THE TRIBULATIONS OF A PROTO-POST-HEGELIAN PAGAN HEGEL-BASHER
For the purposes of this undertaking, my accomplice DJ Ian and I (I and I) faked our way tTHE TRIBULATIONS OF A PROTO-POST-HEGELIAN PAGAN HEGEL-BASHER
For the purposes of this undertaking, my accomplice DJ Ian and I (I and I) faked our way through reading DC Hegel in English and German (English translation courtesy of Terry Pinkard) with the aid of diverse comic strips, annotations, opinionators and unreliable narrators:
The Professor:"If you don't read 'Phenomenology of Spirit' in German, you will never understand Hegel, let alone Zizek."
DJ Ian:"But I don't read German...OK, I will get myself a big fucking dictionary...Then I will get back to reading Zizek as soon as possible. All of my reading schedule is dedicated to reading Zizek for the next three years."
The Professor:I trust you're going to read Zizek in Slovenian?
GRATUITOUS ADVICE AVAILABLE FOR THE FREE
"The worse your logic, the more interesting the consequences to which it gives rise!"
"One is thus tempted to say, 'Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted Hegel. The point [however] is to change him.'"
From a literary point of view, Hegel is a terrible writer whose work does its best to defy any attempt to distil it down to some great sentences and phrases and/or some great ideas.
The extent to which these ideas are Hegel's ideas or unique to him or just a response to or tweaking of the ideas of others before him is for historians of philosophy to judge.
Hegel's work itself doesn't expressly acknowledge or cite the sources of the arguments to which he is responding. It's assumed that we are familiar with them.
It's like an enthusiastic undergraduate term paper completed under pressure of a self-imposed deadline (the imminent battle of Jena and conquest of Prussia). By the time pen meets paper, the 36-year old Hegel embraces them as the foundation of his ideas, but neglects to expressly acknowledge his inspiration and sources. Ultimately, like the embrace of his acolytes, his work and its system is a triumph of assertion.
As a result, a comprehension of Hegel is just as needing and deserving of annotation and secondary material as Joyce and Pynchon.
Towards the Negation of the Ovation
At an individual sentence level, Hegel is not always difficult, just mostly. He seems to throw multiple sentences at the reader, without necessarily communicating or effectively helping readers understand the sequence of his arguments. When it comes to Hegel's sentences, the difficulty results from the untamed collective, not the disciplined individual.
Still, within the rush or barrage of sentences, some sentences and phrases inevitably stand out.
The quality of these sentences, or their pregnancy, occasionally, with a meaning that is hard to divine, are the source of much of his appeal.
Indeed, it helps Hegel's case that they are so difficult to divine. Like God, it is not for us to fully comprehend his ways or his words. We are just supposed to trust them both. They appeal to our credulity and need to believe.
Towards the Negation of the Negation
Many of Hegel's sentences and (catch-)phrases sound good, even if at first you don't really know what they mean.
The one phrase or catchphrase that most appeals to me personally is "the Negation of the Negation".
Engels said that the Negation of the Negation is:
"A very simple process, which is taking place everywhere and every day, which any child can understand as soon as it is stripped of the veil of mystery in which it was enveloped by the old idealist philosophy."
I've tried to set out my understanding of it in My Writings here:
DJ IAN VS. DC COMIC HEGEL (A MASH UP OF PERSPECTIVES ON GOD THE HOLY SPIRIT)
To understand and appreciate Hegel, it helps if you pretend that you're God.
God Makes Sense, If You Can Believe It
1. And so God took a part of his mind and his soul,
2. And where there was nothing, he made Man.
3. And he gave part of his mind and soul to Man.
4. And, lo and behold, Man did verily exist.
5. Still, though God had lost a part, he was still whole.
6. And while Man had gained a part, he too was whole.
7. And God and Man together made a whole.
8. And where there should have been two wholes, there was only one.
9. Man ascended to his feet, and looked around.
10. But there was no thing for him to see.
11. So God made other Life for Man.
12. And Man had Objects to look at and eat and desire.
13. Each Object contained a little part of God.
14. And when Man looked at an Object, he saw a part of God.
15. And that part of God was also a part of Man.
16. So when Man looked at an Object, he also saw himself.
17. Thus it was that Man was at one with the Object.
18. And Man was at one with God.
19. And verily Man understood this.
20. And so it was that Man made sense.
21. Out of what God had given him.
In Which God, Enraged, Goes Forth, Consumes and Returns [A Jena Fragment in Hegel's Own Words]
"1. God, become Nature, has spread himself out in the splendor and the mute periodicity of his formations,
2. Becomes aware of the expansion, of lost punctuality and is engaged by it.
3. The fury is the forming, the gathering together into the empty point.
4. Finding himself as such, his essence pours out into the restlessness and inquietude of infinity,
5. Where there is no present,
6. But a wild sallying forth beyond a boundary always reinstated as fast as it is transcended.
7. This rage, in that it is a going forth, is the destruction of Nature.
8. The going beyond the formations of Nature is in effect likewise an absolute falling back into the self, a focal return.
9. In doing this, God, in his rage, consumes his formations.
10. Your whole extended kingdom must pass through this middle-point, this focality;
11. And by this your limbs are crushed and your flesh mashed into liquidity."
HEY! WHAT'S THE BIG IDEA?
Safeguarding the System
Hegel purports to construct a system of philosophy that is both comprehensive and self-contained.
Hegel and his adherents guard it preciously. [Forgive me, if I refer to Hegel and his adherents interchangeably.] As a result, it's difficult to criticise the System, without evoking responses that you haven't really read or understood Hegel or that you have inaccurately paraphrased him.
To be honest, I think any reader has to proceed regardless, if you're going to make the effort to read Hegel at all.
An Invitation to Heretics
Even if you sympathise with Hegel, like any dogmatist, he invites or attracts heresy. No purpose is served by agreeing or disagreeing with every tenet of his philosophy willy-nilly. There's no point in setting out to be an acolyte or an apostate. Readers should feel free to dismantle the System and save what they can. After all, this is what the Young, Left Hegelians did in the wake of his death.
Detection or Invention?
One problem with Hegel is that he pretends that his System is a detection of what is present in nature, that it is the result of discovery, not the product of invention on his part.
As a result, it purports to be factual and real. If you disagree with it, then supposedly you are flying in the face of reality.
