From edition

The Empire of Wealth by Michael Ryan

A theoretical problem haunts Cultural Studies. The problem is: can the fairly extreme differences between Marxists and Post-Modernists be overcome? Can they work together in a common project of critique?

Let me begin by saying that I think it’s time we replaced the word Post-Modernist with the more accurate term Late Structuralist. Francois Dosse, in his recent two volume history of Structuralism, argues that supposed Post-Structuralists like Derrida are in fact still Structuralists. The merger of the two terms–Post-Modernist with Post-Structuralist–as labels for a dangerous new intellectual enemy of Marxism dates to 1984 and Fredric Jameson’s famous essay on Post-Modernity. The flaws of that piece have been noted by others, and I will only add a few critical points here in passing.

By conflating an era of capitalism which he calls “Post Modernity” with a group of thinkers he happened to disagree with and who he also labels “Post Modernist,” Jameson succeeded in tarnishing the reputations of those thinkers for the non francophone American audience of fellow Marxists. His argument, if an inaccurate conflation of names can be described as an argument, was that the work of those thinkers was also “Post Modernist” in an economic sense: it was an “expression” of Late or Post-Modern Capitalism. Applying the same name to a moment in history and to a group of thinkers served the purpose of suppressing the rather enormous differences and distances between the two. Those thinkers, especially Derrida, had for two decades been carrying out one of the most interesting and innovative radical intellectual projects of the modern era–a thorough reconceputalization of the fundamental categories with which one thinks about the world. Identifying them with the very world of capitalism they criticized required either a fair amount of intellectual recklessness and scholarly irresponsibility or a rather marked absence of knowledge of the texts in question. Elements of both motives or causes are visible in Jameson’s essay.

When he wrote the essay, he was emerging from a negative experience teaching in a French Department at Yale that styled itself as heavily influenced by Late Structuralism, and some of the anger that experience appears to have generated is detectable in the hasty and unjustified gestures he makes in the essay, gestures that might otherwise appear merely shoddy and uninformed. Nevertheless, the essay is also remarkable for its absence of engagement with the texts in question, as if the ideas it contained were built upon impressions gained from conversations and hearsay rather than on any more responsible attempt to read and to come to know the thinkers he was condemning to the shades of capitalist determination. That several of the interpreters of Late Structuralism at the time, the very ones through or from whom Jameson would have heard of the dangerous new thinking, were themselves politically conservative–Paul De Man and Gayatri Spivak, most notably–probably exacerbated the problem of hearing correctly or at least accurately the news of the Late Structuralist movement. This problem–of not reading the texts one is condemning–remains active in Marxist condemnations of so-called “Post-Modernism” down through Terence Eagleton’s The Illusions of Post-Modernism, easily the most irresponsible book in this august tradition.

Jameson’s lack of engagement with the texts notwithstanding, as a specialist in French, he could nevertheless present himself plausibly to other US Marxists of his generation, who were inclined as “children of the sixties” to be anti-theoretical, anti-French, or anti-intellectual in any event, as an informed gatekeeper and interpreter. Despite the apparent lapses in his scholarship, he could also therefore succeed in assuring that they would turn against “Post Modernism” and, indeed, turn against, at times violently, anyone representing that position within their own academic fields.
   
Jameson’s attack worked through misrepresentation (what might be called the little lie that roared) and exuded bad faith. The bad faith consisted of the comforting, but inaccurate, claim that his intellectual enemies were subject to determination while he himself was not. They were expressions of Late Capitalism, but he, while nonetheless living in the same academic space, engaging in exactly the same publishing practices, and even being a shade to the right of most of them on the political spectrum, managed to find a way of standing outside determination. The misrepresentation consisted of ignoring the leftist credentials of the Late Structuralists. Indeed, their work represented a critical, leftist surpassing of the somewhat outdated and simplistic Marxism that Jameson’s intellectual mentors in France, Henri Lefevre, especially, had come to embody, and Jameson’s attack might simply be accounted for as an attempt to rescue their and his endangered paradigm. His 1982 book, The Political Unconscious, was remarkable for its use of by then (in France at least) outdated and surpassed intellectual models such as Levi-Strauss’ Structural Anthropology. To rescue the old, the new had to be prevented from working its corrosive effect on the intellectual foundations on which those older models were built. At issue in part, therefore, was the familiar and old one of academic turf warfare.
   
However colored its motives, one effect of Jameson’s essay, a perfectly intended one, was to assure that the great adventure of critical leftist thinking would cease, at least in the Marxist dominated corner of the anglophone academic universe known as Cultural Studies, that the old models and languages of understanding within Marxism would stand, that the moral and intellectual order assured by the ascendancy of those languages and models would hold. Der Komisar geht um, as a German pop song of the early 1980s had it, and where the Commisar went, thinking, the kind of radical critical thinking that so-called “Post-Modernism” represented especially, came to a halt. The move that thinking made possible into more innovative and contemporary forms of political thinking was effectively blocked, at least within Marxist Cultural Studies. I say “moral order” because there is a spirit of moralism in Jameson’s critique of the culture of contemporary capitalism in the Post-Modernity essay, as if what’s wrong with it is not that it exploits workers but that it disturbs settled paradigms of understanding, the centers of cognitive mapping. The radical Late Structuralist claim that these very paradigms of understanding are complicit with power is borne out in Jameson’s own animus against dissent in the essay. One suspects that had he been alive in the 1920s in Russia, he would have been busy assuring that defamiliarizers like Shlovsky were made to submit.

