This is my second review of this excellent book on Goodreads. I have only read it in English ("The Explanation oKinship and History in the Middle East
This is my second review of this excellent book on Goodreads. I have only read it in English ("The Explanation of Ideology: Family Structures and Social Systems" as translated by David Garrioch) and it needs to be reissued.
Since this translation is not readily available I include the Table of Contents (to my 1988 english language paperback edition):
Preface to the English Edition, vii; Maps viii; Introduction: democracy and anthropology, 1; 1. The Seven Families, 19; 2. Community, 33; 3. Authority, 55; 4. The two forms of individualism, 99; 5. Endogamy, 133; 6. Asymmetry, 155; 7. Anomie, 171; 8. African Systems, 191; Conclusion, 196; Bibliography, 200; Index, 226;
I continue to be amazed at how little traction our author's anthropological understanding of the basis of ideology has gained in the anglo-american sphere. I think his work in this book is up there with Marx, Weber and Braudel in both explanatory and suggestive power. It absolutely must be reissued in this very readable English translation. The correlations in this book between kinship structures and political ideology cum religion are amazing! He shows that territories controlled by the exogamous community family were almost uniformly communist at the time this book was written. (One does wonder if a new politics / religion is today brewing in central Eurasia -the homeland of the exogamous community family- now that communism has fallen.) The exogamous authoritarian family's rejection of egalitarianism between brothers, while usually resulting in conservatism or social democrat polities, could also be fascist. Liberalism takes two forms: either the egalitarian nuclear family or the absolute nuclear family. (The latter is far more libertarian than the former.) Endogamy is almost always islamic. The asymmetrical community family is limited to southern India and the caste system. What our author terms the anomic family is mostly in southeast asia, and it seems to cast the widest ideological net, including Buddhism, Islam and Christianity.
Our author provides an anthropological definition of family structures and shows how many ideological structures have mapped, with remarkable precision, to certain family structures. There are seven definable family structures, which are delineated by attitudes towards spouse selection, rules regarding symmetry in family/social relations (inheritance & law), and customs about whether married children can live at home. Spouse selection within these families can be decided either by custom - in this case the preference is usually cousins - or the parents, or the two young people getting married are left free to decide. Laws of inheritance can be egalitarian, non-egalitarian or indifferent. That is the inheritance is either divided equally between all (in practice this usually means all sons), or divided unequally - one son only receives the patrimony, or any which way you please. The habitation of married children (i.e., sons) with parents can be several staying in the family home, only one remaining at home, or none at all.
In this review I will concentrate on the endogamy of the Islamic world and then add some thoughts on the importance of Todd's analysis for the modern world.
I. Some Consequences of Endogamy
The fifth chapter begins: Characteristics of endogamous community family: 1. equality between brothers established by inheritance rules. 2. cohabitation of married sons with their parents 3. frequent marriage between the children of brothers Principal regions: Arab world, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tadzhikistan
1. Christianity, Islam ...and Communism Why the centuries long hatred between Islam and Christianity? After all, they are both universalist, monotheist and share the same biblical tradition. Todd argues that the enmity springs from the difference between endogamous and exogamous families. Early Islam swallowed up the Persian and much of the Byzantine empires. Still, it "defeated giants but capitulated before dwarfs" at the periphery of its conquests. This periphery was where the endogamous community was no longer dominant. What is Endogamy? Todd explains:
-Although strict concerning taboos on blood relations [...] the Koran does not outlaw marriage between cross- or parallel-cousins. It is this type of union which enables the community family to close in on itself, by allying the children of two brothers.-
Our author tells us that from "the beginning, Christianity chose an exogamous ideal." The Romans "forbade marriage between first cousins." The Germans were even more strongly exogamous. Thus: -The Christian world embodied the ideal of exogamy, the muslim world that of endogamy. Two monotheistic forms of universalism confronted each other, trapped by an anthropological difference. Christians and Muslims saw each other as savages, incompatible with one another because of their sexual and family morality.-
The solidarity of the endogamous family has allowed Islam to endure even in the time of european dominance. Now, in support of Todd's anthropological understanding I want to note the importance of Non-denominational Islam and how this relates to our authors understanding of family types. The Pew Research Center has a recent study "The World's Muslims: Unity and Diversity" based on multi-year surveys conducted in the new millennium. It found that many moslems did not identify with any branch of Islam. The report refers to them as 'non-denominational'. What is striking for our purposes is that the largest percentage of individuals stating they were "just a muslim" comes from areas beyond the heartland of endogamy. The ordered breakdown of areas that had non-denominational muslims begins as follows: Kazakhstan, (74% of Muslims volunteer this response) [exogamous community family] Albania (65%) [exogamous community family] Kyrgyzstan (64%) [exogamous] Indonesia (56%), [anomic family] Mali (55%) [?] Uzbekistan (54) [endogamous] Azerbaijan (45) [endogamous] Russia (45) [exogamous community] Now, some of these areas are endogamous, but all on this list are peripheral to the core Arab, Turkish, and Iranian areas of the middle east. Note that endogamous Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan were in both the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. As were exogamous Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. While these four lands are all Turkic speaking, thanks to well over a century of Russification and mixing with exogamous peoples, they are high on our list. Our author tells us that a "doctrine that does not coincide with its familial counterpart cannot become an ideology." This is why, according to Todd, communism could only be successfully indoctrinated in the Islamic periphery, like, for example, Albania, Bosnia, and Indonesia. The communists were not nearly as successful in any of the core areas of the endogamous family.
When I first read this book in the late eighties Todd had already made himself famous (or ridiculous, according to ones viewpoint) by predicting the fall of the Soviet Union (in "La chute finale: Essais sur la décomposition de la sphère Soviétique", 1976) based on his anthropological research. Here, in the book presently under review, he will say that: -As a general rule, the monotony of family structure in the USSR is in contrast to the diversity of peoples and languages: Balts, Georgians, Armenians, Kazakhs and Kirghiz are not very different from the Russians in their family organization, and these similarities may explain the relative success of the Russian policy of conquest and assimilation. The only heterogeneous and probably unconquerable areas are the group of Muslim republics of the Caucasus and Central Asia.- This was said in the mid eighties. Thirty years later we know that the Russian Federation is still having trouble digesting the Caucasus. The family structure that dominates in the rest of Russia is the exogamous community family. This family type includes both China and Northern India. We are told that it alone accounts for 41% of the world's population. No other single family type has more than 12%! If the current 'Eurasianism' of the Russian Federation becomes the dominant eurasian ideology, it will likely be thanks to these salient facts.
Anthropologically speaking, the endogamous core area of Islam has "one advantage over Christianity: it is more homogenous". European Christianity is exogamous; but that includes several family types. While the Koran has many rules regarding family, marriage, and inheritance, the Christian "Church is silent on inheritance and on the cohabitation of the generations." Therefore the exogamous community family, the authoritarian family, the egalitarian nuclear family, and the absolute nuclear family all can exist within Christian Europe. Our author believes that this is why there are so many more Christian sects than Islamic sects. The four families in Christian Europe will ever be a source of squabbling political ideologies and religious sects.
