Land of Roots versus Sea of Finance

Today’s society presents itself as “liquid,” if not “aeriform,” according to Berman’s diagnosis of the modern dissolution of stable forms in the air. This depends eminently on the fact that in it there is no reality that can escape the quality that distinguishes liquids, which is the adaptability to the container that houses them and, therefore, the assumption of the forms that are conferred on them at any given moment.

Thus, Hegel characterizes water in the Encyclopedia (§ 284): “it has no singularity of being per se, and therefore has in itself no solidity (Starrheit) and determination (Bestimmung).” For this reason, having no figure of its own, it “receives the limitation of the figure only from without” and “outwardly seeks it.” Its “peculiar state” is Bestimmungslosigkeit, the “lack of determination,” which is what makes it intrinsically adaptive in a universal and undifferentiated sense.

Bauman is right when he states that “this age of ours excels in dismantling structures and liquefying models, every kind of structure and every kind of model, by chance and without warning.” The aspect that, however, he fails to make explicit with due emphasis in his analysis is that this form is neither extemporaneous nor accidental.

On the contrary, it corresponds to the lines dictated by neoliberal policies and by the evolution of the flexible global market, to which everything is called upon to adapt. Because if this aspect is eliminated, only the effects are considered while overlooking the causes; and, for this very reason, the gaze is diverted from the class-based power relationship as the real basis for the liquefaction of ties and identities. The robust relationship that connects the superstructure of postmodern precariousness with the structure of globalized capital, flexible and centered on the figure of flow, is lost sight of.

In other words, we forget the fact that today the absolute flexibility of forms coexists dialectically with the absolute rigidity of the “container;” that is, with globalized capitalism in the anonymity of the liquid-financial markets, which seeks to make precariousness eternal and to make of itself an ineluctable destiny for the peoples of the planet. It sets itself up as the new global container, which gives shape to all the material and symbolic realities contained in it and previously transferred to the liquid state.

As our study Essere senza tempo (Bompiani, 2010) underlines, the total mobilization of entities, characteristic of the flexible mode of capitalist production, unfolds within the framework of the historical immobilism of a time that aspires to make precariousness an irreversible future: plus ça change, plus cést la même chose.

Its configuration is that of the Weberian steel cage with indestructible bars. Inside it, however, everything is possible; the possibilities being coextensive with respect to individual exchange value. Moreover, all values, identities and norms have been nihilistically “transvalued.”

The metaphor of liquidity is indeed quite effective in highlighting the essence of flexible accumulation and of the society of fluid displacement of people (abstractly free to move and concretely obliged to do so) and of financial capitals in the absence of barriers and borders, “dissolved” and removed along with every “solid” and stable instance of the preceding dialectical and Fordist, proletarian and bourgeois structure. Such is the essence of what the hegemonic relation of force spreads in all senses as the “new categorical imperative: let us fluidify everything!”

Among the properties of water is also that omnipresence and that capacity to penetrate and invade all spaces, to break down all barriers and erode even the most solid rocks. They correspond perfectly to the characteristics of the universal flexibility of liquid-financial cosmo-marketing which, with reference to the post-Fordist era, has been defined as the end of organized capitalism.

Flexibility, having saturated every real and imaginary space, is indeed aujourd’hui partout. Water, conceived by Thales as the principle of being, becomes today the ἀρχή of capitalist reality, which renders everything liquid and invades every space, overrunning dykes and obstacles.

This dynamic can be illuminated by referring to the philosophical duo, Land and Sea, canonized by Schmitt and previously codified by Hegel, who asserts this in the lessons on Weltgeschichte:

“The most universal type of determination of nature, which has importance in history, is that constituted by the relationship between Sea and Land.”

According to this heuristically fruitful analogy, the dynamics of the transnational market and global precariousness are, by definition, maritime.

The struggle between capitalist globalization and the national rootedness of peoples is, by the same token, a clash between the maritime and the terrestrial elements, within the framework of the class conflict between the thalassic Lord and the telluric Servant. The terrestrial element of settlements and places, of roots and stabilities, is opposed to the maritime element of flows and homogeneous surfaces, of displacements and uprootings.

The thalassic Lord aspires to make liquid every solid element linked to the stability of the ethical, so that the being in its totality is redefined according to the liquid logic of market globalization; the openness of cosmopolitan capital figuratively coincides with the open and unlimited sea, with its homogeneous expansion, on which it is possible to navigate omnidirectionally; but then also with the peculiarity of the liquid element itself, which tends to saturate every space.

For his part, the “Glebalized” Servant must aspire, instead, to resist this dynamic, imposing the primacy of the telluric dimension of rootedness and borders as walls against deterritorialization, the mobilization of beings and globalist omni-homogenization: unlike the sea, whose essence lies in that flowing by virtue of which—Heraclitus would say—”always different waters flow” (ἕτερα καὶ ἕτερα ὕδατα ἐπιρρρεῖ), the earth is the plurality of stable and localized spaces. It is traversed by boundaries and differences, by borders and walls.

The Nomos of the earth represents the concrete space of the plurality of peoples and of their possibility of giving themselves a law and a history, living permanently, according to that figure of the roots that accompanies the image of the terroir. The intercontinental migratory flows are opposed to the rooted stability of the peoples, just as the flows of liquid-financial capital mark an antithesis with respect to the work of the solidary community in its circumscribed spaces and in its equitable sharing of goods.

The conflict which, as has been pointed out, runs through the post-1989 battlefield, and which sees confronted, in Lafay’s words, “on the one hand, the process of globalization, driven by business and favored by lower transportation and communications costs; on the other, the permanence of nations, tied to their own territory, which seek to organize themselves within regional frameworks defined by ties of geographical or historical proximity.”

The New World Order is developing in a space as smooth as the extension of the pineapple, without borders or fixed points, without highs or lows. The triumph of flows over solid roots, of permanent navigation over stable life, of unlimited openness over territories bounded by borders, designs a reality in which all that is light floats on the surface and what has weight sinks into the abyss. In the words of Castells:

“The space of flows is a structuring practice of elites and dominant interests…. In the space of flows there is no place for resistance to domination. I oppose the space of flows to the spaces of places that are themselves fragmented, segregated and resistant to domination, and therefore to the space of flows.”

Thus understood, the class struggle presents itself, in the context of the New World Order, as a gigantomachy that sees the global flows of cosmopolitan openness (commodities, values, information, etc.) as opposed to the “solid” places of national communities, which oppose this fluidification and seek stability and rootedness to protect themselves from the elements of unhappy globalism.

In this enmity between the thalassic element of the flows of capital (of desires, commodities, marketized persons, stock values, etc.) and the telluric dimension of the “places of the self-production of vital worlds,” the only possibility of success, for the dominated pole, passes through the reconquest of the State and of politics as a power capable of limiting the insatiable voracity of the self-valorization of value.

Diego Fusaro is professor of History of Philosophy at the IASSP in Milan (Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies) where he is also scientific director. He is a scholar of the Philosophy of History, specializing in the thought of Fichte, Hegel, and Marx. His interest is oriented towards German idealism, its precursors (Spinoza) and its followers (Marx), with a particular emphasis on Italian thought (Gramsci or Gentile, among others). he is the author of many books, including Fichte and the Vocation of the IntellectualThe Place of Possibility: Toward a New Philosophy of Praxis, and Marx, again!: The Spectre Returns[This article appears courtesy of Posmodernia].

Featured: Clifftop Walk at Pourville, by Claude Monet; painted in 1882.

Blue Right and Fuchsia Left: Two Wings of the Neoliberal Eagle

According to the non-linear trajectory that connects 1968 with the new Millennium, the Left now finds its tone, no longer in the red of utopian passion, but in the fuchsia of sectoral demands on the terrain of capitalism. It finds its symbol of reference, no longer in the “hammer and sickle” of labor and its anti-capitalist redemption, but in the rainbow of the whims of individual consumption for the privileged classes, behind which hides and legitimizes the gray of capitalist reification. Inappropriately called “civil rights,” rainbow rights redefine public morality on the basis of cultural and psychological references consistent with the profit strategies of the liberal-globalist entertainment industry.

The displacement of the issue of social and labor rights to that of consumerist whims and environmental protection is one of the hegemonic strategies of turbo-capitalism and the neo-liberal left as a complement. Back in 1995, in Sinistra senza classe (The Left without Class), Leone De Castris vindicated—vox clamantis in deserto—the need to reinitiate in the Left that class struggle that has now disappeared from the radar of the programs of the new Left in all its gradations. The triumph of “civil rights” as the monothema of the left quadrant represents, however, the apotheosis of the liberal anthropological conception, which thinks of man as a competitive atom (“The only one and his property,” as Stirner said) and human freedom as the whim of the consumer in the market. Subsumed under capital, the Left becomes a privileged place of symbolic reproduction and ideological justification of capital itself; and this, in the form of the elaboration, organization, and defense of the “single thought” and the “new mental order” as superstructural complements of the authentic balance of hegemonic power. Thus, PC, once the noble acronym identifying the Communist Party of Gramsci and Togliatti, is today only the acronym of the Politically Correct code of which the post-communist “sinistrash” rainbow hodgepodge has set itself up as the custodian.

Compressed elastically between 1968 and 1989, the phase of the formal subsumption of the Right and the Left under capital is characterized by the fact that the two sides of the dichotomy have been gradually integrated into the neocapitalist system. A sort of “cultural Yalta” is taking place: on the Left, the increasingly marked adherence to the cultural liberalism paradigm of ethical progressivism coexists with some vague hints of economic regulation, while on the Right, faint vestiges of cultural and moral regulation coexist with the increasingly evident adherence to economic liberalism.

Since 1989, with the real subsumption under capital, Right and Left have been fully integrated into the turbo-capitalist paradigm. The Left is increasingly freeing itself from economic regulation, celebrating the rationale of the competitive market. And the Right is increasingly distancing itself from moral and cultural regulation, embracing neoliberal progressivism. The traditionalist Right and the communist Left are disappearing, swallowed up respectively by the ultra-capitalist neo-right and neo-left. At most, they survive as testimonial folkloric residues or, more often than not, as entertainment and ideological alibi of the neoliberal system, playing into its hands to be pointed out as living proof of the ever-latent presence of fascism and communism, or what is the same—without distinction of any kind—as the now useless traditionalist Right and the now evaporated communist Left. If the neo-liberal Left is not even a shadow of red, the surviving sectarian and folkloric groups of the “pure Left” have only a faint red shadow left. And the same could be said of the black shadow in the right quadrant.

With the real subsumption, Right and Left come to coincide—paraphrasing Sartre—in considering capitalism as “the insurmountable horizon of our time.” The Right, with a few noteworthy exceptions, very early on began to identify in the status quo of the capitalist market, the existing to be defended and promoted, often pretending at the same time—as Giddens, among others, pointed out—to fight against its effects (homologation, dissolution of traditional links and identities, etc.). Its adherence to the market gradually pushed it to “dissolve” into integral liberalism.

The three pillars of what Roger Scruton has identified as “conservative thinking”—authority, loyalty and tradition—have been neutralized by the market. The latter, substituting tradition for progress, recognizes the commodity form as the only authority and free trade as the only loyalty. From this point of view, the Thatcherite vision is emblematic of the liberal-Atlantist neo-right—it aspires to the moral regeneration of the family, the individual and the nation, but founding it on the free market, that is, on the root cause of their disintegration. And, in order not to have to admit that it is the free market which denies what they want to affirm, the Thatcherite neo-liberals must invent, by way of explanation of this degeneration of values, the propaganda of the perfidious socialists trying, in the dark, to undermine the foundations of society.

The Left, for its part, as Michéa pointed out, criticized—at least until the fall of the Berlin Wall—the capitalist balance of power and the very idea of the capitalist free market, while enthusiastically adhering to those “illusions of progress” which are among its main successes (degrading values and traditions, rejecting sovereignties and material and immaterial frontiers, achieving the integral fluidization of the world of life). Its acceptance of cultural progressivism led it to gradually reconcile itself with the market, which generated it in its image and likeness, following a process that already began in the 1990s of the “short century.”

