Fukuyama and the Mechanism of Directionally Dynamic History

Francis Fukuyama’s account of historical dynamism has been criticized on the grounds that it adopts selection criteria to measure progress that are uniquely “western.” This criticism, I believe, misses the point, for it suggests that it is all simply a matter of perspective, which is not a way to engage in discussion, but a way to foreclose upon discussion. However we may feel about the explosion in technology and science that took hold from the sixteenth century forward in western Europe, I do not feel that there is much to be gained disputing this explosion itself. Nor can much be gained by disputing that, for example, rockets launched into orbit rely for their success upon a grasp of the material world that, in terms of technical rationality, is more advanced and more accurate than the technically rational grasp of the world at any earlier time in history and at any point on the globe. And, so, Francis Fukuyama’s argument holds prima facia validity. The world is more thoroughly integrated and has assumed a more comprehensive logical form and greater rational coherence.

This is not where my objection lies. First is the substantive objection that the directional dynamic that Fukuyama ascribes to science, war, and technology is only sufficient to explain the last five hundred years, which, not coincidentally, coincide with the emergence of capitalism in western Europe. Second, however, is the way that Fukuyama reads a logic of efficiency onto an historical landscape that, by his own admission, is shaped by other forces, processes, and structures.

Whether deliberately or not, this means that Fukuyama overlooks the actual historical occasions for the historical dynamic he has, in my view, correctly identified.

This is a very different argument than the one frequently leveled against Fukuyama, which, in my view, leads nowhere. For the claim that he is Eurocentric, if true, forces us into the corner of “perspectivism,” in which case it’s his perspective versus mine; or it leads me to announce what I believe is an even more preposterous claim, namely, that my perspective is superior, which is to say more objective, than his.

Rather than retreat into a kind of “perspectivism,” I believe it is more helpful to challenge his position substantively, which has the advantage of proposing criteria that are independent of our perspectives. We can survey our paleoanthropologists and our historians of ancient Vedic, Chinese, Incan, Mayan and or the ancient Nubian or Hausa in Africa. Yes, ancient communities did engage in armed conflict. But, no, these conflicts were not decisive for the ongoing, day-to-day existence of most human beings. Yes, the great riverine civilizations impounded the labor of their populations in the service of royal politico-religious courts. But the vast majority of human beings chose to slip away into mountain and plains wandering nomadic or semi-nomadic communities. Moreover, all of the existing research suggests that instead of spending most of their time “in search of more basic needs like security and food” (the Neolithic prejudice first noted by Marshall Sahlins), they spent most of their time doing things that, quite frankly, I wish I had more time to do: playing (Nurit Bird-David, “Beyond the Affluent Society”).

To be sure, we need not idealize the past in order to recognize that Fukuyama’s stylization of it serves a specific function: to support his claim that history betrays a directional dynamic from its earliest beginnings and his claim that, as it unfolds, it displays ever more superior civilizational forms. Here, according to Fukuyama, a civilizational form proves itself superior by its survival. And it survives, he argues, because it displays relatively greater instrumental rationality and military technical rationality. But, as Fukuyama himself recognizes, these criteria only acquire general social validity at the dawn of the modern epoch and only in western Europe once capitalism has taken hold:

Men may pursue a thousand and one goals in pre-industrial societies: religion or tradition may dictate that the life of an aristocratic warrior is superior to that of a city merchant; a priest may prescribe the just price for a certain commodity. But a society that lives by such rules will not allocate its resources efficiently, and will therefore not develop economically as fast as one that lives by rational rules (p. 79).

Surely Fukuyama is correct. “A society that lives by such rules will not allocate its resources efficiently.” From this, however, it does not follow that the drive toward efficient resource allocation is a “natural” human attribute. To the contrary, the fact that it took human beings 2.4M years to adopt and impose this criteria on itself (as well as others) could suggest a mechanism other than technical instrumental efficiency.

Fukuyama’s narrative also serves another function. It diverts both his and our attention away from a more satisfying explanation for the phenomena he is trying to grasp. (And, again, this is not an argument about our respective perspectives. Rather it is an argument about the adequacy of his explanation.)

