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46 Reviews


Whitehead Revisited

A.N. Whitehead, Science and the Modern World. London: Free
Associated Books, 1985. £4.95 pb.

Free Association Books have brought out a new edition of
Science and the ~odern !orld, first published
m 1926. It is some years since it was last available in the
UK. The initiative for this facsimile reprint was taken by
Bob Young, of the Radical Science collective. This may
occasion some astonishment. Whitehead has his followers
– for example among the advocates of Process Theology and he was clearly regarded as a towering figure in his
adopted land, but it is surprising to find him associated
with the perspective of Radical Science. The explanation
for this association is to be found partly in Bob Young’s
autobiographical confession. However, it is by no means
obvious that readers in the ’80s can recapture the
‘liberating’ effect which reading Whitehead could have in
the ’50s and ’60s. Indeed, if there are respects in which
Whitehead’s writings prefigure contemporary discussions,
that fact itself robs us of the element of surprise. Why
then is it important to re-read Whitehead? Is this
repUblication simply an attempt to construct a radical
tradition – Radical Science’S search for aristocratic roots?

Or are there pressing contemporary issues which require us
to reconsider the significance of Whitehead’s Philosophy
of Organism?

Whitehead has not become a ‘landmark’ figure in the UK
philosophy curriculum – at least not~. He did not
participate in positivism’s self-styled Revolution in
Philosophy, but engaged upon a vast project of his own.

This project seemed immensely profound to those swept up
in his train of thought, but others found it wrong-headed
and scarcely intelligible. He is perhaps the very last
victim of an historiographical tradition which treats all
attempts at speculative metaphysics after Kant as
adventitious nonsense. And his own suggestion that his
thoughts represent a ‘recursion’ to the ideas of John Locke
can hardly have evinced an impression of ‘modernity’. The
central philosophical concerns of Anglo-Saxon philosophy
in the period in which his main writings were penned, and
in the decades which followed, were set quite at variance
with Whitehead’s own.

He is most frequently mentioned simply as the coauthor of the awesome edifice of the Principia
Mathematica. As David Watson has put it, Whitehead is
treated as ‘a mathematical cuI de sac on the route to
logical positivism’. HoweveGWhitehead was a
remarkable thinker, with not one but several careers.

In the first phase, prior to his collaboration with
Russell, he established himself at Cambridge as a


mathematician of sufficient distinction to be elected a
Fellow of the Royal Society. He was impressed with the
development of ‘field’ theories in physics and tried to
show how physical geometry could be freed from its
association with material particles in Absolute Space.

After Principia Mathematica Whitehead became Professor
of Applied Mathematics at Imperial College. In this
Middle Phase he embarked upon a series of works in ‘the
philosophy of science’ which addressed the problem of the
relation of theory to the world of experience. These
culminated in a philosophical critique of Einstein’s
general theory of relativity which Whitehead carried
through to the point of proposing an alternative theory of
gravitation in 1922. Whitehead, however, moved on. At
the age of 63 this mathematician/logician/natural
philosopher uprooted himself to Harvard to start
life and to undertake the construction of what has been
hailed as the most rigorous system of speCUlative
metaphysics ever devised.

The main achievement of his ‘Middle Period’ was his
theory of extensive abstraction, in which he tried to show
how the rich, vague confusion of experience could support
the apparatus of mathematical physics. Conversely this
showed how the apparatus of mathematical physics could
be used without a Cartesian style commitment to physical
reality as a purely ‘mathematical substance’.

Geometrical abstractions, such as ‘point particles’, are
not part of the content of exper ience and it is a fallacy to
think they must be real. Concrete processes of becoming
are extended in both time and space. But ‘points’, ‘lines’

and ‘planes’ can be defined in terms of converging series
of smaller and smaller ‘regions’, and ‘instants’ can be
defined in terms of converging· series of overlapping
‘events’. Whitehead showed that these series could
constitute ‘objects’ for mathematical physics. We do not
have to think of the real world as the ‘idealised limits’ of
these series standing beyond what is given in actual
experience. Thus the world may indeed be a ‘community’

of spatio-temporally extended processes rather than a
succession of the instantaneous configurations of
permanent and independent material particles.

This thesis as to how our knowledge of the external
world comes to take on a geometrical character seems to
imply that we impose ‘uniform relatedness’ upon
experience. Thus space-time geometry must be uniform.

Within this uniform framework physical processes exhibit
contingent uniformities or non-uniformities. Thus
gravitation is interpreted in terms of physical influences
acting within a uniform, albeit non-Euclidean, spacetime.

Einstein’s theory on the other hand developed an


‘immanent’ geometry of the physical world which gives
particular significance to the behaviour of light rays in
vacuo. Such rays are physical ‘straightest lines’. Thus for
Einstein gravitation becomes natural motion within a nonuniform space-time. Whitehead’s philosophical objection
to Einstein’s theory is that it treats what should be
recognised as a necessary feature of the way we organise
experience as if it were a purely contingent fact about the
physical world.

Most theoreticians were not impressed by Whitehead’s
alternative which seemed to generate the same predictions
as Einstein’s theory. ‘Philosophical’ arguments for it were
not calculated to appeal to the community of physicists.

