Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Samantha's notes on Critical Theory

‘Critical Theory’ is a term used to refer to a tradition divided by generation. Contemporary theorists include Habermas, Offe, Apel, writing broadly in the tradition as redefined by Habermas. The early theorists included Adorno, Horkheimer, Marcuse, Lowenthal, Neumann, Benjamin. What unites them is a concern to provide a systematic and critical analysis of social phenomena and the tendencies of modern societies with the aim of achieving a more rational society. The project contains empirical, theoretical and philosophical themes, and draws on Marx, Hegel, Nietzsche, and Freud, as well as (esp. Habermas), Durkheim and Weber.

The ‘Frankfurt School’ was established as an institute of orthodox Marxian studies in 1923. In 1930 Max Horkheimer became its director; from this time a distinct tradition emerged. Basic questions and issues:

Why was there no revolution after 1917 in the West?
How to explain the phenomenon of alienation?
Why did people consent to fascism?
Why does exposure to culture, commonly seen as civilising, not guard against barbarism?
Dispute with positivists and concern to oppose instrumental reason.

Disenchantment with orthodox Marxism

Saw tendency for Marxism to become scientistic socialism, creating a void in which the right could take control. Engaged in a critical re-examination of Marx’s ideas for early c20, using the argument that historical materialism by definition anticipates its own constant reformulation – c20 Marxism must be distinct from c19 Marxism due to changed historical circumstances.

Dealing with political upheavals in Europe in the first decades of the c20, and influenced by the publication of Marx’s early writings at the time. Focused on the need for interdisciplinarity and on the dangers of closure/assuming a totalising explanation (reality incomplete, therefore to effect closure implies domination).

Therefore not orthodox Marxists. Class conflict and economic forces important, but did not give a complete picture. Need to examine a more general historical dynamic (in which Marxism itself ensnared). That general dynamic was one of enlightenment and domination. For example, Adorno and Horkheimer’s Dialectic of Enlightenment argued that Enlightenment was destroying itself from within. With increased knowledge, humans had gained increased mastery over both external nature and human subjectivity. Both were increasingly subordinated to technical control and manipulation. Taking up Weber’s account of rationalisation as producing an ‘iron cage’, they argued that as instrumental reason became increasingly dominant the space for criticism closed down. Enlightenment was returning to myth and to more absolute forms of domination.

Central question was therefore how to maintain a space for criticism. This lead them to examine the political and sociological aspects of culture, understanding mass media as an assimilating force for capitalism.

Three sets of ideas helped in the reformulation of Marxism:

1. Work of Korsch and Lukacs. Former argued that orthodox Marxism was a form of ‘contemplative materialism’ – waiting for the revolution as an inevitable event meant neglect of subjectivity. Latter argued that the main barrier to realisation of revolutionary agency was reification. Critical theorists use these ideas to break open Marxism from within.
2. Nietzsche’s ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’. Suspicion of any claim to totality/truth – completeness always out of reach. Marxism had reached a premature closure. Need for continuous criticism. Idea that one must move backwards toward the truth as something is missing in the present.
3. Psychoanalysis. Important in critical theorists attempt to understand fascism. Argument that weakening of the ego and assumption by social forces of the role of the superego had reduced the role of the family in late bourgeois society. Vacuum of authority in family meant that individuals were more receptive to authority figures outside the family, e.g. in culture industry and fascist demagoguery.

Critique of positivism

Dialectic of Enlightenment gives an account of Enlightenment as a project aimed at liberating people from fear and establishing sovereignty of human reason, but describes a process whereby reason becomes a fetter. Instrumental reason, technical control over humans and nature, comes to dominate. This is identified as positivism:

1. treats human agents as facts/objects – determinism
2. conceives world only as it is immediately given – no distinction appearance and essence
3. establishes an absolute division between fact and value – separates knowledge from human interests

The critical theorists opposed this with dialectical theory. Mediation of facts and values and appearance and essence as part of one totality, a contradictory and moving dialectical process. No value freedom – the intellectual is part of what they study. Positivism is tied to increased domination and control over people and things; it dissolves the possibility of criticism. This even reaches the aesthetic realm – affirmative culture works to erase the possibility of criticism and produces increasing uniformity – mass culture for mass society, with only pseudo individuality. A kind of psychoanalysis in reverse.

Possibilities for change

Autonomous art – that which refuses standardisation and familiarity could be a repository of difference and new values
Negative dialectics – resistance to orthodoxy, continual and immanent criticism.


Link between theory and practice? Believed society not ripe for revolution – no agent in this period, therefore task centred on maintaining the possibility of criticism through darkness (Habermas describes this as a ‘politics of hibernation’)

Obscurity – attempt to develop fragmentary writing as a way of resisting closure, but this makes their work difficult.


- Stressed interdisciplinary character of social inquiry – resistance to disciplinary boundaries.
- Worked to maintain Marxism as a form of ethical critique at a time of positivism and Stalinism.
- Historical materialism as open-ended – opposed dogmatism.
- Recognition that capitalism had changed since c19, and the need to rework ideas in the light of this.
- Emphasised that social and political theorists need to understand culture, and emphasised the relationship between aesthetics and politics.
- Relation of humans and nature – critique of instrumental reason is also a critique of the domination of nature, something most Marxist accounts accept.

Thursday, May 18, 2006



** REASON **

The dialectic of enlightenment

(1) There is a linear component to the dialectic. Enlightenment’s roots are antiauthoritarian, in a sense which encompasses even divine authority.[1]

Enlightenment reverts to myth: according to a linear understanding, enlightenment’s domination over nature, which is initially liberating, gradually turns into domination over the natural substrate of the human.[2]

This manifests as man’s self-domination (alienation), and the domination of men by men:[3]

• Enlightenment reverts to scientism / positivism: concepts become formulae, causes become rule and probability, quality becomes quantity.
• This cognitive domination is the basic cause of sociotechnical domination (the domination of man by man).[4] Enlightenment reverts to instrumentalization / technicity: science does not arbitrate its ends.

What enlightened thought represents as superstition, and tries to purge, is already a form of cognition. (Cf. heuristics). Myth is already enlightenment inasmuch as identificatory thinking is inalienable to thought.

Classification, i.e. subsumption as specimens, has an interest in domination, but is different from it. One corollory is that domination and capitalism are not coterminous[5] (cf. Marx[6]).

• The modern reception of Nietzche which emphasises his attack on enlightenment nihilism leads to an irrationalist glorification of pre-rational immediacy, which in fact already contains ingredients of modern rationality.

The entanglement of enlightenment with myth, and reason with domination, is nowhere absent from this account. But the quality of the entanglement has changed, indicating that it’s not a transhistorical invariant:

• In particular, unlike sacrifice,[7] magic and mimesis do not mystify difference. They are not prior to reason or domination, but they are prior to the unity of subject (internalised self-sacrifice).
• Mimesis, the impulse to resemble, is displaced by identification – the attempt to classify, to subsume particulars as specimens.


In a non-linear vein (sic), myth is already enlightenment, and enlightenment reverts to myth, in the sense that the “enlightened” concept of enlightenment is not enlightened enough.[8] It is unenlightened to the extent it fails to reflect on its own ineradicable mythical dimension:

• Reason tries to rid itself of discrimination. But to aggregate what is like means necessarily to segregate it from what is different. There is a qualitative moment in all quantification.
• Reason tries to rid itself of the non-identical. In doing so it upholds irrational violence, and surrenders its own ineradicable imaginative element to superstition, charlatanism, and madness.

Does this mean that enlightenment and myth are one-and-the-same, albeit historically variable, phenomenon? No. The two theses in Dialectic of Enlightenment have shifting, dialectical priority:

• “Myth is already enlightenment” must not be taken to permanently equate power with knowledge (this might be the thesis that enlightenment is “always already” myth – cf. perhaps Foucault).
• “Enlightenment reverts to myth” must not be understood to permanently entail a failure of enlightenment, such that it should be completed (cf. Habermas) or reversed (however meanderingly and however locally – cf. perhaps Foucault).

Adorno and Horkheimer would balk at defining the relationship b/w the theses as methodology. (Cf. Adorno: “It’s very likely that under the spell of the latter the individuated and the concrete do not even exist yet. Through the word pluralism, utopia is suppressed, as if it were already here; it serves as consolation. That is why however dialectical theory, which critically reflects on itself, may not for its part install itself domestic-style in the medium of the generality”). Nonetheless, their relationship is best made sense of through the figure of an embodied inquirer, successively drawing these contradictory stances from one another and responding ethically, imaginatively and critically within the confines of each phase.

Adorno & Marx

Marx, praxis. Although Adorno shares many of Marx’s anthropological intuitions, he thinks that a twentieth-century equation of truth with practical fruitfulness, capitalist or communist, had disastrous effects. Negative Dialectics begins by making two claims:

• First, although obsolete, philosophy remains necessary because capitalism has not been overthrown.
• Second, Marx’s interpretation of capitalist society was inadequate and his critique is outmoded. Hence, praxis no longer serves as an adequate basis for challenging (philosophical) theory. In fact, praxis serves mostly as a pretext for shutting down the theoretical critique that transformative praxis would require.

Marx requires revisions in a number of other areas: the dialectic between forces of production and relations of production; the relationship between state and economy; the sociology of classes and class consciousness; the nature and function of ideology; and the role of expert cultures, such as modern art and social theory, in criticising capitalism and calling for the transformation of society as a whole.

Although in agreement with Marx’s analysis of the commodity, Adorno thinks his critique of commodity fetishism does not go far enough. Marx “had it easy.” Society has come to be organised around the production of exchange values for the sake of exchange value (which, of course, always already requires a silent appropriation of surplus value). Adorno refers to this nexus of production and power as the “principle of exchange.” A society where this nexus prevails is an “exchange society.”

A caution on totality: while still pretending to grasp the whole, philosophy fails to recognise how thoroughly it depends upon society as a whole, all the way into philosophy’s “immanent truth” (ND 4). Cf. aporetic approach, immanent critique, negative dialectics, atonal philosophy, constellations.

Cf. Adorno: “The inflated bluster over concepts such as ‘imperialism’ or ’monopoly,’ without taking into consideration what these words factually entail [Sachverhalten], and to what extent they are relevant, is as wrong, that is to say irrational, as a mode of conduct which, thanks to its blindly nominalistic conception of the matter at hand [Sachverhalten], refuses to consider that concepts such as exchange-society might have their objectivity, revealing a compulsion of the generality behind the matter at hand [Sachverhalten], which is by no means always adequately translated into the operational field of the facts of the matter [Sachverhalte].”

Adorno & state capitalism


1930s controversies concerning crisis, immiseration, spontaneity and flexibility / robustness of capitalist system. Cf. Luxembourg. Revolutionary or constitutional socialism?

