Latin are reminded that it was only translated, well after Machiavelli's death, into Latin in 1560, which of course aided its spread throughout (Western) Europe. Also be aware that our translator, Mark Musa, puts any notes he has at the end of each chapter and not at the end of the book.
Now, why do I think it is useful to hunt down this specific book? Well, first, one is amazed by how economical a writer Machiavelli was! I believe that in each of the 26 chapters our translator burns (sometimes far) more words than our Niccolò. It was this literary tempo that so impressed Nietzsche: "But how could the German language, even in the prose of a Lessing, imitate the tempo of Machiavelli, who in his Principe [The Prince] lets us breathe the dry, refined air of Florence and cannot help presenting the most serious matters in a boisterous allegrissimo, perhaps not without a malicious artistic sense of the contrast he risks - long, difficult, hard, dangerous thoughts and the tempo of the gallop and the very best, most capricious humor? (Beyond Good & Evil, section 28)" The struggle of Musa to keep up with the tempo, the humor, and the terrifying economy of words in his translation comes through thanks to the contrast of the original text and its translation.
Also, in his Introduction Musa draws our attention, as he should, to the fact that he uses a dozen different English words(!) in order to translate the single word 'virtù'. Now, this word is often intentionally paired, and deliberately contrasted with 'fortuna' by Machiavelli. One is in danger of losing sight of the pairing and also the contrast if 'virtù is translated twelve different ways. Thus I found Musa's listing in his Introduction, by chapter, all the appearances of 'virtù, along with his translation at that specific point, quite useful. This of course is lost in most other translations that one comes across.
The words he uses for ''virtù' are: capacity, strategy, virtue, courage, power, efficacy, qualities, strength, talent, resources, capability, and the ubiquitous ingenuity. Wouldn't it be better just to leave ''virtù' untranslated? (I wish he had!) But this edition of Musa's translation is rendered a 'must' for all those interested in seriously studying 'The Prince' because it has the original on the facing page. You can check the translation of crucial terms or passages yourself. If you can find this book, take advantage of it. (Although I was disappointed by the lack of an index... I never understand that in thoughtful books.)
Why else is this translation so useful? Well, for instance, even though Musa uses many different English words to render virtù, in the crucial chapter six he mercifully renders it as 'ingenuity' 11 out of 12 times. Without this consistency, and of course the original on the facing page, a reader innocent of the subtleties of Ol' Nick would be unaware of what he was missing. This 'problem', for translations that do not benefit from the presence of the original, could be solved (I believe) by always rendering 'virtù' as virtù in translations. This would be better than the alternative of 12 different English words!
...I am telling you that it should be illegal to publish a translation of any seminal philosophical or political or religious text without the original on the facing page!
There are many reviews of "The Prince" here on Amazon, and elsewhere. If you are new to Machiavelli go read them. (And above all read both "The Prince" and "The Discourses" before coming to any conclusions regarding our Nick.) I will make only a few points here. First, all Princes need to be innovative. A new Prince needs to create 'New Modes and Orders' while a hereditary Prince must innovate in changing circumstances in order to maintain himself. The one creates a polity (our Nick would say a 'people'); the other re-creates it. Thus all Princes would benefit from this book. Next, this innovation requires foresight. "And so whoever does not recognize evils when they arise in a principality is not truly wise; and this ability is given to only a few (p. 117, ch. 13)." It is not even granted to every Prince. There are things that even Machiavelli can't teach. Virtù is one, successful innovation (for our author, this is a part of virtù) is another. The proper measurement of virtue and vice is a third. A well-timed vice can save a Kingdom; an ill-timed virtue can destroy it (Chapter 15, passim). Also, throughout this book, note how Nick praises the One Prince (or, I believe, Philosopher) and sometimes the Many (i.e., the People) but hardly ever the Few (aristocracies or factions). Indeed, he seems to underline the alliance of the One and Many when he says to the Prince: "Everyone sees what you appear to be, few touch what you are, and those few do not dare oppose the opinions of the many who have the majesty of the state defending them; and with regard to the actions of all men, and especially with princes where there is no court of appeal, we must look to the final result." (p. 149) It seems here that we are to infer that the One and the All (= the People) are to be allied. But regarding this we should mention that of these three types Machiavelli also says: "And since there are three types of intelligence: one understands on its own, another perceives what others understand, the third does not understand either on its own or through others; the first type is more than excellent, the second excellent, the third useless... (p. 195)." Now I would add (and I am certain Machiavelli knows) that it is circumstances that decide 'uselessness'. This last quote is concerned with the picking of ministers. So of course here the people are 'useless'. If, however, the Prince is facing a coup, the common people are not useless at all... To underline this alliance between Prince and People, recall that he had earlier said (on Chapter 9) "It is impossible for the nobles to be satisfied in an honest way without doing harm to others, but the common people certainly can be, for the goal of the common people is more honest than that of the nobles, the latter wishing to oppress and the former wishing not to be oppressed." The people can be trusted and satisfied, aristocrats cannot. I would argue that the genuinely Machiavellian