The Visible Divinity — part two

‘You might be threeabreasted wholenosing at a whallhoarding from our Don Amir anent villayets prostatution precisingly kuschkars tarafs and it could be double densed uncounthest hour of allbleakest age with a bad of wind and a barran of rain, nompos mentis like Novus Elector, what with his Marx and their Groups, yet did a doubt, should a dare, were to you, you would do and dhamnk me, shenker, dhumnk you. Skunk. And fare with me to share with me’.

- James Joyce, ‘Finnegans Wake’

At one stage in the dream narrative of the Wake a certain Professor Jones delivers a lecture upon the subject of time and space, the relation between the two considered both from a philosophical perspective and from an anthropological, during which talk he relates the tale the Mooksie and the Gripes, the Mooksie representing a combination of English figures who had a prominent impact upon Irish history, most notably Pope Adrian IV Nicholas Breakspear, (c. 1100–1169 AD), the only English pontiff, and Henry II, (1133–89 AD), the English king who, with the blessing of Adrian, invaded Ireland in 1171 AD. The Mookse while out for a walk confronts the Gripes, who represents prominent Irish figures, in particular Lawrence O’Toole, (1128–1180 AD), Bishop of Dublin at the time of the English invasion. They engage in a disputation that recapitulates the theological disagreements between the Irish Church and the Church of Rome, the putative reason for the twelfth century English invasion of Ireland, delineated in Laudabiliter, laudability, the Papal Bull (perhaps, historians disagree over the facts of the matter), issued by Adrian IV, and which was religious heresy to the Irish.

‘The Mooksie and the Gripes’ is if course a Wakean re-telling of ‘The Fox and the Grapes’, one of the fables of Aesop, (c. 620–564 BC), in which a fox endeavours to eat grapes from a vine but cannot reach them, and rather than concede defeat he states that they are sour and undesirable anyway. How oft we are disparaging of that which we cannot obtain.

The fox who longed for grapes, beholds with pain

The tempting clusters were too high to gain;

Grieved in his heart he forced a careless smile,

And cried, ‘They’re sharp and hardly worth my while.’

- Aphra Behn, (1640–1689).

Given the context of the Professor Jones’ lecture, of theory and practice, of the impact upon a nation and a culture of history, of religious dissension and disputes, and so on, the Mooksie and the Gripes become Marx and their Groups….

A collection of German intelligentsia in the decade or so after the death of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, (1770–1831), that came to be known as the The Young Hegelians (Junghegelianer), or Left Hegelians (Linkshegelianer), or the Hegelian Left (die Hegelsche Linke), reacted to and discoursed upon a legacy that was open to several possible meanings and interpretations, in particular they drew upon his notion that the purpose and assurance of history lay in a complete negation of everything promoting or contributing to the curtailing of freedom and reason, and they embarked upon mounting radical critiques, first of religion and then of the Prussian political system. And alongside his Young Hegelian companions Karl Marx, (1883–1884), while yet a graduate student, began to suspect that Hegel’s philosophy led to an unjustifiable positing of transcendent entities, most notably, that of Absolute Spirit. The significant issue here is not that Hegel actually took such a course, rather, the accusation is that he is not able, whatever his intentions might have been, to liberate himself from it. By 1843 Marx had become especially captivated by Ludwig Feuerbach’s, (1804–1872), causal explanation of the positing of transcendent objects, which for Feuerbach are projections, roughly speaking, of an ideal self displaced into another world because of factual restrictions placed upon self-recognition and self-validation in this world. Indeed in every aspect God corresponds to some aspect or need of human species being. In the consciousness of the infinite, the conscious subject has for his or her object the infinity of his or her own nature. And the aforementioned restrictions emerge generally speaking from the domination of nature over humanity, but more particularly they emerge whenever some men or women systematically dominate others, and hereby perhaps emerges the notion of an oppressed and oppressor distinction, (though see ‘The Visibile Divinity’ — part one). Presented with such an artificial division within the human species, as though differences between classes or races or other social groupings were similar to, or took the place of, differences between whole species, individual human beings are prevented from seeing in themselves what is characteristic of all men and women and from seeing in all men and women what is characteristic of themselves.