2. The Family In endogamy, the "household remains all-powerful but the father is eclipsed and replaced as the regulatory mechanism by custom." Vertical family relations (father-son) are replaced by brother-brother relations. "The power of the fraternal bond surpasses all others, particularly the paternal tie." It is the manifold inheritance rules that provide (and enforce) the cohesion of the Islamic family. Our author states: -In Koranic law [the inheritance] is divided into a large number of parts and spread over the whole family group. The arithmetic of these successions enthralls Muslim jurists and gives them their raison d'être. [...] Inheritance can occur in every direction: downwards by transmission to the children; upwards by transmission to the parents (a sixth if the deceased has only one son); laterally by transmission to the brothers and sisters. [...] Such a system can only function thanks to the endogamous mechanism which in practice continually recycles the same patrimony within the same family.- There are many people in the West who look down on Islam and its family structure as if it were somehow all bad. Our author is not among them. "A closed horizontal system, the endogamous community family is probably the anthropological environment which more than any other in the history of humanity integrates the individual." The muslim family is not torn by family conflict because the bride is a cousin, a father-in-law is an uncle, and every nephew is a possible son-in-law. Also, our author argues, since the father is no threat in the endogamous family, the psychoanalytic concept of parricide is totally inoperative. And therefore atheism is inconceivable. There are also fewer illegitimate births and suicides in the Islamic world. Unfortunately, everything comes at a price. One should always make it a point to enquire about it. Todd argues that: -More than any other civilization Islam limits the necessity of exchanging women between families, which Levi-Strauss perceives as the anxiety producing mechanism par excellence. Islam's solution to the problem of exogamy is a theoretical limit (and probably one that cannot be exceeded) which gives women a specific status and implies an ideal of negation.-
3. Islam and Women Todd doesn't want us to condemn Islam. And so we are told that in "many ways the condition of Muslim women is better than that of Chinese or Indian women" thanks to both the practice of female infanticide and the exclusion of women from the inheritance that is typical of the latter two. Regarding inheritance rights of Islamic women our author says: -Because she can marry within the family, the daughter in Islamic lands is not, like her Chinese and Indian sisters, a threat to the patrimony which must be eliminated by infanticide or by an exclusion rule. The exogamous community family, when it is not tempered by a matriarchal bias as in Russia, is a far greater threat to women's lives than Islam.- That is very true, but it is not the whole story. "Muslim women are physically protected so that they can be more easily destroyed socially." Our author lists several examples: they do not participate in religious ceremonies, the veil, endogamous society is based on separation of men and women, women have little economic life beyond the household, wide age difference between husband and wife, This adds up to women, "being kept in the position of daughter rather than of wife." Our author believes that all this has had a bad effect on education and culture. He says, -On a cultural level the 'physical' (China, India) and the 'social' (Islam) destruction of women have more or less the same effect: a tendency towards long-term social stagnation. The centuries-long relapse of China, India and the Muslim world after a spectacular initial expanding phase was no doubt due to this very same cause: the refusal to integrate women into the normal functioning of society.-
4. Islam and the State Todd follows Weber in that he agrees that in order for the 'rational machinery' of the state bureaucracy to arise human relations must be depersonalized. That is, familial relations must be de-centered in the lives of individuals. In the exogamous authoritarian and nuclear families of western Europe this was easy; with endogamy, it is very hard. Exogamy requires "the establishment of a relationship between two individuals who are strangers"; endogamy rejects this. Our author argues that, -Exogamy leads to the development of the state; the exogamous choice of a partner serves as a model for bureaucratic relations which create links between individuals who do not know each other. Endogamy, on the other hand, leads to societies without a state.- Endogamy is impervious to the western-style state because it is "superimposed on a social structure which it cannot catch hold of or control, because society is overlaid with a network of invulnerable family bonds preventing the creation of impersonal bureaucratic relations." Islam has only two fundamental institutions: religion and the family. There are no autonomous centralized administrations. Europe historically had two. One in the Church bureaucracy, one in Royal States. (I would add that, historically, the latter often emulated the former.) The Catholic Church, with its celibate administration, is "opposed to the very idea of family relationships" in the ruling bureaucracy. While, -Islam, on the other hand, believes in genealogical transmission of religious functions and conditions; it rejects the notion of a bureaucratic and depersonalized religious system.- Politics without a bureaucracy, what is that? "Ibn Khaldun does not distinguish the state from the clan. The strength of a political power depends on the vitality of a clan at a particular time, which according to Khaldun cannot last for more than four generations. In his view the idea of lineage includes an element of degeneration [...because] the son is not worthy of his father." It is this tendency towards anarchy, the degeneration of states/clans, that has been long noted by European commentators. Engels, for instance, comes very near to the same conclusion as Khaldun. He observes that an Islamic regime rises and becomes rich, but they also become lax regarding the Law. The poor bedouin see this laxity and: -Then they unite under a prophet, a Mahdi, to chastise the apostates and restore the observation of the ritual and the true faith and to appropriate in recompense the treasures of the renegades. In a hundred years they are naturally in the same position as the renegades were: a new purge of the faith is required, a new Mahdi arises and the game starts again from the beginning. (Engels, "On the History of Early Christianity" in Die Neue Zeit, 1894-95; Engels makes these observations in a footnote.)- So you see, the historian Khaldun, the socialist Engels and the anthropologist Todd see the same tendency; but of course each sees a different cause. I mention this because I did not want people to think that Todd had a unique point regarding the instability of the Islamic state. For Khaldun it is moral generational decline. For Engels it is economics. For Todd, it is anthropology; an "endogamous introversion which gives Muslim society the appearance of a series of juxtaposed families [...] which contrasts with the European idea of the nation as a collection of individuals..." It seems that the state has a place within Christendom that it could never hope to achieve within Islam.
5. Islam Today Todd argues that modernization throughout the Islamic world will produce instability. Remember, this book was written in the mid-eighties, and we were only beginning to see the rise of radical Islam. So at the time this prediction regarding general instability in the Islamic world was nowhere near as obvious as it is now. The demographic trend he pointed to in this book is the rise in marriage age. He says that, -Because a rise in age at marriage is a necessary part of the process of modernization, fundamentalism would eventually threaten all modern countries.- When this was written thirty years ago it was a remarkable prediction. Modernization also leads to "the growing importance of the wife and the mother in the urban environment. Even in Islamic areas modernization leads to an increase in female power." But this is a problem for many men in Islam. The extremists are fighting "to a large extent for the chādar (female veil) in other words against the liberation of women..." (In this passage he is thinking mainly of the Iranian Revolution.) But our author remains optimistic and here calls the increasing radicalization within Islam a 'transitional spasm.' Almost twenty five years later he and Youssef Courbage write "A Convergence of Civilizations: The Transformation of Muslim Societies Around the World" in which they argue, using demography and kinship, that modernization indeed continues in the Islamic world and they believe that this trend eventually wins out over any extremism. And when the Arab Spring happened once again Todd looked the prophet. (As he had regarding the fall of the USSR.) But then Spring turned to Winter...
I know that Todd is more sanguine regarding the prospects for peace and progress in the middle east than I am. While I acknowledge that demographic trends point in the direction of increased modernization cum secularization in the area, I believe he has overlooked (or misunderstood) the significance of the so-called Islamic State (IS). What of the unpredicted phenomenal success of IS? Isn't the large fraction of foreign fighters that have come to fight for them analogous to the medieval slave armies of the Caliphate? I mean, it is of no small interest that at a time when the majority of arabs seem unwilling to fight either for their national independence or for Sunni Islam, there are many foreigners who are quite willing to do so. From the POV of IS one could perhaps say that they intend to save (i.e., to fight for their version of) Sunni Islam in the middle east when the majority of the local adherents seem unwilling to do so.
What a fascinating book! I had been aware that many of the innovations appearing in Nietzsche's work regarding 'Truth' (i.e., theThe Forgotten Bentham
What a fascinating book! I had been aware that many of the innovations appearing in Nietzsche's work regarding 'Truth' (i.e., the lack thereof) had been 'in the air' throughout the post-Hegelian Neo-Kantian milieux. One only needs to read Schopenhauer and also FA Lange (see his "The History of Materialism and Criticism of its Present Importance") to be aware of this. However, I was unaware that anything comparable was going on in Britain. When I finally got around to reading Vaihinger ("The Philosophy of As If"), and noticed that he mentioned Bentham (in the Preface to the English edition) as a precursor, - well, I was flabbergasted! I hadn't read any Bentham in decades, and I didn't recall anything at all like what Vaihinger was pursuing.
C. K. Ogden, who edited the English translation of Vaihinger's "Philosophy of As If", is also the editor here and he provides a usefully detailed 150 page introduction. The text of "The Theory of Fictions" was not published in Bentham's lifetime. Wherever there seemed to be some confusion in the text, Ogden consulted the MS. In the Introduction to the present work, Ogden asserts that the "chief defect of Vaihinger's monumental work was its failure to lay stress on the linguistic factor in the creation of fictions." He muses that this would be the next step, - except that the step had "already been taken by Bentham a century ago"!
At this point Ogden then quotes what is perhaps Bentham's most famous remark regarding fictions: "To language, then -to language alone- it is that fictitious entities owe their existence; their impossible, yet indispensable existence." Of course, all this illustrates nicely, avant la lettre, the difference between continental and anglo-american philosophy. The neo-Kantian (and, generally speaking, all continental philosophy) is ultimately concerned with the unknowable (for Kantians this was the Noumena), or at least the so far unknown, and thus metaphysics/ontology; while the anglo-american is more interested in the 'merely' practical (the doable and the undoable) and the linguistically 'sayable / unsayable'. To Bentham, the idolator of utility, the examination of fictitious entities is an extremely practical affair having myriad ramifications for our understanding of law, politics and science.
Now, this book is decidedly not your great-grandfather's (or the academic) Jeremy Bentham. It throws an entirely new light on the entire Utilitarian gambit. This book was first published in 1932. I have the 1959 paperback edition before me. Ogden denies that Bentham's contemporaries and commentators ever really understood him. "Since Bentham himself so clearly indicates the importance which he attached to the Theory of Fictions as an Instrument, it is all the more surprising that his biographers, interpreters, and critics have almost all been content to dismiss it with a contemptuous reference." (Ogden here excludes only Sir Leslie Stephen, who "in his account of Bentham in 'The English Utilitarians', provides a detached and intelligible summary.")
Again, this is not the Bentham one generally encounters in those 'History of Philosophy' survey courses. But why? Well, the first thing to note is that this text, 'The Theory of Fictions', was not given this form by Bentham. Rather, it was culled from several of the later manuscripts. In his manuscripts Bentham, it seems, was in the habit of "starting afresh whenever he resumed the consideration of any subject from a different angle" so there is a great deal of repetition in these notes. Of course, editing these notes was very difficult. And his editors and collaborators worked on what they thought important. But unfortunately "the material on Linguistic Psychology occupied a peculiar position, and its importance was not obvious to his younger collaborators."
And so it was left to Ogden, a century later, to do the work necessary to bring this material to the world. Whether you merely wish to understand the presuppositions of utilitarianism, or you have an interest (as I do) in the antecedents of our horrid postmodernity, - you must read Bentham on fictitious entities and their utility cum necessity! Also, do have a look at Vaihinger's "The Philosophy of As If" to hear the continental side of the argument for the necessity of fictions.
I should close with a note of warning; I found Bentham stylistically a very difficult read. I give four stars due to style. Of course, this could be because these remarks of Bentham's were culled from manuscripts. However, I think it has something to do with the oratorical traditions of the 1700's and 1800's. At times it seems as if the verbal pyrotechnics that are aimed at spellbinding an uneducated mob are routinely used in all forms of writing too. (I also find Carlyle, at times, quite unreadable.) However, the long introduction by Ogden was very readable. The introduction and Benthams text are almost of equal length.
If one is interested in the notion of 'necessary fictions' I would recommend the following books at minimum:
Opus Postumum, Immanuel Kant (Vaihinger underlines the relevance of this unfinished book to his work. Nietzsche also saw it. Continental Philosophy.) Bentham's Theory of Fictions, Charles K. Ogden (The book I am here reviewing. Anglo-American Philosophy.) The History of Materialism and Criticism of its Present Importance, Friedrich Albert Lange (Nietsche read the still untranslated first edition of this book. Continental. But the second edition was translated by Bertrand Russell so it travels well.) Philosophy and Truth: Selections from Nietzsche's Notebooks of the Early 1870s, Friedrich Nietzsche (Radical Neo-Kantianism. Continental.) The Philosophy of As if, H. Vaihinger (Continental.)
