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15 Reviews

Reviews
Half a Critique

Jean-Paul Sartre, Critique of Dialectical Reason,
trans. Alan Sheridan Smith, ed. Jonathan Ree,
New Left Books, 820pp, £15.00
Pietro Chiodi, Sartre and Marxism, trans. Kate
Soper, Harvester Press, 162pp, £ 6. 95
lan Craib, Existentialism and Sociology: A Study of
Jean-Paul Sartre, Cambridge University Press,
237pp, £ 6. 95
Sartre’s monumental essay in phenomenological
Marxism, the Critique of Dialectical Reason.

volume One, was written in the euphoria of the
early days of de-Stalinisation. It appeared in French
in 1960, and the English translation is published this
month. The fifteen years that have passed between
the French and English editions have seen great
changes in Sartre’ s reputation. He was a guru of
some sections of the students’ movement, with
Laing and Cooper as his ambassadors to Britain at
the ‘Dialectics of Liberation’ conference. But renewed capitalist crisis has ~vertaken the politics of
1968, and Sartre’s reputation as a Marxist. In addition, the French structuralism of the last ten years
can be seen as essentially a campaign against
Sartre, though it seldom mentions him. These developments will have prepared a strange reception
for the Critique: like that which would await a new
edition of Confucius in China.

The object of the Critique is to define the nature of
historical knowledge. Echoing Kant, Sartre assumes
that historical knowledge exists – specifically, that
it is embodied in works by Marx and by such historians as Bloch, Braudel and Lefebvrej and, through
discussions of particular historical phEn omena, he
tries to explain how it is possible. Volume One is
designed to answer this question in completely general terms, and is normally referred to simply as
‘The Critique’ on the well-founded assumption that
the projected second volume, which remains unfinished, will never be published. The idea of
Volume Two was that it should outline the actual
course of human history.

The Critique is notoriously badly written. It was
composed in great haste, at a time (1957-60) when
Sartre was preoccupied with campaigning for the
liberation of Algeria, and – as Simone de Beauvoir
records in the third volume of her autobiography when he was desperately trying to ward off exhaustion with whisky and drugs. ‘It was not a case of
writing as he ordinarily did, pausing to think and
make corrections, tearing up a page, starting again;
for hours at a stretch he raced across sheet after
sheet without rereading them … ‘ (Force’ of Circumstances p397). And the French edition, whose chapters, paragraphs and sentences are bewilderingly
long, really is all but unreadable. It is perhaps for
this reason that readers of the book have tended to
see it as, at best, a collection of brilliant analyses
.of particular historical phenomena, such as class
hatred in nineteenth-century France, racism in
Algeria, and the Terror in revolutionary France,
and to regard these as strung out over an abyss of
theoretical confusion on an insubstantial thread of
philosophical rhetoric.

One of the features of the English edition is that it
imposes an orderly system of chapter headings and
paragraph divisions on the book, and simplifies the

24

sentence structures; this should make the connecting
argument Of the Critique stand out more clearly but since I myself edited the translation, I shall not
give an opinion of it. N.h.at, then, is the connecting
argument of the Critique?

1 From Individual Praxis to Class Struggle
Sartre starts from a basic assumption which he
shares with the entire tradition of western historio …

graphy since the Enlightenment – including the works
of Marx. This is that natural events .lying beyond
human control do not belong to the province of historical knowledge, or at least that they do so only to
the extent that they impinge on human action and
experience. This assumption allows Sartre to identify the theory of history with the theory of human
~ction in general (‘praxis’), and it is on this basis
that he outlines what he calls a ‘structural anthropology’, in which the entirety of human experience
is supposed to be captured in a comprehensive view
of human history.

From Sartre’s pOint of view, the main problem
for a theory of history is presented by historical
explanations which refer to such ‘practical ensembles’ as factories, currencies, states, laws,
moralities, profits, kinship systems, and, above
all, to classes. The problem is that such ensembles
present themselves to individuals as though they
were non-human natural facts, whereas it is obvious that in fact they are part of developing human
history. The purpose of the Critique is to develop
concept.s of such ensembles which will avoid treating them either as the aggregate effects of individual
actions (individualism) or as ‘hyper-organfsms’

independent of individual action (organicism).

(i) Individual Praxis
Sartre starts his investigation from what he holds to
be the most easily explained form of praxis, which
he calls individual praxis. Individual praxis is
essentially a struggle for self-preservation against
an indifferent, inert, ‘other’ environment. Spurred
by need, the individual endows his environment with
purposes or meanings: fetishistically, he sees the
world as focussed on himself, dividing it into helps
and hindrances to the satisfaction of his needs; he
unifies his world into an ordered whole – as Sartre
puts it, the individual totalises the world. To explain human action as the level of individual praxis
is simply to show how it serves purposes of the
individual as they appear within her totalisation of
the world. For Sartre, all historical explanations
are, simply developments of the explanation of individual praxis; and the Critique is an extended
attempt to demonstrate this point by unravelling all
the complications and reverses which affect individual praxis as it inscribes itself in the natural and
the social world.

Individual praxis is always embodied in some
form of matter – words, human ~eings, machines,
buildings etc .. and once embodied it escapes the
control of its author, flying away like a released
bird and living a life of its own. In this way, praxis
.and the world external to it mingle together, and
matter becomes ‘worked matter’, praxis ‘the practico-inert’. It Is initially through the practico-inert
that human relations are constituted – for instance
a configuration of rooms where I live and where I
work, of book:::, of papers, of things I have done in
the past, etc all’ combine to define me – whether I

like it pr not – as a petty bourgeoIs intellectual.

Similatly, different forms of machinery produce
different kinds of social relations in the factory,
different forms of union organisation, etc. People
come to be dominated by their products, or alien ated in them.

(ii) Series
Individual praxis alienating itself in the practicoinert – this is the source from which Sartre tries
to derive a comprehensive range of social concepts.

First he introduces the concept of the series (or
collective) which describes individuals united in
mutual dependence in such a way that each sees the
others as other, rather than as comrades in a
common undertaking. Moreover, according to
Sartre, social relations are – as a matter of contingent fact – formed under conditions of scarcity,
where there are too many people for too few
resources. Consequently each member tends to
totalise the cthers as threats to his own existence,
and the series is founded, in the end, on violent
competitive antagonism.

Sartre gives various examples of seriality, and
discusses them with mesmerising skill: the processes of racist violence, and of panics such as the
Great Fear which swept the provinces of revolutionary France. Others – in which the violence is less
apparent – are the processes of price determination
in a free market, of selection of records for the
‘hit-parade’, etc.

The characteristic of a serial process is that it
leads to a practical result which from one point of
view looks like the outcome of deliberate planning a lynching, a riot, a price change or a shift in
popular musical taste etc – but which in fact does
not issue from the intentions of anyone. The patter nE
which establish themselves in serial processes
result from the interference of individual totalisations, but do not correspond to any of them: they are
patterns without an author, imposing themselves on
people as though they were a natural fact beyond
human control. The unity of serial processes, as
Sartre puts it, always lies elsewhere.

(Hi) The Group
The basic alternative to the series as a form of
social ense!nble is the group (or community), which
is discussed in the second book of Volume One.

What distinguishes a group from a series is that its
unity is internal to it and to each of its members;
instead of seeing each other as other, they see each
other as the same: they all participate communally
in a single praxis, a single totalisation. Sartre’ s
example is the Parisian crowd which stormed the
Bastille: initially its unity was serial – it was unified
from outside, by the geographical configuration of
PariS, by hunger, and by the army; but on July 14th
it was transformed into a fused group (groupe en
fusion). But this kind of ‘molten’ unity, as Sartre
describes it, is always impermanent and unstable,
and the greater part of the Critique is devoted to the
elaboration of various kinds of group which develop
as the fused group ‘cools’. A division of tasks is
instituted, and serial structures begin to emerge
within it. In this context, Sartre is able to discuss
an enormous range of phenomena – committees,
trade union organisations, states, purges, bureaucracies etc. Finally, he -constructs a concept of
class.

Sartre’s concept of class uses all the conceptual
resources accumulated in the course of his argument, in order to explain how the serial unity of a
class (defined by its relation to means of production)
breeds various kinds qf group within the class which
can, in specific ways, act for it – though constantly

threatening to solidify into ‘bureaucracies’. The advantage of this conception of class is that it encompasses both the idea of class as determined by
economic relations, and the idea of class struggle
being waged in organised politics, and avoids treating the politics as a Simple expression of the economics, or lOSing sight of the fact that violent antagonism is integral to classes at the economic as well
as the political level.

The way Sartre constructs his concept of class
draws attention to one of the most significant and
beautiful features of the Critique: its order and
method of exposition. The investigation (experience)
pursued through the Critique is presented as a
journey from the abstract (individual praxis) to the
concrete (class struggle). But social formations, as
conceived by Sartre, comprise different, and pos.sibly conflicting, layers, each corresponding to a
certain level of abstraction. Thus the journey througt
through the Critique is both an approach to increasingly complex social concepts, and a penetration to
deeper and deeper layers of social reality. The
sequence of exposition itself represents an order of
reality. In one sense of that ambiguous word
‘dialectic’, this feature of the Critique makes it a
classic of dialectical thinking. But when Sartre
explicitly discusses dialectic in the Critique, he
usually has something else in mind.

2 Sartre and Dialectic
Sartre’s intention in the Critique was to rescue
Marxism from what he saw as the deadly embrace
of Soviet style ‘dialectical materialism’, which is
seen as deriving from Engels as distinct from Marx.

In an opening section entitled ‘Dogmatic Dialectic
and Critical Dialectic’ he mocks Engels’s attempt to
state ‘laws of dialectic’ which would apply uniformly
to the whole of reality, social and natural alike.

Engels tried to define the basic dialectical concepts
of negation, negation of the negation and transcendence or synthesis in relation to inanimate nature,
and only subsequently” to apply them to human history.

The result, according to Sartre, was that both
dialectic and history lost their sense. Dialectic came
to appear as a brute and inexplicable natural law,
based (precariously) on empirical investigation, and
human history, as part of nature, was supposed to
obey the laws of dialectic just as it obeys the laws
of electricity or of gravity.

It is easy to see that such an ‘external dialectic’,
as Sartre calls it, is useless from the point of view
of the problem of conceptualiSing the different levels
of human history, in that it is incapable, in itself,
of defending Marxism against the ‘organicism’ of
general laws of history in which individual action
and experience never get a look in. Sartre avoids
the Engelsian ‘external dialectic’ by Simply identifying dialectic, or at least the dialectic of human history, with praxis, and to define the basic dialectical
concepts on this basis. The agent’s purposes become
the fundamental dialectical theSis, obstacles to them
are the negation, and the agent’s response is i:he
negation of the negation. These definitions are outstandingly clear and straightforward, and obviously
avoid making dialectic ‘external’ to human history;
but what exactly are their philosophical implications,
and how do they relate to the pOSitions of Engels?

Sartre’s discussion of this issue has three elements. The first is the distinction between dialectical and analytical reason. The basic contrast is that
analytical reasan treats its objects as unchanging and
and externally related, whereas dialectical reason
‘sets them in motion’, seeing them as developing
and interacting. For Sartre, the chief examples of

25

analytifal reason are technocratic bourgeois economics and scientific management and the structuralism of Levi-Strauss, while the chief examples of
dialectical reason are the works of Marx, revolutionary proletarian thought in general, and (though
unwittingly) the writings of certain bourgeois historians and sociologists. This distinction possesses
a certain rough clarity, but it obviously lacks
preciSion (as Levi-Strauss demonstrated in his
remarks about it in the closing chapter of The
Savage Mind). Sartre attempts to sharpen the distinction by associating analytical reason with the
‘rigidity’ of mathematics, but this attempt is strikingly unsuccessful; it depends on an extremely
metaphorical description of mathematics, and has
the unfortunate result of condemning dialectical
thought to innumeracy. A brief footnote reference
to cybernetics and games theory towards the end of
the book suggests that he may himself have developed doubts about its correctness; and perhaps the
attempt is best forgotten. This leaves the distinction
between dialectical and analytical reason rough but
still serviceable.