Prince is to be a Tyrant only to those whose unsatisfiable ambitions would overturn the state. Most people think otherwise on a first reading of Machiavelli's Prince. This is a mistake. [If, btw, one is interested in the philosophical understanding of these three human types (Nietzsche would say: philosopher, exceptions, 'herd') I recommend the following: Averroes, The Decisive Treatise (the 'people of demonstration', the 'people of dialectic', the 'people of rhetoric') Kant, The Conflict of the Faculties (to learn of philosophy, its relations to theology/law [the 'exceptions'], and medicine[the body = the common people]) Nietzsche, the first three chapters of Beyond Good & Evil, passim] And lastly, I will conclude my brief points by noting that the 'Discourses' are a mystery to many people only acquainted with 'The Prince'. Their initial 'surface' reading of 'The Prince' usually convinces them that ol' Nick was on the side of a strong Individual (Prince, King) ruling through his virtù. But this was only at the surface! If you go through the 'Prince' a second time, searching for any mention of the aristocrats (Barons, Dukes, Factions, etc.) you will be amazed how Machiavelli never seems to have much respect for them. They always get in the way! There are only two 'subjects', two possible authorities, in Nick's political writings: the Prince and the People. In the 'Discourses' you will discover what our author meant by a People. After reading both the Prince and the Discourses, several times, one should then turn to Leo Strauss and Gramsci, both of whom are very sharp on Machiavelli.
I would like to conclude with some 'off the beaten path' secondary studies that I recommend. (Yes, of course, there are several excellent studies better known that I am ignoring.) 1. The Machiavellian Enterprise: A Commentary on the Prince, Leo Paul S. De Alvarez One of the very best commentaries out there. A very detailed chapter by chapter commentary of the Prince. Alvarez is very insightful on the evasive qualities of our Nick. I once attempted a line by line commentary of 'The Prince' and only made it to chapter 6. A commentary is one of those things that is far easier to conceive than it is to do... 2. The Sweetness of Power: Machiavelli's Discourses & Guicciardini's Considerations, Niccolo Machiavelli & Francesco Guicciardini This book has both Machiavelli's "Discorsi sopra la prima deca di Tito Livio" (Discourses) and Guicciardini's "Considerazioni intorno ai "Discorsi" del Machiavelli sopra la prima deca di Tito Livio" observations on same. Sweet indeed! I found it very interesting to read an extremely intelligent, maximally contemporary discussion of our Nick. 3. Against Throne and Altar: Machiavelli and Political Theory Under the English Republic, Paul A. Rahe Superb. This is something of an anti-Pocock (see Pocock's "The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition") monograph regarding the English Civil War and our Nick. I was especially interested in reading Part I of this book. This is where Rahe discussed the history of the ideas that led to Machiavelli. Not only Machiavelli (led to our 'republicanism') but also his precursors: the Epicurean and the medieval (for want of a better term) 'radical Aristotelian' traditions. This was a very interesting discussion of the 'presuppositions' of Machiavelli. In a very small (and thus somewhat inadequate and misleading) nutshell one can say that our Nick combined the Cosmology of the Epicureans with the 'Platonic Politics' of the Falâsifa and thereby created something new. Also, regarding little studied lines of descent, see chapter 4 in Part II of this book; again, this is very good on 'underground' philosophy. I want to underline the importance of this in a very brief manner. Some presuppositions of 'Latin Averroism' hook up with some presuppositions of the Epicurean tradition in Machiavelli and the secular world begins. (Or can be said to begin.) Our Nick uses the Averroism to politicize the the apathetic Epicureans while using the physics of the Epicureans to demolish the Aristotelianism of the Averroists. It really was very nicely done! We already knew that Machiavelli opposed the orthodoxies of his time. We now learn that our Niccolò intends to wipe away everything that came before him, both orthodoxy and heresy! I thought Rahe especially good on this. 4. Machiavelli in the Making, Claude Lefort Okay, this is a translation of "Le travail de l'oeuvre Machiavel" (Originally published in 1972). It is his thesis. Incredibly, his thesis director was the conservative Raymond Aron! This is remarkable because only a few years earlier he had been a member (a founding member to boot) of the now nearly legendary 'Socialisme ou Barbarie'. They were a splinter Trotskyite grouplet (or at least they started as one) that denied the USSR was in any meaningful sense socialist and they also denied that the USSR deserved to be defended by socialists. Heretics! They formed, if I remember correctly, around 1950. The group was formed by Lefort and Castoriadis. The website 'libertarian communism' has some of their writings, if anyone is interested. Now, we must not imagine that by getting his thesis through Aron Lefort had somehow become 'conservative'. Rather, we should be impressed by how willing he was to learn from enemies. Another teacher of Lefort was Merleau-Ponty, who was without question one of the twentieth century's greatest philosophers. I was very annoyed to learn that Lefort's analysis of the interpretations of Machiavelli by Gramsci and Strauss were dropped from this translation for reasons of space. Although I suspect that Lefort may no longer have been happy with them. (Lefort died before this translation was published.) I was also disappointed by the lack of an index. Notes could have been longer too. A word of warning. Lefort was certainly writing in the shadow of poststructuralism! There is a real focus on the protean character of the Machiavellian text, with nods in the direction of psychoanalysis too... You can also catch glimpses of the notion of 'the Imaginary' that both he and Castoriadis flogged in postmodern, post-revolutionary France. I mention this because I know how tiresome some of you find all this...