If Fukuyama draws all of his substantive examples from western Europe from the sixteenth century forwards, this could suggest that we need to look for the mechanism he is searching for not in a transhistorically inflected “science” or “civilizational superiority,” but perhaps in a new regime of practice for which technical-instrumental rationality and efficiency were just then becoming central values.

And, yes, from that point forward, this extraordinarily efficient and productive system quite literally explodes into the rest of the world, undermining and laying waste to all prior “inferior” modes of social, political, and economic mediation, and replacing these with a level of instrumentally rational, technical integration hitherto fore unimaginable.

But, notice: our aim in offering this more satisfying explanation is not to find fault, whether with Fukuyama or with the “West,” or even with capitalism. Rather is our aim to enjoy a better understanding of the phenomena to which both Fukuyama and we are directing our attention, this peculiar dynamic that has led us to “the end of history.”

Lukács, Marx, and Hegel

Last week, in my concluding lecture on Lukács, I pointed out that whereas Marx had taken the value form of the commodity to be the subject-object of history, Lukács had credited the industrial proletariat with that role. I then promised that I would place the references from Marx and Hegel on line. Here they are:

It is constantly changing from one form into the other, without becoming lost in this movement; it thus becomes transformed into an automatic subject. If we pin down the specific forms of appearance assumed in tum by self-valorizing value in the course of its life, we reach the following elucidation: capital is money, capital is commodities. In truth, however, value is here the subject of a process in which, while constantly assuming the form in tum of money and commodities, it changes its own magnitude, throws off surplus-value from itself considered as original value, and thus valorizes itself independently. For the movement in the course of which it adds surplus-value is its own movement, its valorization is therefore self-valorization [Selbstverwertung]. . . .  As the dominant subject [übergreifendes Subjekt] of this process, in which it alternately assumes and loses the form of money and the form of commodities, but preserves and expands itself through all these changes, value requires above all an independent form by means of which its identity with itself may be asserted (K Marx, Capital, vol. 1, trans. Livingston, NY: Penguin, p. 255).

And here is the passage from GFW Hegel:

18. Further, the living Substance is being which is in truth Subject, or, what is the same, is in truth actual only in so far as, it is the movement of positing itself, or is the mediation of its self-othering with itself. This Substance is, as Subject, pure, simple negativity, and is for this very reason the bifurcation of the simple; it is the doubling which sets up opposition, and then again the negation of this indifferent diversity and of its antithesis [the immediate simplicity]. Only this self-restoring sameness, or this reflection in otherness within itself—not an original or immediate unity as such—is the True. It is the process of its own becoming, the circle that presupposes its end as its goal, having its end also as its beginning; and only by being worked out to its end, is it actual (GFW Hegel, “Preface,” Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A.V. Miller, NY: Oxford UP, 1977, p. 10).

I do not aim to repeat last Thursday’s lecture here. Marx’s aim was evidently to account for the directional dynamism we experience under capitalism. This directional dynamism, according to Marx, arises out of the movement and flexibility of abstract value, which, like Hegel’s Substance that is Subject, becomes the agent of its own self-realization. It is, or becomes, “the subject of a process,” of which it is itself the independent, quasi-personal, agent or actor. When, however, by contrast, Lukács places the industrial working class in this position, he replaces a continuous, more or less transparent process, value formation, with a condition of working-class consciousness that (a) must either be cast as the true agent in the process of value formation (i.e., working-class consciousness is the active agent in capital accumulation and, therefore, by inference is the source of its own domination, or that (b) is discontinuous with the process of value-formation, but, for this reason, is by its very nature inexplicable, or that (c) mistakes value formation for working class consciousness and therefore mistakes the comprehensive, totalizing integration of all social and economic relations for an emancipatory process constituted by and for labor (rather than, as Marx and the neoclassicals would have it, an independent, quasi-personal, directionally dynamic process into which all factors of production, including labor, are integrated and brought to completion).