The second element in Sartre’s discussion of the
implications of his concept of dialectic is an ontological distinction between human praxis characterised by freedom, and the natural world, ‘Characterised by determinism. Contrary to what Sartre
supposes, the purposive behaviour of ‘totalising’

agents does not constitute any kind of breach of
.causal
. determination in nature; on the contrary ‘ it
IS SImply a form of natural determination. And one
need only think of biology, ecology, animal psychology and artificial intelligence to recognise that
purposiveness is not a monopoly of human beings.

the distinction between purposive and non-purpasive
processes is one thing, and the attempt to open an
ontological gulf between human action and nature
another: and the former is all that is presupposed
by Sartre’s social concepts, while the latter is a
kind of superstitious hangover from the existentialist metaphysics of his earlier work, Being and
Nothingness (1943). The dualism of human freedom
and natural determination is a piece of ideological
baggage which the social concepts developed in the
Critique have no obligation to carry.

The third element in Sartre’ s discussion of his
concept of dialectic is that he tries to align the two
distinctions I have just described, claiming that
dialectical reason applies only to free human praxis,
and that analytical reason is fully adequate to the
description of the natural world. Thus in his anxiety
to vindicate an anti-positivist account of social
science Sartre accepts without question a positivist
account of natural sc~nce (see Peter Ruben, Problem und Begriff der Naturdialektik, in Griese &
Laitko, eds., Weltanschauung und Methode,
Berlin 1969).

Altogether, Sartre’s explicit discussion of
dialectic is a very unsatisfactory mixture of imprecision and unnecessarily implausible metaphysics. But this does not mean that there is anything wrong with the social concepts with which
Sartre attempts to describe the dialectic of human
history; on the contrary, it means that he misinterprets their implications – in particular, that he
mistak~nly thinks that his attempt to root the
dialectic of human history in human praxis.presupposes that human praxis is ontologically unique.

Indeed, it is not even in direct opposition to Engels’s
concept of dialectic: it is, rather, an attempt to
define the specificity of the dialectic of human
history, which is a matter which Engels simply left
open. It might have been better if Sartre had allowed

26

his concept of dialectic to speak for itself.

3 Sartre and Individualism
Sartre’s procedure of defining social concepts on the
basis of individual praxis has the obvious advantage
of encompassing the manifestly absurd dualism of
the individual and history, and related dualisms of
the psychological and the social, etc. But Sartre’s
solution is often reproached for being ‘individualistic’ (see for example Ronald Aronson, ‘Sartre’s
Individualist Social Theory’, Telos Summer 1973).

Three bases for the accusation can be distinguished.

The first is what might be described as Sartre’s
psychologism. Sartre’s social descriptions are
emphatically psychological, in that when describing
social phenom.ena, whether at the individual, serial
or group level, he gives extensive coverage to how
the situations are experienced by the people involved
in them. But these descriptionE! are offered only as
accounts of one specific level of a complex formation: Sartre does not try to reduce practical ensembles to their psychological level. For instance,
in the case of serial ensembles, people’s experiences, as described by Sartre, are systematically
at odds with the serial processes in which they are
participating. Moreover, Sartre’s theory of psychology, even in his pre-Marxist works, is firmly antiindividualistic, in that the contents of the individual
psyche are always presented as the interiorisation
of a social situation. And in the Critique, social
ensembles (groups and series) are defined as
creating forms of behaviour which would not be
possible for isolated individuals, and which are irreducible to individual praxis. Thus there is not
anything individualistic about Sartre’s psychologism.

The second basis for the idea that the categories
of the Critique are individualistic is Sartre’ s insistence on the errors of ‘organicism’, that is, of
treating social ensembles as though they functioned
independently of the individuals in them. Consequently he insists that all’ kinds of social processes, even
though irreducible to the behaviour of isolated individuals, must be conceptualised in a way that makes
it clear that they are nothing over and above the
actions of real people. By any standards, this is a
reasonable stipulation. Furthermore, by insisting
on it, Sartre manages to bring into relief an important category of social phenomena which are individual as opposed to social, in the sense that they
depend on the boundaries of the individual biological
life. In particular, he emphasises the historical
importance of the fact that, even if a class may
survive for centuries, the individuals in it do not.

He uses this to illuminate the difference between the
first and the second generation of industrial capital:ists in France, and to explain how the Nazis related
to the German defeat in World War One essentially
as something inflicted on different individuals, a

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different generation. If such observations are individualIstic, then Sartre’ s individualism is a strength.

The third basis for criticising Sartre as individualistic is the fact that the basic category of the
Critique is ‘individual praxis’. However, Sartre
also emphasises that there is no one-to-one correspondence between individuals and praxes: one person
can be involved in many praxes, even conflicting
ones, and some praxes belong to groups or series
rather than to individuals. For this reason, ‘individual praxis’ is really a misnomer. Sartre’ s basic
category ought really to be called ‘simple praxis’

– corresponding to the ‘Simple exchange’ and ‘simple
commodity production’ from which Marx develops
the concepts of Capital. With this modification, the
accusation of indiwdualism becomes baseless.

4 The Critique, Philosophy and Sociology
The systematic character of the argument of the
Critique makes it hard to allocate separate elements
of the work to different academic disciplines – the
metaphysics to philosophy, the social concepts to
sociology, and the particular descriptions to history.

Some of the problems of trying to organise such a
conceptual carve-up are illustrated by two recently
published books on Sartre, each of which is an
attempt, by a Marxist, to appropriate Sartre to a
specific discipline – the first, to philosophy, the
second, to sociology. Pietro Chiodi’ s Sartre and
Marxism (which appeared in its original Italian
version in 1965) is an attempt to set Sartre in a
homogeneous philosophical tradition leading through
Hegel, Marx, Kierkegaard, Husserl and Heidegger,
and the value of this translation is the unfamiliarity
of this perspective to English readers. However,
there is a danger that the book will enjoy an undeserved popularity (in fact it is favourably reviewed elsewhere in this issue): it is essentially a
brusque dismissal of the claims of the Critique to
represent a contribution to ‘Marxist philosophy’ and
English· readers may well be grateful to it for providing a rationalisation for not reading such a long
and difficult book as the Critique. For Chiodi,
‘Marxist philosophy’ is a meditation on the themes
of ‘praxis’, ‘commitment’, ‘determination’, ‘objectification’ and ‘alienatIon’, and the characteristic
of Sartre’ s system is that it ‘identifies alienation
with objectification’, which, according to Chiodi,
proves him to be no Marxist since it was precisely
this identification which Marx attacked in Hegel,
and which created conceptual room for the idea of
objectification without alienation (socialism). Apart
from .ignoring all the problems of defining a
‘Marxist concept of alienation’, this comparison
of Sartre and Marx depends on a truly astonishing
identification of different meanings of ‘alienation’.

It is true that Sartre holds that when praxis inscribes itself on the resistant, inert material
world, it is always liable to be falsified, diverted
or appropriated: for instance, that once my plan of
making a table starts to be embodied in some bits
of wood, it becomes liable to all kinds of changes
over which I may have no power, like destruction
in a fire. And although Sartre himself does not use
the words ‘objectification’ and ‘alienation’ systematically in this sense, there is nothing wrong with
describing this conception as an identification of
alienation and objectification. However, if this is
done, then the Critique must be interpreted as proposing distinctions between several varieties of
alienation – under the three main headings of individual, series, and gr oup – and the only Sartrian
concept which could plausibly be identified with
‘the Marxist concept of alienation’ is that of serial-

ity – whose disappearance is certainly a possibility
envisaged in Sartre’ s system. And if socialism
really presupposed the abolition of alienation in the
comprehensive sense, socialism would mean a
kind of cosmic apothe.osis in which the individual
disappeared into a homogeneous universe, in which
there was no gap between desire and object, between
need and fulfilment – in other words, where desire
and need were no more: a primal scream. It is just
as well that.Sartre is not committed to the idea of
an end of alienation which Chiodi treats as a central
tenet of ‘Marxist philosophy’.

Chiodi regards the Critique as a purely philOsophical book; he does not consider any of the problems in social theory that Sartre was trying to deal
with. lan Craib’ s unpretentious and constructive
Existentialism and Sociology does a lot to make
good this deficiency. He writes as a profeSSional
sociologist bringing Sartre’ s philosophy to the aid of
his diScipline, and his book consists of a number of
accounts of Sartrian notions in Being and Nothingness and the Critique. These accounts are short and
simple, though sufficient to bear out Craib’s contention that there are fundamental similarities between
the two works. They are interleaved with criticisms
of modern sociology, in particular of writings by
Gouldner, Garfinkel and Goffman and with discussions of the sociology of sociology. This interleaving
may make the book more acceptable to professional
sociologists, but it has unfortunate effects on the
sort of theoretical discussion that the book is able
to encompass: it prevents Craib from offering an
integrated account of Sartre’s aims, concepts -and
principles from the point of view of social theory,
and also means that he tends to merely juxtapose
sociological theory with Sartre’s philosophy, without really showing how concrete sociological concepts might be formulated on the basis of the
avowedly abstract arguments of the Critique. Nevertheless, for its comparisons between broadly
Sartrian social descriptions and modern sociology,
this book presents a useful perspective on Sartre
and performs a useful bridge-building role.

5 – Sartre’s Idealism
In spite of their power and coherence, Sartre’s
social concepts contain a crucial area of blindness.

The origin of the blindness is Sartre’s mockKantianism: that is, the fact that his objective is to
specify the conditions for understanding any praxis,
regardless of its content. This enables him to move
imperceptibly to the assumption that the content of
human praxis simply is its form, so that the aim of
praxis becomes simply the preservation of its own
purposiveness as against ‘otherness’. This elision
leads Sartre to the belief that the whole of human
experience can be laid out along a Single dimenSion,
petween praxis and the other, between dominion and
subjection. It involves the same kind of abstraction
as an economic theory which operates purely in
terms of value, and never in terms of use value.

It makes Sartre rule out the possibility that, say,
the water and the sunshine, the wine and the conversation, could simply be enjoyed because – for some
contingent material reason, and as a matter of brute
fact – they satisfy your needs and desires: for
Sartre, enjoyment is simply success in the struggle
to realise oneself against otherness. (Sartre’ s one
concession to the importance of material factors in
historical explanation is his concept of scarcity; but
this refers to a purely quantitative relation between
human needs and the means to supply them, rather
than to their specific material qualities. )
But if Sartre’s emphasis on the struggle for dom27

ination of the other is an irrational abstraction, it is
not inc6mprehensible. The struggle for domination.

(like the pursuit of value independent of use value)
is not the necessary structure of all praxis, but it
is certainly an important historical form of it. On
some definitions of politics, it is the fundamental
form of the political. Seen in this way, Sartre’s abistraction corresponds to a purely political view of
history – a view which abstracts from the material
conditions of life of different classes, and concentrates exclusively on their power-relations. And this
indicates the specific political location of the social
concepts developed in the Critique. They belong with
the political aspirations of 1968: with Debray’s
‘revolution in the revolution’, with the idolisation of
Che Guevara, with the theory that student occupations of educadbnal premises might constitute
‘revolutionary foci’ or ‘red bases’, and with the
analysis of the Chinese cultural revolution as pure
spontaneous mass sovereignty. (cf Sartre’ s political
analyses in ‘France: Masses, Spontaneity, Party’,
in Between Existentialism and Marxism (NLB))
Assuming that the idealism of the Critique can be
corrected, what is Sartre’s achievement worth? The
Simplest and most attractive answer is given by a
recent French attempt to rehabilitate Sartre. In an
article in Le Magazine Litteraire 103-4, September
1975 (reprinted in Politiques de la Philosophie, ed.

Grisoni! Grasset 1976), Dominique Grisoni argues
that ‘$attre’s undertaking is a direct and radical
tr:;tnscendence of structuralism’. His argument is
that the Critique develops both the concept of struct-

ures (which correspond to series and can be grasped
by analytical reason), and the concepts of humanaction and historical development, and that structuralism, in the name of a rigorous concept of science,
simply concentrates on the former and forgets the
latter.

This attempt to engineer a detente between structuralism and Sartre has a lot to recommend it. For
one thing, Sartre’s system contains many ‘structuralist’ ideas – for instance, the specificity of the
principles governing different social ensembles; the
relative independence and the different temporalisations of the different levels of a social formation
and history as a process without a subject. For ~n­
other, as everyone acknowledges, the concepts of
historical transition and of human action and experience are extremely difficult to conceptualise in
structuralist terms.