Five Stars; not only for one of the most important books in European thought, but for this bilingual edition too!...more
The full title of this book is "Imaginal Worlds: Ibn al- `Arabī and the Problem of Religious Diversity". Ibn al- `Ara Why is there Religious Diversity?
The full title of this book is "Imaginal Worlds: Ibn al- `Arabī and the Problem of Religious Diversity". Ibn al- `Arabī was a great Sufi mystic and philosopher who died in the mid thirteenth century. Religious diversity is a problem for all multi-cultural Empires; and it was a problem throughout the medieval world of the Islamicate. Not only was Islam born in the midst of several long established religious traditions in the Middle East, it encountered still more when the Muslim Conquests spread into India and Southeast Asia. Now, every empire certainly desires internal peace; but one wonders how this peace can be achieved, and also endure, given the fact of religious diversity within their own ever (at least in intent) expanding borders.
The thought of Ibn al- `Arabī regarding religious diversity provided one possible solution for the Islamic world. And it is his unique understanding of religious diversity that I would like to pursue in this review. Unlike modern secularists, whose 'solution' to the problem of religious diversity is based on some form of historicist evolution (basically, 'stoopid then - all wised up now') and the eventual elimination of all religion, the Shaykh based his explanation upon a certain understanding of the very nature of Reality. And it turns out, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, that our religious diversity is itself an ontological necessity!
What! How? Well, there are several reasons for (and implications of) this, and they involve understanding some of his technical terms too. Okay, let's start with his understanding of the Real. The Shaykh used the term 'Wujūd' for this. Our author, William Chittick, leaves this term untranslated throughout this book. (Usual english translations of this word are either 'being' or 'existence'.) For al- `Arabī, Wujūd, at the highest level, is God. But in the Cosmos (i.e., basically everything that is not God) Wujūd is also the underlying substance of all things. And since Wujūd is the underlying substance of the cosmos it is wrong (and ultimately blasphemous!) to say of any of the multitudinous entities in the cosmos that they are merely an illusion or an error.
But these entities are not the Real. No. So what are they? We are told that "all things stand in an intermediate domain, a barzakh or isthmus. The universal isthmus or Supreme Barzakh is the whole cosmos; on one side stands the ocean of the Real, utterly unknowable in itself. On the other stands the ocean of nonexistence, also unknowable, because there is nothing to be known (p. 162)." Everything, but God, stands between the Real and Nothing. (God, of course, is the Real, is Wujūd.) Not only the Cosmos, but each particular thing in the cosmos (including you and I!) is, in myriad different ways, a barzakh. Each can lead towards God (the Real) or away from God - eventually into nothingness. How does humanity, individually and collectively, choose which direction to take? Well, this question involves several additional points, but it first brings us to the question of the Attributes.
Now, the problem of the attributes of God was a common thread throughout the philosophical and theological thought of the medieval period. (But it seems the Shaykh doesn't use the term 'attributes', he calls them 'Names'.) Each existing thing in the Cosmos 'participates' in Ultimate Reality (and therefore exists) due to its instantiation of an attribute (i.e., a Name) of Wujūd. Now, it is very important to understand that humanity is no mere thing among other things. Our author goes so far as to say that "the human fitra [nature, original disposition] is Wujūd" (p. 167)! Now, this certainly does not mean that we are gods; it means that we "alone are given a share of every attribute of the Real [= Wujūd]. (p. 168)" Our "fundamental cognitive (and ontological) archetype is God himself, not any specific attribute of God. (p. 169)"
So, why do we 'archetypes of God' seemingly disagree about everything? The answer is, to use a contemporary post-Nietzschean term, perspective. We each view the Whole from our own perspective; that is to say, we each view the world from our own particular (and unique) mixture of the Attributes (i.e., the Names of God). The Shaykh refers to this phenomenon as 'Knots'. After explaining the derivation of this term our author writes that as, "a technical term signifying belief, it suggests a knot tied in the heart that determines a person's view of reality. The Shaykh employs the word to refer to all the knottings that shape understanding - the whole range of cognitions, ideas, theories, doctrines, dogmas, prejudices, perceptions, feelings, and inclinations that allow people to make sense of the world. (p. 138)" Each of us has (perhaps even better said, is!) a unique mixture of the Names (i.e., attributes) of God, and this is why we trod our (sometimes extremely) different paths.