This is the only way to explain, for example, the French socialist program of 1992, entitled, “Un nouvel horizon: projet socialiste pour la France” (“A New Horizon: Socialist Project for France”). This program textually states the following: “oui, nous pensons que l’économie de marché constitue le moyen de production et d’échange le plus efficace. Non, nous ne ne croyons plus à une rupture avec le capitalism” (“Yes, we think that the market economy constitutes the most efficient means of production and exchange. No, we no longer believe in a break with capitalism”). Back in 1985, Hollande—future President of the French Republic, of declared gauchiste orientation—published, under a pseudonym, a left-liberal manifesto entitled, La gauche bouge (The Left is On the Move); one of the main chapters is entitled, “Competition is Left-Wing!” We have, in the two cases just mentioned, the most specific feature of the post-1989 liberal-libertarian neo-left glamour.

Political-social relations and their conflictual dialectics remain permanently off the radar. And the image of the hegemonic world, in the form of a single thought that does not admit deviations, keeps repeating that we are all in the same boat, mobilized in the common enterprise of our individual entrepreneurial success. Further confirmation, among many others, can be found in Aldo Schiavone’s book, Sinistra! Un manifestoThe Left. A Manifesto (2023), in whose pages, in addition to defending the need to put aside Marx and everything that still vaguely refers to Red history (in primis, the class struggle), the author proposes an idea of the Left that makes it, in fact, indistinguishable from neoliberalism, of which it becomes the most progressive and most radical wing. This fulfills Del Noce’s prophecy of nihilism as a necessary landing place for leftist thought.

In the fin de siècle consciousness, the reconversion to the neoliberal reason of the world can be considered completed. The Left fades and becomes “decaffeinated.” From anti-capitalism it passes to “alter-capitalism,” beginning to fight, not against the fanaticism of the free market, but against those traditional bonds that still slow down its development. It becomes openly anti-communist and anti-Marxist, adhering, among other things, to the double neo-liberal vision according to which: a) criticizing capitalism leads to misery and the denial of human dignity (to which, paradoxically, capitalism itself is effectively leading); and b) the market must be left alone (laissez faire!), since today’s profits will create tomorrow’s jobs.

In short, in the formal subsumption phase, the Right criticizes the effects and cultivates the causes, while the Left celebrates the effects and fights the causes.

With real subsumption, Right and Left end up glorifying both effects and causes, sanctifying the turbo-capitalist mode of production at both the symbolic and real levels. Since they now coincide, their political opposition is essentially based on reproaching each other for the red or black past, and disputing the primacy of representing in government the interests and vision of the neoliberal oligarchic bloc. In de Benoist’s syntax, the Right of money has contributed more than the Left to destroy the values it claimed to preserve; while the Left of the suit has contributed more than the Right to prevent the advent of the redeemed society, to whose project it formally declared itself faithful. Naturally, this situation never presents itself in historical reality in a “pure” way, without cracks and contradictions. What is certain, however, is that gradually right-wing economic liberalism increasingly saturates the field of the Left as well, just as left-wing cultural liberalism increasingly colonizes the sphere of the Right—and ultimately leads them to become indistinguishable. The Left adheres to economic liberalism, since it embraced cultural liberalism; and the Right surrenders to cultural liberalism, since it has embraced economic liberalism. In an unprecedented game of mirrors, each now sees on the opposite side only a mirror image of itself.

Diego Fusaro is professor of History of Philosophy at the IASSP in Milan (Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies) where he is also scientific director. He is a scholar of the Philosophy of History, specializing in the thought of Fichte, Hegel, and Marx. His interest is oriented towards German idealism, its precursors (Spinoza) and its followers (Marx), with a particular emphasis on Italian thought (Gramsci or Gentile, among others). he is the author of many books, including Fichte and the Vocation of the IntellectualThe Place of Possibility: Toward a New Philosophy of Praxis, and Marx, again!: The Spectre Returns[This article appears courtesy of Posmodernia].

Neoliberalism, Or Governing for the Markets

The foundation of turbo-capitalism is consistent with the neo-liberal vision that Foucault condensed in the formula of government not “of the markets” but “for the markets”. In von Hayek’s language, the government and the state have properly only one task, which is not to “produce certain services or goods for the consumption of citizens, but rather to control that the mechanism regulating the production of goods and services is kept in operation.”

Right and left, subsumed under capital, now share the same neoliberal economic vision, following the banner of free market fundamentalism, consisting in the simultaneous reduction of the state and government to the status of mere servants of the market. Adherence to the dogma of free cannibalism, as the free market might best be defined, is the claim of the economic right that has become so widespread that it has been transfigured into Weltbild, the ubiquitously shared “image of the world.” Essentially it coincides with the “freedom to send each other to ruin”—according to Fichte’s definition in The Closed Commercial State—and with the suppression of any external limitation to the power of the strongest (ius sive potentia).

If Keynesianism can be understood lato sensu as the attempt to place capitalism at the service of the social ends established by politics, it can be rightly affirmed that, on the contrary, neoliberalism marks the historical epochal transition from an economic policy with a Keynesian basis to one with a Hayekian matrix: social justice and market justice will no longer coexist, for the only one that will survive is market justice, converted—in fulfillment of Thrasymachus’ theorem expressed in the Republic (338c)—into “the right of the strongest,” τὸ τοῦ κρείτττονος συμφέρον. According to Hayek’s canonical view, the concept of social justice is, from the neoliberal point of view, a mere “empty and meaningless” ens imaginationis.

As Harvey points out in his Brief History of Neoliberalism (2005), this perspective originates in the right quadrant and particularly in theorists such as von Hayek and von Mises, later finding its operational strongholds in Reagan and Thatcher. The general idea, explains Harvey, is that of a deregulation of the market, judged capable of regulating itself; a deregulation through which the economy becomes superiorem non recognoscens and the de-sovereignized State becomes a mere “policeman” who watches over the markets and defends them when necessary. The neoliberal ordo has reinvented the State with an anti-Keynesian function, as an “armed guard” of the disorderly order of competitiveness and as the ultimate guarantor of the interests of the borderless neoliberal oligarchic bloc and its hegemony.

The neoliberal State intervenes in the economy; but—this is the novelty—it is structured in such a way that it can be managed unidirectionally by the cosmopolitan elite for its own benefit, thanks to the overturning of the relationship between politics and economics; and this, in a range that extends from the bailouts with public money of banks and private companies (with the redefinition of the State as an immense insurance company, issuing policies for the benefit of the cynical wolves of Wall Street) to the police repression of protest movements led by the national-popular Servant against the globalist order (from the G8 of Genoa in 2001, to the French plazas with the yellow vests in 2019).

The disavowal of politics by the market is being completed by the gradual erosion of the basis of legitimacy of the democratic state and its social foundations, which were the result of the Keynesian compromise between the political and the economic: politics must now be subjected to a subordinate role, unable to interfere in the economy, acting exclusively as its servant and its “bodyguard.” This is what we propose to call “the neoliberal depoliticization of the economy.” In its essence, the Keynesian compromise was the delicate device constructed to redistribute wealth from top to bottom and thus guarantee an acceptable balance between democracy and capitalism. Since the end of real socialism and with the absolute subsumption of the left under capital, the gradual decomposition of the welfare state has continued in its main determinations (from pensions to compensation, from pregnancy to illness), all evidently incompatible with the “challenges” of competitiveness without borders, id est, with the requirement to produce as much as possible, at the lowest possible price.

Connected with the vertical reorganization of the balance of power made possible by the triumph of the techno-capitalist paradigm in 1989, de-democratization is based, as noted above, on de-sovereignization and, together, on supra-nationalization, that is, on the displacement of the center of power from the dimension of democratic sovereign states to post-democratic transnational entities. As Costanzo Preve emphasizes, “the ‘public’ political decision is emptied and rendered marginal through its ‘private’ transfer to the great centers of the financial oligarchies,” with the consequent transition from national parliaments to private boards of directors. By this route, which is legitimized as a liberation from the belligerence of national States and which, in reality, aims at the neutralization of democratic sovereignty (which implies citizenship and representation) and the convergent strengthening of the cosmopolitan financial oligarchy “for superfluous peoples,” the disjunction between the devices of popular representation and decisions of a macroeconomic nature is achieved. The economy becomes depoliticized as it is increasingly freed from democratic control, just as politics—or what we continue to call it—becomes “economicized,” insofar as it becomes simple followership of the economic interests of the dominant groups (“business committee of the dominant classes”, to borrow Marx’s formula). L’etat c’est moi is today the formula no longer pronounced by the king, but by the neoliberal oligarchic class as a whole.

The tax reliefs implemented by the liberal governance for the benefit of the lords of capital are also inscribed in this horizon of meaning, among others, in coherence with the undemonstrated motivation, according to which they originate generalized increases in the levels of employment and income. The stateless “hoods of finance”—as Federico Caffè called them—and the borderless capital giants are, in fact, tax evaders according to the law—the e-commerce giants, for example, pay a tax of about 3%–while the middle and working classes suffer a fiscal hyper-pressure that, in fact, represents a permanent expropriation.

From an examination of the balances of power of turbo-capitalism it is clear that “market” not only does not rhyme with “democracy,” but proceeds by emptying its content and eroding its spaces. Herein lies the true essence of the post-1989 “Second Restoration,” as Badiou called it in The Century: victorious capital takes all. And it goes on the offensive, de-sovereignizing the national states as the last bastions of resistance to the domination of the global economy, attacking the middle and working classes and deconstructing the spaces of the still perfectible noucentische democracies.

Increasingly, especially since the 1990s, neoliberal governance has debased electoral democracy in the name of expertise—and that “expertise” to which they refer is never that of the workers and the national-popular masses, but, on the contrary, coincides with the exclusive expertise of the “technicians,” as they are piously called, using an anodyne and falsely super partes term, the bankers and top managers. This was pioneered by Frank Fischer in Technocracy and the Politics of Expertise (1990). According to the order of liberal discourse, the power to decide will not be vested in the sovereign people (which is, after all, another way of saying “democracy”), but in the “committee”—or task force—of “experts,” i.e., bankers and top managers. In other words, beyond the glassy theater of appearances, it is the economy, the market and the ruling class who really decide, and in a way that is anything but democratic. And it is also for this reason that neoliberalism can also be understood as the hijacking of common experience through expertise.

As has already been recalled, even with regard to the aversion to the people as a sovereign subject (crystallized in the category of “populism”), the new left and the neoliberal oligarchic bloc create a system. And such an involution is synthesized in the following formula—since the people do not have the capacity to decide and choose, it is necessary to annul them, so that without the people—and here comes the paradox—democracy can function better. It was as a result of the conclusions drawn in The Crisis of Democracy: Report On the Governability of Democracies, the 1975 study jointly prepared by Michel Crozier, Samuel Huntington and Joji Watanuki, commissioned by the “Trilateral Commission”—that the dominant groups have been searching for new conceptual tools to govern the people by regenerating the “just distance” between above and below, threatened at that stage by the growing democratic participation and by the not yet fully anesthetized critical capacity of the subaltern classes.

The reduction of trade union power, the piloted reduction of popular participation in political life and the spread of generalized apathy, openly appeared as some of the privileged strategies for the vertical readjustment of the balance of power. The very devaluation of the people as an essential part of democratic life has been, to an ever-increasing extent after 1989, the high point of this post-democratic reorganization characteristic of neoliberalism.

Diego Fusaro is professor of History of Philosophy at the IASSP in Milan (Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies) where he is also scientific director. He is a scholar of the Philosophy of History, specializing in the thought of Fichte, Hegel, and Marx. His interest is oriented towards German idealism, its precursors (Spinoza) and its followers (Marx), with a particular emphasis on Italian thought (Gramsci or Gentile, among others). he is the author of many books, including Fichte and the Vocation of the IntellectualThe Place of Possibility: Toward a New Philosophy of Praxis, and Marx, again!: The Spectre Returns[This article appears courtesy of Posmodernia].

Featured: Capitalism, by Jack Andriano; painted in 2020.

On the Incompatibility of the Sacred and Finance

The destruction of the element that Rudolf Otto defines as the tremendum, that is, that perception of the sovereign majesty of the divine that generates in man a feeling of creatural finitude, is indispensable for the unfolding of the absolute subjectivism coessential to the will to power and its presupposition of man as an omnipotent and limitless entity. For this reason—Otto explains—the sacred is the authentic mirum, since it shows the “totally other” (Ganz-Anderes), sending back to a different and superior dimension, with respect to that of only human things. The sacred—Otto writes—coincides with the “the emotion of a creature, submerged and overwhelmed by its own nothingness in contrast to that which is supreme above all creatures.” The seductive, as well as treacherous, promise of the serpent—eritis sicut dii—allows us to fully understand how the most desacralizing power, that is, capital, pretends to become more and more similar to God, as omnipotent, unlimited, inscrutable, above everything and everyone. In this meaning, the θέωσις, the “divine becoming” thus emerges as a figure of the unlimited and of pride, quite distinct from the deitas theorized by Eckhart.