From this point of view, structuralism appears as
filling in one section of the grand Sartrian scheme the plan of an integrated social, political and psycho ..

logical theory inspired by the idea of history as the
product of human praxis. But Sartre’s scheme
remains little more than a hopeful sketch: however
coherent Sartre’ s social concepts, they remain so
abstract that they can scarcely be brought to bear
on any concrete political, historical or sociological
controversy. And Sartre would no doubt agree: for
this task was reserved for Volume Two of the
<:;ritique. The question is, why was he unable to
finish it ?

THE CREAToRI OUR CREATloNI
Dr. Thomas B. Warren is the professor of Religion and Christian
Apologetics at the Harding Graduate School of Religion in Memphis,
Tennessee.

He received the -Doctorate Degree from Vanderbilt
University in the field of Philosophy of Religion. He is the author
of fourteen books and numerous others are in preparation at this
time. Among those completed include A Sun and Shield For Troubled
Hearts and Have Atheists Proved There Is No God? He is the editor
of the Spiritual Sword and radio speaker for “Five Gospel Minutes.”

Proposition:

“I Know that God Does Exist”
Affirmative: Dr. Thomas B. Warren
Negative: Dr. A.G. N. Flew
September 22-23

_-J

Dr. A.G.N. Flew is the professor of Philosophy at the University
of Reading, near London, England. He is internationally known for
his ability and scholarship in defense of the atheistic position. His
writings are known extensively among philosophers and theologians.

Among Dr. Flew’s contributions to the literary world are God and
Philosophy, An Introduction to Western Philosophy and Logic and
Language I and 11. There is no doubt that he ranks as one of the
most capable men holding to the atheistic position.

Proposition:

“I Know that God Does Not Exist”
Affirmative: Dr. A.G.N. ‘Flew
Negative: Dr. Thomas B. Warren
September 20-21

~,YOU IXAMINI

‘~~,~

THIIVIDINCI_
SIPTIMBIR 20-23

NORTH TEXAS STATE UNIVERSITY COLISEUM
DENTON, TEXAS

The debate of the century~
28

in subject-matter from individual to
collective history, is that which led
him to introduce the notions of
Pietro Chiodi, Sartre and Marxism,
‘needs’ and ‘scarcity’, and give
trans Kate Soper, Harvester Press,
them a fundamental role in his ana1976, £6.95
lysis of human existence. Sartre
never believed in an unlimited or
Sartre and Marxism is a critical exposition of the later phase of Sartre’s unsituated freedom, but he did, in
Being and Nothingness, believe in
thought, as expressed in The
an unconditioned and unmotivated
Problem of Method and The Critique
of Dialectical Reason. It situates that ,one. Certainly he recognised that
one does not desire just anything at
thought in relation to three philoany time, but his theory made it
sophical tendencies – those of Hegel,
impossible to say why. Now he
‘primitive’ (pre-Sartrean) existenrecognises that the human project
tialism, and Marxism, and one of its
does not aris_e (literally) out of
principal concerns is to disentangle
nothing, but is a response to £ partithe uses of certain terms common to
cular negative fact – need. Along
these tendencies, notably ‘alienation’

with this goes some sort of recogniand ‘objectification’. This task of
tion that the ‘perspective of conflictt
pisentanglement is carried out
in which all relations between people
masterfully, and the strongest parts
were seen in Being and Nothingness,
of the book are those devoted to it.

is not something built into the structChiodi’s book has many advantages
ure of existence, but is a result of
over other writing on Sartre’s relascarcity – a historical reality of
tion to Marxism. Non-Marxist adwhich we can project the abolition.

mirers of Sartre generally take one
However the perspective of conflict
of two attitudes to his attempt to
does not disappear quite so easily;
unite existentialism and Marxism.

that it does not is bound up with the
Either they see it as a regrettable
central issue in Chiodi’ s book lapse from his earlier ‘individualSartre’s conflation of objectification
ism’ and love of freedom, or they
and alienation. It is because of this
see him as conferring on Marxists
conflation, Chiodi believes, that
.the privilege of having a great philoSartre fails to resolve many of the
,sopher to sort out their insoluble
problems of his earlier work, and
theoretical problems. It is seldom
that his later thought remains presuspected that there might be intelmarxist, rather than being the relectual resources within Marxism
quired renovation of Marxism.

which Sartre could use to sort out
Chiodi lays down certain formal
some of the difficulties of his own
requirements for any theory of alienearlier philosophy. Marxists on the
,ation. These he summarises in a
other hand too often accept the idea
definition: alienation “is the negative
‘that Sartre’s thought is ‘individualprocess by which a subject makes
ist’ and therefore non-Marxist,
himself other than himself by virtue
without noticing that the term ‘individualism’ llas too many senses to be ‘of a constraint which is capable of
being removed on the initiative of the
much use, or that no one emphasized
subject himself” (p80). ‘Negative’

human interdependence more stronghere seems to mean simply ‘undesirly than Sartre in Being and Nothingable’. Hegel’ s notion of alienation
~. Once again this leads to
does not conform to this definition,
Sartre’s approach towards Marxism
as the alienation of Spirit in Nature
being seen as a leap in the dark
is necessary to its objective expresrather than an intelligible developsion (and hence not merely’ negative)
ment.

and in the end, the whole process is
In Chiodi’s book we can see, from
only an apparent alienation anyway.

a Marxist perspective, both the conThe Absolute remains itself in all its
tinuity and the development of
adventures. The Marxist theory of
Sartre’s thought. Much of the book is
alienation (i. e. that of Marx’s early
an exposition of Sartre’s progress,
writings) does meet the conditions.

and I sometimes found it difficult to
discover to what extent Chiodi agreed Real individuals are subjected to an
undesirable constraint by which their
with Sartre, given that he obviously
powers come to be at the disposal of
approves of the direction in which
an antagonistic class; this state of
Sartre’s thought has moved. Sartre
affairs can be remedied by working
set out both to correct the errors of
class political action. In this view,
Being and Nothingness and to renovalienation and de-alienation are proate the ossified Marxism of the time.

cesses which occur in quite definite
He made some progress in both
historical conditions; they are in no
matters. Negatively, his criticisms
way inherent in the human situation.

,of Marxist theory in the Stalinist era
Objectification on the other hand were direct hits — the economism
the expression of human activity in
and ‘suppression of particularity’

the objective world, the process by
that was content with saying
which the being and activity of one
‘Flaubert was a petty-bourgeois’,
person are established in the world
and forgot that not every pettyof others – this is a necessary feature
bourgeois was Flaubert. So far as
of any non-solipsistic world, and it
his own existentialism was conwould be perverse to see it as
cerned, the most important change
negative.

in Sartre’s position since Being and
The case of existentialism is differNothingness, other than the change

Alienations

ent again: alienation is seen as an
ineliminable feature of the human-con·
dition, and this is partly (and especially in Sartre) due to the idea that any
objective reality, however much an
expression of someone’s intentions,
is a degradation of their subjectivity,
a descent to a subhuman level of
being (that of an ‘object’, which here
has both the sense of object as
opposed to subject and object as
opposed to person. It has both senses
just because for the existentialist it
is precisely subjecthood which is
definitive of persons). So that, as
‘with Hegel, every objectification is
an alienation for the existentialist;
yet at the same time~ alienation has
all the negative connotations that it
does in Marxism. Existentialism
then is a metaphySical rebellion
‘against a metaphYSical necessity.

It is when we come to look at the
nature of human reciprocity that the
consequences of this position are
really disastrous. Reciprocity comes
to be seen as unavoidably negative:

“my relations with the other-asobject are essentially made up of
ruses designed to make him remain
an object” said Sartre in Being and
Nothingness (p297). (In fact some
religious existentialists have
believed a non-objectifying reciprocity to be possible – Berdyaev’s
communion of souls, Buber’s I-Thou
relations – but unless this involves a
tacit denial of the existentialist confusion of alienation with objectificatiQn, it must_ !:>~~ incoherent. )

Chiodi’s well-argued contention is
that alienation remains ineliminable
and reciprocity unavoidably negative
‘for 3artre in the Critique of Dialectical Reason as well as in Being and
Nothingness. despite the new stress
on need and scarcity, which might
have given reason to hope that this
sad state of affairs was historically
specific and conquerable. This is
not without its political implications.

The fusion of previously atomised
individuals into a group does not
overcome negative reciprocity, it
merely collectivizes it. The group
as a whole remains alienated. It
directs the violence of its members
’29

agamst a common enemy but its
intern!tl life is (a priori) ‘not based on
.any positive reciprocity, so that as
soon as its cohesion is threatened
it can only survive by terror. Th~re
seems to be here a sort of a priori
argument against the possibility of
democratic centralis m (I mean demo~
cratic centralis m as it is supposed
to be; what passes as democratic
centralism all too often is horribly
recognizable in Sartre’s phenomenology of the Group). The agents of
.historical change cannot therefore
be classes, organised on democratic
lines, as for Marx; they must be
groups which are in essence monolithic. As Chiodi puts it:

‘De-alienation thus becomes
possible only through the suppression of objectification, which in
being a feature of the reciprocal
relation of multiplicity, can only
be suppressed through the suppression of multiplicity itself. ‘

(p93)
There is here a philosophical justification of Stalinism which can never
be found in the pages of Marx and
Lenin.

I am in complete agreement with
Chiodi that the conflation of objectification and alienation is a fatal flaw
in existentialism. The question remains: what if anything is the positive contribution of existentialism to
the theory of alienation? Chiodi
tells us:

‘Sartre is right when he rejects
the “ease” with which alienation
in Marx comes to be suppressed
(i. e. the identification of this
with the suppression of its
capitalist basis), but he is
wrong in believing that the way
of rendering de-alienation less
easy lies via a return to the
Hegelian identification between
alienation and objectification’

(plOO)
He also takes the view that Marxism
deals with economic alienation, but
that it would be dogmatic to deny that
there was any other kind, or to
assert that all other kinds would disappear with the economic kind. Is
there a possibility of a division of
labour between Marxism and a demystified existentialism (i. e. one
which has learned to make the distinction between objectification and
alienation)? I am inclined to think
that existentialism is both nearer
the truth (phenomenologically) and
further from it (in terms of values
and practice) that Chiodi thinks.

It is ·worth noting in this connection
that, despite Marx,’ s clear insistence in the 1844 Manuscripts that
objectification is a necessary and
positive phenomenon, probably most
readers spontaneously miss this
point and identify it with alienation.

Also, that in those of his works that
he saw fit to publish, Marx replaced
the term ‘alienation’ by others that
could not be misread in this sense.

On the nature of such things as the
30

exploitation of labour, the subordination of the worker to the machine
or the subordination of human in- ‘

tentions to the self -expansion of
capital, the Marx of Capital leaves
no room for misinterpretation.

But Kierkegaard, Heidegger and
Sartre are talking about something
quite different, something which is’

precisely what people want to see in
the idea of an alienation, and something which really is bound up with
objectification; a problem therefore
which is insoluble, but which is nonetheless experienced as a problem.

The problem is this: on the one hand
we have egocentric illusions – the
feeling that one is unique, the desire
to be appreciated for one’s ‘self’,
seen as quite distinct from all one’s
‘accidental’ characteristics which
constitute one’s ‘objective’ being,
one’s being-for others; the conception of oneself as first a centre of
experience and originator of action,
and only afterwards entering into
relations of interdependence with
others. Everyone no doubt, at times
at least, lives by these illusions.

They show themselves in the dislike
of being ‘labelled’, in resentment at
being ‘used’ (even when this does not
imply being harmed), and so on.

On the other hand there are the inescapable facts that we are ‘objects’

before we are ‘subjects’, absolutely
interdependent and only relatively
independent, that the ‘self’ is defined
by ‘others’, that the being of an individual is composed entirely of perfectly objective qualities, which can
be known and labelled by others.

This dilemma is I think the root of
the experience of ‘alienation’, which
leads people to recognize their experience in this concept. But this
concept of alienation has nothing
whatsoever to do with any Marxist
one, and the experience is better
described in existentialist terms
like the lostness of the self in the
‘they’ (Heidegger), or in Sartre’s
idea that “The Other holds a secret
– the secret of what I am”, and in
pis account of personal relations as
the inevitable (but necessarily unsuccessful) struggle to wrest the
secret from the other by violence.

The great error of the existentialists – and Sartre more than any – is
to take this experience as a datum
and seek solutions in its own terms.

The ‘solution’ to this ‘alienation’

can only lie in the knowledge that the
egocentric illusions ru:.g illUSions,
and in a practice based on this knowledge. Such practices do exist, mainly in a mystified form (e. g. the
pursuit of loss of self in mysticism).