This rhetorical strategy is disingenuous. Of course, he created his System, no matter how much of it is based on or modified from the work of earlier philosophers. Of course, we have the right to submit it to scrutiny, to attempt to prove it right or wrong.
If Hegel pretends that he deduced his philosophy from first principles, then he is not being truthful. If he pretends that he discovered a method in the workings of nature and history, but reckons that he does not apply that method or any method in his own philosophy, then he is playing with semantics.
An Aversion to Critique
Hegel is just trying to make his subjective pronouncements critique-proof or un-critiquable. A reasonable enough goal, if it is confined to enhancing the robustness of his own pronouncements, but you can't deny readers the right to attempt a critique. That is one way guaranteed to alienate an audience, to split a following and push potential advocates away. Which is what happened, inevitably, after his death.
What I mean by this is that I don't accept that Hegel arrived at all aspects of his philosophy after a process of deduction. [Not that I'm saying anybody could have achieved this.]
On Having Faith in the System
I don't disagree with Hegel's attack on Empiricism, for example. However, to the extent that he asserts that Consciousness is part of Spirit, a God, then I don't accept that he has necessarily proven the existence of God or that the Spirit of God plays a role in the process of individual human thought or reason. Thus, it seems that Hegel's System, which I assume is supposed to be rational, is built on an act of faith in the belief of God.
I accept that social, rather than spiritual or religious, factors play such a role. For example, I accept that we differentiate between objects, partly if not wholly based on our capacity for language. Language is a social construct. I don't necessarily accept that it is intrinsically spiritual. I also don't want to embrace any ideas that approximate to some hyped-up politico-cultural concept of Volk or the People.
I suspect that Hegel started his philosophical deliberations with a religious-based preconception, in particular, a belief in a monotheistic God, and that he integrated it into his philosophy.
On Questioning the System
To the extent that Hegel's System is a hierarchy that works its way up to the pinnacle of God, there are a number of questions that I, an Atheist, feel should be asked:
Does the entire System fall, if you don't believe in God?
Alternatively, is his System modular and severable, so that you can salvage parts that appeal to you? If the latter, which parts? And to what extent are those parts solely attributable to Hegel? Are they equally components of other philosophies, whether pre-Hegelian or post-Hegelian?
To some extent, my way of approaching and questioning Hegel might owe a lot to the approach of those Left Hegelians who happened to be Atheist.
In the absence of a belief in God, it must also take into account the approach of more materialist philosophies like those of Feuerbach, Marx and Engels (and subsequent Marxists).
Spirit Made Flesh
Of course, an atheist has to accept the possibility that Hegel might be right in believing that there is a Christian God (in his case, Lutheran), and that everything else potentially follows.
If it turns out that monotheism is right, then Hegel's philosophy seems to come close to a belief that all of Nature derives from God and that humanity, in particular, is Spirit made Flesh. Presumably, Nature is also Spirit made material.
Working backwards or upwards from Flesh, the ultimate destination must therefore be Spirit (even if Flesh is preserved).
I'll leave open for the moment whether Spirit might actually be any more than Energy. Hegel certainly regards it as the repository of Absolute Knowledge. Thus, it seems that, for him, it must be conscious and intelligent. It also appears to transcend each individual, even though it embraces every individual. It is a composite or unity of differences or opposites.
Fear of Contradiction
For me, what seems to sit at the heart of Hegel's philosophy is contradiction. This is the contradiction between different objects, whether consciousnesses or not.
For each of us, for each Subject, every other consciousness or thing is an Object, one that contradicts us. Just as I am me, I am not you, and I am not it, that object.
In my mind, this is simply a recognition of difference. Practically and socially, I don't see these observations as the foundation of opposition, conflict or contradiction.
I don't know whether this is a matter of translation. However, I witness a lot of conflict and antagonism between Subject and Object in Hegel. I haven't yet worked out why difference is not enough.
In other words, why isn't it enough that perception and language allow us to differentiate between things, consciousnesses, Subjects and Objects?
Why isn't it enough that language is a social system of signs that enable us to identify, think about and discuss difference.
Why is it somehow implicit that this Object exists at the expense of this Subject or Object? Why is everything "set against" everything else in perpetual contradiction?
Are two strawberry plants in a garden really opposed to each other? Do they battle each other for nutrients? Is their ostensible rivalry really such a big issue in their life? Are two rocks sitting at the bottom of a stream any different?
Consciousness and Self-Consciousness
It's possible that some or all of the contradiction happens within the consciousness or mind.
Consciousness detects the outside world of nature, grasps it and drags it into the mind. The Subject consumes or ingests the Object, where it begins to relate to or play with it. It's almost as if the mind is an enormous database of images and responses that are preserved intact. They are ingested, but not digested or integrated into something new and different.
It's possible that the dialectic doesn't posit a synthesis because within the database both thesis and antithesis continue to exist. Subject to illness, loss of memory and death, nothing in the mind ceases to exist.
Self-consciousness is the awareness that this process is occurring. However, Hegel also regards self-consciousness as desire itself.
The Hegelian Paradox: From the Inquisitorial to the Inquisitional
The ultimate Hegelian Paradox is that the Philosophy is based on contradiction, yet the Philosopher [and his acolytes] will brook no argument.
The System is founded on the adversarial, yet disagreement is heresy (even if the Philosophy by its very nature seems to invite or attract heresy).
Similarly, it is reluctant to accept that a rational philosophical process or method is being utilised. It is enough to look, seek and ask questions. The answers are there waiting for us to find them. Truth and understanding will result from the only method that is necessary, an inquisitorial process. If you ask [God], you will be answered [by God, if not reason].
Still, the normal outcome of an inquisitorial process is a decision. In Hegel's Philosophy, it is not a human decision, but a divine revelation. Once revealed, it can't be questioned. It can only be respected, observed and enforced.
Hence, as is the case with all heretics, the sectarian non-believer attracts the attention of the Inquisition.
Hence, Hegel embraces both the Inquisitorial and the Inquisitional, having constructed both a System and an Institution.
It's up to us to determine whether to take a vow to Hegel or whether simply to do good.