Pollock: monopolistic capitalism, corporatism, capital concentration. Ferocious accumulation, unconstrained by relations of production.

Pollock: Nazism didn’t just mystify material interests, it changed them. Adorno’s lukewarm reception of this analysis – it suggests non-antagonistic economic relations were possible in the antagonistic society of Fascist Germany.

Neumann: see Behemoth. Rejects the state capitalism thesis. Was Nazism then a glorified confidence trick? Adorno: no, it was a real illusion.

Adorno: industrial society in forces of production; late capitalism in relations of production.

While acknowledging with Pollock that political and economic power have become more tightly meshed, Adorno does not think the fundamentally economic character of capitalist exploitation has changed. Economic exploitation has become even more abstract than it was in Marx’s day, and therefore all the more effective and pervasive. The market permeates all areas of human life. Capital is so concentrated as to appear the expression of the entire society.

The problematic Adorno faces is the priority of industrial society (i.e. relations of production) vs. that of productive forces (i.e. late capitalism). The problematic is produced by the thoroughness of the dialectical interpenetration of the two theses. He dissolves this false dilemma with the paradox that “contemporary society is above all an industrial society according to the level of its productive forces.” This would appear to be a category error: the industrial society thesis encourages us to discard productive forces as an autonomous explanatory category.

How is this unpacked?

“In the categories of critical-dialectical theory I would like to suggest as a first and necessarily abstract answer, that contemporary society is above all an industrial society according to the level of its productive forces. Industrial labor has become the model pattern of society everywhere and across all borders of political systems. It developed itself into a totality due to the fact that modes of procedure, which resemble the industrial ones, are extending by economic necessity into the realms of material production, into administration, the distribution-sphere and that which we call culture. Conversely, society is capitalism in terms of its relations of production [Adorno’s emphasis]. Human beings are still what they were according to the Marxist analysis of the middle of the 19th century: appendages of machines, not merely in the literal sense as workers, who have to adapt themselves to the constitution of the machines which they serve, but far beyond this and metaphorically, compelled to assume the roles of the social mechanism and to model themselves on such, without reservation, on the level of their most intimate impulses. Production goes on today just as it did before, for the sake of profits. Needs have gone beyond anything Marx could have foreseen in his time, completely becoming the function of the production-apparatus, which they potentially were all along, instead of the reverse. They are totally governed [gesteuert: mechanically steered, governed].”

Class. For Marx, class is an objective concept which relies on a relationship to the means of production. Not susceptible to quantificatory assessment / phenomenal criteria.

Adorno’s response is characteristically double:

• Adorno (Pollock’s influence): relations of production more elastic than Marx suspected. “The ruling class disappears behind the concentration of capital.” They have become largely functions of their own production apparatus. Cf. economies of scale, natural monopolies,[9] irreducible complexity. Immiseration in Marx’s sense is disabled.
• The exploited are less and less able to experience themselves as a class. “One can speak of relative immiseration only in a comic sense.” Yet exploitation remains intact, indeed sharpens and grows in fixity. Unfreedom is not played out as Marx prognosticised, but “one’s dependence on the consciousness of those who serve an uncontrollable apparatus, is spreading universally over humanity.” Class consciousness is less likely in proportion to the strength of economic domination.

(Cf. Q. Skinner’s “neoclassical unfreedom” – dependence on the arbitrary will of another).

An archaic injustice – partiality of the means of production – underlies apparently free and equitable exchange. But Adorno cannot uncover this injustice as an objective concept – as the extraction of surplus labour – as Marx could, by an immanent critique of liberalism. There is a corroborative relationship between the frustrated objectivity of the two concepts: class, and the extraction of surplus labour.

Adorno’s materialism steadies itself by constant reference to bodily pain and actual homicide. But for relations of production, repeated mass death by starvation, etc., are preventable. Adorno maintains a connection between this self-extermination, and the damage done to life everywhere in the relations of production in order to mystify it.

Marx is still supremely relevant.[10] The identity of the forces of production with the relations of production is a socially necessary illusion. Actually, they are dialectically related. Cf. Wendt, “Anarchy is What You Make It.”

Adorno: no priority of forces over production over relation of production can be assumed, since the former are mediated by the latter. It is important that “one does not cast the blame on what critique has time and again been side-tracked by – namely technics, that is to say the productive forces – thereby indulging in a kind of theoretical machine-breaking on an expanded level [cf. idealism]. Technics is not the disaster, but rather its intertwining with the social relations, in which it is entangled.” The relations of production are relatively preponderant, so the Marxist understanding of their reification is the more pertinent account.


Marx. In exchange, non-identical things and unequal relations represented as abstractly identical (cf. dispositional / relational qualities of objects; Oliver Hart’s “reference points”; fetish character of the commodity). Is this idea true?

Exchange value comes to appear as inherent in commodity – hides “its” source in determinate relationship of domination.

Domination accrues the appearance of a natural series of equivalences.

Lukacs: reification is extension of commodity fetishis to all areas of human consciousness and activity.

Illusory autonomy sought by sociology at the price of immanence / historicity.

Lukacs: the capitalist mistakes himself for a determiner of reification; in praxis the proletariat becomes the identical subject-object of history, whose consciousness is unreified.

For Adorno, materialist thought must realise it is never identical with its objects.

Distinction between capitalist and proletariat experience of experience of reification blurred in Adorno compared with Lukacs.

Anti-semitic anti-capitalism of Fascism was an extension of the logic of late capitalism. The Jews epitomized the sphere of circulation. Strove for egalitarian, mutilating levelling.

Social-pyschological studies: anti-Semitism, authoritarian personality. Cultural studies: television, film, music; also conversations on trains, glimpsed expressions, etc.

Emphasising the Hegelian dimension of Marx, Adorno uses Marxian anti-methodologist critique to rebuke Weber. Marx attacks Left Hegelians and utopian socialists for the “ought” they propose outside of social experience. Likewise, classical political economy begins with illegitimate deductive abstractions.

Immanent critique does not methodologically pre-form its objects. Adorno reads Marx as an immanent critic of political economy – one who starts with the concept in which fact and norm are most acutely implicated, fair exchange, and shows how bourgeois society’s fulfilment of its constitutive normativity would supersede / sublate (aufheben) the bourgeois form of society. “He only needed to ask whether capitalism corresponded in its own dynamic categories to this model, in order to produce, out of the determinate negation of the preexisting theoretical system, a system-like theory in its own right. Meanwhile the market economy has become so honeycombed, that it mocks any such confrontation. The irrationality of the contemporary social structure hinders its rational development in theory.”

Truth is “glimpsed” by determinate negation of the false (so not really a “stance” or “orientation”).

Adorno distances his approach from economism.

Immiseration is a consequence of the autonomous course of liberal political economy, as modified by monopoly capitalism.

Nietzschean moment? Domination reproducting itself in trivially autonomous social and political forms?

Millions starve while food is stockpiled, and nothing apparently can be done.

Cf. aid, moral hazard, additionality, fungibility, selfishness (cf. Peter Singer). Cf. commitment problems. Cf. overlapping consensus.

Materialism which aims to rid itself of illusion entirely risks sensuous dogmatism, endlessly playing out crude involuntary philosophical commitments.

A seamlessly noncontradictory system cannot be materialist. Systematicity is the levelling of the non-identical. Cf. Habermas.

Material has a contradictory relationship with system.

Adorno resists insulating Marx from German philosophy, and from the entire materialist tradition.

Materialism need not be emancipatory / critical. Cf. Hobbes.

Material specificity of minute particulars, not universals, should be the starting point of philosophical interpretation. Cf. Benjamin.

Experience is “sedimented” (cf. Husserl) in abstract concepts.

Systemic character (real illusion) of capitalist society presents systematisation as the unavoidable commitment of any immanent critique. Marx builds a negative system capable of querying the systemic unity which bourgeois society claims for itself.

Contesting political economy’s restrictedly technical redefinition of normative concepts à “free” as “contractually consenting.”

Marx is critical of previous socialist efforts to found political economy in dogmatic anthropology. Where methodological convenience organises the foundational division between needs and wants, the result will be empty moralising. The notion of need emerges coevally with surplus value as a “gift from nature.”

For Smith and Turgot, the question was how is profit possible from fair exchange?

(Cf. Islamic finance).

Marx: theory of surplus value. Price of labour is determined by how much labour goes into the production of labour.

Capital critiques political economy by offering a phenomenology of a systematic and real illusion, whose every category is an identification and misidentification.

Marx’s materialism seeks to avoid political economy’s positivism (in the sense of an exaggerated sense of the nomological); materialist anthropology with a dogmatic doctrine of human needs or interests; and any methodological stance which will betray in advance the specificity of the material.

Nature neither subjected to “dialectical-materialist” expositions (cf. Engels), nor placed under an embarrassed taboo (post-structuralism).

Marx attempts to undo the illusion that all experience is economically / culturally constructed from within, glimpsing nature.

Capitalism does not invent mystification.

For Marx, domination must be deduced economically. He holds a polemic front against the conservative idea that domination is “natural.”

Adorno (influenced by Pollock) wants to correct this tendency: the collapse of capitalism might lead to worse domination / mystification.

Dialectic of Enlightenment: a philosophy of history? “History is the unity of continuity and discontinuity.” That is, history is a real totalisation in natural-historical experience. Cultures are integrated by exchange even as they are beset by furious insistence on altereity.

Positivist / postmodern insistence on discontinuity – recapitulates a teleological fantasy of arrival at pure structure. Adorno: “The fetishism of the facts corresponds to one of the objective laws. Dialectics, which has had its fill of the painful experience of such hegemony, does not hegemonize in turn, but criticizes this just as much as the appearance, that the individuated and the concrete already determine the course of the world hic et nunc.”

Social life is not exhausted by culture.

Ban on philosophy of history – falseness of true antithesis of nature and history – apologetically recapitulates history’s mystification of its natural growth.

Schnädelbach: social myths are generically committed to narrativism, no matter how much good will they demonstrate the unrealised goal of enlightenment.

Myths enlighten, enlightenment mythologises. This is no narrativist nitro, propelling selected facts over the finishing line into timeless wisdom. This is the rebellion of experience against empiricism. Cf. in Adorno the tendency to use, where one might expect a word like “history” or “historicity,” the word “Auschwitz.” Hitler’s barbarism imposes a “new categorical imperative” on human beings in their condition of unfreedom: so to arrange their thought and action that “Auschwitz would not repeat itself, [that] nothing similar would happen” (ND 365).

Whereas denying transcendental value would suppress the suffering that calls out for fundamental change, straightforwardly affirming the existence of utopia would cut off the critique of contemporary society and the struggle to change it.

If Homer’s truths are timeless, we needn’t go to Homer for them. If they are insulated by historical incommensurability, we can’t.