But the point here is that one should
make the sharpest possible distinction between real, politically soluble
problems (exploitation, oppre~sion,
the irrationality of the market economy) and problems which are the
effects of illusion, and are insoluble
if taken at face value.

It remains to be asked: Is there
any intermediate area of alienation,

not based on illusion and therefore
capable of meeting the formal requirements for a case of real alienation, but at the same time not
restricted to the economic sphere?

There are of course forms of
oppression ~ ich belong to the ideologico-political superstructure, and
which can be removed by political
action, though their disappearance
cannot be expected as an automatic
effect of economic changes. But unless one wishes to call every form
of oppression ‘alienation’, I see no
reason for applying the term to
these. It can hardly be to these that
Chiodi is referring when he leaves
open the possibility of forms of
alienation outside the province of
Marxism as such. Sartre characterises alienation in this way:

‘The man who looks upon his work,
who recognises it as his in every
way, and yet at the same time
does not recognise it at all; who
can say both: “That isn’t what I

“I understand that
it’s what I made and that I
couldn’t have made it any other”. ‘

(quoted by Chiodi, p89)
Certainly there are many cases which
this passage brings to mind. They
range from cases of ‘displacement’,
where the fulfilment of a conscious
desire does not bring satisfaction
because the desire was only the symbolic expression of an unconscious
wish, to cases shading off into simple
failure, as when nobody laughs at my
jokes. I suspect that these cases
have no necessary connection either
with the objectification-experiencedas- alienation of the existentialists
and of everyday mystified experience,
or with the alienated labour of the
proletariat, and indeed have little in
common with each other. The
reasons why the unsatisfactory result
occurs are too different to make it
useful to subsume them under a single
concept. We can understandthe diverse
phenomena referred to as~ ‘~llienation’

better if we abandon iha~ word.

In conclusion: Chiodi has provided
us with a convincing criticism of
existentialism as a theoretical ideology, and a demonstration of the continued presence of that ideology in
Sartre’s ‘Marxist’ phase. I would
like to see more recognition of the
fact that existentialism is not just
something cooked’ up by a few philosophers, but reflects an ideology
with deep roots in our everyday experience; the mistakes of existentiallam are not rectified until that exper ..

ience is demystified. Andrew Collier

Nasty Tales
Michel Foucault (ed. ): I, Pierre
Riviere, having slaughtered my
mother. my Sister and my brother
. .. A case of parricide in the 19th
century, trans.’ Frank Jellinek,
Random House (Pantheon Books)
New York, 1975, £5.50 (original
edition Gallimard/ Juillard,
Collection Archives, Paris, 1973,
pb £2.28)
“Particulars and explanation of the
occurrence on June 3 at Aunay at the
village of La Faucterie written by the
author of this deed. I, Pierre
lUviere, having slaughtered my
mother, my sister and my brother,
and wishing to make known the motives which led me to this deed, have
written down the whole of the life
which my father and my mother led
together since their marriage … I
shall then tell how I resolved to
commit this crime, what my thoughts
were at the time, and what was my
intention. I shall also say what went
on in my mind after doing this deed,
the life I led among people, and the
places I was in after the crim’e up to
my arrest and what were the resolutions I took. All this wO!”k will be
very crudely styled, for I know only
how to read and write, but all I ask
is that what I mean shall be understood, and I have written it all down
as best I can. ” (p54 – emphasis
added)
So opens a narrative of some 25,000
words written in July 1835 by Pierre
Riviere, a Breton peasant aged 20,
as an adjunct to his interrogation by
the examining magistrate at Falaise.

These opening lines indicate some- .

thing of the extraordinary and riveting quality of this document, which
forms the central ‘exhibit’ of the
legal and medical dossier of Riviere’E
trial, assembled here from local
archives and contemporary press
reports and published together with
seven ‘Notes’ by members of a
seminar organised in Paris in 1971-2
by Michel FoucaJlt. (Rivi”ere’s
memoir was published, in garbled
form, by the Annales d’Hygiene at
the time of his trial; the affair shortly afterwards lapsed into complete
oblivion.) The documents begin with
the circumstances of the murders,
recorded in the eye-witness statements of villagers, doctors and
officials, continue with the hue-andcry, the arrest, interrogation and
trial of Riviere, and end with Louisphilippe’s commutation of the sentence of death to one of life imprisonment, and Riviere’ s suicide in
prison in 1840.

, The seminar which produced this
book formed part of a programme of
research, instigated.in 1970 by
Michel Foucault at the College de
France with his inaugural lecture
‘L’Ordre du Discours’, into the relationships between knowledge, desire
and power, especially as manifested

in the discourses of ‘human’ and
‘social’ sciences. Part of the
summary of Foucault’s course given
in 1971-2 on ‘Penal theories and
institutions’ formulates the approach
as follows:

“The working hypothesis will be
this: power relationships (with the
struggles traversing them, or the
institutions that maintain them) do
not only play with respect to knowledge the role of a facilitation or of
an obstacle; they are not content
merely to favour or stimulate it, to
falsify or limit it; power and knowledge are not linked to each other
solely by the play of interests or
ideologies; the problem, therefore,
is not just that of determining how
power subjugates knowledge and
makes it serve its ends, or how it
imprints its mark on knowledge,
imposes on it ideological contents
and limits. No body of knowledge can
be formed without a system of communications, records, accumulation
and displacement which is in itself a
form of power and which is linked,
in its existence and functioning, to
the other forms of power. Conversely, no power can be exercised without the extraction, appropriation,
distribution or retention of knowledge.

On this level, there is not knowledge
on the one side and society on the
other, or science and the State, but
only the fundamental forms of ‘knowledge/power’ (‘pouvoir-savoir’) …

The truth of experimentation (experience) is the child of inquisition – of
the power, political, administrative
and judicial, to put questions, extort
answers, gather testimonies, test
affirmations, establish facts. ”
The elaboration of this thesis can
be found in Foucault’s genealogies of
the modern asylum, hospital and prison, their corresponding institutional
structures and fields of discourse
with their complex modes of material
and epistemological interdependence.

The dossier on Pierre Riviere
offers a fascinating illustration of
such a play of forces at work, and, in
Foucault’s words, ” … the documents
give us a key to the relations of
power, dominatio~ and conflict within which discourses emerge and
function, and hence provide material
for a potential analySiS of discourse,
even of scientific dis~ourses, which
may be both tactical and political,
and therefore strategic” (pp. xi-xii).

The separate parts form an intricate,
conflicting series of ‘discourses’,
each one produced according to the
conditions of a particular social
place and role, a particular focus of
power and set of practices. The
‘Notes’ contributed by members of
the seminardon’t pretend to constitute an exhaustive, or unanimous,
commentary on this dossier, but pro·
vide a wealth of information situating
it in its political, social and ‘archaeological’ context. (We learn, for
instance, of the close association
between parricide and political
assassination in a regime’ upholding

the family as a symbol of the social
order, and the reluctance of juries
to convict in parricide cases; of the
collective professional interests at
stake for the Paris psychiatrists
who intervened on F iv’iere’s behalf;
of the echoes in Riviere’s memoir
of the crime stories in popular contemporary broadsheets; of the preceding series of bizarre and widely
publicised murders. ) Foucault and
his colleagues have abstained, however, from any systematic ‘reading’

(psychoanalytic or otherwise) of
Riviere’s own text; in keeping with
the purpose of the ‘Archives’ series,
they have chosen rather Simply to
present it and to indicate what was
afterwards done with, and to, it. In
the end the reader has to decide for
himself whether, and how, Riviere’s
request “that what I mean shall be

understood” can be better satisfied
than by his judges’ silent incomprehension, without, as Foucault warns,
lapsing again into the reductive violence of an institutional ‘reading’.

It is, at all events, the haunting
personality of Pierre Riviere which
emerges most memorably from this
book. Many striking episodes in his
life are recalled by witnesses. The
parish priest noted, and disputed,
Riviere’s reputation in his village as
an ‘idiot’: “On the contrary. I have
always noted in him an aptitude for
science and a most remarkable
memory, but he seemed to have!

skew in his imagination. ” (p26)
Rivi~re himself tells in his memoir
how “I also resolved to distinguish
myself by making completely new instruments, I wanted them to be created in my imagination. I resolved
first to make a tool to kill birds such
as never before had been seen. I
named it ‘calibene’ … I had also resolved to make an instrument to
churn butter all by itself and a carriage to go aJI by itself with springs,
which I wanted to produce onl~ in my
imagination … ” (pl03). Riviere’s
memoir elicited from the examining
magistrate the comment: “No doubt
many of the thoughts expressed in it
denote a deplorable aberration of
ideas and judgement, but it is far
from being the work of a madman,
and its style is not the least surprising thing in its composition. ” The
local paper reported, “It is stated
that the memoir of which we are
31

speaking is wholly rational and written in such a way that it is impossible
to say which is the more astonishing,
its author’s memoir or his crime. ”
(pp50, 52)
The first and longest part of the
memoir is a meticulously constructed
history of the tribulations experienced over a period of twenty years
by his father, a’ mild and industrious
peasant farmer, at the hands of
?ierre’s mother and elder sister; it
represents his mother’s character
as one of relentless, demented vindictiveness and malice, an opinion
which local opinion appears to have
endorsed. Riviere chronicles with
obsessive precision the course of a
marital conflict progressively widened and embittered, under the conditions of a marriage contract which
constitutes the partners as antagonistic legal subjects, to entangle every
area of their lives – work, business,
land, family, property – in endless
rounds of domestic warfare and ‘conciliation proceedings I before the
local judge. The mother generally
seems to have had the better of this
curious form of litigation. Born into
this battlefield, the young Pierre
Riviere, in the words of a medical
witness, (“just as if he had to represent in himself alone an example of
every sort of delusion”), “imagined
that a fecundating fluid incessantly
flowed from his person and could
thus, in his own despite, render him
guilty of crimes of incest and of
others yet more revolting”. Riviere’s
whole narrative is, as Foucault says,
“a marvellous document of peasant
ethnology” – the ‘Notes’ barely discuss this aspect; although J-P. Peter
and J. Favret suggest that civil contract law formed the instrument for
the political control of the French
peasantry after the destruction of the
feudal order during the Revolution.

Riviere next presents “as it were a
summary of my private life and the
thoughts that have busied me to this
day”, which culminates in his resolution, inspired by his reading of historical and Biblical acts of selfsacrificing herOism, loyalty and vengeance, to rid his father for ever of
his wife’s and daughter’s persecu-‘

tions, and – what was to be considered the clearest proof of his insanity – to kill along with them his
younger brother, beloved by his
father and himself, in order that his
father should not afterwards have
cause to’ lament Pierre’s own death.

He planned originally to first write
his self – justifying memoir and then
to commit the murders, post the
memoir to the authorities and commit
suicide; but, finding it impossible to
write in secrecy, he resolved instead
to stand trial and vindicate himself
before his judges: “then I would make
my declarations that I would die for
my father, that no matter how much
they were in favour of women they’

would not triumph . .. it is the women
who are in command now in this fine
age of enlightenment, this nation
32

which seems to be so avid for liberty . point in the medico-Iegal arguments,
but none of these, as Riot shows,
and glory obeys women. .. I thought
it would be a great glory to have
used it in more than a distorted,
thoughts opposed to all my judges, to
selective or tangential fashion. Misdispute against the whole world, I
reading or partial reading was comconjured up Bonaparte in 1815 . ” I
pounded, as Peter :;1nd Favret note,
thought that an opportunity had come
by misprinting: “Almost any sort of
for me to raise myself, that my
nonsensical errors could be ascribed
name would make some noise in the
to a peasant; hence the copyist or the
world, that by my death I should
printer’s foreman constantly fabricover myself with glory, and that in
cated more of them than there really
time to (wme my ideas would be
were”.

One could wish that members of the
adopted and I should be vindicated”
seminar had elaborated further their
(my emphases). In the event, having
thesis on Riviere as having furnished,
carried out the murders he allowed
spontaneously and from below, and in
himself to be captured only after a
a form doomed to incomprehension,
month of wandering the countryside,
a demonstration of the limits of the
and wrote the memoir – at the repsychiatric orthodoxy and/or of the
quest of the magistrate – while under
‘official’ conception of man. No doubt
arrest, in the space of two weeks.

