Le Culte de L’Argent

A friend of mine – who happens to be a philosophy professor (bear with me) –  recently explained to me a philosophical distinction, first made by Aristotle between two visions of money and its role in society.  The one he (Aristotle) called oikonomia (economics) and the other he called khrematisike (chrematistics). The first, basically, is perceived as good and the second as bad. The first – economics – refers to the useful and beneficial function of money as related to the ‘natural’ process of producing and exchanging goods, while the second – crematistics – refers to the ‘unnatural’ art of money begetting money and includes mechanisms like speculation and debt.

According to this same friend, the glamorous French philosopher, Jacques Derrida, describes Aristotle’s theory in the following terms: “For Aristotle, it is a matter of an ideal and desirable limit, a limit between the limited and the unlimited, between the true and finite good (the economic) and the illusory and indefinite good (the chrematistic).”

Reading this, another French thinker, Alexis de Tocqueville, springs to mind. He went to America in the nineteenth century and described what he saw in the following terms: ‘The Americans cleave to the things of this world as if assured that they will never die, and yet are in such a rush to snatch any that come within their reach, as if expecting to stop living before they have relished them. They clutch everything but hold nothing fast, and so lose grip as they hurry after some new delight.’(1)

Does the Anglo-Saxon consumerist model encourage us to chase after the next new thing of this world, urging us to borrow in order to do so – the next handbag, the next mortgage payment etc. – and so induce a culture of endless postponement of ‘true’ pleasure?

In a fit of exasperation at seeing his nation repeatedly compared to Britain, Georges Pompidou once said to his Minister, Alain Peyrefitte, “We’re not like them! If we were we’d know about it! For nearly three centuries we’ve been idealising Anglo-Saxon society, starting with Montesquieu, who allowed himself to be manipulated by the Intelligence Service…This society that we worship is one of Money!”

(1) De la démocratie en Amérique


9 thoughts on “Le Culte de L’Argent

  1. Recently wrote this on Marx-Aristotle on Chrematistics and Economics….not finifhsed….first draft w/out conclusion or intro….also thinking of expanding it….But here it is:

    In contrasting classical political economy with the oikonomia of the classical polis, one observation becomes readily apparent if we adopt a Marxist framework. The tradition of economics inherited from 18th and 19th century thought has tended to portray material wealth, money, as the highest of all ends— a great insatiable Moloch, the “lord and god of the world of commodities,” for whom the ordinary lives of working men and women must be sacrificed daily.1 Labour, constituted as such, can only ever appear in its one-sided, mystified form as “Jehovah’s curse.”2 Work can only manifest itself as Necessity, as a burden, as a Sisyphean feat, as the loss of the Self; never as Freedom, as an overcoming, as a Promethean aim, as an objectification of the Subject. Labour appears therefore to be the mere means, rather than the ultimate end, the very essence, of our existence.3
    By juxtaposition, classical philosophy regarded the pursuit of happiness (εὐδαιμονία) through the cultivation of virtue (ἀρετή) as the highest purpose of human life— a supreme end, in-and-of-itself. “Alienated labour,” however, “reverses the [historically presupposed] relationship” insofar as “his life activity, his essence, [is now] only a means for his existence.”4 Subsumed by capital, the commodity— as something which is bought and sold on the open-market— becomes an object personified with a life of its own.5 Conversely, yet simultaneously, the exchange-relation also objectifies the person(s) who produced the product— thereby, transforming his/her labour-time, his/her very life-activity, into a lifeless ‘commodity’, a thing to be bought and sold in the marketplace.6 As Marx understood it, before “use value” is historically
    replaced by exchange value, every form of natural wealth presupposes an essential relation between the individual and the objects, in which the individual in one of his aspects objectifies (vergegenstandlicht) himself in the thing, so that his possession of the thing appears at the same time as a certain development of his individuality: wealth in sheep, the development of the individual as shpherd, wealth in grain his development as agriculturist, etc. Money, however, as the individual of general wealth, as something emerging from circulation and representing a general quality, as a merely social result, does not at all presuppose an individual relation to its owner; possession of it is not the development of any particular essential aspect of his individuality; but rather possession of what lacks individuality, since this social (relation) exists at the same time a sensuous, external object which can be mechanically seized, and lost in the same manner. Its relation to the individual thus appears as a purely accidental one; while this relation to a thing having no connection with his individuality gives him, at the same time, by virtue of the thing’s character, general power over society, over the whole world of gratifications, labours, etc. It is exactly as if, for example, the chance discovery of a stone gave me mastery over all the sciences, regardless of my individuality. The possession of money places me in exactly the same relationship towards wealth (social) as the philosopher’s stone would towards the sciences…Money is therefore not only an object, but is the object of greed…It is essentially auri sacra fumes. Greed as such, as a particular form of the drive, i.e., as distinct from the craving for a particular kind of wealth, e.g., for clothes, weapons, jewels, women, wine, etc., is possible only when general wealth, wealth as such, has become individualized in a particular thing…Money is therefore not only the object but also the fountainhead of greed. The mania for possessions is possible without money; but greed itself is the product of a definite social development, not natural, as opposed to historical. Hence the wailing of the ancients about money as the source of all evil.7