What’s the answer? Polymorphous connections, dialectically blurring burlesque and mock-heroic, in a new mode of fractal derision, reveal entangelement of archaic and modern, dominated and rational. Xenophanes’ critique of divine anthropomorphism is characteristic of enlightenment inasmuch as it demystifies, secularises, disenchants.

Drive for empiricism leads to solipsism, an inability to imagine alternatives. (Cf. Adorno on Hegel).

Nothing can be allowed to stand outside thought: “world as giant analytic judgement.”

Language is confined to structure (which cannot “be like” nature) or to image (which cannot “know” nature). Cf. Kant, mimetic function, also Dreyfuss on Heidegger.

Enlightenment is an actually existing wild generalisation (true predictions of it are unfalsifiable?).

Rationality which is invariant over its object set.


Adorno & Durkheim / Weber

“Max Weber introduced the concept of an ‘interpretative sociology’, believing fundamentally that sociological knowledge consists in understanding the ‘means-end rationality’, the assessment of opportunities made by social agents; whereas Durkheim took the view that sociology differed essentially from psychology (although Max Weber, too, distinguished sharply between them) in that real social facts – faits sociaux – cannot be understood, are impenetrable and opaque and ought, as he put it himself without quite realising the implications of what he said, to be treated as ‘things’, as choses; thus, Durkheim’s sociology was also called chosisme. Traces of this view still survive in French structuralism [...] The second difference is that Max Weber, as you know, rigorously upheld the view that sciology was ‘value-free’ – meaning that value judgements must be absolutely excluded from it. And I should like to say that the vulgar positivism of today has followed him precisely in this, whereas he himself, being still trained in idealist epistemology, refused to have any truck with vulgar sociologism. Durkheim, by contrast, although in some ways a far more unprepentant positivist than Weber, admitted value judgements to sociology. He did so, I believe, because of his more penetrating perception and analysis of the facts themselves. For he had realized that the mere distinction between true and false introduces a value relationship even into pure acts of cognition, which Weber – naively, I would say – thought he could separate from axiological acts, or acts which involve valuations. And indeed, if you read one of Durkheim’s early major works such as The Division of Labour in society, the evaluative tibre is unmistakable. It is very closely related to what I mentioned earlier, the hyypostasis of social facts which, in a process wwhich became more and more prominent in his work, were used normatively and acknowledged as determining values. These two moments, the impenetrable givenness of faits sociaux and their aspect of value latr crystallized out with utmost sharpness in Durkheim’s theory of conscience (consciousness) and of the esprit collectif (collective mind) [...] the old rigid dichotomy of evaluative and value-free knowledge is no longer tenable today. [...] Clearly, the attempt to abolish concepts in sociology and – if I may put it in extreme form – to reduce them to mere tokens, abbreviations for the facts they subsume, devoid of any autonomy, sems to me extremely narrow-minded. There is simply no thought without concepts. [...] Durkheim, in asserting the non-intelligible in chosisme, and thereby stating that sociology really finds its true subject where comprehensibility ceases, hit on a very central moment of socialization: that something originally made by human beings becomes institutionally autonomous in relation to human beings. Only he hypostatizes this point; that is to say, he treats it as if such opacity were ‘second nature’ to the institutions,[11] were inherent in socialization itself. And this tendency is at the origin of the apologia for the existing society which is a decisive trai of Durkheim [...] “

Durkheim: social facts should be treated like things. Society enters each individual as their non-identical compulsion. (Cf. Foucault & grid of intelligibility; communitarianism & non-chosen ties). Moment of truth (alienation). But D. converts prepronderence of collective into an invariant.

[Bernstein: Adorno’s position closer to D.’s than he concedes: for D., the ideal contains the real by way of the wish that it become real.]

Weber: sociology requires a reduction to individual consciousnesses (vs. Durkheim’s restriction to ‘social facts’), and an understanding of the rational and purposive actions of individuals. Action within bourgeois society is not only motivated, but objectively intelligible.

Interpretative[12] Sociology: the intentionality (cf. Bretano) of action allows the sociologist to “accomplish something which is never attainable in the natural sciences, namely the subjective understanding of the action of the component individuals.” Links with methodological individualism – social phenomena must be explained by showing how they result from individual actions, which in turn must be explained through reference to the intentional states that motivate the individual actors. Contrasted with Durkheim’s third-person perspective.

Ideal Types: social, economic and historical research can never be fully inductive or descriptive as one must always approach it with a conceptual apparatus, which Weber termed “Ideal Type.” This, together with his interpretative, antipositivistic orientation justifies the assumption of the “rational economic man” (homo economicus).

Fact problems and value problems are heterogeneous (Weber admits this is a value position).

Adorno sympathises with W.’s scepticism of homology between natural and social sciences (he attributes the origin its rationale to Freyer: the observer is not external to object of study). But Adorno thinks that in laying stress on the self-understanding of participants of social institutions, W. underestimates the autonomous life of social relations.

Beyond Durkheim vs. Weber: sociology ought to grasp the incomprehensibility which makes relations opaque and autonomous. Autonomy of social relations is a real illusion. (Cf. Marx on fetish character of the commodity).

Adorno rejects the neo-Kantian distinction between nomothetic & ideographic sciences. (Cf. disjunctions b/w structuralism & hermeneutics, and b/w discursive & aesthetic functions of language). Understanding opacities requires philosophical artifice: the qualitative specificity of social theory is likely to go missing if it attempts absolute literalness.

Sociological laws fall into error by implying a domain of purely sociological objects (cf. Schmitt on autonomy of the political). Adorno argues against such fetishised methodology: “People prefer to cling to a pure tautology, to the absolute certainty of the proposition that A = A, rather than importing into the realm of knowledge the risks – of which they are preconciously aware – imposed by an existence liable to be annihilated at any moment.” Of course he connects this with Horkheimer’s instrumental reason.

[Cf. Schmitt: “The dualism of the methods of sociology and jurisprudence ends in a monistic metaphysics.”]

The ideal of methodology is really tautology – its knowledge is determined operationally, since it does no more than fulfil the demands of method, at the expense of the object (vs. immanent critique). Adorno suspects that no relevant truth is not attended by the risk that it might be wrong (cf. Habermasian fallibilism).

“The fetishism of the facts corresponds to one of the objective laws.”

Sociological professionalism ought to be opaque, and ought not to set limits to social inquiry.

Durkheim & Weber lose the philosophical advances of Kant (the transcendental move) and Hegel (dialectical understanding of fact & value (or of facticity & norm)).

The “old rigid dichotomy of evaluative and value-free knowledge is no longer tenable today”. Weberian version of the division buys antipositivism at the cost of “dogmatic hypostasis of universal anthropological values.” Any method posited in advance of its object is idealist. The priorities of sociological method are mistaken for features of social experience.

Kant’s “critical path” between necessarily intelligible world (rationalism – cf. Weber) & necessarily unintelligible world (skepticism – cf. Durkheim).


Lukacs: Building on Max Weber’s theory of rationalization, Lukács argues that the capitalist economy is no longer one sector of society alongside others. Rather, commodity exchange has become the central organizing principle for all sectors of society. This allows commodity fetishism to permeate all social institutions (e.g., law, administration, journalism) as well as all academic disciplines, including philosophy. “Reification” refers to “the structural process whereby the commodity form permeates life in capitalist society.” Lukács was especially concerned with how reification makes human beings “seem like mere things obeying the inexorable laws of the marketplace” (Zuidervaart 1991, 76).

Sacrifice – object or creature substituted for one incommensurable with it.

Ego owes its existance to the sacrifice of the present moment to the future.

Archaic bloodlust in bourgeois setting: altar smoke from hearth fire.

Exchange society prohibits any value from incommensurability with others – thus exchange value itself is the master value.

Adorno came to call the reification of consciousness an “epiphenomenon.” Critical social theory needs to address why hunger, poverty, and other forms of human suffering persist despite the technological and scientific potential to eliminate them.

Hatred of social complexity, which might be associated with communitarianism, and the endorsement of disintermediation in the name of bare or honest coercion would make freedom unimaginable.

Identity thinking both opposed to mimesis and is itself mimesis of what is dead.

Death is the inextinguishable remainder of nature in culture. The mimetic nexus strives to become inorganic, object-like.

Self-preservation is intangled with self-extinction.

Marcuse: the classic psychoanalytic formulation of the reality principle, the necessary postponement of gratification, is based an a resource scarcity which the forces of production in principle have overcome. Thus “the fatal enemy of lasting gratification is time.”

By contrast, Adorno’s thought aims at a coercionless synthesis of manifold – reconciliation, not dissolution, of culture and nature. Contra Habermas, only in such reconciliation does an objective concept of communication appear.

Not aesthetics against discourse – these are dialectically contaminated counterconcepts.

Internalisation of sacrifice an aporetic moment.

Accordingly, in constructing a “dialectic of enlightenment” the authors simultaneously aim to carry out a dialectical enlightenment of enlightenment not unlike Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. Two Hegelian concepts anchor this project, namely, determinate negation and conceptual self-reflection. “Determinate negation” (bestimmte Negation) indicates that immanent criticism is the way to wrest truth from ideology. A dialectical enlightenment of enlightenment, then, “discloses each image as script. It teaches us to read from [the image’s] features the admission of falseness which cancels its power and hands it over to truth” (DE 18). Beyond and through such determinate negation, a dialectical enlightenment of enlightenment also recalls the origin and goal of thought itself. Such recollection is the work of the concept as the self-reflection of thought (der Begriff als Selbstbesinnung des Denkens, DE 32). Conceptual self-reflection reveals that thought arises from the very corporeal needs and desires that get forgotten when thought becomes a mere instrument of human self-preservation. It also reveals that the goal of thought is not to continue the blind domination of nature and humans but to point toward reconciliation.

Adorno & the Culture Industry

Culture industry: The “same thing is offered to everybody by the standardised production of consumption goods” but this is concealed under “the manipulation of taste and the official culture’s pretense of individualism”. Adorno conceptualised this phenomenon as pseudo-individualization and the always-the-same. He saw this mass-produced culture as a danger to the more difficult high arts. Culture industries cultivate false needs; that is, needs created and satisfied by capitalism. True needs, in contrast, are freedom, creativity, and genuine happiness. More dialectically, under present conditions, the line between false and true needs is blurred altogether.

Adorno argues that the culture industry involves a change in the commodity character of art, such that art’s commodity character is deliberately acknowledged and art “abjures its autonomy” (DE 127). With its emphasis on marketability, the culture industry dispenses entirely with the “purposelessness” that was central to art’s autonomy. Once marketability becomes a total demand, the internal economic structure of cultural commodities shifts. Instead of promising freedom from societally dictated uses, and thereby having a genuine use value that people can enjoy, products mediated by the culture industry have their use value replaced by exchange value: “Everything has value only in so far as it can be exchanged, not in so far as it is something in itself. For consumers the use value of art, its essence, is a fetish, and the fetish—the social valuation which they mistake for the merit of works of art— becomes its only use value, the only quality they enjoy” (DE 128). Hence the culture industry dissolves the “genuine commodity character” that artworks once possessed when exchange value still presupposed use value (DE 129-30).


