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Book Review: ‘War and Democracy’ by Paul Gottfried
by Dr. K R Bolton
January 12, 2013
This book needs to be read by ‘progressive-liberals’ who think of themselves as erudite critics and analysts, just as much as by conservatives, but I dare say the one group that would be least likely to benefit are the oddly name neoconservatives, who are neither “neo” nor “conservative.” Another group that could benefit are intransigent “anti-Semites” on the Right whose often justified suspicion as to the Jewish presence in New York and Washington excludes the possibility that a great many Jews both now and in the past have been sincere patriots, not least those in Weimer Germany who, apart from being conspicuous in the ranks of the anti-national Left and the most depraved manifestations of cultural excess, also included the greater number who had fought with valor during World War I, and others who were committed to German nationhood and German culture.
Today many Jews in the so-called “Diaspora” find themselves in a predicament: there is a charge of “dual loyalty” that puts Jews under suspicion of having secondary loyalty to the goyim states in which they reside and primary loyalty to Israel.
Dr Paul Gottfried, Professor Emeritus of Humanities at Elizabethtown College, Pennsylvania, and a Guggenheim recipient, has never had any conflict of loyalties. Nor does he even accept the designation “dual loyalty.” Gottfried is an American. While he supports Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign state his sympathy is apparently for the ordinary Jewish folk who find themselves pushed about by the forces of history, like any other ordinary folk, and in particular pushed about by the Zionist establishment which, as other scholars such as Israel Shahak have shown, strive to keep their flock under tight control, regardless of the sacrifices demanded (Israel Shahak, Jewish History, Jewish Religion, 1994). For Gottfried “dual loyalty” is a misnomer; there is nothing two-fold about the loyalties demanded by Zionism: loyalty to Israel first, last, and always. Gottfried as a genuine conservative of Jewish origins, is often in even more of a predicament that the Gentile conservative, as he does not follow the party-line in regard to Jewishness as demanded by the likes of the Anti-Defamation League and just as much by the Israel-fawning neocons. Hence he is called a “self-hating Jew” by Israel’s hallelujah chorus on the one side, while on the other being treated with suspicion by some of those on the traditional Right who think that being Jewish is a ground for suspicion. Gottfried, as a measure of his own introspection, states that had it not been for his Jewish origins he would probably share the bitterness of many towards Israel per se, on the Old Right, which has seen once pro-Israel conservative luminaries such as Pat Buchanan being pushed into an unequivocally anti-Zionist position when it is found that support for Israel by conservatives is not reciprocated by Zionist support for the integrity of Western, Christian nation-states. Nor does Gottfried have any sympathy for whiney Jews who see anti-Semitism and disadvantage behind every corner, no matter how privileged their position; a situation he first noted as a student at Yale. He is also avid in exposing the “anti-fascism” racket, that of using the “f word” at every possible juncture, not just with the contrivance of an “Islamofascist” world threat, but also the smearing and suppression of every movement that questions the desirability of multiculturalism, especially in Europe.
It is Gottfried’s opposition to the confounding of Israel and Zionism’s interests with those of the USA that is a particular feature of his analyses of US policies and the outlook of the neocons who dominated the Reagan and Bush administrations and whose policies have continued by Obama in the name of liberal-Democracy.
He has significantly defined, and apparently coined the term, paleoconservative. A clarification was needed for what Gottfried also calls the “real Right” and the “true Right” vis-à-vis what Leftists and self-styled conservatives today call “neoconservatism” which is, especially in the Anglophone nations, generally regarded as synonymous with Right-wing. Hence the US foreign policy establishment and the US conduct in world affairs is often termed “Right-wing” when it is nothing of the kind.
War and Democracy comprises a selection of 25 articles spanning nearly forty years of scholarly endeavor and articulation in both academic and broader media. Many of the articles take the form of book reviews to express Gottfried’s opinions. All articles are succinct and forceful. One, a eulogy to his father, backgrounds the life of a Jewish family from the old Austro-Hungarian empire, who were not, unlike many of their brethren, well-disposed towards supporting the Communist Party once in the USA. Gottfried seems to have been a conservative from his earliest days at Yale, but watched firsthand the manner by which the conservative movement was subverted and redefined by people who were often of Leftist background, whose messianic yearning for a “world revolution” never left them, and whose influence continues to define US policy whether under Democratic or Republican administrations. Gottfried sees this more aptly as “neo-Jacobinism.”