The EPM is an early work by Marx. It is where he develops his version of alienation and the relationship of the self to others, but also theEarly Work
The EPM is an early work by Marx. It is where he develops his version of alienation and the relationship of the self to others, but also the relationship to work and the means of production. By the time of The Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels had got involved in History and were not content just to describe it. They became theorists and publicists for a revolutionary cause. They created a theoretical justification for violence as a methodology for achieving a political goal.
Justifying the Use of Violence
Despite how democratic nations claim to be, many still use violence to achieve a goal or maintain the status quo. Because they can't be seen to endorse revolution, they create and embrace the term "regime change". They are both types of violence. The only difference is the justification. They both use the same means, the difference is the end. However, the EPM precedes all of this.
Reassessing Their Relevance
Marx and Engels have received a lot of bad publicity. Few dare to defend them. But in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis, it's worth opening their works and having a dispassionate squiz. Not so that we can all get on a revolutionary anti-capitalism bandwagon again, but so that we can understand the plight of people in contemporary society.
I have put a more extended review of this book here:
It is where he develops his version of alienation and the relationship of the self to otherORIGINAL REVIEW:
The EPM is an early work by Marx.
It is where he develops his version of alienation and the relationship of the self to others, but also the relationship to work and the means of production.
By the time of The Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels had got involved in History and were not content just to describe it.
They became theorists and publicists for a revolutionary cause.
They created a theoretical justification for violence as a methodology for achieving a political goal.
Justifying the Use of Violence
Despite how democratic nations claim to be, many still use violence to achieve a goal or maintain the status quo.
Because they can't be seen to endorse revolution, they create and embrace the term "regime change".
They are both types of violence. The only difference is the justification.
They both use the same means, the difference is the end.
However, the EPM precedes all of this.
Reassessing Their Relevance
Marx and Engels have received a lot of bad publicity. Few dare to defend them.
But in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis, it's worth opening their works and having a dispassionate squiz.
Not so that we can all get on a revolutionary anti-capitalism bandwagon again, but so that we can understand the plight of people in contemporary society.
FULL REVIEW: July 20, 2012
In October, 1843, Karl and Jenny Marx left Cologne and arrived in Paris, where they lived and worked for two years.
Marx’ intention was to write for a radical magazine. At the time of their arrival, Marx was 25 and Jenny was pregnant with their first child, Jenny.
While in Paris, Marx wrote the “Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts”, which were effectively the first draft of the ideas that would become the foundation of “Das Kapital” (“Capital”), the first volume of which he published in 1867.
The manuscripts are a critique of “political economy”, the term used then for what we now call “economics”.
They were never published during his lifetime and only became available in Russia in 1932, fifteen years after the Russian Revolution that brought the Communists to power.
Thus, a key work that explained the origin of his ideas remained unknown and of no influence for almost 90 years.
Communism as it manifested itself in the Soviet Union owed more to later works like “The Communist Manifesto” (1848) and “Capital”.
Just as importantly, the works weren’t translated into English until 1959, from which point they caused a radical reassessment of Marx’ ideas.
The Wealth of Nations
The manuscripts total about 120 pages.
The first 40 to 50 pages largely describe the operation of the economy.
If you were to read these pages for the first time today, you would think they encapsulated the principal communist analysis of the capitalist economy.
They describe private property; the separation of labour, capital and land; the separation of wages, profit of capital and rent of land; the division of labour, competition and the concept of exchange value.
Yet, ironically, most of this analysis is quoted from Adam Smith’s “The Wealth of Nations”, a work sympathetic to capitalism published in 1776.
Marx highlights that:
• The worker does not necessarily gain when the capitalist gains, but he necessarily loses with him.
• Where worker and capitalist both suffer, the worker suffers in his very existence, while the capitalist suffers primarily in the profit on his capital.
• The worker must not only struggle for his physical means of subsistence, he must also struggle for work (in order to obtain the possibility and means of realizing his activity).
• The accumulation of capital increases the division of labour.
• As a consequence of the division of labour and the accumulation of capital, the worker becomes more and more dependent on labour, in particular a very one-dimensional and machine-like labour, which depresses him both intellectually and physically to the level of a machine.
• Even when the economy is growing, the consequence for workers is overwork and early death.
• The more mechanical nature of his work makes him more vulnerable to competition from both other workers and machines.
• Wages are designed to be just enough to enable him to continue to work.
• Even if the average income of all classes has increased, the relative incomes have grown further apart and the differences between wealth and poverty have become sharper.
• Relative poverty has grown, even though absolute poverty has diminished.
• Political economy knows the worker only as a beast of burden, as an animal reduced to the minimum bodily needs.
• It is foolish to conclude, as Smith does, that the interest of the landlord or capitalist is always identical with that of the tenant or society.
So far then, “from political economy itself, using its own words,” Marx shows that:
• The worker sinks to the level of a commodity.
• The misery of the worker is in inverse proportion to the power and volume of his production.
• The necessary consequence of competition is the accumulation of capital in a few hands and hence the restoration of monopoly in a more terrible form.
• The distinction between capitalist and landlord, between agricultural worker and industrial worker, disappears and the whole of society must split into the two classes of property owners and propertyless workers.
Marx concludes that “Political economy proceeds from the fact of private property. It does not explain it...Political economy fails to explain the reason for the division between labour and capital, between capital and land.”
Marx therefore sets out to grasp “the essential connection between private property, greed, the separation of labour, capital and landed property, exchange and competition, value and the devaluation of man, monopoly and competition, etc. – the connection between this entire system of estrangement [alienation] and the money system.”
Putting the Political Back Into “Political Economy”
I have quoted so much of Marx, partly to show how much he relied on Smith and Ricardo for his underlying analysis of the economy, partly to illustrate how little things have changed, partly to identify the moment at which Marx became political, and partly so that we can consider the political and economic options that might have been available to him to address the problems he perceived.
It was common ground that the economy was effectively a joint venture between labour, capital and landed property.
The problem was how to regulate and manage the relationship between them.
If they are all prerequisites of economic activity, are they equally vital and therefore should they be given an equal or at least more equitable status?
Is any one ingredient more or less fundamental than the others?
The Relative Significance of Capital
Smith would have said that capital was the foundation of capitalism and the one true determinant of the relationship.
Capital is money, and money has a purchasing power that can buy labour, just as it can buy property.
Capital therefore doesn’t acknowledge a joint venture relationship.
It buys what it needs to make more money and effectively replicate itself.
Capital, in its own eyes, is in control.