Regarding these myriad differences and paths Chittick quotes the Shaykh, Ibn al- `Arabī, as saying: -- God is wise without qualification. It is He who has put things in their places. It is He who has given each thing its creation [20:50]. Hence, God has made no error in engendered existence in relation to its order. -- (p. 139) -- People like us, who have an overview of all the stations and levels, distinguish from whence every individual speaks and discourses and recognizes that each is correct in his own level and makes no errors. Indeed, there is absolutely no error in the cosmos. -- (p. 140)
No error in the Cosmos! Indeed... Regarding that Chittick goes so far as to say that -- Together, God and the cosmos denote everything in reality, while each is the mirror image of each other. Hence every name of God finds loci of disclosure in the macrocosm. As the Shaykh puts it, the cosmos is the sum total of all the properties and effects of the divine names. -- (p. 33) Long before Blake was born, the Shaykh knew that the answer to the awful question in 'The Tyger'
"Did he who made the Lamb make thee?"
was a resounding Yes! But we were speaking of humanity, not the Cosmos. We have seen that all particular paths (that is, all the myriad 'knottings', all the different human perspectives) are 'accepted' and (better said) understood by the Shaykh. But who exactly are the 'people like us' that, along with al- `Arabī, recognize this? They are called the people of the 'Station of No Station'. Huh? What is a 'Station'? Chittick explains that al- `Arabī -- considered every mode of existence accessible to human beings -each of which is defined by a specific constellation of works, states, and knowledges- to be a 'station' (maqām) of knowledge. He saw each friend of God and each seeker of God as standing in a specific station. -- (p. 9)
But why aren't there as many stations as there are individuals? That is to say, if all perspectives reflect a particular aspect of Wujūd then every single perspective must be a legitimate Station. Right? Wrong! Wujūd is Truth; these perspectives are not simply or purely Truth; although they are certainly not (according to the Shaykh) entirely False. How do these perspectives achieve Truth? Ah! This leads us to the necessity of Prophesy.
While it is true that no human position is entirely false, prophesy is the road to Truth. Since, according to our author, -Only the Real is clear and sure. Everything else is vague, opaque, and unreal. -Like other divine attributes, knowledge cannot be found in pure form outside the Real. (p. 161)- The only road to Truth is through God. Prophets point the way. If I understand our author correctly the implication is, that even though we all have a unique distribution of the Attributes of God, left on our own we would eventually fall into nothingness. The many Prophetic Traditions were sent by God to prevent this! What I was surprised to find is that the Shaykh accepts the Islamic teaching that Muhammad is the last prophet.
And with that I conclude this terse rendition of Chittick's intriguing explication of the Shaykh's teaching regarding Religious diversity. I suspect that it will leave late modern secularists and postmodern nihilists with more questions than answers.
Diversity and Creation
First, I suspect many of us are wondering if, and doubting that, the fact of diverse religions, and even the tolerance of them, is truly ontologically based; - we wonder if this understanding is merely a politico-cultural construction that justifies whatever 'useful' religions happen to be. But the socio-cultural world we inhabit is not a museum; and it cannot be turned into one. The reiterated insistence that all must follow a pre-established path (i.e., an already established religion) will strike most late moderns as essentially political and reactionary. And thus I wish to conclude this review with a discussion of the Shaykh's very Muslim insistence that one must always trod a preexisting path (an existing prophetic tradition) in order to even begin to find ones way to the 'standpoint of no standpoint' (i.e., the 'Station of No Station').
Of course the danger of saying that there are many paths to God, but adding that everyone must tread an already existing path, is that eventually people may (no, they almost certainly will) come to believe that each of these paths (i.e., the several great religious traditions) are but manifestations of different cultural tendencies that Nations and Empires conspire to tolerate (within their borders) in the name of internal consistency and political hegemony. But nations and empires, of course, will also tend to downplay tolerance to the extent necessary to maintain their separate existences. Now, whether a State is expanding or merely struggling to maintain itself, successful new religions always tend to tear apart already existing polities. And so, if one theoretically (i.e., ontologically, theologically) concedes that new religions can indeed come about one has (potentially) signed the death warrant of each and every particular religious (political and cultural) formation in existence because the future always contains unanticipated crises that may transform some tiny cult into a large expanding religion. Therefore it is not surprising that neither political nor religious leaders and (I imagine) their followers would ever concede this point. The refusal to do so, of course, does not prove that they only fear their particular political-religious-cultural formations being superseded and rendered obsolete. Most believers, at least those not in power, are really not quite that Machiavellian! But whether one concedes the necessity of new religions or not, - the world around us continues to change. And both Change and the refusal to do so involves the political.