The success of these efforts at preventing the new ways of thinking from undermining the settled languages of Marxism has helped assure that American Marxism, in as much as it survives at all in the field of Cultural Studies, remains marvelously well-preserved, a corpse held up by braces and bindings and a crusty plaster that assures no virus will enter and torment the remains. Probably the best most recent example of a dead man walking is Empire, the latest papal edict from Catholic-inspired Marxism that, with a verve that would put Cardinal Ratzinger to shame, pours even more scalding anathemas on the new radical “Post-Modern” dissidents from the faith. In this and other works, the old languages are intact, the old codas recitable, the ancient verities still decipherable: modes of production, productive forces, the subject of history, the project of taking control of the means of production, etc. And in the mean time, in the absence of any new radical thinking regarding the economic and political issues that define contemporary existence, the barbarians are no longer merely at the gate; they occupy the halls of power. The New Right rose and assumed ascendancy in American culture and in American po
litics while Fred and Terry were fretting over academic status hierarchies and whether or not the Grand Old Paradigm could hold out against all the feisty new ideas emerging from Paris and elsewhere around the world.
   
This essay will be an attempt to move beyond and to point ahead. It will be an attempt as well to argue that the new kinds of thinking that Jameson condemned in 1984 supply needed new ways of thinking our way out of the old paradigm, the old languages, and the old way of understanding the world from a critical, leftist perspective.
   
Since 1984, Jameson has learned to speak more favorably of at least Derrida’s work. The choice of Derrida to head the College de Philosophie by a Socialist government was apparently, unlike Derrida’s books, too hard to ignore. Derrida’s Specters of Marx, in which he says he always felt deconstruction was an extension of the Marxist critique of philosophy, also no doubt helped realign his reputation within Jameson’s cognitive map. But why wasn’t the affiliation of Marxism and deconstruction more visible back in the 1970s and the early 1980s when Jameson wrote his first highly condemnatory essay?

Part of the fault lies with Derrida himself. In the 1960s, he worked with the left radical group around the journal Tel Quel, and some of his most interesting early essays such as “The Double Session” were delivered as seminar papers to that group. But after his split from Tel Quel, he distanced himself in interviews from their more traditional version of Marxism. In addition, he chose not to publish on Marx, even though he did readings of most other major philosophers. Although in a seminar at the Ecole Normale Superieure that I took with him in 1976 he did readings of Marx and Althusser, and although in his reading group that same year, we all worked our way through Gramsci together, he never published that material. His friendship with Althusser no doubt had something to do with this choice. The lectures were critical and deconstructive, as you might expect, and in Paris at that time, one couldn’t do something publicly critical of Althusser, a communist as well as a Marxist intellectual, without seeming to make some public political statement. It was the era of the historical compromise, and communist parties were edging toward a legitimacy that had been denied them since the Marshall Plan purchased their marginalization after World War Two. As a communist himself, Derrida no doubt had other motives for keeping work even mildly critical of Althusser out of view, but why did he not publish his work on Marx, a lengthy reading of one phrase in one thesis on Feurbach–es kommt darauf an, as in “Die Philosophen haben die Welt nur verschieden interpretiert, es kommt darauf an sie zu verandern”? The philosophers have only interpreted the world; it follows that we must change it. Derrida in his inimitably lengthy manner spent two hours on those four words, constructing a reading that linked logical derivation to the idea of the “es kommt” or “it comes”, which, when isolated, can also be read as being messianic in meaning. “It comes” in this sense means “it–an ideal communist society–will eventually come”. We can count on it if we do the right thing, and the right thing is to act, not to interpret. But what action is free of interpretation?
   
Whether this piece of work would have helped his case with Marxists is hard to say, but in any event he chose not to publish it. It’s possible that the extraordinarily dogmatic quality of French Marxism at the time did not permit much leeway for critical considerations in France of Marx. And it’s worth bearing in mind that it was an American conference in 1992 that allowed him to make his first public remarks about Marx and about his relation to Marxism. In the absence of viable left parties, the American scene has always been more amenable to a variety of versions of Marxism, although it’s debatable whether that’s a gain or a loss.
   
Derrida’s translators, both actual and theoretical, might also be faulted for not making clearer the proximity of his work to the Marxist tradition. Their political leanings have tended to be either conservative or liberal rather than, say, communist or Marxist. We’re all familiar with the way Paul De Man and Hillis Miller hijacked Derrida’s terminology and some of his concepts for a critical method that proved immensely annoying to Marxists. That of course didn’t help my project of uniting the two schools when I attempted to do so in my first book in 1982.
   
Derrida’s actual translators have also tended to downplay the clear political allusions in his work. When she translated Of Grammatology, Spivak’s preference for the Nietzschean as opposed to the Marxist or Sartrean roots of deconstruction in her translator’s preface was probably due in part to her rightwing political allegiances, at least back then. She and Barbara Johnson, who translated Dissemination, the work of Derrida’s that contains the most overt poltical allusions, also consistently dilute those allusions. In those essays of his which touch on the connection between metaphysics and a certain commercial worldview, he means “une idee capitale” to be not only a “capital idea” as the translators render it, but also a “capitalist idea.” Johnson also translates “pouvoir ouvrier”, which is an allusion to “potere operaia,” the radical Italian group of the late 60s and early 70s, as “operative power,” thus assuring that a significant gesture of political allegiance on Derrida’s part gets elided.
   
Another ingredient in the mix of bad feelings on the part of Marxists toward deconstruction and Late Structuralism in general might be called the Rorty factor. Rorty in the 1980s wove his own work around deconstruction and appropriated it for an anti-Marxist brand of pragmatism. Most of the essays outlining this position were published first in the London Review of Books, and that further eroded Derrida’s standing with the rather more anti-Gallic Marxists in the English tradition like Terence Eagleton. Factored into that particular strain of antipathy has to be the difference in intellectual culture between Britain and France, with the one being more empirical, logical, and analytic and the other being more hermeneutic and structuralist. The small well reasoned detail people and the big complex picture people were probably destined never to agree in any event, but the disagreement has become especially nasty in the wake of Rorty’s efforts. One has only to read Eagleton’s The Ideology of Post-Modernism to sense just how grating liberal pragmatism can be to working class socialists who believe something more than a loose version of truth is needed to rid the world of economic inequality.
   