At the mercy of techno-scientific Prometheism, and an order of things in which “sudden gains/pride and immoderation have generated” (Inferno, XVI, 72-74), man ceases to recognize himself imago Dei and pretends to be himself Deus-homo homini Deus, with the syntax of the Feuerbach of The Essence of Christianity—in the fulfillment of the ancient temptation of the serpent. Herein lies the arrogant boldness of the man who wants to elevate himself “Who opposeth, and is lifted up above all that is called God, or that is worshipped, so that he sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself as if he were God” (2 Thessalonians 2:4).

Prevailing over the entire horizon, prefiguring ever new disasters of instrumental reason, is the Promethean will of human self-management of the world with no further links to transcendence and, at this point, guided only by the nihilistic logic of the will to power of the planetary technocracy. The biblical image of Noah’s Ark, which saves the living in the name of God, is contrasted with the Titanic, as an image of unbridled technology and Promethean imperialism, which causes the whole world to sink under the deceptive promise of its liberation.

In the reified spaces of techno-form civilization, there are no longer the limits of the φύσις of the Greeks or of the Christian God—in the age of the ἄπειρον, of the “unlimited” elevated to the only horizon of meaning, there survives exclusively the factual limit, id est, the limit that the uncontainable techno-scientific power finds every time in front of itself and that it punctually surpasses, in order to be able to fully deploy all its premises and its promises. The technoscientific Gestell, the “dominant system” of Technik in the sense clarified by Heidegger, does not promote a horizon of meaning, nor does it open scenarios of salvation and truth—it simply grows without limitation. And it does so by surpassing all limits and by self-empowering itself without end. It emerges, therefore, fully justifying the fear of Zeus, in Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound, when Zeus fears that man, thanks to the power of τέχνη, can become self-sufficient and autonomously obtain that which previously he could only hope to achieve through prayer and submission to divine power.

As Emanuele Severino has shown, if technique is the condition for the implementation of any end, it follows that not hindering the progress and development of technique becomes the true ultimate end, in the absence of which no other can be implemented. So, following Severino’s syntax, with the decline of truth there remains in the field only technique, i.e., the open space of the forces of becoming, whose confrontation is ultimately decided by its power and certainly not by its truth. In addition to this, the techno-capitalist system reduces the world to the limits of calculating reason, so that what cannot be calculated, measured, possessed and manipulated is, eo ipso, considered as non-existent. The logic of the plus ultra, founding of techno-capital, is determined in the ethical and religious sphere according to the aforementioned figure of the violation of all that is inviolable, which presupposes achieving the neutralization of God as a symbol of the vόμος. The libertarian instance of the Enlightenment is reversed in its opposite, as already evidenced in Adorno and Horkheimer’s Dialektik der Aufklärung. The annihilation of every taboo, of every law and of every limit, gives rise to the new taboo of life that is sufficient unto itself.

Freedom without limits; or rather—more properly—the anomic caprice and the “infinite evil” of self-referential and deregulated growth, precipitates into the slavery of the compulsion to transgression and the violation of all that is inviolable; hence into the falsely emancipatory imperative that prescribes enjoyment without impediment or delay, aiming only at individual self-interest and the unreflective rage of growth as an end in itself. In this way, calculating reason—the “arid life of the intellect” of which the young Hegel wrote—sets itself up as the judge that distinguishes what is real from what is not real, what is meaningful from what is meaningless, what is valuable from what is worthless. To allow techno-capitalism to develop without limits of any kind, be they material or immaterial—this sounds like one of the most implausible definitions that could be postulated of the regressive myth of progress, civilization’s unreflective cult of integral reification, whose members are increasingly converted, Heidegger emphasized, into mere “priests of technics” and simple apostles of capital’s march of claritate in claritatem.

To provoke the disjunction of Desire with the Law, so that the former can develop without limits and inhibitions, according to the figure of that violation of all that is inviolable on which rests the essence of the absolute chrematistic system as metaphysics of the unlimited, is one of the falsely emancipatory cornerstones of the disordered order of the civilization of the markets. It is what was already glimpsed in Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov: “But then, I ask, what will become of man, without God and without future life? Is everything then permitted, everything lawful?” Tod Gottes points to the fulfillment of nihilism as a process of devaluation of values and the twilight of the foundations. It coincides with the “transvaluation of all values,” the Umwertung aller Werte enunciated by Nietzsche.

The nihilism of the death of God seems to be concretized in four decisive determinations, which trace the contours of the epoch of the existing anomic society of the evaporated father post mortem Dei:

  • on the ontological level, if God is dead, then “everything is possible,” as marketing strategists keep repeating endlessly and as the mechanics of the technical reduction of being to an exploitable depth reveal;
  • on the strictly moral level, if God is dead, then everything is permitted and no figure of the Law survives;
  • his means, therefore, that everything is indifferent and equivalent, without a hierarchical rank or an order of values, in the triumph of a generalized relativism by which everything becomes relative in the form of commodity (the “dictatorship of relativism” thematized by Ratzinger);
  • at both the moral and ontological levels, if God is dead and everything is possible and permitted, it follows that every limit, every simulacrum of the Law and every barrier are, as such, an evil to be overthrown and a limit to be violated and surpassed.

The death of God as the dissolution of every order of values and truth (Nietzsche) and as the evaporation of the very idea of the father (Lacan) is, for this very reason, coherent with the dynamics of development of capital absolutus—in the globalized perimeters of the total and totalitarian market society everything is licit, subject to there always being more and more, and to the availability of the corresponding exchange value, elevated to a new monotheistic divinity. The desertification of transcendence and the depopulation of heaven are coessential to the dynamics of the absolutization of the mercantilized plane of immanence, whose most appropriate figurative expression seems to be identified by the desert, as Salvatore Natoli has suggested.

On the basis of what has been underlined by Heidegger and by Hölderlin, the epoch of economic nihilism corresponds to a Weltnacht in which darkness is so dominant that it makes it impossible to see the situation of misery into which those of us who find ourselves living in the epoch of the fled gods have fallen:

“The default of God means that no god any longer gathers men and things unto himself, visibly and unequivocally, and by such gathering disposes the world’s history and man’s sojourn in it. The default of God forebodes something even grimmer, however. Not only have the gods and the god fled, but the divine radiance has become extinguished in the world’s history. The time of the world’s night is the destitute time, because it becomes ever more destitute. It has already grown so destitute, it can no longer discern the default of God as a default” (Heidegger, “Wozu Dichter?” “What are Poets for?“).

The death of God announced by Nietzsche and evoked by Heidegger corresponds, in effect, to that complete nihilistic de-divinization of the world that produces the loss of meaning and finality, of unity and horizon. The ongoing de-divinization—which, with the Hegel of the Phenomenology, we could also understand as a “depopulation of heaven” (Entvölkerung des Himmel)—corresponds to the emptying of all meaning and of all ulteriority with respect to the capitalist market, which has become the exclusive horizon—capitalist mono-mundane immanentization dissolves any point of reference other than the commodity form, before which everything becomes relative. Things and men, more and more interchangeable, cease to be “gathered” in a framework of meaning. And they are projected, as isolated and unconnected fragments, into the dark infinite space of the global market, hypostatized in the sole sense of petrified universal history.

With Heidegger’s syntax, the “splendor of God” as a value of values and as a symbol of symbols has been extinguished and, with it, the very idea of a sense of the flow of universal history and of a meaning that exceeds mere exchange value. Everything wanders in the cosmic void of fragmentation and global precariousness, ready to be manipulated by the will to power of infinite growth and the déraison de la raison économique. Following Pasolini’s analysis, this is the essence of the new “Power that no longer knows what to make of Church, Homeland, Family”—and that, moreover, must neutralize them as so many obstacles to its own self-realization.

The death of God corresponds to the post-metaphysical nihilistic relativism proper to the unlimited extension of the commodity form elevated to the only horizon of meaning and to the unlimited will to power of technical endeavor. According to the teaching we draw from Weber and his considerations on the Protestantische Ethik, a fully functioning capitalism no longer needs the superstructural system—the “mantle” over its shoulders, in Weberian grammar—that was initially indispensable to it. Taking the discourse beyond Weber, it must precisely discard it, given that now the absence of that powerful support of meaning is as vital as its presence was before.

Post-metaphysical consumerist relativism prevents the recognition of the veritative figure of limits (ethical, religious, philosophical). And, with synergic movement, it empowers the infinite tastes of liberalized consumption, and detached from any perspective of value. Along with that, it draws a reified landscape of monads exercising their will of unlimited consumerist power, free to do whatever they want, as long as they do not violate the will of power of others and, ça va sans dire, as long as they have the corresponding exchange value.

The fanaticism of economics cannot withstand the axiological, veritative and transformative power of philosophy. It is founded, instead, on the power of technoscience, which serves it to produce always new commodities and new gadgets destined to increase the valorization of value. Compulsive consumerism itself, which has become the ordinary lifestyle of the inhabitant of the integrally reified cosmopolis, is nothing more than the subjective reverberation of the techno-capitalist paradigm and its fundamental structure.

The new techno-capitalist power, in Pasolini’s words “is no longer satisfied with a ‘man who consumes,’ but pretends that no other ideologies than that of consumption are conceivable.” It allows the permissiveness of “a neo-secular hedonism, blindly oblivious to any humanist value” to prevail ubiquitously and without any free zones. The new power, with respect to which nothing else is going to be anarchic, does not accept the existence of entities that are not so in the form of merchandise and exchange value: “Power,” Pasolini explains, “has decided to be permissive because only a permissive society can be a consumer society.” Man himself, reduced to the rank of consumer, ends up being himself consumed by the techno-capitalist apparatus.

Diego Fusaro is professor of History of Philosophy at the IASSP in Milan (Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies) where he is also scientific director. He is a scholar of the Philosophy of History, specializing in the thought of Fichte, Hegel, and Marx. His interest is oriented towards German idealism, its precursors (Spinoza) and its followers (Marx), with a particular emphasis on Italian thought (Gramsci or Gentile, among others). he is the author of many books, including Fichte and the Vocation of the IntellectualThe Place of Possibility: Toward a New Philosophy of Praxis, and Marx, again!: The Spectre Returns[This article appears courtesy of Posmodernia].

Featured: Untitled, by Zdzisław Beksiński; painted in 1978.

Why Didn’t China Collapse like the USSR?

The Soviet Union abruptly disappeared, while Red China survived Mao’s death—even better, it revived its former power. Why? In one case, the state dissolved; in the other, it held on. China specialist Agnès Valloire brilliantly traces the history of this transition in Pourquoi la Chine? Politique naturelle en Chine rouge (Why China? Why China? Natural Politics in Red China).

Why didn’t Maoist China collapse at the end of the 1980s, like the USSR, during the Tiananmen events? One can guess what would have happened: the country would have been sold off to Western multinationals; Taiwan and Hong Kong would have gained their independence, as well as other regions, such as Xinjiang or Tibet; chaos would have reigned as in post-Soviet Russia. None of this happened. Agnès Valloire’s book, which helps us to understand why, is indispensable in shedding light on the period leading from the end of Maoism to the current presidency of Xi Jinping.

First of all, the book takes stock of what the events of Tiananmen in 1989 were: an attempt at a “colored revolution” under American influence, whose account of the course and massacres has very often been distorted by Western propaganda (there were many deaths, but not necessarily in Tiananmen Square itself). One cannot understand contemporary China if one does not understand why the destabilization maneuver failed—and why China, despite its opening up since the late 1970s, is simply not in the process of Westernization or Americanization. The explanation lies in both the context and the people.

Deng Xiaoping and Confucius

In terms of people, the book paints a glowing portrait of Deng Xiaoping, and can even be read as a brief biography of this man who is fascinating in many ways: having participated in the Long March alongside Mao, he was quick to criticize the excesses of Maoism and its consequences for the people. Imbued with the Confucian legacy, he favored the testing the veracity of abstract ideals. Relegated to a tractor store because of his differences with Mao, he came back into power after Mao’s death, and transformed the country in depth. Eighty-five years old at the time of the Tiananmen events and removed from his most important functions, he immediately understood the role played by the United States and ordered a martial response, not out of sheer tyranny, but because he understood that it was the very existence of the state that was at stake. On this point, the book is very profound—the great difference between the fate of the USSR and that of China at the end of the 1980s lies precisely in the dissolution of the state in one case, in its maintenance in the other. Deng Xiaoping’s intelligence was to understand that had the Communist Party been abandoned after Mao, the state would have collapsed into chaos. By transforming the party from within, to advance socialism in a “Chinese way,” none of this happened.

