lunes, 18 de junio de 2012

The Non-Politics of "The Politics Of": Politics and Economy

Politics and Economy / The Manifest Image and the Scientific Image

Introduction - Methodological Preliminaries, the Analytic-Continental Division Again, Science and Politics

Levi has been making some interesting comments about the connection between politics, analysis and critique, which devolved in a few responses from my part that might be worthy to integrate into a blog-post of its own. The main comment that triggered the responses was the following one

"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." 

My response proceeded as follows: first, I agree in that politics is much more pervasive in Continental discussions, even where some of its canonical figures didn't write all that much on politics (Heidegger; Bergson...). A similar argument can be said about science in Continental theory. Much of the self-proclaimed 'materialisms' are correlationist hybrids, including Marxist conceptions. Even materiality, when it is accepted in the name of a "materialism", is relativized to 'relations of production', or whatnot. I think the ubiquity of the political is in a sense a consequence of the hegemony of anti-realisms: the contextualization of every philosophical valence transforms ontological-epistemological questions to questions about the ways in which discourse organizes human practice.

This also illuminates why the analytic tradition, when committed to metaphysical and epistemological programs, did not think it necessary to pass through the socio-discursive grinder. Even instrumentalisms and (neo) pragmatism were for the most part restricted to methodological questions about a specific practice, rather than inflating the ubiquity of the political in every affirmative gesture. There's obvious exceptions to both rules.

I think, for my part, that the lesson to be learnt is twofold. For the Continentals, the concept of materiality needs to be dislodged from its residual humanism, as made visible when reducing it to 'relations of production'. The materiality of practice is still too anthropomorphically sealed. Any contemporary Marxism that seeks to be truly materialist cannot be encumbered by such a parochial notion. Any stringent concept of revolution to follow cannot continue to avow the heroic revolutionary elan, while keeping economy, techno-scientific insight subordinate to the classical dynamics of class struggle. This kind of weakness leads to thinkers like Badiou being able to claim for example that economy is just the State, and that politics is rather where subjective decision takes place. I think Land is right to mock this romantic exuberance.

For analytics, I think it's clear that the purported realism of their metaphysical positions came at a price of political naivete, which undermined their pretences. Brassier shows this in Nihil Unbound apropos the Churchlands for example, and I think Graham and others show a similar result in Ladyman and Ross, where appeals to the authority of science subordinate realism to pragmatism, and therefore end up becoming victims of a tacit political prescription behind their alleged normative neutrality.

he 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. 

a) Hegel and Marx

I think a beginning for those of us involved in 'Continental theory' is to be uncompromisingly critical with the purported materialism of Marxist philosophy. The whole Marxist 'materialist' reversal of Hegel grossly insufficient. It wants to subvert the idealism latent in Hegel's dialectics in sight of a truly materialist conception of change.  To do so, Marx naively transplants dialectical categories proper to the Concept to the material. Thus, Marx frames nature ubiquitously and historically as governed by the principle of contradiction and the law of negation. So he wants to inject negativity into the Natural to make it a dynamic force of material production and to avoid tethering it to the narrow confines Conceptual, and so to an exercise in theoretical-reason for subjective consciousness; the materiality of practice is instead set then describe how qualitative forms emerge in matter, leading to the commodity-form as a mixture of 'pure' Nature (matter) and labor, and where the latter transforms the former into the 'inorganic support' or body of man. 

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, and one can thus give blunt conceptual contradictions ontological content, from which the dialectical process takes off. One can equate conceptual indiscernibility with metaphysical identity through PII, because for idealism there is nothing in the order of being external to the identity issued by the rational Concept; the rational is what is actual. 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.

But when you want to begin from the multiplicity of Nature, before entwining with the Conceptual, it makes no sense to speak of negativity or contradiction. Marx is forced into saying ridiculous, proto-obscurantist things such as 'everything in nature has an opposite'. But what is the 'contradiction' or 'contrary' of a finger? Or of a planet? Or of a finger-part, for that matter? Marx wants the rationalist baby without the idealist bathwater, but instead ends up in methodological confusion, dislodging negativity from the Concept, where it is imbued and enveloped. Dialectical negativity cannot be transplanted into the material as an ontological motor without vitiating the rationalist coherence of the theory.

    In the end, the 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, the dyanmics of matter from that of production, is what allows Marxist orthodoxy to claim materialism means acknowledging that reality is determined by the dynamics of relations of production, rather than by blunt intellectual speculation. But in doing so it forgets its internal incapacity to theorize the mind-independent world of matter on which production is conditioned metaphysically. This is not going to change until the residual Hegelianism can be done away with and the theory given proper methodological footing. Otherwise, we get preposterously proto-correlationist or idealist claims like "there is no outside of capitalism!". 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.

Of course, much Marxism has moved away and beyond the early conceptual frame that Marx inherited vis a vis Hegel (Althusser being maybe the most rigorous example). But much work still is left here; I don't think structuralism will do the trick just like that. But that is a discussion for another time.

b) Politics and Economy / Reason and Nature

Levi also mentioned, in a more recent comment:

"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."
In response to this insightful passage, I mentioned the following points:

     I am generally suspicious of political theories that divorce diagnosis or critique from strategy. These are separate tasks, of course, but part of what probably reeks on both ends as ultimately impotent when thinking of a new possible societal organization is the saturation of descriptive-prescriptive discourse by insufficiently nuanced conceptual categories, following from an insufficient appreciation for the binding between politics and economics.

 This I find for instance in Foucault's strict historicist outlook, which is ultimately humanly sealed to the point of demoting the empirical reality of market economy. He has nothing to say about the concrete movement of economy, but plenty to say about agency, institutions, and power. I think there is some untapped 'structuralist' potential here, when dislodged from the residual humanism, however stringently Foucault's denouncing might have been against everything claiming itself to be 'human'.