I should own up and say that I feel partly to blame myself for the misunderstanding between Marxists and Late Structuralists. In 1982 when I first made an attempt to introduce the Italian Marxist Antonio Negri’s work to an American audience in Marxism and Deconstruction, I ignored the obvious problem of suturing together his radically materialist theory which founded political hope on an ontology of subjective activity and Derrida’s anti-ontological philosophy of contingency, difference, and immateriality. The unsolved nature of that problem is evident in the debates that arose over Specters of Marx in 1993, debates collected in Ghostly Demarcations, edited by Michael Sprinker. Derrida in Specters argues that he has always understood deconstruction as a species of Marxist ideology critique and suggests that some of his own arguments against ontology are borne out in Marx’s analysis of commodity fetishism. For both of them, the commodity is a fantasy, an ideational effect, as much as a product of material labor. Yet Derrida also distances himself from Marx’s materialist ontology. Negri, in his reply to Derrida, rejects Derrida’s critique of ontology and argues that Derrida ignores the material realities of class. What I should have argued in 1982 is that the material reality of cl
ass, even the material reality of physical needs like hunger, has no ontology under capitalism apart from the mediations of institutions like wealth whose own apparent substantiality is an effect of a system of differential relations.
   
My own thinking hadn’t gotten to that point back in 1982, and so I was unable to deal with the difficult difference between Negri and Derrida that has reemerged in the current debate.   I was drawn to Negri because in 1982, he was perhaps the most innovative thinker in the Marxist tradition. What appealed to me in his work, especially the book of his that I helped translate into English–Marx Beyond Marx–, was its emphasis on the permanence of crisis. That crisis derives, Negri argues, from the pressure placed from within on the capitalist system by the material creativity, the potential as he called it, citing Spinoza, of workers’ productive labor. Workers possess a creative or productive power that is autonomous in relation to capitalist control, and capital must constantly engage in defensive adjustments to contain that autonomy and harness it to its own ends. Negri argues that eventually the creative power of workers will overun capitalism and bring about a world of material wealth that exceeds the limits capitalism must impose to avoid a crisis of overproduction. In his books Domination and Sabotage, Workers Against the State and The State Form–all published in the 1970s–Negri argues that capitalism is inherently antagonistic; all of its transformations merely respond to and attempt to pacify the fundamental political antagonism between capitalist command and workers’ autonomy.
   
In his recent Empire, a collaborative work with Michael Hardt, Negri’s belief in workers’ autonomy remains as pronounced as ever; his faith in a spontaneous triumph of what he now, again following Spinoza, calls the multitude is as luminously optimistic. But in moving from the Italian national setting to a global international setting as a scene of analysis, he fails to adjust his compass or his concepts appropriately, and as a result, his description of world capitalism as Empire suffers from the inaccuracies of detail that accompany excess abstraction. Indeed, that tendency toward abstract, universal, and undifferentiated categories may account for the hostility in this book toward modes of analysis that attend more to detail, the particulars of existence, the differences between and amongst things, the unsettling contingencies of everyday life, the hybridity of apparently distinct entities, and other characteristic concepts and observations of Late Structuralist theory.
   
Oddly, Hardt and Negri embrace deconstruction while simultaneously rejecting what they call Post Modernism, which they characterize in terms that make it indistinguishable from deconstruction. They begin by noting that their methodology consists of a first move that is “deconstructive and critical.” It aims “to subvert the hegemonic languages and social structures and thereby reveal an alternative ontological basis that resides in the creative and productive practices of the multitude.” Having embraced deconstruction, Hardt and Negri go on to polemicize against it or at least against all the ideas such as difference, contingency, and hybridity with which it is usually associated. They do so, I think, because they recognize that they cannot advance as the answer to the Marxist political quandary an ontological and uncritical materialist ideal such as the multitude and allow to go unchallenged (I should say undenounced) a powerful school of thought that suggests that all such ideals should be treated with suspicion. The reasons for that suspicion, I would suggest, are not only deconstructive; there are also perfectly good Marxist political reasons for arguing that Marxism needs to move beyond naive collectivist and ontological categories that have done more harm than good and that will continue to do harm unless they are revised.
   
Much of what Hardt and Negri have to say against difference, contingency, and hybridity focusses on the market, and in that, I think, they share with what I call commodity Marxism a failure to think about capitalism in a way that would more successfully disable its core categories and institutions. Their target is “Empire and its world market,” not the empire of factories full of underpaid workers. Labor, the invisibility, of production, is not as palpably pressent as the market, and it is as if a mode of thinking founded on ontological assumptions is incapable of seeing the referential character of the market, that its true ontology is elsewhere entirely, in the hidden productive spaces that give all its terms meaning while being banished from view necessarily.
According to Hardt and Negri, the market thrives on differences and contingencies. The new forms of imperial global power have learned lessons from Late Structuralism in how to use difference to assure its dominance.