The present neocons have taken over the ideological baggage of Woodrow Wilson in wanting to impose a one-size-fits-all system over the entire world, with neocon ideologues such as Ralph Peters calling for “constant conflict,” which sounds more like Trotsky’s “permanent revolution” than anything of a conservative nature. The neocon movement has inherited much from the Left as to general outlook: the ideal of a “world revolution” is just as much a part of the ideology of Freedom House, National Endowment for Democracy, etc. as it was for the old Left. Likewise “the fight against “’fascism’” is continued today just as vigorously by the neocons as it was by the old Left. The terminology is similar, the mentality the same, however, today the new threat is repackaged as “Islamofascism,” which must be defeated in the interests of “world democracy” under the leadership of the USA. Indeed, as Gottfried points out, neocon ideologies have a messianic outlook in wanting to impose “American democracy” over the world by force if necessary. Wars are therefore fought in the name of “human rights” or of “feminism” in order to drag every state into a global order under US auspices. The bogus Right therefore pursues agendas across the world that were once regarded as left-liberal, and misnamed “conservatives” expound views that until a few decades ago would be regarded as on the left; lauding Martin Luther King for example, as a “Christian conservative,” pursuing multicultural agendas across both the USA and the rest of the world – other than in Israel – advocating open border immigration in the name of “human rights,” unless those immigrants are Muslim.
Gottfried rejects the Islamophobia that has become part of the neocon agenda, while also rejecting another notion popular among the neocons, especially Israel’s cheerleaders among the Moral Majority types: “Judeo-Christianity.” Gottfried states that the term is a misnomer. He confirms that Judaism is fundamentally anti-Christian, pointing to the vitriol about Jesus in the Talmud. He states that such sentiments are not, as is argued by Talmudic apologists, a reaction by persecuted Jews against their Christian tormenters, but entered the rabbinic teachings well before any such conflicts between the two religions. He points out that the relations between Judaism and Islam were until comparatively recently amicable, and the call for a united “Judaeo-Christian front” against Islam is without foundation. Gottfried states that despite the kowtowing of the Christian “Right” to Israel, Zionists do not reciprocate with any such respect for the Christian tradition, and Jewish groups back efforts to undermine the Christian foundations of Western states.
Indeed, support for Israel is a defining element in neoconservatism, as is multiculturalism, and dissent has seen outstanding thinkers and writers of the “real Right,” such as Pat Buchanan and Joe Sobran purged from National Review and other mouthpieces of neoconservatism, and marginalized.
Gottfried goes further and as a scholar of the Right also stands against the liberal agendas in academia, publishing and government, ensuring that if he wanted to maintain his integrity he would probably have to content himself to remaining as a humble professor at Elizabethtown College, despite a brilliance that could have taken him to the pinnacles of conventional success.
Whatever one’s political persuasion, War and Democracy will be instructive, even if only to inform the antagonistic reader as to what the “real Right” actually is firsthand, rather than coming second-hand through the filters of both the Left and the neocons.
Home » Entries posted by Dr. K R Bolton
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K R Bolton is a Fellow of the Academy of Social and Political Research, and an assistant editor of the peer reviewed journal Ab Aeterno. Recent publications include ‘Trotskyism and the Anti-Family Agenda,’ CKR website, Sociology Dept., Moscow State University (October 2009); ‘Rivalry over water resources as a potential cause of conflict in Asia,’ Journal of Social Political and Economic Studies, and Russia and China: an approaching conflict?, Vol. 35, No. 1, Spring 2010; Vol. 34, no. 2, Summer 2009.
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||This biographical article needs additional citations for verification. Please help by adding reliable sources. Contentious material about living persons that is unsourced or poorly sourced must be removed immediately, especially if potentially libelous or harmful. (February 2012)|
Paul E. Gottfried
|Main interests||Welfare state, democratic pluralism, Romanticism|
Paul Edward Gottfried (born 1941) is Horace Raffensperger Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, and a Guggenheim recipient. He is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, and H. L. Mencken Club President.
He is the author of numerous books and articles on intellectual history, in particular conservative political theory, and was a friend of many important political and intellectual figures: for example Richard Nixon, Pat Buchanan, John Lukacs, Christopher Lasch, Robert Nisbet, Murray Rothbard, and Joseph Sobran. Gottfried is a critic of neoconservatives within the conservative movement and the Republican Party.
- Conservative Millenarians: The Romantic Experience in Bavaria, Fordham University Press, 1979 ISBN 0-8232-0982-8
- The Search for Historical Meaning: Hegel and the Postwar American Right, Northern Illinois Univ Press, 1986 ISBN 0-87580-114-5
- The Conservative Movement, Twayne Pub 1988, with Thomas Fleming (second edition 1992) ISBN 0-8057-9724-6
- Carl Schmitt: Politics and Theory, Greenwood Press 1990, ISBN 0-313-27209-3
- After Liberalism: Mass Democracy in the Managerial State, Princeton University Press, 2001 ISBN 0-691-08982-5
- Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt: Towards a Secular Theocracy, University of Missouri Press, 2002 ISBN 0-8262-1417-7
- The Strange Death of Marxism: The European Left in the New Millennium, University of Missouri Press, 2005 ISBN 0-8262-1597-1
- Conservatism in America: Making Sense of the American Right, Palgrave-Macmillan, 2007 ISBN 0-230-61479-5
- Encounters: My Life with Nixon, Marcuse, and Other Friends and Teachers, ISI Books, 2009 ISBN 1-933859-99-7
- Leo Strauss and the American Conservative Movement, Cambridge University Press, 2012
- “Anti-War Anti-Americanism?”. Telos 114 (Winter 1999). New York: Telos Press.