    One of these “ancients” who could always be found “wailing” about “money as the source of all evil” was Aristotle— whom Marx laurelled as the “greatest thinker of antiquity.”8 It was in this context, in fact, that Capital seemingly approves of the Aristotlean distinction between, and denunciation of, chrematistics over and above true economics.9 For Aristotle, economics— or oikonomia (οἰκονομία)— was defined as the law (nomos) of household (oikos) rule.10 Marx implicitly understood that this definition of oikonomia was profoundly different from the field of economics which had dominated Western political inquiry since the 1700s. Indeed, this is precisely why some commentators have rightly followed Cyril Smith, contra Ben Fowkes, insofar as they argue that (in Chapters Four and Five of Volume One) Marx specifically chooses to employ the German term Oekonomik (a word which remains more honest to the original Greek oikonomia) in order to illustrate the lexicographical nuances of Aristotle’s distinction between economics and chrematistics.11 Historically, for the classical communities of the ancient world, oikonomia entailed effectively managing the (productive) abilities and (consumptive) needs of the household with a view to maximizing the amount of time available for each citizen’s engagement in the extra-economic affairs of the political community and in the good life proffered by philosophy.12 In this respect, the economic relation is merely the material foundation upon which a political (and therefore truly human) community may be built. This is confirmed by Aristotle in the Politics where he claims that the oikos is to provide us with the “bare needs of life” so that the polis can produce the “good life.”13 In the same vein, the Nicomachean Ethics speaks of “politics” as being the “master art” to which the “science” of “economics” ought to be subservient:
    Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and choice, is thought to aim at some good. But a certain difference is to be found among ends; some are activities, others are products apart from the activities that produced them….Now, as there are many actions, arts, sciences, their ends are also many; the end of the medical art is health, that of shipbuilding a vessel, that of strategy victory, that of economics wealth. But where such arts fall under a single capacity…the ends of the master arts are to be perferred to all the subordinate ends; for it is for the sake of the former that the latter are pursued…Politics appears to be of this nature; for it is this that ordains which of the sciences should be studied in a state, and which each class of citizens should learn and up to what point they should learn them; and we see even the most highly esteemed of capacities to fall under this, e.g., strategy, economics, rhetoric…[Therefore] the end of this science must include those of the others, so that this end must be the good for man.14

    Likewise, in the Economics (an early Peripatetic work whose authorship can only be spuriously attributed to Aristotle himself), it is once again reiterated that the “science of politics and economics differ…as widely as [do] a household and [a] city” insofar as the “function” of oikonomia is to meet the requisite needs of “found[ing] a household,” whereas politka, by contrast, is concerned with being “self-sufficient with regard to a good life” by managing a “city [which] is an aggregate made up of households.”15 As such, in his ethical, political and economic writings, Aristotle stressed that genuine ‘economy’ entailed that the master of the household economize his own labour-time so as to be able to participate in the political life of the polis instead of being imprisoned by the economic life of the oikos— to flourish, as Marx would understand it, in the “realm of freedom” rather than to be stunted by “natural necessity.”16
    According to Aristotle’s sociological schema, the “first thing to arise is the family” or the oikos— and it is an economic “association established by nature” to “supply…men’s everyday wants.”17 The city, or polis, is a subsequent political association aimed at realizing the “highest good,” the ‘good life’—18 which, as Aristotle had already identified in the Nichomachean Ethics, constitutes “happiness” for humans.19 From here, the Politics is able to summarize the “teleological” theory of “association” from oikos to polis (household→ village→ city) in order to form the premissary basis for the following contention that the human being is, therefore, a ζῷον πολιτικόν (a ‘political animal’ or an ‘animal inclined to city-living’):
    The most natural form of the village appears to be that of a colony from the family [oikos]…When several villages are united in a single complete community, large enough to be nearly or quite self-sufficing, the state [polis] into existence, originating in the bare needs of life, and continuing for the sake of a good life. And therefore, if the earlier forms of society are natural, so is the state, for it is the end of them, and the nature of a thing is its end. For what each thing is when fully developed, we call its nature, whether we are speaking of a man, a horse, or a family…Hence it is evident that the state is a creation of nature, and that man is by nature a political animal.20

    Economics then— the skill, or techne (τέχνη), of wealth management; what Jowett translates as the “art of acquiring property”— is, in one respect, a natural “part of the [greater] art of managing the household” insofar as “no man can live well, or indeed live at all, unless he is provided with necessaries.”21 However, there is “another variety” to the “art of acquisition”— which ought not to be classed as economics per se, but, rather, as chrematistics (χρηματιστική)— and it is only concerned with the “art of wealth-getting” to the degree that it contends that “riches and property have no limit.”22 It was on this score that Aristotle even went so far as to condemn Solon— one of the Seven Sages of Archaic Greece— for suggesting that “no bound to riches has been fixed for man.”23 Against this maxim, the Academics and Peripatetics contested that the “amount of property which is needed for a good life is not unlimited” (emphasis added).24 Hence, the “one kind [of wealth-management] which is [indeed] part of the management of a household”— true oikonomia, or ‘science of the home-laws’— is confined only to “such things [as are] necessary to life, and useful for the community of the family or state.”25
    The art of wealth-getting which consists in household management…has a limit; the unlimited acquisition of wealth is not its business. And, therefore, from one point of view, all riches must have a limit; nevertheless, as a matter of fact, we find the opposite to be the case; for the getters of wealth increase their hoard of coin without limit. The source of confusion is the near connexion between the two kinds of wealth-getting; in both, the instrument is the same, although their use is different…Accumulation is the end in the one case, but there is a further end in the other…The origin of this [chrematistic] disposition in men is that they are intent upon living only, and not upon living well; and, as their desires are unlimited, they also desire that the means of gratifying them should be without limit…For, as their enjoyment is in excess, they seek an art which produces excess enjoyment…This they conceive to be the end, and to the promotion of the end they think all things must contribute.26