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, to the point of patronizing it as 'derivative abstractions' (even Habermas does this). 
All this to say: the patronizing of the intricacies of economy is the corollary of the correlationist reification of subjectivity, agency and "power". 

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 space of reasons in which man conceives of itself through obligations and responsibilities. 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 embedded. 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, thereby eliding the possibility of a real basis to adjudicate normative claims. It's your sci-fi counterpart to the classical romanticism of the historicists.

The resulting deficiency explains also what I take to be the brutal flaccidity of contemporary positive political visions. Without having the capacity to envision a new form of economical organization, political 'theory' is doomed to remain confined to vituperations against the State, the endless celebration of subjective and collective freedom, and the glorification of the moments of riot and demonstration. Not to demean the valence of the latter, of course. But it is clear that something like what Marx did, that is, to have a political vision sufficiently attentive to the intricacies of political economy to envelop the global scope, will need to get a grip into the concrete dynamics of the contemporary market. Without that, talk of 'relations of production' can never get off the academic conceptual commerce, which results in a placebo more than anything, encouraging the next parade of books with titles such as "The Politics of Lamentation". Romanticized historicist genealogies can do as fascinating history, and are absolutely necessary. This is not to simply identify politics with economy, but to insist that discontinuities in politics, global or local, cannot be excised from a dialectical interplay with the economic, insofar as the latter is the material support of collective organization and life. Critique of political economy is essential, and cannot be done away with.

So what is the alternative? Here I would timidly suggest that the necessary articulation between the normative and the natural is somewhat analogous to the articulation between the political and the economic. This would need some reconstructive surgery of course, but the idea, would be roughly along the following lines. We can't agree with Badiou in claiming that economy is something like the bare normality of the State, because this delivers the complex dynamics of market and the possibility of an economy to the 'fixity' of a structure, while reserving political action for the supplementary category of subjective decision, still beholden to romanticist voluntarism. It plainly divorces political subjectivation from its necessary intrication within the structural dynamics not only of a societal-state apparatus, but to a social-link determining the relations of material exchange, production and labor. Zizek criticizes the residual voluntaraism in Badiou thus as the Kantian supplement in the revolutionary's thought, somewhat justifiably. However, we must agree with Badiou and every apologist of the "free revolutionary subject", in that the economic stratum of abstract transactions and processes, or the Market, does not by itself produce wholesale structural changes, if by the latter we understand the sublation of its axiomatic efficiency.

One cannot fully dislodge the impersonal potency of market-forces from the interest of agents, and their complex social envelopment. Reducing individual and collective will to a facile moralistic Manichean distinction between the 'revolutionary elan' and the reactive capitalist 'greed', one fails to secure the proper integration of will into the pragmatics of political and economic decision, and how they make the latter not only axiomatically operational but structurally contingent. 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. Here, the function of critique of ideology overlaps with the making explicit of implicit norms which, inculcated by the State apparatus and the ruling class, articulate the logical nexus of the social space across a field of material inferences relaying concepts and practice,  organizing at the highest level the operational circuits of market dynamics. Ideological critique becomes of a piece with the exposing of implicit rules, challenging their normative valence. Economics here overlaps with the political, insofar as the mechanisms of deliberation proper to the latter can, once wrested from the blind efficacy of implicit norms through the use of logical and critical vocabulary, interrupt the axiomatic efficacy of the market by placing a burden of proof on the agencies that support it, and issues a challenge to its internal mechanics.

Political becoming cannot be counterposed to economic being. Being and becoming are native to economy through politics, once it is understood that the axiomatics of economy dynamize themselves 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 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?

The possibility of structural change, in various degrees, or what I propose to call politics, concerns a possible way in which these two registers are entwined; it is not the emergence of subjectivity when the 'evental decision' disowns itself from all economic reality, breaking the latter's stasis. The Political Event cannot be dislodged from economy; we must be more Hegelian than Kantian here. Which means also, of course, more Marxist. By this I mean that in politics change is thought of in the articulation between the agential-institutional and the processual-causal at the pivotal joints, rather than in the sublation or elision of the economic in the name of the political.

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). 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 by the functional relaying of norms within the social space.

       The political natively related to economy is to be found at the moment not just when the former outstrips the regularity of the latter, but when it composes a dynamics of production sufficient to a set of needs, new possibilities and demands, and re-articulates the integral dynamism between the three in the form of labor and production dynamics. Demands cannot be understood outside the mediation of language and practice that informs the manifest image of man in the world, any more than it can be understood irrespective from the formal reality of value-form that inserts it into the field of commerce. But the incapacity to move outside the commodity-form which governs exchange value in capital dynamics is contingent on the present ubiquity of market-economy. Which means: any new articulation between the kernel of normativity and economics must depart from the contemporary situation. This is the only sense in which there being no outside of capitalism makes any sort of sense.

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?

Provisionally, we can muse: needs and demands are not fixed, but are partly empirically fixed by material constraints on the agents normatively articulating the social space (for example: food, health, housing...). This requires that the normative binding set the space of production-labor by developing an economic alternative to certain tasks (agriculture, medicine, construction...); or to propose the latter's axiomatization in an alternative model to market. Yet these spaces of economic reality cannot be reduced to wills that organize 'the greed of capitalist consumerism' any more than we can inflate collective action by deflating organization to 'Riot! No State!'. The latter is as powerless before Wall Street as it is when devising an effective means to organize labor so as to grow crops and distribute them across a population. We're still going to have to sink our teeth into the dynamics of market, and have the conceptual tools to devise new forms of articulation. If not, then 'bourgeois epistemology' flinging pebbles against the capitalist Iron Wall is all we have.