Now I for one have trouble believing that Rupert Murdoch checks his old copy of Grammatology for tips on how to rule, but according to Hardt and Negri, such leaders of transnational capitalism have “adopted the precepts of postmodernist thinking. The great transnational corporations that straddle national boundaries and link the global system are themselves internally much more diverse and fluid culturally than the parochial modern corporations of previous years. The contemporary gurus of corporate culture . . . [p]reach the efficiency and profitability of diversity and multiculturalism within corporations.” As you can see, the attack on difference, contingency, and hybridity spills over into an attack on multiculturalism, which is also seen as a tool of capitalism. Hardt and Negri note that “if the modern is the field of power of the white, the male, and the European, then in perfectly symmetrical fashion the postmodern will be the field of liberation of the non-white, the non-male, and the non-European.” The important words there are “perfectly symmetrical,” since Hardt and Negri argue that Post Modernism is unconsciously complicit with the new global capitalism. Thinkers like bell hooks and Homi Bhabha are mistaken to assume there is anything progressive about hybridity or the overflowing of old boundaries. The overthrow of hierarchies and binaries and identities merely serves the interests of power. Hardt and Negri again: “Marketing itself is a practice based on differences, and the more differences that are given, the more marketing strategies can develop. Ever more hybrid and differentiated populations present a proliferating number of target markets that can each be addressed by specific marketing strategies–one for gay Latino males between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two, another for Chinese American teenage girls, and so forth. Postmodern marketing recognizes the differences of each commodity and each segment of the population, fashioning its strategies accordingly. Every difference is an opportunity.”
   
It’s surprising that gender and ethnic subordination can still be so invisble to Marxists that slurs of this kind can be dropped so casually. What strikes me here as well is a tendency to think of the evils of capitalism almost exclusively in terms of markets and commodities. If one extrapolates a solution from this critique, then a good society would have undifferentiated markets, and gay Latino males between eighteen and twenty one would have to, well, make do with the clothing of the implied straight white male subject of the critique, whose one size fits all clothing somehow is outside such squalid market differentiation.
   
Commodity Marxists frequently sound more moralistic than Marxist in their condemnation of markets. True, markets are the end point of a production process, but it would seem more important to focus on that production process and on the way it dehumanizes workers. A good example of such analysis is Peter Hitchcock’s history of a commodity in Oscillate Wildly, which traces a pair of shoes from a store in New
York back to the factory where they were made and to the worker who made them.
   
I’d also like to suggest that it isn’t only gay Latino males who are trapped or seduced by the market. We all are. None of us escape those acts of differentiation; we all market our products, even we intellectuals. What I’m doing here, for example, is to differentiate my product from that of Hardt and Negri, and what they are doing is to differentiate theirs from all the Late Structuralists.
   
I even have a sale’s pitch: I think the tendency in Marxism since Lukacs to think of capitalism in terms of the evils of the market and the commodity form is a mistake. I think it’s more important to think about the evils of production, the hidden dimension where workers give their labor for a pittance so that they can lead blighted lives while their masters lead opulent lives.
   
That said, I don’t think that simply pointing to an ideal ontological entity called the multitude is sufficient. For one thing, many parts of the so-called multitude hate other parts of the multitude, and those differences can’t be overcome simply by assigning them a common name. For another, even if the multitude were, as Hardt and Negri put it, to “take control”, what exactly would they take control of? The means of production? While preserving all the social forms and economic institutions that embody and act out power and domination?
   
I’d like to suggest that a more complete Marxist alternative would be one that would reconstruct the institutions of capitalism from the bottom up, but that is not likely to happen if one pins one’s hope on nothing more than a vague ontology of subjectivity, a multitude that will rise up and take control of an equally vague and undefined something. I’d also like to suggest that the very Late Structuralist methods of analysis that Hardt and Negri treat so dismissively provide the needed tools for undoing the master’s house.
   
I want to spend a few more moments with Empire before moving on to the other side of this debate and a further exploration of those suggestions.
   
From the outset, Hardt and Negri invite us to think of globalization as a neo-Roman imperial undertaking in which law saturates a spatial realm and submits it to control. What is unique about modern empire, they argue, is that it consists of a more immanent form of sovereignty, one that spreads horizontally and forms networks of power. But what seems to me most striking about globalization, in as much as it consists of the spread of American free market capitalism, aided by new barrier reducing trade agreements and enabled by international organizations like the World Trade Organization, is its non-imperial character. It thrives by disrespecting precisely those governmental and legal institutions and political forms that are the basis of traditional empire. If empire represents the triumph of politics over economics, globalization is the triumph of economics over politics. The neoliberal ideal of free trade that guides globalization allows it to elude imperial control and constitute itself as autonomous in relation to any attempt at political regulation. Its most powerful justification is that it is like a perpetual motion machine that requires no external assistance of any kind.
   
Hardt and Negri’s misreading of globalization rests on a misreading of American constitutionalism, which they argue lies at the origin of globalization. The misreading springs from the model they use for describing empire, which is Machiavelli’s civil republicanism. Machiavelli described a civil world of interconnecting and balanced powers held together by shared ideals of virtue and by a martial spirit. One could argue that free market globalization in fact derives from an entirely different social and intellectual tradition, that of anglo-american liberalism with its emphasis on the freedom, especially the economic freedom, of the individual in relation to all governing institutions. The political argument in Empire is to a large degree an extended gloss on Pocock’s book The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition. Hardt and Negri reproduce Pocock’s mistake of seeing American economic ideology as republican rather than liberal in derivation. In his history of the emergence of American ideology, Pocock moves Machiavelli to a central stage and leaves out of consideration crucial thinkers like Locke, who played a much more formative role than Machiavelli in the development of American ideals of economic freedom. More importantly perhaps, Pocock ignores the role of the Scottish Enlightenment in the evolution of American thought. Many sons of that Enlightenment served as teachers in pre-revolutionary America and helped educate the intellectual class, Thomas Jefferson most notably, that made the revolution, wrote the constitution, and shaped America as a realm where free market capitalism would eventually triumph. When one heeds contemporary justifications for globalization, one is more likely to hear echoes of Frances Ferguson and Adam Smith than Niccolo Machiavelli. The Scottish Enlightenment thinkers described a world of individual agents rather than machiavellian powers, and the moral sense of those agents, to use their phrase, was shaped not by an ideal of Roman virtue but by the necessity commercial transactions forced on them of behaving well if they wished to be successful. In many ways, the Scottish thinkers were far more cynical than the notoriously cynical Machiavelli, but more to the point: their thinking, not his, informs the American tradition that is the root of globalization.
   