    True economics would be “limited,” as such, to concerns of “self-sufficiency” for such a science merely intends to provide the “bare needs of life” so that the citizenry could be free to pursue the “good life.” Whereas, for chrematistics, “all things must contribute” to the money-making process, for true economics “there is a further end” in sight.27 Economics is not “intent upon living only,” but, rather, upon providing the necessary material basis for “living well,” for the good life as it were. Aristotle claims that ‘economics’, were it to be understood in this sense, is indeed concerned with the discovery of “true riches.”28 As this paper will address, it is upon these insights that Marx seems to have grounded his own approach to economics, and, as a corollary, his own understanding of what constitutes an ideal political community.29
    Essentially, the Aristotlean distinction between economics and chrematistics begins with a strangely familiar delineation between use- and exchange-value. These Aristotlean insights resonate throughout Capital of course. For instance, Marx considers the simple C-M-C circuit (selling a commodity in order to buy a commodity) to have been a historically-presupposed form of exchange based upon “use-value” since the circuit begins and ends with the aim of exchanging consumable goods. By juxtaposition, he regarded the M-C-M’ circuit (buying a commodity in order to produce and sell another commodity) as an essentially modern relation dominated by “exchange-value:”
    Considered as purchase of the linen…the process completes a movement which began with its opposite, the sale of the wheat. C-M (linen-money), which is he first phase of C-M-C (linen-money-Bible), is also M-C (money-linen), the last phase of another movement C-M-C (wheat-money-linen)…[Now, imagine, what if] He releases the money, but only with the cunning intention of getting it back again. The money therefore is not spent, it is merely advanced…[As such] In the cycle C-M-C, therefore, the expenditure of money has nothing to do with its reflux. In M-C-M on the other hand the reflux of money is conditioned by its very manner in which it is expended…Consumption, the satisfaction of needs, in short use-value, is therefore its final goal. The path M-C-M, however, proceeds from the extreme of money and finally returns to that same extreme. Its driving and motivating force, its determining purpose, is therefore exchange-value… The simple circulation of commodities— selling in order to buy— is a means to a final goal which lies outside circulation, namely the appropriation of use-values, the satisfaction of needs. As against this, the circulation of money as capital is an end in itself, for the valorization of value takes place only within this constantly renewed movement [M-C-M’, M’-C-M”, etc.]. The movement of capital is therefore limitless.30

    Marx’s above distinction between the C-M-C and M-C-M’ circuits, as well as their correlation to use- and exchange-value, has its foundation in Aristotle’s differentiation between economics and chrematistics from the perspective of utility. According to Aristotle, by its nature, money is something of utility— designed, as it initially was, as a convenient medium in the place of barter.31 “Things that have a use,” explains Aristotle, “may be used either well or badly; and riches is a useful thing.”32 Those concerned with using money, instead of merely amassing it, are those who utilize money “well” then. This would entail a form of commodity exchange largely limited to “use-value” (viz., C-M-C circuits). Money is to be spent, therefore, on fulfilling the needs of oneself, one’s family, and one’s dependents; money ought not to be used absurdly as a means of amassing more money, so that there can be no end in sight. Given that “everything is used best by the man who has excellence concerned with it,” then the truly ‘economic man’, according to Aristotle, is therefore also the “liberal man” for “spending and giving seem to be the using of wealth; taking and keeping rather the possession of it” (emphasis added).33 As such, money-hoarding— alongside usury and other forms of chrematistics— was regarded as a moral “excess” which belied a deficiency of character on the part of the hoarder, usurer, etc. The “common” feature of “all such people” who can be found “ply[ing] [such] sordid trades” and who “put up with a bad name for the sake of gain”— such as those who “lend small sums at high rates”— is that they display a “sordid love of gain” as an end-in-itself.34
    When Part I and II of Marx’s Volume One of Capital addresses this “sordid love of gain,” this money-fetish, he adopts the same means-ends terminology as Aristotle does in the above. In Capital’s brief subsection on pre-capitalist chrematistic practices (in which he alludes to Aristotle several times), Marx observes how “instead of being merely a way of mediating the metabolic process (Stoffwechsel), this change of form [viz., into a fetishized money-form] becomes an end in itself.”35 Like Aristotle before him, Marx assumed that this primitive “hoarding drive” was “boundless in nature” insofar as “money is independent of all limits.”36 In a simple C-M-C circuit— limited to “use-value”— property can, needless to say, still be hoarded. The simple “mania for possessions” is, in fact, something which is entirely “possible without money.”37 Historically speaking though, even in C-M-C hoarding practices, the hoarder has been relegated to pursuing a “particular kind of wealth, e.g., clothes, weapons, jewels, women, wine, etc.”38 Conversely, money becomes “not only an object, but is the object of greed” when the M-C-M’ circuit has subsumed the social relations of production.39 “Greed as such, as a particular form of the drive,” is therefore “possible only when general wealth, wealth as such, has become individualized in a particular thing:” the universally exchangable money-form— i.e., minted metals, bullion, paper notes, etc.40 This infinite “hoarding drive” associated with what Marx called the “mania” for money as “the object of greed”— or what Aristotle defined as the “sordid love of gain” as a chrematistic end-in-and-of-itself— can only be identified, in the genuine sense of the word, as a money fetish. The concept of the fetish comes from the Portuguese colonial lexicon— specifically, the word feitiço— which was coined during the transatlantic slave-trade to signify how West African religions attributed extraordinary powers, perceptions, etc., to inanimate objects such as talismen, bones, and the like. In the Marxist equivalent of the term, “exchange-value” is meant to represent the fetishistic power of the illusory life posited in the inanimate money-form— a fetishized object which must be worshipped, propitiated, prayed for, etc. The world of commodities takes on a supernatural life of its own, while human lives are divested of any earthly value. This fetishism of commodities is “far more wonderful” a notion than if a table were to use its “wooden brain” to get up and begin “dancing of its own free will:”
    It is a very strange thing [i.e., the commodity], [in that it is] abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties…There is nothing mysterious about it, whether we condider it from the point of view that by its properties it satisfies human needs, or that it first takes on these properties as the product of human labour. It is absolutely clear that, by his activity, man changes the forms of the materials of nature in such a way as to make them useful to him. The form of wood, for instance, is altered if a table is made out of it…But as soon as it emerges as a commodity, it changes into a thing which transcends sensuousness. It not only stands with its feet on the ground, but, in relation to all other commodities, it stands on its head, and evolves out of its wooden brain grotesque ideas, far more wonderful than if it were to begin dancing of its own free will.41

