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Johannine Politics – Part 1: Introduction

Influenced by the recent surge of interest in the political ramifications of Paul’s thought (see: Badiou, Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism; Zizek, Milbank, & Davis, Paul’s New Moment: Continental Philosophy and the Future of Christian Theology; etc.) as well as the work of Raymond E. Brown I have decided to put together a short series of posts examining an alternate biblical source of political thought, imagining the possible shape of a Johannine politics

In The Churches the Apostles Left Us, Brown writes, “Johannine ecclesiology is the most attractive and exciting in the NT. Alas, it is also the least stable” (pg. 123). In the vein of this thought, and following the Paul-enthusiasts tendency to adapt ecclesiological insights as political ideas, these investigations will begin with a consideration of some of the enticing and powerful characteristics of a Johannine politics, before moving into some of the instabilities and risks inherent to such a philosophy. Although by no means firm, the tentative outline of the subjects of these posts will be as follows:

  1. Introduction
  2. Egalitarianism
  3. The Spirit
  4. Subversion
  5. Eschatology
  6. Schism
  7. Violence
  8. Conclusion

As always, some deep resonances between this philosophy and the work of prominent continental philosophers can be expected. So far, I anticipate engagement with my standard cast-of-characters–Derrida, Caputo, Henry, Marx, Zizek–as well as some Deleuzian insights as I have recently begun my foray into Difference and Repetition in conjunction with some of Caputo’s lectures on Deleuze. 

 

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One Year Later

Today marks the first birthday of “The Space Beyond Being.” I know it is a cliche, but it seems like just yesterday I was searching for a creative outlet for my summertime boredom (if only I had the time to be bored this year…). In celebration of this momentous occasion, I give you this link to my very first post, a review of Michel Henry’s Marx: a Philosophy of Reality; a fortuitous first post, given the prominent role that both phenomenology and Marxism have played in the last year of blogging.

Also, here are some fun stats:

  • Most popular post: Marx’s “Theses on Feuerbach” #7
  • Total “views”: 6,840
  • Most popular search term (leading people here): “summary of Feuerbach”
  • Visitors from over 100 nations

Thank you to all of my readers and commentors for a great first year. Here is my Gif(t) to you:

Philosophical Birthdays

Today marks two noteworth philosophical birthdays:

The first is one of the founders of existential philosophy, the Danish Philosopher and Theologian Søren Kierkegaard, who turns 200 today.

“Be cautious with an abstract thinker who not only wants to remain in abstraction’s pure being but wants this to be the highest for a human being, and wants such thinking, which results in the ignoring of the ethical and a misunderstanding of the religious, to be the highest human thinking.” –Concluding Unscientific Postscript to Philosophical Fragments

The Second is the philosopher, economic theorist, and political revolutionary, Karl Marx, who turns 195 today.

“The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.” –11th Thesis on Feuerbach [my analysis here]

Celebrate these two groundbreaking and revolutionary thinkers today.

This is Full Communism.

This is Full Communism.

[Source: Reblooged~?]

Guest Post: On Wage Slavery, a Double Response

In response to my recent discussion with Bryce at Amtheomusings, regarding “wage-slavery,” a friend offered this “double response” to both myself and Bryce.

Original post (Bryce): Here
My First Response: Here
Bryce’s Response: Here
My Second Response: Here

Without further Adieu….

I certainly cannot (and do not want to) disagree with B. about
the ideologically charged expression ‘wage slavery’: not only it is
outrageously soaked in moral connotations (to the point that, as B.
points out, no one could namely be in its support) but it creates an
imaginative confusion of terms, if we consider that slavery, while
changed and mutated since the 16th century, is well alive in certain
areas of the world (and even in certain grey zones of our Western
society, cf. as an example http://articles.latimes.com/2011/dec/16/
local/la-me-1216-shyima-hall-20111216) and that there is certainly
a difference between a salaried worker in an US factory or a child
forced to sew shoes in some remote town of South East Asia, with
no salary and possibly with menacing guards preventing him/her to
go elsewhere or live differently.