Aesthetics: Adorno retains from Kant the notion that art proper (“fine art” or “beautiful art”—schöne Kunst—in Kant’s vocabulary) is characterized by formal autonomy. But Adorno combines this Kantian emphasis on form with Hegel’s emphasis on intellectual import (geistiger Gehalt) and Marx’s emphasis on art’s embeddedness in society as a whole.

The artwork’s necessary and illusory autonomy, in turn, is the key to (modern) art’s social character, namely, to be “the social antithesis of society” (AT 8).

Adorno regards authentic works of (modern) art as social monads. The unavoidable tensions within them express unavoidable conflicts within the larger sociohistorical process from which they arise and to which they belong. These tensions enter the artwork through the artist’s struggle with sociohistorically laden materials, and they call forth conflicting interpretations, many of which misread either the work-internal tensions or their connection to conflicts in society as a whole. Adorno sees all of these tensions and conflicts as “contradictions” to be worked through and eventually to be resolved. Their complete resolution, however, would require a transformation in society as a whole, which, given his social theory, does not seem imminent.

The artwork has an internal truth content to the extent that the artwork’s import can be found internally and externally either true or false. Such truth content is not a metaphysical idea or essence hovering outside the artwork. But neither is it a merely human construct. It is historical but not arbitrary; nonpropositional, yet calling for propositional claims to be made about it; utopian in its reach, yet firmly tied to specific societal conditions. Truth content is the way in which an artwork simultaneously challenges the way things are and suggests how things could be better, but leaves things practically unchanged: “Art has truth as the semblance of the illusionless” (AT 132).

Negative dialectics. Effort “to use the strength of the [epistemic] subject to break through the deception of constitutive subjectivity” (ND xx).

In insisting on the priority of the object, Adorno repeatedly makes three claims: first, that the epistemic subject is itself objectively constituted by the society to which it belongs and without which the subject could not exist; second, that no object can be fully known according to the rules and procedures of identitarian thinking ; third, that the goal of thought itself, even when thought forgets its goal under societally induced pressures to impose identity on objects, is to honor them in their nonidentity, in their difference from what a restricted rationality declares them to be. Against empiricism, however, he argues that no object is simply “given” either, both because it can be an object only in relation to a subject and because objects are historical and have the potential to change.

First, a long Introduction (ND 1-57) works out a concept of “philosophical experience” that both challenges Kant’s distinction between “phenomena” and “noumena” and rejects Hegel’s construction of “absolute spirit.”

Then Part One (ND 59-131) distinguishes Adorno’s project from the “fundamental ontology” in Heidegger’s Being and Time.

Two (ND 133-207) works out Adorno’s alternative with respect to the categories he reconfigures from German idealism.

Three (ND 209-408), composing nearly half the book, elaborates philosophical “models.” These present negative dialectics in action upon key concepts of moral philosophy (“freedom”), philosophy of history (“world spirit” and “natural history”), and metaphysics.

Kant. What makes possible any genuine experience cannot simply be the “application” of a priori concepts to a priori intuitions via the “schematism” of the imagination (Einbildungskraft). Genuine experience is made possible by that which exceeds the grasp of thought and sensibility. Adorno does not call this excess the “thing in itself,” however, for that would assume the Kantian framework he criticizes. Rather, he calls it “the nonidentical” (das Nichtidentische).

Contra Kant: “Consciousness, rational insight, is not simply the same as a free act. We cannot flatly equate it with the will. Yet this precisely is what happens in Kant’s thinking.” The addendum, “the rudiment of a phase in which the dualism of the extramental and intramental was not thoroughly consolidated yet, neither volitively bridgeable nor an ontological ultimate”, is lumped with the res cogitans, regardless of the difference which separates it.

(Cf. Schmitt: “The exception is that which cannot be subsumed; it defies general codification, but it simultaneously reveals a specifically juridical formal element: the decision in absolute purity.”)

Kant’s transcendental subject is unintelligible: we can think of an object that is not a subject, but not vice-versa. Likewise, qualities subjects attribute to objects are “borrowed from the objectivity of the intentio recta.” [direct intention]

Hegel. The concept of the nonidentical, in turn, marks the difference between Adorno’s materialism and Hegel’s idealism. Although he shares Hegel’s emphasis on a speculative identity between thought and being, between subject and object, and between reason and reality, Adorno denies that this identity has been achieved in a positive fashion. For the most part this identity has occurred negatively instead. That is to say, human thought, in achieving identity and unity, has imposed these upon objects, suppressing or ignoring their differences and diversity. Such imposition is driven by a societal formation whose exchange principle demands the equivalence (exchange value) of what is inherently nonequivalent (use value). Whereas Hegel’s speculative identity amounts to an identity between identity and nonidentity, Adorno’s amounts to a nonidentity between identity and nonidentity.

“The need to let suffering speak is a condition of all truth. For suffering is objectivity that weighs upon the subject … “ (ND 17-18). The resources available to philosophy in this regard include the “expressive” or “mimetic” dimensions of language, which conflict with “ordinary” (i.e., societally sanctioned) syntax and semantics. In philosophy, this requires an emphasis on “presentation” (Darstellung) in which logical stringency and expressive flexibility interact (ND 18-19, 52-53). Another resource lies in unscripted relationships among established concepts. By taking such concepts out of their established patterns and rearranging them in “constellations” around a specific subject matter, philosophy can unlock some of the historical dynamic hidden within objects whose identity exceeds the classifications imposed upon them (ND 52-53, 162-66).

Under current conditions the only way for philosophy to give priority to the object is dialectically, Adorno argues. He describes dialectics as the attempt to recognize the nonidentity between thought and the object while carrying out the project of conceptual identification. Dialectics is “the consistent consciousness of nonidentity,” and contradiction, its central category, is “the nonidentical under the aspect of identity.”

To think is to identify, and thought can only achieve truth by identifying. The semblance of total identity is mingled with thought’s truth.

The only way to break through the semblance of total identity is immanently, using the concept. Accordingly, everything that is qualitatively different and that resists conceptualization will show up as a contradiction.

Contradictions cannot be neatly ascribed to either thought or reality. “To proceed dialectically means to think in contradictions, for the sake of the contradiction already experienced in the object [Sache], and against that contradiction. A contradiction in reality, [dialectics] is a contradiction against reality” (ND 144-45).

Rousseau: socially legitimated domination, formulated contractually, i.e. communicatively.

Nietzsche: idea of a right the ruse of the dominated.

Hegel (cf. “recognition”): to posit either the originary purity of either domination or communication (cf. PoS, 1977, pp. 111-19) is more mythical, and more mystified, than the (ir)rational entangelment of domination and communication.

Rationalistic insistence that domination must be fully clarified makes itself oblivious to its own implicatedness with domination.

Ruling against skepticism is declaring the world rational.

Vagueness of domination cannot be undone merely for the convencience of social theory. It testifies to a real illusion.

Social theorist would have to claim access to rationality free from domination to make domination fully intelligible.

Honneth: intersubjective domination is modelled, in Adorno, on inauspiciously nomological domination.

But for A.’s materialism, to dominate humans is either to dominate nature or to falsely free humans from nature.

Only a theory which presupposes mastery of nature can regard intersubjectivity as a separate sphere.

Idealism. The somatic realisation of the object world disintermediated from corpus of imagery. Corresponds with the theological ban on graven images: the resurrection of the flesh! Cf. Negative Dialectics, 207.

Ad. & Hork.: contra Hab., theory of entanglment of domination & communicative rationality.

Materialist theory of subjectivity cannot accept procedural separation between theory of communication and model of social conflict.

Only in a state of reconciliation will the objective concept of communication come into view. The existing concept betrays the best that there is – the potential for agreement between people and things – to an interchange between subjects according to the requirements of subjective reason.

[1] Domination over nature: knowledge is scientific if it is pragmatic.
[2] Humans are already nature. The instrumental attitude towards nature is directed inward. Alienated nature strikes back in the practice of self-reification. Mimetic strata of self tries to adapt itself to all that is left of nature in culture – death.
[3] Capturing both senses: power over nature is paid for with subjection to social divisions.
[4] Or, repression of social class accompanies repression of psychic rational layer among the opressed.
[5] Division between spiritual and manual labour pre-dates capitalism.
[6] Implicated in corrective to what A. & H. saw as Marxian economism. Domination is not the same as alienation. There can be domination without alienation. Subject and class domination prefigure capitalism and could outlast it.
[7] Sacrifice substititution anticipates commodity fetishism, subsumptive thinking, constitution of subject, mystified class division.
[8] Enlightenment is not as enlightened as the dialectic of enlightenment and myth; myth is not as mythical as the dialectic of enlightenment and myth.
[9] “Such a process happened in the water industry in nineteenth century Britain. Up until the mid-nineteenth century, Parliament discouraged municipal involvement in water supply; in 1851, private companies had 60% of the market. Competition amongst the companies in larger industrial towns lowered profit margins, as companies were less able to charge a sufficient price for installation of networks in new areas. In areas with direct competition (with two sets of mains), usually at the edge of companies’ territories, profit margins were lowest of all. Such situations resulted in higher costs and lower efficiency, as two networks, neither used to capacity, were used. With a limited number of households that could afford their services, expansion of networks slowed, and many companies were barely profitable. With a lack of water and sanitation claiming thousands of lives in periodic epidemics, municipalisation proceeded rapidly after 1860, and it was municipalities which were able to raise the finance for investment which private companies in many cases could not. A few well-run private companies which worked together with their local towns and cities (gaining legal monopolies and thereby the financial security to invest as required) did survive, providing around 20% of the population with water even today. The rest of the water industry in England and Wales was reprivatised in the form of 10 regional monopolies in 1989.”
[10] “According to this [industiral society] thesis, the world has been so thoroughly determined by an unimaginably-extended technology [Technik: technics], that the corresponding social relations which once defined capitalism, the transformation of living labor into commodities and therein the contradiction of classes, is becoming irrelevant, insofar as it has not become an archaic superstition.”

[11] There are sparks of a kind of (negative) radical individualism in Adorno, focussed on the authoritarian and repressive essence of all institutions.
[12] Twentieth-century philosophers such as Martin Heidegger and Hans-Georg Gadamer have criticized what they considered to be the romantic and subjective character of Verstehen in Dilthey. Dilthey and the early Heidegger were interested in the “facticity” and “life-context” of understanding, and sought to universalize it as the way humans exist through language on the basis of ontology. Verstehen also played a role in Edmund Husserl and Alfred Schutz’s analysis of the “lifeworld.” Jürgen Habermas and Karl-Otto Apel further transformed the concept of Verstehen, reformulating it on the basis of a transcendental-pragmatic philosophy of language and the theory of communicative action.