Consequently, a complete recognition and expression of the being of one’s own species is impeded. Such reasoning as this does of course rest upon an assumption that rational persons at bottom experience themselves and other beings in terms of categories somewhat like natural kinds. According to Aristotle, (384–322 BC), the essence of every thing human beings can know exists as an unconditional abstract kind or species. ‘All humans are mortal’. ‘All ravens are black’. And the impediment to full recognition of the being of one’s own species is according to Feuerbach expressed by the attribution of ideal human characteristics to divine beings, and the degree of progress in history consequently is marked by stages in which humans reclaim into self-characterizations predicates that had been projected onto outlandish beings of fantasy. This process comes to a head in the refusal to recognise or accept, however so much without conflict and the spilling of blood, or however ill-defined and expressed, any divinity whatsoever. In such an ideal state of affairs as this there will, by definition, henceforth be no religion. And furthermore, the only entities that will be ontologically authorized are those that have their roots exclusively in sensory experience and that can be referred back to sensory particulars as their subjects.

Hegel’s philosophy, it was claimed, fails to pass such an ontological test and was by virtue of that very fact not remotely as far beyond religious thinking as Hegel himself had anticipated. In the meantime, however, Feuerbach’s own theory persisted in being profoundly ambiguous with regard to the relation that it posited between empiricism and the demand that our experience is categorized in terms relating to essences, that is to say, designations for the property or set of properties that make an entity or substance what it fundamentally is, and which it has by necessity, and without which it loses its identity, in this case species being. The fundamental difficulty is that one may very well discourse upon kinds in ontological terms, this is roughly speaking essentialism, without thoroughgoing empiricism, and vice versa. Feuerbach appears never to have confronted this particular tension head on, or for that matter even to have recognized it fully. And so this ambiguity passed on to Marx, albeit that Feuerbach’s theory does propose a test for its own verification. That is to say, it will be verified if there comes to exist a social reality that is jointly characterized by, first, a thorough going empiricism, second, the disappearance of religion, and third, sufficiently democratic political institutions to express social equality, which is to say, hypothetically speaking, it is seen as underlying the joint existence of a thoroughgoing empiricism and the disappearance of religion, thereby laying down the playing field for a complete mutual recognition among human beings.

‘Maja and Celestina on a Balcony’, 1812, Goya

A crucial factor at play here is Marx’s endorsement at quite a deep level of this complex hypothesis, and a few of his early works are an attempt to advance Feuerbach’s analysis (we must all bathe in the brook of fire) by demonstrating why it is that a simply formal democracy is insufficient to bring about a thoroughgoing empiricism and the disappearance of religion. Marx became convinced upon the basis of contemporary sociological information, especially concerning America and France, that formal democracy not only can co-exist with religion, but can very much bring about an intensification and interiorization of religious belief, and yet such seeming counter-cases to Feuerbach’s theory never led Marx to have doubts concerning the general thesis in itself, rather it goaded him on to find some further factor which it was supposed may well prevent the joint co-existence of not just a thoroughgoing empiricism and the disappearance of religion but also the putatively real or true democracy required for sufficiently democratic political institutions to express social equality. Having heavily absorbed himself in socialist literature and thereby falling more and more under its influence, Marx eventually came to unearth this additional factor in pure private property.

Thus, already in his crucially significant interpretation of Hegel’s political philosophy, Marx, it was thought, had demonstrated that Hegel’s supposed support and approval of transcendent objects and his alleged distain towards empiricism, indeed his entire purportedly up-side down ontology and epistemology that renders particular space-time substances dependent upon abstract universals rather than the opposite, is of a piece with his averred justification of anti-democratic politics and private property. For the one buttresses up the other. Furthermore, within the political theory itself, wherein Hegel promises a solidarity between rulers and ruled, Marx discerns instead marked alienation and division. Whatever deceptive idealist rhetoric may asseverate, there is no common mind in the state portrayed by Hegel, Marx alleges, merely the domination of some by others, and a brazenly apparent pursuit of self-interest by all. Such estrangement at the political level, Marx concluded, was integrally connected to the justification of private property that Hegel built into his construction of the state. It is at this point that Marx commits himself to the thesis that political community, of the kind of which Jean-Jacques Rousseau, (1712–1778), had advocated, is possible if and only private property is dismantled. Although he speaks of this as a fulfillment of democracy, as had the extreme left wing of the popular party during the great French Revolution, to whose views Marx’s here is harking back, it is not clear whether Marx at this time is speaking of a fulfillment of democracy in a democratic state or had already come to believe that which he later clearly proclaimed, that such a democracy requires the disappearance and de-legitimation of the state itself. The state, in this latter view, comes by definition to refer to an institution functioning to restrict property to a particular class or set of classes, and its disappearance, therefore, in social conditions of genuine equality is from a purely analytic point of view affirmed and secured.