It is important to take note of this tradition because attention to it allows one to see that imperial control is not the issue. What is at stake, rather, is a more insidious, complex, highly differential system of coercion, one that sits on no throne but instead weaves itself through all of our lives as the very real mandates, lures, and barricades of wealth. And it is the instituion of wealth, I will now argue, that will allow us to see just to what degree the supposed material ontology of capitalism is created and maintained by institutional and conventional means.
   
To reach that point, however, requires a less abstract, univeralist, and ontological form of analysis, one that attends to the differential constitution of apparent identities and to the invisible but real determinants of apparent realities like the market. I’m thinking especially of the recent work of Chela Sandoval. Her Methodology of the Oppressed, a work of Structuralist cultural theory, manages to find something useful in both the early Structuralism of Barthes’ Mythologies and the Late Structuralism of Derrida’s essay on differance. Her goal is to develop methods of cultural criticism that would be useful in “forging twenty-first century methods of de-colonizing globalization.” One of those methods she calls “differential consciousness,” and she uses it to suggest that western modes of especially metaphysical rationalism have been constitutively shadowed and shaped by colonial and colonizing experience: “What surfaces is the forgotten, an underlayer of oppositional consciousness that quietly influenced the history of U.S.-Euro consciousness throughout the twentieth century. . . . The new modes of reading and analysis that have emerged during the U.S. Post-World War II period, are fundamentally linked to the voices of subordinated peoples.” This hypothesis is borne out in Suzanne Clark’s Cold Warriors: Manliness on Trial in the Rhetoric of the West, which argues that the post war turn to the new criticism consisted of a police action designed to exclude history and politics from the classroom and from literary discussion in general. Differential consciousness allows Sandoval to perceive links across apparent boundaries between realms and to posit a political solution that would dissolve national and ethnic demarcations: “Out of this . . . War zone in which bodies and minds are
shattered into so-called nonstandard forms, practices, identitites, and worldviews develop that are unique to a new kind of rationality. This rationality can be translated as a theory, method, and practice that provides the kind of cognitive mapping for which Jameson longs. The oppositional consciousness it generates travels differentially but with literacy across and through cultural spaces: it is a mobile, flexible, diasporic force that migrates between contending ideological systems.” To this familiar model of progressive hybridity and mestizaje, Sandoval adds another notion, derived from Fanon, of progressive masquerade: “Differential consciousness . . . Perceives itself at the center of myriad possibilities all cross-working–any of which are fodder for one’s loyalties. Such loyalties, once committed, can be withdrawn and relocated depending on survival, moral, and/or political imperatives.” As an alternative to Jameson’s yearning for a neomodernist center from which cognitive mapping can occur, Sandoval proposes the idea of a mobile compass that allows the subject to map and remap “its positions along mobile and alternative trajectories.” New forms of what she calls citizen subjectivity can emerge from the shattering of the old dominant modernist perspective: “As previously legitimated centers unravel from within . . . , consciousness and identity splinter, the revolutionary subject who rises from the rubble is mutant: citizen-subject of a new, postmodern colonialism–and de-colonialism–active all at once.”
   
In a fairly elegant manner, Sandoval manages to make the head butting between Marxists and Late Structuralists seem less than relevant. More important, it would seem in her eyes, is the development of modes of differential analysis that bring both schools of thought together. One use for such differential analysis might be a critical examination of the core capitalist insitutions like wealth that are left unaddressed by commodity Marxism.
   
One could argue, for example, that the material realities of class are sustained by the institution of numerical wealth, which is a differential system in that each term is defined by its relations to each other term in a non-ontological system of references. Despite having no material or natural ontology, wealth is nevertheless an effective device for maintaining social discipline and class domination. But like the commodity fetish, it would not work if we didn’t believe in it, and we only believe in it because it works. The identity of wealth is constructed from the differential realtions between terms such as time worked, wages earned, sale price, profit margin, and the like. Those terms acquire meaning through their connection with each other.   And that system of differential relations gives wealth its economic power to command goods as well as its political power to coercively shape behavior. We would not work for money under capitalist auspices if it were not the case that work provides access to wealth and wealth provides access to food. The material reality of food would not exist for us under capitalism if it were not mediated by the very immaterial conventions of the institution of wealth. Physical needs can become economic demand, the power to buy goods to satisfy physical needs, only through the mediation of money. The institution of wealth thus allows an economic meaning to take the place of a physical fact and thereby allows both life and capital to continue to exist.
   
In this regard, one need only bear in mind the stories in Mike Davis’s recent Late Victorian Holocausts about people in India starving to death along rail lines and near warehouses that could easily have fed them. The food was there palpably present before them; it had, if you will, a material ontology. But they had no power, no available institutions that would have allowed them to transform their physical needs into demand or the ability to buy. The material reality of the food was irrelevant in the absence of the needed mediation.   
   
If capitalism is as much cultural as material, as much a way of mediating material needs with immaterial conventional forms, then it is a human institution rather than an expression of ontology. It functions through conventions, agreements, belief, effective metaphors, shared meanings, and the like, all of which coerce participation and assure appropriate behavior by making life dependent on its institutions. The solution to the problem capitalism poses should lie, therefore, in the direction of an exploration of new institutional models. But that means, among other things, thinking of difference, contingency, and hybridity more in Sandoval’s terms than in Hardt and Negri’s because it is those categories that expose the institutional character of supposed material ontology for us. They allow us to uncover what Sandoval calls the underside to our capitalist culture, the darkness behind the glow of the market where labor, locked as much into the cage of apparently undifferentiated identity as into the cave of the factory, works away even as we speak. The instituted rather than real ontology of that fact is the common ground upon which Marxists and Late Structuralists finally might begin speaking to one another.
   