Transcendental idealism à go beyond empiricist-rationalist stalemate:

Hobbes’s determinist empiricism
Hume’s empiricist scepticism extended to freedom & even causation itself
Rationalists like Descartes, Leibniz à superstitious

Internal connection b/w reason, maturity, “democracy” (constitutionalism, self-government) and critique



Private vs. public reason à cf. Habermas’s strategic vs. communicative reason


Opposed direct democracy
Constitutional republics à ideally w/ sovereignty invested in elected legislature
Suffrage for propertied / professional men


Different b/w right and virtue
Moral law cannot be based on any empirical good (e.g. happiness). “There is only one innate right […] Freedom (independence from being constrained by another’s choice), insofar as it can coexist with the freedom of every other in accordance with a universal law […]”

Classical liberalism
Democratic peace theory à cosmopolitan right of hospitality


On PATERNALISM: “Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one's own understanding without the guidance of another. This immaturity is self-incurred if its cause is not lack of understanding, but lack of resolution and courage to use it without the guidance of another.”

On REPRESENTATION: “It is so convenient to be immature! If I have a book to have understanding in place of me, a spiritual adviser to have a conscience for me, a doctor to judge my diet for me, and so on, I need not make any efforts at all.”

On REVOLUTION: “There is more chance of an entire public enlightening itself […] a public can only achieve enlightenment slowly. A revolution may well put an end to autocratic despotism and to rapacious or power-seeking oppression, but it will never produce a true reform in ways of thinking […]”

On PUBLIC / PRIVATE REASON: “The public use of man’s reason must always be free, and it alone can bring about enlightenment among men; the private use of reason may quite often be very narrowly restricted, however, without undue hindrance to the progress of enlightenment. But by the public use of one's own reason I mean that use which anyone may make of it as a man of learning addressing the entire reading public. What I term the private use of reason is that which a person may make of it in a particular civil post or office with which he is entrusted.”

& “[…] a clergyman is bound to instruct his pupils and his congregation in accordance with the doctrines of the church he serves, for he was employed by it on that condition. But as a scholar, he is completely free as well as obliged to impart to the public all his carefully considered, well-intentioned thoughts on the mistaken aspects of those doctrines […]”


Similarly for Adorno, maturity entails “the power to resist established oponions and, one and the same, also to resist existing institutions, to resist everything that is merely posited, that justifies itself with its existence.”

Adorno thinks enlightenment was broken off too early. Lack of rationality. Kant blamed critique for being improper, wanted to punish reason for exceeding its bounds, bridle its use. (Hegel, who sometimes equates thinking w/ negativity and therefore w/ critique, wants to punish those who rely on their own understanding, because they refuse to subordinate themselves to the totality).

Notes on Critical Theory

Critical theory

The Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School (CT) has as its object “human beings as producers of their own historical form of life.” It is dialectical at least in the sense that it seeks to understand object and subject developing together in the course of history, rather than dogmatically giving one or the other priority.

CT and critique are sometimes elided, but in my view the latter can be specified as one characteristic activity Frankfurt School, among others such as genealogy, traditional sociological research, and polemic.

Critique retains the Kantian spirit of the association (cf. What is enlightenment?) of reason, freedom and principled nonconformism. Critique furthermore preserves the equivocal genitive in Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason” – in critique, reason must reflect on its own conditions of employment.

In the tradition of Marx’s Critique of Political Economy, such conditions are primarily socio-material. But the Kantian transcendental project cannot be entirely discarded, since any effort to entirely replace metaphysical thought with material investigation will make unexamined metaphysical commitments. Above all, materialism risks positivism, as demonstrated by the contemporaneous orthodox Marxist ideology of the immutable “dialectic” laws of nature.

Thus Adorno’s critique regularly foregrounds what Marx might have called “the fetish character” of Kant’s transcendental subject. Although the idea is shown to be false, it must be used, since demystifying it does not undo the socio-material antagonisms with which it is dialectically connected – that is, which continue to establish it in thought, and which it in turn sediments.

Thus we come to the characteristic critique of CT. It is immanent in that it extrapolates its normative strategy from its object of critique, rather than relying on a priori ingredients. Immanence owes something to the Socratic elechnus, insofar as it uses an orientation to truth to provoke latent crisis in its adversary, and to the tacit ad hominem, insofar as it erodes its adversary’s trustworthiness by making clear how simultaneous affirmations are incompatible. But it is important not to overgeneralise this rhetorical dimension.

State and society

Notwithstanding the agent-theoretic approach of The 18th Brumaire, the caveat that men make their own history though not just as they please, and other well-known cruxes of Marxist exegesis, Marx’s dominant view of the state was as an instrument of class rule.

Vulgar Marxism took this to mean that, when confronted with a non-economic phenomena (“superstructure”), they should scurry towards economic phenomena (“base”) by the most direct route, however tenuous the causation implied.

In The State in Capitalist Society (1969) Miliband uses empirical research to criticise the pluralist concept of the state as a mediator of different interests. The state has no interest in forging popular sovereignty through the arrangement of irreconcileables on a temporal dimension of different constellations of interest-realisation. Rather, it is part of a coalition of the elite, who have their own interest, generalised as the imperative of accumulation.

Miliband argues that the state routinely separates itself from ruling class factions when their short-term interests conflict with their long-term ones. From a rational-choice perspective, the state can be seen as the ruling class’s solution to its “commitment problems”; apparent conflict between the state and the elite falls within the agent-principle problematic.

Poulantzas sees Miliband’s “subjectivism” or “humanism” as a regression to a pre-Marxian position. Class for Marx was objective, in the sense that it defined a qualitative function, or moment, within capital’s self-realisation.

*Why* won't Marx deduce domination other than economically?

(1) An axiomatic "anthropological" division between necessity & luxury, he thinks, would set us on the path to ideology (esp. idealism, a kind of sublimation of class struggle, focussed in the infinitely hospitable media of language and thought). If we decide those things in advance, at best we can superimpose abstractly reconciled antagonisms on a material world still riven with conflict, & look cross-eyed & constipated.

(2) Ideology in this sense is segregated from praxis because it has no resources against equally dogmatic counter-anthropology, which posits domination as an ineradicable feature of human nature. In fact, the first move of such conservative opponents will be to point out how falsely conceiving of material antagonisms as errors of thought can exacerbate those antagonisms and raise their stakes. This is political Realism
through and through.

But the elite are moved, in Miliband, by motives which lack objective analysis. Poulantzas points out that the conceptual coherence of the state comes not from the socio-cultural class origins of its members, but by its objective function. The state is a condensation of class interests, participating in class contradictions. It politically organises class fractions and disorganises working classes.

Hirst: Either economism, or the non-correspondence of political forces and economic classes -- that is the choice which faces marxism.

Offe argues that the state is constitutively contradictory, inasmuch as the arbitration of interests is key to its legitimation, and tax revenue from private accumulation is key to its material reproduction. Intervention in the economy is inevitable, yet risks challenging the traditional basis of the liberal social order.

Habermas further develops Offe’s conception of the liberal democratic capitalist state. Habermas understands “late capitalism” (LC) to import the thesis that the capitalist system of production incorporates endogeneous contradictions which it cannot necessarily overcome.

In its Habermasian form it immune from criticism as economism: a crisis may originate in any subsystem, and by the time of TCA Habermas has even reformulated late capitalism within an action-theoretic framework. By contrast “industrial society” (IS – “organised capitalism” in Legitimation Crisis) involves the idea that through corporatism, the managerial revolution, the welfare state compromise and other restructurings, capitalism has learnt to contain its contradictions indefinitely. LC involves an objective class concept, IS does not.

Dependency and world-systems approaches fall somewhere between – e.g., the core may indefinitely sublimate its contradictions in imperialist relations, but they remain inside the totality of the international system.

Through its syntheses of Lukacs’ reification and Weber’s rationalisation theses, its analyses of the superstructural and socio-psychological dimensions of domination via the culture industry, and Pollock’s state capitalism thesis, the Frankfurt School is closely affiliated with IS. But it is a complex, even aporetic affiliation. In “Late Capitalism or Industrial Society” Adorno proposes what at first glance may seem a compromise: modern societies demonstrate late capitalism in their relations of production, and industrial society in their forces of production. Examined more closely, Adorno’s thesis seems to be a paradox or category error, inasmuch as the Industrial Society position encourages us to discard the explanatory priority of the forces of production.

The weight of Adorno’s essay is an invective against methodological pre-deformation of the object of critique. In Adorno’s view, the argument against the class concept is absolutely successful. Without any experience to fill it out, there can be no objective class, and to insist on its objectivity turns it into an arbitrary point within an abstract and recursive system of symbols (exactly Miliband’s complaint against Poulantzas). Yet the argument in favour of the class concept is absolutely successful. Because to surrender it is to introduce a non-economic element to domination, at a point when domination is more economic than ever before.

That which determines subjects in themselves as means of production, and not as living purposes, increases with the proportion of machines to variable capital. The pat phrase, the “mechanization of man,” is misleading, because it understands the latter as something static, that adapts to conditions of production external to him, and is deformed by external influence. But there is no substrate of such “deformations,” nothing ontically interiorized, which social mechanisms merely act upon from outside: the deformation is not a sickness in men, but in the society whose children arrive with that “hereditary taint” which biologism projects onto nature.

Only when the process that begins with the transmutation of labour-power into a commodity has permeated men through and through, and objectified each of their impulses as formally commensurable variations of the exchange relationship, is it possible for life to reproduce itself under the prevailing relations of production. Its consummate organisation demands the coordination of people that are dead. The mimetic impulse

The success of two incompatible arguments is not a subjective mistake, but an objective one. Adorno is delineating the aporetic problematic which is founded in real social contradictions.

It would be a mistake to say that Adorno sees “no way out,” since this would then be his moment of unexamined positivity, perhaps comparable with a Nietzschean affirmation of will to power or a very gloomy and bloodthirsty postmodernist celebration of difference.

Rather, Adorno advocates the continual self-cancelling elaboration of a problematic imposed by history, in favour of its false transcendence, or its cheap pragmatic dissolution as a dead-end. If the prospects for emancipation improve, this excruciating conceptual activity will not have been a senseless gesture; it will have kept knowledge alive “through darkness.” If they do not improve (and loosely speaking, according to Adorno they will not) it will have been the only gesture that is ultimately worthwhile, valuable, useful, functional, and positive; it will have been, in other words, the only senseless gesture.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Notes on labour


The LTV. See also. Also Samuelson - transforming from surplus value to prices, from phlogiston to entropy, etc.