Some later works to consult: Political Hypocrisy: The Mask of Power, from Hobbes to Orwell and Beyond, David Runciman (Anglo-american.) Reason and Rhetoric in the Philosophy of Hobbes, Quentin Skinner (On the necessity for Reason to rhetorically embellish itself in an unreasonable world. Like Bentham, Vaihinger also considered Hobbes a precursor. Anglo-American.) Nietzsche's Aesthetic Turn: Reading Nietzsche After Heidegger, Deleuze, Derrida, James J. Winchester (especially, chapter 5. Continental/Postmodern.) Nietzsche's Anthropic Circle : Man, Science, and Myth, George J. Stack (Continental/Postmodern.) The Modern Construction of Myth, Andrew Von Hendy (A bit of a stretch but see chapters 12 and 13 especially. Myth may have been the very first 'necessary fiction'.) Narrative Truth And Historical Truth: Meaning And Interpretation In Psychoanalysis, Donald P Spence (Yes, another stretch, but psychoanalysis has a rich tradition of wrestling with the fictions of the unconscious that some interested in the theme of necessary fictions might find illuminating.)
I include below an abbreviated Table of Contents of my 1959 edition because Amazon seems to only have Ogden's Introduction listed:
Table of Contents:
Introduction, C.K. Ogden I. Origins and Influence, ix; II. The Theory, xxxiv; III. Expansions and Applications, lxii; IV. Remedies, Legal and General, cxiii; Conclusion, cl;
The Theory Fictions, Jeremy Bentham Part I. General Outline I. Linguistic Fictions, 7; A. Classification of Entities, 7; B. Classification of Fictitious Entities, 19; II. Fictions in Psychology, 59; III. Elliptical Fictions, 66; IV. Fiction and Metaphor, 70; V. Exposition, 75; VI. Language as a Sign-System, 105; Part II. Special Problems, I. Motion, Rest, and Relativity, 109; II. Substantive and Adjective, 114; III. The Fiction of Right, 118; IV. The Fiction of an Original Contract, 122; V. Analysis, Physical and Linguistic, 126; VI. Summary, 137;
Appendix A. Legal Fictions, 141; Appendix B. The Classification of Fictions, by George Bentham, 151; Index, 157;...more
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
This Book Our author, Lawrence Dennis, chooses fascism over communism basically because he does not believe that, in ameA Note On Political Convergence
This Book Our author, Lawrence Dennis, chooses fascism over communism 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 a communist revolution. For our author, this book is an exercise in pure pragmatics. There is here 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. Therefore 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 point out 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 really a technocratic fascism! He asks what is the quickest way for America to become a better managed nation and reach a full employed state and then goes about excluding the less useful in favor of the more useful. A very peculiar fascism indeed! But why did he and so many others think some sort of change from american nationalism/liberalism/capitalism was necessary? The flailing of the government in trying to solve the Great Depression (and also, coincidentally, the problems caused by the dust bowl) had convinced almost everyone that their was something wrong with both the market and the government. And they all thought the answer was better planning. This is another book, born in the terrible 1930s, on political convergence. A drive towards greater bureaucracy in government and state management of the economy was discernible everywhere. We see this trend theorized in books like "The Bureaucratization of the World," by Bruno Rizzi (1939), "The Managerial Revolution", by James Burnham (1941), and at a much higher level, the lectures on Hegel's "Phenomenology of Spirit" by Alexandre Kojève, that electrified the cream of French intellectuals throughout the thirties. And on the American scene we find it in our author here and also in (what today would be called) 'old right' libertarians like John T. Flynn's (1944) "As We Go Marching)". (-Flynn was appalled by all this, btw.) But whether one was thrilled by, resigned to, or disgusted with the tendency towards greater similarity between the 'isms' of the last century, - many saw it coming.
And Beyond But weren't all of these ideologies (I mean, communism, fascism, liberalism, nationalism, capitalism) obviously very different? How does the notion of convergence between them even arise? Well, the 'progressivism' of the last century was certainly one path. Even the Nazis, despite all talk of 'blood and soil,' were technologically progressive. 'Progress' in any form, if only for the sake of efficient markets and unobstructed access to resources and techniques, came to imply working towards one world. Whether this happened through 'progress' (liberals), revolution (communists), or conquest (fascists) is a secondary consideration. Another path to the notion of convergence was through social psychology. For instance, investigators like Vilfredo Pareto, in "Rise and Fall of the Elites" (1901), and Robert Michels in his "Political Parties" (1911) were a generation (or two) earlier patiently explaining that managers and leaders were everywhere (in all the "isms") pretty much the same. How could the similarities of the various elites not lead us into some form of managed global society? A third possibility if one decides to argue for political convergence might be in the phenomenon of syncretism (the merging of different beliefs). Now, in religious times one always encounters 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. Now, once Europeans make their capitalist and technological revolutions, and also their rush to colonize and explore the world, some form of political convergence becomes ever more inevitable (as the possibility of elimination of / disengagement from others becomes increasingly unlikely) and appears eventually. What we today call Globalization has been going on for a long time. I do not mean to suggest that globalization can't be stopped at some point. Of course it can. How many religious syncretisms really become thriving 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. - The doubters say that the argument between the West and Russia is merely over precisely how bureaucrats are to rule.) 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. For anyone interested in the notion of political convergence in the last century there is certainly a lot of material out there. Other books to consult would be Daniel Bell's "End of Ideology" 1960), Max Shachtman's "Bureaucratic Revolution" (1962), both a generation later than the ones mentioned above. Another obvious source of convergence would be "Evolutionary Socialism" (1899) by Eduard Bernstein, the first great marxist revisionist. Also I should mention our authors "The Dynamics of War and Revolution" (1940). Of course, opponents of convergence, most importantly austrian and anglo-american libertarians, should be consulted too. Perhaps Ludwig von Mises' "Omnipotent Government" and "Bureaucracy" (both 1944, I believe) would be the best place to start. There are several more recent books that also should be mentioned. For instance, "Three New Deals: Reflections on Roosevelt's America, Mussolini's Italy, and Hitler's Germany", (2006) by Wolfgang Schivelbusch, and we should never forget the famous "End of History and the Last Man" (1992) by Francis Fukuyama, Of course, today, no one any longer really believes in political convergence. Among the masses throughout the world Secular Universalism is everywhere in retreat (it is but another example of western imperialism), replaced by religion and nationalism, -for better and worse... Which is why any serious essay on political convergence would need to be a book length essay. Around 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 essay or book of how that came about would be very interesting indeed.
Four stars for a very thoughtful period piece. But, to the best of my knowledge, the history of political convergence has yet to be written. I look forward to that!
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
This book is translated by Simona Draghici. Since it is out of print I will summarize its twenty sections and give my thoughts at theWhat is Seapower?
This book is translated by Simona Draghici. Since it is out of print I will summarize its twenty sections and give my thoughts at the end.
Myth and History
One. The text begins with the epigraph 'As told to my daughter Anima'. When we begin to read, we wonder if we are reading a fairy tale. And it does begin that way. We learn that Man is a terrestrial being. Earth is represented as our mother in innumerable myths. So it seems that it is only the first of the ancient four ancient elements (earth, water, air, fire) that is truly ours. - Or is it? Schmitt mentions that there are legends of deities and also men born of the sea. He does not seem to wonder at this, and approvingly quotes Goethe: Everything is born of water, Everything is preserved by water Ocean, bring us your eternal rule! "So, it is worth asking: what is our element? Are we the children of the earth or of the sea?"
Two. Now, the term 'element', as used in the mythic 'four elements', is an unscientific term. "For our historical analysis, however, we retain the four elements, with their simple but evocative names. As a matter of fact, they are global designations of the various possibilities of human existence." I believe he means most especially land and sea powers. We speak 'mythically,' because men are not things that only have causes; Man also has Reasons. He can respond to circumstances, especially novel circumstances, in novel ways. The implication is that the sciences will never entirely know Man. He can "choose, and at certain moments in his history, he may even go so far, through a gesture peculiar to him, as to change himself into a new form of his historical existence, in virtue of which he readjusts and reorganizes himself."
Three. Yes, Man can go wherever he wants; but within the limits imposed by the physical world and his own nature. "World history is the history of the wars waged by maritime powers against land or continental powers and by land powers against sea or maritime powers." We are no longer in a fairy tale. We have fallen (or, if you prefer, risen) from the mythical, via the 'constructivism' inherent both in man and history, to the given. The limits to our power are our material geo-political world and (Schmitt would add) the fact that there are always friends and enemies. This is the boundary that no historical creation can ever cross. In the nineteenth century, the great example of the struggle between Land and Sea Powers was England and Russia. In Schmitt's explication of the battle between land (Behemoth) and sea (Leviathan) he says that "according to the cabbalists, behemoth tries to tear leviathan to pieces with its horns and teeth, while in turn, leviathan tries hard to stop the land animal’s mouth and nostrils with its flaps and fins in order to deprive it of food and air." Land power battles; sea power blockades. No, we have not returned to myth. Everywhere we look in history we see this struggle between Land and Sea. For instance: Persia-Greeks Sparta-Athens Rome-Carthage Now, do not think of Rome as only a land-power. It was after the defeat of Carthage that they started referring to the mediterranean as Mare Nostrum (our sea). In some sense the Romans chose a new form of historical existence. And long after defeating Carthage declining Rome "saw its domination of the seas snatched by the Vandals, the Saracens, the Vikings, and the Normans." But sea-powers at this time were not merely pirates and raiders. The Byzantine Empire is singled out for high praise. He calls it a Katechon(!), i.e., the restrainer of The Antichrist, (see Thessalonians 2) for holding back Islam and, by this, even protecting the Roman Church. The last sea power Schmitt speaks of here is Venice. Those who think Schmitt is contemptuous of all sea powers should read this. Venice is for Schmitt a preview of the British Empire: great wealth, diplomatic superiority in maneuvering others powers to fight its wars, and an aristocracy tolerant enough to avoid internal division while open to heterodox religious and political views, even offering asylum to political emigrants. Now, Venice enacted rituals too; most famously the sposalizio del mare (marriage to the sea). Each year the Doge would board an 'official vessel of the Republic' and throw a ring into the sea. Even today Venice attracts romantics, but its great age (Schmitt says from 1000 to 1500) is long gone. Our author does not want to "darken the brightness of such splendor." But he closes this section wondering what the Adriatic and Mediterranean are compared to all the oceans of the world. And so we see that it is not only geopolitics, human nature, and the friend-enemy distinction that is to be the object of our inquiry. We are to remain concerned with the mythical too.
