Skillen: Ruling Illusions
Anthony Skillen, Ruling Illusions:
Philosophy and the Social Order, The
Harvester Press Ltd, 1978, 177pp, £7.95
This book appears in the ‘Philosophy Now’
series which is described by its general
editor, Roy Edgley, as seeking ‘in one way
or another to push philosophy out of its
ivory tower’. Hence, it seems entirely
appropriate that the author should state its
purpose as being to highlight the fact that
‘Philosophy, bad philosophy, is at large’
and ‘lives in the institutions of our lives’,
and to bring home some of the ways in which
such philosophy is ‘reproduced and supported
by what is explicitly accredited as
“Philosophy” in our universities’ (p7).
The aspects he wishes to deal with are
identified under the headings ‘Statism’,
‘Managerialism’, ‘Legalism’ and ‘Moralism’,
and a chapter is devoted to each in turn.
The major part of what these chapters offer
is, in effect, a critique of widely-held
views in the philosophy of politics, of
work, of law and of morals. All of them
fit comfortably within the programme of the
book but are otherwise self-contained, with
little attempt at theoretical links at any
level of detail.
The topic of ‘statism’ does, however,
seem important enough to have a strategic
position within the overall programme.
is, at any rate, the one most frequently
referred to outside its own chapter and also
the one whose treatment leaves the largest
number of questions in the reader’s mind.
In the end these questions go back to a
measure of uncertainty as to how ‘statism t
should be understood.
there are in Skillen’s treatment of it two
distinct elements which are never clearly
brought into relation with each other.
Officially, as it were, his view seems to be
that it is a distinctive conception of ‘the
political’, one which defines it as, in
D.D. Raphaels’ phrase, ‘whatever concerns
the state’ (p19).
It is in this sense that
Marx, Engels, Lenin and Makunin are all said
to be statists. On the second interpreta36
tion, statism is a substantive political
doctrine built around a positive view of
the state’s role and achievements. Skillen
speaks in this connection of philosophers
who ‘offer a priori glorifications of state
authority’ and who ‘see the state as the
sacred light in a profane society’ (p18).
Thus the social scientists who have contributed to statism are discussed under the
heading ”’Scientific” State-worship’ (p20).
It also seems to be this notion that is involved when it is said that ‘what constitutes Rawls’ statism is his overall elevation
of state life to the centre of human life’
(p18). Clearly, Marx and Bakunin are not
statists in the same sense as Rawls.
Statism is taken by Skillen to be a
central element in the political thought of
But, however it is interpreted,
it is difficult to agree with any such
estimate of its significance. Thus, it is
surprising to be told, in reference to the
statist conception of the political: ‘The
view is received and standard … ‘ (p19).
Raphael is the only academic cited in the
book who has indisputably adopted this conception.
But he had done so, one is bound
to recall, defensively as a conscious reaction against the received wisdom (see
Problems of Political Philosophy, Ch.l).
Skillen also refers to Anthony Quintan’s
dictum: ‘The central concept of political
science is that of the state.’
This is not
strictly a definition of politics, and,
moreover, its air of post-prandial punditry
makes it hard to interpret. But in so far
as it is to be taken descriptively it simply
shows Quinton’s ignorance of the state of
Its leading practitioners
have long been united by the determination
not to allow the state anywhere near the
centre of their conceptual field.
has expressed the sense of its theoretical
inadequacy more trenchantly than David
Easton, and it is surely a straightforward
misrepresentation of his views to say, as
Skillen does, that he ‘identifies the
“political system” not as a structure of
interacting forces, but with the state
The irony is that
Skillen’s positive suggestions as to how
politics should be conceptualised fit far
better with the practice of political science
than does any kind of statism. Thus, he
suggests that ”’political” questions are
questions of the balance of power’ (p39) and
later that: ‘By calling a structure or
situation “political”, we are stressing the
tension and at least potential conflict
among the activities and interests that make
it up’ (p43).
Such themes will be familiar
to anyone acquainted with the standard literature.
Nor is the insistence that politics
is ‘best seen as a fundamental dimension of
human life’ (p40) in the least difficult for
orthodoxy to cope with. On the contrary, it
is usually quite willing, by virtue of its
reliance on concepts of power and conflict,
to expand the realm of the political so that
it comes to be virtually identical with the
sphere of human relationships in general.
The ideological thrust of this willingness
is not hard to decipher.
In implying that
one’s relationship with the police may be
conceptualised in the same terms as one’s
relationship with one’s mother it dissolves
the brutal specificity of the state’s mode
of operation and represents it as a natural
feature of the human condition.
The tendency of Marx and Lenin to tie politics and
the state firmly together also has its own
Much of this is missed
by Skillen, for he neglects to place the
connection in a theoretical framework and
so it tends to appear as a more-or-Iess
But it has surely to
be understood in the context of the theory
of class struggle, so that, roughly speaking, politics and the state are to be seen
as instruments with which class societies
conduct their business.
It is far from
obvious that this assumption, in spite of
its difficulties, has yet been improved on,
at least as a way of getting a first fix on
It is interesting that
Skillen’s actual practice of analysis does
not manage to hold the two concepts apart as
decisively as one might expect, and indeed
at one point seems to rely on their inner
This comes later in the book
when he mentions an observation of H.L.A.
Harts’ in which the law is ‘now suddenly
seen as an instrument of state’, and
comments: ‘unfortunately, this belated
critical recognition of law as an aspect
of politics comes too late … ‘ (pl08).
ease and plausibility of this comment are
surely a tribute to the strength of the
conceptual nexus he had earlier tried to
The case made for the significance of
statism as a political theory is hardly more
convincing. Skillen attempts to enrol ‘the
Weberian tradition’, and Weber himself,
behind it by citing the well-known definition of the state as ‘A human community that
(successfully) elaims the monopoly of the
legitimate use of force within a given
We are then asked to note
that ‘Weber says “legitimate”‘, so that to
the claim that the ‘monopoly’ is contested
by other groups in the territory ‘it would
be replied that their force and violence
are not “legitimate”, the state’s are’.
one can hardly help noting here that Weber
says ‘legitimate’ in connection with a claim
to legitimacy and that he is reporting ~
endorsing the claim. We surely need more
persuasive documentation than this.
turns to the Anglo-American tradition of
political thought with which the book is
centrally concerned, it is even harder to
agree that the political theory of statism
has been a particularly significant factor.
This tradition has given its all in defence
of the social order, but its efforts have
not characteristically taken a turn towards
To say this is just to begin
to recognise the actual complexity of the
It is worth noting that Skillen pays
no attention to the substantial elements in
the tradition that are explicitly hostile to
In some of the work of Hayek and
his disciples, for instance, it appears as
not merely evil, but as also unnecessary, as
something an advanced human community could
Skillen can hardly be blamed
for failing to foresee that in Britain we
would so soon come to be ruled by vulgarHayekians. Nevertheless, current rhetoric
about ‘rolling back the state) can draw
sustenance from long-established sources in
‘accredited philosophy’, and this in itself
suggests that he works with a limited conception of what the academy makes available.
It is true that this rhetoric is even more
an exercise in fantasy than usual and that
the government that exploits it is also
committed to giving greateT resources to
the police and armed forces and to extending
the use of the law against trade unions.
The example still suggests that in trying
to cope with the contradictions of bourgeois
ideology statism may not be the best horse
At this point one has to come t6 terms
with what is valuable in Skillen’s discussion, with the extent to which it connects
with a central and expanding element in our
His difficulties stem in part from
the fact that it cannot readily be dealt
with in terms of a programme of tracing the
phenomena back to their supports and reflections in the universities.
It may be that
here he has, partially and untypically,
succumbed to the occupational hazard of
overestimating the importance of ivory
In this area the universities are
not just, as usual, insignificant as a
social force; they are also unreliable
indicators of what is going on in society.
Statism is alive and well in Britain with
little help from the academics.
as one might expect, through the pronouncements of such official guardians of our
welfare as the judges and the Chief Constables.
In more insidious forms it thrives
in large sections of the Left and, with
particular vigour, among the social democrats and democratic socialists who run the
Labour Party. This is, of course, no accident, for statism represents that party’s
historic evasion of the challenge of changing British society.
Later in Skillen’s
book there is a perceptive comment on one
aspect of the situation that results:
”’public ownership” today means private
control by bureaucrats at public expense it is a blueprint for statism’ (pp85-86).
Another dimension appears when one reflects
on the record of Labour governments in the
field of civil liberties and, in particular,
on their part in the erosion of traditional
bourgeois freedoms in recent years.
deep-seated beliefs of a statist kind are
surely at work here.