    However, the money-form could not develop fetishistically beyond the barriers imposed by the fundamentally incompatible oikonomic foundation of Graeco-Roman antiquity, and, where it did overcome such limitations, this overcoming precipitated the demise of those very civilizations. “Ancient society,” according to Marx’s historical analysis in Capital, had “denounced” chrematistics and the money-fetish as “tending to[ward] destroy[ing] the economic and moral order.”42 He explains this in the Grundrisse as well when examining the case-study of the rise and fall of Rome:
    The main point here is this: In all these forms— in which landed property and agriculture form the basis of the economic order, and where the economic aim is hence the production of use values, i.e. the reproduction of the individual within the specific relation to the commune in which he is its basis— there is to be found: (1) Appropriation not through labour, but presupposed to labour; appropriation of the natural conditions of labour, of the earth as the original instrument of labour as well as its workshop and repository of raw materials. The individual relates simply to the objective conditions of labour as being his; (relates) to them as the inorganic nature of his subjectivity, in which the latter realizes itself; the chief objective condition of labour does not itself appear as a product of labour, but is already there as nature; on one side the living individual, on the other the earth, as the objective condition of his reproduction; (2) but this relation to land and soil, to the earth, as the property of the labouring individual— who thus appears from the outset not merely as labouring individual, in this abstraction, but who has an objective mode of existence in his ownership of the land, an existence presupposed to his activity, and not merely as a result of it, a presupposition of his activity just like his skin, his sense organs, which of course he also reproduces and develops etc. in the life process, but which are nevertheless presuppositions of this process of his reproduction— is instantly mediated by the naturally arisen, spontaneous, more or less historically developed and modified presence of the individual as member of a commune— his naturally arisen presence as member of a tribe etc. An isolated individual could no more have property in land and soil than he could speak. He could, of course, live off it as substance, as do the animals. The relation to the earth as property is always mediated through the occupation of the land and soil, peacefully or violently, by the tribe, the commune, in some more or less naturally arisen or already historically developed form. The individual can never appear here in the dot-like isolation [Punktualität] in which he appears as mere free worker. If the objective conditions of his labour are presupposed as belonging to him, then he himself is subjectively presupposed as member of a commune, through which his relation to land and soil is mediated. His relation to the objective conditions of labour is mediated through his presence as member of the commune; at the same time, the real presence of the commune is determined by the specific form of the individual’s property in the objective conditions of labour…The survival of the commune as such in the old mode requires the reproduction of its members in the presupposed objective conditions. Production itself, the advance of population (this too belongs with production), necessarily suspends these conditions little by little; destroys them instead of reproducing them etc., and, with that, the communal system declines and falls, together with the property relations on which it was based. The Asiatic form necessarily hangs on most tenaciously and for the longest time. This is due to its presupposition that the individual does not become independent vis-à-vis the commune; that there is a self-sustaining circle of production, unity of agriculture and manufactures, etc. If the individual changes his relation to the commune, he thereby changes and acts destructively upon the commune; as on its economic presupposition; on the other side, the alteration of this economic presupposition brought about by its own dialectic— impoverishment etc. In particular, the influence of warfare and of conquest, which e.g., in Rome belonged to the essential conditions of the commune itself, suspends the real bond on which it rests. In all these forms, the reproduction of presupposed relations— more or less naturally arisen or historic as well, but become traditional— of the individual to his commune, together with a specific, objective existence, predetermined for the individual, of his relations both to the conditions of labour and to his co-workers, fellow tribesmen etc.— are the foundation of development, which is therefore from the outset restricted, but which signifies decay, decline and fall once this barrier is suspended. Thus among the Romans, the development of slavery, the concentration of land possession, exchange, the money system, conquest etc., although all these elements up to a certain point seemed compatible with the foundation, and in part appeared merely as innocent extensions of it, partly grew out of it as mere abuses. Great developments can take place here within a specific sphere. The individuals may appear great. But there can be no conception here of a free and full development either of the individual or of the society, since such development stands in contradiction to the original relation.43