- “The Multicultural International”. Orbis (Winter 2002)
- “The Invincible Wilsonian Matrix”. Orbis (Spring 2007)
- “The WASP Roots of Liberal Internationalism”. Historically Speaking (Fall 2010)
- Goldbergism: The Lowest (Terminal) Stage Of Conservatism, VDare.com, March 27, 2003.
- “How Russell Kirk (And The Right) Went Wrong”, VDare.com.
- My Guy: Paul Gottfried on Patrick Buchanan, Policy Review, Summer 1995.
- “What’s In A Name? The Curious Case Of Neoconservative”, VDare.com.
- 2007 Interview at the Property and Freedom Society
- Interview on Germans, Jews, Catholics, and Calvinists at the Idiots
Liberal Democracy, Negative Theory, and Circularity: Plato and Rawls
Aryeh Botwinick’s “Liberal Democracy, Negative Theory, and Circularity: Plato and Rawls” appears in Telos 161 (Winter 2012). Read the full version online at the Telos Online website, or purchase a print copy of the issue in our store.
This paper argues that the best kind of philosophical defense of democracy is one that is worked out within the framework of negative theory. The phrase “negative theory” is being used on analogy with the term negative theology. Just as negative theology argues that we can only indefinitely say what God is not but cannot pinpoint in a positive sense what He is, so, too, negative theory advocates that we can only ceaselessly explore and highlight the limitations of reason, without being able to arrive at a positive content that is incontrovertible and uncontestable.
Some of the most dramatic manifestations of a negative theoretical approach to political governance are found in the implicit acknowledgements of the inevitability of circularity insinuated by some of the major philosophers of Western thought. In this paper, I analyze Plato’s argument in the Theaetetus in order to illustrate the ways in which Plato is committed to the thesis of the inevitability of circularity—and to address some of its political implications. In the second part of the paper, I try to show how a deep reading of Rawls’s meta-ethical theory connects it with an acknowledgement of the inevitability of circularity, which re-evokes the structure of the Platonic argument in the Theaetetus.
Viewing circularity as a permanent feature of argument is symptomatic of a deep-seated skepticism. The paper points to pronounced rhetorical affinities between skepticism and the practice and theory of democracy.
From Freiburg to Frankfurt: Rovatti on Critical Theory and Phenomenology
As an occasional feature on TELOSscope, we highlight a past Telos article whose critical insights continue to illuminate our thinking and challenge our assumptions. Today, Damien Booth looks at Pier Aldo Rovatti’s “Critical Theory and Phenomenology,” from Telos 15 (Spring 1973).
The relationship between phenomenology and critical theory is a complex one that deserves a great deal of attention. On the one hand, Marcuse, as a student of Heidegger, maintained a certain level of affiliation with his thought, while, on the other, Lukács and Adorno were critical of phenomenology, with Heidegger in particular coming under criticism. In “Critical Theory and Phenomenology,” Pier Aldo Rovatti attempts to show how these two modes of thought may have a meaningful encounter.
First, Rovatti notes how the two were united in their respective attempts to attack the emerging positivism and the radical rationalization of human activity. These notions were both charged with bringing about a crisis in modern thought. Rovatti notes how phenomenology and critical theory were also similar in their attempts to emancipate humans. Husserl was concerned with a radical refounding of science, while Adorno, Horkheimer, Marcuse, and others were concerned with salvaging the humanism of Marx’s thought.
However, Rovatti raises Adorno’s criticism. Phenomenology’s concern with the purely given phenomena of experience prevents it from being truly critical. Adorno also adds that phenomenology, in its loyalty to this experience, leads to a situation where its descriptions merely describe the phenomena of advanced capitalist society. “Therefore, in Adorno’s eyes, phenomenology appears as a disguised positivism that implies (i.e. it hides) a theory of social control, or at least, of an a priori validation of such control” (26). As Rovatti explains:
[A]s a doctrine of the contemplation of essences, Husserlian phenomenology would be the base supporting Heidegger’s existential ontology. Adorno’s reasoning develops in the following way: Husserl is incriminated with the dominant scientificity beginning with the Logical Investigations until the very end. (27)
Husserlian phenomenology, according to Adorno, is still wrought with the symptoms of postwar rationalism, and so there is “no possibility that critical theory could have a positive encounter with phenomenology” (27).