In order to explain
why Labour ministers in key departments
sink so unresistingly into the arms of
their civil servants, it is tempting to
postulate some tendency to take for granted
that everything recommended or undertaken by
high officials of state and every extension
of their power must be steps on the right
Something of the explanatory potential of talk of ‘statism’ may be conveyed
at the level of particular events.
a recent instance, one might ask why the
tenur~ of office as Attorney General of a
politician like Sam Silkin should have
proved to be a major disaster.
Here is a
representative figure in party terms, a
run-of-the-mill constituency MP whose
eminence was owed, to recall Weber, to family tradition and to being a reliable cog
in the machine rather than to any charismatic personal qualities.
Yet the handling
of the ABC trial in particular is not fully
explicable in terms of the ordinary institutional requirements of doing, more or
less, what one is told.
It has to be taken
as expressing aspirations to a personal
destiny as the institutionaliser of juryvetting.
But why is it that a member of a
Labour cabinet should seek such a place in
history? Clearly our political theory must
have a grip on happenings like this if it is
to be any use, and the notion of statism
offers at least one way of trying to develop
Skillen’s treatment of the notion is
never less than stimulating even when it
seems most wrong-headed.
are achievements of a more straightforward
The discussion, referred to above,
of Harts’ The Concept of Law is one of the
most successful pieces of sustained argument
in the book and exemplifies its practice at
It shows, in particular, its
analytical power, the feeling for the strategic weaknesses of the opponent’s position
and the tenacity in holding on to them until
the entire structure begins to crumble.
demonstrations that Hart’s ‘fundamental
objection’ to the command theory of law is
‘little more than a quibble’ (pp96-97) and
that his idea of the primitive society as
being without ‘rules of recognition’ is
incoherent (pl04) are models in this respect.
The whole discussion can be recommended to
anyone interested in a critique of this
Skillen’s chapter on the
philosophy of law illustrates another
strength of his approach; that is, the way
in which it is informed by a live sense of
the reality of the world outside the academy, ‘a world of official vandalism,
thuggery, blackmail, corruption and murder’
Much of the official philosophy of
society is, as he shows, an attempt, overt
or disguised, to legitimate this world of
suffering or is, at best, by its irrelevance, a mockery of it.
His opposition to
this state of affairs is at its most
intense and effective in dealing with the
standard theories of punishment.
use of small details to illuminate the scene
is particularly striking, as when he remarks
that although what happens when people are
‘punished’ is that they are put into prison,
the works of our academic philosophers not
only contain no discussion of imprisonment,
but ‘you won’t even find the term in the
His own account is not
afraid to go into details to bring home what
imprisonment means, and much of this material may be novel to readers of philosophy.
They will find themselves on more familiar
ground in the useful discussion of the clea~
headed way in which the first efforts of
bourgeois society to deal with its deviants
were blessed by its philosophers, and of the
subsequent decline of the traditional theory
of punishment into the present hypocrisy
The chapter on the philosophy of work
offers its share of curious information in
the account of the techniques of the ‘scientific managers’ and ‘job enrichers’.
also some sharp nuggets of argument, directed mainly against the hired prize-fighters
of the industrial system.
A good example
is the precise analysis of the way Nozick
‘abstracts details of every day life under
capitalism and uses them to defend the
structure within which those examples have
their very intelligibility’ (p53).
chief source of dissatisfaction with this
chapter is simply that so many interesting
and important questions are merely adumbrated there.
Thus, for instance, one wishes
for a more detailed working-out of the
connection between the findings of the
different managerial schools and ‘different
philosophies of human nature’ (p66).
this touches on a dimension of one’s response to the work as a whole, the sense that
inside this slim volume a number of fat
ones are struggling to get out.
are reflected in the references throughout
the book to what would be established by an
‘adequate theory~ which is not itself
They show themselves in
the chapter on moral philosophy where it
is clear that Skillen is both sympathetic
to, and dissatisfied with, Warnock’s
account of morality, but the remarks as to
how it might be supplemented are little
more than gestures.
It may also be that a
fuller treatment would dispose of one source
of unease with the argument of the chapter.
It relies heavily on a contrast between a
morality of ‘form’ and one of ‘content’,
but what exactly this amounts to is never
At times we seem to be in touch with
familiar, if still not perspicuous, themes,
as when he speaks of ‘Kant’s ethics of pure
form, or “duty for duty’s sake” (p153).
Elsewhere, more surprisingly, it appears
that an ethics of ‘pure form’ is characterised precisely by the way it reinforces the
claims of duty with external sanctions (see
Moreover, he wishes to consign
to ‘form’ elements which must surely belong
to ‘content’, if any contrast framed in
those terms is to be worth making: ‘It is
… in its stress on djscipline, on the
evils of ease and indulgent consumption, and
on the stern responsibility of each for
ordering his life in accordance with the
harsh realities of life, that I would locate
the key formal dimension of morality as it
represents itself in bourgeois culture’
It is not at all certain that there
is a real incoherence here, but the appearance of one could only be dispelled by a
complete articulation of the argument.
To provide it would be to make a start on
one of the fat books incapsulated here.
is to be hoped that Skillen will get on with
this, for on the present evidence he is well
placed to contribute to the kind of theoretical development we badly need. He speaks
at one point, in a graphic phrase, of
‘Rawls’s attempt to carve a human face on
the cold granite of western social institutions’ (p48), a description that is capable
of much wider application.
It is important
for socialists that the ultimate futility of
the attempt should be demonstrated and the
nature of any cosmetic achievements revealed.
But this can hardly be done unless the
theory we operate with resembles the work
under review in itself being able to show a
This in turn must at some
point involve a move away from the dogmatic
anti-humanism of recent years. The degree
of hegemony over the Left exercised by this
school of thought is likely to puzzle future
historians in view of its lack of any real
intellectual distinction and manifest poverty of sensibility. But part of the explanation must be that, in Britain at least, it
was rushing to occupy a vacuum. For there
existed no home-grown body of socialist
theory with anything like the same assurance,
aspirations to system and methodological
Native reactions which
ignored this basic fact have tended all too
easily to sink into empty posturings of a
positions then appear to offer two sides of
one coin, a contrast between rival national
styles of sentimentality, between the archness of Pour Marx and the whimsy of ‘The
Peculiarities of the English’.
In each case
the sentimentality serves to mask a crucial
failure of achievement.
We need to be ‘for’
a true Marx, a cult figure to whom offerings are appropriate, in order to give our
thinking a semblance of practicality, a
connection, however degenerate, with the
springs of action.
The cult obscures the
fact that the price of our anti-humanism,
with the accompanying loss of every comprehensive image of a better state of human
existence, is that we are unable to generate
any reasons for caring about the kind of
society that Marx spent his life fighting
And we need to fall back on the mysterious efficacy of our traditional ways to
hide ‘a fundamental failure of seriousness
that itself has deep roots in our culture, a
refusal to go against the deepest currents
of our society and submit them, and our
relationship with them, to theoretical
scrutiny. But if anything is to be retained
of the meaning of Marx’s life work, then it
is clear that there can b~ no muddling
through to socialism and that a theory
establishing a rational basis for our hopes
of it is indispensable.
It is to be hoped
that the work being reviewed may be a straw
in the wind, in so far as it suggests that
some philosophers at least are dissatisfied
with these alternatives and have some idea
of how they might be transcended.
Some examples have already been given of
the striking, epigrammatic phrases with
which this work abounds.
It is written
throughout in an informal and vigorous
style, punctuated by some good jokes.
has above all the merit of speaking with a
highly individual voice which, once one has
got used to it, ensures that hardly a sentence could be taken for the work of someone
else. This makes a change from the anonymity of much academic writing and helps to
take the reader along without any sense of
strain. Unfortunately, the effect of these
qualities is reduced by too-frequent signs
of what can only be carelessness or haste.
Sometimes the trouble is simple redundancy,
as in ‘Kant and Plato, now as always, have
always been criticised … ‘ (p8).
we get an ‘one the one hand’ witho~t ever
being told what there is on the other (pl18).
In places the author does not quite succeed
in saying what he means, as when he speaks
of the law as being ‘concerned to penalise
equally’ all breaches of the rules where the
sense must require ‘equally concerned to
There are locutions which
are hopelessly ambiguous, as when he remarks
that moralism conceals the fact that human
nature and the higher ends, for which that
nature has to be conquered, are ‘equally
socially and historically patterned’ (p167).
All of this is a pity, for when Skillen
takes ordinary care he produces a kind of
forceful, unfussy writing that is both uncommon and much needed on the Left.
manner in which references are made to other
works is also unfortunate.
For one thing
the references are incorporated in the text
instead of being tucked away in footnotes or
at the end, and this interrupts the flow and,
to my eye at least, detracts from the look
of the page.