Is this right?

Domination is already present in Marx's distinction between value and exchange-value. Since the producers do not come into social contact with each other until they exchange their products, the specific social character of each producer’s labour does not show itself except in the act of exchange. In communicatively integrated production, to use a Habermasian concept, things like differential in labour capabilities, degree of toil, luck etc., would appear in the full, complex and qualitative attitude of the productive community to the products of its labour. But in the production of commodity, the individual labour asserts itself as a part of the labour of society, only by means of the relations which the act of exchange establishes directly between the products, and indirectly, through them, between the producers. To the latter, therefore, the relations connecting the labour of one individual with that of the rest appear -- not as direct social relations between individuals at work -- but as what they really are, material relations between persons and social relations between things. It is only by being exchanged that the products of labour acquire, as values, one uniform social status, distinct from their varied forms of existence as objects of utility.

This nuance is missed in the frequent presentation of commodity fetishism as a distortion of the thing by only apparent social qualities. It is a *real* illusion.

Picture a community of free individuals, carrying on their work with the means of production in common, in which the labour power of all the different individuals is consciously applied as the combined labour power of the community. All the characteristics of Robinson Crusoe’s labour are here repeated, but with this difference, that they are social, instead of individual. Everything produced by him was exclusively the result of his own personal labour, and therefore simply an object of use for himself. The total product of our community is a social product.

The distinction between value, which is a complex manifold determined by a sensuous and social history, and exchange value, which is determined by socially necessary labour time, gives us the reduction of qualitative to quantitative.

Under the capitalistic mode of production, labour becomes a commodity, the restraints are taken from this real illusion, and it expands and intensifies its domination exponentially.

Previously, I might dominate you to a degree if I swapped the two deer I caught easily for the one beaver you caught with difficulty. Now, any disequilibrium - my fleetness of foot, your bad luck, my fence, my notion to say "this is mine" and your simplicity to believe me - is iteratively multiplied through the circuit M-C-M'. For the first time, I can command the labour of others in exchange for a fraction of the product of that labour.

A dogmatic anthropology superimposed on empirical distribution of wealth would not contain this dynamic of tendential immiseration and crisis.

Surplus value is presented as a condition of possibility of profit. Marx makes tentative attempts to solve the "transformation problem" and determine profit on the basis of surplus value. But this is to some degree a red herring. As general a relationship as supervenience would do.

Marx makes the critical distinction between labour and labour-power. Labour is the common denominator of the commodity form, the substance and immanent measure of value, but it has no value itself. Labour-power represents the quantitative, commodity-form of labour, which also expresses the wages of workers. Thus wages are the exchange-value of labour-power measured in money.

Under capitalism, labour is a commodity, the concrete labour (or "labour-power") which determines its exchange value less than concrete labour which it is. This recursive mechanism makes domination into an ineradicable feature of private accumulation. The very essence of exploitation is expressed by the difference between labour embodied in the goods consumed by the worker, and the labour-power expended in the capitalist process of production.

The worker "sells labour as objectified labour; i.e. he sells labour only in so far as it already objectifies a definite amount of labour, hence in so far as its equivalent is already measured, given; capital bups it as living labour as the general productive force of wealth; activity which increases wealth" (Grundrisse).

Hmm, but value not just congealed magically: "The value of any commodity - and this is also of the commodities which capital consists of - is determined not by the necessary labour-time that it itself contains, but by the socially necessary labour-time required for its reproduction [...]"

So perhaps value and exchange value are closer than I thought.

Vital needs: "The realm of freedom actually begins only where labour which is determined by necessity and mundane considerations ceases."

Labour and use value: "Labour, then, as the creator of use-values, as useful labour, is a condition of human existence which is independent of all forms of society; it is an eternal natural necessity which mediates the metabolism between man and nature, and therefore human life itself [...]"

Cf. Smith, labour is disutility.

"In order to find out how the simple expression of the value of a commodity lies hidden in the value-relation between two commodities, we must, first of all, consider the value-relation quite independently of its quantitative aspect. The usual mode of procedure is the precise opposite of this: nothing is seen in the value-relation but the proportion in which definite quantities of two sorts of commodities count as equal to each other. It is overlooked that the magnitudes of different things become comparable in quantitative terms when they have been reduced to the same unit. Only as expressions of the same unit do they have a common denominator, and are therefore commensurable magnitudes."

Price: "Since it is the total value of the commodities that governs the total surplus-value, while this in turn governs the level of average profit and hence the general rate of profit - as a general law or as governing the fluctuations - it follows that the law of value regulates the prices of production."


"The classical Marxian theory envisages the transition from capitalism to socialism as a political revolution: the proletariat destroys the political apparatus of capitalism but retains the technological apparatus, subjecting it to socialization. There is continuity in the revolution: technological rationality, freed from irrational restrictions and destructions, sustains and consummates itself in the new society.

[...] In advanced capitalism, technical rationality is embodied, in spite of its irrational use, in the productive apparatus. This applies not only to mechanized plants, tools, and exploitation of resources, but also to the mode of labour as adaptation to and handling of the machine process, as arranged by 'scientific management.' Neither nationalization nor socialization alter by themselves this physical embodimeent of technological rationality; on the contrary, the latter remains a precondition for the socialist development of all productive forces.

To be sure, Marx held that organization and direction of the productive apparatus by the 'immediate producers' would introduce a qualitative change in the technical continuity: namely, production toward the satisfaction of freely developing individual needs. However, to the degree to which the established technical apparatus engulfs the public and private existence in all spheres of society -- that is, becomes the medium of control and cohesion in a political universe which incorporates the labouring classes -- to that degree would the qualitative change involve a change in the technological structure itself. And such change would presuppose that the labouring classes are alienated from this universe in their very existence, that their consciousness is that of the total impossibility to continue to exist in this universe, so that the need for qualitative change is a matter of life and death. Thus, the negation exists prior to the change itself, the notion that the liberating historical forces develop within the established society is a cornerstone of Marxian theory.

Now, it is precisely this new consciousness, this 'space within,' the space for the transcending historical practice, which is being barred by a society in which society in which subjects as well as objects constitute instrumentalities in a whole that has as its raison d'etre in the accomplishments of its overpowering productivity. Its supreme promise is an ever-more-comfortable life for an ever-growing number of people who, in a strict sense, cannot imagine a qualitatively different universe of discourse and action, for the capacity to contain and manipulate subversive imagination and effort is an integral part of the given society. Those whose life is the hell of the Affluent Society are kept in line by a brutality which revives medieval and early modern practices. For the other, less underprivileged people, society takes care of thte need for liberation by satisfying the needs which make servitude palatable and perhaps even unnoticeable, and it accomplishes this fact in the process of production itself. Under its impact, the labouring classes in the advanced areas of industrial civilization are undergoing a decisive transformation, which has become the subject of a vast sociological research. I shall enumerate the main factors of this transformation:

(1) Mechanization is increasingly reducing the quantity and intensity of physical energy expended in labour [...] this form of drudgery is expressive of arrested, partial automation, of the coexistence of automated, semi-automated, and non-automated sections within the same plant, but even under these conditions, 'for muscular fatigue technology has substituted tenios and / or mental effort' [...] The proletarian of the previous stages of capitalism was indeed the beast of burden, by the labour of his body procuring the necessitities and luxuries of life while living in filth and poverty. Thus he was the living denial of his society [...] In contrast, the organized worker in the advanced areas of thte technological society lives this denial less conspicuously and, like the other human objcets of the social division of labour, he is being incorporated into the technological community of the administered population [...] things swing rather than oppress, and they swing the human instrument -- not only its body but also is mind and even is soul [...] The machine process in the technological universe breaks the innermost privacy of freedom and joins sexuality and labour in one unconscious, rhythmic automatism -- a process which parallels the assimilation of jobs.

(2) The assimilating trend shows forth in the occupational stratification. [...] To the extent to which the machine becomes itself a system of mechanical tools and relations and thus extends far beyond the individual work process, it asserts its larger dominion by reducing the 'professional autonomy' of the labourer and integrating him with other professions which suffer and direct the technical technical ensemble [...] Now the laborer is losing the professional autonomy which made him a member of a class set off from the other occupational groups because it embodied the refutation of the established society.

The technological change which tends to do away with the machine as an individual instrument of production, as 'absolute unit,' seems to cancel the Marxian notion of the 'organic composition of capital,' and with it the theory of the creation of surplus value. According to Marx, the machine never creates surplus value but merely transfers its own value to the product, while surplus value remains the result of the exploitation of living labour. The machine is embodiment of human labour power, and through it, past labour (dead labour) preserves itself and determines living labour. Now automation seems to alter qualitatively the relation between dead and living labour; it tends toward the point where productivity is determined 'by the machines, and not by the individual output.' [...] Moreover, the very measurement of individual output becomes impossible: 'Automation in its largest sense means, in effect, the end of measurement of work . . . . With automation, you can't measure output of a single man; you now have to measure simply equipment utilization. If that is generalized as a kind of concept . . . there is no longer, for example, any reason at all to 'pay a man by the piece or pay him by the hour,' that is to say, there is no more reason to keep up the 'dual pay system' of salaries and wages [...] industrialization did not arise with the introduction of factories, it arose out of the measurement of work. It's when work can be measured, when you can hitch a man to the job, when you can put a harness on him, and measure his output in terms of a single piece and pay him by the piece or by the hour, that you have got modern industrialization" [Daniel Bell].

(3) These changes in the character of work and the instruments of production change the attitude and the consciousness of the laborer, which become manifest in the widely discussed 'social and cultural integration' of the labouring class with capitalist society.

[...] (4) The new technological work-world hus enforces a weakening of the negative position of the working class: the latter no longer appears to be the living contradiction to the established society. This trend is strengthened by the effect of the technological organization of production on the other side of the fence: an management and direction. Domination is transfigured into administration [...] The capitalist bosses and owners are losing their identity as responsible agents; they are assuming the function of bureaucrats in a corporate machine. Within the vast hierarchy of executive and managerial boards extending far beyond the individual establishment into the scientific laboratory and research institute, the national goverment and national purpose, the tangible source of exploitation disappears behind the facade of objective rationality. Hatred and frustration are deprived of their specific target, and the technological veil conceals the reproduction of inequality and enslavement [...] With technical progress as its instrument, unfreedom -- in the sense of man's subjetion to his productive apparaus -- is perpetuated and intensified in the form of many liberties and comforts. The novel feature is the overwhelming rationality in this irrational enterprise, and the depth of the preconditioning which shapes the instinctual drives and aspirations of the individuals and obscures the difference between false and true consciousness [...]"


"It is long established that wage labour created the hordes of the modern epoch, indeed formed the worker himself. As a general principle the individual is not merely the biological basis, but the reflection of the social process; his consciousness of himself as something in-itself is the illusion needed to raise his level of performance, whereas in fact the individuated function in the modern economy as mere instruments of the law of value.