However, I do disagree with the concept that, all in all, there is
nothing, in the hypothetical range of possible society, between the
two extremes of

a) today’s system and

b) a reality in which physical providers of food and shelter should
work in an unrewarded fashion to provide sustenance for the lazy
mass.

The problem addressed by the proposers of the (admittedly
unfortunate) expression ‘wage slavery’ is, more often than not, the
reason because of which salaried workers are completely bound
to their jobs: with the constant shift of economic power from
productive forces to productive resources, i.e. from the worker to
the capitalist (inevitable in a capitalist system, as Marx has shown
and very few have tried to contrast) the labourer is forced into a
complete submission of her life to her job. Simply put, the problem
is that to enjoy a normal life (with shelter, food, hygiene and the
like) the worker herself needs to participate in the production of
goods whose market value far exceeds the value of the money
the worker and her colleagues are paid. It is of course Proudhon’s
theory of survaleur, which only the great improvements in people’s
wealth occurred in the 20th century had allowed us to forget. Recent
years, however, have witnessed a return to a model of subsistence
for most untrained workers, who sometimes are not able to
maintain themselves and their family even when working a fulltime
job.

All this said, I disagree with J. when he equates (or seems to me
to do so) wage-slavery with wage-work in a wage-society. The first
paragraph of his first response (partially corrected in the following
one) implies that a wage-based economic system cannot coexist

with a fair system: the problem in ‘wage-slavery’ is not the wage,
but the slavery! If wage has to be a compensation, a fair one it
must be. I found the artisan model (that I’ve heard proposed over
and over again) an oversimplification: the artisan could be alienated
as well if she was forced to receive anything less than the value of
what she produces.

Again, the response of B. is in my opinion flawed by a
misrepresented concept of ‘agreement’: he states that (and I
quote) “the laborer agrees to be provided with a wage by using the
property of their employer at a work that is in place because others
have chosen to value the product”. But it is exactly this agreement
that is devalued by proposers of a non-wage-driven economy:
the labourer, being deprived of capital (which is limited and
comparatively constantly devaluating itself) and in possession only
of working-force (which is ever-growing and largely over-present)
cannot freely choose but is force to agree. And that’s exactly where
the equation to slavery comes into play.

The almost ‘utilitarian’ justification of capitalism provided (if it is
enacted it must be what makes us all richer) appears to be more
a rhetorical device than a real evidence of virtue; following such a
claim it could be objected that if capitalism was in place because it
represented the best economic system, overthrowing it would be
self-justified, since whatever came after that would be “better” by
providing more economic wealth than capitalism (that would have
disappeared).

At the end of this long (and hopefully friendly) rant, I confess
that I find puzzling the final remarks by J.: while it is a certainly
acceptable moral stance that production should not produce wealth
(even in its broadest sense) I am curious to understand what other
non-economic system you had in mind when addressing such
issues. Co-op and artisanal systems both involve wealth, wealth
production and wealth-distribution.

In fide et amicabiliter

Giacomo ‘Geki’ Leoni

“Wage Slavery” #2

A continuation of my discussion with Amtheomusings, regarding the notion of “wage-slavery” and its theoretical legitimacy or illegitimacy.
Original post (Bryce): Here
My First Response: Here
Bryce’s Response: Here

Thank you for keeping this up Bryce, in regard to your earlier question,  I would be hesitant to call myself a Marxist, due primarily to its overly broad connection to Stallin (whom I don’t support), Lenin & Trotsky (whom I am painfully unfamiliar), and Critical Theory (which is too broad to generalize).  Let me simply reply that I would call myself a socialist (of some stripe) and that I am currently infatuated with Marx (particularly as interpreted by Michel Henry).

I believe that I must first clarify my earlier comment which you quoted: “the model of a non-wage based economics is […] the artisan, the craftsman, for whom a ‘wage’ is irrelevant.” To this you respond,

“But that’s exactly what I find ridiculous: that people shouldn’t act in order to produce something that they, or someone else, values. Unless it were valued, it shouldn’t be produced.”