For late moderns and postmoderns the world has manifestly changed. It no longer resembles any traditional society. Assuming (for the sake of argument) that the Ontological understanding of the Shaykh is correct, the problem we face today, basically, is that while the Reals' Willful and Truthful manifestation of Itself into countless forms provides the basis of religious diversity, there can also be (for historical humanity) no end to this diversity. And so, while there might be a correct understanding of religious diversity (and the Shaykh certainly has an interesting one), there can never in fact be a single, final Universal Religion. I would argue that this is due to the ceaseless manifestation of Wujūd. This 'overflow' of Wujūd may rightly be characterized as, at bottom and in Itself, only the beautiful Truth. But the individuals who believe in their various traditions will never experience every actual (and possible) manifestation of the Overflow in this way. And so we are doomed to again and again find ourselves in historical situations where the beautiful New is at war with the beautiful Old. The Real, however, is, and can only be, One; but its multitudinous manifestations are ceaseless, and the combinations and interactions of these manifestations are innumerable. Therefore, I would argue that religious and cultural creation (and strife) must be endless too so long as God continues to Create.
Regarding late modernity, I would add that once the current crisis of Universalism arrives (our 'Postmodern Moment') the 'problem of diversity' becomes theoretically insoluble. Before our wretched postmodernism, Universalism was thought by all to be the eventual answer to the fact of diversity. It was generally believed by all camps that one day (however distant) we would all be (for example) Christians, Buddhists, Moslems, Liberals or Socialists. All those possibilities now seem to many of us to be finished. (Indeed, to many they are but myths, lies, and/or utopian dreams.) We have awoken into a bitter postmodernity of factionalism, nihilism and constructivism. Now, our factionalism (i.e. diversity) has been explained by al- `Arabī. (It is a consequence of the multitudinous manifestations of Wujūd.) But what of postmodern Constructivism?
Well, I suppose that one could maintain that Ibn al- `Arabī is also a constructivist - of sorts. But this Constructivism isn't merely based on all-too-human human will, words (i.e., rhetoric) and whims. Wujūd Itself sanctions human constructivism! After pointing out that "Self-disclosure never repeats itself" and that at each instance God renews the self-disclosure that is the universe, our author states: -- Human beings, however, do not play a totally passive role. Given the presence within them of a certain freedom because of a special relationship with the Real, they can exert an effect upon the direction of their changing beliefs. -- (p. 164)
And so, according to our author, the Shaykh believes in the legitimacy (one is tempted to say the 'sacredness') of human self-creation. One might be surprised to find that this notion that God ultimately is the fount of human creativity has recently (re-)appeared in the militantly Christian 'Radical Orthodoxy' movement: "Radical Orthodoxy is not afraid to consider seriously proposals that knowing is most adequately described in relation to making. It is not bewitched by the fear that human making is inevitably arbitrary." (Truth in the Making; Knowledge and Creation in Modern Philosophy and Theology (Radical Orthodoxy), Robert C. Miner, Prologue pps. xv-xvi.) Incredible as it might sound, constructivism is today becoming religiously permissable, certainly not as human prometheanism, but as a gift from God. For the very Christian Miner, it is ultimately the "analogical participation of human esse in divine esse (Miner, p.18)" -that he finds in Aquinas- which accounts for this. According to Chittick, Ibn al- `Arabī thinks of human creativity and God in a somewhat similar manner.
Humanity has a special relationship with Wujūd (p.164). Therefore we can slightly effect Its manifestations; and thus it turns out that post/modern constructivism (which always seemed to lead to the nihilistic denial of Truth) must be partially true, - for (god help us...) religious reasons! Now, any constructivism that is not based on either some genuinely philosophical understanding of the Real (as the necessary, the general, the universal) or a theological understanding of God, but instead bases itself on the merely human, can (of course!) only be another mask of nihilism. Our postmodern moment (apparently yet another barzakh!) continues to point to either the darkest nihilism, or an equally (for secularists) unknowable transcendence. It will certainly be interesting, but perhaps not enlightening, to see which wins out.
This book was a fascinating and eye-opening read. I am not even sure I had heard of Ibn al- `Arabī before. I only give four stars because one day I would like to read al- `Arabī and give him five stars....more
Late Modernity has proven to be a gradual retreat from the old gradualist uniformitarianism type of science thatThe Cyclical Interpretation of History
Late Modernity has proven to be a gradual retreat from the old gradualist uniformitarianism type of science that I was taught decades ago. This science assumed that the physical and geological laws operating in (and the manifest behavior of) the world today have always been in effect in our world, at least during the time of Man. However, this notion lately (i.e., in my lifetime) has began to unravel, both in popular culture and science itself. Scientifically, after witnessing the spectacular collision of Shoemaker-Levy 9 with Jupiter, it has become impossible to argue that catastrophic events can no longer happen in our solar system. Even the Tunguska Event (1908) is now thought to (perhaps) have been caused by a comet. But this book is not interested in that. Its brand of 'catastrophism' is of an entirely terrestrial origin. While I am not convinced by the book, I must admit I am intrigued by it. In this review I would like to (very broadly) give some indication of its argument and then some possibilities of how it might be accepted and also some consequences that might follow if this quite 'speculaive history' were to be generally accepted.