Howsoever one may analyze Marx’s views upon a purported true democracy, it is quite clearly the case that by the time of his essay ‘On the Jewish Question’ Marx held, and thus dissenting from his former guide and instructor Bruno Bauer, (1809–1882), philosopher and theologian, that formal democracy as a political institution exists simply to secure and sustain bourgeois property rights. And in virtue of these leading to human separation, competition, indeed the very privatization of experience, they resulted in the religious displacement illusions that were postulated by Feuerbach and in a political life which is something apart from, and dominating, the activities and endeavours of the individual. And in the ‘Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts’ Marx developed further this analysis by showing why private property in its developed bourgeois form, whereby entitlement to property rests upon no qualification beyond formal personhood, leads to this socio-political and religious alienation.

He first situated this kind of private property within its larger context, which is to say, the production and distribution system that came to be designated laissez-faire capitalism, whereby governmental interference in the economic affairs of individuals and of society are kept to a minimum. This he achieved by way of an analysis of the writings of the political economists, and then more generally he laid down what he believed has since the very beginning distinguished the human species from other animal species, that is to say, a productive capability that is characterized by, first, the intervention of intelligence and foresight into the productive process, and, second, a thoroughgoing social organization of production. Marx paired these two characteristics in such a manner that without the one the other would not regularly and continuously change and develop. These conjoined capacities expressed themselves in the production of a humanized nature, so to speak, whereby men and women co-operated to transform the found materials of their environment into objects that were collective channels of communication as it were for self-expression and that thereby allowed for mutual human recognition in a public sphere.

In creativity conceived along artistic lines, therefore, Marx, it is presumed, pinpointed the essential precondition of the complete mutual recognition that, in different ways, Hegel and Feuerbach had been concerned to make possible. Marx’s insistence upon social praxis, the process whereby theory is embodied and enacted, centred upon this view of transformative activity as the locus of human expression, development, and recognition. This is the human being’s species being, so to speak. Indeed, in a productive system that appears most distinctively human, self-expression and mutual recognition provide the motive for production, and the securing of more basic needs appears as a concurrent offshoot of the achievement of these needs for recognition. Conversely, where human production is centered upon the preservation of simply existing, human life manifests itself as less distinguishable from that of other species, and human production is comparable to the constricts and limits of lower animal production.

Marx proceeds further to demonstrate that this latter point of concern is most closely approached in capitalism, for with the complete dominance of pure private property under capitalism the worker is alienated, first, from the product of his or her work, since he or she does not own it, and it cannot therefore express him or her, and second, from the process of his or her work, since he or she sells his or her own labour capacity which is his or her most basic human that is to say inalienable attribute, and third, from other men and women, since although capitalist production is as a matter of fact inordinately co-operative and thus socialized, alienation from the product and the process of their work precludes it from being experienced as the work of consciously co-operating human beings and as a product of their joint activity. Indeed, on the contrary, the economic system manifests itself as something to which men and women subject themselves as to a fact of nature, and thus it becomes a pre-occupying fixation to them.

Socialism, Marx concluded, through the elimination of private property permits the basic defining dispositions of human beings to operate freely, and this is a program whose time has come, for the skills and talents, and the tools and instruments, and the productive capacity of capitalism itself provide the necessary conditions for this fulfillment of human aspiration. Marx discovered such a call in contemporary communist propaganda literature, which, although frequently written by intellectuals, he took to be a genuine and spontaneous expression of the experience and intelligence of the working class itself (we find a similar phenomena today with writers for the UK’s Guardian newspaper). He was also delighted to discern in such literature a concomitant rejection of religion and of formal democracy, and thus a confirmation not only of Feuerbach’s thesis, but also of his own interpretation of it. Marx’s grand and persistent confidence in the working class, which presented somewhat awkward and pressing problems for twentieth century Marxists, derives, one is tempted to conclude, from his wonderment about the working class independently arriving at Feuerbach’s and his own insights (had they though?)