The courts were thus obliged to try
this would have meant confronting
a case which exacted both concern
the difficult issue, already touched 011
and sharp disagreement within and
on above, of what sort of epistemobetween levels of opinion, both public
logi cal procedure could yield an
and professional, from village to
adequate understanding of the ‘meancapital. The case happened at a time
ing’ of Riviere’s words and actions.

when the administration of ‘public
Foucault’s way of posing the terms
order’ under the post-revolutionary
of such a problem would not admit
regimes, shorn of its feudal props,
here of merely making an antiwas going through a stage of danger
psychiatric hero of Riviere. The
and uncertainty, and when psychiatry
elements out of which Riviere conwas heSitantly advancing towards instructed and put into execution his
stalling (or insinuating) itself as a
design, the edifying histories and
recognised instance of the legal syslegends purveyed in his elementary
tem, and a position of power alongeducation, were all parts of an offiside the prisons as custodian of the
cial popular ideology on which
social deviant. The Riviere dossier
Riviere, so to speak, simply perstrikingly illustrates how such instiformed his own formal operations of
tutional changes were manifested
displacement; while the form of conin a multiplicity of equivocations and
fessional autobiography of the memoppositions at the level of medical,
oir which Riviere wrote at the
legal and psychiatric discourses. At
court’s own request belonged among
the trial the GP who had examined
the customary resources of judicial
Riviere testified, against the medical
investigation (Foucault’s “child of
pleas for the defence, that, being
inquisition”) – as well as resembling
that of the crime stories popularised
neither ‘monomaniac’, ‘maniac’ nor
‘idiot’, he was therefore ‘not insane’

in the broadsheets. The Riviere case
(‘pas aliene’). The jury thereupon
thus stands in a complex position as
convicted Riviere of parricide, yet
an exception, or mutation, within
felt it necessary to concede that he
discursive norms, a position \hich
“had never been in full possession of
can probably only be adequately
his reason” (p141). The twists and
elucidated in terms of a general
turns of the ensuing controversy
social theory of discourse of the
indicate, as A. Fontana puts it, the
kind Foucault has proposed.

“constitutive limits” of the specialThe publication of this dossier is
ists’ “pretensions to the scientificity
to be warmly welcomed, and should
of medical knowledge”, pretensions
stimulate renewed interest in
hardly separable from the claim to
Foucault’s radical initiatives in this
institutional power.

field. An accessible British edition
But these historical and archaeoloshould be brought out without delay.

gical considerations are far from exCOLIN GORDON
hausting the Significance of Riviere’s
text, no less enigmatic now than in
1835. Its specific contribution to the
‘But most of the under~raduates
who come up to Oxford are not
affair, which would in any case have
going to be professional philoaroused controversy, appears, to
have been to render the yes/no quessophers. They’re going to be
tions as to its author’s sanity or madcivil servants and parsons and
ness, as determining his culpability,
politicians and lawyers.. and
rationality or responsibility, effectbusinessmen. And I think the
most important thing I can do
ively undecidable, perhaps even
is to teach them to think lucidly
meaningless. The categories and
– and linruistic analysis is
concepts so volubly deployed here by
frightfully useful for this. You
the forensic experts were confronted
only have to read the letters to
in Riviere with a kind of contrary disthe Times (for example) … ‘

course, a heterodox conjunction of
Hare
language and violence, which rendered them inoperable. To be sure,
the memoir was a constant reference

THE FOX
An art-journal for the vacillating
petit-bourgeoisie
ContenlS of’ FOX 3 Spring. 1976

inc’lude:

Historical & Dialec’tital Afaterialism,
On Hall.’ /laal’ke.

A,.,i.l’t,1 “or~ani:e” ill Ne , Y()rk.

7111‘ Orxani:{./tion of’ Culture Under
Monoflll/r Capita/ism.

An Art “F..’lll’mie,1 Li.~t”.

S()l’i%gh'{./I Art a.’ Utopian Stratl’K.’.

Comix & Rel’iew,I,

THE FOX Is a publication of
The Art & Language Foundation
and distributed by Jaap Rletman,
167 Spring St., NYC 10012
Subscriptions available from the
Distributor
59.00 per year; single copies 53.00 plus
,7~’ postage and handllna.

Psychic Gumption
Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of
Motorcycle Maintenance, Corgi
pb 95p, 1976
‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle
Maintenance’ is the title of that paperback with the blue cover design of the
lotus blossoming from a spanner that
everyone seemed to be carrying
around with them last summer. The
title, the cover design, a modest
price, and some rave reviews made
sure that a fair number of people
bought it and discussed it, though
whether many of them read it right
through to’the end is another matter.

After a number of spot checks I found
very few who claimed to have finished
the whole 400 pages. Still that’s
never stopped a book becoming something of a cult (remember ‘Giles Goat·
Boy’? A survey by a journal reported
that less than a quarter of the buyers
of that book actually got past halfway); in fact it’s probably a necessary
condition that they don’t. Anyway,
it’s a book that has had a lot of impact – non-academic impact – and is
well worth having a look at in the
pages of this journal.

First, what happens in the novel?

The exterior action of the story is
that some time after his mental
breakdown a writer of technical maintenance manuals takes his moody son
Chris as pillion rider on a motorcycle trip west from Chicago one
summer. The journey takes them
across the plains and up through high
Montana where they rest awhile and
climb a mountain, then they head
southwest through Oregon for the
J>acific and San Francisco. The ride
~s spectacular but their relationship
worsens; the narrator gets more and
~ore self-centred and his son more
flnd more neglected, until just north
of the Bay in the fog things hit rock
bottom.

Meantime there is an interior
journey of the memory. The narrator
finds himself retraCing his life from
confident, precocious beginnings
right through to his total mental
breakdown. As a fourteen year old
M-ndergraduate he found himself inicreasingly doubting more than he

accepted. He left college, drifted,
was drafted to Korea. Later he returned to the midwest and enrolled in
a Philosophy course. But after the
exquisiteness of Eastern thought he
found the vVestern tradition too harsh
and taxonomic. He returned East and
stayed for ten years at a Hindu univerSity until he was finally turned off
by the indifference and quiescence of
‘Eastern Philosophy. Back in the
States he married, had children,
graduated in journalism and began
hack teaching in Montana. But when
life seemed to be neatly predicated,
he started to see what was wrong and
what must be done. He began to live
more authentically. He changed his
mode and objectives of teaching. And
he engaged on a project that led eventuall~ to his mental breakdown – the
search for the nature and source of
‘Quality’ .

The two journeys are linked. by
‘Chautauquas’ – direct chats to the
reader – but actually coalesce in the
last pages of the book. His last image of his former self (whom he calls
‘Phaedrus’) is within the glass doors
of a mental hospital. On the outside
is his son, uncomprehending; his
father it seems does not care about
him. Juxtaposed to this image is the
reality of the boy, estranged, rocking backwards and forwards in the
Californian mist, crying; his father
has retreated into his memories
again, and again it seems is incommunicado. In this climax to the novel
the boy’s plight gets through to him
and a wakens his sense of concern one aspect of Quality. The boy, responding emotionally, wants reassurance from his father that even in the
hospital he had kept his reason, that
he had continued to believe what he
thought to be right – the other aspect
of Quality. Yes, his father replied,
he had. But he now saw that in taking
a purely intellectual journey in the
search for Quality he had ensured
that he could never find it. With the
end of his son’s estrangement from
him he found that other dimension of
human warmth and contact necessary
for the rediscovery of Quality.

The story then is a sort of true
romance for intellectuals. All the
action is internal. The landscape,
like a backdrop, keeps changing, but
the two actors scarcely move except
to embrace each other’ in the finale.

There is nothing very exciting here,
and indeed some may think that any
internal action would have to be very
strong to carry the interest through
until the end, and as I shall later
show, what is on offer is tedious in
the extreme. Fortunately however the
story itself does not really get under
way until near the end of section one.

It is preceded by some very fine writing and this is where the book is
genuinely exciting.

There are thirty-two chapters in the
book, divided into four sections. It is
the first section, the ride to Montana
with two friends, John and Sylvia,
that makes the book outstanding.

Familiar American themes appear;

the thrill of travelling; the fascination
with technological power; the celebration of nature, and the basic dissatisfaction with what people have done
with the power and the materials they
have. Pirsig digs deeper than most.

The. journey is solid, substantial experience and you are made aware of
the importance of the machine and the
concern the riders ought to have for
it. Pirsig also stresses how the mode
of travel affects perception – no
window frames – no spectator role in
storms, you’re really in there. The
treatment makes so many of those
other travelling novels seem crude or
literary in their approach, picking
out only the scenic and squalid;
attending more to destinations than to
travel, and exemplifying spendthrift
attitudes to the horses or cars or
planes that are used. And the conversations and incidents appear to develop naturally out of the journeying
and resting, really vyeing with the
best of the Western and hobo railroading films.

But it is in the analysis of dissatisfaction that Pirsig really scores in
comparison with other writers.

American heroes have been unsettled
by ambition for wealth of power and
have travelled to try to get them, or,
they have been driven by desires to
escape from circumstances that had
trapped them. But Pirsig coolly analyses dissatisfaction in terms of
different alienations. John and Sylvia
he sees as lacking a basic harmony,
resulting from their failure to make
appropriate adjustments to the conditions of their lives, and to take
appropriate initiatives to alter those
conditions. They seem to exemplify
those people who affect to despise
technology and blame machines for
all sorts of things, but who yet cannot live the life they enjoy best without them. They have, says Pirsig,
a sort of blind, scared romanticism.

They react to technology as if it was
something that sought to control
their lives, from which they had to
escape now and again. The narrator
tries to get them to understand
technology. How tools and instruments and machines are constructed
by men to use, to make life and work
more productive and rich. He wants
to show them that they have become
estranged from things they should be
at home with. But it is no good. They
cover their eyes. John kicks his
BMW, Sylvia curses a broken faucet.

Even this though is of less pain to
the narrator than the behaviour of car
mechanics who have become careless
butchers, showing no identification
with their work. They work hastily
yet casually, misdiagnosing faults
and ruining machinery. tVhy, asks
Pirsig. They are not romantics like
John and Sylvia. They are technologists themselves. Yet they treat their
work as means merely to,money.

They exemplify the spectatorial
atti tude, that separation of what man
is from what man does, characterized
by a lack of concern for the quality of
what they do.

33

The ~ection then is extremely intereveryday life – namely formal
esting, unusual and thoughtful. There
reason. So I proceeded with
is an absence of literary-style writformal reason up into metaphYSiCS
ing, and the plot has not got in the
and then into Quality and then
way of what Pirsig wants to say. The
from Quality back down into metanarrator describes, reminisces,
phYSics and science … (p269)
talks directly to the reader and so on.