Four. Quoting Ernst Kapp our author indicates that one could divide history into three stages. 1. The fluvial culture of the ancient middle east, from Mesopotamia to Egypt. 2. The thalassic era from classical antiquity to the Mediterranean middle ages. 3. Oceanic civilization. The discovery of America and the rise of ocean-spanning empires. Schmitt will categorize this as river, closed sea, ocean. Schmitt will archly note "of 'oceanic' civilization, the carriers [...] are the Germanic peoples." Again, Schmitt doesn't simply despise sea-power. Now Schmitt will conclude his discussion of the Venetians. Venice came to a halt at the second stage. They were a 'terrestrial people' that only married the Sea. It was not their element. Schmitt notes two limitations on Venice's power. First the limitation that haunts all Sea Powers. It is difficult "to exert one’s domination over a continent merely by means of a fleet." The other point is that Venice lacked innovation in seafaring warfare. Venice, at Lepanto in 1571, was essentially fighting the same type of battle that the fleets of Anthony and Octavian fought at Actium 1500 years earlier. Innovation would fall to the Dutch, and then the English. And there our current history begins.
Five. But it begins with Myth; that of whales and whalers. They are images of each other. How? Well, after calling the whale a 'monster', Schmitt says of it that "a warm-blooded giant has been handed over to the element without having been physiologically intended for it." Both whalers and whales are terrestrial animals that have turned themselves into creatures of the Sea. Are they both monsters? Also, note that the nature of hunting has changed. "And the hunters of this fish were in the times that concern us here, that is, from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries, genuine hunters in a grand style, and not mere 'catchers.' This detail is not lacking in importance for our story." Schmitt points out that both the nature of whaling and warfare has changed thanks to technology. The whalers are no longer the heros they were 500 years ago. We infer that the same can be said of sea powers; like whalers, they have been given an unnatural advantage due to advances in technology. Thus they are both now doubly 'monsters.' This section ends with Schmitt pointing out that the sixteenth century had two different type of hunters. In Russia, fur trappers who led the way into Siberia. And our whale hunters.
Six. A new technology appears around this time too. The Dutch invent a new smaller square sail that allows for more mobility by better utilizing the wind. A new ship, the man of war, appeared too. It was a "sailing ship equipped with cannons that fired broadside salvos at the enemy." Thus the nature of sea battle changes too. Many European nations had a "part in the great epic of the discovery of the new Earth, that led to the domination of the world by the Europeans." And not only the contemporary colonizers. Germans made maps. Italians 'perfected' the compass. Oh yes, and the English are involved too.
Seven. Pirates! Schmitt is mostly concerned with English Pirates because of England's struggle with Spain. The Pirate Era "lasted approximately a century and a half, from 1550 to 1713, or said differently, from the beginning of the struggle carried on by the Protestant powers against the world power of Catholic Spain, and until the Peace of Utrecht." (Note that Schmitt is a Catholic.) Of course there have always been pirates. But "the privateers of the sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries [...] played a considerable part in history." Now, that part, whether carried out by pirate or privateer (with their Royal Commissions!) was usually aimed at Catholic Spain, but it was only a moment. It passes.
Eight. But that moment put little England onto the road of world power. Before Elizabeth I they were ''sheep-breeders'; after... 'predatory capitalists'! Schmitt underlines the 'corsair-capitalist' nature of this period in English history by telling the story of the Killigrews of Cornwall, who were gentlemen pirates. Schmitt intends us to understand that this was 'normal' at the time. "For the first fourteen years of Elizabeth’s reign the largest part of the English navy was actively engaged in piracy and illegal transactions..." Myth: a "thirteenth-century English prophecy: 'The lion’s cubs will turn into the fishes of the sea.'" Schmitt concludes thusly: -It was only in the sixteenth and the seventeenth centuries that this nation of shepherds recast itself into a sea-roaming nation of privateers, into 'children of the sea.'- The point is that British supremacy begins doubly in crime. First, and obviously, as Pirates. Secondly, as monstrous 'children of the sea'.
Nine. The other European powers chose, however unwittingly, either to be land powers, or were bested by English arms or trade on the high seas. The Portuguese, Spanish, French and Dutch all eventually were surpassed by the English. Thus "Spain and Portugal, for instance, preserved their huge overseas possessions, but lost control of the seas and the communication routes." The Netherlands were "continentalized". The French? When In 1672 "the French king sacked Colbert, his great secretary of trade and of the navy, the choice in favor of the land element became irreversible." Schmitt explains that English domination cannot be reduced to the failure of others. Or fully illuminated by comparisons to earlier maritime powers: -The case of England is in itself unique. Its specificity, its incomparable character has to do with the fact that England underwent the elemental metamorphosis at a moment in history that was altogether unlike any other, and also in a way shared by none of the earlier maritime powers. She truly turned her collective existence seawards and centered it on the sea element. That enabled her to win not only countless wars and naval battles but also something else, and in fact, infinitely more—a revolution. A revolution of sweeping scope, that of the planetary space.-
Ten. "What is a space revolution?" What Schmitt is after is certainly not the concept of space given by various sciences. (Such as physics, geometry, psychology and biology.) Not even philosophy is a help. But history rolls on nevertheless: -Each time the forces of history cause a new breach, the surge of new energies brings new lands and new seas into the visual field of human awareness, the spaces of historical existence undergo a corresponding change. Hence, new criteria appear, alongside of new dimensions of political and historical activity, new sciences, new social systems; nations are born or reborn.- I want to underline this. What "new criteria" means is that, before the 'breach', the future is largely unknowable for all observers. Schmitt would add that the divisions between land & sea, friend and enemy will remain; but I believe he would concede that neither their shape nor content can be known in advance. "Actually, all important changes in history more often than not imply a new perception of space." Schmitt gives three examples of Spatial Revolution.
Eleven. 1. The conquests of Alexander the Great. Hellenism: Aristarchus taught that the earth revolved around the sun. Euclid. Heron of Alexandria and his inventions. Eratoethenes knew of the equator and taught that the earth was round. But all this was no revolution of 'planetary space', that is, no knowledge of the ocean. 2. The first century of the Roman Empire. The northwest came into view: Gaul, Britain, the Atlantic. Conquests, civil wars, and trade established a 'common political destiny' from Spain and Germany, to Illyria, Syria, and Africa. Persia in the East, Arabia to the South were part of this World. "Agrippa’s map of the world and Strabo’s geography are evidence of this spatial expansion." Schmitt quotes Seneca: -The Indian drinks of the icy Araxes. The Persians quaff the Elbe and the Rhine. An age will come in the far-off centuries, When Ocean will loosen the bonds of things, And the whole broad Earth will be revealed, When Thetis will disclose new worlds. And Thule will no longer be the bound.- A prophesy of globalization! 3. But Rome fell, and the world got smaller. The 'continentalization' of europe happened thanks largely to the loss of the eastern trade to the Arabs. And then the Crusades happened. This was the beginning of trade and a communication network that was a nascent 'world economy'. I do not think that, given the provincialist torpor that was shaken up by the crusades, it would be outrageous to suggest that european progress began here!
Twelve. But none of these are comparable to the planetary revolution of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Beginning with the discovery of the americas and then sailing around the world, a new 'global consciousness' was born, first in europe, and then, inexorably, the rest of the world. Schmitt calls it "the first, complete, space revolution on a planetary scale". (I think that 'space' s/b translated as spatial, here and elsewhere.) It had repercussions far beyond political economy with its colonies and trade. It wiped out not only peoples traditional everyday conceptions of the world but also those of cosmology and astronomy. Schmitt will single out the notion of the infinite void. After the development from Copernicus to Newton, the stars are "masses of matter, [that] move while the forces of attraction and repulsion balance each other in an infinite void, in virtue of the laws of gravitation." An entirely materialist cosmology reigned. The traditional 'horror vacui' was a thing of the past. Aufklärungen like Voltaire "were taking pride in the very idea, scientifically demonstrable, of a world placed inside an infinite void." A revolution like this is no mere emendation of geography. Vikings and Basque whalers had been to the 'new world' before Columbus, but nothing came of it. "A space revolution presupposes more than just setting foot on land previously unknown. It assumes the transformation of the notion of space at all levels and in all the aspects of human existence." Examples? Renaissance perspectival painting and architecture and sculpture are all witness to a change in our understanding of space. There were revolutions in music and on the stage too. What today we all think of as 'globalization' began here.