More serious is the fact that
taking all the usual variables; the style
of naming author, name of publisher, date
and place of publication, edition used and
page number, one will find here every
possible combination of omission and inclusion, without any pattern whatever. This
brings one to an aspect of the work which
no reviewer could omit to mention, its
defects as a piece of book-production.
is customary to list the misprints one has
noticed but here it would be a work of
It is difficult to find a
single page free from errors of spelling or
punctuation, and the total number of corrections needed runs into many hundreds.
is a matter of considerable significance,
for its effect is to distance one from the
text, creating a vague, but nagging, doubt
as to whether it can be trusted and thus
giving a slightly surrealist tinge to the
experience of reading.
The publishers of
this work have quickly established themselves as a progressive and enterprising
house and have produced a number of important titles and series to high professional
standards. What has happened in the present
case is clearly an aberration, and it would
be pointless to speculate as to the cause.
But in the end one’s sympathies must lie
with the author who sees his ideas given
public expression in this mutilated form.
Joe M c c a r n e f l
Georg Lukacs: The Ontology of Social Being
Vol.1Hegel (116pp, £1.80)
Vol.2 Marx (173pp, £1.80)
(trans~vid Fernbach, London, Merlin
Lucien Goldmann: Lukacs and Heidegger:
Towards a New Philosophy (trans. William Q.
Boelhower, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul,
pb, 1979, 212pp, £2.50)
For all their considerable interest, these
books reveal some of the dangers of modern
work in the Hegelian Marxist tradition; they
manage to be stimulating and unsatisfactory
at the same time, pointing towards problems
and running away from them into overgeneral
conclusions. The danger in both cases is
that the beginnings of knowledge come to be
represented as total knowledge, and sometimes despite themselves I think both can be
read most usefully as defining rather than
The Lukacs volumes are translations of
Chapters 3 and 4 of the first part of his
Towards an Ontology of Social Being, a work
he corrected, but did not prepare finally
for publication, before his death.
original, they follow a first chapter on
neopositivism and existentialism, and a
second on Nikolai Hartmann. The volume on
Hegel is an example of intricate critical
thinking, an attempt to sort out from ‘the
manure of contradictions’ that which is progressive and useful in Hegel from that which
is not – a critique of Hege1 1s thought by
means of Hegel’s method.
The central contradiction in Hegel himself is seen as a confusion of epistemology and ontology: on the
one hand he appears to argue that philosophical categories are (mediated) reflections
of real world developments; on the other,
that real world developments are governed by
the logical and necessary working out of
For Lukacs, Marxism insists on
the first possibility, re-asserting against the trend of modern philosophy the primacy of ontology over epistemology.
We have to examine each aspect of Hegel’s
system to discover the way in which the
central contradiction works itself out and
thus to recover what is useful.
For example, the abstract and logical
contradiction between being-in-itself and
being-for-other is posited by Hegel as a
negation with a real ontological existence
in the world, organic, inorganic and social.
For Lukacs this is an unjustified projection
of an element in a hierarchical order of
concepts, existing in a homogenous medium,
onto a world which is heterogeneous and not
necessarily hierarchical. The process of
negation is relevant only to one ontological
realm in that heterogeneous world: social
Another result of the same projection is that a teleology characteristic of
only one central aspect of the real world
– labour – is projected onto the whole of
that world, to include both nature and
The most important of Hegel’s discoveries
according to Lukacs is of what he calls the
‘reflection determinations’, which when separated out from Hegel’s contradictory treatment, are seen to be processes in the real
world which (presumably) determine their
reflection in thought (as opposed to processes in thought which determine processes
in the real world).
The most important
processes are those involving essence and
appearance, identity and contradiction, and
immediacy and mediation.
Lukacs’ intention is to restore contact
with the great tradition of Marxist criticism of Hegel, destroyed by Stalinism.
this light the volume on Marx is disappointing – whereas Hegel is examined for his contradictions, in order to find a way forward,
the study of Marx seems to be no more than
the assertion of the superiority of the
latter’s ontology and method,.already implicit in the best of Hegel.
At worst it is
more dogmatism than argument, lapsing back
into techniques of argument Lukacs is trying
to escape from.
At best, it lays down the
general outline of Marxist analysis at the
cost of avoiding problems by means of overgeneralisation.
Labour – a concept whose
importance was discovered and then lost by
Hegel – is the central category of Marx’s
Human social life is thus given a
basis in inorganic and organic being, but
the teleological project which is the defining characteristic of labour introduces a
qualitatively different ontological realm
beyond the inorganic and organic. Marx’s
scientific edonomics is based on the ontology of this new realm. The starting point
– economic production – is itself ontologically prior to other aspects of social life,
since without it those aspects would not
The movement is from this basis,
connecting the non-social to the social,
towards the more ‘purely1 social and again
the central category – value – is central
because of its ontological significance,
combining the production of material usevalues and the more 1purely’ social development of exchange-value. According to Lukacs
this movement from the organic and inorganic
worlds to the more purely social world gives
us a theory of progress which avoids valuejudgments; rather it is able to trace the
generation of value judgments.
At this point the reflection determinations take on their true significance. They
reveal that the processes of the social
world and the processes of thought by which
they are known are different. The overall
movement of Marx’s thought is from the discovery of law-like tendencies at the economic level to the increasingly complex workings of the social totality, some of whjch
counteract the law-like tendencies first
Although historical analysis
plays a part, these relations are discovered
also by abstract theoretical reasoning they cannot be read from history in any
direct way, as Hegel attempted to read the
development of his system.
method involves both, since history is a
movement of essence and appearance, identity
and contradiction etc. – a movement of
History is eventually rooted in the teleological project of labour which generates
both the law-like tendencies of economic
production, and a series of alternatives
from amongst which people must choose.
These law-like tendencies are the basis of
social regularities, but they are only manifested through individual choices which they
Thus Marxism is not a mechanistic determinism: although regularities
constantly re-assert themselves, they do so
in contradictory ways through individual
‘accidents’ that cannot be traced to the
And the further the complexes we study are removed from the
economic level, the more autonomous they are
Lukacs’ own dogmatism seems to lie in the
fact that all this raises problems which
demand a more critical treatment of Marx.
It is not satisfactory to assert that social
regularities maintain themselves through
individual ‘accidents’; the idea seems distinctly magical – as magical as the conjunction of logical categories and real world
development in Hegel.
Moreover the assignment of ontological priority to the economic
does not tell us anything about the role of
the ecOnomic in concrete situations nor how
to discover it.
The need for some critical
taking apart of Marx’s dialectic seems evident, but we are left only with a general
outline of Marx’s method which hides or
avoids the problems.
Goldmann’s book, now available in paperback, consists of a summary introduction
written by Goldmann before his death, a set
of lecture transcripts from 1967-8, and a
1960 ‘paper on ‘Dialectics and Being’.
a useful but very general introduction to
the shared problematics of the young Lukacs
and Heidegger, which develops into a series
of polemics around modern philosophy.
The origins of the work of both Lukacs
and Heidegger are traced to the neo-Kantian
schools of Heidelburg and Marburg and to
Husserl at Freiburg.
three significant lines of descent: first,
Lukacs’ integration, in the course of his
development towards History and Class
Consciousness of elements of the work of
Dilthey, Simmel, Lask and Kierkegaard, as
well as Hegel; secondly, a line from Husserl
through Lukacs; and thirdly a line from
Lukacs’ The Soul and the Forms and History
and Class Consciousness to Heidegger’s Being
and Time (which was itself a developmen~
From here came the flowerlng of phenomenology and existentialism in
European thought generally.
are seen as part of a fundamental revolt
against established traditional thought,
with its rigid separation of the subject of
consciousness and the action of the object.
Both built their systems around the central
conception that the subject of consciousness
is in some way formed by the world that is
its object: there is no break between the
meaning the subject is trying to discover in
the world and the meaning it is trying to
find in its own existence – and that meaning
Both rejected the transcendental subject of their philosophical forebear,
Husserl, Lukacs in favour of a collective
class subject, Heidegger in favour of the
(rare) authentic individual subject.
gave priority to the parallel concepts of
totality (Lukacs) and Being (Heidegger).
The central differences seem to be in the
nature of the subject that each conceives
and the consequent conception of history as
a collective product or as a product of an
elite group of individuals, and in the way
in which each dealt with reification.
According to Goldmann, Heidegger takes up
this last issue directly in response to
Lukacs, though without naming him.
Heidegger, reification is situated at the
ontic level, the proper object of a science,
and beyond the scope of ontology (philosophy:
which is unavoidably distinct from science
as well as more fundamental.