In the background, Agnès Valloire also shows that such continuity is due to the specificities of the Chinese context. It is a truism to say that China is perhaps the state in the world which, despite numerous dynastic discontinuities, has the longest existence in history. The weight of Confucianism is also important, in that it allows us to value long term equilibrium, and proposes a hierarchical vision of the world, thought of as a series of families, from the small family (which is the foundation of society, in place of the individual) to the large family that is the people.

Although very critical, and rightly so, of Mao, the book shows that he never totally broke with some of these principles, which allowed for a renewal after his death. Xi Jinping is still building on these foundations, which ensure the continuity of the state.

Let us simply express a small reservation—on several occasions, the book intends to show that the Chinese civilizational edifice conforms to the political visions of Bonald, Maistre or Maurras. This is a bit artificial, but it does not detract from the reading of the book and all that can be learned from it.

Guillaume Travers is part of Champs communs, a reterritorialization think tank.

Defending What We Are: In Praise of Identity

The anthropological presupposition of the new spirit of capitalism is easily identifiable: man behaves rationally only when he is free of prejudices and superstitions and is, therefore, in the optimal conditions to be able to pursue his own private interest as homo oeconomicus. From this follows syllogistically the demand—always reaffirmed by the order of discourse—to abolish everything in the sphere of customs, laws, traditions and other spheres of the spirit (religion, art, philosophy) that hinders such rationality, elevated to the only possible source of meaning. It is, therefore, of vital importance, for the prevailing cosmo-mercantilism, to make tabula rasa of any figure of boundaries, whether traditional or rational, moral or religious, juridical or ethical. In all spheres, the competitive individualization of society must prevail, unrestricted, and be redirected to the “unsociably sociable” sphere of the cash nexus: the liberal philosophy ignores mutual fidelity as a motivation, resolving everything in the mercantile relationship.

As Michéa has stressed: “liberal logic leads to the destruction of any human community,” other than the one built on the basis of mercantile exchange. The private contract becomes the ultimate truth of any human relationship, lowered to the rank of the nexus between buyer and seller. In the whole horizon, the anthropological profile of Robinsonian man—the selfish and calculating individual, cynical and agent, exclusively focused on procuring his own private profit (business is business)—must prevail unquestionably. Such an individual must metabolize the ultra-mercantilist imperative of flexibility, conceiving his own life as a nomadic series of changes and ruptures of all stability in relationships, projects and commitments. Therefore, he must be stripped (and be convinced that this is progress) of all material and immaterial ties, and become a globetrotter atom available for total mobilization connected to the processes of value valorization.

From its auroral point of view, capitalism must favor the meeting of men in the market and, at the same time, discourage any other form of communitarian relation; and this, according to a trajectory that runs from Adam Smith’s brewer to the “therapeutic” capitalism of Covid-19, whose foundational principle—”social distancing”—marks the apotheosis of the neutralization of any communitarian instance different from the “unsociably sociable” and intrinsically ephemeral, of mercantile exchange.

It is evident that such an anthropology is incompatible not only with the preceding figure of the urban factory proletariat, antagonistic and bound to the alienating monotony of Fordist stability. It is equally incompatible with the old bourgeois world “à la Hegel,” with the State and the sphere of stable community ethics, or “à la Balzac,” with its characters filled with nationalist prejudices and religious values, patriarchal traditions and existential stability. As I have tried to clarify elsewhere, reflecting itself in the commodified world without residues, capital becomes speculative; being becomes, without exception, the speculum in which turbo-capital contemplates itself, no longer seeing, on its own reflecting surface, any other disturbing element, such as religions and ethics; not even the two classes, bourgeois and proletarian.

Speculative capital (or turbo-capitalism) can now ubiquitously contemplate itself alone in pure form, as a freely circulating commodity, in the triumph of the omni-merchandization [conversion of everything into a market and goods] of being, of things and animals, of nature and of the human. This also explains the fusion of the two preceding antagonistic classes into a single multitude of consumerist plebs, devoid of identity and consciousness, which I have proposed to qualify as the “precariat” (in my Historia y conciencia del precariado [History and Consciousness of the Precariat]). It is also, and not secondarily, for this reason that capital, in the time of “glebalization”(Sic) and “unhappy identity,” in order to fully realize its concept, must annihilate not only the old proletarian world, but also the preceding bourgeois order. It must, in fact, reconfigure itself in a post-bourgeois and post-proletarian form, polarizing the whole of humanity into two qualitatively related and post-identitarian groups (integrally marketized stateless consumers), quantitatively differentiated by the exchange value they possess and by the objective position occupied on the immanent plane of production (financial aristocracy on the one hand and precarious plebs on the other). The struggle against identity cannot but occupy a central place in the program of reorganization of the world of life (Lebenswelt).

To become “absolute,” that is, perfectly “complete” (absolutus), the nihilism of the commodity form must be “freed from” (solutus ab) all material and immaterial limits. On the material plane, the dialectical dynamics of capital’s self-realization coincides with its saturation of the planet (globalization), with its neutralization of national sovereign states (de-sovereignization) and with the redefinition of every link in the form of a private contract between sellers and buyers (commodification of the world of life).

In the sphere of the immaterial, the self-realization of capital—its passage from the dialectical to the speculative—occurs through the residue-free colonization of consciousness and the imaginary. Like the Kantian Ich denke, the commodity form must accompany all representations of globally alienated men. Identities, linked to culture or to nature, to the individual or to peoples, thus become the equivalent of sovereign nation-states on the level of consciousness; that is to say, in the disordered post-1989 order they stand as the last bastions, as the extreme critical spaces, with well-defined borders, capable of resisting the alienating rhythm of omni-merchandization.

The material abatement of frontiers and the ideal dissolution of identities thus appear as two different aspects of the same logic of the absolute self-development of capital, which, in order to become unlimited, must necessarily annihilate every limit, saturate every material and immaterial space and dissolve any reality that contradicts it. The de-sovereignization of consciousness proceeds at the same time as its disidentification, with the emptying of all content that is functional to the integral reoccupation of consciousness and minds by the nihil of the commodity form. The globalization of markets imposes itself insofar as it destroys the national sovereignty of States and the cultural sovereignty of national-popular and class identities, making it difficult for all their determinations to survive what has been defined as cultural identity in the age of globalization.

On the one hand, by redefining politics as a neo-cannibalistic art of protecting the markets and the strongest, the new world order refunctionalizes the States themselves in a liberal key, de-sovereignized and called upon to “govern for the market” (and for their reference class), without any residual possibility of “governing the market” in a democratic and socialist sense. On the other hand, it dissolves the identities of peoples and individuals; it produces amorphous masses of post-identity and interchangeable subjects, emptied of all content and ready to assume cadaverously whatever the order of production wants to impose on them. The coexistence of these two dimensions in the process of globalization of the material and the immaterial emerges with a clear profile, if we consider hyperglobalist and post-national entities, such as—among many others—the European Union and the UN. Even if in a different way, they yet provoke a technocratic governance, devoid of references to cultural and spiritual identities, which, at the same time, is able to place itself beyond the decisions of parliaments and national δῆμοι.

From this point of view, the European Union (EU) has favored—rather than prevented—the irruption of market globalization in the spaces of the Old Continent, still replete with social rights and political, national and constitutional limitations to the free market. The old European capitalism, strongly controlled by the State and limited by the historical conquests of the working classes, had to be redefined according to the new figure of the turbo-capital absolutus, on the model of absolute American competitiveness. And this was the essence of the EU as the axis of the post-1989 liberal revolution in the Old Continent. Consequently, as shown in my study Il nichilismo dell’Unione Europea, the EU, with its techno-bureaucratic autocracy, has positioned itself no longer as a response to the globalized society of Atlanticist matrix, but as a step that has accelerated the transition towards the latter. It has favored the shift of decision-making centers from national parliaments to very private post-national bodies, such as the European Central Bank.

That the EU, that is, the new German empire nominally governed from Brussels, is a very concrete exemplum of cosmopolitan liberalism and market globalization is accredited both by the “revolt of the liberal elites,” which thanks to the technocratic governance of the EU have been able to unleash their counter-attack against the working classes (through dis-emancipatory “reforms”), and by the identitarian post-homologation of plural cultures. The latter, which represent the essence of the Europe of the peoples, are more and more clearly annihilated by means of the European capitalist integration, managed by the gray technocrats of Brussels. They eliminate the Europe of the Greek temples and the Christian cathedrals, in order to install the new neutral and asymbolic space of the banks and the hubs of liquid-financial capital [which I examined thoroughly]. The cultural and spiritual roots of Europe are cancelled in favor of the uprooting and homologation proper to the global-capitalist paradigm.

Diego Fusaro is professor of History of Philosophy at the IASSP in Milan (Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies) where he is also scientific director. He is a scholar of the Philosophy of History, specializing in the thought of Fichte, Hegel, and Marx. His interest is oriented towards German idealism, its precursors (Spinoza) and its followers (Marx), with a particular emphasis on Italian thought (Gramsci or Gentile, among others). he is the author of many books, including Fichte and the Vocation of the IntellectualThe Place of Possibility: Toward a New Philosophy of Praxis, and Marx, again!: The Spectre Returns[This article appears courtesy of Posmodernia].

Featured: Factory workers going to work at the Mather & Platt, Manchester, in the snow, by L S Lowry; painted in 1943.

Why Turbo-Capitalism wants to de-Christianize the West

In keeping with the theoretical framework outlined in my book, Minima mercatalia. Filosofia e capitalism [Small Business. Philosophy and capitalism], absolute-totalitarian capitalism or turbo-capitalism, as it has been implemented since the sixties of the “short century,” acts by annihilating every limit that can hinder or even slow down its logic of development and reproduction. This logic consists in the colonization without residue of the real and the symbolic, according to the rhythm of omni- mercantilization [conversion of everything into market and commodity], whose only teleological orientation is the unlimited and boundless will to power, and whose foundation is the destruction of every material or immaterial limit—turbo-capitalism becomes absolutus, “perfectly complete,” as soon as it becomes “liberated from” (solutus ab) every limit that can contain it, discipline it and, perhaps also, halt its advance. The incessant demolition of frontiers and bastions of resistance to this conversion of everything into a market is what, with total intentionality, is celebrated as “progress” by the new mental order generated by the completely new world order under the banner of capital.

In contrast, “regression” [“involution”] is the term with which the order of the dominant discourse delegitimizes every figure of the limit or, more simply, of non-alignment, with respect to the enveloping global movement that transforms everything into merchandise, reifying the world and life. And this, in post-1,989, is valid both for “material” and political elements stricto sensu, such as the national sovereign State (which I dealt with in Glebalizzazione. La lotta di classe al tempo del populismo [Glebalization: The Class Struggle in the Time of Populism]—“glebalization,” the serial production of new exploited, underpaid and precarious servants)—the last bastion of popular sovereignty and of the autonomy of the political; and for the properly spiritual dimension linked to cultural identities (at the center of my Difendere chi siamo. Le ragioni dell´identità italiana [Defend Who We Are. The Reasons for Italian Identity], to critical thought (which I studied in Pensare altrimenti [Think Otherwise]) and, especially, to the religion of transcendence.

That unlimitedly self-empowered will to power, in order to be able to realize itself, must colonize the entire planet, following the dynamics of what we usually call “globalization” (a pious name for the new figure of all-inclusive imperialism), and must, “uno motu,” take hold of each and every conscience, provoking the destruction of any cultural and spiritual sovereignty, specifically the dis-identification (the annihilation of all identity) and the de-divinization of the world (the neutralization of all sense of the sacred and of transcendence).

In this perspective, Christianity is in every way incompatible with the new spirit of capitalism since, apart from guarding the sense of the sacred and of transcendence, it lives historically in concrete institutions which, like the Church of Rome, have their own autonomy and, if you will, their own political as well as spiritual sovereignty. So that the so fashionable slogan “war of religion,” with which the postmodern discourse tends to liquidate tout court all religion of transcendence, insofar as it can be assimilated to the fanaticism of potentially terrorist revolts, can perhaps be replaced by the opposite locution “war against religion,” a formula with which, by means of a gestalt reorientation of thought, we refer: A) to the already evident incompatibility between religion of transcendence and atheistic religion of the market, between Christianity and capitalism; and B) to the no less adamantine “war”—now open, now underhanded—that the civilization of markets has declared on the religion of transcendence “ut sic.”