The Argument of this Book in a Nutshell:
This book argues, in a manner that does not include recourse to the 'supernatural', sentient beings from other planets, or some harebrained conspiracy, that advanced civilizations have existed in the past but their knowledge (and also the very knowledge of their existence!) was lost due to global catastrophe. This world-wide catastrophe, Graham Hancock argues, is due to the slippage of the lithosphere around the upper mantle. He settles on this remarkable supposition, ultimately, because of the extreme difficulty of completely hiding even the few remaining shards of any great fallen civilization. These remains, if this theory of Lithosphere slippage is correct, could be found beneath the antarctic ice cap. This idea is not original with our author, he got it from the Flem-Ath's (see their "When the Sky Fell: In Search of Atlantis").
The book opens with the perusal of several remarkable old maps which could not possibly know what they manifestly do know. (The key text here is "Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings: Evidence of Advanced Civilization in the Ice Age", by Charles H. Hapgood.) The depiction of topographic features of antarctica (rivers, mountain ranges, gulfs) that were hidden by glaciers throughout historic time is particularly eye-opening. These features were only recently discovered (perhaps I should say 'rediscovered') using the most advanced technologies. There is no way any known ancient civilization could have possessed this information. But the discrepancy is far worse than that; current theory places an un-glaciated Antarctica so far in the past that it predates the rise of humanity (i.e., homo sapiens) itself! This is where the theory of periodic Lithosphere slippage comes in especially handy. The rigid outer 'skin' of the earth periodically (even predictably!) slipping explains how civilization could (perhaps even repeatedly) rise and be destroyed, with only a tiny few scraps of information, cloaked in myth, escaping into the distant future.
I know, all this sounds remarkably improbable. I too am not a follower of the 'speculative history' propounded in these pages (or anywhere else). But consider these thoughts of Einstein regarding the danger of the accumulation of ice at the polar ice-caps and the resulting slippage: "The earth's rotation acts on these unsymmetrically deposited masses, and produces centrifugal momentum that is transmitted to the rigid crust of the earth. The constantly increasing centrifugal momentum produced this way will, when it reaches a certain point, produce a movement of the earth's crust over the earth's body, and this will displace the polar regions towards the equator. (quoted p. 468.)" Of course, Einstein's remarks do not in any way prove that slippage of the Lithosphere actually occurs. What it does show is that this is a scientific theory, which evidence may (or may not) prove to be true at a later date. A usually unnoticed consequence of this theory of Lithosphere slippage due to the accumulation of ice is that 'global-warming' may in fact prove to be a positive good. What?!? How? By suppressing the size of the ice-caps humanity may have found the only way to indefinitely defer the slippage of the Lithosphere.
And this theory of slippage also neatly explains how it is possible that antarctica would be without ice during the time of Man in the later Pleistocene Era thanks to the supposition that this slippage occurs every few thousand years. Of course, the slippage of the Lithosphere entails horrific damage on a world-wide scale. But where is the evidence? Besides several types of archeological anomalies (like "apparently 'flash-frozen' mammoths in northern Siberia and Alaska", for instance) our author finds the best evidence in the recurring constants of Myth. These mythical motifs occur across all continents and vastly different civilizations. He infers from these constants that these myths are not merely delusions. Hancock here leans heavily on the famous book ("Hamlet's Mill: An Essay Investigating the Origins of Human Knowledge And Its Transmission Through Myth") by Giorgio De Santillana and Hertha von Dechen in making his argument.
Our author invites us to imagine, if our present civilization were entirely destroyed and the few survivors were forced back to a very primitive subsistence level, how this humanity would speak of events like Hiroshima after 10,000 years. He quotes several passages from the Bhagavata Purana (see pages 448-449) to show how myth might preserve the memory of such terrible events. Now, thanks to the popular TV show, 'Life After People', we are all today much more aware of how quickly the various physical artifacts of our civilization would disappear if not cared for by civilized Man. If our civilization were somehow destroyed wouldn't its few remaining traces eventually be mythologized into memorable narratives by the (nearly) 'feral' survivors?
Now, myth doesn't only contain tales of world-wide catastrophe and trauma; it preserves vital information regarding this catastrophe: most importantly, when it occurred and even when it will likely recur. Referring to some remarks by Josephus and also some anonymous Egyptian traditions regarding the antediluvian world our author states: "Taken at face value, the message of both these myths seems crystal clear: certain mysterious structures scattered around the world were built to preserve and transmit the knowledge of an advanced civilization of remote antiquity which was destroyed by a terrifying upheaval." (p. 490). How does myth do this? Through the 'universal language' of mathematics and the smart utilization of the terrestrial facts regarding the precession of the equinoxes.