With that idea in mind, I will now turn to a particular object of critique–the New Right and especially New Right intellectuals like Dinesh D’Souza. What differential analysis allows us to see in this particular case is the permeability of boundaries between social and cultural realms. I believe it is possible to make links of necessity between different parts of a culture, and this is especially true of the New Right. In that cultural formation, one can map out links between a psychological ideal of self-control and autonomy, a boundary firm disconnection from others, social policies that reject in consequence ideals of care and compassion, practices of policing and education that emphasize disciplinary control, a competitive economic model that favors a toughness seasoned by psychological disconnection and self-distancing, a moral idealism that endows material acquisitiveness with an air of righteousness and a moral realism that misconstrues the effects of a humanly fabricated social order as a natural evil in mankind that licenses harsh treatment for the uncooperative and the disobedient, a gender style that segregates contingent biological differences into invidiously distinguished characters and character traits, an exaltation of natural reason and natural law as grounds for social arrangements and economic processes whose institutional and cultural character is suppressed, and an approach to life with other peoples and nations that expands the boundary firm toughness of individualized economic man into a paranoid national defensiveness.
   
My sense that the New Right is coherent if not consistent was reinforced by hearing some of the remarks at the recent inaugural dinners–remarks that underscore the connections between classism, racism, and disciplinarity. One speaker remarked that the Clintons’ effects required fifteen trailers to be transported to Arkansas. Now, all they have to do, the speaker remarked, was find an appropriate trailer park. The next speaker said he would not comment on Jesse Jackson’s admission to having fathered a child out of wedlock. It’s his business, the speaker said, if he wants to propagate the race. Finally, Christopher Buckley declared how happy he was to finally have what he called “a controlling moral authority” in the White House, an interesting phrase since it implies that anyone he might disagree with is not so much different as out of control, an escapee from a particular normativity. What interests me about the New Right is the manner in which it exalts contradictory extremes, making cohesive connections between quite distinct, even mutually repelling positions that end up being irrationally or illogically bound together. The most remarkable of these extreme positions is individual freedom and controlling authority. On
e of Elizabeth Dole’s speeches illuminated the interdependent nature of this disjunction for me. When liberal government regulates and taxes, she contended, we lose control of our own lives, and when young people engage in immoral sex and hoodlums peddle drugs in schools, things are out of control. In a curious and revelatory confirmation of the liberal social theory of the interdependence of self and environment, Dole links freedom of self to control over others in one’s environment. Freedom blends with free dominion. And echoing closely, of course, is the domus of domicile, another place where a controlling moral authority binds one person’s freedom to others’ domination.
   
The family origins of New Right thinking and feeling were brought home to me by one of the most remarkable books I’ve come across while conducting my research–Taylor Caldwell’s Growing Up Tough. Caldwell, a novelist whose best known work is This Side of Innocence, is really more Old Right than New Right because her hatred of liberalism goes back all the way to Franklin Roosvelt, but her novel Pillar of Iron, a life of Cicero, which appeared in 1966, two years after Barry Goldwater’s campaign for the presidency, is thought of as one of the important primary texts of the early New Right, which takes its origin as a movement from Goldwater’s campaign. The novel is a warning about decadence in America and a call for the kind of tough virtuous leadership Cicero and Goldwater represented for many on the Right.
   
I should mention at this point that in 1964, I was a campaigner for Goldwater, or AuH20, as we affectionately called him back then. Fresh off the boat from a small town in Ireland, I was both penniless and clueless about American politics, and when my neighbor offered me five bucks to pass out campaign material, I was more interested in having the principal than preserving my principles.
   
Growing Up Tough consists of sketches about Caldwell’s early life that become occasions for denouncing liberal “do-gooders,” as she calls them, all of whom are hypocrites who wreck more harm than good with their misguided good intentions. Braced against their wrongheaded efforts is the reality of human evil, the basic malevolence of humankind that the young Caldwell comes to see quite early. “This is a tough world,” she writes, “and a violent one and always was and always will be.” But, she goes on, “in these perilous day, alas, the Liberals are talking incessantly of luv. You must luv and you must be warm even if your neighbor turns your stomach and you know that he ought to be in jail, or his personal habits revolt you. This, of course, is pure sanity. For myself, I am usually in control of my less lovable traits, for I know public, or even private mayhem is frowned upon in civilized society. Then, too, the other guy may be able to hit harder.”
   
In Male Fantasies, his study of the writings of rightwing soldier males after World War One who would supply fascism with its storm troopers, Klaus Theweleit notices that images of physical repulsion conjoin with yearnings to do violence to others by smashing an offensive physical world that threatens to overwhelm an endangered self. The origin of the pathology of these soldier males, Theweleit suggests, is the pervasive physical abuse of children in Wilhelmine Germany, an abuse that creates unstable self boundaries and feelings of emptiness derived from the absence of appropriate parental care. Such children grow up seeking surrogate self boundaries in military discipline, uniforms, and formation marching. They come to hate anyone associated with an overrunning of firm national and ethnic boundaries, such as Jews and Communists, and they derive a full sense of self from identification with external pillars of iron like Hitler.
   