‘White Slave Trade’, 1895, Joaquin Sorolla

Marx’s strategy of locating kinds of property relations within larger and more comprehensive types of productive relations, first employed in 1844, when combined with the assessment that humankind’s productive activity is the most central aspect of his or her experience, suggests a somewhat bigger project still redoing Hegel’s and Feuerbach’s accounts of the historical development of humankind toward full self and mutual recognition on the basis of these presuppositions. In opposition to Hegel, it would be emphasised by Marx that successive types of consciousness do not unfold out of their own conceptual resources, but rather on the basis of changes in humankind’s socially mediated interchange with the environment. Marx believed that Hegel had at one point apprehended this, in a somewhat oblique manner, in the ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’, when he spoke of the slave’s sense of self-identification as superior to the master’s, because the former’s transformative interaction with nature gives him a solidly achieved sense of self, while the latter is subject to the changeable rising and ebbing tides of prestige and opinion in an elitist world cut off from its productive roots. And yet these ideas were soon buried, Marx contends, in ‘On Hegel’s Dialectic’, and Hegel constructs his history as the history of consciousness moving on its own steam toward theoretical self-appropriation. In opposition to Feuerbach, it will be emphasised that the progressive taking back of alienated human properties from postulated divinities cannot be displayed as moving toward a passive, sensationalist’s empiricism of the English kind, with its concomitant pleasure ethic, its political indifference, its historical myopia. For Marx humankind recognizes its own essence (Wesen) in and by its productive activity, and therefore progressively in proportion as it makes nature a home that expresses itself, that is, humanized nature. This is that which Marx terms active or practical materialism, in his ‘Theses on Feuerbach’, as opposed to Feuerbach’s speculative materialism.

The initial endeavour to carry out this historical project occurs in ‘The German Ideology’, on which Marx collaborated with Friedrich Engels, (1829–1895). What stands out in this account is a conscious attempt both to suppress the language of essentialism that had hitherto characterized Marx’s thinking and to insist upon the empiricist credentials of the authors. What is to be traced is a factual history of the human race, in which changing forms of production determine corresponding socio-political patterns and legitimating ideologies. A language of essentialism would automatically imply, it was proclaimed, that the determination operates the other way around, as in Hegel, and, it was now insisted, in the Young Hegelians as well. Nevertheless, looked at more closely, what is actually discovered here is a history with a high degree of quasi-logical and dialectical patterning, and a suspicion arises that the forecast of the coming socialist order with which the work culminates is derived as much from his dialectical machinery as from the empirically founded data base upon which we are merely told that it rests. It is plausible to think, then, that some essentialism, and indeed some Hegelian dialectic of consciousness, conceals itself beneath such empiricist accoutrements. The resolution of this tension between contingent empirical fact and necessary quasi-logical unfolding in accounting for human history constitutes the most difficult and critical problem in the analysis of Marx’s mature philosophical commitments. And furthermore, two other problems are associated with it. How is either empiricism or quasi-logicism consistent with Marx’s claim that human agents freely make their own history? And how is Marx capable of exempting his own analyses from the socio-political and economic determinism upon which, in his view, it would appear all intellectual products rest?

Orthodox Marxism had long committed itself and Marx to a rather deterministic theory of the kind worked out by Engels in ‘Anti-During’ and ‘The Dialectics of Nature’, and had thereby permitted Marx’s insistence upon free human activity to escape from view. The problem of self-referencing was also bypassed by simply asserting that Marxism is a science that grounds its judgments in the way that natural science does. The publication of the early manuscripts may well have offended and embarrassed proponents of these views, but it was always possible to adopt the line of dismissing these manuscripts juvenilia. For several decades a pivotal issue in Marx scholarship, then, centered upon where precisely to draw the line between the young Marx and his mature scientific deterministic successor, who presented in ‘Das Kapital’ the laws by which capitalism inevitably gives way to socialism. The publication of the ‘Grundrisse’, however, demonstrated that the habits of mind frequently associated with the younger Marx were still operating in Marx’s thinking while he was writing ‘Das Kapital’, if somewhat behind the scenes. Those who still wished to speak of two Marxes were then compelled to think of them as two alternating sides of a single Marx that vied with each other until the very end. More challenging approaches, however, have tried to demonstrate that the new understanding of ‘Das Kapital’ that the study of the ‘Grundrisse’ makes possible shows a coherence of the later view with the earlier one at the expense of Marx’s alleged scientism. The chief point is to challenge the quasi-deterministic interpretation of ‘Das Kapital’ itself, and yet the right and proper complexion to lay upon these issues is still very far from having been achieved.