7~–”
It’s easy and relaxed. And the analysis of the rational technology which
the narrator embarks upon, heralded
by the now well-known passage on
p18: ‘The Buddha, the Godhead,
resides quite as comfortably in the
circuits of a digital computer or the
gears of a cycle transmission as he
does at the top of a mountain or in the
petals of a flower’ has a lot of promise. But ominously, as early as p36,
‘Phaedrus’ is introduced, and by the
end of the first section the conventional bourgeois novel is under way and
Pirsig progressively loses his grip,
And’now the homespun, folksy,
and each section is worse than the
precepts-for-living sort of Chautauone that preceded it.

qua, sprinkled by the way with unSo, the title, the cover design, the
adulterated Kerouac:

first section are fine, and account for
Those crazy Rubaiyat Quatrains
the enthusiasm about the book. But
keep rumbling through my head.

the book is mainly a story; after all
Let’s get off Omar and onto the
it is four hundred pages long. And the
Chautauqua. Omar’s solution is
story is basically as I have outlined
just to sit around and guzzle the
at the beginning of the review. And
wine and feel so bad that time is
no-one who has picked up a copy of
passing and the Chautauqua looks
the book can fail to have noticed the
good to me by comparison. Partiwildly extravagant claims made for it
cularly today’s Chautauqua, which
by a gallery of cosmopolitan literary
is about gumption – the psychic
people. lt is almost as if, for some
gasoline … what I’m trying to
people, a Hegel’s Phenomenology of
come up with on these gumption
Spirit is locked up inside a Kerouac’s
traps, I guess, is shortcuts to
On1’he Road, with the chautauquas
living right. . . (P296)
like nothing so much as Thoreauvian
Is this an ‘astonishing literary perobservations.

formance’ (Sunday Times)? Toynbee
True. the book promises in its open(in the Observer) called it ‘a work
ing section such a heady chemistry,
of great, perhaps urgent, importance’.

but it just doesn’t deliver the goods,
Is that what you see in those paraand people have been deluding themgraphs, typical of many? Let me
selves if they think that it does. Nhat quote again:

does Pirsig come up with? In pl~ce of
When you’re bored, stop! Go to a
the original ideas and reasoning quali·
show. Turn on the TV. Call it a
day. Do anything but work on the
ties of the Hegelian epic we get
stitched together precis of Hume,
machine. If you don’t stop, the
Kant, ‘Classic Formalism’, ‘Scientinext things that happens i.3 the Big
fic Materialism’, the’ Tao Te Ching’

Mistake, and then all the boredom
and POincare. In place of Thoreau we
plus the Big Mistake combine toget chats that resemble nothing so
gether in one Sunday punch to
much as the ten-minute fillers that
knock all the gumption out of you
Religious Trusts buy on commercial
and you are really stopped …

radiO, and in place of Kerouac’s
(p310)
motifs we get … Kerouac’s motifS,
And this kind of straight-from-thethough not acknowledged as such.

shoulder Chautauqua has it~ political
.Let me give sQme examples.

side too. Judge for yourself, and
First the intellectual Chautauqua.

listen also to the reviewer of the
These are of two sorts. (i) the potted Village Voice: ‘ … it is a miracle
history of a philosophical or mathe. .. sparkles like an electric dream.

matical movement which it would be
Freshness, originality … ‘

pointless to reproduce here for it is
The reality of the American govitself reproduced,. and (ii) the
ernment isn’t static, he (Harry
authentic Pirsig sort:

Truman) said, it’s dynamic. If
Long Chautauqua today . .. so I
we don’t like it we’ll get somebacked up and shifted to the classicthing better. The American govromantic split that I think underlies
ernment isn’t going to get stuck
the whole humanist-technological
on any set of fancy doctrinaire
problem. But that too required a
ideas . .. I keep talking wild
backup into’ the meaning of Quality.

theory, but it keeps somehow
But to understand’ the meaning of
coming out stuff everybody knows,
Quality in classic terms required
folklore. This Quality, this feela backup into metaphysics and its
ing for the work, is something
relationship to everyday life. To
known in every shop. Now let’s
do that required still another
get back to that screw ……(p278}
backup into the huge area that
Yes indeed. That really is a puzzle.

relates both metaphysics and
Who could write like that and come
34

up with the first few pages? Even the
most cursory reading of the book
from end to end will throw up the
father-son thing, the nostalgia for
lost youth thing, the writer’s journey
into madness type of thing. All of
these Pirsig throws himself into with
gusto (I nearly said, gumption). His
Phaedrus, his early self, is an incredible hero-picture. It is described like this: ‘this uncanny solitary intelligence’; ‘a mind that recalls
the image of a laser beam~; ‘animal
courage’; ‘I. Q. of 170’; ‘a timber
wolf on the mountain’; ‘three days on
a mountain thinking about Good’;
‘lecturing was electric’; ‘creatively
on fire with a set of ideas no-one
had ever heard of before’ (except
perhaps Goodman, Holt, Illich,
Freire). And then the ultimate in the
Charles Atlas thing: (after his newstyle lecturing) ‘students astonished,
came by his office and said. “1 used
to just hate English. Now I spend
more time on it than anything else. ”
Not just one or two. Many.’ This
was the sort of guy he was once.

This is the book the Sydney Sun
llerald capitalised like this: ‘THIS
IS A WORK OF ART’. But it is a
thoroughly market-oriented, feeble
piece of middle-aged, middle-class,
middle-American nonsense that looks
as though it could have been glued together one rainy afternoon in an adman’s office. There is a kid’s angle,
a mom’s angle, a generation gap
angle. What fresh-faced American
student could resist packing a copy
in his worn mock-combat jacket as
he sets off for the home-financed
European Grand Tour? “What fond
parents wouldn’t nod and smile
approvingly. After all it may be a
little morbid but there’s no sex;
there’s mention of that queer Buddhist stuff (though confined for the
most part to section one) but at least
there’s no drugs, and thank goodness
there’s none of that anarcnist or
revolutionary nonsense, this is solid
midwest apolitical.

Yet, it is incredible I know, but it
is a big seller amongst medium radical students in this country. It gets
quoted in essays and seminar groups.

I can only assume that people don’t
read past section one, or that people
are impressed with these glancing
blows at Rant, Hume & Co, or maybe
reassured that society changes for
the better not as a result of hard analysis and concerted action, but as a
result of each of us separately com:ing to terms with his environment,
way of life and his technological
powers. It is the sort of romance
that reinforces that breed of masquer·
ading socialist who wants nothing so
much as to take off into some brave
new colony, to make a fresh beginning. What they are really chOOSing is
to associate with a fairly select band
of similarly youngish, healthy,
reasonably intelligent people, and to
dissociate themselves from the Old,
the ill, the broken-down. People
through the centuries try to invent
high-sounding names for this kind of

practice, but to call it socialist
seems particularly ironic. Any social·
1st rhetoric is a sort of veneer for
these people, rub them down with
sandpaper and you’ll find what they’re
really like. It’s like that with’ Zen
and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’. It seems to me the authentic
Pirsig is sections two, three and four .

.I will float the hypothesis that section
one, like the cover-design and the
title, is the selling package, the bit
that was put together in the publish er’s office to capture the buying public’s imagination. And the packaging
is better than the contents. We buy
the contents because of the packaging
and when we open them up we realise
the packaging is the more valuable.

Of course I may be doing Pirsig an
injustice. It may have been that the
title, the design, the opening were all
his and the rest of the book took it all
on from there, and blame should be
laid at the door of his advisers and
controllers that told him to invent a
story and to keep to it, but somehow
I doubt it. It’s phrases like, ‘Now
let’s get back to that screw’ that I
think give it away. It’s somehow too
authentic-sounding. No publisher
could make anyone write like that.

That really comes from deep inside.

That’s no veneer. That’s authentic.

But if that’s authentic, then give me
the adman.

DA VE JACKSON

A NOTE ON PIFSIG’S POLITICAL
PHILOSOPHY
Pirsig, it is well to remember, is
read by an audience hundreds of
times greater than Radical
Philosophy. No author since Koestler
has managed to popularise important
philosophical themes more successfully. How has he achieved this? As
the above review suggests, the advertising and packaging is superb.

But the content itself is not just
second-hand dross. Pirsig’s use of
maintenance handbooks to show the
relativity of taxonomy is illuminating
ilnd concise. His discussion of the
.romantic and classical traditions in
philosophy is refreshing, and his
off-the-cuff remarks about Hume,
Kant, Plato & Co, if one-Sided, are
decidedly appetite-whetting. Those
of us who teach and learn within the
narrower confines of a formal academic setting have much to learn
from Pirsig here.

But the conclusions Pirsig comes
to, and indeed the whole drift of his
argument, is not just apolitical but
distinctly reactionary. It is the more
insidious for being couched within
the domain of the supposedly progressive ideas of the ‘alternative’

culture.

At a purely theoretical level, there
is an astonishing hiatus between
Pirsig’s critique of, for instance,
the mainstream of Western thought,
and his own conclusions. Thus he
mounts an attack on Classicism on
two grounds – firstly because it
suppresses qualitativeness and un-

duly stresses quantitivenes~ and
secondly because it excludes – and
therefore hopelessly distorts – the
relationship between subject and object. Yet he does not seem to see
that he himself is guilty of just the
same ‘classicism’ when he talks
about the relationship between ideas
and society. To put it bluntly (but
wholly accurately), Pirsig has a
‘theory’ of society that is both extremely idealist and individualist.

The facile nature of his views can
be gathered from the following:

The true system, the real system,
is our present construction of
systematic thought itself, rationality itself, and if a factory is torn
down but the rationality which produced it is loft standing, then that
rationality will Simply produce
another factory. If a revolution
destroys a systematic government, but the systematic patterns
of thought that produced that
government are left intact, then
those patterns will repeat themselves in the succeeding government. There’s so much talk about
the system. And so little understanding (p94).

Others have many times in the past
shown the fallacy of such thinking, so
let us put this on one side. The question remains how can Pirsig believe
this? Only by dropping his objections
to Classicism. W1latever one may say
about the idealist thesis that ideas
(unilaterally) determine society, and
Pirsig’s conclusion that therefore
changing society will first require a
change in each individual’s ideas,
one thing is clear – that this thesis
has nothing to do with Zen but everything to do with western (intellectual)
idealism. The fact that the text is
littered with the occasional ‘Tao’,
‘godhead’, ‘karma’ and so on, only
affects the window-dressing.

Pirsig’s views are reactionary at
several levels. First there is the
level we have already cited. In spite
of recogniSing (some) of the symptoms of alienation, he points to a set
of ideas as the means of eliminating
these symptoms. He refuses to recognise that the dominant ideas in any
society are the product of the real
relations between people in that society instead of the other way about.

Secondly he sees the rottenness in
western society as being more apparent than real. If only (technical)
workers could mix a bit of the
Romantic mode of thinking into their
work, if only anti-technology consumers like John and Sylvia could
lace their thinking with a dash of the
Classical mode of thinking, then
everything could return to the hunkydory America of the frontier and
apple pie. Conclusion – there’s no
real problem, only problems about
the ways we look at and think about
the real world. Consequences – don’t
bother to change the world, just
change your ideas until it doesn’t
bother you any more – the politics of
despair.

Thirdly, Pirsig is not just an idealist and a theoreticist, but he also
espouses an extreme form of individualism. Thus the only workers he
talks about are artisans, never proletarians. Their only relationships
are with the bits of metal they are
fashioning, never with their fellow
workers on a production line, and
never never against capital. Homo
sapiens is a species of pure unadulterated Egos. Here again the real
Pirsig is in sharpest contrast with
the self-image. One of the first
principles of nearly all eastern
philosophies and certainly of all
Buddhist philosophies is that of egotranscendence (hence the connection
between meditation and these philosophies). Certainly the usual form
of ego-transcendence for” them is
the self/nature interpenetration, and
not those associated with the collective action of social classes, but the
fact remains that Pirsig’s reactionary individualism not only stands in
sharp contrast with the traditions of
revolutionary socialism, but also
in sharp contrast with the eastern
mystical trappings which put
Pirsig’s reactionary message into
their trendy package.

Finally Pirsig reinforces at every
level the prejudices of his own society. His sexism, for instance, is
both extreme and unconscious. In the
story it is always Sylvia who does the
cooking and the washing. In the
Chautauquas it is always the female
who is associated with the B omantic
mode of thinking and the male with
the Classical, Pirsig never raises a
finger in protest. Mlo knows, perhaps it is part of the divinely ordered
ying-yangness of the cosmos? Here
at least he is completely at harmony
with the mainstream of Eastern
philosophy.

PETER BINNS

Trolsky
Geoff Hodgson, Trotsky and
Fatalistic Marxism, Spokesman,
1975, 88pp, 95p
This small book contains important
contributions to two areas of current
debate within Marxism. The first
essay, from which the book takes its
title, is a hard look at Trotsky’s
‘conception of the epoch’, i. e. his
underlying analysiS of the twentieth
century as being one of capitalist
decline and proletarian revolution.

NOW, evaluations of Trotsky’s contributions to Marxist theory and
practice have generally tended to be
made, and received, along rigid and
factional lines, rather in the manner
of armed encampments periodically
exchanging salvos of polemic, without inflicting observable damage
upon their adversa,ties. What is different about Hodgson’s approach is
that it is based on an appraisal of
Trotsky’s problematic (to use
Althusser’s term), .i. e. his method

35

of testing out analysis against reality. He argues that Trotsky has a
crude and mechanistic conception of
the capitalist economy, which was
·based on the undeniable, but partial
truth, that the nation-state had become a fetter on the latter’s further
development. This led him to envisage capitalism as entering an
accelerating process of decline and
collapse during the twentieth century.

This is instanced by Trotsky’s report
to the Third Congress of the Third
International in 1921, his overall
analysis of the’ curve of capitalist
development’, and frequent references to the imminence of capitalist
collapse during the 1930s, culminating in the catastrophist perspectives
of the 1938 Transitional Programme.