But why make use of earth's axial precession to say 'we were here'? Our author explains that this is due to "the beautiful predictability of the earth's axial precession, which has the effect of slowly and regularly altering the declination of the entire star-field in relation to a viewer at a fixed point, and which equally slowly and regularly revolves the equinoctial point in relation to the twelve zodiacal constellations. From the predictability of this motion it follows that if we could find a way to declare: WE LIVED WHEN THE VERNAL EQUINOX WAS IN THE CONSTELLATION OF PISCES we would provide a means of specifying our epoch to within a single 2160-year period in every grand precessional cycle of 25,920 years. The only drawback to this scheme would become evident if a civilization equivalent to our own failed to arise within 12,000 or even 20,000 years of the cataclysm, but took much longer - perhaps as much as 30,000 years. (pp. 492-493.)" In the latter case the precessional evidence of the past civilization, while pointing to a previous period 'X' in a certain zodiacal sign, the civilization would actually have existed in period X minus 25,920 years, which is the time of a full precessional cycle and the occurrence of the zodiacal sign in the earlier cycle. There doesn't seem to be any way to rid precessional timekeeping of this central ambiguity.
In order for myth to preserve and transmit information regarding the precession it seems that the following numbers must be repeatedly encoded in these various myths: "12 = the number of constellations in the zodiac; 30 = the number of degrees allocated along the ecliptic to each zodiacal constellation; 72 = the number of years required for the equinoctial sun to complete a precessional shift of one degree along the ecliptic; 360 = the total number of degrees in the ecliptic; 72 X 30 = 2160 (the number of years required for the sun to complete a passage of 30 degrees along the ecliptic, i.e., to pass entirely through any one of the twelve zodiacal constellations); 2160 X 12 = 25920 (the number of years in one complete precessional cycle or 'Great Year', and thus the total number of years required to bring about the 'Great Return');. Other figures and combination of figures also emerge, for example: 36, the number of years required for the equinoctial sun to complete a precessional shift of half a degree along the ecliptic; 4320, the number of years required for the eqiunoctial sun to complete a precessional shift of 60 degrees (i.e., two zodiacal constellations). (pps. 257-258.)" Now, our author will strive to show how these numeric relationships are encoded in myths and surviving ancient monuments.
There are also many anomalies noted throughout this book. Those interested in archeological anomalies should almost certainly begin their study with the classic "Forbidden Archeology: The Hidden History of the Human Race," by Michael A. Cremo. One such anomaly in the book before us is the age of the Sphinx. Egyptologists, though admitting that "there is no direct way to date the Sphinx itself, because the Sphinx is carved out of natural rock" date the monument to the Fourth Dynasty. However, geologists typically date the Sphinx thousands of years earlier, around 10,000 BC., based on the evidence of weathering. The reason that this date is unacceptable to archeologists and Egyptologists is that there is no known civilization in that period. One important book concerning the age of the Sphinx is "Serpent in the Sky" by John Anthony West. West puts the geological argument in a nutshell:
"Once you've established that water was the agent that eroded the Sphinx the answer is almost childishly simple. It can be explained to anybody who reads the 'National Enquirer' or the 'News of the World'. It's almost moronically simple... The Sphinx is supposed to have been built by Khafre around 2500 BC, but since the beginning of dynastic times -say 3000 BC onwards- there just hasn't been enough rain on the Giza plateau to have caused the very extensive erosion that we see all over the Sphinx's body. You really have to go back before 10,000 BC to find a wet enough climate in Egypt to account for weathering of this type and on this scale. It therefore follows that the Sphinx must have been built before 10,000 BC and since it's a massive, sophisticated work of art it also follows that it must have been built by a high civilization. (pp. 419-420.)"
And that is the impasse we have reached: The geologists say there hasn't been enough water in dynastic times in Egypt to account for the weathering of the Sphinx. The Egyptologist say that there was no civilization 12,000 years ago to build the Sphinx. Both find their views perfectly obvious and their doubters very foolish.
I'd like to conclude this section of my review by noting another anomaly in Egypt. It seems that the monuments on the Giza Plateau are aligned with the stars as they would have been in 10, 450 BC! Of course , it is possible that some cult in Fourth Dynasty Egypt wished to align the site with "the lowest point in Orion's precessional cycle" for reasons of ritual. But, as a collaborator of Hancock, Robert Bauval, states: "OK. That's one explanation. But the second explanation, which I personally favour -and which I think the geological evidence also supports- is that the whole Giza Necropolis was developed and built up over an enormously long period of time. I think it's more than possible that the site was originally planned and laid out at around 10,150 BC, so that its geometry would reflect the skies as they looked then, but that the work was completed, and the shafts of the Great Pyramid aligned, around 2450 BC. (p. 449.)" I suppose the place to start reading Bauval is his "The Orion Mystery: Unlocking the Secrets of the Pyramids".