Thirteen. What is a spatial order? -To talk of the constitution of a country or a continent is to talk of its fundamental order, of its nomos. The true, the authentic, rests essentially upon distinct, spatial delimitations. It presupposes clear dimensions, a precise division of the planet. The beginning of every great era coincides with an extensive territorial appropriation.- What historical 'modes of production' are to Marx, historical 'spatial orders' (Nomoi) are to Schmitt. They are the key to understanding history and large-scale historical change. The spatial revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries changed not only Europe, but the world. At first, colonialism was justified because it was spreading christianity, later because it was spreading (the european conception of) civilization. In this process, a european christian civil law was born. To be considered civilized one had to accept that civil law. Of course, european nations in this period did not behave civilly towards each other. There were terrible wars fought between them. However, for the period there is, "the dominant fact: the collective conquest of the New World by the Europeans." European civil law was both the delineation and implementation of a new spatial order, a new Nomos of the Earth. Schmitt says that the 'age of discovery' is the era of european territorial conquest. He ends the section with Heraclitus: "war brings people together, while law divides them." What is Nomos? In one of the very few notes in this text Schmitt says the term (the Greek noun nomos derives from the verb nemein) consists of three meanings: 1. Taking, seizure, appropriation. 2. Division, repartition, distribution. 3. Use, exploit, produce, consume.
Fourteen. How are these conquests related to law? Well in the beginning, all european powers did was arrive at some new territory, have a ceremony, read a proclamation, perhaps leave a symbolic object, and go. Later, these claims were naturally contested. So long as it was Portugal and Spain, disputes could be settled by the Pope. As early as 1493(!), the Papal Bull Inter caetera gave all the new lands 100 leagues west of the Azores to Spain. Later (1494), Portugal and Spain agreed that all the new lands east of the line belonged to Portugal. Of all this Schmitt says that the, "dividing line traced by the Pope in 1493 marked the beginning of the struggle for the new fundamental order, for the new nomos of the planet." As one might guess, other european powers (the French, the Dutch, the English, eg) were unimpressed by this. When some of these powers became Protestant, "the struggle for the ownership of the new Earth turned into a struggle between Reformation and Counter-Reformation." I would argue that the rise of a new Nomos always includes the rise of new religions or, at the very least, new religious sects. I am not sure Schmitt would agree.
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
A Brief Note on Nietzschean Genealogy and How it Relates to MacIntyre's Project
The thing that impressed me most with MacIntyre’s great work (the so-caA Brief Note on Nietzschean Genealogy and How it Relates to MacIntyre's Project
The thing that impressed me most with MacIntyre’s great work (the so-called 'Trilogy' of "After Virtue", then "Whose Justice?, Which Rationality?", and finally, this book, "Three Rival Versions of Moral Inquiry: Encyclopaedia, Genealogy, and Tradition") is his discussion of the importance of ‘coherence’ in a Tradition. By ‘coherence’ I mean (and I believe he means something like this too) that those adept in the philosophical basis of any tradition, though they cannot answer everything, can agree on what the fundamental questions are and how one methodologically proceeds to attempt to answer them within a given tradition. ...Philosophical coherence, it seems, even in this limited methodological sense, demands that the modern world must (somehow) become one, that is to say, it must have only one Tradition. I would add that since MacIntyre maintains that there can be, and indeed must be, many differences of opinion between adherents of a tradition, that it follows that this 'Trilogy' must not be understood as a call for a single World State or society. A successfully universal world-tradition will have many different 'flavors' amongst many different peoples and polities.
The previous book in this Trilogy was titled "Whose Justice? Which Rationality?" And oh God! Those are indeed the questions today since there are so many incommensurable philosophical and religious traditions... But if there can be no adequate understanding between rival theories, as MacIntyre is often in that earlier book at pains to show, then - what? Well, then one wonders exactly how we fragmented late moderns can choose the Aristotelian-Thomist Tradition (as MacIntyre certainly wants) except by a Nietzschean act of Will. It would still seem that one cannot initially base practical activity (or lived choices) upon mere theory. Just as Plato wrote a Prelude to the Law (I am, of course, alluding to the late dialogue, "The Laws") that was itself not merely a law, and Hegel wrote a Preface to his "Phenomenology" that was not, and could not possibly be, entirely phenomenological, - so too one suspects that MacIntyre is here forced to write a 'preamble' to a 'hegemonic' Thomist Tradition that is not fully Thomist.
I understand these remarks, btw, to be more a comment on the inability of philosophical theory, any philosophical theory, to radically ground itself than a specific criticism of the position of MacIntyre. No theory can ever radically ground itself; thus one always proceeds to theory 'X', certainly in the beginning, in a non-'X' manner. ...Always. And with those comments I perhaps reveal myself to be an adherent (I hope a very skeptical adherent) of the 'postmodern tradition' (a genuine existing Contradictio in terminis, if you can believe that there is such a thing!) that our author herein designates as Genealogy. And our postmodern genealogists have pitched their tents precisely here, - on the question of origins. At the beginning of anything one always finds something else...
The Traditions that our author delineates in this book ("Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry") are Encyclopaedia, Genealogy, and Tradition. Each of these three traditions also, for purposes of explication, has a designated 'proof' text: they are, respectively, the fabled Ninth Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Nietzsche's "Zur Genealogie der Moral", and Pope Leo XIII' encyclical 'Aeterni Patris'. I honestly found comparing these three specific positions a bit curious. What MacIntyre designates as Encyclopaedia (Liberalism) and Tradition (Catholicism) have produced societies in which one can live and they have also produced great civilizations. Genealogy can certainly never do either. It is, at bottom, only a critical method, a surgeons scalpel, a weapon. Encyclopaedia and Tradition can legitimately be judged 'good or bad' and 'true or false'. Regarding genealogy, like the scalpel or the weapon, one can only enquire whether or not it has been used appropriately...
Now, I do not mean to admit by this that Nietzsche is, or intends to be, merely a critic. What MacIntyre designates here as 'Genealogy' Nietzsche considered to be only part of the 'No-Saying' critical part of his work. Zarathustra was intended to be the 'Yes-Saying' affirmative part of his work. (Regarding that, see his "Ecce Homo", the section entitled 'Beyond Good and Evil'.) The 'Yes-Saying' part of Nietzsche's work MacIntyre entirely ignores. I suspect that our author found it both useful and pleasant to use genealogy as a stick to beat 'Encyclopaedia' about the head and then use 'Tradition' to show the glaring inadequacies of genealogy as a tradition that could successfully form a world in which we all could live. But again, for Nietzsche, genealogical critique was, and could only be, but half the story. In MacIntyre's defense one should add that since virtually all of postmodern criticism has almost entirely ignored Zarathustra (and its purport) that therefore MacIntyre was justified to do so too insofar as this book is intended as a critique of both our miserable postmodernity and its liberal pretensions.
Traditional Catholicism, modern Liberalism (and also its would-be transformative avatar, Socialism) are above all (or in the case of socialism, one day could be) societies that have both norms and ideals. One applies these norms to approach the ideal; and, when necessary, one revises norms in light of the ideal. This is progress within a tradition. But what happens when incommensurable traditions come into conflict? That is the question MacIntyre intends to answer in this book. 'Really-existing' Postmodernism has become, perhaps somewhat paradoxically, little more than a 'narrative system' (i.e., a way to speak about and navigate through) the several incommensurable traditions that in fact divide our secular world. Our author is admirably striving to put an end to that seemingly permanent division.
MacIntyre is, to his credit, entirely a Universalist. (As is every genuine philosopher.) There were ever only two possibilities for him: Socialism and Christianity. He eventually, after a a long process, decided upon Christianity. So why is the Gigantomachia (battle of the giants) that is enacted within this book engaged without the participation of Marxism (and its dialectic) as one of the antagonists? I suppose we will never know. Perhaps he feared that the Universalism of both the Church and Marxism would militate against his desired result? (Probably, he thinks that there is no Marxist moral tradition that is entirely distinct from liberalism and therefore it would be inappropriate in this study.) Yes, (for our author) Marxism and Christianity have many similarities. In his much earlier "Marxism and Christianity" we learn that both "Marxism and Christianity rescue individual lives from the insignificance of finitude" and this gives them reason to hope. He later says in this same early book that "Liberalism by contrast simply abandons the virtue of hope. For liberals the future has become the present enlarged."
After MacIntyre's acceptance of Christianity the main targets of his mature work has been both liberalism and postmodernism, with Marxism (for our author, the only other possibility) usually (but not always) ignored. So then, is postmodernism to be considered merely the déjà vu of liberalism? I for one don't think this can be consistently maintained. For instance, Christianity, liberalism and marxism all promise a better future. Yes, it is certainly true that liberalism merely promises an improved liberalism while both Christianity and Marxism promise a transformative future. But postmodernity promises nothing (and delivers it too!). It is the decadence of a liberalism that can no longer even hope to meaningfully change itself. Now, genealogy counters this promise of a 'better future' with the supposed discovery of a 'different past'. That is to say, the genealogist knows that he can trump any promised future with a new vision (i.e., a new narrative) of the past. And, of course, this new vision (as mere story) is always immediately available to everyone.
This is what makes genealogy so insidious an enemy. The various progressive positions have to eventually make actual improvements in the world; even Christianity (which technically promises a better future only in the next life) had many apocalyptic movements demanding a better life now. But the genealogists can create different narratives regarding the origins of any religion, regime, or revolution, and eventually, in the midst of some crisis, a story will grow in popularity and then (perhaps) go forth and change the world. Of course, this is what Nietzsche expected of his 'Zarathustra'. The different pasts 'discovered' (or invented) by genealogy erode the master narrative(s) of the dominant tradition(s) and thereby allow his 'Zarathustrian' world to rise.