If I might take this quote in reverse order, I must say that I completely agree with your second assertion: viz. it is only the value that should be produced.  What I must question in your response is the notion of value by which you are critiquing this position.  Specifically, what form of value does the “critic” (here, as elswhere, understood as the critic of “wage-slavery”) believe that productivity should be guided.  The answer, I believe, must be real, human value.  That is to say, it is not that production is not completed in respect to value, but merely that it is not completed in respect to abstract monetary value.  The craftsmen (to return to my previous example) produces his product for direct consumption, in order that it might fulfill the actual human need.  This is fully distinct from the motivation fo the industrialized worker who merely produces for a wage.  This is essentially identical to Marx’s distinction between “use-value” and “exchange-value,” if that helps.

In regards to your discussion of Co-op/worker-control models of production, I believe that you predictedmy response quite accurately when you wrote in your addendum:

“*Obviously, one cannot object that this is a wrong end, since isn’t the point of overturning the “wage-based economic/productive system” also supposed to be that it will make us all wealthier? Then there’s nothing wrong with working to make us all wealthier, if a co-op model of production were to do that.”

To this I must simply respond that, yes, I do believe that the “proper end” of production should not be wealth.  For, it is precisely inaccurate to argue that the restructuring of wage-based-labor will “make us wealthier,” if by wealth you mean “exchange value” (i.e. abstract wealth).  As for use-value (i.e. real value), I can only speculate.  As for quality of life (for the workers in particular) I think this is clear.

For now, I will leave “conservative anarcho-capitalism” [Randianism! 😉 ] aside.

J. Leavitt Pearl

“Wage-Slavery”

Motivated by a post over at Amtheomusings, I wrote the following analysis of “wage-slavery,” and thought I would share it here.  Please visit the original posting here.

If I might offer an alternative perspective, it seems that your critical analysis of this hotly disputed term, “wage slavery,” fails to encompass the specificity of this complex notion. That is to say, it is specifically the *wage-based* economic/productive system, understood as normative, that critics of “wage-labor” intend to overturn. Specifically, at one point you seem to mark the definition of “wage-slavery” as “working for a living amounts to slavery.” In this form, I would tend to agree with you, but I believe that the emphasis must be moved from where I read it in your essay. For, on a separate occasion, you mark the definition of wage-slavery as “they shouldn’t have to work in order to live,” here I must challenge, for it must be recognized that the first and second forms are distinct, precisely as regards wage.

It is not the “work” that is challenged by these critics, but the “for a living.” Advocates of a non-wage based system are not lazy, as naive commentators might lead one to believe, but more specifically are concerned with the “alienation” (to borrow a term from Marx [also, this should not be confused with Hegel’s distinct usage of the term]) of individuals from their work. That is to say, the separation of worker and product. Why, asks the critic, must work be mediated through a irreal system before it might be of value, not economic value, but real, human, everyday value.

In this sense, the model of a non-wage based economics is not the welfare state, the many living off the few, but instead, perhaps, the artisan, the craftsman, for whom a “wage” is irrelevant. The “freeing” of factory workers would not take the form of a burning of the factory, ending production, but on the contrary, a coop model in which the individual factory workers would be shareholders in the company, in which the success or failure of the company would directly (not mediately) relate to the workers.

Michel Henry’s “Barbarism”

NEW BOOK ALERT!

Check out the newly translated Barbarism by one of my favorite authors, Michel Henry. Here!

Barbarism represents a critique, from the perspective of Michel Henry’s unique philosophy of life, of the increasing potential of science and technology to destroy the roots of culture and the value of the individual human being. For Henry, barbarism is the result of a devaluation of human life and culture that can be traced back to the spread of quantification, the scientific method and technology over all aspects of modern life. The book develops a compelling critique of capitalism, technology and education and provides a powerful insight into the political implications of Henry’s work.

It also opens up a new dialogue with other influential cultural critics, such as Marx, Husserl, and Heidegger. First published in French in 1987, Barbarism aroused great interest as well as virulent criticism. Today the book reveals what for Henry is a cruel reality: the tragic feeling of powerlessness experienced by the cultured person. Above all he argues for the importance of returning to philosophy in order to analyse the root causes of barbarism in our world.”