Over the course of 1844, this viewpoint became a red rag to Marx' bull.
One option would have been to remunerate workers more adequately.
Another would have been to grant them a share of the joint venture profit.
These options might have remedied some of the inequities.
However, they weren’t adequate from Marx’ perspective.
His preferred option was to abolish private property, in effect, to abolish private capital.
Why did he suggest this?
Entitlement to the Surplus Value
Again, there was common ground that the joint venture could create a profit or surplus value.
However, because capital has bought the labour and the property, capitalism gives the profit not to the joint venture, but to the capital that funds it.
Following on from Smith's description of the economy, Marx argues that ultimately it is labour that creates surplus value.
There would be no profit or capital without the labour that originally created the product or commodity.
If the worker whose labour created the original product had received the whole of the profit, the capitalist would have obtained no capital.
In the absence of capital, the capitalist would have had no money with which to purchase labour or property.
Instead, labour contributes to the capitalist’s wealth, which then, like a snake, turns around and consumes itself, starting with the tail or labour.
Marx believed that, only by chopping the snake in half and giving labour the benefit of surplus value, could real equity be achieved.
Since labour is the foundation of all surplus value, it should own the surplus value.
To achieve this, Marx believed we had to abolish private property.
A Chinese Diversion
Incidentally, in the Communist China of today, the replacement of private capital is not the worker, but public capital in the form of the State (the representative of the workers and other people).
By employing or exploiting Chinese workers, the Chinese State now makes so much surplus value, that, like a snake, it can turn around and start consuming or buying the capitalist economies of the world.
These economies are totally dependent on China for their continued existence.
What’s So Wrong with Private Property?
By rejecting the other available options, Marx rejected any suggestion that the inequity was purely about remuneration. (Even if the poor subsequently got richer under capitalism, the rich would get disproportionately richer, therefore “relative poverty” would increase.)
It’s precisely at this point that Marx becomes most philosophical in his approach to political economy.
He had to solve the problem of political economy in a way that satisfied the political philosophy that had begun to emerge in his mind.
The issue was so fundamental to Marx, because in his eyes it was the cause of the estrangement or alienation of mankind.
For me, what follows is the essence of Marx, even if most Marxists or Communists before 1932 (or 1959) would have been relatively unaware of its significance (except to the extent that some of these ideas emerged, possibly slightly changed in detail or emphasis, in the later works of Marx like “Capital”).
In contrast to Hegel, Marx did not see the correct subject matter of philosophy as contemplation or idealism, but practice or “human sensuous activity”.
Man doesn’t just think, he acts, he does things, he interacts with objects in the material world, he makes things, he produces things. (For this reason, Hannah Arendt calls man “homo faber”.)
These objects and the products of his interaction have a material existence outside the mind.
During the process of labour, a worker creates a product or commodity that “stands opposed to [him] as something alien, as a power independent of the [worker or] producer”:
"The product of labour is labour embodied and made material in an object, it is the objectification of the labour. The realization of labour is its objectification. In the sphere of political economy this realization of labour appears as a loss of reality for the worker, objectification as loss of and bondage to the object, and appropriation [by capital and the capitalist]as estrangement, as alienation."
In return for his labour, the worker receives work and remuneration, the means of subsistence.
This turns him into a slave. “The activity of the worker is not his own spontaneous activity. It belongs to another, it is a loss of self”:
"The result is that man (the worker) feels that he is acting freely only in his animal functions – eating, drinking and procreating, or at most in his dwelling and adornment – while in his human functions he is nothing more than an animal."
Man becomes alienated, not just from his labour and the product of his labour, but from the human race (his species) as a whole and from other individual humans.
And private property is at the root of this alienation: it is “the product, result and necessary consequence of alienated labour, of the external relation of the worker to nature and to himself”:
"Private property thus derives from an analysis of the concept of alienated labour, i.e., alienated man, estranged labour, estranged life, estranged man."
Private property is both the product of alienation and the means of realizing alienation.
Marx describes as "crude communism" the initial abolition of private property in favour of "universal private property".
At this stage, crude communism (now usually called "socialism") still preserves some form of alienation and is a political state, whether "democratic or despotic".
Stage 2 is true Communism, which he describes as follows:
"Communism is the positive supersession of private property as human self-estrangement, and hence the true appropriation of the human essence through and for man; it is the complete restoration of man to himself as a social, i.e., human, being...
"This communism, as fully developed naturalism, equals humanism, and as fully developed humanism equals naturalism; it is the genuine resolution of the conflict between man and nature, and between man and man, the true resolution of the conflict between existence and being, between objectification and self-affirmation, between freedom and necessity, between individual and species.
"It is the solution of the riddle of history and knows itself to be the solution."
It’s significant that, while Marx was in Paris, he first met Engels (who had just published "The Condition of the Working Class in England") and this was his first statement that he now supported Communism.
But what does it mean? How can this happen?
This is where it starts to become frustrating and unclear. Some of the manuscripts have never been found.
We have outcomes, but not the methodology.
The new relationship of man to man, and individual to society is crucial, but difficult to piece together and understand.
For Marx, "activity and consumption, both in their content and in their mode of existence, are social activity and social consumption."
He doesn’t mean that we solely act, produce and consume communally (as opposed to individually).
He means that what man creates for himself, he creates for society, conscious of himself as a social being.
The individual and society are two sides of the one coin:
"[My] universal consciousness is only a theoretical form of that whose living form is the real community, society...the activity of my universal consciousness – as activity – is my theoretical existence as a social being...
"It is above all necessary to avoid once more establishing ‘society’ as an abstraction over against the individual. The individual is the social being.
"His vital expression – even when it does not appear in the direct form of a communal expression, conceived in association with other men – is therefore an expression and confirmation of social life. Man’s individual and species-life are not two distinct things..."
In a way, a fully realised man is good for society, and society is good for the fully realised man, but they are one and the same thing:
"Man, however much he may therefore be a particular individual – and it is just this particularity which makes him an individual and a real individual communal being – is just as much the totality, the ideal totality, the subjective existence of thought and experienced society for itself; he also exists in reality as the contemplation and true enjoyment of social existence and as a totality of vital human expression."
Only when this happens, whatever it is, whatever it takes, can man "humanize" nature and the objects around him.