With that in mind, Rovatti moves on to explain that critical theory has failed in pursuit of its primary goal: “to take advanced capitalist society as its object and to be its critical theory” (28). This, according to Rovatti, is due to the Hegelian-Marxism that underpinned critical theory, imbuing it with limited theoretical apparatus. As a “negative function of reason,” critique emerges as a
[n]egative dialectic which arises out of an ethical-utopian impulse, which presents itself as “irrationality” in front of the dominant reason of enlightenment. . . . Thus, the dialectic “without synthesis” of the Frankfurt School ends up as a critique without a foundation. (28)
Phenomenology on the other hand, particularly Husserlian phenomenology, managed to break away with some traditional notions (i.e., the subject-object dualism) while still remaining a traditional mode of thought. It also gave us fresh notions such as “intentionality” and the Lebenswelt (lifeworld). Phenomenology and Marxism “crossed paths” because of the stronger theoretical instruments that the former provided the latter. With critical theory being motivated purely by the “negative function of reason,” it became a critique without any theoretical basis. In phenomenology, we find the apparatus with which to form that basis.
It is at this level, I believe, that a meaningful confrontation between critical theory and phenomenology can be brought about: when both—each loaded with their respective autonomous development of thought—find themselves on the same side in the attempt to reinterpret Marxism’s critical element. (29)
Rovatti then switches attention to an early Marcuse essay “Contributions to a Phenomenology of Historical Materialism.” Here, Marcuse attempts to find the philosophical foundation of the concept of history by using phenomenology as his guide. Rovatti points out however that Marcuse does not separate phenomenology from Heidegger’s ontological context. As a result, Marcuse’s critique cannot be critical of Heidegger’s thought that Being is the proper philosophical foundation.
Thus, all of Marcuse’s critical efforts remain within the ontological horizon, in trying to pass from an abstract to a concrete, material ontology based on needs, labor, the factuality of the social, and on life as real movement. (37)
Rovatti identifies the concept of “need” as concealing something important about the encounter between phenomenology and critical theory. He thinks throughout Marcuse’s works, we can see attempts to “concretize” need as the phenomenological foundation of history. With Adorno, “ontological need” finds its realization in a state where men are unable to notice the “necessity” that they act in accordance with. So, according to Rovatti “ontology is a substitute for the actual behaviour induced by the requirements of capitalism and its cultural industry.” (39)
“Need” becomes that which requires critique. It can be the object of critical theory, but it has an intentional character; phenomenology gives critical theory its properly theoretical object.
Marx himself, in whose works a phenomenology of need can be found, must be liberated from a naturalistic and ontological notion of needs for an intentional, historically determined, yet subjectively constituted concept. (39)
So, according to Rovatti, phenomenology is attempting to instantiate a link between the precategorical and the categorical, whereas critical theory “either rejects the precategorical or makes it into an ontological-idealogical moment” (40).
The meeting of two modes of thought is rarely (if ever) accidental, and by referring to “need” in both Marcuse and Adorno, Rovatti highlights a Marxist symbiosis of phenomenology and critical theory:
If, as we have seen, Adorno’s position leads to the self-dissolution of the critique and if the previously made observations concerning the identification of Heidegger and Husserl on ontological need are valid, the unmasking of this type of need, which conceals capitalism’s constituted interests, goes in the right direction of a critique of ontology. (39)
Overall, Rovatti gives us an interesting glimpse into how two crucial schools of thought in modern European philosophy may compliment one another; by referring to Marcuse’s early work we are shown how critical theory can gain a theoretically sound object of critique in the form of “ontological need”—an object that is uncovered by Marcuse’s attempt at a phenomenology of history.
Read the full version of Pier Aldo Rovatti’s “Critical Theory and Phenomenology” at the Telos Online website. If you are affiliated with an institution that is an online subscriber to Telos, you have free access to our complete online archive. If not, you can purchase 24-hour access to this and other Telos articles at a per-article rate. Follow the article link for more details.
The Impasse of Post-Metaphysical Political Theory: On Derrida and Foucault
Paul Rekret’s “The Impasse of Post-Metaphysical Political Theory: On Derrida and Foucault ” appears in Telos 161 (Winter 2012). Read the full version online at the Telos Online website, or purchase a print copy of the issue in our store.