Or so Nietzsche hoped. But the genealogy of the overwhelming majority of postmoderns derives mostly from Foucault, not Nietzsche. The difference between them is the difference between psychology and history. Nietzschean 'Psychology' is based on what he considers to be the facts of human nature. Having understood (to his own satisfaction) the inevitabilities of human nature, Nietzsche can display that serene confidence in his 'Zarathustra' that has so amazed and mystified commentators of all stripes. But again, the present postmodern understanding of genealogy has actually become an amalgam of Foucault, deconstruction and triumphal constructivism. Like liberalism, this road only leads (at best) to supposedly improved versions of itself. So it is this 'really existing' genealogy that MacIntyre intends herein to show can never lead to a world in which all could live. And of course he does so quite successfully.
This is a brilliant conclusion to a magnificent trilogy. I recently found time to revisit them. It is easily one of the best philosophical performances written in my lifetime. MacIntyre should be very proud. This review intended to focus merely on his treatment of genealogy and how said treatment might relate to his overall project of writing a history of moral inquiry itself. ...more
A Marxist Against All Forms of Romantic Anti-Capitalism and Revolutionary Marxism
Our author, Meghnad Desai, shocks marxist revolutionarieA Marxist Against All Forms of Romantic Anti-Capitalism and Revolutionary Marxism
Our author, Meghnad Desai, shocks marxist revolutionaries and romantic anti-capitalists everywhere when, at the very beginning of the book (p. 3), he tells us that Marx would prefer the market to rule the economy rather than the state ruling the economy. "The idea that socialism would be brought about by the state was alien to everything he stood for. (p. 4)" Yes, I agree. The market forces us to be free(r); in the name of security, states (socialist or otherwise) must always hide that freedom from us. Marx thought that the market forces us to find both our independence (from God and State) and our interdependence, and therefore, our Humanity. - And who knows? Then, eventually, perhaps one day to dialectically change even that!
Unlike our romantic anti-capitalists, Marx was a progressive and an admirer of technology. As one of the two greatest dialecticians (he stood Hegels dialectic right side up) of the nineteenth century he knew full well that nothing in the material or social world disappears by magic. Regarding the change from the capitalist mode of production to the socialist mode of production Desai argues throughout this book that the genuinely Marxist understanding is that "any particular mode disappeared only after its full potential had been exhausted... (p. 7)" And our author adds that there isn't anything that can change that.
In a nutshell, it is this that our author is trying to prove throughout this book. He is arguing that Capitalisms full potential has yet to be realized! The notion that Marx could have supported the Russian Revolution as it historically developed, that is, socialism being foisted upon a non-capitalist state out of the blue, without any other socialist states in europe, is silly -if not hilarious. Indeed, even the bolshevik party didn't initially believe it! They "fully expected a chain of revolutions to break out in Germany, France, and perhaps even England. (p. 8)" It didn't happen. And in trying to do what Marx believed could never happen, the communist party of Lenin created one of the greatest abominations that the world has ever seen.
But according to our author, this disgraceful episode was barely Marxist. "...Marx had the last laugh. He was not wrong, not simplistic, not mechanical. Capitalism would not go away until after it had exhausted its potential. (p. 9)" Period. But this is what our marxisant revolutionaries will never believe. As the USSR decayed our 'marxist' intellectuals then put their faith in the Far East. But over the last two decades China too has embraced capitalism. Now these 'marxists' "desperately hope that some limits will be found to global capitalism. Perhaps the environment. Perhaps the resurgence of the nation-state, or a regional superstate. Or even a global-level co-ordination among the nation-states through the UN or G-7 or G-77. Something to tame capitalism, to stop its rampant progress."
Of course, Marx would never have looked for the limits of capital from any 'external agents'. Is Capitalism then eternal? No. It "will be in the daily practice of the people working the machinery of capitalism that its limits will be felt, and it will be overcome by them. (p. 10)" Exactly when does this happen? No one knows. Our author pointedly says that "Marx was an astronomer of history, not an astrologer." In order to demonstrate this our author presents in this book a theoretical-historical study of capitalism that draws not only on Marx, but on Adam Smith and Hegel, and Schumpeter, Keynes, Hayek and Polanyi too. In this book our author intends to show that not only have all the purported ways to overcome or tame capitalism have failed, but that this failure is itself predicted by Marx!
Above I have only limned the broad contours of the argument that our author presented in the beginning of this book. But everywhere and always, it is the details that matter. I leave it to the interested reader to pursue them. For what it is worth, I found the argument quite convincing...
I know that many of you doubt that Marx ever had anything good to say about Capitalism; so I will share a few quotes.
1. "No social order ever disappears before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have been developed; and new higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society itself. Therefore, mankind only sets itself such tasks as it can solve; since looking at the matter more closely we will always find that the task itself arises only when the material conditions necessary for its solution already exist, or are at least in the process of formation." (Marx, Contribution to Political Economy. Quoted by Desai, p.44)
One could argue that Desai hangs his whole argument off this quote. It would be, I think, better to say that the genesis of his argument begins precisely here.
2. Next, Desai also argues that, in a qualified sense, Marx was also an imperialist! Of course, he is so only in the sense that he believes that it is capitalism, and only capitalism, which can and must overcome the earlier stages of development of the colonies.
"Marx had welcomed the British East India Company's role in destroying the old precapitalist institutions in India; his only complaint was that they had not finished the job properly in 1857, when the company was replaced by the British government. He and Engels had approved of France's takeover of Algeria. In Marx's view, capitalism was a progressive force which had to destroy older modes even if this destruction was effected by a colonial power. This embarrassing legacy was suppressed or explained away. Marx became cast as a firm anti-imperialist writer as well as an anticapitalist one. The Narodniks' delusions about skipping the capitalist stage altogether and jumping on to socialism were now given Marxist garb." (Desai, pgs. 154-155)
This 'Narodnik delusion', that one could somehow go directly from a peasant economy to a socialist one has, since the Russian Revolution and the bolshevism of Lenin and Trotsky, unfortunately become ever more so the generally accepted marxisant understanding. But this Third Worldist gibberish was never taught by Marx!
3. From Marx himself we read the following account of capitalist progress: -...the exploration of the earth in all directions, to discover new things of use as well as new useful qualities of the old; such as new qualities of them as raw materials etc.; the development, hence, of the natural sciences to their highest point; likewise the discovery, creation and satisfaction of new needs arising from society itself; the cultivation of all the qualities of the social human being, production of the same in a form as rich as possible in needs, because rich in qualities and relations -- production of this being as the most total and universal possible social product, for, in order to take gratification in a many-sided way, he must be capable of many pleasures [genussfahig], hence cultured to a high degree -- is likewise a condition of production founded on capital. This creation of new branches of production, i.e. of qualitatively new surplus time, is not merely the division of labour, but is rather the creation, separate from a given production, of labour with a new use value; the development of a constantly expanding and more comprehensive system of different kinds of labour, different kinds of production, to which a constantly expanding and constantly enriched system of needs corresponds. Thus, just as production founded on capital creates universal industriousness on one side -- i.e. surplus labour, value-creating labour -- so does it create on the other side a system of general exploitation of the natural and human qualities, a system of general utility, utilizing science itself just as much as all the physical and mental qualities, while there appears nothing higher in itself, nothing legitimate for itself, outside this circle of social production and exchange. Thus capital creates the bourgeois society, and the universal appropriation of nature as well as of the social bond itself by the members of society. Hence the great civilizing influence of capital... its production of a stage of society in comparison to which all earlier ones appear as mere local developments of humanity and as nature-idolatry. For the first time, nature becomes purely an object for humankind, purely a matter of utility; ceases to be recognized as a power for itself; and the theoretical discovery of its autonomous laws appears merely as a ruse so as to subjugate it under human needs, whether as an object of consumption or as a means of production. In accord with this tendency, capital drives beyond national barriers and prejudices as much as beyond nature worship, as well as all traditional, confined, complacent, encrusted satisfactions of present needs, and reproductions of old ways of life. It is destructive towards all of this, and constantly revolutionizes it, tearing down all the barriers which hem in the development of the forces of production, the expansion of needs, the all-sided development of production, and the exploitation and exchange of natural and mental forces. But from the fact that capital posits every such limit as a barrier and hence gets ideally beyond it, it does not by any means follow that it has really overcome it, and, since every such barrier contradicts its character, its production moves in contradictions which are constantly overcome but just as constantly posited. Furthermore. The universality towards which it irresistibly strives encounters barriers in its own nature, which will, at a certain stage of its development, allow it to be recognized as being itself the greatest barrier to this tendency, and hence will drive towards its own suspension.- (Marx, Grundrisse, NY. 1973 p.409-10.)
So yes, Marx certainly includes Capitalism (and Socialism, of course) within the universalistic Enlightenment project (a project that originates in europe, btw) and he admires it for that. The romantic anti-capitalist left, like the fascist right, can only despise the progressivism of Marx. Marx rightly, in my opinion, underlines the localism and 'nature idolatry' of all previous social formations. He admires capitalisms destruction of all this. Of course it goes without saying (or at least it should) that he sees the often terrible human cost (we are all merely tools of and cogs in the machinery of capitalism) and that he always sees that capitalism itself needs to be overcome. Apologies for this long quote but I thought it nicely nicely brought out both the wonderful and dreadful nature of Capitalism.
To put it as bluntly and tersely as possible, thus leaving out many moderating details, Marx thought that Capitalism was the greatest thing that ever happened on the face of the earth. Except, of course, for the Socialism to come. If you want to know how socialism could (in the late modern period) still rise in spite of the romantic reactionaries and revolutionary fetishists that have called themselves 'marxists' since very near the beginning of the movement, read this book. Only four stars because one day I would like to review Marx on Kapital (one of the later volumes) and give him five.