    As such, according to Marx’s analysis, the chrematistic pursuit of wealth as an end-in-itself was something which tended to infect ancient societies only during periods of stasis or crisis. The money-fetish was entirely symptomatic of the decline, not the progress, of antiquity. The only place where the money-form could be said to have prevailed during the ‘golden age’ was in the extra-European interstices of Graeco-Roman antiquity. “Wealth appears as an end in itself,” claims Marx, “only among the few commercial peoples” of the classical period— “peoples” who monopolized the caravan trade, merchant-capital, lending, etc., and who “live[d] in the pores of the ancient world, like the Jews in medieval society.”44 This Grundrisse-claim is repeated in the completed edition of Volume One: “Trading nations…exist[ed] only in the interstices of the ancient world, like the gods of Epicurus in the intermundia, or Jews in the pores of Polish society”— “social organisms” which were “much more simple and transparent than those of bourgeois society.”45 Thus, can historians claim that “we never find in antiquity” an “inquiry” designed to discover what “creates the most wealth”— i.e., “which form of landed property, etc., is the most productive?”46 Well, “although Cato may well investigate which manner of cultivating a field brings the greatest rewards,” just as, say, “Brutus may even lend out his money at the best rates of interest,” nevertheless, scholars may not rightfully claim therefrom that money ”appear[s] as the aim of production” in Rome or Greece.47 The ultimate “question” for these classical societies was “always which mode of property creates the best citizens.”48
    Therefore, while the ancients “may perhaps have excused the slavery of one person as a means to the full human development of the another,” antiquity “lacked” altogether those “specifically Christian qualities” which would permit the political economists to “preach the slavery of the masses” so that some “half-educated parvenus” could become one of the “’eminent spinners’, ‘extensive sausage-makers’ and ‘influential shoe-black dealers’” wrought by capital.49 Hence, in this referenced passage from Capital,(On ‘Machinery and Large-Scale Industry’) Marx praises Aristotle and other ancient thinkers for their sober sense of mind in this regard. Marx laments at the “remarkable phenomenon” of the machine-powered increase in the relative surplus-value of the working-day— “remarkable” because “machinery sweeps away every moral and natural restriction on the length of the working day.”50 Marx attempts to explain, through contrast with ancient society, how the modern “economic paradox” that the “most powerful instrument for reducing labour-time” has, by a “dialectical inversion,” become the “most unfailing means” of transforming the “whole lifetime of the worker and his family” into the “labour-time at capital’s disposal:”51
    ‘If’, dreamed Aristotle, the greatest thinker of antiquity, ‘if every tool, when summonded, or even by intelligent anticipation, could do the work that befits it, just as the tripods of Hephaestus went of their own accord to their sacred work, if the weaver’s shuttles were to weave themselves, then there would be no need either of apprentices for the master craftsmen, or of slaves for the lords.’ And Antipater, a Greek poet from the time of Cicero, hailed the waterwheel for grinding corn, that most basic form of all productive machinery, as the liberator of female slaves and the restorer of the golden age. Oh those Heathens! They understood nothing of political economy and Christianity…They did not, for example, comprehend that machinery is the surest means of lengthening the working day.52

    The “heathens,” therefore, “understood nothing of political economy” for they naively imagined that increases in industriousness and productivity would be utilized to liberate the labour-time of the worker and slave from the bondage of their necessity to labour. After all, they only “excused the slavery of one person” in the first place because it enabled the “full development of the other.” As Marx satirized, the “heathens”— among them, Aristotle, the “greatest thinker of antiquity”— “understood” nothing of the religion of meek modern minds such as Basiat and MacCulloch.
    However, despite the fact that the market impresses ever-greater amounts of relative surplus-value, Marx believed that this would give way to, and be superseded by, a dialectical transition into a socialist society. This higher (that is, truly human) society would entail mastering the forces of Nature, including human nature, so that these forces no longer appear as fateful blind powers, but as phenomenon which are consciously understood and controlled as laws of nature. Marx’s conception of this mastery, as well as the correlating historical struggle over the length of the working-day, is entirely congruent with Aristotle’s definition of oikonomia as the economizing of one’s labour-time:
    Surplus-labour in general, as labour performed over and above the given requirements, must always remain. In the capitalist as well as in the slave system, etc., it merely assumes an antagonistic form and is supplemented by complete idleness of a stratum of society. A definite quantity of surplus-labour is required as insurance against accidents, and by the necessary and progressive expansion of the process of reproduction in keeping with the development of the needs and the growth of population, which is called accumulation from the viewpoint of the capitalist. It is one of the civilising aspects of capital that it enforces this surplus-labour in a manner and under conditions which are more advantageous to the development of the productive forces, social relations, and the creation of the elements for a new and higher form than under the preceding forms of slavery, serfdom, etc. Thus it gives rise to a stage, on the one hand, in which coercion and monopolisation of social development (including its material and intellectual advantages) by one portion of society at the expense of the other are eliminated; on the other hand, it creates the material means and embryonic conditions, making it possible in a higher form of society to combine this surplus-labour with a greater reduction of time devoted to material labour in general. For, depending on the development of labour productivity, surplus-labour may be large in a small total working-day, and relatively small in a large total working-day…The actual wealth of society, and the possibility of constantly expanding its reproduction process, therefore, do not depend upon the duration of surplus-labour, but upon its productivity and the more or less copious conditions of production under which it is performed. In fact, the realm of freedom actually begins only where labour which is determined by necessity and mundane considerations ceases; thus in the very nature of things it lies beyond the sphere of actual material production. Just as the savage must wrestle with Nature to satisfy his wants, to maintain and reproduce life, so must civilised man, and he must do so in all social formations and under all possible modes of production. With his development this realm of physical necessity expands as a result of his wants; but, at the same time, the forces of production which satisfy these wants also increase. Freedom in this field can only consist in socialised man, the associated producers, rationally regulating their interchange with Nature, bringing it under their common control, instead of being ruled by it as by the blind forces of Nature; and achieving this with the least expenditure of energy and under conditions most favourable to, and worthy of, their human nature. But it nonetheless still remains a realm of necessity. Beyond it begins that development of human energy which is an end in itself, the true realm of freedom, which, however, can blossom forth only with this realm of necessity as its basis. The shortening of the working-day is its basic prerequisite.53