Francis Fukuyama’s Two Mechanisms

What I would like students in GEOG 170 to critically reflect upon is why F Fukuyama requires two mechanisms to motivate his end of history. The necessity of two mechanisms, I would suggest, points to a disconnect between the social psychological (thymos, desire) and the rational (scientia, technology) in which Fukuyama/Kojeve announce their (unannounced) departure from Hegel. For Hegel, we need to recall, the economic/technical integration reaches a point where, on its own, it can proceed no further. Its own particularity and individuality prohibits it from grasping the universal under which its parts are integrated. And, yet, clearly, the integration, the universal, is the condition for its own possibility. Without this totality, the individual is impossible. And, so, Hegel calls our attention to the education of the civil servant to serve the interests of the universal. In this way, the economic/bourgeois, private interest is brought into relationship, and not into opposition, to the universal. Here, Fukuyama pulls up short. For him, the bourgeois moment is the goal. Fukuyama’s universal is not the universal that, through instruction, university training, grasps the whole. Rather, for him, the universal is the particular, connected to particular, connected to particular, ad infinitum. It is, therefore, conflict all the way down. For this very reason, Fukuyama must posit two mechanisms. The first, the mechanism of science, is the historical envelop in which events are borne forward. (And now we can fully appreciate Postone’s Marx.) The second, the mechanism of desire, is the suprahistorical value form of the commodity (although, of course, this is not Fukuyama’s language). What is remarkable here, to me, is that Fukuyama repeats both Hegel’s and Marx’s analysis, although in misrecognized form. He genuinely does not know what he is saying. He does not recognize that to which his own categories refer. And, so, he does not understand the logic that brings his first mechanism and his second into relationship to one another.

Weber, Schmitt and Lukács and Extreme Politics

We now move back to the UK, back to Cambridge, and to economists who are inclined to bracket the social and the historical. To be sure, this is not the impression most of us have of Lord Keynes and his “interventionist” approach to macroeconomics. And, yet, as we read JM Keynes’ General Theory, we need to appreciate how deeply his own theory is dependent not only on Professor Pigou, but also, through Pigou, Alfred Marshall. His aim is evidently not to advance a political or social revolution, but rather to stifle and silence the same. He is not a radical democrat, but the opposite.

Extreme politics, by contrast, is deeply influenced by and eager to play to the short term, perhaps systemic, anomalies that are inevitable when we include human social and political action and history. And, yet, because extreme politics are situated in and respond to forces and processes composed by the dominant social form, we might reflect upon them as marginal social forms that, under conditions of social or economic crisis, move toward the center, but which, in the long run and when considered as elements within the total “political market” still represent statistical outliers.

The critical point that we need to grasp is that, in the short run, the crises prompted by economic policy and action that ran its course from, say, the mid-18th through the early 20th century (choose your favorite theory), what is some times called the “long nineteenth century,” left somewhere around 20M casualties in Stalin’s Russia and as many as 110M casualties in World Wars I and II. (We leave to one side the Korean, Algerian, and Vietnam conflicts.) And, although the trend line is flattened and moderated when we situate this crisis within “the long run,” it still makes the 20th century, per capita, the most morbid century since the beginning of the world.

Do economic theorists have an adequate response to these kinds of crises, which, after all, had a significant economic dimension, other than caeteris paribus?

Price and Value

Some of my Late Capitalism students will have noticed footnote “3” in Chapter 8 of Moishe Postone’s Time, Labor, and Social Domination (Cambridge UP 1993:290):

As I have discussed, people in capitalism do not act directly in this regard on the basis of considerations of value, according to Marx; rather, their actions are shaped by considerations of price. A complete analysis of the underlying structural dynamic of capitalism, as grasped by the critique of political economy, would therefore have to show how individuals constitute this dynamic on the basis of its forms of appearance. Because my intention here, however, is only to clarify—on a very abstract logical level—the nature of this structural dynamic, I shall not address such considerations of the relation of structure and action.

Although I did not have this footnote in mind when I delivered my Chicago School address at Chicago this Winter, it is not unlikely that Postone planted the original seeds both for the paper and for the course. I am posting the paper on bSpace for students who are interested in the general direction of my analysis of price. For those interested in receiving a copy, but who do not have access to bSpace, please feel free to email me. Since the paper will be published, I ask that students not pass it on to individuals who will disseminate unedited versions of what is, after all, a work in progress.