Desai argues, quite correctly according to the original theory of Marx, that the only way Capitalism will come to an end is when it is no longer a progressive force. (Again, by 'progressive' Marx merely means whether or not Capitalism can still increase the total productive force of human labor.) Well, this could be exactly what 'Globalization' is - the last stage of Capitalism. But instead of welcoming it; the revolutionary and romantic Left opposes it - and thus they can (if successful) only extend the life of Capital indefinitely. This is a brilliant argument put forward by Desai, - and I think it may even be correct!
Now, how could our current globalization be stopped? While many leftists retain hope that the 'global south' will somehow stop globalization, I agree with our author that developments in China have shown that this hope is almost certainly yet another illusion. The only other possibility I see now is that nineteenth century geo-politics proves prophetic and the dichotomy between land-power and sea-power proves insurmountable and the tsunami of globalizing capital breaks up on the bleak landscape (or dries up in the frigid deserts) of central eurasia. The enfants on the left may even attempt to show that this last is itself somehow 'progressive'; but they would be terribly wrong. Their attempts to prove this would merely be the past; mythified, sanitized and ideologized. Geopolitically speaking, land-power is inherently 'the past'. But the geopolitical contrast of land-power and sea-power will one day (I hope!) be the subject of another review.
So then, did Marx not make any mistakes? Of course he did, everyone does. The largest one was his belief that the transition to socialism was near. I believe his revolutionary work in the Communist League and the First International was a waste of time. His efforts were more profitably spent in his never ending study of political economy. And to be honest, I don't think that the process of globalization is anywhere near complete. Even if Desai is correct in his understanding of Marx, the arrival of socialism might still be several centuries from now. So no, I do not think that any of us living today will know whether or not Desai is correct in his understanding of Marx.
Again, Marx's understanding of the inevitability of the fall of capitalism, and the resulting rise of socialism, could indeed be right. The problem is that he wildly over-estimated the 'lateness' of the capitalist mode of production. In other words, the revolutionary aspect of his thought was at war with the economical/historical/political/sociological aspects of his thought. The latter could still be true even if the former (that is, the revolutionary) was entirely wrong. Marx, at times, fiercely criticized utopian and romantic anti-capitalism. As fate would have it, today it seems that revolutionary communism was, in effect, but another example of these two futilities.
I should close by pointing out that in this book there are many quite interesting and surprising points that I have not mentioned in this short review. For instance, Desai discusses how in Capital Volume II Marx himself seemingly indicates the possibility that capitalism could perpetuate itself indefinitely! See for instance chapter 5 and 6 (especially pages 69 - 74) of this book regarding this. What? Wait a minute! In Capital, volume 1, chapter 32, it appeared pretty clear that capitalisms doom was inevitable. However our author argues that "all it says, in a rather roundabout way, is that the transition from capitalism to socialism will take less time than the transition from feudalism to capitalism. But that could mean anywhere between four and six hundred years. (p. 93)" (As mentioned above, the end of capitalism cum globalization might not be close.)
Also, another thought I found myself having while reading this is that if Lord Desai is right about how Marx should be read then Marx should never have achieved anywhere near the historical importance he surely has. Stripped of his revolutionism and also the romanticism/utopianism of his followers, who would Marx have been? Paul Samuelson once said that: "From the viewpoint of pure economic theory, Karl Marx can be regarded as a minor post-Ricardian." And, if Desai's understanding of Marx were to become the norm, of course this would be perfectly true ...until capitalism collapsed as Marx (again, as here understood by Desai) predicted. The Marx that Desai reveals is a Marx for economists and historians and sociologists only. ...And I guarantee that almost no one will be satisfied with that.
I found this book to be an exciting read. There are many points and details that Desai brings out regarding Das Kapital and its interpretation that I found quite intriguing. Whether you are a revolutionary socialist, a reformist socialist, a former socialist or a non-socialist, I believe you will find this book worthy of your time....more
This book is seemingly (and certainly at times) a rather tedious point by point refutation of Erik PeteThe Political Theology of Undivided Sovereignty
This book is seemingly (and certainly at times) a rather tedious point by point refutation of Erik Peterson's 1935 'Der Monotheismus als Politisches Problem', which, unfortunately, has only recently been translated into English. Erik Peterson was a Lutheran who converted to Catholicism, I believe in 1930. In his book, Peterson wishes to show that a Christian 'Political Theology' is impossible. This book by Schmitt is his attempt to refute this. Thus the terms 'Myth' and 'Legendary' in the chapter headings refer to Peterson's thesis, not political theology itself. Now, I have not seen Peterson's essay, so I cannot judge whether Schmitt has accurately represented his argument. But for the purpose of this review, I will assume that he has done so.
The first chapter consists of not only Peterson's argument but also the stances of several others involved in the controversy regarding the possibility of a Christian political theology. We are told that Peterson builds his argument around Augustine's division between the earthly and the heavenly cities. Schmitt argues, conclusively I think, that for the representative of the Heavenly City here on earth (i.e., the Catholic Church), there is no impermeable separation. Schmitt endeavors to point out that, in fact, theologians have been political all along. In another untranslated essay, 'Was ist Theologie', Peterson (as quoted by Schmitt) writes, "Only because of dogma is theology separated from its association with that most dubious of all academic disciplines, the so-called Humanities. It is liberated from the contexts of the history of civilizations, the history of literature, art history, philosophy of life, or whatever they might be called. (quoted on p. 41)" You see, Peterson has a very pristine understanding of Theology. Schmitt goes on to quote Peterson, "Neither the Jews nor the pagans have a theology; theology exists only in Christendom and only on the precondition that the incarnated word spoke of God. The Jews may do exegesis and the pagans mythology and metaphysics; but theology, in its proper sense, only began when the incarnate one spoke of God. (p. 42)"
Theology, for Peterson, is about God - and nothing else. "But given the changing friend-enemy constellations throughout history, theology can become a political tool of the revolution as well as of the counter-revolution. (p. 42)" That, of course, is Schmitt speaking. This whole essay is a meditation upon (and demonstration of) how theological political commitments have changed over time. "The spiritual-temporal, this world and the hereafter, transcendence-immanence, ideas and interests, superstructure and substructure - can only be determined according to the struggle between the subjects. (p. 44)" Now that the Political has separated itself from the State, Christianity must get its hands dirty if it wants to survive. The slogan of the sixties, 'Everything is Political', was of course anticipated by Schmitt: the political has no discreet object. And it is precisely in this vicious all-encompassing storm that the Church must somehow find its way. What our author believes to be at stake here is the church's very survival.
And Schmitt most certainly thinks that the post Vatican II Church has lost its way! However, Schmitt will timidly utilize the work of the theologian Hans Barion to make this point. But that is not really the issue here; the issue is political theology. Against Peterson Schmitt shows that there are indeed theologians who specifically have a political theology, for instance, the left-leaning J. B. Metz. In the controversy over Metz's work the notion of political theology, and Schmitt himself, were often at issue. It seems in these contemporary controversies that while it was possible to believe in a political theology of revolution, a political theology of counter-revolution was ruled out. How very convenient! (Now, since Metz has been understood to be offering a political theology of Revolution, it is perhaps not merely an exaggeration or a mistake to believe that our author is presenting a political theology of Counter-Revolution in these pages.)
But all these oppositions (left/right, reactionary/progressive, revolution/counterrevoloution) change over time. Commenting on Ernst Feil's contribution to the controversy over political theology Schmitt writes, -What is new today is old tomorrow. Feil comes alarmingly close to progressive theologians of the nineteenth century like David Friedrich Strauss. For them, at that time, Christendom was the revolutionary new compared with pagan polytheism, and Christian monotheism was progressive compared to such pagan polytheism and pluralism. Julian the Apostate was seen as both a romantic and a reactionary, while the holy Athanasius was seen as a revolutionary. Today the situation is reversed. Today, the traditional Christian church represents the old and the reactionary, and progress as such is the new. (p. 52.)- So, you don't like being called a reactionary or a revolutionary? Wait a few decades (or centuries) - and you are practically guaranteed to be called the opposite!
We will often be reminded that the problem of 'progress as such' and 'the new' are also Schmitt's targets in this book. "I think that such a progressive, plurivalent, hominising society permits only that kind of eschatology which is immanent to the system and therefore also progressive and plurivalent. (p. 54)" Everything, including eschatology, today rests on Man. (We are not stunned by this; Schmitt wishes we were.) Regarding our books main concern, political theology, part of the problem is that "the pure emphasis on an unreflected catchphrase, 'divine monarchy' (rather than 'political unity')" has obscured the question. Indeed. Schmitt argues that Political Theology, understood as political unity, is always relevant. I want to here insist upon one point: what is vital for Schmitt has very little to do with any monarchy; the crucial point for him is always undivided sovereignty.
The contribution of Ernst Topitsch to our controversy is said by our author to praise Peterson because he "has 'clearly distinguished' the Catholic religion from the Arian ideology of the Empire. (p. 55.)" The Arian position in this controversy, of course, has to do exclusively with divine and earthly monarchy. The "victory of the doctrine of the Trinity over Arian monotheism was in itself 'clearly of eminent political significance' (p. 56)." But all this has little to do with contemporary circumstances. This book we are reviewing was published in Germany in 1970. The postmodern was already stirring: -The immensely polymorphous realm of political theology or metaphysics contains naive projections, numinous fantasies, reflective reductions of the unknown to something that is known, analogies between being and appearances, ideological superstructure over substructure. (pp. 57-58.)- And so, for our author, Political Theology is always (at least potentially) relevant, it can be anything; and this is true whether we are subjects of an Arian(-leaning) Emperor or 'living the dream' in our wretched capitalist postmodernity.