Only then do all objects become for man the objectification of himself, objects that confirm and realise his individuality:
"Only through the objectively unfolded wealth of human nature can the wealth of subjective human sensitivity - a musical ear, an eye for the beauty of form, in short senses capable of human gratification – be either cultivated or created. For not only the five senses, but also the so-called spiritual senses, the practical senses (will, love, etc.), in a word, the human senses, the humanity of the senses – all these come into being only through the existence of their objects, through humanized nature."
Marx sees history as the inevitable progress of man towards the realization of his true, complete and unalienated humanity:
"It can now be seen how the history of industry and the objective existence of industry as it has developed is the open book of the essential powers of man, man’s psychology present in tangible form."
Instead of the objectified powers of the human essence manifesting themselves in sensuous, useful objects to which we relate, capitalism confronts us with the alien nature of our objects and we are alienated.
In contrast, communism represents "a fresh confirmation of human powers and a fresh enrichment of human nature."
My Own Private Property
There is some question as to whether private property will cease altogether under Communism.
However, Marx suggests that “the meaning of private property, freed from its estrangement, is the existence of essential objects for man, both as objects of enjoyment and of activity.”
It’s possible that money might also continue to exist, as a vehicle to acquire objects of enjoyment and activity.
However, his analysis of money is very derogatory, and this interpretation might be wrong.
The Road Ahead
I hesitate to call Marx an idealist or a romantic, because he was determined to integrate theory and practice, and extend philosophy into the politics of action.
After all, just a few years later, he wrote, "The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it."
However, it seems to me that he had a clear definition of the nature and potential of humanity, and he shaped his political philosophy to achieve that potential.
He saw private property in the form of capital as the chief obstacle to the achievement of this potential.
He considered that it had to be abolished, and that the only means was a revolution of the working class.
He opposed other options that might have ameliorated the misery of the working class, in the hope that the severity of their condition would lead inevitably to revolution.
Many people joined the revolutionary cause, because for whatever reason they wanted to negate the negative that they felt capitalism embodied.
Few have ever been able to define the positive that they were trying to achieve.
Few who actually participated in the Russian Revolution even knew the true positive nature of what Marx hoped to achieve.
It is very easy to get caught in the enthusiasm of the 25 year old Marx, even easier to believe that many of the problems still exist, particularly in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis.
However, the physical description of the diagnosis is something as old as Adam Smith.
Marx might well have been right in identifying the causes.
However, it’s the treatment that needs to be worked on.
We need to do something that doesn’t end up killing the patient....more
The subtitle of this book suggests that its subject matter is three great philosophers whose ideas changed the course of civilisaA Triad of Dialectics
The subtitle of this book suggests that its subject matter is three great philosophers whose ideas changed the course of civilisation.
There's an element of misrepresentation in the subtitle.
Heiss doesn't really attempt to make a case that any of them is great, nor does he show explicitly how any of them changed the course of civilisation, nor does he identify which of their ideas might have had this effect.
I would probably have been prepared to take it on faith that at least Hegel and Marx were great philosophers, and I accept that Marx might have changed the course of civilisation, at least for a time. I'm not so sure about Hegel's influence (unless you take into account his influence on Marx).
Kierkegaard was somebody about whose philosophy I was quite ignorant. To be honest, after reading this book, I probably remain so, and don't feel particularly inclined to remedy my ignorance.
Out of fairness to Heiss, I suspect that the subtitle was the work of his American publishers. The original German title was something like "The Great Dialectic(s) (or Dialectitians?) of the Nineteenth Century", which is a far better description of the book.
Heiss' "[Dialectical] Method"
The book isn't so much about the overall philosophy of each philosopher, nor does it try to prove their greatness or influence.
Its primary concern seems to be the development, detection and/or application of a Dialectic by each of them. To the extent that it goes further, it is merely a limited, brief and adequate, if readable, review of each philosopher's ideas, combined with sizable portions of relevant or useful information about their lives.
Heiss nevertheless reviews almost all of each philosopher's major works in the context of what he describes as a "Dialectical Method". He doesn't so much define a "Dialectical Method" and examine how it is used by each philosopher, as seek out explicit or implicit evidence of a Dialectic or a Dialectical Method in their thought, whether or not they expressly adopted the terminology (or in Hegel's case, actually denied that it was a "Method").
The analysis of Hegel occupies about half of the book, while each of the other two receive about one quarter.
Heiss attempts to make comparative judgments about the temperament of the three philosophers, based on their writings and their lives. I am unable to assess the veracity of these judgments except on face value.
(view spoiler)[By way of background, Heiss was a Professor of both Philosophy and Psychology at the University of Freiburg. I know little of his academic reputation after the Second World War. However, at a personal level, he is regarded as being compromised by the fact that during the War he provided psychological consultancy services to the Luftwaffe. Thus, rightly or wrongly, he is seen by some as being a Nazi sympathiser. I could not detect any evidence of this in the book, which was first published in 1963. (hide spoiler)]
While Kant earlier used a "transcendental dialectical" method, Hegel probably did more than anybody since Aristotle to flesh out the concept and find or apply it in the development of a robust system of philosophy.
Indeed, Hegel's entire system is totally dependent on his Dialectic.
All Dialectics rely on a contradiction, opposition or antagonism between two ideas, objects or forces.
In Hegel's philosophy, the contradiction resolves itself in a way that preserves something of each part of the contradiction.
Having resolved the contradiction, the outcome becomes the first step in another Dialectical sequence.
The three steps in Hegel's Dialectic are often described as Thesis, Antithesis and Synthesis. However, Hegel did not embrace this terminology, instead using Being, Nothing and Becoming (thanks to Nathan for highlighting this).
The relation between Being and Nothing is one of negation, so it's also appropriate to speak in terms of Positive and Negative.
Heiss believes that Hegel was optimistic about the direction of the sequential operation of the Dialectic. He saw it as leading to Absolute Truth and the Ideal.
When he applied the Dialectic to history, he saw a progressive spirit at play. Over time, humanity would move onwards and upwards to a higher level.
However, Hegel inferred this trend more from past history. He tended to focus more on the past, as an explanation of how we got here. He did not spend a lot of time analysing the present in any disciplined manner, at least from the point of view of its role as the second step in the Dialectic. He certainly did not endeavour to extrapolate from the past or the present into the future. He was more concerned with actuality, rather than potentiality.
