Moral relativism has recently been the breeding ground of a purely functional or instrumental form of rationality, which in my view is one of the greatest impediments to serious social analysis and a meaningful ethics. "Subjective reason," to use Max Horkheimer's phrase from The Eclipse of Reason, on which a relativistic approach rests, has been one of the major afflictions of Anglo-American thinking, not merely within the academy but within the general public.
Predicated as their self-realization is in their own potentialities, human beings nevertheless cannot do as they please, despite the assertions of "beautiful souls," to use Hegel's phrase, who live in an aerie of personal liberation and self-contained "autonomy." Here, Marx was a good deal ahead of today's individualistic anarchists who, spray can in hand, have a bad habit of disrupting serious attempts at organization and theoretical inquiry with cries of "Freedom now!"
Nothing is easier, more mystifying, and more smug these days than to advance sweeping, ahistorical generalizations about figures like Hegel, Marx, and Lenin. It is evidence of the ugly intellectual degradation of our time that people who should know better make them so flippantly. One might as well claim that Stalin's totalitarianism had its roots in Machiavelli's so-called "Atlantic Republican Tradition" since the latter was the author of The Prince; or in Plato, as Karl Popper so notoriously did. Yet Hegel would undoubtedly have resolutely opposed Marx's view of the dialectic; Marx might very well have disowned Lenin, as the Marxist Rosa Luxemburg and the council communists Görter and Pannekoek did; and Stalin would certainly have imprisoned Lenin, as Lenin's widow bitterly reproached Trotsky in 1925, after the former Red Army commander belatedly began to attack Stalin.
Many of these former Marxists (particularly "New Left" students and their professors) polluted the sixties with their pet dogmas, only to "grow up" after they had "had their fun" (to rephrase a cynical expression of many Parisian veterans of 1968) and are now polluting the nineties with skepticism, nihilism, and subjectivism. The most serious obstacles to the development of an authentic New Left today are the Alain Touraines, André Gorzes, and Michael Walzers who have rallied variously to "market socialism," to "minimal statism," or to pluralized concepts of justice and freedom that are perfectly compatible with modern capitalism. The worst fate that an idea can meet is to be kept artificially alive, long after it has died historically, in the form of graduate courses at the New School for Social Research in New York City.
It is easy, when criticizing scientism as an ideology, to forget the role that the natural sciences themselves played in subverting beliefs in witchcraft and superstition, and in fostering a secular and naturalistic approach to reality. I would like to think that we no longer believe in Dracula, or in the power of the crucifix to fend off vampires, or in the occult power of women to communicate with demons--or do we?
See my "Introduction: A Philosophical Naturalism," in The Philosophy of Social Ecology: Essays on Dialectical Naturalism (Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1990); the revised edition is forthcoming from Black Rose in 1994.
Indeed, there may be a "logic to events," but it would be the logic of conventional reason, based on mere cause-and-effect and the principle of identity, "A = A," not dialectical reason.
See James Miller, The Passion of Michel Foucault (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993).
See my forthcoming book Reenchanting Humanity (London: Cassell, 1995), for a more detailed discussion of these issues.
Ironically, it even vitiates the meaning of social anarchism as an ethical socialism.
I find no solace in the notion that preliterate peoples "enjoyed" an "affluent society," as Marshall Sahlins would have it. Their lives were all too often short, their cultures burdened by superstition and bereft of a syllabic system of writing, and they normally were at war with each other, to cite only their major afflictions, notwithstanding pastoral New Age images of their lives to the contrary.
Indeed, even nominalistic historians who see History as a series of accidents often tacitly presuppose the existence of the "nonaccidental" (perhaps even the rational) in a social development.
See chapter 11 of my The Ecology of Freedom (1982; reprinted by Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1992).
I find no view more one-sided and noxious than Theodor Adorno's dictum, "No universal history leads from savagery to humanitarianism, but there is one leading from the slingshot to the megaton bomb." This inflated, less than thought-out pronouncement, taken together with Adorno's commitment to a negativity that rejected sublation (Aufhebung), or social and ideological advances, was a step toward nihilism, indeed, an ugly demonization of humanity, that belied his affirmations of reason. See Negative Dialectics, trans. E. B. Ashton (New York: Seabury Press, 1973), p. 320.