The debate between Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault over the status of Descartes’ Meditations can be read to indicate some profound implications for the ways by which we conceive of a post-metaphysical political theory. This article documents the way in which the terms of the debate suggest that in conceiving politics after metaphysics in terms of competing accounts of the contingency of Being or, in Stephen White’s words, as weak ontologies, we are lead towards a profound paradox and impasse. To suggest that there is broad agreement in post-metaphysical political thought regarding the instability of ontology and the consequent theoretical task of questioning the grounds or foundations of particular political concepts or institutions is to overlook a fundamental paradox. What the debate between Derrida and Foucault in fact indicates is that these differing weak ontologies are in fact incommensurable with one another. Polemics among theorists at their core occur over the very ways contingency ought to be articulated, such that each account is exclusive of any other. This article will proceed by claiming that this fundamental incommensurability results in an irresolvable polemic between Derrida and Foucault, explicit in their competing accounts of Descartes’ Meditations and implicit throughout their later more explicitly political work. The incommensurability between Derrida and Foucault suggests a broader impasse that haunts any political thought affirming its own finitude and situatedness.
Carl Schmitt’s Theory of the Partisan and the Stability of the Nation-State
The following paper was presented at Telos in Europe: The L’Aquila Conference, held on September 7-9, 2012, in L’Aquila, Italy.
Since the Treaty of Westphalia, sovereignty in the West has been imagined in terms of the nation-state and its ability to provide a universal basis for political relations both within state boundaries and in relations with other similarly organized entities. On the one hand, the nation-state originates as a means of overcoming the religious civil wars, and its establishment coincides with the attempt to relegate theological disputes to a private sphere that does not threaten the structure of the state. In this way, the state as opposed to the church becomes the primary form for defining the political. On the other hand, the development and stability of the nation-state system seems to have been inextricably linked to the dynamic of colonialism. As Carl Schmitt lays out in The Nomos of the Earth, the establishment of a jus publicum europaeum that created guidelines for limiting war between European states was accompanied and indeed predicated upon a complementary establishment of the amity lines that distinguished Europe from the rest of the world as the place of such limited war as against the “freedom” of the spaces beyond the line in which restrictions on warfare did not apply. For Schmitt, the relationship between these two dynamics, the coalescence of nation-state relations in Europe on the basis of a limitation of war and the establishment of unlimited war in those areas outside of Europe without nation-state structures, has not been coincidental but in fact constitutive for both the rise of the West and the structure of international relations in the modern world.
But if, as his earlier work suggests, the primary control on state power would not be another state but the consent of the people that is required in order for the sovereign to maintain power, then ideological presuppositions of an order such as the jus publicum europaeum are crucial for its survival. Schmitt has argued that the main threat to this system has been the rise of movements such as communism, but also liberalism itself, that reintroduce ideological appeals and thus theological questions into the establishment of political structures. But it may be that the nation-state does not embody a rational basis for politics that is able to eliminate theological questions as a reason for political conflict. Rather, the nation-state may contain within itself an implicit theological structure in the way that it defines religious conviction as a private rather than a public issue. If this is the case, then the nation-state system is also a particular one that could face an ideological challenge. Schmitt’s Theory of the Partisan indeed considers this possibility, but here too, Schmitt retains a consciousness of the ideological issues but also tries to maintain the objectivity of a materialist approach that privileges the issue of land. What I would like to argue is that Schmitt’s focus on the land obscures the much more important issue of the structure of the public sphere that is at stake in a case of real enmity such as in a revolution, civil war, or colonial occupation.
In Theory of the Partisan, Schmitt distinguishes between three kinds of enemy: the limited enemy, the real enemy, and the absolute enemy. The limited enemy is the enemy of a limited war within the system of the jus publicum europaeum, a war that follows certain rules like that of a duel and in which disputes within an existing order are resolved. As Schmitt shows in The Nomos of the Earth, this kind of limited war is only possible in a context in which the European state system can distinguish itself as system, on the one hand internally from a religiously oriented organization of the political order and externally from total war in the colonial sphere. This limited war breaks down as soon as the French Revolution and Napoleon put into question the organization of the political order of the jus publicum europaeum. Napoleon was a real enemy for this political order, and the wars against Napoleon could consequently become partisan wars.
Here the key point is that the irregularity of the partisan was not just the irregularity of the skirmisher nor of the criminal. While the skirmisher simply conducts a different type of tactical warfare along with a regular army, the criminal only seeks personal gain without any ideological agenda. In contrast to these two forms of irregularity, the Spanish guerilla attacked the structure of political order and thus of the public sphere being established by Napoleon. Schmitt notes the centrality of the attack on the very existence of a particular public sphere: “The regular fighter is identified by a soldier’s uniform, which is more of a professional garb, because it demonstrates the dominance of the public sphere. The weapon is displayed openly and demonstratively with the uniform. The enemy soldier in uniform is the actual target of the modern partisan” (Schmitt 14). The distinction between regularity and irregularity lies in the regular soldier’s domination of the public sphere. If the soldier in uniform is the target of the modern partisan, it is because this partisan is fighting to establish an alternative public sphere with different rules for determining who the legitimate political actors are. The parties to this struggle to determine the public sphere are consequently real enemies for Schmitt because there can be no compromise in such a conflict. There can only be one organization for the public sphere in a particular time and place, and a disagreement about its structure can only be resolved in such a way that one of the parties will be excluded from the newly established or reestablished public sphere.