Rethinking Marx’s Critical Theory

Marx and Marxism are irrelevant. Not only do we hear this declaration from neoliberals and neo-Keynesians, but also from post-Marxists who proudly strut their post-modern creds while fishing about for the next, next critical theoretical vantage-point. The Keynesian Social Welfare State (KSWS) turned out to be peddling its own form of totalizing social and cultural wares in comparison to which post-modernisms fragmentation and variety come as a blast of fresh air.

But, what if the central contradiction within capitalism—provisionally overcome or, at least, overcomable within the KSWS—was not between the socialized forces and the private relations of production; what if it was not a matter of redistributing social wealth (been there, done that) or of achieving full employment and full industrial capacity, but was instead, as Marx attempted to show, between two social forms, abstract value and its material form of appearance, whose mutually constitutive relationship forms the central tension within the capitalist social formation?

If this is so, then several conclusions seem to follow:

  1. The redistribution of social wealth (although good and necessary) did not in the least touch upon this central tension within the capitalist social formation. The end of wealth redistribution (in the US and UK) or its gradual displacement by other, private regulatory mechanisms, the post-Fordism that hailed the end of the Keynesian Social Welfare State, did not spell an end to the West’s flirtation with Marxism light.
  2. The dramatic reduction in the use of our industrial capacity and the equally dramatic increase in unemployment, which traditional organized labor has decried and sought to remedy, and which traditional Marxist theorists have viewed as a natural consequence of the lack of economic planning, may point instead to the increasingly tenuous relationship between abstract value and its material form of appearance and therefore the increasingly redundant character of value-producing labor.
  3. The inclination of Marxist social theorists to identify the commodity’s material form of appearance with its “natural” or “pre/post-capitalist” form and to equate abstract value as the commodity’s uniquely capitalist dimension (a pairing that is reproduced in an overall antipathy for the sign and symbol over its “objective” object, or the identical subject over its alienated form) could be seen as a tendency to reproduce the binary pairing immanent to the commodity form itself rather than overcoming that binary opposition practically.

In other words, Marx’s interpretive categories provide us with a powerful and productive means of grasping and critiquing capitalism in all its many forms rather than a specific instance of capitalism (such as high industrial capitalism, or Fordism) because these categories identify a determinate contradiction immanent to all these forms. These categories also provide us with a means of reflecting immanently on the determinate conditions of possibility for overcoming this contradiction both in general and with sufficient specificity to cover individual instances and expressions.

Returning briefly to our Gymnasium in a Box, it is now possible to see how Immanuel Kant’s oppositional framework, which required a static transcendental subject, as well as GFW Hegel’s, which set this transcendental subject in motion, constituting the phenomenal world by which it was, in turn, animated and ultimately completed, were themselves already pre-critical attempts to grasp the complexity and dynamism of a specific social form, the commodity form. That is to say Kant’s and Hegel’s interpretive categories already display an oppositional form “adequate” to a society constituted the two-fold form of the commodity. This “adequacy” can be recognized insofar as the commodity shapes both the “objective” social relations that are the object of social experience and the “subjective” categories that strike individuals as “built in” to the very structure of cognition; when in fact it is clear that such categories are themselves socially produced and reproduced.

Social being is therefore not a specific kind of being, unique to one or another social formation. Rather, social being is what human beings always are; structured by the structures that they in turn structure, shaped by the forces and relations to which they have themselves given rise.

There is nothing specially magical about our moment in history that grants us a special insight into our socio-historical constitution. Aristotle (who here agrees with Kǒng Fūzǐ) recognized long ago that freedom from necessity is an aid to reflection, self-knowledge, and right conduct in all societies. And, yet, the form of domination in any specific society, or the categories adequate to grasp that form of domination, are always socio-historically specific.

Lent and Self-Abnegation

I know that the season of Lent—which memorializes the path that the Palestinian Jew Jesus took up on his way to a brutal execution at the hands of the occupying imperial forces—is supposed to be all about self-denial. However, I also know that it is about God’s own self-denial or self-emptying and that it is about a deliberately provocative act that even Nietzsche had to acknowledge did more to undermine Roman hegemony than any act of religious penance.