‘Young Man and Prostitute’, 1893, Edvard Munch

Shlomo Avineri, (b. 1933), political scientist, subsequent upon a detailed reading of Karl Marx’s ‘Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right’, presented a major study the aim of which was to investigate the bearing of this early manuscript upon Marx’s subsequent thinking, and it is a significant part of Avineri’s thesis to demonstrate that Marx later remained faithful to what he had already worked out in this Critique. Avineri’s take upon the Critique is constructed upon the premise that Marx meant what he said in calling his an internal critique of Hegel’s political philosophy. It concedes to Hegel’s own premise, that reality qua reality is permeated with reason, and demonstrates that the socio-political vision of the modem state that Hegel articulates and recommends in the ‘Philosophy of Right’ is still irrational when judged by standards that Hegel himself should accept. The demonstration of this irrationality is accomplished through Marx’s use of Feuerbach’s transformative method. In this interpretive device, the Hegelian custom of ascribing existential import to concepts apart from their instantiations, and of treating the latter as deductions from, or at best exemplifications of, the concepts, is substituted by treating that which Hegel regards as predicates as subjects. Therefore, for instance, the concept of the monarch is nothing other than an abstraction from real, earthly monarchs, and less appealing on that account. This technique is taken over by Marx and used to divest Hegel’s ‘Philosophy of Right’ of an appearance of rationality that it is not yet entitled to, given that rational social life has not yet been realized.

The principal dimension of irrationality is the chasm between the reality of the material life of civil society and the separation from it of political form, and this dialectic between state and civil society, which is central to Marx’s argument, yields a theory of historical development that, according to Avineri, sheds much light upon Marx’s later materialist theory of history. In classical Greco-Roman society, no civil society emerges in contra-distinction to the political life of the citizen, and that was where his or her real identity lay, and in the Middle Ages there is also no division between civil and political life, political life expressed itself entirely in terms of the work roles of civil society, rather than the reverse, guilds, corporations, and such like. As for contemporary society on the other hand this may be fundamentally characterized as a mutual separation of state and civil society, the state becoming alien to the concrete life of the social individual, while the economic life of civil society becomes itself more and more abstract, one-sided, and non-self-expressive as pure private property and capitalism emerge. Marx goes on to speak of their reunion both as true democracy and as communism (Gemeinwesen), from which Avineriwas led to believe that the issue of whether Marx at this time was a left-wing democrat or a communist is empty. Common productive life, on the basis of the anthropology soon to be worked out in detail in Marx’s 1844 ‘Manuscripts’, fulfills political life while transcending it as a separate kind of life, while the communizing of productive and economical life makes it humanly expressive in a manner that classical political theory, including Hegel’s, must either promise without delivering, or overlook thereby putting its own pretension to rationality at risk.

In turning to how a rational society is to be realized, Avineri points out how Marx assigned to the proletariat the role of universal class that Hegel had reserved in the ‘Philosophy of Right’ for the bureaucracy, the connection being in the role assigned to both to bring about rationalization of the socio-political structure, and in the claim that Hegel makes for the bureaucrats and Marx for the proletarians that they have in mind the interest of the whole society, hence universal. The point of departure is, of course, that in Hegel’s case the method for rationalizing is read as administrative domination, while in Marx’s case it is read as revolutionary liberation. According to Marx, Hegel’s bureaucrats are in actual fact corrupted by and embedded in the egoism of a society based upon private property, while Marx’s proletarians do not fall back into this because they have nothing to protect, and they can also acquire positive co-operative and fulfilling values in the transformative activity of work itself.

Avineri believes that Marx remained faithful in his later works to the theory worked out in 1843–1844, although terminology, accent, and matters of details do alter. An argument that Avineri proposes about the later Marx is designed to cut beneath the notion that Marx shifted, in ‘Das Kapital’, to a sort of deterministic scientism. Avineri argues that ‘Das Kapital’ is a model of a free-market society already approximated by the England of the 1850’s, and the projection toward socialism proceeds by taking note of ways in which the free-market model attempts, by many devices, to rectify its own instability and inherent mutability. These interventions, however, bring about by their very nature an integration of collective political decision-making and the economic infrastructure, and thus socialism blooms abd develops within the world of capitalism itself. It would seem that, in Avineri’s opinion, Marx the prophet came, like that other prophet Jesus, (‘Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil’, (Mark 5.17), not to destroy Hegel the prophet but to fulfill him, to mark out what a truly rationalized society would be like, where rationality is conceived of as an organic unity between social matter and political form.