Yet the inner composition of the individual must be derived in itself, not merely out of its social role. In the present phase, what is decisive is the category of the organic composition of capital. By this the theory of accumulation meant "the growth in the mass of means of production, compared with the mass of labour-power which vivifies it" (Marx, Kapital).

As the integration of society, particularly in totalitarian states, determines subjects ever more exclusively as partial moments in the system of material production, the "transformation of the technical composition of capital" perpetuates itself through the productive-technological demands in those whom it not only encompasses, but constitutes.

The "organic" composition of human beings is increasing. That which determines subjects in themselves as means of production, and not as living purposes, increases with the proportion of machines to variable capital. The pat phrase, the "mechanization of man," is misleading, because it understands the latter as something static, that adapts to conditions of production external to him, and is deformed by external influence. But there is no substrate of such "deformations," nothing ontically interiorized, which social mechanisms merely act upon from outside: the deformation is not a sickness in men, but in the society whose children arrive with that “hereditary taint” which biologism projects onto nature.

Only when the process that begins with the transmutation of labour-power into a commodity has permeated men through and through, and objectified each of their impulses as formally commensurable variations of the exchange relationship, is it possible for life to reproduce itself under the prevailing relations of production. Its consummate organisation demands the coordination of people that are dead. The will to live finds itself referred to the denial of the will to live: self-preservation annuls life in subjectivity. Against this, all the achievements of adaptation, all the acts of conforming described by social psychology and cultural anthropology, are mere epiphenomena.

The organic composition of man refers by no means only to his specialised technical faculties, but – and this is something the usual cultural critique wishes at no price to reveal – equally to their opposite, the moments of naturalness which once sprung from the social dialectic and are now succumbing to it. Even what differs from technology in humans is now being incorporated into it as a kind of lubrication. Psychological differentiation, originally emerging as the dismemberment of man according to the division of his labour and the compartmentalization of his freedom, is finally entering service of production. "The specialized virtuoso," wrote one dialectician [Lukács!] thirty years ago, "the seller of his objectified and substantialized faculties ... ends up in a contemplative attitude towards the functioning of his own objectified and substantialized faculties. This structure shows itself most grotesquely in the case of journalism, where it is precisely subjectivity itself – knowing things, moods, the capacity to express – which turns into something abstract, as divorced from the personality of the 'owner' as from the material-concrete essence of the objects, which are dealt with independently and nomothetically as if by a moving mechanism. The 'disinterestedness' of journalists, the prostitution of their experiences and convictions, is only comprehensible as the apogee of capitalist reification." What was here established as the "phenomena of degeneration" of the bourgeoisie, which it itself still denounced, has meanwhile emerged as the social norm, as the character of full-fledged existence under late industrialism. It has long since ceased to be merely a question of the sale of what is living. Under the a priori of salability, what is living makes itself, as the living, into a thing, into equipage.

The ego consciously takes the whole man into its service as a piece of apparatus. In this restructuring, the "ego as team leader" delegates so much of itself to the ego as "management technique" that it becomes quite abstract, a mere point of reference: self-preservation forfeits itself. Character traits, from genuine kindness to the hysterical outbursts of rage, become capable of manipulation until they shift perfectly into the demands of a given situation. With their mobilization they change. All that is left are the light, rigid, empty husks of emotions, matter transportable at will, devoid of anything personal. They are no longer the subject; rather, the subject responds to them as to his internal object. In their unbounded docility towards the ego they are at the same time estranged from it: being wholly passive they no longer nourish it. This is the social pathogenesis of schizophrenia. The severance of character traits from both their instinctual basis and from the self, which commands them where once it merely held them together, makes man pay for his increasing inner organisation with increasing disintegration. The consummation of the division of labour within the individual, his radical objectification, leads to his morbid scission. Hence the 'psychotic character's, the anthropological pre-condition of all totalitarian mass movements. Precisely this transititon from stable characteristics to push-button patterns of behaviour - apparently enlivening - is an expression of the rising organic composition of man. Quick reactions, unballasted by a mediating constitution, do not restore spontaneity, but establish the person as a measuring instrument deployed and callibrated by a central authority. The more immediate its response, the more deeply in reality mediation has advanced: in the prompt, unresistant reflexes the subject is entirely extinguished.

So too, biological reflexes, the models of the present social ones, are - when measured against subjectivity - objectified, alien: not without reason are they referred to as "mechanical." The closer organisms are to death, the more they regress to such jerking.

Accordingly, the destructive tendencies of the masses that explode in both varieties of totalitarian state are not so much death-wishes, as manifestations of what they have already become. They murder so that whatever to them seems living shall resemble themselves."

Jarvis on Marx and Adorno:

"It is here that we might return to the question of how viable a commitment to the notion of commodity fetishism still is. The doubts raised by deconstructive commentators are among the more important here. Jacques Derrida, for example, has cautiously described Marx's theory of exchange value as 'pre-deconstructive.' The theory appears to rest on an appeal to the possibility of finally freeing transparent and living social relations from their concealment by non-living and inert objects, whereas Derrida's double readings, through their attention to the border-category of the 'spectral', the ghostlike, would display the difficulty of finally separating out the living from he non-living.

Derrida has hit on an important point here, because as Michel Henry's remarkable book about Marx argued long ago, the distinction between the living and the non-living is indeed far more fundamental to Marx than any distinction between 'consciousness' and 'being'. It is also one of the few categorical oppositions which Adorno makes little attempt to place in question [!]; an appeal to the need to protect living experience from becoming 'dead', 'lifeless' or 'petrified' is one of his favoured topics. But whereas the importance of this distinction finally drove a figure like Erich Fromm into a Manichean view of the world as a batle between life-loving 'biophiles' and death-fixated 'necrophiles', Adorno attempts to understand the merging of the living and the non-living as a real illusion, that is as an illusion which cannot be dispelled simply by recognizing it as such.

Adorno's continual recourse to a strong distinction between the living and the non-living, however, indicates an important difference from the deconstructive thought about Marx. If it is thought through in the context of the approach to myth developed in the Dialectic of Enlightenment, it provides some resources for a way of thinking about commodity fetishism which does not depend upon a dogmatic appeal to social transparency. Commodity fetishism is a model of the way in which enlightenment reverts to mythology: commodity exchange looks like the most sceptically disenchanted social relationship there could be, but the chapter on fetishism shws why the exchangers are not so undeluded as they think themselves.

We can appreciate the importance of the distinctin between the living and the non-living to Adorno's though in slightly mre detail if we look at one particular issue, the question of surplus value and its relationship to living labour. In Capital Marx had se out to explain how surplus value (whether in the form of profit, rent or interest) is produced. Marx argued that the value of commodities was determined by the labour-time socially necessary for their production. The value of the commodity of labour-power was accordingly determined by the labour-time socially necessary for their production. The value of the commodiy of labour-power was accordingly determined by the labour-time socially necessary for the subsistence of the worker. Surplus value arose from the double character of labour as concrete and abstract labour. Labour-power, bought by the capitalist like any other commodity, was in fact unlike any other commodity because it was alive and capable of producing further commodities. Paid for at the rate of subsistence, it would nevertheless, given a sufficiently extended working day, produce surplus-value beyond the value of the wage paid. Surplus value could only be extracted from living labour. In any given sum of capital Marx therefore distinguished variable capital invested in living labour. the rate of surplus value was not to be calculated with reference to all capital invested, but only with reference to variable capital.

Marx had argued, and Henryk Grossman had re-emphasized, that capitalist accumulation tended to bring about a change in the composition of capital. The rapid technical development of the means of production in a capitalist economy tended to increase the proportion of constantt captial with respect to variable capital. Adorno argued that this could not leave the extraction of surplus value from living labour unaffected:

'The theory of surplus value was supposed to explain class relations and the growth of class antagonism objectively and economically. Yet once the advantage of living labour, from which alone according to its concept the surplus value is derived, tends to sink through the extent of technical progress -- through industrialization, in fact -- to a marginal value, the centre-piece, the theory of surplus value, is affected by this.'

The contemporary difficulty of expounding an objective theory of surplus value, furthermore, leads to 'prohibitive difficulties grounding the formation of classes.' An objective theory of the production of value and of class struggle should also furnish a clear theory of ideological misrepresentations of value and class.

For Adorno, the insuperable difficulties at present lying in thte way of an objective theory of value are bound up with the current impossibility of distinguishing true from false needs. Not all subjectively experienced 'need' can be endorsed as real need. Capitalist production mystifies all needs as though exchange-value were their measure; yet this mystification cannot be overcome by a dogmatic distinction between needs and wants. for similar reasons, it is no longer possible dogmatically to identify the 'real' interests of workers and chalk up a failure to follow these real interests to ideological mystification.

[...] The only possible anthropology in mass society is a 'negative anthropology' or a 'dialectical anthropology'. Even such an apparent lowest common denominator as a 'will to live' cannot be presupposed as a universal feature of human nature.

In a section of Minima Moralia [q.v.] [...] the thesis of the Dialectic of Enlightenment that modern rationality is 'mimesis of what is dead' is more explicitly worked through with refeence to the capitalist mode of production. The more thoroughly developed the means of production and its associated division of labour, the less living labour can set its own goals: the less, indeed, living labour is living. The shift in the proportion of constant and variable capital is extended into the proportion of living and dead elements in the individuals. A social psychology posits a prior individual 'affected' by social developments. Adorno argues that petrified social relations have already entered into what individuals are. when 'Life in the late capitalist era' is described as 'a constant initiation rite' the emphasis falls on 'constant'. Unlike a literal initiation rite, this initiaion rite is not one which once completed allows a secure place within social relations, but one which must be undergone again and again, because the threat of expulsion is renewed again and again. It is this negative or dialectical anthropology of late capitalism which is worked out in Adorno's theory of the culture industry [...]"

Austrian school / marginalism:

One reason Böhm-Bawerk provides for why interest rates are positive: "technical superiority of present over future goods". Production, he noted, is roundabout, meaning that it takes time. It uses capital, which is produced, to transform nonproduced factors of production—such as land and labor—into output. Roundabout production methods mean that the same amount of input can yield a greater output. Böhm-Bawerk reasoned that the net return to capital is the result of the greater value produced by roundaboutness.

An example helps illustrate the point. As the leader of a primitive fishing village, you are able to send out the townspeople to catch enough fish, with their bare hands, to ensure the village’s survival for one day. But if you forgo consumption of fish for one day and use that labor to produce nets, hooks, and lines—capital—each fisherman can catch more fish the following day and the days thereafter. Capital is productive.

Further investment in capital, argued Böhm-Bawerk, increases roundaboutness; that is, it lengthens the production period. On this basis Böhm-Bawerk concluded that the net physical productivity of capital will lead to positive interest rates even if the first two reasons do not hold.