    As we see in the above, Marx is concerned with the perennial philosophical question: what is the ‘good life’? He clearly regards economy as saving (viz., the saving, through productivity, of one’s labour-time). Again, this is entirely consistent with the classical equivalent. For Marx, the “shortening of the working-day”— the reduction of the “realm of necessity”— is, therefore, regarded as a “basic prerequisite” to the “blossom[ing] forth” of the “true realm of freedom.” In the “true realm of freedom,” individual “human energy” is to be spent as an “end in itself.” Marx explains in his Grundrisse that, in a set of ideal social relations, while work would become “attractive work, the individual’s self-realization,” this, in no way, implies “mere fun, mere amusement, as Fourier, with grisette-like naivete, conceives it.”54 “Really free working, e.g., composing, is at the same time” also work which is for that very reason the “most damned seriousness, the most intense exertion.”55 Later on, in the same work, Marx reiterates that “real economy— saving— consists of the saving of labour time.”56 However, ‘economy’ in this sense also entails the “development of power, of capabilities of production” so that the
    saving of labour time (is) equal to an increase in free time, i.e., time for the full development of the individual, which in turn reacts back upon the productive power of labour as itself the greatest productive power…Direct labour-time cannot remain in the abstract antithesis to free time in which it appears from the perspective of bourgeois economy. [As such] Labour cannot become play, as Fourier would like it, although it remains his great contribution to have expressed the suspension not of distribution [as it is under capitalism], but of the mode of production itself, in a higher form, as the ultimate object. Free time— which is both idle time and time for higher activity— has naturally transformed its possessor into a different subject…This process is then both discipline, as regards human being in the process of becoming; and, at the same time, practice (Ausubung), experimental science, materially creative and objectifying science, as regards the human being who has become, in whose head exists the accumulated knowledge of society…The constant process of their own movement, in which they renew themselves even as they renew the world of wealth they create.57

    As such, we grant that Fourier has made a “great contribution” insofar as he envisioned the “suspension” [Aufheben] of the “mode of production itself.” Marx identified a dialectic movement in the transition from capitalism to communism constituted by an overcoming of the “abstract antithesis” between labour and leisure— namely, the positing of a unity and synthesis insofar as both are aimed at the self-realization of human potential. As such, leisure-time “cannot become play, as Fourier would like it” for it is something of the “damned seriousness, the most intense exertion”— that is, “time for the full development of the individual.” This affirmation that the aim of ‘economy’ should be the manifestation of the free and “full development of the individual” is akin to the ancient opinion that ‘oikonomia’ should entail the freeing of the time one spends in the oikos so as to live as a polis-animal.58
    Indeed, when demystifying the fiction of the proprietorial individual at the beginning of the Grundrisse notebooks, Marx alludes to the aforementioned Aristotlean definition of Man as a “political animal.” The human being is in the most literal sense,” explained Marx, a “ξωον πολιτιχον [zwon politichon], not a merely gregarious[ly] [sociable] animal”— such as bees, ants, herds, etc.— “but an animal which can individuate itself only in the midst of society” (emphasis added).59 The human being can only flourish, as a human qua human, if he or she is a social being— viz., someone who has undergone an individuation by society, the socialization of the individual, etc., as parametered by the economic conditions of his or her particular community and as limited by the specific epoch, culture, etc., within which he or she has been reproduced. The Aristo-Marxist conception is that, by nature, the human being is a social animal— a sociability which is a transhistorical feature common to all possible modes of human life. However, the degree of development of the ‘political life’ is a metric by which we may measure the teleological development of our essential powers as humans. Recall that, if we return to Aristotle’s “teleological” theory of “association”— to which Marx seems to ascribe to in a round-about-way through his application of Hegel’s dialectic to questions of the State, social relations, etc— recall that according to this said theory, the “nature” of any given thing is its “end,” not its “beginning.”60 Therefore, the human being realizes its human nature at the culmination, rather than the inauguration, of world-history. “It is evident,” wrote Aristotle, that the
    state [polis] is a creation of nature, and that man is by nature a political animal…Man is more of a political animal than bees or any other gregarious animals…[for humankind’s innate] power of speech is intended to set forth the expedient and inexpedient, and therefore the just and the unjust. And it is [thereby] characteristic of man that he alone has any sense of good and evil…The association of human beings who have this sense makes a family and a state…The state is by nature prior to the family and to the individual, since the whole is of necessity prior to the part…The individual, when isolated is not self-sufficing…He who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because he is self-sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a god…[The inclination toward city-living is a] social instinct implanted in all men by nature…[Political] man, when perfected, is the best of all animals, but, when separated from law and justice, he is the worst of all, since armed injustice is all the more dangerous, and he is equipped with arms meant to be used by intelligence and excellence…That is why, if he has not the excellence [forged in the heart of the city], he is the most unholy and most savage of animals…[After all] justice is the bond of men in states.61