The “retreat of Christianity” is also explained, in part, in connection with the struggle against religion led by the materialistic and spiritless inspiration characteristic of the technocratic order. In the context of this “war against religion,” which is deliberately concealed under the rhetoric of the “war of religion” from the sphere of the globalized free trade zone, Christianity is granted only one possibility: to adapt to relativistic nihilism by pretending to remain itself and thus to lead the faithful and the West itself into the abyss of the nothingness of the civilization of the markets. In other words, and in accordance with what has been pointed out, turbo-capitalist globalization asks Christianity either to allow itself to be “killed” by the nihilism of techno-capitalist civilization, or to “commit suicide” by voluntarily diluting itself in this nothingness; that is, to redefine itself as a mere appendix of the civilization of the markets, assimilating and spreading the same relativistic and nihilistic vision of the world, stripped of any link with transcendence and the sacred, to ultimately end up being transformed into a megaphone of the same political, social and economic conception based on the dogmas of the sans frontières market, the free circulation of merchandise and commodified people, the neoliberal and American-centric one world, and the whims of consumption with rainbow tones for the ruling classes, improperly designated with the noble title of “civil rights.”

In short, globalization asks Christianity, sic et simpliciter, to continue to exist by renouncing its being and becoming an integral part of the very project of globalization founded on the fanaticism of the free market. And when attempts are made to escape this destiny, recovering the spirit of transcendence and the sacred, of tradition and the divine, as occurred during the brief but heroic pontificate of Ratzinger, the clash between Christianity and capitalism becomes irreconcilable. There is shown, in all its crudeness, the real enmity that pits the religion of the sacred against the nihil of the “horrendous order”—as Pasolini called it—of the civilization of capital; an enmity that, in this case, has been resolved in favor of the latter, through the restoration—with the appointment of “Pope” Bergoglio—of a new and more stable compromise of Christianity’s submission to the neoliberal oligarchic bloc. Pope Ratzinger was the extreme and epic attempt of Christianity to reverse its own tendency of evaporation and self-dissolution, resisting nihilistic relativism, thanks to a recovery of the heart of Christian doctrine and tradition, and vindicating in the full sense the reasons of the sacred, the eternal, the transcendent and the Corpus Christianorum.

In the preceding figure of “dialectical capitalism,” just as we have codified it in Minima mercatalia, religion was presented as an essentially dialectical element: it could justify both revolt in the name of the kingdom of heaven and subordination to the constituted power as an image of divine justice, depending on whether the “hot current” or the “cold current” of Christianity prevailed, to use Ernst Bloch’s syntax in Atheism in Christianity. At the time, religion could be used as an instrument of government and it was possible to find a bilateral agreement with it, as for example happened in Italy with the Lateran Pacts (1,929).

Absolute-totalitarian capitalism, for its part, not only no longer needs the religious phenomenon to prop up its own power, but it must get rid of it, recognizing it as an impediment—potential or real, depending on the context—to its own logic of development and reproduction. From a different plane, the Christian religion refers to a higher order that, however, should not necessarily always be understood as a structure of domination and power. Undoubtedly, in the past Christianity has represented an obstacle, because power also needed a religious justification. The power of truly totalitarian neo-capitalism and potentially superior to everything that has preceded it, no longer needs a “celestial” justification: it is strong enough to be self-sufficient. Furthermore, it fears that any possible reference to the higher order of the transcendent may turn out to be intrinsically contradictory, if only because of its appeal to a different and higher dimension than that of the totally colonized real in the form of a market.

Diego Fusaro is professor of History of Philosophy at the IASSP in Milan (Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies) where he is also scientific director. He is a scholar of the Philosophy of History, specializing in the thought of Fichte, Hegel, and Marx. His interest is oriented towards German idealism, its precursors (Spinoza) and its followers (Marx), with a particular emphasis on Italian thought (Gramsci or Gentile, among others). he is the author of many books, including Fichte and the Vocation of the Intellectual, The Place of Possibility: Toward a New Philosophy of Praxis, and Marx, again!: The Spectre Returns. [This article appears courtesy of Posmodernia].

Featured: “Christ Expelling the Money-Changers from the Temple,” by Nicolas Colombel; painted in 1630.

The Dialectic Of Imbecility And The Western Elites’ Will To Power – Part 3

Part 1, Part 2, Part 4, Part 5

A Clientelist Elite, And An Idiotic Idea

On the 30th of April 2018 the New York Times published an opinion piece, “Happy Birthday, Karl Marx. You Were Right!” by Jason Barker. It was a typical, facile, brief account of the virtue of Karl Marx by an academic – a Professor of English (who and what else?) – who had found employment teaching philosophy in South Korea.

To anyone who might have thought that Karl Marx was the guy who (in his words) “proved” that “the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat,” and “that this dictatorship itself only constitutes the transition to the abolition of all classes and to a classless society ,” and thus triggered the crazy schemes and programs of Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot, etc., who had to kill a lot of people to make sure that they would not even think about trying to protect their property from the party representing the dictatorship of the proletariat – Barker, true to (con)form(ity), informed the urbane, sensitive, well educated, sophisticated and terribly exploited readers of the New York Times that Marxism had never really been tried.

Barker, like so many academics before him, was true to a dictum (which I know I have used before in this magazine) of another, extremely talented, Marx (Chico) that when one heard the words of Marx, one should believe him, not what one sees with one’s own eyes.

In Karl’s case, anyone who used his eyes could see that while he insisted that it was not consciousness but social being that determines consciousness and that the social “being” of the proletariat was the key to its universal emancipatory historical role of destroying class society, everything Marx said about the proletariat came out of his consciousness; or, more precisely, his imagination, consisting of his reading and philosophy, his rationalizations and selective observations – but nothing from his being as a proletarian. For Marx belonged as much to that class as any other person who has known some workers; or, as in his case, was good friends with (and received money from) someone (viz., his friend Engels who was also coauthor of The Communist Manifesto) who employed them in his factory. Perhaps Marx was so blind to himself that he never noticed the deception he was engaging in.

Likewise, perhaps Barker’s blindness to reality stems from simply not knowing that he is ignorant about the historical connections between Marx, Lenin and Stalin, and why the goal of the program – the elimination of private ownership of “the means of production” – required the kind of theoretical adaptation that not only Marxists but Marx himself made when, in spite of the central argument of his unfinished magnum opus, Capital, that the conditions of socialism had to be generated from the internal contradictions flowing from the development of capitalism reaching its breaking point, he told his Russian “fans” that they could have communism without having to go through the journey of capitalism as Western Europe had done.

Whether ignorant or not, one must be blind, if one does not realize that when the Bolsheviks tried to create the kind of society Marx dreamt of, they got chaos and resistance. Like Marx, there was no serious precedent anywhere ever of what they wanted; although, like Marx, they romanticized the artisan-led Paris commune (itself a product of very specific French political and Parisian conditions in the tumult and aftermath of the Franco-Prussian war), as if it were somehow a prototype of what they were pursuing.

For Marx and the Bolsheviks, socialism was to be a society in which there would be large-scale, spontaneous cooperative harnessing of labour power to produce whatever the society needed. And because there would be no classes and no bourgeoisie to dictate patterns of consumption based upon profits, there was supposed to be unanimous agreement upon social needs. Given that people did not all think it was such a swell idea to have their property taken away from them, or be told what work they had to do and for how long, the mass cooperation that was supposed to emerge out of the unalienated classless condition had to be induced another way.

Historically two common inducements outside of the family, or tribe (which has its own compulsions) have occurred – force (conquest, enslavement, etc.), or renumeration/exchange (you do this for me, and I do that/give this for /to you). The Bolsheviks resorted to option A, thereby leaping back beyond Russian feudalism and creating large scale modern, ideologically induced and legitimated, labour camps for mass slavery (thereby also showing the National Socialists how to go about it), and the creation of a secret police (again, showing the National Socialists how to scout out and deal with traitors to the regime).

That this would occur could only be a surprise to someone who prefers historical fantasy about human social formation over actual development, which proceeds according to certain structural, functional conditions of scale and coordination of resource accumulation and production (the very topic Marxism was supposed to be particularly astute to). That the Bolsheviks were still confronted with chaos – made even worse by a civil war, as, naturally enough, various groups who were in less controllable regions fought against becoming dispossessed and enslaved to fulfil the fantasies of the intelligentsia and their willing followers – led them to resort back, in part at least, to option B.

But Lenin knew that if this was a long-term option, then one could forget the endgame. Stalin remembered that – thus he realized that the only way to salvage the program after Lenin’s death was to get it back on track, and destroy the peasantry and their market base, as well as any opposition to the slaughter that this would entail. (By the way, when Bukharin was pressing for the New Economic Policy, allowing the peasantry to have their own markets NEP, Trotsky was vigorously opposed to it, while Stalin was non-committal – so much for the myth of the tolerant Trotsky).

But given the geopolitical rivalry Stalin was confronted with (for Lenin had taken advantage of a war that had effectually help destroy the old regime), Stalin had to be prepared for the inevitability of another war. That required having a society that was industrially and technologically developed, administratively capable, centrally coordinated and politically committed. No wonder Trotsky’s “wind-baggery” about the dangers of bureaucracy in the face of internal oppositionists and arising external deadly adversaries looked like outright defeatism and treachery (Stalin realized that the geopolitical aspirations of Nazi Germany were not to be confused with the rather lack-luster involvement by a gaggle of foreign powers on the fringes of Russia in the immediate aftermath of the Great War).

The old revolutionary guard had been good at gasbagging about how great their new world would be, distributing propaganda and defying the old regime, inciting mutiny, and then ruthlessly destroying anyone who did not join them. Stalin certainly took all this on board – but (Stalin and those he trusted or needed aside) they were generally useless for actually building a new large-scale centralized state-run economy. Yes, indeed, this was ostensibly a new option – option C. Given it was option B – the market – that Marxism had identified as the root of alienation, and given that the fantasy of simply letting people take and do what they want could not exist, and that this left force (option A) in the form of the state (whose bulwarks were its secret police, originally Lenin’s creation, the Cheka, and the Red Army) as the means for organizing large scale production – option C was really just option A.

And that came back to the basic option that Marxists from Karl on had ever skirted around – production via sheer force of arms and the instruments of authority the state could marshal against those who defied it, or markets? Up until the time communists actually had some power, they preferred verbal dream to tough as boots reality; and hence promised to eliminate both – this was seen as nonsense even by the anarchist lunatic Bakunin, who accused Marxism of being nothing but red bureaucracy and statism. Bakunin was, of course, another of those nineteenth century fabulists who thought that because the bulwarks of civilization (private property, the family, the state, religion, money, law, etc.) created their own (to be sure) serious problems, they could simply be overthrown without human beings being thrown back again into the problems and kinds of crises that these institutions had arisen to overcome.

Stalinist statism was, in other words, the inevitable accompaniment of the attempt to instantiate a rationalist program upon the world, which is a contingent, not a rational creation. And while an ideology is just a chain of ideas, some of which derive from reality; others, like communism itself – “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,” as Marx famously and ridiculously formulated it – are just words. But once a group of people who share a set of ideas seek to make others do what they want, then they need the state with the modalities of force that it can activate for all those who refuse to obey.

As an ideology Marxism, like anarchism, simply avoided the issue of disputation and disagreement by identifying anyone who did not get on board with the program as class enemies, and thus an enemy of the human race, which was why once the Bolsheviks seized power they upped the dictum of the red queen in Alice in Wonderland, calling “bourgeois” or “agents of the bourgeoisie” anyone they needed to lock up or liquidate because such would not do what they were told. And, perhaps Barker has no memory of this, but back in the day communists generally, and communist intellectuals, including people as smart as Brecht, Benjamin, Tzara, Picasso, Eluard, Aragon – all loved Stalin.

And when Stalin was cleaning out the stable – including the upper ranks of the military (which, contrary to the standard critique of it being potentially perilous to the regime, turned out to be a brilliant move with historical precedent based upon the insight that old generals will generally be a burden because they will want to fight the new war in the old way) – so that a new, more technically proficient, class could build up the economy after all the ruin of the 1920s.