‘Mireille aux fruits, 1928, Jules Pascin

Recall, however, that immediately after Hegel’s death there were two schools that emerged, as well as the Young (or Left) Hegelians there were the Old (or Right) Hegelians, who offered radically different readings of Hegel’s political philosophy. The Left Hegelians (Feuerbach, Marx, and Engels) discerned in Hegel, to put it simply, a utopian vision of freedom, community, and the triumph of the human spirit. The Right Hegelians discerned in Hegel a theocratic defence of the Prussian state, support for the status quo of absolute monarchy, and a conservatism grounded upon quietism, an acceptance of things as they are. And ever since thinkers from across the political spectrum have seen Hegel as an ally, while he is also taken as an enemy by others both on the left and on the right. And what was important for Marx, as he states in ‘Das Kapital’, was to distinguish clearly between the ‘rational kernel’ and the ‘mystical shell’ in Hegel, a distinction that in many ways captures the significance of Marx’s attack upon idealism and its relationship to value. All non-scientific discourse, and scientific for Marx meant articulated in the language of historical materialism, is nothing more than a symptom, an effect or a production of deeper material relations between classes definable in terms of economic.

The rational kernel and the mystical shell in Hegel, herein we can in fact find at least two things that show how Hegelian theory is that much richer and all-encompassing than its Marxist off-shoot, one of which (the so-called ‘mystical’ shell) may be thought of merely a matter of abstract metaphysics though it is much more than that, the other of which (the rational kernel) exposes at least one serious flaw in Marxism that means it could never work in practice without curtailing the very freedoms it claims to champion.

Let us deal with the mystical shell first. In Hegel’s philosophical system there is a very important principle, the principle of the identity of opposites. While subject and object are identical, they are also distinct. Most certainly in some sense or other the object stands over against the subject or self, the object is the not-self, and being and knowing are identical while yet also distinct. The identity of being and knowing is compatible with their difference. That the thing is identical with the thought means that there is no absolute separation between subject and and object, for the object is within the subject. That the thing is different from the thought means that the subject expels part of itself, namely the object, from itself, and opposes itself to it. This laptop at which I labour is certainly external to me, it is not-me, and this is the separation of knowing and being. But this laptop is still within the unity of thought, it is not external to me in the sense that it is something utterly outside thought, unknowable, for something to be unknowable is self-contradictory. This is the identity of being and knowing. We may express it thus, thought overreaches the chasm between itself and its object, or that the separation between thing and thought is a separation within thought itself. If the thing could break away completely from the unity of thought, it would become an unknowable thing-in-itself. And that is not possible.

One must keep the identity of knowing and being steadfastly before one’s mind in order to understand Hegel. For instance anyone coming to Hegel with a fixed idea that materialism and idealism are irreconcilable opposites will be taken by surprise to discover that Hegel considers materialism as itself a crude kind of idealism and endeavours to demonstrate that it is possible to develop his own idealistic views out of it. ‘All philosophy is essentially idealism’, he wrote, ‘or at least possesses it as its principle, and the question is only how far it has carried out the principle … The principles of the ancient or modern philosophies, water, or matter, are thoughts, universals …. not things’. The references there are to Thales of Miletus, (c. 624/623 — c. 548/545 BC), for whom the originating principle of nature was a single material substance, water, and to Democritus of Abdera, (c. 460 — c. 370 BC), who held that everything is composed of atoms, which are physically, but not geometrically, indivisible, that between atoms, there lies empty space, that atoms are indestructible, and have always been and always will be in motion, that there is an infinite number of atoms and of kinds of atoms, which differ in shape and size. And yet an atom is a thought, and the materialism of Democritus is a form of idealism. That is to say, had Democritus but understood the identity of being and knowing he would have been compelled to venture beyond materialism into some sort of idealism. For materialism in fact is dependent upon the complete separation of knowledge and its object and this is its fundamental fallacy, to suppose that the object, matter, is something absolute, which is on its own account quite independent of mind, to believe that the object can have being apart from the knowing subject. Atomism alleges that this thing, the atom, is the ultimate reality, let us concede as much, but what is the thing apart from a congeries of universals such as indestructible, indivisible, small, round and so on. All of these are universals, concepts, thoughts. An atom is itself a concept, and hence out of such materialism proceeds idealism.

‘Prostitutes at a Bar’, 1902, Pablo Picasso

Marxian historical materialism is therefore a crude form of idealism. So much for the ‘mystical shell’. What of the ‘rational kernel’? I referred above to Feuerbach and human species being (menschliches Wesen). A more common term for this is human nature. The sixth of the ‘Theses on Feuerbach’ provides us with an early discussion by Marx of the concept of human nature. It states:

‘Feuerbach resolves the essence of religion into the essence of man. But the essence of man is no abstraction inherent in each single individual. In reality, it is the ensemble of the social relations. Feuerbach, who does not enter upon a criticism of this real essence is hence obliged:

1. To abstract from the historical process and to define the religious sentiment regarded by itself, and to presuppose an abstract — isolated — human individual.

