what to do

Chuck Grimes cgrimes at tsoft.com
Tue Mar 28 18:23:51 PST 2000

>From Peter K:

page 226 of Terry Eagleton's _The Ideology of the Aesthetic_:

"Unlike Nietzsche and Heidegger after him, Marx does not press through this aestheticization to human cognition itself. This is not some anaemic rationalism: the goal of human life, for Marx as for Aristotle, is not truth, but happiness or well-being. His work is an extensive enquiry into what material conditions would be necessary for this goal to be realized as a general human condition, and thus belongs to the discourse of classical morality. * Marx is a moralist in the most traditional sense of the term, which is to say that he is concerned with the political determinations of the good life. His morality thus stands opposed to the withered modern sense of the 'moral,' impoverished to interpersonal relations and 'spiritual values' alone, for which the Marxist term is 'moralism.'" * See Denys Turner, _Marxism and Christianity_ (Oxford, 1983), Part 1.

>From Yoshie F:

Gramsci didn't think, "the State = bad, civil society = good." In fact, according to his theory (and the same goes for all Marxists), the distinction between the State and civil society is "merely methodological," since in reality "civil society and State are one and the same." I think our contemporary appropriations of Gramsci tend to forget this point & become arguments for what Gramsci called theoretical syndicalism, which has a liberal and economistic understanding of the State. Micropolitics that people often call for (as if we didn't have too much of it already) is an obverse of the social democratic state; without the latter, the former can't exist...

`The ideas of the Free Trade movement are based on a theoretical error whose practical origin is not hard to identify; they are based on a distinction between political society and civil society, which is made into and presented as an organic one, whereas in fact it is merely methodological. Thus it is asserted that economic activity belongs to civil society, and that the State must not intervene to regulate it. But since in actual reality civil society and State are one and the same, it must be made clear that _laissez-faire_ too is a form of State "regulation", introduced and maintained by legislative and coercive means. It is a deliberate policy, conscious of its own ends, and not the spontaneous, automatic expression of economic facts. Consequently, _laissez-faire_ liberalism is a political programme, designed to change -- in so far as it is victorious -- a State's leading personnel, and to change the economic programme of the State itself -- in other words the distribution of the national income.' (Antonio Gramsci, "The Modern Prince,"_Prison Notebooks_, pp. 158-63)


The list of books I haven't read grows with every thread. After squabbling with Kelley over what constitutes a moral world, it was just contrasting and comparing Aristotle's Ethica Nicomachea and Augustine's De civitate Dei. Now obviously there is Gramsci (probably much more compulsory).

But the above distinctions and their potential conjoining, between political and civil society is close to the point of digging through Aristotle and Augustine. In Aristotle the good life is considered to be identical to the political life and the political life to be directed toward the greatest happiness (perhaps part of Kelley's point).

However, the greatest happiness for Aristotle is defined as a contemplative activity, based on the idea that thought requires no material to accomplish its tasks (NE, X:8,1178). This is in concord with Plato, something that Carrol grumbled about, and was part of the neo-platonist schools of late antiquity. Augustine begins within this neo-platonist tradition prior to his conversion. At this point when Aristote's perfect happiness is to be found somewhere that is no longer wedded to the material of the world, Marx, as Machiavelli before him parts with the Aristotelian world of ethics, moral virtues, and politics.

In Augustine, the unity of the good and the happy as contemplation arrives only in civitate dei. Obviously with the Vandals laying siege to Hippo, Augustine had no other city left. But there is agreement between Aristotle and Augustine in the idea that the perfect happiness is not found in what Hanna Arendt called the vita activa, or exactly that material based political life fighting for the common good (see, The Human Condition, `The Vita Activa and the Modern Age').

It was Arendt who traced this thread for me, and hopefully spared me the nausea of reading Augustine. She is also responsible for introducing me to Machiavelli, who in her reading and mine, in a sense takes up once again the battle to reclaim an active political life from its profound sleep de civitate dei.

It is this opposition between the material and ideal, between the city of earth and the city of god, the active life struggle and the supposed perfection of happiness in some nether realm that I think is at work at some level. I think this is echoed in the context of the current discussion, as to whether or not the Left should console itself to residence in civil society rather than in government.

Personally, I think the right, the Christians, and other believers in the perfect good should keep themselves busy in civil society where they belong and hand all that bad government back over to the Left--where hopefully we can proceed with the evil business of inflecting violence and cruelty on Capital. Unfortunately, the do-good and their well monied clowns in power are not going to hand government over any time soon, hence our battle out of exile from the trackless wastes of civil society.

We are in some historical allegory, recapitulating the pagan-christian wars of late antiquity. It doesn't seem to me a mere coincidence that Augustine transformed the neo-platonist philosophical division of ideal and material into a christian and theological division of good and evil precisely during the collapse of the secular and imperial state and its disappearance from earthly history into civitate dei.

Of course the city of god turned out to be a thousand years of feudal hierarchy. That is, the time between Augustine and Machiavelli. It also seems salient that Christianity while technically the official religion of the roman state, it hadn't quite succeeded in taking its full leave of civil society, that is the public organization space outside government by the time of Augustine's writings. As comical as it sounds during this transition period the Altar of Victory a symbol of the pagan state which was housed in the roman senate was moved out by one emperor, then re-install by another, until finally it was abolished altogether along with the Olympic games, various neo-platonist schools of philosophy, and other remnants of paganism.

But where was Aristotle's perfect happiness to go? Well obviously back to the realm of god(s) from whence it came.

And for us, isn't it exactly the anemic rationalism of a neo-platonist's depth psychology of identity and its attending postmodern discursive forms that promises a similar journey--a thousand years of sleep? Late antiquity and the postmodern period somehow share (at least in my mind) an allegorical affinity to one another. This is particularly so when their world of ideas with its neo-platonist and interscene battles of theologies and our own postmodernist battles and nationalist ideologies are juxtaposed to the primal need for an earthly struggle over the material power of government.

Chuck Grimes

More information about the lbo-talk mailing list