The New York Times also had their man, Walter Duranty, on the ground. He wrote fables for New Yorkers living far away from the slave camps, about what a bunch of treacherous scum Stalin had to deal with. And to be fair to Stalin, the only difference between him and Trotsky, or Zinoviev or Kamenev, and even (sad to say, the golden-haired boy) Bukharin, the other saboteurs was that he was more astute in the battles he picked, and the allies he chose in fighting them. And whereas Trotsky, his one real possible rival to take charge of gulags and mass death to implement the program, was cold and aloof, Stalin could really turn on that big, earthy, goofy smile and ingratiating rustic charm.

As for the great mass of those caught up in the purge, New York Times readers, even had they known, generally could not care less about these unknown people, in a place that was only knowable through the scribble and portal of people like Duranty’s imagination. As with Barker and the readers of 2018, reality should not interfere with a pipe-dream. People usually only change after a great deal of personal suffering, as opposed to suffering that one reads about in newspapers and which befalls others. That is unfortunate, though no less so than the fact that people with idiotic ideas make small and large fortunes out of their imbecilic ideas which, in the long run, only contribute to larger scale human suffering than God or nature, left to their own devices, may have devised.

While I think it highly unlikely that the Sulzberger family today, who have run the Times for generations, and the editors they appoint really want to see their property seized and socialized by the industrial proletariat, they are more than happy to employ an editor who back in the day saw it fitting to inform their readers what a swell guy Uncle Joe was, and now more recently that communism might be worth another go. Maybe that is blindness too. And perhaps it was also simply blindness that led President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, who, around much the same time as Barker’s “thought piece,” was also urging anyone who thought him worth listening to that Karl Marx should be celebrated and not be blamed for the crimes of his followers. Perhaps he too was blind to the fact that his power and privilege have about as much to do with the proletariat as my watching Michael Jordan turned me into one of the greatest athletes on the planet.

The idea of communism, from the founder to his followers, and others, who are happy to pitch it as a seriously good idea, seems to create a lot of blindness. It certainly creates idiocy. And let us not beat around any scholarly bushes of etiquette: the idea we are talking about is completely idiotic. Communism, as Marx exclaimed in his notebooks of 1844, solved the riddle of history because it enabled the overcoming of alienation. The logic is pure scholasticism (without any residual virtues that such devotion to logic for understanding God and the soul might have had).

And it goes like this: private property has alienated us therefore we must eliminate it. Or to flesh it out a bit more, our alienation comes from being estranged from our species’ essence, which is labouring. Poverty exists because our essence, our capacity to labour, has been expropriated from us by people who buy and sell us and our essence for their own gain.

Were we to take back our essence, by eliminating private property, and labour, because we saw that by producing something for someone else we have gratified our “authentic…human communal, nature” (the logic is spelled out in Notes he took on James Mill’s Elements of Political Economy), we would also eliminate classes, and thus create the most productive economic system that ever existed. To which one can only respond – wow, how come no other societies ever conformed to the human essence? Maybe, just maybe, what Marx thought was the essence was just an existential attribute or feature that is, in part, a response to necessity. But if it were the essence, it sure waited a long time to be discovered.

The worst thing about Marx’s reasoning and conclusion is not its platitudinous quality – more or less articulated by Montaigne in his essays, “Of Cannibals” (a critique of Europe’s own burdens, mixed up with a romantic paean to primitive life, which, to its credit, was not burdened by bad economics), roundly and brilliantly ridiculed by Shakespeare, when he put parts of it in the mouth of the well-meaning, but imbecilic Gonzalo, and repeated by the cultural (Marxist?) icon of the 1960s and 1970s John Lennon – “imagine no possessions/ I wonder if you can.” Yes, I can, John, and if you had read a bit more between writing some good songs (and let’s face it some real stinkers – can anyone listen to ‘Woman’ without a bucket?), taking drugs and schmoozing up to Yoko, you would know that it ain’t a pretty sight.

If the above logic does not sound idiotic to you, you have not realized that classes are just the name we give to the various groups that are created by the division of labour. In other words, the only way to eliminate classes is to eliminate the division of labour, which is why in his heady twenty-four or -five year old enthusiastic, drunken stupor, Marx came right out with it and proclaimed that the abolition of the division of labour was the means for freeing people from alienation. Good luck to anyone who seriously thinks they can have even modest economic development without the division of labour.

Even the formulation of the problem – the problem of alienation – reveals itself to be the kind of philosophical bothering undertaken by someone who has swallowed and regurgitated too many inebriates and abstractions; as if alienation is even the appropriate term to cover the original lack of resources, territory, a reliable food supply, the desire for women (a major source of conflict among Australian Aboriginal tribes, according to the escaped convict William Buckley who lived with the Aborigines for thirty years), and the kinds of artifacts and possibilities that urban dwelling and its accompanying division of labour historically enabled.

Such a way of thinking – which has now become commonplace among our intelligentsia – involves the belief that scarcity is not a natural existential starting point and problem to be constantly dealt with, but a deviation from our nature and essence. This is the “magic bin” theory of economics – there is a magic bin full of all the goodies we want that we all have a right to access (though Marx did at least think rights’ talk, like justice, was bourgeois nonsense).

Rights claims have become increasingly predicated upon the magic bin theory of economics, as is all too evident in the UN Declaration of Human Rights which identifies all manner of rights that have first to be produced before one can actually have any of them. Marx’s claim that the elimination of the division of labour solved the problems of scarcity and alienation is akin to using beheading as a cure for migraine.

To be fair to Marx, in a footnote tucked away in his posthumously published third volume of Capital, he seems to have substituted the crazy idea of marrying large scale production without the division of labour to the reduction of the working day. That is a remarkable comedown – a little like me confessing that in spite of all my watching of Michael Jordan, I am not the world’s great athlete, but I did like to nurse a basketball in my lap when watching him on the tellie.

As for needing communism to bring about the reduction of the working day – labour hours in communist countries generally lagged behind the West because their economies were not particularly productive, and the flow on of benefits within the workplace could not match the combined benefits of unions, market efficiencies, and state regulations (more often than not the economic benefits were due to the institutional amelioration of potentially disruptive industrial conflict).

And while the Western democracies delivered what could reasonably be argued were relatively limited social/community goods and services (though there are considerable differences between what Western democracies are prepared to offer and pay with public monies), they managed to improve living standards on a far greater scale than in communist countries. And they did it without the extermination of the peasantry and petit bourgeois.

Moreover, in spite of Marx’s reputation and his disastrous impact – from mass murder to spreading ideological idiocy amongst his own class (the intelligentsia) – Marx cannot take any serious credit for the gains to the working class that sprang from their political organization and economic bargaining in the form of labour parties and trade unions.

In England and America, Marxism was never a serious factor within the development of working-class political organization and representation; and in Germany, where Marxism had had most success within the labour movement of Western Europe, Eduard Bernstein, who had been a Marxist and had been close to Engels, dropped the Marxist program, having realized how superior to communism were the social, economic and political gains to be had by focusing upon trade union and parliamentary representation pushing for public education, better welfare conditions, and nationalizing certain industries.

Intellectuals were generally far more attracted to Marxism than to the working-class based political parties – which were, let’s face it, dealing with the dull humdrum, day-to-day of real politics that might help a couple pay the rent, or buy a home, get their kids into a decent school, and be able to pay doctors’ bills, rather than ending history and all exploitation.

Intellectuals generally shared Lenin’s view that trade union consciousness blunted the revolutionary aspirations and potential of the working class – in the USA, Marcuse’ theory of repressive tolerance was a big hit with college kids who had got really bored with all those unhip, square workers, who didn’t have the education to know that “Yeah, man -it’s the system.”

That they preferred the idiotic idea over the day-to-day grind of working-class political organization is all too explicable, if we take cognizance of the kind of economic factors that Marx (falsely) purported to have incorporated into his theory – that is, Marxism was indeed the reflection of the social being of those who espoused it. But it was never a theory that came out of the working class – rather, a theory that was foisted onto the working class. From its inception and in its development, it was a product of the intelligentsia, whose view of social and political progress was predicated upon them supplying the ideas and teaching the rest of society how to conform to their ideas. It was, in other words, a clientelist ideology.

Hence too as communism looked a dead duck in the Western world, outside of communist countries whose intellectuals could no longer bear the idiocy, lies, toadyism, and poverty that Marxism had spawned, Marxism’s home was exclusive to the breeding ground of the intelligentsia, the university. Other potent concoctions of the human mind – all with much the same amount of analytical rigor as had satisfied Marx – were being brewed by people around the same age as Marx was when he knew everything. They knew even more because they had the benefit of having learnt where critique (what they did to others) had to be refined. They were all devoted to making themselves, as students, or professors and intellectuals, the leaders of the great emancipation, the overthrow of domination. They were also one and all concoctions which found a plethora of client groups – if you were a woman, you could take on women; if you were gay, the gays; if you were black, the blacks; if from a former colony, people from the colonies.

By then, the colonies had pretty well all been given back; so now it was a question of post-colonialism; and the thing was to score a career at an elite university by representing the products of colonialism, racism, etc. Of course, in spite of identity guaranteeing representative status – “I am woman, therefore I speak for all women,” etc., those who couldn’t actually claim the identity status of those needing them as their representatives would not always be too bothered by that – especially where race was concerned. One just needed to make a career out of the fact that all (other) whites were racist, or colonialists.

The program was a farrago of idiotic ideas, which took about two minutes to learn. They could be applied anywhere and everywhere; so learning it didn’t require one to study too much history – certainly nothing that revealed the complex details that would illustrate that learning history via a moral principle, such as moral and political progress, is to blind one to history.

While the program lent itself to huge salaries for administrators and human resource types, who could hand out crayons and butcher’s paper to better indoctrinate their captive employees (now including the US military) in whatever piece of ideological imbecility they were pushing at the moment, the theory types in the university could dress up the farrago in the kind of bloviated diction that did at least involve some dictionary learning. Bug-eyed students, who had the initial lobotomy performed in schools and were now just a gangling mass of fretful nerve-ends, were enthralled by the dizzying ideas of their loquacious professors.

Once upon a time people used to go to college to read books, engage in student activities and enjoy a sequestered space of reflection – now students needed trigger warnings and safe spaces to protect them from the horrors that might befall them – they might hear a word, or witness a tragic scene in a play, or learn that an orange version of Hitler had been voted in by all these terrible people. They were the most inexperienced and brainless bottom end of the assembly line of the dialectic, easy to yoke into service, to scream and screech at whoever and whatever they had been told was responsible for making their world a hateful place of oppression.

What had come to constitute oppression, not only according to lobotomized students on grievance autopilot, demanding the sacking of any teacher they heard saying something that made them feel unsafe, varied from someone who was not Mexican wearing a sombrero, to someone who did not think their tomboy daughter should have their sex organs tampered with, to someone who ate meat, to someone who was white, to someone who was black but not woke, to someone who mined or transported or invested in fossil fuel, to someone who expresses doubt about yet to be proven predictions of rising sea-level, to someone who thinks the tactics of dealing with COVID have not been that wise, to someone who still used old-fashioned designations of roles and gender like Mum and Dad – the great persecution is a movable feast alright.

The zombie carnival is the outgrowth of the most grimly earnest self-belief and utterly unshakeable conviction in their own intellectual talent with one absolute (though rarely stated) certainty at the end of it – job prospects, because all institutions now have to be radically overhauled by this particular group representing all the clients of their world (what lay beyond their world did not really exist; thus, the non-problem for feminists of Muslim patriarchy and honour killings).

More, in an age where genuine religion was increasingly some exotic Other which, no matter how cruel its practices to women, deserved respect, provided it was not something Westerners practiced or even knew anything serious about, the platitudes of social justice gave the “hollow” non-binaries, with their own pronouns (to use what might now be an acceptable rewriting of T.S. Eliot’s prescient poem) something to hold on to. You have to hand it to those who live off this dialectic; although the end game is idiotic, the tactic is pretty brilliant – especially in how it taps into one of the most disgusting qualities in human beings, sanctimoniousness.

And the existence of a compliant sector of the population had already been facilitated by all those mindless sit-coms, gameshows, and infantile diversions that the developed world had channeled into living rooms. It was all taking over, while much of the population barely noticed that the free world had become mentally captive to an elite, who believing in idiotic ideas themselves, now required for their own elevated status and careers, making everybody else accept them as true. The proof of its success has been recently put by Victor Davis Hanson in his typically perspicuous essay, “This isn’t Your Father’s Left-Wing Revolution.” Today’s revolutionaries aren’t fighting “the Man” – they are “the Man”:

“Name one mainline institution the woke Left does not now control – and warp. The media? The campuses? Silicon Valley? Professional sports? The corporate bedroom? Foundations? The K-12 educational establishment? The military hierarchy? The administrative state? The FBI top echelon?’