Although his theory of capital is one of the cornerstones of Austrian economics, modern mainstream economists pay no attention to Böhm-Bawerk’s analysis of roundaboutness. Instead, they accept Irving Fisher’s approach of just assuming that there are investment opportunities that make capital productive. Nevertheless, Böhm-Bawerk’s approach helped to pave the way for modern interest theory.

Böhm-Bawerk argued that interest does not exist due to extraction of surplus value. Workers would be able to receive the whole of what they helped produce only if production were instantaneous. But because production is roundabout, some of the product that Marx attributed to workers must go to finance this roundaboutness, that is, must go to capital. Böhm-Bawerk noted that interest would have to be paid no matter who owned the capital. Mainstream economists still accept this argument.


A core proposition in neoclassical economics, especially textbook neoclassical economics, is that the income earned by each "factor of production" (essentially, labour and "capital") is equal to its marginal product. Thus, the wage is alleged to be equal to the marginal product of labour, and the rate of profit or rate of interest equal to the marginal product of capital.

A second core proposition is that a change in the price of a factor of production -- say, a fall in the rate of profit -- will lead to more of that factor being used in production. A fall in this price means that more will be used since the law of diminishing returns implies that greater use of this input will imply a lower marginal product, all else equal.

Piero Sraffa, who originated the Cambridge controversy, pointed out that there was an inherent measurement problem in applying this model of income distribution to capital. Capitalist income is the rate of profit multiplied by the amount of capital, but the measurement of the "amount of capital" involves adding up quite incompatible physical objects -- adding trucks to lasers, for example. That is, just as one cannot add heterogeneous "apples and oranges," we cannot simply add up simple units of "capital" (as a child might add up "pieces of fruit").

Neoclassical economists assumed that there was no real problem here — just add up the money value of all these different capital items to get an aggregate amount of capital. But Sraffa (and Joan Robinson before him) pointed out that this financial measurement of the amount of capital depended partly on the rate of profit. There was thus a circularity in the argument.

The traditional way to aggregate is to multiply the amount of each type of capital goods by its price and then to add up these multiples. A problem with this method arises from variations in the ratio of labor to the value of capital goods used in production across sectors. At different income distributions, prices would have to differ if the competitive market assumption of equal rates of profits in all sectors is to hold. For example, suppose a higher rate of profits and lower wage were to prevail than at the initial situation. The prices of capital goods used in the less capital-intensive sectors would seem to need to rise with respect to the prices of capital goods used in more capital-intensive sectors, thereby ensuring the rate of profits remains identical across sectors. But additional complications arise from the varying capital intensities in the sectors producing capital goods. At any rate, the price of a capital good, or of any arbitrary given set of capital goods, cannot be expected to remain constant across variations in the rate of profits.

In general, this says that physical capital is heterogeneous and cannot be added up the way that financial capital can. For the latter, all units are measured in money terms and can thus be easily summed.

Sraffa suggested a technique (stemming in part from Marxian economics) by which a measure of the amount of capital could be produced: by reducing all machines to dated labor. A machine produced in the year 2000 can then be treated as the labor and commodity inputs used to produce it in 1999 (multiplied by the rate of profit); and the commodity inputs in 1999 can be further reduced to the labor inputs that made them in 1998 plus the commodity inputs (multiplied by the rate of profit again); and so on until the non-labor component was reduced to a negligible (but non-zero) amount. Then you could add up the dated labor value of a truck to the dated labor value of a laser.

However, Sraffa then pointed out that this accurate measuring technique still involved the rate of profit: the amount of capital depended on the rate of profit. This reversed the direction of causality that neoclassical economics assumed between the rate of profit and the amount of capital. According to neoclassical production theory, an increase in the amount of capital employed should cause a fall in the rate of profit (following diminishing returns). Sraffa instead showed that a change in the rate of profit would change the measured amount of capital, and in highly nonlinear ways: an increase in the rate of profit might initially increase the perceived value of the truck more than the laser, but then reverse the effect at still higher rates of profit. See "Reswitching" below. The analysis further implies that a more intensive use of a factor of production, including other factors than capital, may be associated with a higher, not lower price, of that factor.

According to the Cambridge, England, critics, this analysis is thus a serious challenge, particularly in factor markets, to the neoclassical vision of prices as scarcity indices and the principle of substitution they claim underlies the neoclassical theory of supply and demand.

Keston on Marx:

Capital does not include the idea, central to Das Kapital, that “abstrakt menschliche Arbeit”
is a “bloße Gallerte unterschiedsloser menschlicher Arbeit.” It includes instead the substitute idea that “human labour in the abstract” is “a mere congelation of homogeneous human labour.” This substitute, imposed by Moore and Aveling and continued by Fowkes, has the considerable advantage that its conceptual content is much easier to specify than the conceptual content of Marx’s original phrase. Moore and Aveling’s extremely influential account of abstract human labor is as follows. Human labor described as having, in effect, a single origin (“homogeneous”), since we cannot see the multitude of its real origins in the commodities that are its products, is frozen in commodities: it is a “congelation,” from the Latin verb congelare, “to freeze together,” and the Latin noun gelum, “frost.” [...] Human labor is abstract when it is frozen: lifeless, cold and immobilized. The important word used in Das Kapital to describe the opposite condition of labor, that is, unabstract, living human labor, must then be flüssig, “flowing,” as when Marx writes that “Menschliche Arbeitskraft im flüssigen Zustand oder menschliche Arbeit bildet Wert, aber ist nicht Wert:” “Human labour-power in motion, or human labour, creates value, but is not itself value,” or “Human labour-power in its fluid state, or human labour, creates value, but is not itself value.” (MEGA II.8: 82; MA: 59; F: 142)

This use of flüssig in Das Kapital is no doubt significant, and it of course is used by Marx to describe the lived experience of labor that is not represented in “abstract human labour.” [...] But whereas “flüssig” is a direct antonym of “congealed” and of “frozen,” “flüssig” is not a direct antonym of the word that Moore and Aveling and Fowkes translate as “mere congelation” and as “congealed quantities.” The word they translate using the abstract noun “congelation” is “Gallerte.” Gallerte is not an abstract noun.

Gallerte is now, and was when Marx used it, the name not of a process like freezing or coagulating, but of a specific commodity. Marx’s German readers will not only have bought Gallerte, they will have eaten it; and in using the name of this particular commodity to describe not “homogeneous” but, on the contrary, “unterschiedslose,” that is, “undifferentiated” human labor, Marx’s intention is not simply to educate his readers but also to disgust them.

The image of human labor reduced to Gallerte is disgusting. Gallerte is not ice, the
natural and primordial, solid and cold mass that can be transformed back into its
original condition by application of (e.g. human) warmth; it is a “halbfeste, zitternde,” that is, a “semisolid, tremulous” comestible mass, inconvertible back into the “meat, bone [and] connective tissue” of the various animals used indifferently to produce it.


Ideology critique is ideology, insofar as it may approvingly be thought of, by its practitioners, as the action of freeing oneself from materially intractable wrongs simply by claiming possession of the right view of them; but ideology critique is ideology, too, in the more difficult sense that it not only does not free us from material wrongs, but it also summons new wrongs into existence through falsely conceiving material wrongs as mere errors of thinking or habits of unreconstructed belief capable of being eradicated by a more enlightened attitude. The eradication in theory of so-called metaphysics, of identity-thinking, of narcissism, or of any of the innumerable varieties of superstition, is, on these terms, never more wrong than when it most completely succeeds.

This will of course be music to the ears of conservative thinkers, for whom the argument that bad thinking is ineradicable by means of ideology critique must be equivalent to a defense of bad thinking as nature. But for the Marxist, these are false alternatives. We are not either free to think well and eradicate superstition or just unalterably superstitious by nature; and it’s precisely because it recognises that these are false alternatives, that Marx’s great work, Das Kapital, can set about satirising the bourgeoisie by making emphatic use of exactly the mystical ideas and language that a “materialist” political economy would be expected to have done away with. The commodity is, not at first sight, but, precisely on further, materialist analysis, a very strange thing: it is, in Marx’s deliberate jargon, as Karen Pinkus has reminded us, a transsubstantiation, a metamorphosis, the salto mortale of value into matter, the transmogrification of an inert material lump into a circus act of pranks and illusions. Marx doesn’t say that this is what a commodity is when we are not really looking at it, or when we look at it with a brain full of dismissible phantoms; nor does he use these words, that come in a flurry of incense and mystery, just as a witty decoration of an otherwise altogether sobre and straightforward political economic exposition. To put it simply, the commodity is a very strange thing because we are very strange things, and it will remain a very strange thing, a salto mortale or metamorphosis, for so long as we remain that very strange thing, the bourgeoisie. Satire in the critique of political economy is not optional, but is compulsory, for Marx, for so long as the class at the helm of polity and of the economy is itself compulsorily grotesque. Any more neutral or unliterary language, purified of the base elements of satire and jargon, would be, not a discontamination of economic thinking, but on the contrary, a positive contamination of economic thinking by the bourgeois ideology of transparency and self-evidence. Objects in the world, said Bertrand Russell, are never themselves unclear; it is only we in our short-sightedness and entrapment in perspective who experience unclarity and mistake it for a quality of objects themselves. Marx, from the entrapped perspective of Das Kapital, volume 1, would regard this insistence on the real unalterable clarity of objects as ideology even if it is also, from its own perspective, true. When philosophers argue for the hypothetical suspension of perspectival experience in arguments about objects and realities, this is usually justified as discontamination, as a way of ridding the real thing of the distorting overbearance of eyes and angles and shadows and fantasies and brains. The project of ontology is in this way inaugurated at the initial start-up cost of devaluing the visual field, among other fields. But this is exactly an instance of ideology-critique being, in fact, ideology. The bracketing out of sensory experience and fantasy does not free us from distortion, but reinvents distortion as a wrong that thinking has the power to subtract from experience.

&& ??

Machine vitality vs. machine subjectivity.
Money ontologically ineradicable (cf. money translated into rhetoric).

How is profit possible? (cf. beavers & deer)

Roundabout vs. surplus value (Robinson Crusoe can producte one fish a day by tomorrow, or ten fish a day by Wednesday, or a hundred fish a day by 1735 etc.)

Relationship between surplus value and profit: supervenience?

Organic composition of capital - relates to proportion of direct and indirect labour embodied

A fish caught with my bare hands embodies less labour than the same fish caught with a trawler??

What if the trawler crashed on its maiden voyage, after catching one fish?

Secrecy and furtiveness surrounds utility & disutility - scarce resources, what is a state of right when we cannot know who enjoys the muffin the more, even be sure that my utility and yours are similar? Cf. Wittgenstein's private language.