I deliberately eschew the words Totality and Spirit to preclude any such suggestion.
The name of another chapter in The Ecology of Freedom.
G.W.F. Hegel, "Reason as Lawgiver," in The Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A. V. Miller (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), pp. 252-56.
Hegel, for all his entanglements with the notion of Geist or "Spirit" and despite his conception of a predetermined "Absolute," at least had the good sense to distinguish the self-development of nonhuman life-forms, for instance, from the self-development of humanity or, for that matter, society. See G.W.F. Hegel, "Introduction," Lectures on the History of Philosophy, vol. 1, trans. E. S. Haldane and Frances H. Simson (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1955, 1968; New York: The Humanities Press), pp. 22-23.
Present-day cosmology and biophysics, however, are coming up against phenomena whose explanation requires the flexible concepts of development advanced by dialectical naturalism.
Karl Marx, "Toward a Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Law: Introduction," Writings of the Young Marx on Philosophy and Society, trans. Lloyd D. Easton and Kurt H. Guddat (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday and Co., 1967), p. 259.
W. T. Stace's Critical History of Greek Philosophy, for example, shows how a series of ancient Greek thinkers rounded out increasingly full but still one-sided views to produce the most advanced dialectical philosophy of their time, particulary that of Aristotle. Certainly the development of insight into the dialectical nature of reality did not end with the Greeks; nor will it end with thinkers in our time, any more than science ended in the nineteenth century, when so many physicists thought little more could be added to complete Newtonian physics. In his history of philosophy, Hegel pointed out not only different degrees of dialectical reason, which approximated different degrees of truth (which in no way means that he was a "relativist"), but different kinds of rationality -- "Understanding" or Verstand, of the commonsensical kind, and "Reason" or Vernunft, of the dialectical kind.
Recently, dialectical naturalism has been criticized for committing the "epistemological fallacy," in which a priori concepts become their own conditions of validity, rendering dialectics as such a self-validating system. This, as if dialectic naturalism were not structured around the reality of potentiality and were purely an a priori speculative form of reason. Yet these critics themselves usually use the kind of logic that employs the most a priori, indeed tautological of all concepts, the principle of identity, A equals A, in preference to dialectical reason.
This view is not new for me. In The Ecology of Freedom, completed in 1980 and published in 1982, I was at pains to indicate that "The Dialectic of Enlightenment is actually no dialectic at all--at least in its attempt to explain the negation of reason through its own self-development" (p. 382). My respect for the Frankfurt School rested largely on its insightful critique of positivism, which was the dominant philosophical fad in American universities and social theory (so-called "sociology") in the 1940s and 1950s, and on its various insights into Hegelian philosophy. Today, these valuable contributions are far and away outweighed by the ease with which the Frankfurt School's work has fostered postmodern views in the United States and Germany and by the extent to which its products, especially Adorno's writings, have become academic commodities.
Nor does a verbal paradox that contrasts seemingly related but opposing ideas, or colorful expressions of alterity, constitute a dialectic in the sense in which I have discussed it here, however much it seems to resemble formulations in Hegel and the best of Marx. Adorno's provocative endeavors of this kind often turn out to be little more than that--provocations.
Presented by the IKD's Auslands Kommitee (Committee Abroad), this huge document long predated Socialisme ou Barbarie. The ideas that it advanced, however, are moot today. Extrapolating Hitler's seeming war aims of the early 1940s--to reduce industrialized Western European countries to mere satellites of German capital and to agrarianize and depopulate the East--to the world at large, this theory of imperialism (and barbarism) argued that not capital but deindustrialization would be exported to undeveloped countries, as old Marxist theories of imperialism had assumed in the prewar period.
Nor did we, by the late 1940s, regard the workers' movement--indeed, "workers' councils" or "workers' control of industry"--as revolutionary, especially with the sequelae of the great strike movements of the late 1940s which directly affected my own life as a worker.
The notion of an "instinct for freedom," touted by many radical theorists, is a sheer oxymoron. The compelling, indeed necessitarian character of instinct makes it the very antithesis of freedom, whose liberating dimensions are grounded in choice and self-consciousness.