For Lukacs it
was a philosophical problem at its heart
(and more generally science was not cut off
from philosophy), the result of a real separation of subject and object which depended
upon an original or future mediated unity,
and which could be made intelligible only by
a philosophical critique.
The result of
this difference seems to be that Lukacs was
able to see reification as a historical and
historically bounded phenomenorr.
The two thinkers are compared along these
lines, usually to Heidegger’s detriment.
The book then develops into a polemic
against structuralist and post-structuralist
thinkers, and a defence and elaboration of
Goldmann’s own hermeneutics – although it
adds little to what can be found in his
There is also a general attempt
to develop the concept of a collective subject, which for Goldmann is presented inadequately in History and Class Consciousness – as far as I can see because it has
never existed empirically.
This is where
frustration sets in: philosophical categories seem to become hypothetical populations
in the real world, kept or abandoned according to whether they can be found there; if
we were really to read Lukacs or Heidegger’s
work in that way, it would barely be worth
Overall, however, the book is
a useful situating of the two thinkers and a
starting point for a more detailed comparison which unfortunately will not now appear.
Lukacs: The Destruction of Reason
G Lukacs, The Destruction of Reason, Merlin
1980, £12.60 he
Those of us who work specifically in the
field of ideology-analysis have often tended
to hold up as a shining example the close and
cautious Goldmann study of Jansenism, our
paradigm of showing the relations between
forms of ideology and class base. Lukacs
heads in the opposite direction. He attempts
to summarise the whole relations over 150
years between German thought and the ultimate
rise of fascism. Through it all shines (or
g.lowers) Lukacs’ alternative vision of truth,
the opposite of unreason – as revealed by
such unlikely people as Lysenko.
The book seeks to trace a move from an
‘agnostic rationalism’ in Dilthey, Simmel,
Schlegel (even Weber) through such as
Heidegger and Jaspers and Scheler, to
Rosenberg and Hitler. The message is twofold: that the earlier thinkers’ emergent
irrationalism provided bridgeheads for the
later; and secondly ‘The destruction of
reason is not an academic question for specialist philosophers. Throughout this book
we have tried to show that the stance adopted towards reason reached from life intophilosophy, and not from philosophy into
It is a book that poses real problems for
the reviewer, since there is a real danger
of drowning in the sheer magnitude of scholarshjp. Who is competent to evaluate
Lukacs’ opinion of Vissarion Belinsky, Adam
Eschenmayer, Wilhelm Hasbach, Gustav
Tatzenhafer, or Wilhelm Worringer? Who are
they? Part of the difficulty is that
Lukacs himself often only tells us their
‘place’ in the tradition of irrationalism,
neatly bracketing their political significance, but leaving no possibility of independent judgement.
In a number of senses, it is a badly
aprioristic book. One cannot help getting a
sense of Biblical traditions. A begat B who
begat C who was a bad bastard. We know that
A and B were getting bad because they rejected the ‘methodologically necessary economic
basis’ (eg p684). The implici t syllogism,
that C = fascism, and resulted from the loss
of this ‘basis’ may be true (I think it may
well be), but it is unproven.
He says (p6) that the critique of irrationalism requires a simultaneous attack on
its politics, and on its logic. Irrationalism has no immanent history. Each stage of
it is an outcome of real history in the conflict of classes. This would show itself,
he claims, directly in the ‘philosophical
level’ (pll) of each thinker. It won’t be
accidental that Chamberlain and Rosenberg
were much poorer thinkers than their precursors.
(Why this should be so is not made
transparently clear; Lukacs says only that
it results from the extent to which your
class standpoint allows you to raise questions to the ‘peak of understanding’.)
In truth it only gradually becomes clear
what qualifies a theory as irrationalist.
It seems to turn on one or more of several
things: a denial of the objectivity of
values; a reliance on intuition in place of
science; some form of subjectivism. And the
only alternative is Marxism. This leads to
some hard judgements:
‘It no more exculpates Bergson than it is
an exoneration of Spengler of Stephan
George as Hitler’s ideological precursors
that “National Socialism” in practice was
not altogether to their personal taste.
The mere existence of the connecting
links we are outlining must be a serious
warning for every honest Western thinker.
It shows that the possibility of a
fascist, aggressively reactionary ideology is objectively contained in every
philosophical stirring of irrationalism’
As someone who has dabbled in the same
method, I agree in principle.” But I find
Lukacs far from cautious in a field that
demands it par excellence.
Let this review test Lukacs’ case in two
cases only, that I feel fairly competent on:
Weber, and racial theory.
Lukacs recognises the many complexities
of Weber’s position, including his adherence
to a sort of command-democracy, his powerful
attacks on the Kaiser and the Junkers class,
and his personal ‘intellectual rigour’.
But ‘Above all’ was his part in the
‘struggle against materialism’ (p604). At
the heart of Weber’s part in this, Lukacs
cites his use of formal analogies (which dehistoricise); his use of religion as a
second source of motives; and his insistence
on the unproveability of values. Now in one
sense, these are true. But the form of
Lukacs’ attack is revealing. He attacks the
making of values unobjective, but not the
Western tradition of trying to locate values
as such. This is surely an element of the
idealist strain in Lukacs’ thought, that
sees high-order intellectual constructs as
necessary to class struggle, and ‘truth’ and
‘reason’ as clear goals and values (which
are, paradoxically, somewhat ahistorical).
But Lukacs’ case is questionable in at
least one way. Weber, it is true, actually
sought a renewal of irrationalism. He
wanted it because he was afraid that the
wellsprings of human energy were being lost
because of bureaucratic rationalism. It is
even true that the irrationalism that he
wanted to reawaken was non-democratic in its
tendencies. But there is at least a case to
be made that the ,rise of German fascism was
a manifestation of a certain sort of techno-
cratic rationalism against which Weber was
inve1ghing. H1s weakness, on such an
approach, would be in proposing to disarm
the opposition to such domination, not in
giving comfort to the dominators themselves.
What this reveals to me is Lukacs’ picture of the role of organised thought.
Because of his Stalinism, Marxism appears as
the only possible truth. All else that
denies it is comfort for capitalism and preparation for fascism.
If it is true that
for Lukacs life enters into philosophy, and
not vice versa~ it does so at a very high
level of abstraction. Grand philosophical,
sociological, and historical theories are
the first bearers of ideology. By contrast
Marxism can be talked of as the ‘facts’ that
others deny. In the end, therefore,
‘honesty’ is a key value on the side of the
That is why when he turns to racist
theory, he attaches great importance to the
cynicism of Hitler, who at one point
‘I know very well that there is no such
thing as race in a scientific sense. As
.a politician I need a concept enabling
me to abolish the present historical
foundation and to put a new order on an
intellectual footing’ (quoted p722).
Lukacs notes how Gumplovicz, the Social
Darwinist, was prevented by his own subjective honesty from committing himself wholeheartedly to a racist notion of classes,
simply because the evidence from craniometry
etc did not hold up. It took willing liars,
Lukacs effectively says, to couple myth-
making with a conspiracy theory for the
rejection of ‘Jewish’ evidence.
But the suggestion was more complex than
the selective choice of authors suggests.
He cites Rosenberg as separating biological
philosophy, and the science of biology, and
quotes him taking the former to mean: ‘Soul
means race as seen from within’ (quoted
p728). Now that conclusion is not far
distant from the school of social Darwinism
associated with MacDougall (Trotter, Rivers,
etc) who investigated what it feels like to
have an instinct, especially a soc1al one.
The point of this is that they did not need
to have a concept of biological race as distinct genetic pools, but as felt difference.
It is also not good enough to make a separation between the scientists and the ideologists on the point of acceptance or rejection of the theory of evolution. Houston
Chamberlain did, it is true, turn to a timeless ahistorical biology for his racism.
But Haeckel, Lorenz and many others drew
equivalent reactionary politics from a
version of evolutionism that reduced everything to universal processes. These were
also important as intellectual precursors to
Lukacs is obviously important, and this
is a fair sample of the strengths and weaknesses of his contributions. But a word on
the price. If Merlin Press can be so cheap
on such an enormous book (863 pages in hardback), why can’t other publishers?
Turkle: Psychoanalytic Politics
S. Turkle, Psychoanalytic Politics: Freud’s
French Revolut10n, Burnett Books, 1979,
Psychoanalytic Politics is the most interesting and approachable book on Jacques Lacan
and French Freudianism yet written. As such
it is the ideal starting place for anyone
wishing both to situate Lacan and understand
something of left-wing French intellectual
life since the falling out of favour of
existential Marxism and the rise of structuralism. It is a book (being partly history
of ideas and partly sociology of knowledge)
that makes itself a useful companion volume
to Mark Poster’s Existential Marxism in
Postwar France (PrInceton, 1975).