Does Jesus know what he is doing? Do we? What was Jesus doing identifying his own provocation with divine provocation? What was Jesus doing when he identified this flagrantly provocative, revolutionary, act with divine activity?

Jesus knows that he is going into the heart of the collaboration with Rome. Until then he has bided his time in the countryside, where opposition to the occupation is more popular. There he has embodied and taught lessons that, much later, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, the Berrigan Brothers and Mother Jones would emulate to great effect. But now he is going into the heart of the imperial presence. Does he know that they will kill him? Does he know that his act will forever identify God with this act of resistance?

No. Lent is not a season of self-abnegation. At least not in any normal meaning of the word. Today we begin our path to the heart of the Roman occupation, God’s path to the heart of hegemony. Will you join us?

I question Santorum’s Faith and World View

The Associated Press: Santorum questions Obama’s ‘world view,’ not faith

Rick Santorum is what used to be called a “cultural Christian” back when this meant that a person absorbed his or her religious beliefs from the surrounding culture. Of course, back then this usually implied that the person in question was either a Vatican II Catholic or a member of a mainline (“liberal”) protestant denomination. Not any more. To be a “cultural Christian” today means that a person embraces a “world view” similar to the “world view” embraced by most people in America.

Rick Santorum embraces that world view. President Obama does not.

So, what’s all this talk about the President’s “world view”? In case you haven’t heard, just the other day, in a speech he delivered while campaigning in Ohio, Rick Santorum accused President Obama of pursuing a political agenda based on “some phony theology, not a theology based on the Bible.” Later, when asked whether he was questioning the President’s faith, Santorum appeared to backtrack. “I’ve repeatedly said I don’t question the president’s faith. I’ve repeatedly said that I believe the president’s Christian,” Santorum told CBS news. “I am talking about his world view, and the way he approaches problems in this country. I think they’re different than how most people do in America.”

Confused? Let me help. “World view” is code. Radical right wing Christians came by this code by way of Francis Schaeffer. Schaeffer developed the code by combining Cornelius Van Til’s presuppositional apologetics with Rousas John Rushdoony’s radical reworking of orthodox Calvinism. So, what does it mean? It means that it is possible to infer a single, coherent, interpretation of the contemporary world from a careful reading of the Christian Bible. For a small taste of what this view of the world implies, Schaeffer and his followers looked to perspectives (political, social, cultural, aesthetic, philosophical, scientific) common among Protestants in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The argument is: if you want to see what Christian politics, art, science, literature, philosophy, etc. looks like, then find a community of believers who are also the political leaders, artists, scientists, philosophers, and writers who make up the world of culture and science in their day. Since this was last the case in 16th and 17th century western Europe, it is here that we should look for an illustration of the Christian “world view.”

So, what’s so wrong with that? Here’s what’s wrong. At least in my Church (the Episcopal Church in the U.S.A.), we believe that Christians should ground their faith and practice in the Christian Bible. The Bible, however, was not written in the 16th or 17th centuries, or in western Europe, or within a cultural context that reflected the “world view” of Jesus, his followers, his religion, or even anything remotely like his religion. Indeed, as even the most conservative interpreters of the Bible will admit, there is nothing specially “Christian” about either the Greek and Aramaic languages or the cultural references through which God speaks in the Christian Bible. In other words, one can look high and low, up and down, left and right without finding a Christian “world view” in the Bible. Rather, what we find is a range of world views, from orthodox Jerusalem Judaism to the more flexible provincial Pharisaic Judaism to the ubiquitous popular Stoicism that runs through nearly all of the New Testament texts.

In the place of a “world view,” we instead find—no surprise here—good news about God’s emancipatory agenda in Christ through the Church. But here’s the surprise. While God’s emancipatory agenda is good news for the oppressed, the powerless, the foolish, and the poor, it is unilaterally bad news for the oppressors, the powerful, the wise, and the wealthy. This is not so much a “world view” as much as it is a commitment to radical discipleship and to prophetically speaking truth to power.

Which is why I question both Santorum’s faith and his world view.  By his own admission, both Rick’s faith and world view are simply reflections of the world he stumbled into upon his birth. They are nothing but “how most people in America” view and think about the world around them. That’s all there is. There is nothing of the gospel in them at all, nothing of radical discipleship, nothing of speaking truth to power.

