- Capitalism and Alternatives -

From what I can reconstruct...

Posted by: Samuel Day Fassbinder ( Citizens for Mustard Greens, USA ) on April 11, 1999 at 18:00:00:

In Reply to: Bloch & Bakkhtin... posted by Red Deathy on April 06, 1999 at 10:57:39:

: : SDF: You've noticed, RD, that according to this reasoning we can use the theory of ideology to explain both the unity and the disunity of the ruling class. If the ruling class is united, they show an ideological unity. If the ruling class is disunited, there is a "split in capitalist thinking." Therefore, we can't really explain anything one way or the other about particular manifestations of economic domination merely by using such a theory of ideology, because using such a theory one can never precisely say why the ruling class expresses disunity on some things and why not unity on those same things.

: No, because we can trace their disunity to material cuases, and economic interests, say, as with Vietnam, the Military industruial Comlpex and Exporters, versus the home capitalists feeling the pinch. Again, this is one reason why they need a state- to sort their own disputes out.

SDF: So the capitalist classes are united around the pursuit of profit, but divided against each other insofar as they fight over ownership rights and market shares, OK, I can understand this, I'm following you so far...

: : So one might argue that there is really no ideological divide here -- it's a matter of the various owning classes bickering about matters of strategy.
: But of course, in teh flow of teh debate they will begin to appeal to certain values, point to broader principles which will come up to reflect the material causes of the split, and shape the course of events- as we have seen here, some will appeal to the great God free Markets, some would appeal to national interest (American Isolationsist Against the IMF for example), and liberals and leftists would appeal against it because of its failures and humaitariuan reasons. Its all meta-narratives, etc...

SDF: But RD, aren't the capitalist classes united around the cause of profit, as I pointed out above? Or doesn't the ideological confusion you pointed out above point to ideology as more than an epiphenomenon of the machination of the economic interests of the bourgeoisie? The point is that the theory of economic determinism doesn't explain ideology all by itself.

: :But this argument begs the question of what precisely is entailed by "ruling class ideology". Is it the will to retain economic dominance, or is it the joy in profit now? What about the ruling class' sympathies for the poor, the ones advertised in Charles Dickens novels (Scrooge at the end of A CHRISTMAS CAROL, for instance)?

: A good Gramscian would of course note that their ideology would change depending upon immediate interests, and would tend to reflect the aims of the ones with most power (specifically their priority is always to remain in power, a drive for mega profits would come wghen they feel secure in their power, etc.). Dickens was writing at a time when teh Reactionary feudalists, and many capitalists noted teh destruictive tendancies of laissez faire, and thus dreamed up Paternalism, leter to be expressed as Disraelis 'On-Nation'Toryism' which ahs dominated here for well over a century now.

SDF: There's plenty of evidence of the destructive tendencies of laissez-faire economics now, or at least we can say this of the current fad in monetarist economics, especially of the IMF austerity planning variety, which has been held to account for, among other things, the massacres in Rwanda. Nonetheless one doesn't see the sort of plea Dickens put forth in HARD TIMES or DAVID COPPERFIELD or A CHRISTMAS CAROL popularized very often in today's mass media, at least not in the pig-ignorant US of A outside of its marginalized Left media semi-presence.

I would argue that the difference between Dickens' time and ours is more easily explained by the disappearence of a "Whiggish version of history" in the interceding years (as a philosophical tool of the Left), than as an effect of any calculable difference in the capital and class formations between now and then. The turning point, I would argue, was the 1970s, the birth years of the Trilateral Commission, neoconservatism, neoliberalism, OPEC, and, eventually, Reaganism.

What I think we're looking at, in this disappearence, is a change in the historical formation of the lifeworld that is discussed in-depth in Habermas' "The New Obscurity: The Crisis of the Welfare State and the Exhaustion of Utopian Energies," pp. 48-70 of THE NEW CONSERVATISM (Cambridge MA, USA: MIT Press, 1989). Habermas' main point is that the "utopia of social labor" appears to be dwindling in the then-current historical formation, yet (from his year 1984 perspective) nothing had yet come along to replace it. Habermas' solution to this problem is that the utopian discussion must be revived:

What can be outlined normatively are the necessary but general conditions for the communicative practice of everyday life and for a procedure of discursive will-formation that would put participants themselves in a position to realize concrete possibilities for a better and less threatened life, on their own initiative and in accordance with their own needs and insights. Fron Hegel through Carl Schmitt down to our day, a critique of utopia that has issued dire warnings against Jacobinism has been wrong in denouncing the supposedly unavoidable marriage of utopia and terror. Nevertheless, it is utopian in the negative sense to confuse a highly developed communicative infrastructure of possible forms of life with a specific totality, in the singular, representing the successful life.

Of course, that I like to discuss stuff like this explains why Gee is so terrified of me, that I like to talk about utopia, not that I have any power or anything, never mind the people who do have power and are establishing their own utopia today...

: It must be noted, 'Ruling' ideas does not mean only ideas, its just the ideas of the ones with the most power, the most powerful ideas- and of course, every idea has its Other...

: : My own solution to this problem is to argue that ideology, defined in one sense as the structural aspect of preconceived notions about society (i.e. prejudice), is an epiphenomenon of what Jurgen Habermas (in the THEORY OF COMMUNICATIVE ACTION, part 1) calls the "lifeworld," that set of not-yet-verbalized taken-for-granteds we form about the world as we move through life.

: Sounds reminisceient of both Althusser's 'Obnvuiousnesses', Bloch's 'Not-yet-Conscious' and J.L. Austin's 'Pressupossitions', essentially, I think they are all, in thegir own way, write, ideology is what is assumed before you express youtrself.

SDF:About the lifeworld: As I tried to explain above, the lifeworld is a historicized notion. The lifeworld owes its relation to modernity by being constantly circulated through the communicative complex of a particular time and space, so I'm not talking about the merely subjective nor am I talking about any objectified concept of pragmatics. That's why I mentioned Habermas and not any of the other writers you mentioned.

About the def. of ideology: Let's see, we have the narrow definition of the word "ideology" as the explanation of class society of a particular ruling class culture, and then we have the broader definition of the word "ideology" as a combination of the words "dogma" and "worldview"... this appears to fit in somewhere toward the latter IMHO... if I understand you correctly...


: : This version of "ideology" isn't economically-determined, but might helpfully explain the commonalities of attitude amongst the members of the real communities of the rich and powerful.

: Well, obviously I'd disagree, as below...

: : : Ideology is formed by division of labour- specificallymental division of labour, capitalist hegemony necessarilly needs competiting ideas so it can keep moving, and stay fresh, if ideologies didn't change capitalism would stagnate.

: : SDF (continued): Part of the structure of prejudiced opinion as it has evolved in propertarian societies is a justification for who owns what, and why they deserve to own it. No?

: No, as above, its a person in a room, forgetting they are standing on a stage, forgetting that other people in the room have a different perspective, and making their perspective the only one (Usually I'd throw in points about discourse rights, the person on the stage is the only one who can sopeak with a microphone, for example....).

SDF: I'm lost here. So the communities of the rich, the rich and powerful stars of partisan capitalist politics as they hang out with each other in their exclusive social clubs, they cling to the status-quo ideologies repeated tirelessly in, for instance, Trilateral Commission documents because... why? They think they're the only ones who have anything to say about the subject? I don't think so. There's a great difference of opinion between the various members of the Trilateral Commission. Let's be careful to address, directly, the important questions of ideology; where does it come from, what does it do?

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