The book 1S divided into four main sections. The first deals with the difference
in American and French interpretations of
Freud; the second with the internal politics
of the French psychoanalytic movement; the
third with the relationship between psychoanalysis and political questions; and the
fourth with the arrival of psychoanalysis
into French popular culture. However, it is
the figure and work of Lacan that unites the
sections of the book and on whom most discussion within it turns. In this short
review I shall briefly refer to some of the
significant points in all four sections that
Sherry Turkle addresses herself to.
Lacan is a fashionable thinker and perforce it is a sociological necessity that
the world he inhabits should describe either
directly or by refraction that fashionability.
It would be an understatement to say
that Louis Althusser has held the centre of
the stage in Marxist intellectual debate
over the past ten to fifteen years. And
although Lacan’s major influence in the UK
and America came later, he has performed for
Freud that which Althusser performed for
Marx: as Althusser has pronounced that Marxism is not a humanism so Lacan has said the
same of Freudianism. In fact much of the
Death-of-the-Subject movement has in radical
circles been presided over by Althusser and
Lacan, and even though both thinkers have
had their revisionists, this is no more than
The expansion of Lacanism since the
failure of May 1968 Turkle argues is not an
accident. It was she claims the apparent
failure of revolutionary spontaneity, the
apparent failure of unfettered revolutionary
emotion and imagination, the failure of
Marcuse and Reich, that left a gap that was
to be filled by new, supposedly rigorous,
considerations – the science of structuralism and the elevation of theoretical practice.
Lacan’s reading of Freud, with its
rejection of voluntarism and its claims to
mathematical and linguistic purity, was
seized upon as part and parcel of a new
To emphasise the systematic nature of
their approach, Lacan and his followers were
at pains to show that French Freudianism had
nothing to do with the vulgarisation Freud
had suffered in the USA.
It was in America
that psychoanalysis had, they claimed, been
perverted into offering pseudo-scientific
panaceas, self-justifications for the
American way of life and voluntaristically
oriented and muddle-headed routes to ‘personal liberation’.
The Lacanians in their
call for a ‘return to Freud’ were in a
strong position because Freud himself had
regarded the American acceptance of psychoanalysis as too easy – a dilution and evaporation of its essential features.
Psychoanalysis was disturbing and forthright in
its attack on commonsense assumptions. Any
community which accepted psychoanalysis with
out difficulty must have therefore accepted
a false version of it.
Freud wrote that
‘the final decisive battle’ for psychoanalysis would be played out ‘where the
greatest resistance has been displayed’.
The history of resistance to Freudianism in
France has made French psychoanalysts in
general (and Lacanians in particular) claim
a special kind of intellectual victory.
Further, the new-found maturity of French
Freudianism could, still from a radical
perspective, in part explain the failure of
It is not the case that Lacan’s
work only flowered after 1968 – one of his
most famous pieces of work, the ‘Mirror
Phase’ was originally presented to the
Fourteenth Congress of the International
Psycho-Analytic Association at Marienbad in
1938. However, although Lacan practised and
had influence before 1968 (e.g. on Althusser
and Lev~-Strauss) it is only after that date
that Lacanism as a radical, widely discussed
movement can be said to have existed.
It was Lacan’s formulation of the Mirror
Phase that first introduced his work to
English readers some twelve years ago in the
pages of New Left Review, and it has been a
persistent pOlnt of reference for Lacan and
The Mjrror Phase occurs in child
development approximately between the ages
of six and eighteen months, at a time when
motor coordination is still limited and confused.
During this period when the child
will normally meet its reflection, Lacan
maintains that it will be involved in a
process of misrecognition.
Far from seeing
itself as a fragmented and decentred being,
the child sees itself as a whole; a wholeness it further extends to its mother and
These imaginary significations
They do not correspond with
reality but are rather indications of a
spurious unity which may in various degrees
persist unless the symbolic, mediating order
This process of symbol apprehension
having been completed the self can then be
derecognised – that is the self is then seen
not as a whole or as complete but as the
spoken fragments of a discourse composed of
elements such as the father, capitalism, and
Lacan in common with other
structuralists sees linguistics as providing
the system of laws that govern the symbolic
domaln and consequently it is in the competing conversations of Lacanian psychoanalysis
that the symbolic may be made substantially
knowable, if not absolutely known.
early child (post six months) Lacan seems to
argue is in direct, unmediated contact with
its own alienation.
This alienation is
further characterised by, among other things,
spontaneity and smiling.
The individual is
seen as determined by structures, as not
dwelling in society but by being dwelt in by
This view has some similarities
with both the pessimism of the Frankfurt
school and an excessively functionalist
reading of Durkheim.
Lacan sees the work of the later Freud as
very much a search for a mechanism that
underlies behaviour, unlike his earlier work
which was, Lacan claims, concerned primarily
with a search for a method for reading the
Lacan’s espousal of the earlier work is one of the key features of his
approach to Freud.
The traditional Freudian
interpretation of the Ego, Id and Superego
runs something like the following:
which is sometimes referred to as the unconscious, is the area within the psychological self that includes repressed desires
and instinctual impulses.
The Superego consists in ethical, moral and aestheti~ views,
and carries the capacity for intr6spection.
The Ego is pressed between the impulses of
the Id and the prohibitions of the Superego.
The Ego consists in perceptions, thought,
memory, etc., and in order to prevent it
being taken over by the Id or Superego (so
that the individual may exist in the real
world) it employs defence mechanisms repression, identification, displacement,
The Ego is like a moderate trade union
leader dimly aware of extreme arguments on
both sides but doing his best to keep his
feet on the ground and live in the real
Since 1930 when Freud began to work
in Ego-psychology per se, there has been a
dramatic growth in this area at the expense
of Freud’s earlier work.
become an optimistic psychology of personal
The Ego is seen as confronting
reality and as having to cope with the vicissitudes of everyday life. Heinz Hartmann
has even posited that the Ego need not
necessarily always ‘carry’ with it neurotic
Lacan’s conception of the Ego is
different, he claims that the Ego cannot be
the judge of its own knowledge, of its own
In fact Lacan’s claims for the
Ego are as a repository of subordination and
The Ego being unable to discriminate between its alienated and its nonalienated desires is represented by Lacan as
the cumulative result of previous identifications with its objects of perception.
Ego does not contain the possibility of selfknowledge but rather the possibility to
understand the impossibility of the Ego’s
‘ability to judge’.
With Lacan’s insistence on the universe
of language as the universe of the uncon-
scious it is consistent that he is opposed
to any biological interpretation of Freud.
He goes further than those we normally associate with this position in claiming that
parts of the body, or specific physical
events, are merely representations of symbolic agents (e.g. kin nomenclature).
Turkle says, ‘according to this way of looking at things, penis envy is not a biological imperative, but is a socially specific
The question of biological
explanation in the work of Freud is one of
considerable disagreement, recently added to
by F.J. Sulloway’s Freud – biologist of the
mind (Burnett Books, 1979). What is clear
1S that Lacan’s position is a violent rejection of any psychoanalytical/biological link,
but it is also clear that Freud maintained
throughout his corpus that the biological
consideration mllst necessarily have a place
in any investigation of the psyche.
Lacan the man occupies a paradoxical
position; he has often been seen as espousing both liberation and authoritarianism.
He has attacked repeatedly the various
national Psychoanalytic Associations as
complacent and unscientific, and he and his
Freudian school were disaffiliated from the
International Psycho-Analytical Association
In addition he has been a persistent critic of various fellow psychoanalysts
and the institutions they work from, castigating these latter as usually hierarchical
However, Lacan has had his own critics
who have accused him of an authoritarianism
that makes those he has criticised look
Thj.s is not the place to offer a
description of such practices, but they are
well documented by Turkle.
What can be said
is that as far as Lacan is concerned those
who oppose his statements and practices are
regarded as disloyal and disobedient.
form of behaviour that oscillates between
conservatism or radicalism seems either
imitative of or coincidental upon (depending
on generosity of perspective) the behaviour
and style of Freud himself.
Just as Freud
was surrounded by the ‘Committee’ (composed
of Abraham, Frenczi, Jones, Rank, Sachs and
Eitingon) which existed to protect and
support him in argument and personal life,
so Lacan is surrounded by the School
Analysts who perform a related function.
In her highly informative chapter on the
French anti-psychiatry movement Turkle
recounts the following interview:
‘I interviewed in the waiting room of a
community mental health centre outside
Paris a woman.
She was a ticket taker
on the Paris Subway.
Her son w~s
The mental health centre where
he was being seen was split between
Communist and Radical Lacanian factions.