As for the proles, even Marxists tended to ditch them as too ideologically stupefied to help them in their revolution, though it had become apparent to the tertiary educated that the political parties that had been created by the working-classes, as well as the trade unions, offered good employment prospects. Hence, they also took over the various labour parties of the Western world, as they “professionalized” the unions by fast-tracking university graduates into union leadership positions. They had gone to college after all, so they were smart enough to know many of the workers would sentimentally stick with the party of their past while blindly accepting their leadership. It worked for a while, until a majority of the workers realized they were being treated as idiots; and then they started abandoning their patrons and the party they and their parents had generally supported.

If they were white, they were renounced as white supremacists for wanting to preserve any of the values that they identified with, rather than fit into the new client boxes that had been constructed for them to fit into. The problem with the working class, unlike the Woke (again, like political correctness, originally a term the elite used to distinguish its own intellectual superiority, but now used pejoratively by its critics), and indeed the problem with anyone who would not get in step with the Woke, is that they weren’t imbeciles.

The alliance noted above between the inventor of a narrative that purports to solve all the world’s problems, a globalist educator, a media mogul and editor, and a leading (non-elected) “representative” of a political body that is non-democratic (democratic deficit is how EU scholars politely put it) in all that matters is a symptom of the fact that today the Western world’s largest corporations, its wealthiest, its most prestigious elite learning, education institutions and its most prestigious educators, along with its leading political parties and politicians, as well as its most highly paid public servants, military and intelligence operatives, along with its wealthiest celebrities and even sports stars – all agree on how the world should be fixed, and who should do the fixing (them). It can be fixed by a curriculum of imbecility which will create an educational elite who will ensure that all acceptable social ideals are imbecilic, so that our social and political institutions may socially reproduce imbeciles to instantiate the program of imbecility. Brilliant!

Part 1, Part 2, Part 4, Part 5

Wayne Cristaudo is a philosopher, author, and educator, who has published over a dozen books.

The featured image shows, “Sisyphus,” by Odd Nerdrum; painted in 1990.

High Taxes And Unemployment

According to a recent study authorized by the National Association of Manufacturers, President Biden’s proposed tax hikes will indeed cause unemployment. In the view of NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons, it is possible to quantify the damage to the economy: “one million lost jobs in the first two years.” The research was undertaken by Rice University economists John W. Diamond and George R. Zodrow.

To be sure, there is some superficial plausibility to this contention of the employers’ association and these economists. If the government takes additional funds out of the private sector, the latter will indeed have less money with which to employ people.

But what will the government do with its additional revenues? Why, it will create other employment opportunities. It might do so by subsidizing industries that will help reduce carbon emissions, such as those that provide energy via wind, water, solar, etc. It will almost certainly hire people to upgrade roads and bridges, and build new ones. The health field can certainly use a few more, ok, a lot more, doctors and nurses; hence, financial support for medical education.

But suppose that Mr. Biden stuffs all this additional tax money into his mattress; e.g., does absolutely nothing with it. Will that not create horrendous unemployment? Not a bit of it. Prices will then be lower than otherwise would have been the case (thanks to the real balance effect), and everyone’s money holdings will be that much more valuable. Since jobs come from revenues, this will also reduce joblessness. Alternatively, and just as unlikely, posit that the Biden administration uses the extra funds garnered by this tax increase to purchase goods and services from abroad. Will that promote domestic unemployment? No, again. For those abroad will use these payments to purchase our products, again increasing job slots.

Lookit, if high taxes cause unemployment, then states like New York, New Jersey, Illinois, California, Massachusetts should have vastly higher unemployment rates than low tax states such as Arkansas, Louisiana Mississippi. But this simply does not occur. Similarly, unemployment rates ought to be positively correlated with high taxes across nations, and that does not prevail either.

Does this mean that Biden’s tax policy is good for the economy? That is highly disputable, and entirely a different matter. All we can say for sure, on the basis of elementary economics, is that this will mean a transfer, or redeployment, but not unemployment. People will be shifted from some jobs, companies and industries to others, based on this plan, but there need be no overall increase in unemployment, after these shifts occur. Yes, there might well be a temporary increase in joblessness while this reallocation occurs, but that would be true of any shift in policy. Should Mr. Biden be required to maintain each and every policy of his predecessor? Not on the basis of increasing unemployment, unless he does so.

It is perfectly understandable for Republicans, the National Association of Manufacturers and other such groups to throw everything possible at this present administration’s tax policy and hope that something sticks. But let us not toss basic economics out the window. Higher taxes, to be sure, have some drawbacks; but unemployment is not one of them.

Walter Block is the Harold E. Wirth Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair and Professor of Economics at Loyola University, New Orleans.

The featured images shows, “Highway 99,” by Ronald Debs Ginther; painted March, 1933.

Whatever Happened To American Industry?

Private equity has made me rich beyond the dreams of avarice. Yet private equity can be, as this book shows, a tool of the devil, a corrosive and destructive force in American life. Still, I do not think the story is as simple as Brian Alexander, the author of Glass House, would have it. The town in which he grew up, and which he profiles here—Lancaster, Ohio—has fallen far from its glory days, as have hundreds of similar towns across America. But the responsibility for that lies not just with the shady private equity companies that looted its largest employer, glass manufacturer Anchor Hocking, or with other elements of our rotten ruling class. It also lies with all of us, who bear more than some responsibility for the degradation of our towns, and of ourselves.

Although there are variations, in general “private equity” refers to a certain type of investment firm. Those who manage the firm collect money from investors seeking high returns, and use that money, along with copious additional borrowed money, to buy private companies. They then seek to resell those companies at a higher value within a few years, thereby returning money to investors, and more to themselves, while extracting money along the way. If done competently, those who manage private equity firms can become extremely rich, and they never become poor, since they are not risking their own money. The risks are instead borne by the passive investors, the banks who lend money, and by the companies they buy. Think of those, in most cases, as a goose force-fed to massively increase its liver size. Time is short, and it rarely ends well for the goose.

In my past life, I was a mergers-and-acquisitions lawyer; the nature of that business, buying and selling companies, often involves private equity firms. I also studied private equity, and related fields, a great deal in business school, which I attended after being a lawyer. For most of 2020, as I worked toward selling my business, I interacted with a number of private equity companies, who constitute the buyers of most businesses today. This sale process showed, although I already knew them, the differences among private equity firms. As with any firm, each has a personality, and while they are subject to economic incentives, much of their behavior is actually driven by personality. For example, I had signed a letter of intent (an agreement to agree) to sell my company to one private equity company last July. Their personality was a common one for private equity—slick, overconfident, far less smart than they thought, and people I wouldn’t trust to buy me a sandwich, if I were relying on them to bring me the change. Although they were the initial high bidder, it was in their nature, again as is common with private equity companies, to chisel. Failing to read my personality and thinking that I would be desperate to keep a bird in the hand, and so be willing to give up some money for their benefit, they tried to lower the price before the transaction closed. It took me thirty seconds to kill the deal, and I never spoke to them again.

But other firms have different personalities. Soon enough, a bidder that had earlier dropped out, because of the impact of the Wuhan Plague on other companies it owned, came back to the table, offering an even higher price, and quickly closed the deal. This private equity company represented not many investors seeking returns in the traditional way, but family members of one wealthy family (with politics very opposed to mine). This firm’s personality, and all its representatives, were always honest and aboveboard in every way and they were a pleasure to deal with. Moreover, they have successfully continued to run and grow my company, with what appears to be a long-term focus.

Alexander would say that despite differences in personality, private equity firms are all subject to similar incentives—to pump up the value to a third party of an entity they buy, by minimizing expenses and maximizing EBITDA (an indirect measure of cash generated by the company), and then to sell it to someone who will pay them more than they paid for it. And that is true enough. It is equally true that private equity firms extract money from owned companies prior to sale, through fees and special dividends. They often claim that this is compensation for providing guidance, a bogus claim, since except in rare instances those who work at private equity firms have no idea how to run a business (although often those who run the business also have no idea how to run a business), because financial engineering is a completely different skill set from running a business. Hubris is the defining characteristic of private equity, but nemesis never arrives, because of the political power of the financial engineering class.

One might legitimately ask, given that private equity has so many cretins in it, why did I sell to private equity? Because I wanted the money, of course. It so happened that the buyer was the bidder most aligned with all stakeholder interests, not just my interests, although the shift from a firm run by a single man to one run by a larger entity necessarily results in some change, disadvantaging some stakeholders and advantaging others. To be fair to me (something I never fail to do), I should mention that I distributed around ten million dollars to my employees, for although successful entrepreneurship almost always centers on the work of one indispensable man, he cannot do it without others, and the laborer is worthy of his hire. But I would have sold to a greaseball private equity company if that was what got me the most money, if I am being honest. The official mission statement of my company was “The purpose of this company is to put sweet cash in the pocket of Charles Haywood,” and so it turned out. That’s all there is to it. I’m avaricious, not so much for cash as the marker of success, but for what cash will let me do. Perhaps this merely proves I am part of the rot of modern America.

So, of Glass House. As with many books in the genre that combines social analysis with business analysis, the book is somewhat confusing, because it hops around in time and among people. But the basic story is relatively simple. Once upon a time, glass manufacture (not of windows, but of articles) built the modern version of the town of Lancaster, which is some distance southeast of Columbus. The city has plentiful supplies of natural gas, which made it, starting in the late nineteenth century, an ideal place for glass manufacture, an energy-intensive process. The biggest of these glass manufacturers was, and the only one left in or near Lancaster is, Anchor Hocking. Through the lens of Anchor Hocking, Alexander concisely explains glass manufacture, a heavy industrial process requiring hard and dangerous work. This Lancaster was a successful town, and in many ways the image of America in the 1950s, a decade that we are told now was awful, but which was in reality an awesome decade, and the last decade before America hurtled into the pit. Any person in Lancaster could, with a modicum of hard work, have a more than decent life. He wouldn’t be rich (nobody was truly rich in Lancaster, nor were there sharp class distinctions—Anchor Hocking executives drank at the same bars as men who worked the machines), but he would be able to raise a successful family and have a successful life, as success was once defined.

As with many companies, in the 1970s Anchor Hocking ran into trouble. Some of that was the sclerosis that affected many American companies of the era, the result of decades of little competition. In 1982, Carl Icahn bought a block of stock in Anchor Hocking and threatened that he would try to replace management, that is, directors and officers. What he wanted was “greenmail”—to have management repurchase his shares at an above-market price, a practice that is bizarrely not illegal (though a special tax is now imposed on such payments, making them less common today). He got what he wanted, starting a cycle of Anchor Hocking being led around, like a bull with a ring through its nose, by one “investment” firm after another.

The Icahn episode demonstrates a key underlying structural problem with all corporate entities—what is called the “agency problem,” the separation between ownership and control. Those who made the decisions for Anchor Hocking, the officers and directors, were not significant owners, or owners at all in many cases. That means they made decisions with other people’s money, and they could benefit themselves, here by keeping their jobs, at the expense of the owners, the stockholders. Managers say they act (as they are legally required) to benefit the stockholders, not to keep their jobs and perks. But that is at best a half-truth; rare is the manager devoid of self-interest. The agency problem is an eternal challenge for any firm, but in a firm that needs reform, it ensures that reform is unlikely to come except under extreme pressure—often in the form of being bought by private equity. Whatever may be the deficiencies of private equity, as an owner private equity firms take direct, immediate action to benefit the owner, largely removing the agency problem. This means that managers who are fat, lazy, and stupid stay in charge until private equity forces changes; this all-or-nothing approach tends to lead to undesirable outcomes for those who work for or rely on the continued stable existence of a company.