At best, Santorum is a “cultural Christian.” President Obama, by contrast, at least knows that his economic and military policies are contrary to the gospel. All that Santorum knows is that the way President Obama approaches problems are “different than how most people do in America.”

What a powerful and profound grasp of the Christian faith, Rick.

In Heartland Institute Leak, a Plan to Discredit Climate Teaching – NYTimes.com

The Heartland Institute plans to discredit climate teaching are dripping with irony and dissimilation. Let’s begin with the irony that folks from the “heartland”—as distinguished from, say, “inside the beltway” or “the coasts”—are a bunch of cynical liars who will go to any lengths to discredit sound science and recreate climate conditions our planet has not witnessed since the Precambrian Era (if you believe in that kind of nonsense, which, of course, people of the “Heartland” do not).

The truth is nearly the opposite, on all fronts. The folks who populate the Institute are your consummate “inside the beltway” types, Washington insiders from top to bottom, who pad their Washington credentials with a bevy of Wall Street bona fides to boot. These shills for big oil and big carbon have the audacity then to market themselves as the friends of the “simple folk” in the heartland; haw, haw, haw.

And they plan to do so by attacking the already embattled public school system and its already embattled science curriculum. So let’s undermine the funding for public education and then throw millions of corporate dollars at a campaign to prevent public school children from learning the sound science behind climate change.

Not in my Heartland!

In Heartland Institute Leak, a Plan to Discredit Climate Teaching – NYTimes.com

Monopoly and Democracy

All of you will have noticed (or should have noticed) A Marshall’s word of caution respecting public policy formation in democratic nations:

At all events in a democratic country no great public undertaking is secure of being sustained on consistent lines of policy, unless its advantages can be made clear, not only to the few who have direct experience of high public affairs, but also to the many who have no such experience and have to form their judgment on the materials set before them by others (491).

This word of caution highlights the non-scientific, rhetorical character of policy formation in a democratic country; namely, the fact that policy-makers must rely upon Gorgias’ fine art.

But Marshall’s word of caution also highlights the tension, even conflict, between policy formation among “the few who have direct experience of high public affairs” and “the many who have no such experience”—the ὀλιγαρχία (oligarchia, the few) and οἱ πολλοί (hoi polloi, the many). This tension or conflict was accepted as a fact by all of our writers from Carl Menger to John Maynard Keynes. And, as we shall soon see, it also forms a strong undercurrent in the writings of Gary Becker, Milton Friedman, and Paul Samuelson. Scientific economics and democracy are, at best, uneasy partners. More often than not they are enemies.

So where do we come upon the much more popular notion that free market capitalism and democracy fit together like a hand and glove? We can place to one side the obvious connection that the 18th and early 19th century bourgeoisie (up until the Revolutions of 1848-49) drew between free markets and constitutional forms of government. Clearly it was in the interests of the business class to edge out the aristocracy and nobility and to claim along the way that they represented “the people.” Such romantic notions of representative democracy could not withstand the harsh light cast upon them by more scientifically attuned minds and methods.

Much more difficult for economists to avoid were the implications drawn from the rise of totalitarian and authoritarian forms of rule following the First World War. Yet, it was not until the full force of fascism was felt in Italy, Spain, Germany and eastern Europe that neoclassical economists began the steady drum-beat associating democracy with free markets. The historical evidence today of course is even thinner and more questionable than it was in the late nineteenth century. If anything, it has been robust social democratic systems that have delivered the best informed, most active and engaged citizens. Privatization on the other hand has unilaterally been associated with weak democratic institutions and strong oligarchies.

And, yet, for reasons that we will have to explore in greater detail as the course proceeds, neoclassical and neoliberal economists have been reluctant to press the insights that they willingly owned at the end of the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century: democracy and free markets are less than fully compatible. An informed oligarchy is best suited to free markets.

A long list of neoclassical and neoliberal economists have openly acknowledge this essential insight. The question therefore may be: why do we embrace it only reluctantly? Or, more to the point, why have we not been more willing to theorize the tension or conflict between republican institutions and democratic procedures, on the one hand, and free markets on the other?