Schmitt dates the birth of the partisan with the Napoleonic wars because Napoleon’s armies themselves attacked the structure of the public sphere that dominated the previously existing European state order of the jus publicum europaeum. The French Revolution transforms war from something that takes place between ruling families within a single organization of the public sphere to something that is carried out between nations. But by making nationalism into such a key factor in war in order to create his large citizen armies (in contrast to the aristocratic focus of the officer corps in previous wars and in other armies), Napoleon created a link between war and individual sentiment. In doing so, Napoleon’s armies gave birth to the partisan to the extent that, once the link was forged between war and individual nationalist sentiment, this sentiment could become the basis for defining or redefining a political collective based on common (nationalist) sentiments. Partisans are linked to each other based on their convictions, but this focus on convictions is already a key part of Napoleon’s army. Though Schmitt identifies the Spanish guerillas opposing Napoleon as the first partisans, their appearance is a result of their acceptance of Napoleon’s focus on the nation as the locus of political identity.
The key conflict in the Napoleonic wars was between a public sphere organized around feudal and church hierarchies on the one hand and the new republican structures created through the French Revolution that defined political identity in terms of the nation. In many ways the military structures of the ancien régime were organized in order to defend the feudal and church hierarchy all across Europe against the common people. In this context, the wars between ruling houses were fought as limited ones, because none of the parties to war sought to overturn the system of order. As a revolt of the masses against this entire system of order dominated by the aristocracy and the church, the French Revolution was an attack on the regularity of the ancien régime and therefore a kind of all-out war that did not obey the rules of the feudal order and indeed sought to destroy those rules. The partisan character of Napoleon’s campaigns was a consequence of the ideological situation of French republicans fighting against a form of regularity that was grounded in an older, feudal order of politics. Napoleon was not simply engaging in a war within this earlier mode of politics, but was attempting to do away with this mode of politics entirely. Therein lay the partisan character of his situation, which then led to the irregular military tactics. As Schmitt notes, “A Prussian officer from that time saw Napoleon’s whole campaign against Prussia in 1806 as merely ‘partisan warfare on a grand scale’” (Schmitt 4). This conflict about the structure of political order, rather than about a particular military technology, creates the possibility of the partisan, who does not recognize the regular order as a legitimate one, even when it has won the regular war.
The difficulty that Napoleon eventually encountered was that his redefinition of war as a war of the people against the aristocratic order was so successful that it established the idea of the people as the basis of political identity all over Europe. But in order for the people to become the locus of political identity, there needs to arise a new form of regularity, that is, a new organization of the public sphere. The people cannot exist as an abstract entity nor as a kind of self-evident ground. The destruction of the ancien régime could not result in a kind of pure humanity but meant the establishment of a new order with a new representational structure that was based on the nation. But the establishment of national identity that came with the elimination of the aristocratic order meant that Napoleon’s armies immediately became the army of a foreign nation in Spain and in Germany once they had succeeded in occupying them.
The birth of the partisans who fought against Napoleon were predicated on his success in redefining political identity in terms of the people and thus of national identity as the representational form of the people. When Schmitt writes that “The new art of war of Napoleon’s regular army originated in the new, revolutionary form of battle” (Schmitt 4), he is describing the change in the representational basis of political identity in terms of the consequences for military organization, in which the new armies are no longer hierarchical structures in which officers are opposed to common soldiers but rather citizen armies that are motivated by national spirit.
This ideological situation in which the partisan seeks to establish a new structure of the public sphere leads to the circumstance that the partisan always must be linked in some way, either through military support or through a vision of the future, to a regular organization: “the armed partisan remains dependent on cooperation with a regular organization” (Schmitt 17). The tie to regularity is a tie to an alternative vision of the public sphere that would then be the basis of the regularity that does not yet exist but is being envisioned by the partisan. Without the tie to regularity, the partisan does not represent an alternative order and thus cannot make any claim to ideological legitimacy for guerilla tactics. The partisan is only irregular to the extent that s/he represents an excluded notion of the public sphere that either already exists in some other place or can be imagined for the future. Without this alternative vision, there would be no partisan but rather only a criminal (Schmitt 90–92).
Schmitt outlines two ways of understanding partisan war that he defines as real enmity and absolute enmity. He distinguishes betwen the two by insisting that a key characteristic of the partisan is the partisan’s telluric character, that is, the relationship to the land that makes the true partisan always a defender of local territory rather than an attacker or invader. By contrast, the new “motorized” partisan who is motivated by communist ideology knows no bounds and is no longer purely defensive but rather seeks to totally obliterate the enemy and create total wars and an absolute enmity that Schmitt seeks to distinguish from the real enmity of the local partisan (Schmitt 92–95).