In summary, Heiss considers that Hegel:
1. Used the Dialectic as a method of analysis (including a method of analysis of history)(Note, however, as reinforced in the thread below, that Hegel himself denied that the Dialectic was a "Method");
2. Was optimistic about the future operation of the Dialectical Process in the context of history;
3. Did not seek to be predictive (which probably reflects the fact that he did not see the Dialectic as a "Method"); and
4. Did not see any great role for individual action or subjectivity in the outcome of the Dialectical Process in the context of history.
Comparing Kierkegaard and Marx
Neither Kierkegaard nor Marx purported to adopt or apply Hegel's Dialectic slavishly or blindly. Both were highly critical of Hegel. In effect, they developed their own versions of a Dialectic or a Dialectical Method that differed quite significantly. It's these differences that form the true subject matter of the book.
In summary (using the above four criteria):
1. All three used the Dialectic as a method of description or analysis, although more so Hegel and Marx;
2. Kierkegaard was pessimistic, while Hegel and Marx were both optimistic about the outcome of the Process;
3. Hegel did not seek to predict the specific outcome of the Dialectic, whereas Kierkegaard (to a lesser extent) and Marx (to a great extent) did try to be predictive and prophetic, especially in the latter case in pursuit of a scientific basis for the inevitability of Revolution.
4. Neither Hegel nor Kierkegaard saw much potential for individual human action as a contributor to history. However, once the conditions for Revolution were ripe, Marx envisaged that individuals could make a difference to the manner in which a Revolution was carried out.
I found the 100 pages on Kierkegaard the least engaging. However, I can't yet tell whether this is because of Heiss' exposition or the intrinsic nature of Kierkegaard's thought.
Heiss paints a picture of Kierkegaard as somebody who locked up his suffering and grief after the break-up of his engagement, and never really recovered.
He was miserable, tormented, erratic, sceptical, negative and pessimistic. He saw himself as "confronted by a shattered and disunified existence, as he experienced it in himself and in the world."
In Heiss' eyes, these qualities inevitably contributed to a philosophy of unhappiness, despair and dread.
Kierkegaard's embrace of the Dialectic seems to result in the two forces cancelling out or nullifying each other.
It seems to have resulted in an emptiness or an abyss. In Heiss' opinion, Kierkegaard defined the contradiction, but had not yet taken "the dialectical leap".
However, in failing to do so, he regarded the process as "making room so that God can come".
Man had tampered with the power of God. Now, Religion had to be revived and a new place made for God in the life of the individual, unmediated by the Church. In Kierkegaard's thought, the future lies in a return to the past, hence the lack of interest in prediction.
Marx' Dialectical Method
Marx' philosophy would have been nothing without his perception (whether misunderstanding or not) of Hegel's Dialectical Method: in Heiss' words, "Marx is unthinkable without Hegel."
Whether correctly or not, Marx and Engels, in discussing Hegel's Dialectic, described it as a Method, only to dispute and, in their eyes, correct it.
In effect, Marx and Engels did not accept Hegel's assertion that his Dialectic was not a Method.
However, Marx agreed that Hegel had correctly understood the flow or movement intrinsic to the Dialectical Process. However, he believed that Hegel had misapplied his "Method", particularly in relation to history. He also opposed the manner in which Hegel had used it for the purposes of mystification in a religious sense.
The allegation of misapplication relates to the subject matter to which each philosopher applied the Dialectical Method.
Marx' primary concern with the Hegelian Dialectic was its operation in the context of history.
Whereas Hegel was concerned with the Consciousness and the Spirit, Marx' version of the Dialectical Method was materialistic and economic. Although Marx didn't use the term, Marxists would subsequently describe his version as "Dialectical Materialism". (Note that they didn't call it a Materialist Dialectic. The paramount descriptor was the materialist element. It was a form of Materialism that was Dialectical.)
Marx didn't see history in terms of a dialectical progress towards Truth and Absolute Spirit. Consciousness was a secondary issue for him (this is not to deny that he had any interest in Consciousness). He saw history in terms of class conflict that would ultimately witness the Proletariat prevail over the Bourgeoisie and Communism prevail over Capitalism.
Importantly, Marx did little to define what Communism would look like or whether it would become the first step in the next sequence of the Dialectical Process.
The Dialectical Process required an engine that would achieve the transition to Communism, and Marx believed that this engine was Revolution. He therefore used the Dialectical Method to persuade the Working Class that Revolution was both necessary and inevitable, at least once the economic conditions were ripe.
In effect, Marx harnessed his belief in Revolution to the Dialectical Process that dictated the course of history.
To the extent that the Dialectical Method was a well-known and credible concept, he co-opted it to drive a revolutionary movement.
Thus, Marx differed from Hegel in the sense that he was prepared to be predictive and prophetic. In a way, he created a self-fulfilling prophecy, and then did his best to fulfil it. Indeed, he spent much of his life anticipating that a Revolution in Germany, if not England, was just around the corner. If he had been right in his lifetime, he would have been an active leader of the revolutionary workers' movement that carried out the Revolution.
Thus, in addition to creating a philosophy that predicted Revolution, Marx was prepared to participate subjectively in making it happen, by way of agitation, propaganda and action.
Heiss attributes part of this motivation to Marx' personal circumstances and the economic and political situation that applied in Europe in the second half of the nineteenth century.
Heiss discusses much more of both Hegel's and Marx' philosophies. His analysis of Marx is contained in chapters on each major topic that are usually between three and six pages long. While they are informative and easy to understand, I would prefer to discuss Marx' philosophy in other reviews.
After 400 pages of explication, Heiss leaves us with two principal conclusions:
1. There is not one, but many ways, of looking at things dialectically; and
2. The way the "Dialectical Method" (as Heiss uses the term) is used is always "situationally determined".
For an analysis of three great philosophers whose ideas were supposed to have changed the course of civilisation, it's a pretty limp conclusion.
Ultimately, the book is a relatively superficial attempt to deal with its subject matter. It is likely that it has been superseded by more robust analyses as the interest in Hegel has become more prevalent in Continental Philosophy.
I don't regret reading the book, but I can't recommend it....more
Both books summarise the lives and philosophy of key philosophers in language that is easy to understand.
While I intend to read some other generalist philosophy books as well, I recommend both books for readers who just want an overview or a foundation for further reading similar to what I’m undertaking.