I've only hit what I regarded as the most important points of Hancock in this review. There is plenty more in this book; especially regarding South and Central America, that I haven't mentioned. Now, for the remainder of the review, I would like to discuss the prospects for (and the possible consequences of) the acceptance of the notion of ancient civilizations and scientific catastrophism in the modern world.
Late Modernity, as I said above, has proven to be a gradual retreat from 'gradualist' and 'uniformitarian' scientific notions. All that is needed to turn this retreat into a rout is a decade or two (or three!) of extreme earth activity: volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, drought, floods, drastically changed weather patterns (whether rapid warming or freezing is immaterial), meteor / asteroid strikes, etc, with the strength of this activity far exceeding statistical expectations. The acceptance of a scientific notion of Catastrophism certainly does not require either space aliens or the 'supernatural'; all it really requires to become plausible to the modern mind is a sustained period of increased natural catastrophe. In this scenario there would be absolutely no 'leap of faith' at all; modern science studies recurring natural phenomena.
Once modern civilization loses belief in its own supposed inevitability and necessity, due to an era of (seemingly) ever-increasing catastrophe, the notion of the existence of long forgotten advanced ancient civilizations that collapsed due to recurring natural disasters will cease to be repugnant to it. And then the many anomalies of archaeology (and other scientific disciplines) discussed in this book could coalesce into a new universal history that entails the necessary rise and fall of civilizations due entirely to natural causes. This new understanding will probably include an extremely speculative history of several cycles of the rise and fall of civilization. However, this acceptance of destructive natural cycles will also, I fear, likely spell the end of belief in our progressive secular theories of history, such as liberalism and socialism.
Now, with the fall of progressive secular ideologies one could also expect a rise in religious belief throughout our secular world even though, strictly speaking, scientific Catastrophism and the speculative history of our author (as embodied in this book) certainly requires no such belief. If people cease to believe that they and theirs can have a better material future in this world then they may well come to believe in a better spiritual future in the 'next world'. I suspect that this is one of the main unspoken reasons so many secular-minded people abominate the natural cyclical viewpoint expounded in this book. It is not the existence of advanced ancient civilizations per se that greatly bothers them; no, it is, on the one hand, the fear that as a consequence of the cyclical viewpoint modern progress itself first slows and then grinds to a halt. And, on the other hand, there is a fear that a belief in civilizational cycles leads inevitably to a 're-mythification' of the world and thus (eventually) the loss of scientific rationalism and secularism itself.
And even though scientific Catastrophism, strictly speaking, requires none of these results, I suspect that they are probable in the long run. I think that another stumbling-block for the overwhelming majority of its opponents is how 'amoral', at bottom, this cyclical viewpoint is. Humanity tends to believe that things happen due to our goodness or badness; that is to say, we tend to view the events around us as rewards or punishments for our behavior. Thus global warming must be due to modern industry and not the cycles of the sun and the incremental variations in earth's orbit, even though we know full well that there has been temperature variations (global warmings and coolings) throughout the natural history of our planet. (And thus periods of warming and cooling occurred long before there was any human intervention.) And so, even a scientific theory like global warming must be presented to all the world as a morality play. If it is ever believed that global catastrophe recurs every several thousand years, even whether humanity exists or not, then the ubiquitous 'moral view of history' is likely dead.
Now, I fear that Human History will always be akin to a puzzle that is missing many pieces. Or, perhaps more aptly, a text that is missing many words, - and even some letters within words! Naturally, the further back one goes in historical study the more appropriate this metaphor becomes. When we study 'prehistory' through the tools that archeology surely provides we find ourselves in a situation similar to someone trying to understand a thousand page novel with 95% of the text missing. In these circumstances, it is unrealistic to expect everyone to agree with your interpretation of the evidence. How might agreement then arise? That is the real question.
I think that the adherents of (whatever variety of) 'speculative history' should stop expecting people to one day confess they were all mistaken due to some new discovery. (For instance, the Antarctic ice shelf melting and revealing the remains of an ancient civilization.) Instead, they should inquire into the ways scientific world-views rise and fall. An excellent place to begin this study is "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" by Thomas Kuhn. Now, to the best of my memory, Hancock doesn't even mention Kuhn in this book. But I believe Kuhn's book is germane to Hancock's argument. Kuhn discusses how theory replacement (he call this a 'paradigm-shift') occurs in science. It is a very complex argument and I don't dare even summarize it here. One point to note is that the accumulation of anomalies (phenomena unexplained by current theory) can eventually overwhelm the field investigating them and this itself may eventually lead to a paradigm shift. That is why I think a few decades of extreme weather and earth activity (volcanoes, earthquakes, etc.) could lead to the sort of 'paradigm shift' (in our understanding of ancient history) that Kuhn writes about. Extreme earth activity, far beyond the statistical norm, might indeed provide enough anomalies to cause a paradigm shift.
(Review is too long. Continued as comment.)...more