But the example of the Napoleonic wars demonstrates how this distinction between real and absolute enmity will always break down. The Napoleonic era saw two forms of partisanship. The first set of partisans were the armies of the French Revolution, who sought to overturn the ancien régime in France. The regularity of this ancien régime was the target of attack for the French republican partisan armies, and they were as such local partisans with real enemies. But because the ancien régime in France was implicated in an entire context of international relations, the fall of the ancien régime in France became a threat to its structures all over Europe. The French republican armies began to fight an ideological war that required the elimination of all those who supported the ancien régime‘s definition of the public sphere, both in France, for example in the Vendee, and outside of France in other areas of Europe. The local war immediately became an ideological war because the existence of a republican public sphere in France threatened to reorganize the public sphere all across Europe in terms of republican and then of national identity. Because a particular structure of the public sphere has implications for the way the international public sphere is organized, the distinction between real enemies and absolute enemies will always break down.
Schmitt’s commitment to trying to limit the violence of war means that he tries to defend real enmity as a kind of defensive war against a foreign occupier. But this defense of real enmity is in fact a defense of the nation-state system with its particular organization of friends and enemies in terms of nation-state boundaries. But wars between nations in this system would in fact be limited wars to the extent that they would all recognize the legitimacy of the nation-state and its basis for legitimacy. In this sense, we could define World War I as a limited war that did not seek to establish a new basis for the public sphere but whose goals were in fact limited ones. By contrast, communist revolutions did put into question the entire nation-state system and could then be considered a kind of real war that tried to set up new structures for the public sphere. The end of these aspirations has brought us back to a nation-state sytem, and the only clear alternatives at present are those international Islamic ideologies that seek to transcend nation-state relations by establishing an Islamic public sphere.
Carl Schmitt, Theory of the Partisan: Intermediate Commentary on the Concept of the Political, trans. G. L. Ulmen (New York: Telos Press Publishing, 2007).
Lukács and the Dialectic of Labor
As an occasional feature on TELOSscope, we highlight a past Telos article whose critical insights continue to illuminate our thinking and challenge our assumptions. Today, J. F. Dorahy looks at Georg Lukács’s “The Dialectic of Labor: Beyond Causality and Teleology,” from Telos 6 (Fall 1970).
Georg Lukács’s essay “The Dialectic of Labor” belongs to the last period of his life and was composed in the context of the so-called “renaissance of Marxism”: a movement, beginning in the mid-1950s, within several of the Eastern Bloc nations—most notably Hungary, Poland, and the former Yugoslavia—that sought to re-energize the humanistic dimensions of Marxism suppressed by the enforcement of orthodoxy. Lukács’s substantive contribution to the “renaissance of Marxism” took the form of two enormous projects: a Marxist ontology (Zur Ontologie des gesellschaftichen Seins) and a systematic aesthetics (Die Eigenart des Ästhetischen). Although Lukács’s relationship to “dialectical and historical materialism” remains complex, “The Dialectic of Labor” stands as a reflection of this humanistic tendency inasmuch as it, by way of an ontological elucidation of the “philosophy of praxis,” emphasizes the functional role of subjectivity as a constitutive moment in the social-historical process.
Lukács’s argument here crystallizes into two interconnected motifs: the antimony of teleological and causal ontologies; and the formal structure of labor itself. Concerning the former, Lukács finds its genesis in the philosophical and theological positioning of teleology as an objective, or “cosmological,” category. Philosophers such as Aristotle and Hegel, no less than innumerable theologians, and “everyday” thinkers, have understood natural, historical, and spiritual reality from a teleological perspective. “Objective teleology” has the property, Lukács argues, of imbuing reality with meaning by virtue of its origin in the projected intention of a more or less “conscious initiator.” Here one might think of the Hegelian “world spirit” or the Judeo-Christian God. Unlike a causal sequence, a teleological project by definition remains within the purview of its creator. Here one finds the existential basis of the teleological impulse; that is, the definitively human question “why?” finds, within a teleological worldview, a ready made answer:
In considering teleology as an objective, ontological category, we must emphasize religious thought. While causality is a self-based principle of self-movement which maintains this character even if a causal chain begins with a conscious act, teleological is essentially a projected category: every teleological process maintains a goal-orientation through a goal-orientated consciousness. . . . The teleological apprehension of nature does not refer only to its purposefulness or its orientation toward a goal. It also means that its existence and both its partial and total movement as a process must have a conscious initiator. (163)