"A World Full of Lobsters"
Thomas Carlyle once described economics as a “dismal science”.
It was dismal, because it found “the secret of the universe in supply and demand” and reduced the duty of government to “letting man alone” (i.e., “laissez-faire” capitalism).
Heilbroner’s publishers requested him to name his project and book “The Great Economists”.
Fearful that this might sound to the general reader like “The Most Dismal Scientists”, he approached the project from a more philosophical point of view, so as to help understand alternative visions for the economy within society rather than the internal operation of the economy at a mechanical or purely political level.
You could argue that words like “worldly” and “philosopher” might be of little appeal to the average student of the dismal science.
However, the name of the book reveals a literary and pedagogical approach that is designed to maximize interest in the subject matter.
Indeed, Heilbroner managed to escape the dismal preconceptions about his subject matter so much so that a student once asked a bookseller if they had an economics book called “A World Full of Lobsters”.
Heilbroner succeeds in his task by writing lucidly.
He doesn’t just describe, he creates a narrative with drive and excitement.
His view of economic history is directional, even if it does not necessarily embrace the inevitable progress envisaged by the Enlightenment philosophers and scientists.
Secondly, he unfolds the narrative through the use of a dialectical opposition between the successive economists in the chain.
While Marx might have advocated dialectical materialism, Heilbroner is a dialectical story-teller.
There is conflict, then resolution, then a new conflict occurs, followed by a new resolution.
A Metaphor for the Study of Capitalism
In the rest of this review, I want to summarise the main concepts and explain what I got out of the book.
I have never formally studied economics for any extended period of time. Although I originally wanted to be a chemical engineer, I am terrified by any book that contains mathematical formulae.
While I used to understand them intuitively, now they seem like some form of dark arts.
It is my solemn duty to shelter you from these dark arts and the misery that could befall you if you come across them.
Therefore, I have decided to use a metaphor in my explanation of Capitalism, and the metaphor will be that of “Caterpillarism”, a term which is not yet in Wikipaedia.
Please bear with me and pay attention.
Heilbroner focuses largely on the following economists: Adam Smith, Malthus, Ricardo, Robert Owen, Saint-Simon, Fourier, Mill, Marx, Edgeworth (no, I hadn’t either), Von Thunen (didn’t he make the rockets in “Gravity’s Rainbow”?), Walras (wasn’t the Walras Paul?), Bastiat (I thought he was an 80’s graffiti artist), Henry George, Hobson, Marshall (holler for an economist), Thorstein Veblen, Keynes (the guy they named Keynesianism after), Schumpeter (I’m not sure if it rhymes with trumpeter, I don’t know anybody who’s ever pronounced it), and Adolphe Lowe.
Now if I was wedded to the list technique, I would probably just end my review, and you would conclude that I must know what I’m talking about, look at my star rating and decide that you will (will never ever) read this book because I did.
But I am not the sort of Good Reader who is content with lists. In fact, by and large, I despise them.
I think there are 19 dismalists in that list, which is far too many.
So I’m going to put them on two teams, one team consisting only of Karl Marx, and the other captained by Adam Smith, but including everybody else.
I’m not saying that Smith was better than the rest, just that he was the first, plus he broke the back of economics and the others have really just refined it or improved it by degree.
So now these two teams have to explain Caterpillarism.
Why Caterpillarism? Well, I’ll tell you.
Caterpillarism really only started [ages ago/ in the 1760’s/ in 1848/ before the war (but which war?)/ last century/ in Year 8 at High School] and it is still changing.
Just when somebody thinks they can explain it, it undergoes some crisis or breakdown that changes the rules so much that it doesn't even seem to be the same game anymore.
So the metaphor I want to use is of two teams of dismal scientists examining a life form which they know only to be a Caterpillar.
You could imagine that this life form might live and die as a Caterpillar, but gradually we learn that Caterpillars can transmorph into a Butterfly or a Moth.
In reality, I made Smith a captain, because he’s the one who first believed that the Caterpillar was a juvenile Butterfly.
In his eyes, it’s a beautiful thing, it’s capable of progress, change, growth and improvement, it works, and it doesn't need anybody from outside to make it work or tweak it.
In fact, it works best when nobody tweaks it at all. It’s self-regulating. The invisible hand of the market is working away behind the scenes, yes, invisibly, just like God is supposed to.
Despite the fact that it is made up of numerous opposing forces, the Caterpillar finds an equilibrium on its own.
The Caterpillar needs opposing forces, just like humans need opposing thumbs. We couldn’t work, if we didn't have them.
Even in times of crisis, the Caterpillar reaches an outcome that was meant to be. OK, some people might suffer, but they were intended to suffer, for the good of the overall system.
Shit happens in this system, but that’s like saying that football players occasionally do a hamstring.
You play the game, you assume the risk of injury.
No prizes for guessing that Marx believed the Caterpillar would turn into a Moth.
Apart from the competition between merchants, the opposing forces represented class interests, the Caterpillarist and the Working Class.
The interests of the two classes are diametrically opposed. One class does not win, unless another loses.
It’s a sport, and nobody has come along to see a scoreless draw.
Marx didn’t violently disagree with Smith’s understanding of the mechanics of the Caterpillar.
He primarily disagreed with what would happen in the future.
He believed that Caterpillarism was headed inevitably toward disequilibrium, and one day the Working Class would revolt and overturn Caterpillarism in favour of Communism.
Not only did he believe a Revolution would happen, he believed that it was dictated by the concept of Dialectical Materialism. It was inevitable, and the duty of Communists around the world was to facilitate the Revolution.
The Composition of the Ball
Now that we have two Teams, we need to define what sport they are playing. What is in contention?
All good sports require a ball (or something a bit like a ball). [Sorry, I refuse to accept that anything that involves peddling or paddling is a sport.]
As it turns out, the dispute is about the ball. Not what you do with the ball, but the composition of the ball.
The ball is the product of Caterpillarism, the goods that are made, bought and sold.
Every time a ball is made and sold, a goal is scored.
Who gets the credit for scoring the goal? And in what proportion? What is the relative value of a “goal assist”?
The measure of the value of the ball is its price. How much is it sold for? How was the price determined and who ultimately gets a share of the price?
Team Smith believes that the price includes the cost of land, materials, and labor (the effort of the Workers who actually make the ball and distribute it around the park), plus a margin for the Caterpillarist’s profit.