2. The essence therefore can by him only be regarded as ‘species’, as an inner ‘dumb’ generality which unites many individuals only in a natural way’.

Recall that for Marx the mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. ‘It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence’, wrote Marx, ‘but their social existence that determines their consciousness’. This statement expresses the foundation of Marx’s anti-Hegelian position, for he understood Hegel as believing that the motor of history was the ideas of humans, that the ideas of humans changed social and political systems, whereas for Marx it is vice versa, the economic system, the material relations between humans, determines their ideas, their beliefs, and it produces their ideology. Hegelianism is considerably more encompassing than Marxism, for whereas Marx doubtless had a better understanding of the impact industrialisation had on the lives of individuals, Hegel had a much richer understanding of human nature. True enough, Hegel initially, in the ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’, saw the ideas of the Reformation and the French Revolution (expressions of Geist) as the motor of change, but by the time of his Berlin lectures on right and political philosophy, Hegel’s picture became much more advanced and intricate. The social world as a whole, which includes its economic relations, structural arrangements, historical formation, its religious and moral traditions, and geographical identity, determines the beliefs and concepts of human beings, all such elements spinning a web that constitutes a person’s and a society’s self-understanding.

Marx presented a more vertical hierarchy, the ground of all change and social phenomena is and remains the economic structure of a community, whereas the Hegelian conception is more plausible. This has led some commentators to the view that the debate between Hegel and Marx is not about Hegel or Marx but Hegel and Marx, the core of the debate not lying in the options of dialectics and historical materialism, but rather in a shared aspiration, the reconciliation of the human being with itself. For Hegel, modern society with its institutions of the bourgeois family, private property and capitalism, and a constitutional state would bring about this reconciliation, whereas for Marx, capitalism and private property alienate man and inhibit reconciliation, and his critique of Hegel, it is alleged, is at its most telling when he deals with empirical rather than metaphysical concerns but I have just shown the fallacy of such a distinction, Hegel was not hostile to empiricism, his philosophy is as much empirical as rational. Marx and Hegel were concerned with self-determination as Hegel, for an action to be the expression of human freedom as opposed to animalistic instinct, that is to say, being bound to one’s immediate desires), or the unfree determination of a social system, working in a factory for instance. An agent that produces must, initially, see what he produces as worthwhile and valuable to him or her and to others, and then know that it is his or her free choice to produce it. These are the subjective conditions labour must meet in order to be free, the objective conditions that are those of the system of material labour

And yet what of our species being? Our human nature? Hegel thought that private ownership was the more rational and therefore had been given preference even at the expense of other rights, and furthermore he charged Plato’s, (428/427 or 424/423–348/347 BC) general principles for the ideal state with being a violation of the right of personality by forbidding the holding of private property.

Marx, on the other hand, wrote:

‘Private property has made us so stupid and one-sided that an object is only ours when we have it — when it exists for us as capital, or when it is directly possessed, eaten, drunk, worn, inhabited, etc., — in short, when it is used by us. Although private property itself again conceives all these direct realisations of possession only as means of life, and the life which they serve as means is the life of private property — labour and conversion into capital. In the place of all physical and mental senses there has therefore come the sheer estrangement of all these senses, the sense of having. The human being had to be reduced to this absolute poverty in order that he might yield his inner wealth to the outer world. … The abolition [Aufhebung] of private property is therefore the complete emancipation of all human senses and qualities, but it is this emancipation precisely because these senses and attributes have become, subjectively and objectively, human’.

The Great Reset was the name given to the 50th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum held in June 2020, bringing together high-profile business and political leaders, convened by Charles, Prince of Wales, (b. 1948), with the theme of rebuilding society and the economy following the COVID-19 pandemic. WEF chief executive officer Klaus Schwab, (b. 1938), laid out three core components of the Great Reset, the first involving creating the conditions for a stakeholder economy, the second including building in a more resilient, equitable, and sustainable way based upon environmental, social, and governance metrics that would incorporate more green public infrastructure projects, the third harnessing the innovations of the Fourth Industrial Revolution for public good. In her keynote speech opening the dialogues, International Monetary Fund director Kristina Georgieva, (b. 1953), (high priestess in the temple of the visible divinity), listed three key aspects of the sustainable response, green growth, smarter growth, and fairer growth. And furthermore, a video appeared at the time purporting to present the WEF’s eight predictions for 2030, the first of which stated:

‘[By 2030] all products will have become services. ‘I don’t own anything. I don’t own a car. I don’t own a house. I don’t own any appliances or any clothes’. Shopping is a distant memory in the city of 2030, whose inhabitants have cracked clean energy and borrow what they need on demand’.

