uncertainplume (bobbydrake666) wrote,

Thought As A Practice Of Freedom: a scrapped abstract

In Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello’s magisterial study, The New Spirit Of Capitalism, three correlative claims are made:
1. Capitalism is, in Nietzschean terms, ‘moraline free’. This is a classic Marxist position- ‘capitalism’ designates nothing more than an impersonal, insatiable demand, a demand that gives shape to social reality like a divine sentence. Capitalism demands nothing other than its own valorization and proliferation. It has no regard for its effective agents or its victims, each of which is but a relay in its interminable circuit. In this way, it is ‘beyond good and evil’, a neutral drive unfettered by prohibitions. It is interesting to note Boltanski and Chiapello’s position regarding Althusser’s infamous conception of capitalism as a ‘process without subject’. In contrast to Althusser’s thoroughgoing theoretical anti-humanism, Boltanski and Chiapello allow for some degree of human agency in their analyses. This leads to the next two points.
2. If capitalism has no moral code of its own, morality must be grafted on to it through a process of supplementation. In effect, every ‘capitalist morality’ is a foreign implant, a hybrid alloy that remains irreducible to its host. When we examine the ideological constellation that is ‘neo-liberalism’, we find that far from being a homogeneous, organic whole, ideology is always a precarious weave of heterogeneous elements. In this regard, Althusser is right in suggesting that ideology is never an inert ‘given’, but a continuous construction of hegemony, an ongoing material ‘practice’ that adapts itself to prevalent historical currents. Chantal Mouffe has made this point repeatedly in The Return of the Political and The Democratic Paradox- there is no intrinsic concordance between liberalism, democracy and capitalism. In fact, it is their radical incompatibility (a point first made in the analyses of Carl Schmitt) that opens a space for the political as agonistic confrontation: “…it is vital for democratic politics to understand that liberal democracy results from the articulation of two logics which are incompatible in the last instance and that there is no way in which they could be perfectly reconciled.” (Mouffe, 5) This is the precise meaning of ‘ideology’ in Boltanski and Chiapello’s text- ideology is an artificial prosthesis, a ‘human face’ affixed to a decidedly inhuman drive. Without a justificatory discourse, capitalism is insupportable. It must address itself to the needs of working men and women, the inalienable need for career stability being primary. It must also dissimulate its foundational premises by affirming its commitment to social justice, assuring its agents that they are participating in Man’s asymptotic approach towards liberty and fulfillment.
3. Ideology is not a mandate imposed from above, a despotic command. It requires the active endorsement of working men and women to operate effectively. When this endorsement is withdrawn, capitalism finds itself in crisis. The New Spirit Of Capitalism is effectively a re-evaluation of these epochal shifts, evental conjunctures that demanded a thorough re-assessment/re-alignment of capitalist organization. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari have remarked that late capitalism is a skeletal, axiomatic structure that can be implemented in a near-limitless range of contexts. The history of the 20th century is, by and large, the history of capitalism’s miraculous recoveries and renewals. Such renewals, initiated in response to the implacable demands of disenchanted workers, require a comprehensive transformation of the ideological base. At such moments, capitalism is forced to interrupt itself and take the claims of its opponents seriously, in order to develop a model which can neutralize and appropriate the subversive force of critique. Boltanski and Chiapello exhort us to remember that critique and capitalism are imbricated in a perilous dialectic- critique ceaselessly presents capitalism with material for consideration, material that more often than not is ‘sublated’ and incorporated into its own dynamic. This, as we know, can lead to the fatalistic, Bataillean jaundice of Jean Baudrillard, who relinquishes all belief in critique in lieu of a poetic mysticism.

A cursory examination of today’s management literature gives us a very vivid picture of today’s ideological landscape. Dynamism, creativity, autonomy, mobility, spontaneity, improvisation- these are the principal coordinates of a global economy, a deterritorialized space that refuses every sort of narrow provincialism. This ‘morality of mobility’ is ontogenetic in the Foucauldian sense, creating as a consequence a new order of cosmopolitan mandarins. Today’s jet-setting executive is obliged to free himself from his socio-cultural moorings, to craft strategies commensurate to the demands of diverse situations (penetrating disparate markets, overcoming ethnic barriers and resistances).