I find Theweleit’s work particularly helpful for the project of a theory of culture that makes connections between apparently distinct realms because it successfully links family practices to gender formation and political institutions. In Caldwell, for example, there are noticeable links between how she conceives of men and women, economic life, and child rearing. The passage I just cited continues in this way: “There was a time even in my remembrance when American men were manly, heads of their houses, and respected by their wives and children. . . . They’d have laughed in your face if you had asked: `But don’t you Love?’ They’d have said, `Yes, I love my God and my country, and my family. I respect my neighbor’s humanity and won’t infringe on his rights- so long as he doesn’t infringe on mine. But “love” him? Are you crazy?’ Americans in those days were adult, and men were masculine, women were feminine, and there was no blurring of the sexes. A man’s word was law in his home, no matter how shrewish his wife, and God help the kid who questioned his father’s edict.”    
   
Notice how in this passage the public issues of respect for property rights, patriotism and religion connect to more domestic issues and concerns, especially the issue of parental authority and the threat of physical punishment against children. In numerous other places, Caldwell alludes to the possible connection between her feelings of loathing and aggressivity on the one hand and physical penalties associated with the disobeying of parental edicts on the other. In her way of thinking, the heterosexual male ideal of masculine strength and toughness sustains an economic ideal of predatory competitiveness whose goal is meritorious dominance at work and in the home. But why should a tough girl like Taylor Caldwell long for domination by a strong man? The answer may have to do with physical abuse, which, according to Theweleit, inspires longings for surrogate forms of external strength that make up for the internal deficiencies abuse causes. Caldwell’s work, especially the autobiography, is remarkable for its descriptions of self-loathing, of horror at physical existence, and of repulsion from a humanity portrayed as driven by nastiness and malice. She believed in psychics and spiritualism, and when she was asked in an interview if she’d ever want to be reborn, her response was: “Hell no. Why would anybody want to come back to this bottomless abyss of malice, deceit, fraud, and greed? . . . Life to me, practically from infancy, has been a monstrous, painful, agonizing affair. . . . I’d prefer total oblivion. At least in total oblivion, as in sleep, you are safe from the revolting mechanics of living and being a prey to outrageous fortune.” Theweleit notices similar yearnings for oblivion in the writings of the rightwing soldier males in his study. Physical abuse destroys the core of a personality, its feeling of well-being with itself and with the world, and one result is yearning to disappear, to cease feeling that core pain in one’s being. Growing Up Tough is full of allusions to abusive physical discipline, from teachers who use a ruler “manfully” to stories of being strapped and beaten up by her parents. Caldwell, like the soldier males Theweleit studies, seems to internalize this abuse and transforms it into an ideal that has both private and public implications, especially if you bear in mind Buckley’s allusion to a “controlling moral authority.” Here’s Caldwell: “There are things which must be taught by strict discipline, example, and the power of a parent’s good right arm.”
   
The world of physical abuse in childhood is a world of uncertainty and unpredictability. In a world where care and violence become mixed, the fear of unexpected and unpredictable physical trauma, what Caldwell calls fortune, easily transforms itself into a yearning for control over both oneself and one’s environment. Prosthetic assistance is sought from outside in the form of strong public men, like Caldwell’s fictive Cicero or Goldwater himself, who are capable of curtailing liberals whose actions betray the ideals of self-discipline and whose acts of public compassion evoke proximity with a dangerous emotional fluidity, a sense of contact w
ith repulsive human others. The nastiness toward liberals in Caldwell and in the New Right in general (anyone who can refer to the sixties as the “revolting generation” is not exactly keeping negative emotions in check) is evidence, I suspect, of what Theweleit describes as shattered selves that lack the internal cohesion and stability that allows one to take the object world as a field of confident action, even self sacrificing action for others, rather than as a threatening and loathsome field of aggression, danger, instability, malice, and fear that is best subjected to violent control by moral authorities.
   
The intellectual culture of the New Right has moved beyond Caldwell’s cranky calls for restoration, but the reason for this change may be that the New Right intellectuals have been successful in the past two decades in denouncing New Deal liberalism and in announcing the arrival of the new millennium of free market ascendancy. A sign of that success is the way Dinesh D’Souza in his recent The Virtue of Prosperity attempts to appear balanced and fair rather than polemical. The book contains the same venom and violence that one finds in Caldwell, but because the New Right has converted from its 1960s antipathy to Think Tanks to being the leading subsidizer of numerous Think Tanks like the Cato Institute, the Hudson Institute, and the American Enterprise Institute, where D’Souza is a paid “scholar,” a different discursive strategy is now required than was the case in 1971, when Caldwell could publish Growing Up Tough with a proud snarl.
   
D’Souza’s book is an attempt to justify the new wealth and the new inequality in America. As he himself points out, the top one percent of the population in terms of income now control one third of the wealth, while the next nine percent control the next one third. Ninety percent of the population gets to live on the next one third. This proves, according to D’Souza, that the truly meritorious do deserve more than their lessers. In 1982, there were thirteen billionaires in the US, and by 1999, there were 267. “It’s one thing,” D’Souza writes, “for a country to produce a small number of superrich people; it’s far more spectacular to see affluence extended to tens, even hundred of thousands of people.” Perhaps more important than the new wealth is the power the new technologies associated with it gives us “to will our own future as a species.” We might even, he says, and I quote “eliminate the genetic differences that lead to inequality.”
   
Or perhaps we could just eat the poor since they are such worthless scum. D’Souza justifies the new hyper inequality by arguing that the new wealthy are more deserving than the poor who are being left behind. Not only are the poor dirty, disheveled, slothful, mean, dishonest perpetrators of social atrocities like burglary (all those words are D’Souza’s) but also they are in fact more obsessed with money than rich people: “In America . . . [t]he poor are more obsessed with money and possessions than the rich. Why? For the same reason that dwarves spend more time than the rest of us thinking about height!”.
   