    The above illustrates that, as a “political animal,” the human being is “perfected” only when he lives the city-life. Being a creature which has moral sentiments about “good and evil” and philosophic thoughts about “the just and the unjust,” we can only conclude that such an animal will only find comfort in a community for “justice is the bond of men in states.” In the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts, Marx also considered the free- and full-development of the individual— i.e., the maturation of all human powers as an end-in-itself, the creative manifestation of hitherto unrealized potentialities, the objectification of the Subject in all his/her multifaceted capacities, etc.— to be possible only in a society with thoroughly (historically) developed relations. He makes this clear when he concludes the section on ‘Private Property and Communism’ and says that “communism” is merely the “necessary form and dynamic principle of the immediate future,“ but not, by that account, the actual “goal of human development”— which is the all-around realization of humanity’s powers and, therefrom, the authorship of its own destiny.62 For “socialist man,” the “entire so-called world history is only the creation of man through human labor and the development of nature for man”— all of which is “incontrovertible proof” of his own “self-creation, his own formation process.”63 Just as Aristotle’s ethical justification of the state is teleological as it presupposes that “justice is the bond of men in states,” so too does Marx claim that, dialectically, only once the “narrow horizon of bourgeois right [can] be crossed [out] in its entirety” will true human rights, and true human beings therefore, emerge.64 Hence, we can finally understand Marx’s oft-quoted, but just as often misunderstood, statement that the “prehistory of human society accordingly closes with this social formation” for, thereafter, human history in the genuine sense of the term begins.65

  2. I was struck by an intellectual heavy-weight like Derrida having such a huge blind spot, overlooking such an obvious North European thought. One fears the French perspective falls short of the all-round, quite often.

    Isn’t French paranoia about ‘les Anglo-Saxons’ just a convenient red herring here? The thesis was there, writ large, in ‘Robinson Crusoe’ (1719). Decades before the USA was even born. And those Norwegian wealth-accumulators of Ibsen? And all those godly, Lutheran Hamburg, Bremen, Lübeck families… No, it’s a North European trait that travelled westwards.

    Here’s a quote from R H Tawney’s ‘Religion and the Rise of Capitalism’, (Thanks, Wikipedia!). He was writing with a Christian socialist perspective:

    ‘Most educated men, in the middle of the [18th] century, would have found their philosophy expressed in the lines of Pope:

    Thus God and Nature formed the general frame,
    And bade self-love and social be the same.’

    As for your point, Lucy, that ‘a Catholic culture like France and her habitual posture of mistrust when it comes to all-out materialism may come across as naïve’, may I suggest that the issue isn’t ‘materialism’, which connotes enjoying one’s ill-gotten gains? Isn’t it rather the austere matter of patiently accumulating wealth?

    One can see that this might easily be confused with godliness, particularly if the older generation stint themselves so that they can hand down a respectable (!) fortune to the next generation. You must know English people of a certain age who peruse the local newspaper not only to see who they’ve survived. But also to see how much old so-and-so left in his will.

    If the French persist in their ‘naïve’ misconception that money grows on trees, they may be less misguided than we think – too often the stuff does appear, thanks to the all-too visible hand of the State. Will you be supporting the forthcoming national bond issue of Sarko’s, or supporting the champagne industry instead?

  3. Nicely argued.

    I don’t know R H Tawney but I do know Weber and his thesis on Protestantism and the rise of capitalism and agree that the two are inextricable. My observation about a Catholic culture like France and her habitual posture of mistrust when it comes to all-out materialism may come across as naieve – because you’re right, there can be no turning back – but it’s probably more like the envy that the older child feels for it’s younger sibling.

  4. In making his distinction between oikonomia (economics) and khrematisike (chrematistics), Aristotle implied the ‘dismal science’ economic activity was divisible by two but not by three or four or more. Rather bold, rather Manichaen…?

    Particularly, since there’s a moral component…? Isn’t this kind of thing on the level of sophistication of “Four legs good, two legs bad”… with a side-order of moralising?

    First, ‘oikonomia’ and ‘khrematisike’ will probably prove to be far less water-tight than their nomenclature suggests. The grey area is huge. The bank-loan taken on by the humble cobbler in times of hardship; presumably, that’s okay. But the bank would be practising usury, if it asked for more than nominal interest payments, er… would it? Hang on though! We’ve all seen what happens when banks lend too much at laughable interest rates! Credit Crunch!

    Second, what you describe as the ‘unnatural’ art of ‘money begetting money’, this closed system, could be far less sinister than appears. And slightly less ‘closed’. For instance, if I wish to make a money transfer to my daughter in the Netherlands, I can entrust the cash to a courier (and pay his travel expenses), or I can trust a bank. In either case, the word trust or credit looms large. Either on foot or via a network of ‘trusted’ partners the cash will find its way into my daughter’s hands. Whatever!

    What is ‘unnatural’ here? When human beings reach a stage of development when ‘My word is my bond’ has currency outside the narrow confines of the family, tribe, or clan? (With additional safeguards!) This is evolution in practice, in spades! Cause for celebration.

    And isn’t it possible for money to ‘network’ its way from Burnley to a remote hamlet in outermost Pakistan , using no more than a couple of mobile phone messages? How could this be reprehensible? Some small minds call this kind of thing ‘globalisation’ and sneer.