Trotsky, of course, did not pretend
to be an economist; the key point
made here is that Trotsky’s overly
mechanistic view of the capitalist
economy led him to make severe
errors of political judgement during
the period leading up to the formation of the Fourth International.

Trotsky’s politics were, to a large
extent, premissed on a faulty and inadequate economic analysis which
served to disorient him, as for example in his evaluation of the course
of the New Deal in America, and of
the prospects for post war economic
recovery. An estimation of the ‘objective’ conditions for proletarian
revolution being ‘rotten-ripe’ had its
logical corollary in terms of a
‘crisis of leadership’, and the weakness of the ‘subjective factor’ – betrayal by reformist and Stalinist
bureaucracies, and a voluntarist
emphasis on the need for small
Trotskyist groups to lead the masses
towards the conquest of state power.

Trotsky’s idea of the test of the validity of Marxism was, to a large extent, that of economic collapse as the
precondition for revolutionary change,.

To deny the imminence of capitalism’s collapse (apparently verified
by the world recession of the 1930s)
was in effect to deny the whole revolutionary thrust of Marx’s work.

The result of this situation was
Trotsky’s overestimation of the
possibilities for economic collapse
and socialist revolution in the postwar period, together with the rapid
overthrow of the Stalinist bureaucracy in the USSR. As Hodgson documents in the case of the British
Trotskyists of the Revolutionary
Communist Party, the result was to
impart to it a theoretical and method·
ological legacy which considerably
disoriented the infant Trotskyist
movement,. and which still dogs it
today, evident in the fragmentation,
weakness and theoretical atavism
apparent amongst the competing
Trotskyist groupuscules of the
present.

The second essay, on ‘The Falling
Rate of Profit and the Collapse of
Capitalism’, was written as a rejoinder to Paul Cockshott’s critique
(published in New Edinburgh Review)
36 .

movement, groping for political answers, but constrained by the framework of reference handed down by
Trotsky, makes salutory, if poignant,
reading. It highlights the lack of an
adequate history of British Trotskyism, as one component part of the
proader socialist and labour movement in this country. The various
Trotskyist groups each tend to claim
that such work is, in fact, in progress, but the factional basis of such
research must tend to preclude the
possibility that such work will appear
as other than a factional history.

Perhaps the weakest section of the
Trotsky essay concerns its attempt
to go on to develop an analysis of the
present conjuncture. Hodgson concludes that the main trend is towards
growing state control of wages, priceE
and investment] in the form of a
corporatist solution to the chronic
problems of the British economy.

G: Grosz Pandemonium, 1914
The evidence for this trend is, as
of Hodgson’ s earlier article in New
Left Review 84. It is complementary yet, not very convincing, and the
citing in support of the New Society
to the first essay in the sense that it
article hy Pahl and Winkler merely
attempts to refute both Marx’s arguments that the rate of profit will tend emphasises the hypothetical and
tendential character of such a persto fall, as a result of the trend topective at this stage. This could have
wards a riSing organic compOSition
of capital, and the widespread convic- been better replaced by a more concretely based survey of the present
tion amongst Marxists that the latter
conjuncture, and the present prosmust necessarily be an integral part
of a revolutionary critique, in theory pects (pace Trotsky’s epigones) for a
regeneration of British capitalism.

and practice, of the capitalist mode
PETER JENKINS
of production. It aims, and, I think,
largely succeeds, to make this debate
more accessible than the NLR article,
and that by Ian Steedman in NLF 90,
to those socialists not fully at home
with the fierce polemic between ‘Neo- Jack Lively, Democracy,
Blackwell, 160pp, £3.00
Ri cardians’ and ‘F.undamentalists’

currently gracing the pages of
In this lucid and carefully-argued
Revolutionary Communist and other
book, Jack Lively seeks to ‘define
journals.

democracy, or at least to trace
Some criticisms: firstly, a valid
some of the boundaries of its meancharge could be that the first essay,
ings, and to assess some of the
on Trotsky, is, to some extent,
strengths and weaknesses of different
guilty of a fault which could be desmodes of theorising about democracy’.

cribed as that of ‘epistemological
He rejects the Pyrrhonist view that
absolutism’. That is, it does not
democracy is in the eye of the definfollow logically, with regard to
er and claims, with Tocqueville, that
Trotsky, or any other Marxist for
that matter, that absolute clarity and its ‘operative principle’ is political
equality. This, he argues, implies,
correctness of theory is a precondifirst, that all should take part in
tion for effective revolutionary politics; :revolutions have been made, and political decision-making unless
will continue to be made, wi th inade- there is clear evidence of incompetence, and, second, that there should
quate understanding of all sorts of
social phenomena, including the work· be equality between citizens in their
ings of the capitalist economy. To use capacity to determine decisions. This
latter end, he argues, cannot be fully
an analogy – a faulty gun may not
achieved. The majority principle is
shoot straight every time, but it can
the decision-making procedure most
still kill!

conducive to securing prospective
To illustrate this point further,
pOlitical equality (1. e. non-discrimithere is the example of Trotsky’s
nation in advance of a decision’s
analysis of the rise of fascism in
Germany, which was extremely sharp being made) – though it cannot assure
it, and in some situations (e. g.

and prescient; his conjunctural analyses were, to a degree, autonomous, where there exists a permanently
and nOot necessarily predetermined by excluded minority) will militate
against it. Lively’s argument for the
a fatalistic underlying conception of
the epoch. This point could have been majority principle is weakened by its
being an argument by elimination: he
made more fully by the author withargues that it is more conducive to
out undermining the overall-thrust of
political equality than the other prohis argument.

cedures conSidered, yet he concedes
The account of the debates within
that he examines only a small number
the post-war British Trotsk.yist

Rules OK?

of an ‘almost infinite’ number of
possible procedures.

Also conducive to political equality
or ‘the rule of the people’ are a
range of other conditions – ‘insufficient requirements’: that the rulers
should be chosen by the ruled, or by
their representatives, and that they
should act in the interests of the
ruled; and a number of ‘necessary
conditions’: that all constituent
groups be incorporated into the
decision-making process, that gov ..

ernmental decisions be subject to
popular control or that ordinary citizens be involved in public administration. These last two necessary conditions he sees as disjunctive, Signifying ‘responsible government’ and
‘direct democracy’ respectively.

The first requires that governments
should be removable and that some
alternative can be substituted by
electoral decision (hence free elections, freedom of association and of
speech and party competition, though
different party systems have different
disadvantages). Unfortunately, he
says nothing about the institutional
requirements of direct democracy,
claiming them to be ‘obvious’, and
nothing either about how to combine
the two – a pressing problem, for
instance, for democratic socialists
(as opposed to Social Democrats) in
present-day Portugal.

The centre of the book consists in a
critical examination of theories of
democracy – ideal-typical classifications (focusing on Robert Dahl); empirical generalisations concerning the
environmental conditions of democracy (socio-economic, cultural,
historical and institutional), of whose
explanatory value and claims to be
value-free he is, rightly, sceptical;
deductive models (‘economic’

theories, deriving from Bentham,
such as that of Anthony Downs), of
whose limits he is aware, but whose
explanatory value he seems to me
to overestimate; and so-called
‘utopian schemes’, which he defines
(rather too loosely) as ‘seeking to
delineate a desirable state of affairs’.

The book’s final section seeks to
identify the various ‘ends’ of democracy, which the author sees as distinct and in possible conflict with
each other and with other non-democratic ends (such as governmental
decisiveness, political stability,
industrial progress), these democratic ends being the securing of the
general interest, and of the common
good, the safeguarding of liberty,
and the encouragement of participation, active citizenship and ‘an active,
co-operative and public spirited
civic character’.

Lively’s book is a useful sorting out
of recent work by social scientists
and political philosophers, from a
perspective which could b~ characterised as egalitarian (‘the cure for the
ills of democracy is more democracy . .. greater political equality
is very closely bound up with movement towards equality in other areas,
economic and educational ‘) and ethic-

ally pluralist (the ‘claims of democracy have: to be balanced against
other ends’ – but how?). One might
have wished for certain arguments
to be pushed deeper. What justifies
Liv.ely’s claim that he has identified
‘the meaning’ of democracy? It is
unclear whether he offers us a rationally defensible interpretation or conception of an essentially contested
concept of democracy, or an account
of that contestable concept (of which
different conceptions may be offered,
depending, for instance, on how
‘rule’ or ‘interests’ are conceived),
or else an account, that (in some unexplained way) he assumes to be
correct, of a non-essentially-contestable concept. And what exactly is his
position on the fact-value question:

his tre~tment of the empirical-norma..

tive argument in relation to democratic theory leaves this. entirely
opaque. And what a pity that he fails
to expand his extremely interesting
suggestion that ‘traditionally pOlitical
theory has talked of what is subject
to human will (if only through selfrestraint), whilst sociology has
traditionally talked of those conditions too deep or too complex to be
within the scope of conscious
manipulation’.

STEVEN LUKES

Under Weston Eyes
Michael Weston, Morality and the
Self, Blackwell, 93pp, £ 2. 25
The author of this short but concentrated book is the philosophy lecturer
who was, according to the Industrial
Relations Court, unfairly dismissed
from University College Swansea for
his trade union activities in 1974
(see R P9). But the book operates
largely within the framework of
orthodox post-war ‘moral philosophy’

although its aims are critical.

Weston criticises Hare and Foot for
their shared assumption that moral
reasoning is a form of purposive,
means-to-ends reasoning. He shows
that this assumption does not square
with certain moral notions implicit
in ordinary English. These notions
concern the agent’s ‘self’ or ‘idea of
himself’, and they imply that a
person may be ‘unworthy’ of certain
things, irrespective of any purposes
or ends. weston makes effective use
of the moral transfiguration of
Conrad’s Lord Jim (Jim’s belief that
after having aband,oned ship he is no
longer morally fit to be a seaman) to
illustrate the idea of an “‘internal”
relation to guilt’: Jim’s reason for
refusing to go to sea again is not that
this will achieve any desirable end,
put simply that he feels unworthy to
do so.

The existence of such patterns of
reasoning is a significant fact about
morality, and weston’ s book is a
good example of the increasing tendency of philosophical studies of
‘ordinary language’ to pay attention
to detail. But what is it supposed to
prove? In assessing its implications,

Weston appears to accept all the undialectical (1. e. unhistorical and
uncritical) assumptions of orthodox
ordinary language philosophy.

First, he makes no attempt to
criticise the notions he discusses;
but surely the non-purposive reasoning which leads to Jim’s gratuitous
self-punishment is objectionable and
cruel: wouldn’t it have been far better
if he had been able to relax and forget.

all about his lapse? (No doubt Jim’ s
decision tends to escape censure
because it involves a sense of guilt
and displays the virtue of selfsacrifice: characteristics which it
is easy for a third party to applaud;
but – though .Weston does not mention
this point – equivalent reasoning
would justify self-righteousness and
arrogance in someone who, unlike
Jim, was not marked by guiltiness. )
Secondly, while Weston is obviously
right in one sense when he says that
the connections between morality and
self prove that ‘purposive’ accounts
of morality cannot be the whole truth,
in another he is wrong. For the discrepancy between purposiveness and
worthiness belongs to morality itself – morality, that is, seen not as
an unchanging, internally’harmonious
object of a continuously developing
science called moral philosophy, but
as a contradictory and shifting configuration of principles of conduct
and personal ideals. It is, I suppose,
basically a discrepancy between a
. Christian view of life as the opportunity to prepare one’s soul for
assessment by the Great External
Examiner, and various utilitarian,
materialistic views based on the idea
of maximising happiness. By a
curious philosophical inverSion
typical of orthodox ordinary language
philosophy, ‘Neston presents this
conflict as though it existed purely
at the level of philosophical theory;
and, to paraphrase Hegel’s assessment of Kant, why blame the theory
(moral philosophy) for the contradictions, rather than the object
(morality)?

JON,A. THAN ltEE

Mind &: Politics
Ellen M. Nood, Mind and Politics
California UP, 1972, £4. 00
The fundamental premise of this
work is that ‘moral and even pOlitical
implications can be drawn from
epistemological theories and their
underlying conceptions of mind; that
sometimes, in flact, the ultimate
meaning of a theory of mind may be
seen as a moral or pOlitical one, and
that sometimes epistemology may be
seen to establish the groundwork for
moral and political doctrines’ (p4).

Accordingly, Ellen Wood finds the
roots of the British “liberal tradition” in the British empiricist epistemology which treats the human
subject as a mechanically responsive
creature for whom both knowledge
and actions are wholly reflexive.

