The Doubts of an Honest Marxian thinker: The Dark Hegelianism… or bleak idea(lism) and barren material(ism)

“People know what they want because they know what other people want.”
― Theodor W. Adorno

“It would be advisable to think of progress in the crudest, most basic terms: that no one should go hungry anymore, that there should be no more torture, no more Auschwitz. Only then will the idea of progress be free from lies.”
― Theodor W. Adorno

The danger of Hotel Grand Abyss, as Lukacs once remarked about, comes from not only fear of a grey future in which the end of history is the graying world of the capital corporation, but also in the fear that the alternative as articulated may be just as graying. Adorno’s definition of progress is minimal: the end of cruelty and the administration of minimum needs. Yet there are hints that he was not satisfied with the alternative articulations of how that could be achieved from 1950s capitalism, or Soviet collectivism. Yet, Adorno seems to have noticed the problem with the minimal definition of progress. But before we get to that, let’s look at the author Thomas Ligotti for a complication:

“There seems to be an inborn drive in all human beings not to live in a steady emotional state, which would suggest that such a state is not tolerable to most people. Why else would someone succumb to the attractions of romantic love more than once? Didn’t they learn their lesson the first time or the tenth time or the twentieth time? And it’s the same old lesson: everything in this life—I repeat, everything—is more trouble than it’s worth. And simply being alive is the basic trouble. This is something that is more recognized in Eastern societies than in the West. There’s a minor tradition in Greek philosophy that instructs us to seek a state of equanimity rather than one of ecstasy, but it never really caught on for obvious reasons. Buddhism advises its practitioners not to seek highs or lows but to follow a middle path to personal salvation from the painful cravings of the average sensual life, which is why it was pretty much reviled by the masses and mutated into forms more suited to human drives and desires. It seems evident that very few people can simply sit still. Children spin in circles until they collapse with dizziness.” – Thomas Ligotti

The tension is a fear that happiness itself and the beginning of history in the new sense beyond the current seems problematic for Adorno:

“Indeed, happiness is nothing other than being encompassed, an after-image of the original shelter within the mother. But for this reason no one who is happy can know that he is so. To see happiness, he would have to pass out of it: to be as if already born. He who says he is happy lies, and in invoking happiness, sins against it. He alone keeps faith who says: I was happy. ” – Adorno

Perhaps Adorno rightly saw the allure against the giant hospital that the Hegelian world view seemed to end in, and perhaps was afraid of Hegel’s positivity for that reason. In this we can see his fear of the messianic vagueness of the future society and his defense of art:

“The only philosophy that can be practiced responsibly in the face of despair is the attempt to contemplate all things as they would present themselves from the standpoint of redemption. Knowledge has no light but that shed on the world by redemption: all else is reconstruction, mere technique. Perspectives must be fashioned that displace and estrange the world, that reveal its fissures and crevices, as indigent and distorted as it will one day appear in the Messianic light.” – Adorno

“Of the world as it exists, it is not possible to be enough afraid.” -Adorno

And this sentiment seem oddly close to that of a man who could be seen as in the lineage of the antithesis to Adorno, Leo Strauss:

“The prospect of a pacified planet, without rulers and ruled, of a planetary society devoted to production and consumption only, to production and consumption of spiritual as well as material merchandise, was positively horrifying to quite a few very intelligent and very decent, if very young, Germans. They did not object to that prospect because they were worrying about their own economic and social position; for certainly in that respect they had no longer anything to lose. Nor did they object to it for religious reasons; for, as one of their spokesmen (E. Junger) said, they knew that they were the sons and grandsons and great-grandsons of godless men. What they hated, was the very prospect of a world in which everyone would be happy and satisfied, in which everyone would have his little pleasure by day and his little pleasure by night, a world in which no great heart could beat and no great soul could breathe, a world without real, unmetaphoric, sacrifice, i.e. a world without blood, sweat, and tears. What to the communists appeared to be the fulfillment of the dream of mankind appeared to those young Germans as the greatest debasement of humanity, as the coming of the end of humanity, as the arrival of the latest man.”

Thus martial overture developing out the same sense that despairs Adorno.   The rejection of the decimation of the world into a giant hospital, as Geothe said in response to the same strains that Hegel was celebrating:

“Speaking for myself, I too believe that humanity will win in the long run; I am only afraid that at the same time the world will have turned into one huge hospital where everyone is everybody else’s humane nurse.”
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Any vision of a future history in which this is something beyond this particular secularization of Christian ethos must be beyond the giant gray hospital (which Marx seems aware of in the Critique of the Gotha program and his criticism of the limited vision and contradiction of the forms of socialism that existed then): otherwise we are left in a dark vision of Hegel. I’ll end with something from Marx that is often missed:

If the material conditions of production are the co-operative property of the workers themselves, then there likewise results a distribution of the means of consumption different from the present one. Vulgar socialism (and from it in turn a section of the democrats) has taken over from the bourgeois economists the consideration and treatment of distribution as independent of the mode of production and hence the presentation of socialism as turning principally on distribution. After the real relation has long been made clear, why retrogress again?

So, why do we retrogress again and again? Lack of vision?  Failure? Or perhaps Hegel was right about the movement towards the centralization of liberal Christian society into the secular, capitalist state…  if it must run its course like fever to be transcended, so something new can be born what will happen?  To not have doubts about all of this is probably to be probably self-dishonest.

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About El Mono Liso

Por una civilización de la pobreza.

Posted on February 11, 2013, in ideology. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Havnt visited for a while and I must say you sound down.
    Who gives a damn about Hegel and Adorno?
    Hegel lives on in Marx, but Adorno retrogressed.
    You have got enough idealist gloom going on here without them.

    Marx had a point about Gotha, why retrogress? but the cause was not the wrong ideas as such but their material roots as the labor aristocracy became incorporated into the German state machine.

    Then came imperialism and Lenin and the revolution, and the degeneration of the revolution, but not as some linear unravelling of doom. Rather clearly understood material causes that prove that historical agency was and is alive and kicking. The defeat of the German revolution accounts for the rise of fascism and Adorno’s problem. It wasn’t fate but the influence of the reformists and centrists in holding back the rise of a Bolshevik Party.

    A balance sheet for today would sum this up as a victory of capitalism in the C20th even in its decline, but which could not stop the slow emergence of the conditions for its overthrow.

    Vulgar socialism is ever more vulgar today, but that is a negation because the real thing becomes clearer. The petty bourgeois intelligentsia that always co-opted Marxism have no clothes and will not be able to hold the middle ground.

    Yes, the hospital is a good image for the destruction of capitalism and the looming climate catastrophe, but there is a better image and that is the civic square or plaza, where today’s young workers are gathering in hope and in sufficient force to man the barricades.

    So I don’t think that materialism is barren since it expresses the real lives of workers representing the socialist future coming into increasing contradiction with the destructive forces of the bourgeoisie.

  2. Dave, Adorno makes an error in his (semi-Leninized) idealism, but I am trying to figure out exactly where it is. At a dialectical impasse, the situation can go two ways at minimum. Adorno, perhaps for reasons of not enough materialism in his dialect, focused on the negative ways. But you’re right, I have trouble keeping my optimism from being much more than of the will.

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