    Third, let’s go back to the two-fold division of economic activity… or rather to a whole wedge of activity that doesn’t fit. The duopoly is bogus. A couple of titles should be enough: Max Weber’s ‘The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism’ and R H Tawney’s ‘Religion and the Rise of Capitalism’. There’s a 500-year tradition of hard-nosed, hard-working trades- and business-men. The tradition thrives today in the ‘favelas’ of Brazil and shanty-towns of less favoured places. Passive Catholicism is being driven out by Active Pentecostalism.

    For Pentecostals, there’s nothing shameful about wealth-generation (getting rich!) On the contrary, it is something for which the Almighty deserves thanks while He – for his part – views benevolently someone pulling oneself up by his bootstraps. The Protestant ‘favelistas’ of Rio, the Pentecostals of Lagos are moving on, way beyond the mumbo-jumbo stages of either theology or economics…

    Being anachronistic about economics is too facile; just like being non-violent about peace-keeping.

  5. Yes we (especially Brits) love to over-simplify the US – there’s fundamental incomprehension between us a lot of time, especially around the deep religiosity that still pervades much of the country (worth debating whether it is to be found even in McCarthy’s novels… maybe just its afterglow).

    Great to see De Toqueville namechecked as he was amazingly accurate and prescient in his analysis. I always found his work an incredibly useful guide to the contradictions contained within US culture, although I confess I was never able to finish it – it’s such a hefty tome.

    Sticking with C19 America, Thoreau would certainly have assented to your central question / challenge about our strange relationship to time and pleasure. There’s many a passage in ‘Walden’ about this… the one I remember best is his disquisition upon the economics of train travel, in which he challenges the idea that it is faster or more efficient to travel by train than by foot by computing in the time taken at work in order to earn the money for the train fare. Much better, he suggests, to forego all that and simply walk. Of course it doesn’t do to take Thoreau too literally – he loved to adopt extreme positions for the purpose of winding up conservative C19 Boston society – but by the same token there’s always a hard grain of truth in there too. We are slaves to work…

  6. Your question relating to the ‘age’ or stage of development of a civilisation is an interesting one: Europe as too tired and old for renewal or reinvention and the US – what? – a youth but a burnt out and possibly delinquent youth…

    I don’t know, Andrei. I’m not as pessimistic as you. I can’t completely condemn America, which just turned up Obama and seems to have a remarkable capacity for renewal, whatever you may think of her value system. If you haven’t already, have a look at Cormack McCarthy’s, ‘The Road’. It’s the most remarkable book I have ever read about the future of mankind. It’s bleak, so bleak, but full of humanity and it’s by an American. I can’t see a book of that depth and wisdom book coming out of today’s France or today’s Britain for that matter. I think that America is an infinitely strange and complex place, which we like to over-simplify.

  7. I like that “real-life-philosophy” line, Lucy, go on with it. Actually, this is another difference, now more between all Europeans (English and French including) and Americans: the latter can hardly have any tendency of “philosophic” reference and deeper questions about how they live or should live. (And that’s why we have what we have with them! 🙂 ) They can easily have it at the level of formal education, but it would be strange for them to discuss it like that, in a mixture with real-life problems. You British may also be a little like that, but it seems to me that a difference between Europe as a whole and USA is always greater than internal European differences, at least beyond low-level practical-life issues. Actually, what are they talking/thinking about, our American friends, when they are not talking/thinking about money? They are talking/thinking then about bigger money! 🙂 As a result, they have all the world’s money and we have all its philosophy. 🙂 The difference is that they know what to do with their treasure, while I am not so sure about Europeans. In this sense, this whole world is now very much “American” and very little “European”, (true) intelligence-based, but it is also a very catastrophic one (Europe including!) and apparently just because of that… Can you change that, our great European masters, rich heirs of the great European thought and culture?

    It’s also a pity that those money issues tend to mask another, more important difference between American and European approaches to everything, which is but another aspect of what you describe here. It is American motivation for and fascination with novelties as such, even apart from and before they are involved with additional income or pleasure. And the opposite (modern!) European conservatism, equally of general, “philosophic” origin: let’s wait for those Americans (or anyone else) to try it first and then accept it if it’s OK, while trying something truly new is close to disaster for (Western) Europeans. No way to seduce them with any advantages they can have, incomes including: they just hate genuine novelty, in principle! Their ancestors were certainly different, but it looks like these have already invented everything possible and really needed, so that their happy heirs can profits from it safely and get their income from curious American tourists, in exchange to buying their technological miracles.

    And there is something deep and directly inexplicable with these so different motivations to go for novelty, even though eventual “general” explanations can be easily produced. But when you try desperately to propose to French colleagues an interesting and potentially quite profitable development of their “national”, specific ideas, just so obviously needed today, on the background of failing “Anglo-Saxon” approaches, and can see that they are simply not interested at all, irrespective of details which they even don’t try to consider, that is always somewhat surprising, beyond any possible explanation… Do you think, Lucy, they (and you English?) are simply “trop fatigués” by their rich previous history and now are in a state of rest of an old person, looking at the world already as if from a distance, trying to conform mildly but hardly more than this?

    Fortunately, none of it looks really viable, neither USA (finished, already destroyed from the inside), nor Europe (always sleeping and counting and selling its “patrimoine” – voilà la notion clef en France!). So we shall see big changes anyway soon. It’s more difficult to see how they can be essentially different from the now dominating plain destruction. Finally even American curiosity is too small for a real progress… And therefore chrematistics inevitably wins over everything, including philosophy and intelligence itself…

    I didn’t want that big length and sad ending, really…

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