By positing teleology in objective terms, thinkers such as Aristotle and Hegel instantiate an inevitable conflict between the teleological and causal methods of explanation. Lukács goes on to argue that it is only with Marx, and his identification of labor as the sole domain of material teleology, that the antimony between teleology and causality is resolved. Despite being strongly influenced by the philosophical systems of Aristotle and Hegel, Lukács is quite critical of both thinkers in this regard: Aristotle and Hegel understand the labor process as teleological, however, the teleology of labor, for these thinkers, is but one moment within a homogeneous teleological worldview. Thus, Lukács argues, Aristotle and Hegel, by understanding labor as a particular manifestation of a universal teleology, fail to comprehend the specificity of the structure of human labor. Marx’s insight was not simply to have “discovered” the teleological character of labor, but rather, lies in his fundamental reduction of teleological processes to instances of human activity. Otherwise stated, it was Marx, Lukács insists, who first recognized the ontological novelty of labor:
Marx’s rigorous and exactly defined relegation of teleology to labor (to social praxis) eliminating it from all other forms of being, does not limit its scope. On the contrary, its significance grows through the insight that social being, the highest level of being known to us, is originally constituted through this actual teleological force active within it. It emerges from organic life, the level upon which it is based, by developing into a new and independent form of being. We can rationally speak of social being only if we comprehend that its genesis, its becoming distinct from its basis and the emergence of its reliance upon labor, is a function of the continuous realization of teleological projects. (165–66)
Marx’s grounding of teleology in human activity is highly significant. For, as Lukács argues, this recognition enables the reconciliation of causality and teleology. Marx’s insight also reveals that it is on the basis of the dialectical unity of teleology and causality, which is constitutive of the process of “labor,” that human society emerges. Lukács elaborates this thesis by adumbrating the formal structure of labor. Before canvassing Lukács’s analysis of the structure of labor, it is important to draw attention to a specific feature of Lukács’s approach. Lukács treats labor as a formal category of social ontology. This means that he does not, primarily, make reference to a substantive productive process, as does Aristotle with the distinction between techné and praxis—making and doing. Rather, Lukács is intent on illuminating the formal structure of human activity as such. It is worth noting that Lukács’s assimilation of all determinate types of human activity within the formal category of “labor” became the focus of much critical attention in the decades following his death, not the least from his former student and close colleague Agnes Heller. One of the key elements of Heller’s critique of Lukács’s ontology, which she categorizes as a version of the “paradigm of work,” is precisely its inability to articulate the Aristotelian distinction above.
The formal structure of labor, as conceived by Lukács, encompasses three moments: the positing of a goal; the “exploration” and the selection of means; and the realized object. The structures of social being are raised through labor on the basis of what Lukács understands as the dialectical interaction of teleology and causality. According to the model presented above, the “labor” process begins with a conception or design that is to be realized. It is with this moment, with the antecedent positing of the completed project, that, according to the later Marx, human practice raises itself above all other merely “natural” productive processes. However, and this is a point later addressed by Heller, whereas the Marx of the Paris Manuscripts stressed the freedom inherent in this antecedent act, the understanding expressed in Capital established a determinate relationship between the antecedent act of conception and the recognition of the available means. Whether or not this amounts to an explicit position of technological determinism one need not here conclude. The important point to note is that in the “exploration” and recognition of the available means the productive agent enjoins the causality of objective (natural) phenomena with the subjective (social) need in a homogeneous teleological project. In this manner, the product or end of the “labor” process represents a qualitatively novel object, a social object; an outcome that emerges only, according to Lukács’s analysis, on the basis of the dialectical interaction between “consciousness” and “being,” “theory” and “practice,” teleology and causation. Lukács concludes that, by virtue of the formal structure of labor, an emancipatory potential is woven into the very fabric of social being:
In labor, with the projection of the goal and its means, through a self-guided act, i.e., through a teleological projection, consciousness sets out to surpass the mere adaptation to the environment (to the latter belong also those animal activities which however unintentionally, objectively change nature) by effecting changes in nature which could not originate in nature. When realization becomes a transforming and innovating principle of nature, in contributing impulse and direction consciousness can no longer exist as an epiphenomenon. (174)
The ontology of social being finds its genetic center in processes of human activity—labor—in the broad sense applied by Lukács. Labor, as has been demonstrated, is constituted by its dialectical fusion of teleology and causation. “The Dialectic of Labor,” however, should not be reduced to a theoretical argument concerning the metaphysics of teleology: Lukács’s intent is deeply practical. As such, his argument—and herein one finds the emancipatory kernel of his thesis—is directed towards the de-fetishization of the social structure: social processes, according to Lukács, are neither the blind, immutable, and impersonal forces that are found in nature, nor are they the empirical manifestations of Geist. Rather, the ontology of social being is grounded in the conscious and purposive positing of goals by actually existing human beings. Human history consists, therefore, in the practical realization of these goals through labor. Seen in this light, it is clear why Lukács felt he had to ground his ethics in a social ontology; lamentably the former was a task he, despite his many years, was never able to undertake.
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