She said that she wanted “a real doctor
on the job, not one of those psychoanalyst troublemakers.
They want to
talk, talk, talk, but they can go to
I want my son to learn to read.'”
Lacan has indicated that any form of true
intelligence can only be ‘recognised’ in its
appreciation of the structures of language.
It is Lacan who has insisted on the special
relationship (written, spoken, thought,
suppressed) with the ‘word’.
It is not antiintellectualism to suggest that the mother
with the dyslexic son has a point, and a
point that Lacanians (as a result of their
preoccupations) perhaps more than others
should take cognisance of.
In the end Lacan seems to be saying that
man is born with a tendency to alienate him/
herself and that this alienation can be
further contrived or rejected by certain
While this sentiment is not original the method through
which Lacan articulates it is: ·In short man
is possessed of a signifier that he/she did
not create; a signifier that cannot be
exorcised by psychoanalysis, for ‘cure’ is
not the purpose of Lacanian psychoanalysis.
In the Lacanian system man is condemned to
listen forever to himself being spoken.
Peter Caws, Sartre, Routledge and Kegan Paul,
£8.95; Mark Poster, Sartre’s Marxism, Pluto
Press, £2.95; Sartre by Himself, Urizen
Sartre by Himself, being the translated transcr1pt of Alexandre Astruc’s and Michel
Contat’s 1976 film, provides a familiar, if
ultimately not very informative, selfportrait.
Illness has virtually brought
Sartre’s productive career to a close.
a result,-much of the last ten years or so
has been spent surveying, through interviews,
his own life achievements.
(witness the 1969 NLR ‘Itinerary of a
Thought’ interview) rigorous and critical
interviewing has produced illuminating dis-
closures from Sartre.
film consists in the main of amicable reminiscences with longstanding friends chez
Sartre or de Beauvoir.
Bost, Pouillon, Gorz
and Contat do not provoke Sartre into saying
anything new – certainly nothing that cannot
be garnered from Simone de Beauvoir’s memoirs, Words and other autobiographical
pieces~reover, Sartre apparently sees
nothing of value to be gained from intellectual debate.
In interviews roughly contemporaneous with the film’s conversations Sartre
claimed he had learnt nothing from his critics, saw no point in replying even to the
substantial criticism of Levi-Strauss and
Merleau-Ponty, and thought total rejection
of his thought the only natural form of disagreement.
Surrounded by friends in the
film Sartre can reiterate his disinterest
in philosophical argument and, without challenge, offer such incredible one liners as:
‘I enjoy being with a woman because I’m
bored out of my mind when I have to converse
in the realm of ideas’.
Sartre’s refusal to engage with his opponents makes criticism a thankless enough
task, but it is certainly made more difficult when critics are constrained by other
factors. The books by Caws and Poster
appear within different series, and, in both
cases~ it shows.
Poster’s, as part of the
Pluto Press ‘Marxisms of … ‘ series, is
forced to admit at the very outset that
there are problems about even attributing
marxism to the thought of Sartre – especially given the latter’s stated preference
for the appellation ‘existentialist’ rather
than ‘marxist’. Poster gives a brief synopsis of Sartre’s political development, but
largely ignores earlier essays such as
‘Materialism and Revolution’, The Ghost of
Stalin and Communists and the Peace in
favour of a substant1al analys1s of the
Critique of Dialectical Reason. Minor
cav.11s apart, 1t 1S a workmanlike exegesis.
However, viewing a twenty-year-old work as
a ‘challenge and an opening for new lines of
development’ is a problem. Sartre’s own
subsequent use of the Critique’s theoretical
advances in L’Idiot de la Fam11le is introduced by Poster on the last page and a half,
and subsequent critical reaction is summarily, and unsatisfactorily, dismissed. The
real problem, however, is Poster’s apparent
inability to resolve the question of whether
the Critique is a work of marxism or not.
We are told that the work ‘does not challenge the basic concepts of marxism’ (p77)
yet ‘helps overcome theoretical deficiencies
within the works of Marx and Engels’ (pIS).
This is hard to reconcile with Poster’s admission that the Critique provides ‘no discussion of the theory of the mode of production, no examination of the tendencies of
capitalist society as outlined in Capital,
no systematic presentation of historical
materialism’. For instance, if the concept
of ‘series’ allows marxism to provide an
adequate account of class consciousness (see
Ch.4), it doesn’t help that the concept is
also admitted to be left entirely unrelated
to changes in the mode of production (p76).
Indeed, Sartre is accepted to have ‘no way
to estimate what the mode of production is’
(p78). Again, an adequate account of ideology is regarded as essential to modern
marxist theory, yet Sartre’s discussion of
the topic is ‘weak, a severe deficiency in
the book’ (pI13). The overriding problem is
where to situate Sartre’s ‘revision’ of marxism. The Critique, according to Poster, is
not to be read as a discovery of the movement of History, the relations of production,
or class conflict but as a revelation and
establishment of dialectical Rationality.
If not read with these limited purposes in
mind ‘the reader will mistake Sartre’s concepts for historical facts and find them
wanting’ (p47). How then does the Critique
provide categories of historical materialism
whose ‘main test … must come in empirical
studies’ (plI2)? One is left with the uncomfortable feeling that Sartre’s Critique
is praiseworthy in terms of Sartre’s own
progression from Being and Nothingness. If
Sartre’s account conflicts with marxism, it
is because the latter’s ‘traditional categories’ are, as Sartre says, in need of (his:
revision; if Sartre says he accepts the
basic categories of marxism, no more need
really be said, even if Sartre’s own
theoretical innovations are left unrelated
(and unrelatable) to the former.
Peter Caws’ book, on the other hand,
appears in the RKP ‘Arguments of the
Philosophers’ series, and its major failing
seems to me to be its taking both halves of
this rubric seriously. The blurb’s proud
claim is that the book provides ‘a systematic reading of the entire corpus of JeanPaul Sartre’s philosophical writings’.
However, one gets the irritating feeling
that, rather than the sustained thesis of a
‘lifework’ (~la M~sz~ros), Sartre’s writing
is to be regarded as an aggregate series of
partially, or completely, unsatisfactory
arguments. Early on Caws admits that ‘the
coherence of this oeuvre is to be found in
the man himself, in h1S intellectual development and his changing situation’, but then
proceeds largely to ignore his own prescription. The decision to treat Sartre as a
‘philosopher’ whose ‘arguments’ have a valid
claim to interest the analytic tradition
thus leads both to a curious howdlerisation
of his writings and a removal of these from
their proper biographical and historical
(context. For instance, critical considerations of Saint-Genet, Wha.t is Literature?
sit uneas1ly within sustained exegeses of
the major philosophical texts; the literary
writings are initially ‘bracketed out’ only
to re emerge as explanatory postscripts to
several important ‘arguments’ . . But the
reductio of Caws’ approach is his decision
to treat L’Idiot de la Famille as a ‘life,
a biography, not a work of philosophy’ and
then to extract the few properly ‘philosophical’ nuggets from the text. Presumably,
Sartre’s attempt to answer his own question
– ‘What can we know of a man today?’ cannot be the subject of a ‘philosophical
To his credit, Caws does provide an interesting early chapter, ‘Language and its
Uses’, which is one of the few analyses of
Sartre’s naive view of language. However,
here again, this particular ‘argument’
seems discretely isolated from later criticism whereas it could, for instance, have
been usefully employed in helping to explain
Sartre’s intemperate attitude to ‘structuralism’ in the 1960s. The problems associated
with Sartre’s evacuation from consciousness
of all the normal criteria of personal identity are fairly treated but, and this raises
a final problem about the book, Caws cannot
be unaware that this constitutes a fairly
well-rehearsed criticism of Sartre. Caws’
decision to ignore secondary criticism (and
write a book concerning the arguments of,
not about, Sartre) is praiseworthy, but it
does make the book all the more vulnerable.
It is not substantial enough to stand as a
considered critical overview of· Sartre’s
lifework (and certainly not with the pUbJication of Meszaros’ book); and as a beginner’s introduction, given the availability
of other secondary work on the texts considered, it also fails.
Hilary Putnam, Meaning and the Moral
Sciences, Routleage and Kegan Paul, 1979,
Putnam’s book, compiled from lectures, provides an explanation of the current interest
in Tarski’s theory of truth. That so much
time should have been given to discussion of
this theory might seem to demonstrate the
perversity of analytical philosophers since
it is the proud boast of many of the adherents to the theory that it is philosophically neutral, having no epistemological or
metaphysical implications, and since the
formulations which it has produced have the
appearance of triviality. Putnam claims that
Tarski’s theory is ‘very non-trivial’ in
that it gives an account of the formal logic
of the concept ‘true’. There is much more
to,the notion of truth than is provided by
its formal logic, and so philosophical supplementation (such as for example a correspondence account of truth) is needed which
will thereby show that truth is not philosophically neutral. TarsKITs theory provides, via Convention – T, a test of the
adequacy of any philosophical supplementation.