37

Man, as subject, is essentially private, ~apable only of problematic
relations with the object. THough
this is the idiom of epistemology. it
anticipates, for Ms Wood, a pOlitical
theory on which the private interests
of civil society are pursued independently of the public interests of the
state. Representationalism in epistemology, especially Locke’s, anticipates representationalism in pOlitical
theory. In cognition, what is experienced directly is not the object but
the sensation, idea, or representation; in pOlitics, participation in
social control is not direct but
through a representative. Subject
and citizen exist at a second remove
from the public reality, despite the
fact that their range of private experiences and interests is a function
of their alienated relations with this
public reality. Politically, the ironi·c
symbol of this alienation is the vote
‘which has increasingly become not
an act o~ participation in the political
realm but an act of withdrawal from
it, an abdication of political responsibility to the representative so that
the citizens can return to the pursuit
of private interests’ (p159).

Ms Wood concentr~tes on Locke,
which is understandable, given his
status as both epistemologist and
pOlitical theorist. Hume and
Berkeley are ‘largely ignored, which
is understandable only in the light of
Ms Wood’s inadequate concept of
empiricism. She defines empiricism
in terms of the passive experiences
of the material object, which obvious ..

ly excludes philosophers who question the very concepts of objectivity
and materiality. But a more disturbing reason why she is not duly concerned with the extreme subjectivism
and individualism of Hume and
Berkeley is that, for her, neither of
these is necessarily a bad thing. She
contrasts metaphysical liberal individualism with dialectical, socialist
individualism, and argues that the
dialectical concept of social relation&
treats man as essentially a subject.

It is difficult to see what can be gained
from interpreting socialism as a form
of subjectivism or individualism,
given the historical connotations of
these terms.

Ms Wood’s basic weakness is that
her radicalism is too vaguely defined.

Her chief influence seems to have
been the early Marx, from which she
has come away thinking that socialism is purely a theory of dialectical
relations between individuals, subjects, and objects. It should be
suggested to radical philosophers of
such a vague persuasion that there
can be no properly radical philosophy
without the concepts of class,
material product and productive
activity. Even in the critique of epistemology, the concepts of sociality
and dialectical interaction do not
take one far enough.

The importance of Ellen Wood’s
book, however, lies not in the maturity of her Marxism but in the type of
programme which she undertakes.

38

To the radical philosopher engaged in
the re-evaluation of the history of
philosophy, she demonstrates how the
classical dichotomies of subject; ob-

ject, self/other, man/society, and
individual/political may still provide
a useful framework within which to
state the radical position. Tom Duddy

Books received
TINDER, G. Tolerance: toward a new civility
Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1976, $12.50
BOGGS, C. Gramsci’s Marxism
London: Pluto Press, 1976, £.

(pb £1. 50)
CALLINICOS, A. Althusser’ s Marxism
London: Pluto Press, 1976, £.

(pb £1. 50)
NEEDHAM, J. Moulds of Understanding
London: Allen & Unwin, 1976, £7.75
ENGEL, B. A. Five Sisters: Women against the Tsar – The Memoirs of five
revolutionaries of the 1870s, ed. C. N. Rosenthal. London Weidenfeld
and Nicolson, 1976, £6.50

BATALOV, E. The Philosophy of Revolt: Criticism of Left Radical Ideology
MOSCOW, Progress Publishers, 1975, 60p
KALECKI, M. Essays on Developing Economies
Hassocks, Sussex: Harvester Press, 1976, £6.95
MILLER, O. Social Justice
London: Clarendon Press, OUP, 1976, £8.50
KIERNAN, V. G, Marxism & Imperialism
London: Edward Arnold, 1975, £5.75
MARTIN, G. D. Language. Truth and Poetry: Notes towards a Philosophy of
Literature. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1975 (np)
CAPOUYA, E., TOMPKINS, K. (eds). The Essential Kropotkin
London; Macmillan, 1976, £7.95 (pb £2.95)
GERAS, N. The Legacy of Rosa Luxemburg
London: New Left Books, 1976, £4. 50
THERBORN, G. Science. Class and SOCiety
London: New Left Books, 1976, £8.-50
HABERMAS, J. Legitimation Crisis
London: Heinemann Educational Books, 1976, £2.80
WITTGENSTEIN, L. Wittgenstein’s Lectures on the Foundations of
Mathematics. Cambridge 1939 (ed. C. Diamond)
Hassocks, Sussex: Harvester Press, 1976, np
BUNYAN, T. The History and Practice of the Political Police in Britain
London: Julian Friedman, 1976, £4.95
HODGE, J. L. et aI, Cultural Bases of Racism and Group Oppression
Berkeley, Cal: Two Riders Press, 1976, $10.95, pb $3.85
HAMILTON-MERR.IT, J. A Meditator’s Diary: A Western woman’s unique
experiences in Thailand Monasteries
London: Souvenir Press, 1976, £3.25
JAKUBOWSKI, F. Ideology and Superstructure in Historical Materialism
London: Allison & Busby, 1976, £5.25, pb £2.95
LE FEBVRE, H. The Survival of Capitalism
London: Allison & Busby, 1976, £5.25, pb £2.95
BENN, S. I., MORTIMORE, G. W. (eds). Rationality and the Social Sciences:

Contributions to the Philosophy and Methodology of the Social Sciences
London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1976, £8.50
LEA, F. The Ethics of Reason
London: Brentham Press, 1976, £3.50, pb £2.50
LEA, F. voices in the Wilderness
London: Brentham Press, 1976, £3.00, pb £2.00
SMART, B. Sociology, Phenomenology and Marxian Analysis
London: RPK, 1976, £6.00, pb £4.95
FLEW, A. Sociology, Equality and Education
London: Macmillan, 1976, £4.95
WOODFIELD, A. Teteology
London: Cambridge University Press, 1976, £6. 50
FARREL, J. Spain After Franco
Leeds: ILP, Square One Publications, 1976, 20p
GOULDNER, A. W. The Dialectic of Ideology and Technology
London: Macmillan, 1976, £7.95
SINGER, P. Animal Liberation
London: Cape, 1976, £4. 95
LACEY, A. R. A Dictionary of Philosophy
London: :RKP, 1976, £4.75
HIRST, P. Q. Social Evolution and Sociological Categories
London: AlIen and Unwin, 1976, £4.95, pb £2.25
HONDERICH, T. (ed.) Social Ends and Political Means
London: RKP, 1976, £6.95
CHANAN, M. Labour Power in the British Film Industry, BFI Pamphlet

~

‘Nevertheless (Austin) did
succeed in haunting most of
the philosophers in England,
and to his colleagues it seemed
that his· terrifying intelligence
was never at rest. Many of
them used to wake up in the
night with a vision of the
stringy wiry Austin standing
over their pillow like a bird of
prey. Their daylight hours
were no better. They would
write some philosophical sentences and then read them over
as Austin might in an expressionless frigid voice and their
blood would run cold. Some of
them were so intimidated by
the mere fact of his existence
that they weren’t able to publish a single article during his
lifetime. ‘ •
Warnock (on Austin)
BREEDING GROUND FOR
PHILOSOPHERS
‘(Austin’s) third child of fourteen is very clever and about
to go up to my school,
Winchester. He talks and looks
very much like Austin and we
have great hopes for him. ‘

Warnock
Thus spake Zarathrustra
‘. .. Amongst the Englishmen who
are staying with me here there is
also the very agreeable Professor of
Philosophy at University College
London, R obertson, editor of the
best English philosophical journal,
Mind. a quarterly review … All the
great men of England are amongst
its contributors: Darwin (whose
splendid essay ‘Biographical Sketch
of an Infant’ is in No Ill), Spencer,
Tylor etc. You know that we here in
Germany have nothing comparable
in quality to the English with this
journal, or the French with Th.

Ribot’s Revue Philosophique ..•
I thought again, while he spoke of
Darwin, Bagehot etc., how much I
would like you to penetrate into this,
the only good philosophical milieu
that now exists. Will you not contribute something to this journal? .. ‘

– Nietzsche in a letter to
Paul Ree, August 1877
The title of Richard Norman’s
article’ in RP14 should have been
“Dialectic” and not “On Dialectic”
as printed. The title of Sean Sayers’

article should have been “On the
Marxist Dialectic” and not “The
Marxist Dialectic” as printed.

Sean Sayers writes: ‘I attach some
importance to this, since my paper
concerns not the Marxist dialectic
in general, but only a specific aspect
of it: viz. what Mao calls “the
universality of contradiction”. ‘

News

ST ANDFE NS
In St Andrews, there is virtually no
philosophy going on that could be
called Radical. The reasons for this
seem to me to be essentially pOlitical
ones.

In the first place, St Andrews is a
very conservative university: at a
recent referendum an overwhelming
majority voted to leave the NUS.

The S. R. C. (! ) is a Tory stronghold:

the I. S. Society consists of less than
a dozen people. The general result
is rampant apathy.

Secondly, StAndrews is strictly a
university town and there is no pressure to make courses relevant to
anything.

Thirdly, several other areas of
possible radical theory – pOlitics,
sociology, anthropology are without
foundation because there are no
departments covering these
disciplines.

Finally, the university and town are
dead outside of term time because all
students and most lecturers leave consequently there is no on-going
feeling.

Any radical theorist, then, has
immediate feelings of isolation
arriving here and these feelings are
exacerbated because of the distances
involved in travelling to conferences,
meetings etc which are usually held
in South England. Within the university, the organisation of radical
activity inevitably falls to the lot of
a very small group. We did suggest
at the beginning of last year that the
philosophy postgraduate students run
a radical seminar group, but too
many seemed to be intimidated by
the old-guard lecturers to risk such
a course. The only radical philosophy that has gone on over the past

year was 2 general seminars I gave
on Foucault .. although I’ve come to
the conclUSion that Foucault could
hardly be called pOlitically radical.

PETER SMITH
CAMBRIDGE
We’ve been trying to get a
Cambridge RP group off the ground
for over a year. Ne conceived of it
as a general ‘countercourse’ sort of
thing – providing an alternative
series of seminars to Cambridge
Analytic philosophy for anyone interested, though possibly with some
radicalising effect. Within the philOsophy faculty such a project would
have been disastrous chiefly because
of the apathetic ‘conservatism of
most students – who’d be interested
in a counter course providing scope
for investigation of other philosophical traditions but not in anything
explicitly ‘radical’ …

A more successful venture was a
small reading group which we set up.

At first we told all the radically
minded philosophy students (about
8: ) but students from other courses
like English and social sciences
kept turning up ‘. Initially some of
us saw it as offering critical rather
than just alternative philosophical
discussion. For instance two main
tasks could have been:

(1) to understand exactly how analytical philosophy in its content can
genuinely be seen as part of bourgeois ideology – the conceptions of
the subject implicit in &p1piricism,
its approach to explanation in the
non-natural sciences etc. How its
various approaches to meaning are
ideological, both by the role invokep
for the individual in discourse, and
demands for meaning invariance anp

·Journals received
Science for the People, VIII, 1 (January 1976)
Camerawork, 1 (February 1976), 2 (April-May 1976), 3
Social Work and the Welfare State, a radica.l pamphlet published by SCANUS,
3 Endsleigh Street, London NC1H ODU
Socialist Revolution, No. 27
Radical Science Journal, No. 4
Philosophy Today, Vol. 19 No.4, Vol. 20 No. I, Vol. 20 No. 2/4
Cultural Studies, 9
History Workshop: A Jburnal of Socialist Historians. No. 1
Sozialistische Politik 36. August 1976 (Wissenschait als allgemeine Arbeit)

.

..

.

HIS.TORY WORKSHOP
a Journal of socialist historians

Issue 2 .. Autumn 1976
Charles van Onselen: Randlords and Rotgut, 1886-1903: the role of alcohol
in the development of European imperialism and Southern African capitalism
Tim Mason: Women in Nazi Germany (conclusion)
Anne Summers: Militarism in Britain before the Great War
Gudie La waetz: Mai 1968 on film
Hywel Francis: The South Wales Miners’ Library
E’dward AlIen Rymer: The Martyrdom of the Mine: autobiography of a 19th
century pit agitator (conclusion)
Local History Museums
Subscription £5 a year (2 issues)
Archives and Sources
$14 overseas, from
Calendar
History Workshop, P 0 Box 69
Noticeboard
Oxford OX2 7XA
39

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