"It's interesting that discussions about the analytic/continental divide almost never mention politics. Almost nothing can be understood about continental thought and debates without understanding the political horizon upon which it unfolds. The same is not true of analytic thought. You could say analytic thought is dominated by an epistemological telos (truth), whereas continental thought is dominated by an ethico-political telos. These are very different codes or operative distinctions."
The interplay of the normative and the causal, or the rational and the natural, is what is at stake here. The irony is that each side appears infected by a excess of unquestioned commitment, or dogma. When the analytic naturalist endows science the authority before the real as a matter of principle, the Continentals patronizingly wave the 'positivist!' card, and with due cause. But when the so-called Marxist materialist retorts with such gnomic formulations like "there is no outside of capitalism!", the analytic rightfully scorns what appears to reduce even what telescopes allow us to see to our practice, and take it as an idealist excess. It's clear that both are victim to a kind of methodological naivete: the analytic elides the rationalist obligation to adjudicate metaphysical claims to the in-itself, and the Continental elides the ontological and epistemological levels of description in correlationism (because even science is a human practice, it is said that science cannot know of the in-itself). Pragmatism and correlationism; two sides of the same anti-realist predicament.
This view, mostly to be found in the early Marx (1844, the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts), is still the most bluntly dialectical attempt to reconcile the becoming of the Concept with that of Matter, while not sacrificing their inextricability. But Marx's move doesn't quite work. Contradiction makes sense as a metaphysical principle to describe the dynamism of Nature if and only if one identifies logic and metaphysics, like Hegel did, because one can say that the principle of identity of indiscernibles leads to the conceptual equivalence of being and nothingness, from which the dialectical process begins. One can equate conceptual indiscernibility with the metaphysical identity through PII, because it is said that there is nothing external to the identity issued by the rational Concept. This makes sense for Hegel because you can begin with a pure abstract concept of being and have no predicative quality separate it from Nothing.
In the end, with Althusser, the entire attempt to even say what Nature could be prior to the interplay of labor and matter becomes impossible, and the later Marx is much more bluntly descriptively empirical than 'philosophical' about Nature. The corollary of the incapacity, however, to dialectically disassociate the materiality of Nature from that of labor, by way of a rigorous rationalist materialism is, of course, a kind of correlationism or idealism. We thus get preposterous claims like "there is no outside of capitalism". This, again, elides the epistemological with the ontological, and I think no Marxism can survive the brutal reality of the contemporary without re-assessing its fundamental conceptual quandaries. It is clear the classical Hegelian dialectics won't do, and that negativity and contradiction/opposites are insufficient as metaphysical principles. The essential question remains: how to reconcile a rationalism with a materialism.
b) Politics and Economy / Reason and Nature
"There are two very different types of political theory. On the one hand, there is the sort of political theory you find in thinkers like Marx, Foucault, and Deleuze and Guattari who hold that the most effective way to engage is by mapping the field of power, how it functions, its mechanisms so that people can engage better, more logistically, more strategically, more effectively. These theoristsgenerally say little about what is to be done. Their contribution is to uncover the problem.
There's another type of political theory that thinks what's important is declaring what you're against, establishing what a subject is, establishing that we have freedom or agency, and denouncing. This doesn't seem to contribute much as it seldom understands the concrete problems, how the field is organized, or how to engage. But it's fun, at least."
I insist in that as long as theorists routinely disavow economics when doing political investigation they're repeating in a variation the nefarious move that post-Heideggerean phenomenologists-hemeneutic historicists did when routinely subordinating science to the subject or experience, to the point of patronizing it as 'derivative abstractions (even Habermas does this). And I think this diagnosis applies to both ends of the spectrum described by Levi, which is why I think the impotence we face today is both of an analytic and of an strategic sort. The antipathy to the mathematical-scientific envelopment of material processes that embody and mobilize relations of production and that articulate the 'fields of power' cannot be obviated in pains of a parochial slothfulness before the difficulties of the situation.
Now, does this mean that we must go the 'reductionist' route, and attempt to describe a political process in terms purely immanent to the material 'primacy processes'? Not quite. Recent Deleuzian-inspired accounts which follow this route face something of the opposite problem than the historicists, in that the category of agency becomes either impossible or extremely problematic, which leads into an equally impotent, and even more alienating, fetishizing of 'material process' (Nick Land anyone?). In the name of ontological univocity, and waging war against the logos of every representationalism and humanism (Deleuze included), thinkers like Land deflate the empirical-transcendental distinction to the point of effectively destroying the rational kernel in which political categories are articulated: decision, agency, obligation, all fall out the window.
These are normative categories, and as such operate within the manifest image of man in the world, and the logical space of reasons which he inhabits. In destroying the autonomy of the normative, Landianism procures not just a pragmatic contradiction where all agency is dissolved, and at which point the only possible imperative is to 'intensify' the native process into which you're invariably imbedded. But more fundamentally, one elides the capacity to adjudicate one's claims in rational terms, vitiating the theoretical status of one's enterprise, by destroying the logical basis of argumentation. It's your sci-fi counterpart to the classical romanticism of the historicists.
One cannot fully dislodge the impersonal potency of market-forces from the interest of agents, and its complex social envelopment. The twofold axis of rational subjective/collective decision/deliberation and the automatism of impersonal causal/axiomatic processes saturates the political and the economical in their mutual inextricability. Now, of course, this is not strictly speaking analogous to the unilateral ontological dependence of the normative on the natural, because in the case of politics and economics there is a bi-conditional ontological as well as epistemic dependence, i.e. they cannot exist without the other, just as they cannot be understood independently of each other. But the point is ultimately that political becoming cannot be counterposed to economic being. Being and becoming are native to economy once it is understood that the axiomatics of economy dynamize themselves in by integrating decisional processes at the level of the normative. It is possible to understand discontinuities in economy without relapsing into haecceitism, while also avoiding glorifying the 'subjective revolutionary' elan at the expense of understanding the dynamics of local change. Thus, economics needs to be understood outside any purported set-theoretical 'ontological' envelopment, so as to explain how the dynamic processes of the market are mobilized in interaction with the dynamics of agential processes proper to deliberation in individuals, institutions, and so on (it is this intersection wherein certain concepts acquire concrete valence: share-value, risk analysis, probabilistic enveloping of financial speculation...). So what of politics then?
But we must be more Badiouean or Sellarsian when accepting that the articulation between relations of production and the dynamics of class struggle cannot be construed in terms of a precarious concept of matter that introduces dialectical negation into it. The trick is to preserve the autonomy of political process with the natural efficacity of natural process in methodological terms, so as to avoid enveloping materiality with the conceptual (Idealism), but so as to avoid their indistinction (Land). Thus, while rational subjectivation is the methodological condition for any politics, it cannot be merely subtracted from the structural or economic in the name of an evental split. Economy is dynamic in relating into its axiomatic aspect the agency of individuals and institutions, and subjectivity is structural in formally conditioning the dynamics of economy by virtue of being integrated into the latter's axiomatic process.
Thus, the question would be, how is it possible to have an organization of the formal reality of the economic and the materiality it supports, outside the form of the commodity? That is ultimately the task, but it cannot be resolved right away. How to have a conception of use-value adequate to the exigencies of our world outside the dynamism of generating surplus-value through the commodity form? What could such a conception of need or demand constitute, and under which practice?