The main body of the book is taken up
with an attempt to show that a correspondence account is needed to understand how
language and science work. Putnam views the
language speaker as constructing a symbolic
representation of his environment through
causal interaction with it. The accuracy
or otherwise of his representation will
a-count for his degree of success in dealing
with his environment. Thus the nature of
language and truth is linked with the issue
of the success of science. There is surely
much that is right in Putnam’s criticism of
Kuhn and Feyerabend. His earlier criticism
of the idealism implicit in positivism (in
the article ‘Dreaming and Depth Grammar’)
was that different criteria may be used for
identifying the same natural kind, such as
an acid, over a period of time, and it is
this argument against idealism which
supports his rejection of the meta-inductlon
which he derives from Kuhn and Feyerabend
that ‘just as no term used in the science of
more than fifty (or whatever) years ago referred, so it will turn out that no term
used now (except maybe observation terms, if
there are such) refer’ (p2S). However, from
his previous work it will be clear that
Putnam is not naive about science and
scientists, and in the present volume this
is borne out by his discussion of the
‘interest relativity’ of explanation and his
account of physics as a closed system.
It would have been interesting to have
seen the critique of idealism extended to
other fields. There are, for example, distinctly idealistic strains in the thought of
some sociologists of knowledge, such as
M.F.D. Young. Putnam confines his comments
on the social sciences to a critique of
scientism. This he explains at the thesis
that the social scientist needs to construct
a detailed mathematical model of his subject
equivalent to those constructed by physicists, and that all genuine knowledge must
conform to that paradigm. However, he
allows that ‘social forms succeed one another’, that economic organisation places
constraints on social organisation, and even
that ‘we may, of course, discover empirical
regularities and perhaps even laws about
human beings’ (p37). The atta~n scientism therefore appears to be directed against
the physicalist claim that all human behaviour is in principle capable of explanation
and prediction through the use of detailed
explanatory models of the complete functional organisation of human beings. Putnam
argues that explicitly human notions such as
‘translation’, ‘reasonable’ and ‘explanation’
involve ‘everything that we know’ and are
not to be explained in mechanical terms.
Even if such complete models could in principle be made available nevertheless predictions about behaviour could not be made in
real time: ‘It may be for example, that the
shortest deduction of what I will do in five
minutes from now (or the probabilities of
various alternatives) would take a thousand
years to complete’ (p64).
The ‘blurb’ on the cover quotes Philip
Pettit as saying ‘the book will attain a
position within the philosophy of science
which will make it required reading for
every aspiring methodologist. ‘ It is difficult to agree with this. The discussion of
the convergence of science is of interest,
there are interesting but very sketchy
remarks on verstehen as a source of prior
probability in the choice of hypotheses, but
an attack directly mainly again~tphysical
ism is not going to have a great impact on
The long thread of argument from physicalism in reference (a strange theory
expoused by Hartry Field, criticism of which
leads Putnam to a general theory of constraints placed on possibilities of translation) to the rejection of physicalism is
supposed to end in a rejection of the naturalistic fallacy and a demonstration of moral
reasoning as a form of practical reasoning.
The links in the argument are ingenious but
unconvincing. The chain of reasoning and
Putnam’s realist philosophy is equally compatible with a separation of fact and value
on the lines argued for by Russell Keat
(RP23). Indeed, a thorough discussion of
this issue and a consequent acceptance or
rejection of the kind of realist morality
which might be developed from it would have
been far more useful than the bland account
of practical reasoning which Putnam gestures
at here. The book is strong on the account
of meaning and its implications but weak on
the moral sciences.
James Miller, History and Human Existence,
From Marx to Merleau-Ponty, University of
California Press, £9.50
This is a very unsatisfactory book whose
various parts cannot sustain its initial
bold claim to be ‘an introduction to the
treatment of human existence and individuality in Marxist thought’. A long first sec~
tion guides the reader through a ‘subjectivist’ reading of Marx which seeks to uncover
the ‘visionary theorist of individual emancipation behind the critic of classical
political economy’. To that end, Marx is
interpreted as having always stressed the
ontological primacy of the individual and as
having had as his emancipatory telos full
individulation (‘By “individuation” … I
refer to the process whereby human beings
become distinctive, autonomous, and selfconscious agents, each capable of purposefully reshaping the natural world and of
independently evaluating moral claims’).
The labour theory of value, thus, is seen as
‘an assertion of historic right’ with the
moral function of establishing the ‘integrity of labour’ as an ‘index of human dignity and true individuality’. The overthrow
of capitalist relations of production is
invested with a prescriptive, not historical,
For Marx, being a ‘rational
optimist’, fixed at the centre of his system
the notion of ‘interest’, whereby all
reasonable individuals comprising the proletariat would eventually come to see the
reasonability of socialist revolution.
However, Marx is rebuked for having bequeathed an ambiguous legacy – ambiguous
between its true rational optimism and a
certain positivistic determinism. Needless
to say, ‘orthodoxy’ has, for Miller, triumphed over authenticity and consequently
‘the history of Marxist theory is the story
of a retreat from Marx’s original thinking’.
This claim is supported by a 20-page critique of ‘orthodoxy’ in the persons of Engel~
Plekhanov, Labriola and Lenin.
Lukacs and Gramsci are given just over 10
pages to wave the flag for ‘revolutionary
And so on to the ‘existential Marxism’ of
Sartre and Merleau-Ponty for the latest and
most ‘provocative’ example of Marxism built
on subjective foundations.
such service their work receives something
of a mauling.
Having already been characterised as the arch anti-rationalist, antiindividualist ‘orthodoxy’, Leninism is
exorcised wherever it raises its ugly head
in the existentialists’ writings.
To subtitle Sartre’s Communists and the Peace,
‘In Praise of Leninism’ seriously begs the
question as to how much understanding, if
any, Sartre had of Lenin.
Besides, to find
the work ‘extraordinary’ coming from a
philosopher of freedom like Sartre is, to
say the least, naive. Given the circumstances of its writing and its theoretical
and political connections with the later
Critique, the work raises far more interesting and important questions about Sartre’s
politics than Miller is prepared to recognise.
The same accusatory rashness leads
Miller to condemn Merleau-Ponty’s Humanism
and Terror, with ‘its tortured logic’, as a
‘muddled little tract’. Adventures of the
Dialectic, perhaps, merits such condemnation,
but not, on the evidence offered, Humanism
and Terror. Curiously, Miller draws out
from Phenomenology of Perception a phenomenological account of ‘becoming a proletarian’
whilst neglecting the far more illuminating
essays of Sense and Non-sense. No real use
is made of Merleau-Ponty’s own lifelong
attack upon Sartre’s ‘subjectivism’, and, in
general, Miller’s refusal to situate either
Sartre or Merleau-Ponty’s work in their
historical and biographical contexts vitiates his exegeses.
In sum, an authentic Marxist legacy is
neither reinstated in Marx nor rescued by
the existentialists’ work.
It is a fitting
irony that Merleau-Ponty’s own disillusion
with Marxism should remain without any proper explanation and that the ‘provocative’
Sartrean rebuilding of a subjectivist Marxism should be undercut by Sartre’s own
recent disclaimer of Marxist allegiance.
William L. Reese, Dictionary of Philosophy
and Religion, Harvester Press, 1980, £40.00
William Reese’s Dictionary embodies what
might be termed the obstacle course approach
to philosophy and religion. The whole field
of human thought is set out with logical obstacles and the student-spectator watches
mental athletes race around it. Some of
course get further than others but they all
fall sooner or later into the traps that
language has set for them. Someone like J.S.
Mill, for instance, had lots of puff and his
idea of Utilitarianism, ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number, where happiness
was the criterion of moral value’·, went a
respectful distance. However, he forced
himself into the position where, according
to his criterion, a very happy pig might be
considered better than a moderately happy
human being. This was obviously outrageous
and mill, realising as much, introduced
standards of lower and higher happiness into
his system. This was where he tripped up,
because any talk of higher and lower happiness meant that the original criterion had
to be replaced. Locke encountered similar
hurdles in his ethical doctrines when he
watered down his criterion of pleasure into
proximate pleasure, whilst Hume was even
less successful since his attempts to make
empiricism consistent rendered it ridiculous.