Alexander mostly ignores it, but it is entirely true that American industry in the 1970s and 1980s had fallen behind and needed reform, living large off two decades of riding high and made resistant to pressure by the ever-increasing pie allowing everyone to do well. It is no surprise this led to complacence; that reaction is simply the default for most human creations, whether firms or governments. With the right leadership, complacence can sometimes be avoided, but that leadership is extremely rare. Such sclerosis was before extreme globalization and the ideology of free trade wiped out our industrial capacity, though lean and hungry foreign competitors already were starting to enforce some discipline in the 1970s. (The classic example of this dynamic was the auto industry, whose lunch was eaten by the Japanese.) Anchor Hocking, however, wasn’t much subject to foreign competition (it’s expensive to ship glass across the ocean, although Anchor Hocking did sell overseas, and some foreign glass, especially Mexican, competes in America), and had enormous amounts of difficult-to-replicate tacit knowledge (something Matthew B. Crawford writes very well about). Thus, while it no doubt had become somewhat inefficient, it continued to operate adequately, and it spent money on necessary capital improvements while offering good wages and benefits to workers and being closely tied to the continued success of Lancaster. It’s hard to tell from this book, but there’s no real indication that Anchor Hocking in the 1980s needed to do much differently than it already was. Icahn was looking for a quick buck, not to improve the company.

Coincident with rising sclerosis among American firms, however, was the rise of libertarian economic ideas, epitomized by Milton Friedman, with his idea that the sole purpose of any firm was to make a profit for its stockholders. This was a rejection of the stakeholder view of corporate decision making, in which the corporation is run for the benefit of all those with an interest in its success, in particular the employees (though this concept is too often stretched far from real stakeholders). I used to have quite a bit of sympathy with Friedman’s idea, but it’s become clear that such an imbalanced focus is one of the drivers of American economic decay. On the other hand, it’s also true that the agency problem is real, that managers very commonly line their own pockets and protect their own jobs and perks while lying that they are doing so for all the stakeholders. And more recently, a great many managers have destroyed enormous firm value for all stakeholders by using their firms to virtue signal with leftist agitation, another example of the agency problem, and the most pernicious one yet. The question, again, is where and how to strike the balance in deciding for whose benefit a firm should be operated.

Certainly, we don’t need total laissez faire. The bizarre idea that many supposed conservatives advance, that corporations should be free to do what they want, even monopolistic ones that use their massive power to aggressively advance left-wing goals, is just that—bizarre. It ignores that corporations, which are creatures of the state, are told all the time what they can and cannot do—but only to advance left-wing goals, like forcing small businesses to bake celebration cakes for homosexual “weddings.” The sooner this idea of keeping hands off corporate entities dies, the better. When I am in charge, corporations will work to advance, or at least not hinder, the societal goals of Foundationalism, or they will be dissolved, and regardless of that, no giant corporations at all will be allowed, following Tim Wu’s neo-Brandeisianism.

As for Anchor Hocking, the next four decades of its history were one of decline combined with endless financial engineering machinations. More investments by raiders who demanded short-term returns at the expense of all other stakeholders; spinoffs that lined the pockets of a few; declining quality and declining sales; cutting investment in capital improvement in an attempt to raise cash flow; and all the usual common events in the many American industries choked by financial engineering. The long-standing ties of the company’s managers to the town frayed and then severed. An endless churn of new owners and managers became the new norm, in the corrosive manner modern corporate America endorses. The union was cowed and forced to repeatedly retrench wages and benefits, threatened with shutdowns otherwise. Public money was extracted by one owner after another; school funding was cut in order to meet the demands of voracious new owners. The left-wing critics of the “greed is good” attitude, which tried to justify dishonesty and the quick buck, were, it turns out, correct.

Notably, one short-term owner of the company was Cerberus Capital Management, of which one Stephen Feinberg, a top economic advisor to Donald Trump, is CEO. This simple fact explains a lot about how Trump’s term in office went. Feinberg is laughably described in his Wikipedia profile as a “businessman”; nothing could be further from the truth. He’s a parasitical extractor of value created by others. As Robert Nisbet said, rootless men always betray.

One result of this ruination wrought by financial engineering was that working at Anchor Hocking, which used to be the goal of most young people in the town, became a low-prestige option, where nobody ambitious wanted to work given that upward opportunities were few and the company might shut down at any time. By when this book was written, in 2016, Anchor Hocking was still around, shrunken (as it is to this day, though it seems to be a big seller of bottles for premium liquor), but sadly diminished as a pillar of Lancaster, which itself was, not coincidentally, also sadly diminished. Alexander weaves, among the business discussion, profiles of local residents, not connected to the glass industry, mostly drug addicts. There’s a little too much of this, which becomes repetitive. All you need to know is that like most towns, especially in this area of the country, drug use is ubiquitous and hugely destructive, and a very large percentage of the population cycles in and out of the criminal justice system. The details don’t really matter; what matters is that this is indicative of a blasted and destroyed society. Did that have to happen? Well, that’s the question, isn’t it?

The root symptom of Lancaster-style societal destruction is the alienation and isolation that characterizes most of America today, even in economically-thriving areas. From that follow numerous secondary harms. Alienation led to the destruction of the virtues that used to be the norm, and which were enforced by the community. Chief among those disappeared virtues were hard work and thrift; as Alexander says, now “Modesty was out; acquisitiveness was in.” As everywhere, consumerism, usually of cheap Chinese crap, substituted for community, aided by easy credit and easy bankruptcy (and more recently by our government printing money). (If you need more proof of the attitude this creates, I passed a bus stop bench the other day, printed with an advertisement, “Bankruptcy By Phone!”) As the community corroded, those on the edges fell out, creating new edges, that also fell out. As a result, it became increasingly difficult for businesses to find good workers, further fueling decline. Numerous other indicia of decay, such as illegitimacy, soared. The result is that Lancaster today is a drug-addled and poverty-stricken town, where most people who work are employed in health care, an industry pumped up by the vicious cycle of poor health leading to yet more social decay leading to more poor health, and where the only people in Lancaster with good jobs are those who work in Columbus and commute, who have no time to participate in the community.

Many locals blame government handouts for the decay, and there is no doubt much truth in that—as Chris Arnade’s Dignity reveals, government handouts are often what allow many people to wallow in degradation. If they disappeared, we’d have a lot less degradation. But even if there were no payments, and if Anchor Hocking and other employers paid the inflation-adjusted wages and benefits they paid in the 1960s, it’s not clear it would be enough for people in Lancaster to lead the lives our consumerist culture demands they live. The deeper problem is societal expectations and changed structures. The most important changed structure is sex roles—a significant degree of our national fracture of community is the direct result of the poison of Betty Friedan and her ilk, and a huge percentage of alienation and atomization comes from mothers being employed outside the home. Aggressively stigmatizing such work, and ensuring that no subsidies go to encourage it, rather the reverse, would go far toward restoring a decent American society, though you’d need to do a lot more than just that to actually reverse decay, or more accurately, forge a new society.

It’s somewhat sad that a core of older residents keeps hoping to renew Lancaster, and trying to do so, and keeps failing. It’s essentially impossible to renew a town without an economic engine and with a broken society. As Alexander notes at one point, a town that works is “governed by a set of long-held rules and customs.” In a world that celebrates emancipation and autonomic individualism, this evanesces, and cannot be recaptured. I found it particularly interesting how Alexander profiles one young man, Brian Gossett, a fourth-generation employee of Anchor Hocking. Gossett rejects “the System,” by which he means the complex of pernicious societal drivers that creates dead-end lives for young people like him. He’s employed (though he quits Anchor Hocking), and he’s not a drug user, but he drifts, atomized within an atomizing society. This is the kind of young man who in another time would have been guided by his elders, and welcomed less autonomy and more community, but now is cast adrift, offered nothing but temptations. Yet, exemplifying the spirit that much of America fails to understand, that of J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy (also set in Ohio), he and many others want to stay in Lancaster, which is their home. He just doesn’t see a path forward. He’s been betrayed by our ruling class, which runs the System. The solution, which he can’t see but he would no doubt endorse under the right circumstances, is to bring down the System.

You can’t go back. So what does that imply? Saying you can’t go back is not the same thing as insisting that all the nightmarish social consequences of financial engineering are simply natural, the result of “being part of a modern economy.” Still, the type of sclerosis that affected American industry in the 1970s and 1980s is very real and largely inevitable; although Joseph Schumpeter’s idea of creative destruction is overstated and overvalued, it has a grain of truth, in that change disciplines. The problem, I think, is that we got the wrong type of change, benefiting at the expense of most of America a thin slice of Americans (the 1% of the subtitle of Glass House), as well as various foreigners.

How to address this, and try to move ourselves to a sounder, more broadly socially beneficial, industrial economy, that still allows America to move forward to a new dawn (assuming we also solve all the other problems we have, a big assumption)? First, we should start by breaking the political power of the financial engineers—not just private equity, but hedge funds, big banks, and a vast host of other parasites who have manipulated our entire society to their benefit, on every front from taxes to regulation. Half measures won’t do; I’d not just tax the carried interest at ordinary income rates, but implement confiscatory taxation on financial engineering profits, looking backward (separately from my intent to wholly confiscate the fortune of any wealthy person who has funded destructive left-wing programs, such as Bill Gates or Steve Jobs’s widow; the assets of all left-wing foundations, such as the Ford Foundation; and all college endowments above a de minimis amount). We also need a robust antitrust regime that allows no single company, or companies under direct or indirect common ownership, to control more than five percent of any given market, whether internet search or breakfast cereal, no matter the source of that control.

By itself this won’t be enough. The American economy produces less and less of value, but this truth is largely concealed by financial chicanery. We don’t need more cheap crap from abroad to feed the destructive consumerist mill, and we don’t need the fictitious increases in GDP that result from everyone buying more cheap crap, or for that matter, expensive crap, every year. Thus, second, we should massively increase tariffs on any goods coming from low-wage countries, or from China, regardless of its wages. NAFTA and all similar agreements should be voided. It’s just dumb that we allow our manufacturing to be stripped from the country, relying on the continued goodwill of our enemies, on that globalism will be stable and wonderful forever. And cheap is rarely better, even if we have been propagandized into that belief. For example, the other day I needed to buy a drill chuck for a metal mill. The gold standard at one time was Jacobs chucks; but now, having been bought by Danaher, a conglomerate driven by financial engineering, they are made in China, and their quality has plummeted. Or, to take another example, a few days ago I tried to purchase a second Ursa garden wagon, for a long time the pinnacle of garden wagons. But I was told they don’t sell wagons anymore, just parts; Gorilla Carts copied their designs and sells Chinese knockoffs. So when China cuts us off, we won’t have any chucks or wagons at all. That, multiplied across a thousand industries, is a big problem. We can kill both consumerism and our dependency by simply increasing tariffs.

Yes, increasing tariffs would likely diminish American exports and cause short-term economic pain; that’s not necessarily desirable, but it would be desirable if the crisis, following the immortal words of Rahm Emanuel, allowed us to make other required social changes, such as eliminate the BS jobs that are most of what our professional-managerial elite does; eliminate the massive racial grift industry of diversity commissars and the like; and end the idea that it is desirable for mothers to work outside the home. A tall order, but in social change, upheaval is usually necessary first, and this upheaval would be worth it. Along with raising tariffs, we should destroy every other pernicious element of globalism, such as allowing American firms to offshore assets to reduce their tax burden, and allowing any immigration, legal or illegal, of any unskilled workers at all. And I should note that as with most of what I recommend these days, none of these are really policy recommendations in the traditional sense, because in the present dispensation they will never happen. Rather, they are parts of the new dispensation, when the present one is destroyed, root and branch.

The goal of all this, and much more, is to create a society where the working class is aligned with the ruling class, as opposed to what we have now, where the ruling class makes degraded slaves of what remains of the working class. Foundationalism will have, to be sure, a ruling class, though no member of today’s ruling class will be in it. The working class will not be in charge, because the working class is not capable of being in charge. Nonetheless, for us, today, the key is the working class, because their aid in the wars to come will be crucial. To prevent them choosing rightly, our overlords rely on sedating the working classes with consumerism, drugs, porn, and video games. Thus, they have become degraded to a great degree, just like all of us. We can see, though, from Brian Gossett, and from phenomena such as Jordan Peterson, that many young people in the working class don’t want those things. The solution is to, at the right moment, weaponize the working class against the ruling class, and against their foot soldiers, the woke professional-managerial elite and the myrmidons of Burn-Loot-Murder, for both of whom the working class, of all races, have nothing but contempt. A new social compact, for a renewed society. Stephen Feinberg can move to Canada or England, or better yet, Mexico, with the one suitcase of possessions he’s allowed. Then Lancaster can flourish again.

Charles is a business owner and operator, in manufacturing, and a recovering big firm M&A lawyer. He runs the blog, The Worthy House.

The featured image shows, “The Glass Engraver,” by Charles Frederic Ulrich, painted in 1883.