Team Smith believes that the Caterpillarist is entitled to negotiate and pin down its costs of input, and therefore it is solely entitled to whatever profit it can generate by playing the game or scoring a goal.
The fact that these other contributions were required does not entitle the contributors to a profit share.
The profit is the reward for, or return on, the use of the Caterpillarist’s capital.
Team Marx believes that the profit is not strictly speaking the product of the Caterpillarist’s capital, it’s the product of the Workers’ labor (the “labor theory of value”).
To the extent that the Caterpillarist has any capital, it reflects the profit previously made from other Workers’ labor.
Thus, in Team Marx’ eyes, the Caterpillarist is nothing without labor.
Caterpillarists should not be entitled to expropriate the profit from the Workers’ labor.
The purpose, then, of a Revolution is to end the disequilibrium and terminate the misappropriation of the fruit of the Workers’ labor.
If you want to read more about why this was so important to Marx philosophically, see my review of Marx' "Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts":
In the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth century, the Caterpillarists might have thought they were winning, but the world got pretty close to Revolution everywhere, not just in Russia.
Ironically, what avoided World Revolution was a rule change that allowed the Referee to influence the play.
Rather than allow the Caterpillarists to thrash the Workers by a margin that would depress everyone, the Referee in the form of Social Democratic Governments legislated to achieve a level playing field.
Minimum wages were set. Working conditions were protected by law. Workers suffered less misery. They got a little more comfortable and lost their revolutionary fervor.
They still didn’t get a share of the profits. They just got paid a better wage, usually whether or not the Caterpillarist generated a profit. So the risk-taking Caterpillarist could go down the gurgler, while the Workers still got paid (although they might lose their jobs).
The Second Half
We’re still playing the second half of the game, and there is no end in sight.
Team Smith and the Caterpillarists still believe that some form of equilibrium has been and will be achieved, albeit with the intervention of the Referee against the wishes of the laissez-faire Caterpillarists.
Even if a Revolution has been avoided, the outcome is not the self-regulating equilibrium the Caterpillarists were seeking.
Team Marx appears to have been irreparably damaged by the failure of attempts to do without Caterpillarists in Communist economies and the complacency of the Workers who are doing alright.
These rule changes have forced a reconsideration of the strategies of each Team.
Some on Team Smith (e.g., Schumpeter) believed that Caterpillarism could not survive in such an adversary manner and that profits would eventually erode to such a level that Caterpillarists would effectively receive only a salary for managing their capital.
Thus, the differential between capital and labor would diminish and potentially manifest itself in a distinction only between Workers and Management.
Ultimately, even this difference would be reflected primarily in the relative level of remuneration.
Late in the second half, the players were confronted by new rule changes.
After a period of relative post-Communist stability, Caterpillarism was rocked by Inflation, Recession, Depression, and the Global Financial Crisis.
Once again, the Referee intervened to make sure the game continued.
The Referee supported the Caterpillarists with cash and credit, so that they in turn could pay wages and salaries to the Workers and Management.
Nobody quite knows at what cost this support will come.
The important thing is that the Referee mitigated the misery of the Workers and Management.
At the same time that some on Team Smith have suggested that profits might diminish over the course of Caterpillarism, China has apparently mastered the art of profit generation, only not in the name of Caterpillarism, but in the name of Communism.
The surplus value created by its Workers is being aggregated by the State or State-owned Enterprises.
Not only is it funding domestic growth, it’s also propping up first world economies and their governments’ deficits.
Thus, China, in a reversal of the dynamic of Colonialism, is actually capitalizing on investment opportunities in the West to create greater domestic wealth, while making itself an indispensable source of economic stability in the West.
What emerges from this is a principle that profit itself is not intrinsically bad, at least if it is generated in the name of the State, which is presumably representative of the Workers’ interests.
In other words, public profit good, private profit bad.
It seems to me that these disputes about profits are effectively arguments about the relative entitlement to profit as between labor and capital.
It’s amazing that an issue that, technically, is within the realm of Cost Accounting has become a philosophical and political issue that has dominated economics and government for almost 260 years.
For the Marx Team, at least, its importance derives from the fact that it dictates the relationship of Workers with the product of their labor (alienation), as well as the quality of their life (subjugation to Caterpillarists).
However, you have to wonder why the alienation should be any different in the case of State Caterpillarism.
Does it matter who appropriates the profit? Does it matter who subjugates the Worker? As long as the State purports to represent the whole of society, it’s OK?
Somehow, I can’t see Workers making such a fine philosophical distinction.
What seems to be missing is a greater role for Worker Profit Sharing, whereby the Workers share in the surplus value that they have created within the framework of a joint venture.
Philosophically, this recognises that it is their labor that generated a proportionate part of the profit, while giving them greater financial security.
There is another justification for profit that has become more important as the average lifetime of the public has increased.
Assuming that Workers still retire from active, full-time work, it will be necessary for them to fund some, if not all, of their retirement income for the rest of their lives.
Thus, remuneration should not just be about funding a subsistence lifestyle while you are working.
It must also fund post-retirement incomes.
If the Worker is not to bear some or all of the burden of their incomes, the burden would fall back on pensions funded by the State.
Ultimately, someone (Workers or State) would still have to generate sufficient funds to fund these pensions.
Thus, the question seems to be not whether profits need to be generated, but who is entitled to them.
The Vision Thing
Heilbroner laments the fact that these types of economists and philosophers seem to have exited the field of economics in favour of dismal mathematical and mechanical economists.
Nobody is trying to extend the dialectical narrative into the future. Nobody is telling the story anymore. It’s just happening around us, and we’re reacting. We’re walking backwards into the future, with little, if any, hope of affecting the outcome.
In a way, the game hasn't finished yet, but nobody is trying to predict the outcome, Butterfly or Moth.
And if you don't try to predict the outcome, how can you hope to influence it?
Perhaps, this passive state of affairs is a product of Social Democratic governments that intervene in Caterpillarism.
Perhaps, we won’t end up with a Butterfly or a Moth, but some hybrid that we haven’t conceived of and won’t be able to define until it is upon us.
Perhaps, then, Caterpillarism will continue to shape us, instead of us shaping it.
If so, who knows whether we will turn into Butterflies or Moths? ...more