D’Souza advances other ideas that would have been thought unacceptable amongst intelligent people just a few decades ago. His allusion to the possible eugenic elimination of inequality, when balanced with his highly meritocratic understanding of the origins of inequality, amounts really to a call to genetically engineer the poor out of existence. And to that he adds the following aside: “Others may call for a genetic `cure’ for homosexuality.”
   
D’Souza’s book is full of what might simply be called bad thinking. Almost all the major features of bad thinking are present: a tendency to allow concrete examples take the place of logical argument, a failure of appropriate interpretation, an inability to analyze facts appropriately or to reach conclusions logically justified by them, a dogmatic tendency to allow already held belief to overwhelm evidence, a matching tendency to think and write in stereotypes or in formulaic expressions, a propensity to think quite contradictory things and not to notice that they are contradictory, and finally, a failure of complex thought which assumes the dual form of an inability to see connections between parts in a social system and an inability to make logical connections between parts of an argument that moves by derivation from proposition to proposition to conclusion.
   
How might the kind of differential analysis Sandoval proposes be of help here?
   
Let’s consider wealth, since I’ve already made some suggestions for reconceptualizing that particular institution. D’Souza’s idea of wealth might be called creationist. That is, he believes wealth is created out of nothing. “What if the rich are getting richer,” he asks, rebutting the claim that wealth and poverty are inversely related, “because they have created new wealth that didn’t exist before?” And he favorably quotes an executive who claims “we’re talking about wealth that didn’t even exist a decade ago.” But if the enormous totals of supposedly new wealth are not taken from others, who are proportionally poorer, or even siphoned quite legitimatley through market transactions from a stable amount of circulating money, it–the large amounts of new money–had to come from somewhere. The increase in money in circulation comes, of course, not from smart entrepreneurs but from the government, that dispensible nuisance, as D’Souza calls it. All the new goods and services D’Souza’s entrepreneurial elite have created, from Federal Express to Gateway computers to Yahoo.com, would mean nothing and be valueless if they could not find in circulation sufficient money to match their value. And what the government does, very carefully, since the link of money to value is contingent and unstable unless it is held in place by differential relations that assure that one thing will be worth more than another and that one amount of money will be translatable into a matching amount of value, is increase the amount of money circulating to match the new goods and services. Such monetary inflation is a structural feature of a capitalist economy. Modern computers could not sell for two thousand dollars and modern cars could not sell for $20,000 if the amount of money in circulation were the same as twenty years ago. There would not be enough cash around to pay those remarkably high executive salaries for one thing, nor would there be enough to assure that the newly created wealth actually was wealth rather than a pile of steel, wires, and glass.
   
Don’t get me wrong: I believe there is value and that these things have value. But what lends them value and what assigns them numerical wealth is a financial system that is differential in character. That is, each of its moments has an identity only in relation to all the other parts of the system. And the whole system becomes real, touches ground as it were, only at that point where credibility is lent the system by our assent. That’s all the ontology heaven allows. And in saying that, I do not mean that wealth is somehow intangible or unreal. It is the power to command goods, and it has the coercive power to assure that, without too much policing, we will police ourselves into being cooperative, if disgruntled, co-adjutants of a rank system of human exploitation that we might find distasteful. But in a certain critical awareness resides a certain amount of salvation, even for those sentenced to life. And it helps me at least to know that things aren’t as D’Souza claims. The exorbitant inequalities of wealth he describes and celebrates aren’t the natural expression of a natural superiority. They are rather the effects of a differential system that must maintain a structured inequality, a fixed ratio of difference, between the amount one group is allowed by the rules of the game to take out of the system and the amount another group is allowed to take out. That difference can be between one million and one thousand or it can be bet
ween ten billion and twenty thousand. Whatever the numbers, the differential ratio must be preserved. That really is what capitalist wealth is all about. Inequality is not a consequence of the system; it is the system. Rather than emerge from capitalism, it produces capitalism. D’Souza himself alludes to this iron law inadvertently and unconsciously when he cites the case of a company owner who only pays himself $300,000 a year. When D’Souza’s asks why he doesn’t pay himself at least a million or two or ten or twenty like everyone else, the man replies that by paying himself less, he is able to pay his underlings proportionately less. If he paid himself more, they would ask for more, and he would end up losing.
   
I’ll wrap up now by returning to the question of ultimate goals that gets posed by Marxism, and I’ll suggest that, once again, Sandoval’s model of differential analysis is helpful in rethinking how those goals might be formulated. At the heart of the dispute between Marxism and Late Structuralism are two visions of the world. Marxism is a vision of necessary determination that argues that culture is a certain way because material life as it is arranged economically and politically is a certain way. The projected goal of Marxist work is constrained by this initial vision to be equally bound by necessity and determination. It will consist of a different determining arrangement from the existing one, an arrangement that will guarantee a differently determined outcome, one in which an ideal of equality can be achieved. Late Structuralism, on the other hand, consists of a radical questioning of necessity, determination, and materiality. It favors very different concepts: play, contingency, differentiation, openendedness, and the like that represent an undoing of determination. The certainty of determination gives way to the uncertainties of reference.
   
   This differential balancing of determination and innovation seems to me a good way of formulating a solution to the dilemma, the debate, of Marxism and deconstruction or Marxism and Late Structualism. A sense of determination allows one to envision the necessity of the new, but it cannot by definition formulate the new. A sense of the power of open-ended change guarantees a sense of the importance of transformative invention, but it cannot provide the moral justification for such invention or an ultimate goal for such change. Somewhere in between the two, in the space of their difference, resides a compromise of sorts that probably can only be formulated as a promise. Or as Derrida, quoting Marx, might put it: “es kommt darauf an.”

This entry was posted in Miscellaneous and edition . Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.
  • Pages

  • Categories

  • Issues