Kant too was wrong, but he was also so difficult to make out that noone could be quite
sure to catch him out. The result of this
approach – more or less standard in undergraduate philosophy courses, and formulated
particularly clearly in Russell’s History of
Western Philosophy – is twofold. Firstly,
it suggests that from the vantage point of
today’s consensus there is little to choose
between any of our predecessors; ‘there’s no
progress in philosophy’, and secondly, that
it is pretty useless to enter a field where
such dignified contestants have failed; ‘all
philosophy consists of footnotes to Plato,
or Descartes or Kant’.
Reese isn’t of course quite so blatantly
cynical or teleological, but the elaborate
system of cross-reference he employs does
have the effect of reducing complex movements and terms to those who introduced or
developed them and thereby emphasising the
ambiguities and contradictions which (inevit-
Michel Foucault – Power, Truth, Strate
edite by M. Morris an P. Patton, Feral
PubJications, Sydney, Australia, no price
ably) occur when heterogenous influences converge in ‘great minds’. The objective of
his dictionary is to encourage a process of
orientation through what is termed ‘conceptual triangulation’ – a notion which involves
beginning from a term, person or movement
and proceeding to the other two. However,
because the entries themselves converge on
those individuals who define and situate the
themes in the book, the context of any term
or movement is often a confused and uncertain one. The effect is therefore to translate a historical development into a logical
topography. Whilst the result emphasises
the manner in which definitions and terms
are continually contested and how general
areas like ‘ethics’, ‘epistemology’ and
‘philosophy of science’ arise from such
struggles, there is no indication of how new
directions emerge or old problems discarded.
This is nonetheless preferable to many other
dictionaries which, in offering ‘concise
definitions’, cut across historical and contextual boundaries and so picture philosophy
as the timeless endeavour to tackle perennial problems. Indeed, viewed against other
dictionaries of philosophy (and of religion)
Reese has produced a useful and highly readable text. Because it was produced singlehandedly over a period of twenty years some
of the bibliographies are a little dated
(i.e. Popper, Althusser) and the translation
of titles is occasionally faulty (i.e.
Carnap’s Logical Structure of the. World is
given as the Logical Constructlon of the
World, and Althusser’s Readln CaEltal as
On reading ‘Capital’, 2 Vol) ut e does include features on the New Philosophers,
Lacan and L~vi-Strauss. On the whole, this
dictionary is undoubtedly as good as the
limitations inherent in Reese’s approach
permit and, despite the preposterous pricetag, it would be popular in libraries.
This book is divided into two parts.
first an introductory article which locates
Foucault intellectually and politically, is
followed by translations of texts by, and
interviews with, Foucault himself. A central
theme developed in this section is that the
material basis of state power lies in the
power relations of everyday life, in the
mundane everyday interactions between people.
Structures of authority and prohibition are
not to be understood primarily as externally
imposed constraints. Rather the state is to
be regarded as superstructural, as the distillation and ‘codification of a multitude of
power-relations which render its functioning
possible’ (p79). In the first part of the
book Foucault describes briefly some of the
mechanisms whereby such power relationships
operate, with particularly emphasis on the
way in which they are embodied in modes of
The second part of the book contains a
working paper by Patton on Discipline and
Punish, and pieces by Morris and by Foss.
In these Foucault’s work is fused with feminism and with literary criticism. Admittedly
it is not always clear what these authors
have gained from him, though this is hardly
surprising. Foucault’s writing has subtle,
difficult-to-specify effects on his readers.
He can be at once infuriatingly obscure and
profoundly stimulating, tending to insinuate
himself into the fabric of one~smind, leaving indelible trades, triggering dee~seated
responses. This book is a valuable contribution to .that process of grasping Foucault’s
Roy Bhaskar’s article ‘Scientific Explanation and
Human Emancipation’ in RP26 contained a number of
typing errors we wish to correct:
page 19, column 1, line 19:
Add ‘and so always gives; and historical reproducts
page 20, column 2, Diagram 5:
Insert ‘nb V, T, (F) stand for values, theories
and sets of facts respectively’ beneath diagram
page 21, column 2, line 5:
Read ‘rational’ for ‘relational’
page 23, column 1, line 69:
Read ‘or’ for ‘of’
page 23, column 2, lines 2-3:
Read 1.S.l (i) T~P. (ii) T exp I(P)
V(S -+ I(P)) -+ (iv) vr/J -S
page 23, column 2, line 68:
Read ‘and that’ for ‘that that’
page 24, column 1, line 20:
Read ‘free’ for ‘freed’
page 24, column 1, lines 35-36:
Read T ~P. T exp C(P) -+ -yeS -+ C(P)
page 26, column 2, line 62:
Read ‘or’ for ‘of’
page 27, column 1, line 4:
Read ‘depends upon’ for ‘investigates’
page 27, column 1, line 14:
Read ‘acts’ for ‘aspects’.
Apologies to both Roy and our readers.
D. Silverman and B. Torode, The Material
World, RKP, 1980, £9.50 hc, £5.95 pb
The somewhat skeletal key to the substance of
this self-proclaimed ‘quasi-textbook’ is to
be found in its introductory chapter. Two
claims are made.
On the one hand there is the decidedly
eclectic purpose of providing an exegesis of
‘some’ (apparently randomly or autobio~raphic
ally chosen) theories of language and its
limits. This aspect of the project is seemingly its own justification; no attempt is,
or indeed could be, made to tie together the
thirteen discrete theories exaMined, nor is
any indication given as to why these theories
are of relevance to theories of society. The
answer is probably that they are not, certainly as presented they merely confirm a longstanding tradition of arbitrary sociological
‘borrowings’ from philosophy.
The second claim is theoretical and altogether more interesting. The nroject is to
provide a ‘material’ theory of language and
to use this as a political intervention or
‘interruption’ of” contemporary theories of the
neutrality of language. Language is defined
as being plural and open; inherent, therefore,
in the use of language is the adontion of
certain political choices. More specifically
the often asserted neutrality of interpretation is impugned, ‘interpretation constitutes
a mode of relationship between discourses’,
which is roughly that” of master/slave. Herewith, then, another attack on the tradition
of analytic nhilosophy and its conception of
language. The method of this intervention,
however, is largely indirect or even incidental to the text itself.
An extremely diverse group of alternative
theories of language, ranging from theories
of everyday discourse to structural lin~uist
ics, are presented and then examined. The
theoretical purpose of the analysis is to
evince whether or not the ‘appearance’, what
the theories say, is consistent with their
‘reality’, what the text actually does.
Generally the theories are shown to be internally inconsistent and their lacunae are
remedied with the largely unar~ued assertion
of thenossibility and priority of a materialist, emancipatory, reading. Kafka’s dialectic
of black and white is remedied with the excluded red, under the aegis of a progressive
reading of Wittgenstein; Althusser’s theory
of ideology is proven ideological itself,l
while Robbe-Grillet’s ‘pauses’, ‘snaces’,
‘blanks’ and non-sequential ‘~ars are used
semiologically to deconstruct the hidden
machinery of the authorial textual code.
Habermas alone is cautiously and briefly
“” The end resul t of this plethora of linguistic theories is one of confusion, both at the
methods employed and at the results proclaimed. While much of the material examined is
interesting in its own right, the comnilation
or overall effect is of some elaborate and
unexplicated theoretical palimpsest; each new
chap~er wipes the slate ciean 6f the last,
notwithstanding various repetitions and
In conclusion, there is perhaps a more
abstract philosophical question at stake.
The authors take nains to specify that as
against the view that language is a reality
sui generis, it necessarily refers to a reality other than itself. This ‘other’ reality
is another language. They then suggest that
the cross-reference of languages refers to a
reality ‘other than’ language. This reality
other than language makes no appearance in
the text. In the absence of any textual
practice to the contrary, the possibility
that language is referential or reflective of
a ‘real’ somehow outside language is erased
by the implicit assumption of the autonomy of
a seamless and a-historical web of texts.
While the autonomy of textual practice is in
some measure an assertion of discursive freedom, and is cognisant of the political issues
at stake in inter-textual relationships, the
radical vocabulary and social critioue
inspired by this freedom seems to have little
basis outside verbal remedies for ideological
errors. The notion of theoretical practice 2
creeps back in as a panacea for ~hat is often
the ~ailure or absen~e of nolitical practice.
The price we then pay for discursive-freedom
is that of its mushrooming ‘ex nihilo’, to
use Marx’s phrase, from an a-historical vista
of texts. it becomes the metalanguage of
some imagined freedom, a utopia of words.
Torode carefully omits any analysis of
Althusser’s own claim that ideOlogy does not
have a history; nor does he avert to the notion
of class struggle in theory.
2 Debray remarks in relation to the notion of
theoretical practice, ‘all we had to do now was
to sit back and be lazy bastards’ (Prison