Marx’s “Theses on Feurerbach” #11

“Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.”

Marx’s final thesis on Feurerbach constitute one of the most quoted portions of his oeuvre (along with the opening words of the manifest and his, generally misunderstood, “opiate” assertion). In his eleventh, Marx builds upon the distinction laid out in the tenth thesis.  Yet, here his distinction between traditional materialism and his “new” materialism has been broadened; it is no longer merely Feuerbach who is the recipient of his critique, but philosophy in its totality.

But, what is the essence of this critique?  simple quietism?  Is it merely the passivity of philosophy?  Perhaps.  But let us consider the historical situation of Marx.  Having been brought up under the shadow of Hegel’s dialectical philosophy, Marx abandoned Hegel for Feuerbach.  Yet, following this detour into “traditional” materialism, Marx became disenfranchized with the couter-idealistic (i.e. post-Hegelian) movement of his contemporaries.  Citing the reification of abstract concepts and similar critiques, Marx similarly abandoned this group, setting out to establish his own “dialectical materialism.”

Yet, contrary to those who misinterpret his rejection of Feuerbach as a return to Hegel, Marx did not fully abandon this post-Hegelian culture. Instead, his critique of philosophy’s tendency to describe–its failure to change reality–may be seen as a direct critique of Hegelian conservativism.

Although leftist readings of Hegel’s philosophy have been popularized since the beginning, an honest reading of Hegel cannot fail to recognize a deep Prussian conservativism.  In Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, the state is presented as the objectified manifestation of the Absolute Spirit (i.e. God).  Such an assertion smacks of the radically conservative “divine right” political theories of the early enlightenment.

Against this Marx posits a new philosophical possibility: philosophy as a radically progressive movement.  Philosophy must not merely record reality, implicitly condoning its structure, but much seek to rearrange this structure through its own activity.  Philosophy itself must become a force of revolutionary reconstruction.  In this way, Marx completes the work begun in his tenth thesis and fully unites his philosophical and political projects under a single banner of revolutionary, social, living, sensuous, practical, reality.

(Thank you to those who followed me through this short project.  I ♥ my wordpress followers.)

Marx’s “Theses on Feuerbach” #10

“The standpoint of the old materialism is civil society; the standpoint of the new is human society, or social humanity.”

In his penultimate thesis, Marx offers a resounding hammer-blow against Feuerbach, if not mid-19th-century materialism in toto.  Having mapped out a new materialism, one based upon “sensuous human activity, practice,” one which does not reduce human reality to an abstract “man,” Marx here attempts a clarification of the distinction between his new materialism and that former.

In the “old materialism,” the philosophical foundation remained “civil society,” that is, the political product of human activity and praxis.  Yet, this grounding of materialism in civil society is inescapably a grounding in irreality, in an abstract concept.  For Marx, civil society does not possess true reality, for reality is found only in the practical enactment of human life.

In order to overturn this “old materialism,” Marx seeks a new foundation of philosophy, a grounding in “human society, or social humanity.”  While certainly, at its face, “human society” appears to be a mere repetition of  “civil society,” this thesis must be read in the context of the prior theses.  For Marx, this distinction is essentially a question of source and product.  “Human society” and “civil society” cannot be identical because the latter ideality is grounded in the former reality.  It is true that, for Marx, human reality is essentially social, that is, communal; yet, this sociality is not “civil”: it is not institutionalized.

Grounding his philosophy in the reality of social humanity, Marx is therefore able to bypass institutionalized politics and found a new materialism upon the true essence of human value: sensuous practical activity, human life.  Through this bypassing, Marx is no longer tied to the particularities of an historical civil or political instituition; he is not bound, as Hegel* and Feuerbach before him, to cauterize this political institution into a philosophical necessity.  Rather, radical or revolutionary politics is now a possibility.  In this way, the link between Marx’s philosophical and political thought manifests itself; a link which will be further clarified in his final, 11th thesis.

*(Hegel is notorious for his idealization of the Prussian state, which provided the grounding of the conservative “right Hegelianism”)