After this discussion of the current state of the controversy Schmitt, in the next chapter, turns to consider the original 1935 treatise by Peterson, 'Monotheism as a Political Problem'. Schmitt begins by examining an earlier monograph by Peterson called 'Divine Monarchy'. Regarding any possible attempt to achieve a Divine Monarchy in this world we learn that "[w]hoever would attempt such a realization imitates the antichrist" of whom it is said "he alone will have rulership over the whole world. (p. 62)" It must be noted that Schmitt agrees with this point by Peterson. He too fervently believes that there can never be a single ruler of the entire planet. Sovereignty in this world, for Schmitt, must certainly be internally undivided; but it must also always face other undivided sovereigns. The interactions between these sovereigns are to be ordered by international law.
Now, as to the difference between the 1931 and 1935 treatises by Peterson we are told that "the essential, and decisively significant, addition is a confrontation between Bishop Eusebius and St Augustine as a transition to the conclusion (p. 62)." Schmitt observes that the "rationale for the argument is simply that the epoch of the Roman Empire and the case of Eusebius should be exemplary for the whole problem of political theology. (p. 63)" Of course, Schmitt completely denies this. This is not "a convincing argument for all the different forms into which political theology can be translated. (p. 63)" The concrete situation of the age of Constantine, who Eusebius went so far as to understand as the Bishop(!) of those 'outside' (episkopos ton ekton), is simply too unique to be applicable to all subsequent history.
At this point Schmitt mentions Varro and his fecund distinction between mythical theology (poets, theatre), natural theology (philosophy, the world), and political theology (polis, the city). (For an extended discussion of Varro and Theology see Augustine's "City of God', especially books 6 and 7.) Following this Schmitt says, -Political theology is part of the Nomos and constitutes the public sphere through the worship of the gods, rites of sacrifice, and ceremonies. It belongs to the political identity and continuity of a people for whom the religion of the fathers, regulated public holidays and the deum colere kata ta nomima ['to worship God according to custom'] is essential in order to identify one's heritage, one's legitimate succession and oneself. (p 65)- Political theology has to do with the customary; that is to say (insofar as there are no eternal customs), changeable fashion!
But is Christianity merely then but another religious custom, like paganism? "The Church of Christ is not of this world and its history, but it is in this world. (p.65)" And in order to survive, the Church must take the world into account. This means, for Schmitt, that Christianity must, in some ways, be like other religions. "There are many political theologies because there are, on the one hand, many different religions, and, on the other, many different kinds and methods of doing politics."(p. 66) According to our author, in a fragmented world, political theology is split into several specific types based on different religions, polities, and I dare say, cultures, laws and ethnicities too. That is to say, Christianity (whether it wants to or not) inhabits several different nomoi (or, if you prefer, cultural traditions). I suspect that once postmodern particularism eclipsed modern secular universalism, the revival of Schmitt's atomistic understanding of political theology was well nigh inevitable.
But for "Peterson, political theology is over." Schmitt at this point mentions Peterson's use of the phrase 'le roi règne, mais il ne gouverne pas' (the king reigns but does not govern) in the 1931 treatise. Obviously, this phrase could not have originated in the early christian milieu that Peterson is considering. (I believe it originates with Benjamin Constant.) Its deistic undertones are duly noted by Schmitt. "The parallel between the monarch of a parliamentary regime (who does not interfere with his government's decisions, and who reigns rather than governs because of a notional transcendence accorded him by that parliamentary government or a cabinet) and the idea of a passive being from a higher sphere is striking. (p. 68)" Now, Peterson, of course, is alleging this of paganism, not christianity. In Peterson's 1935 treatise this argument is 'significantly developed and emphasized'. What does this phrase regarding kings indicate for the theologian Peterson? That for the pagans, "the almighty god reigns, but national gods govern. (p. 69)" Obviously, all this is "acceptable for Peterson because they do not concern christian monotheism and its doctrine of the Trinity. (p. 69-70.)"
Why is it acceptable? Because for Peterson, the monarch of political theology is "an arche as a singular person" and therefore it "is impossible to transfer the concept of monarchy to a Trinity within which arche and potestas 'have a meaning of their own'. (p. 70, 71.)" But is this understanding of paganism as monarchistic legitimate? No. Schmitt tells us that each pagan polity is a people, and that even the Jews (as God's People) and Christians (as ecclesia, as God's New People) were thought of in a similar manner. -At this point it becomes evident that the accurate, central, and systematic concept for the politico-theological problem that Peterson discusses cannot be oriented towards monarchy, but has to be oriented towards political unity and its presence or representation. (p. 72)- We are reminded that Hobbes "has systematically positioned the concept in that way: the Highest, the sovereign, can be a single human being, but also an assembly or a majority of people capable of action. (p. 72)"
Peterson's 'One God - One King' understanding of political theology is to be replaced by the 'One God - One People/Polity' understanding of Schmitt (and Hobbes). "The plausible coincidence between monotheism and monarchism breaks down and is no longer valid. (p. 72)" I believe Schmitt is right in this understanding of Political Theology. And so one is theologically tempted to say that while there is political strife here on earth, peace reigns in heaven. "The decisive argument for the Trinity that St Gregory of Nazianzus offers - that in the Trinity stasis is no longer imaginable - is, for a correct political theology, far away from being as irrelevant as Peterson claims (p. 75.)" The (ahem) 'political situation' of the Trinity is something Schmitt will return to at times through the remainder of the book.
At this point Schmitt will content himself to noting how Peterson limits his treatise. "'Monotheism as a political problem' does not mean anything more for Peterson, than the Hellenistic transformation of the Jewish belief in God. (p. 76)" Islam, for instance, is entirely ignored by Peterson. But Christian Trinitarianism was in turn ignored by them. "All attempts failed to make the unity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit plausible for other monotheistic faiths. (p. 76)" Monarchianism was once such attempt. It failed to convince almost everyone. Again, for Peterson, "the doctrine of the triunity of the One God serves, without any qualification, as an argument for the impossibility of any political theology. (p. 77)" Therefore non-Trinitarian monotheism is "expressly conceded to have the potential for a political theology. (p. 77)"
Peterson claims that only Trinitarianism saves us from political theology; of course, this is precisely what Schmitt needs to contest. Schmitt indicates that whenever Peterson finds examples of political theology in early Christians (Schmitt here not only mentions Eusebius, but also St Ambrose, St Jerome, and St Cyril) Peterson justifies this as Christians not yet being independent of the Jewish-Christian milieu or he argues that the pagans have 'forced' Christians into political theology due to the controversy between them. Of course, this last will turn out to be part of the case against Peterson. - Exactly when has Christianity not faced enemies? And if not ever, how can politics and theology be entirely separated?
Also, Christology itself seems to forbid such strict separation. "Peterson wants to uphold the absolute separation between the two domains, but, where the doctrine of the Trinity is concerned, an absolute separation would only be possible in the abstract, given that the second person of the Godhead represents the perfect unity of the two natures, the human and the divine... (p. 82-83)." Another point Schmitt makes here is that the emphasis on Eusebius' heresy by Peterson is irrelevant to the main point: "Countless church fathers and canonical teachers, martyrs and saints throughout the ages have passionately engaged in the political struggles of their time because of their Christian convictions. (p. 83)" Christians, whether heretical or not, have played at politics. The 'heresy' of Eusebius (Arianism) is only crucial to the argument if the orthodox never engaged in political theology. But this is not the case.
And Schmitt continues his assault with the point I found especially telling: the Christian Church exists between the Incarnation and the Second Coming. "Within this long interim, there emerge continually numerous new worldly interims, larger and smaller," and it is this ceaseless parade of political positions that the Church-in-this-world must deal with. The only permanence is that the Church must always find a way to survive while awaiting the return of the Savior, and thus all its politics must be temporary. Schmitt points out that Peterson was once well aware of this. In a 1929 essay (Die Kirche) Peterson writes, "[...] the church is not simply not a purely spiritual entity in which concepts such as politics and dominion are entirely prohibited, something which has restricted itself entirely to service. The intrinsic ambiguity of the church can be clarified through the interpenetration of empire and church. (pps. 86-87)"
But again, this is also Schmitt's point. One now finds oneself wondering if Peterson's 1935 treatise is itself a politico-theological exercise? Perhaps the Sacred and the secular cannot be entirely separated. And who knows - maybe even the laity practice political theology? "[...] all Christian peoples praised the champions of Christ and the defenders of his church, and even venerated them as saints. There was never a Christian people who would not have seen a providential, and therefore to some extent theological, meaning in the earthly success or defeat of Christ's church. A church is not only composed of theologians... (p. 87)" But the Church itself practices "a liberal tolerari potest [it can be tolerated]." Even if this is only done in a theologically non-dogmatic way, it is still done. Schmitt will note that during the thirties the Church herself would achieve a modus vivendi regarding fascism "tant que cela dure [for as long as it lasts]". (See pages 88-90.)
Technically, a 'wrong' Political Theology could only come from a heretical christian. If not, Political Theology itself (for the Church) is then but a temporizing maneuver, waiting on the return of Christ. Eusebius' mistake was that he "greatly exposed himself as a panegyrist and glorifier of the Roman Empire. (p. 91.)" For him, Constantine completes what Augustus began: "The Roman Empire is the peace, the victory of order over uproar and over the factions of the civil war: One God - One World - One Empire. (p. 91)" Schmitt even hints that, for Eusebius, this 'Pax Romana' might be the Katechon itself, the Restrainer who holds back the advent of Antichrist. But this is going off on a a tangent. "Peterson's argument revolves around the distinction between the purely theological and the impurely political, in an abstract and absolute disjunction which enables him to circumvent the mixed nature of the spiritual-secular combination of any specifically historical event. (p.92)"
Review is too long, will continue with a comment...more