There has however been a disclaimer, that the video is repeating misinformation about the WEF does not have a stated goal to remove everyone’s private property by 2030 and the claims likely originated from a WEF social media video from 2016 that stated eight predictions about the world in 2030, including: ‘You’ll own nothing. And you’ll be happy. What you want you’ll rent, and it’ll be delivered by drone’, which Ida Auken, (b. 1978), Danish politician, who wrote that prediction, said was not a ‘utopia or dream of the future’ but ‘a scenario showing where we could be heading — for better and for worse’.

Maybe not a ‘stated’ goal, perhaps an unstated one, for it is not much of a disclaimer, though who can tell in an age of misinformation? And the WEF certainly believe now to be the time for the ‘Great Reset’ of capitalism.

Elite bureaucrats in actuality corrupted by and embedded in the egoism of a society based upon private property (their’s). An elitist world venting opinions about what is good and fair and just and a better world for the rest of us while cut off from its productive roots. Everything Marx detected and detested. And yet at bottom is something basic that is absent in Marxism as well, a disregard, or at best a misunderstanding, of human nature, of what people are actually like. Who would be happy in the better and fairer world thus envisaged by WEF elitists or Marxist intellectuals? A dismantling of private property indeed. This room within which I work, surrounded by my property, expresses my identity. And yet Marx apparently thought that human nature is no more than that which is made by the social relations, albeit Norman Geras, (1943–2013), political theorist, has offered an argument against this position. In outline, he attempts to show that, while the social relations are held to determine the nature of people, they are not the only such determinant. But Marx put forward statements where he specifically refers to a human nature which is more than what is conditioned by the circumstances of one’s life. In ‘Das Kapital’, in a passage critiquing Utilitarianism, he declares that Utilitarians must reckon with human nature in general, and then with human nature as modified in each historical epoch. Marx is thereby arguing against an abstract conception of human nature, presenting instead an account rooted in sensuous life. While he is quite explicit that ‘as individuals express their life, so they are. Hence what individuals are depends on the material conditions of their production’, he also believed that human nature will condition, against the background of the productive forces and relations of production, the way in which individuals express their life. And although this does not mean that every aspect of human nature is wholly variable, and what is transformed need not be wholly transformed, history, nonetheless, involves ‘a continuous transformation of human nature’.

Is it even so?

APEMANTUS (a churlish philosopher):

… O you gods, what a number of

men eat Timon, and he sees ’em not! It grieves me

to see so many dip their meat in one man’s blood;

and all the madness is, he cheers them up too.

I wonder men dare trust themselves with men:

Methinks they should invite them without knives;

Good for their meat, and safer for their lives.

There’s much example for’t; the fellow that sits

next him now, parts bread with him, pledges the

breath of him in a divided draught, is the readiest

man to kill him: ‘t has been proved. If I were a

huge man, I should fear to drink at meals;

Lest they should spy my windpipe’s dangerous notes:

Great men should drink with harness on their throats.

- Shakespeare, ‘Timon of Athens’, Act 1, Scene 2.

To be continued …….

Notes to Finnegans Wake’ quotation:

1. amir (Persian): governor.

2. anent: facing, against, towards.

3. vilayat (Persian): province

4. prostitution.

5. kashkav (Persian): food.

6. taraf (Persian): limit (sb.).

7. dense: to make dense.

8. uncouth: with which one is not acquainted or familiar; unfamiliar, unaccustomed, strange.

9. bad (Persian): wind.

10. barran (baran) (geal) bite; and baran (Persian), rain.

11. compos mentis: having control of one’s mind, in one’s right mind; and non compos mentis (Latin), not in control of the mind, insane.

12. novus (latin): new.

13. elector (Latin): elector, chooser, selector.

14. Marx: the name of Karl Marx (1818–83), German-born socialist writer; and Mookse/Gripes.

15. dear.

16. shenk: to pour out (liquor), to give (a person) drink.

‘Ni asi la distingue’ (‘Even Thus He Cannot Make Her Out’), c. 1799, Goya



David Proud is a British philosopher currently pursuing a PhD at the Institute of Irish Studies, University of Liverpool, on Hegel and James Joyce.

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