For all of its purported permissiveness and radicalism, the ideology of globalization is moral in a very real sense. The strength of Boltanski and Chiapello’s analysis lies in its incisive identification of the imperatives and proscriptions that structure globalization’s triumphalist affirmations of creativity and universality. It is, in fact, quite simple to refute the endless line of theorists who proclaim the disappearance of ideology in our ‘transparent’ times. All this requires is a little Socratic/Nietzschean skepticism. Why should we assume that mobility is better than inertia? That speed should be privileged above slowness? That liberal-democratic universality is invariably superior to any other form of government? Our unconditional acceptance of creativity, movement and spontaneous activity can barely obscure the feeling that these presuppositions are ultimately tautological, that this tyranny of opinion cannot render itself immune to deconstruction. What is philosophy, if not the continuous desire to deliver thought from the abstractions that confine and circumscribe it? Philosophy is nothing less than the endlessly-renewed effort to pose thought against the bureaucratic administration of non-thought.

Is radical philosophy still possible today, when every messianic promise has been invalidated and class divisions are becoming increasingly indiscernible, submerged beneath identitarian particularities (concerns with gender, the environment, culture occluding the disappearance of the ‘worker’ )? Can it keep apace with the continuous transformations of its object? Globalization is, to borrow Trotsky’s famous formulation, a ‘permanent revolution’- the intensity of capitalist competition today requires perpetual innovation and metamorphosis. As a consequence, creativity and mobility are no longer individual merits that confer distinction upon individual executives, but injunctions to be obeyed by all. This catalyzes a shift from ethics in the Spinozist sense (‘movement is good, movement creates affects of joy’) to Kantian morality, a universal imperative that addresses itself to all regardless of individual situation (‘thou shalt move, or else!’). Employment places an inexorable duress upon today’s workforce, forcing working men and women to develop a plethora of skills that were largely irrelevant in previous epochs. Little wonder, then, that post-modernity has been diagnosed as being ‘schizophrenic’, a perpetually unfolding now that uproots itself from the continuum of history. Giorgio Agamben’s examinations of contemporary biopolitics are especially instructive in this regard- we inhabit a world characterized by an interminable state of emergency, where each of us is forced to confront the radical contingency of bare life.

Alain Badiou, in his polemical tract Philosophy And Desire, has offered us a programmatic prolegomena to a future philosophy. If philosophy is to contest the hegemony of market morality, the principal tenets of which have been supplied by philosophy, it must be prepared to subject itself to a rigorous re-evaluation. It must assess its degree of complicity with the reigning order and attempt to open a breach, a critical distance from which it can elaborate an alternative logic, an alternative mode of thought. Francis Bacon’s description of this exodus remains salient- philosophy begins in silence, having shut its ears to the clamorous hubbub of the intellectual marketplace. The act of thought is performed in solitude and exile, having extracted itself from every existing community. By distinguishing itself from the celebratory chorus of our impoverished pantomime, thought becomes a truly creative gesture.

These are the principal coordinates of my theoretical desire, bearings that will guide my reading of this issue’s texts. The rhetorical strategy employed throughout is an admittedly polemical one, deriving as it does from an unfashionable commitment to the Marxist legacy. Althusser’s theory of the problematic, which distinguishes ideology from philosophy, remains cardinal if we are to assess the value of theory for contemporary struggles. This is an inescapable operation, for, as Antonio Negri has stated repeatedly, ‘there is no outside’; there is no retreat, no sanctuary from the political. Again, I must invoke the thought of Chantal Mouffe, which introduces an absolute cleavage between ‘politics’ (as the administration of governmentality by the State and its parties) and the ‘political’ (as the agonistic confrontation between irreducible adversaries). In her Democratic Paradox, Mouffe indicts neo-liberalism, Habermasian ‘communication’ and the Giddensian conception of the Third Way as efforts to close and suture this gap, to foreclose the political altogether by conflating it with political administration. If the rift between Left and Right is constitutive of the political as such, critique cannot abstain from choosing sides, in declaring its partisanship. Thus, I would like to submit my identity papers for public inspection. I am a communist, and I believe in the insurrectionary power of philosophy.
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