Einstein himself had warned of the ‘disservice’ done to
physics by philosophers who had raised the concepts of
space and time ‘to the Olympian heights of the ~ priori’ and now Whitehead seemed to be doing it again. The lack
of any evidence against Whitehead was not sufficient for
him to be taken seriously. In fact it had to wait until 1971
for someone to derive a prediction from Whitehead’s theory
which conflicted with known evidence! – and who is to say
whether some other persons of ingenuity might not be able
to negotiate a way around this ‘anomaly’? Given the fact
that Whitehead’s theory has received relatively little
serious attention, it is perhaps not surprising that it
remains poorly articulated in comparison with Einstein’s
and hence offers no serious competition. It would be of
interest to know just how firm are the connections between
his general philosophical position and the physical theory
he articulated. It is however doubtful whether the arrow
of modus tollens reaches to the heart of the Philosophy of
Organism Whitehead articulated in his years at Harvard.

During this past ‘Metaphysical Period’ Whitehead
developed his most profound reflections on ultimate
philosophical puzzles and demonstrated an encyclopedic
knowledge of the history of ideas. The co-author of
Principia Mathematica held him in enormous respect, but
clearly felt that this metaphysical work was worthless.

It was undertaken in a period in which all ‘system
building’ was threatened with demolition. While
venerated relics bequeathed by history might be taken
seriously, to build a new monument must have seemed an
act of folly. But positivist iconoclasm has passed into
history with the movement itself; we are not bound to
accept the negative evaluation given to his work by
Whitehead’s English contemporaries. By making one of the
texts from the Metaphysical Period accessible again, Free
Association Books invites a revaluation of Whitehead’s
posi tion in the philosophical canon.

Science and the Modern World arose from the Lowell
Lectures deliveredin -February 1925. It contains material
of different kinds: an essay in the history of ideas;
discussions of the philosophical significance of relativity
and quantum theory; and an early sketch of the
‘philosophy of organism’.

As an histor ian of ideas there is no doubt about the
synoptic scope of Whitehead’s vision, but it is important to
be alert to the nature of his historical writing. He
explores the past in order to learn what is relevant to the
present. He is strongly conscious of the progressive
character of human knowledge, but watchful of ways in
which our thought can be imprisoned by past philosophical
errors. Though he can enter imaginatively into the ‘world’

of the past, this isn’t the point of the exercise. His
historiographical temper is teleological and normative.

Significantly ideas are given absolute primacy: there is
little attention to social or economic conditions. It
would be inappropriate to take this as a model and there
are, of course, also respects in which more recent
scholarship would modify his story. The book has interest
as an outstanding exemplar of a particular type of
historical writing, itself indicative of a particular period.

And the variety of the material which Whitehead weaves
into his story is a challenge to common assumptions about
‘subject boundaries’ – how many philosophers of science

discuss romantic poetry? But the main interest IJes In the
philosophizing for which the historical story provides the

One recurring target in Whitehead’s writing is what he
called the fallacy of misplaced concreteness, i.e. our
tendency to take ‘a theoretical abstraction’ to be ‘the
real thing’. This tendency is responsible for a radical
bifurcation of nature – the separation of ‘primary’ from
‘secondary’ qualities which has no warrant within actual
experience. The idea that the ‘world’ is really nothing
more than a swirling configuration of ‘hard, massy,
impenetrable, moveable particles’ acted upon by forces
involves taking the abstractions of Classical Mechanics to
be what is real and concrete. All else – colour, taste,
scent, sound and warmth – is the work of our minds; nature
itself is dull and meaningless. But this is a ‘world’ in
which there is actually no place for ourselves. Cartesian
dualism expresses this consequence.

‘Scientific materialism’ involves imposing theoretical
abstractions upon the richness of actual experience, in a
way which is demonstrably inconsistent with fundamental
facts about the world. A coherent and unified
metaphysical scheme must give an adequate account of all
facets of human experience. Both we ourselves and our
experience are features of the process of nature.

The twentieth century revolution in physics however
undermines the presuppositions of classical physics and, so
to speak, loosens the grip of ‘scientific materialism’. The
Theory of Relativity abolishes the all-pervading
mechanical aether. But more deeply it replaces the
‘intrinsic characteristics’ of independent objects by
‘relational properties’. This interrelatedness of things is
an explicit feature of Relativity, and as early as 1925
Whitehead detects that ‘organic inter-relatedness’ is a
developing feature of the ‘new’ Quantum Theory. But,
striking though these interpretations may be, his
metaphysical theory is not intended simply to be a
response to the revolution in physics. It is significant that
it can cope with such upheavals in a natural way, but even
had Newtonian mathematical physics remaineQ unscathed
by experiment and observation, Whitehead would have
Challenged its metaphysical interpretation. The ability
to make sense of our scientific understanding of the world
is an obligatory but hazardous test for a metaphysical
scheme. Failure to comprehend current scientific thought
is disastrous for such a scheme, but too close an
accommodation will render it as vulnerable as the
theories of the moment. On the other hand a scheme which
avoids the possibility of conflict or refutation will seem

to lack relevance. This implies the adventure of
speculative metaphysics need have no final conclusion reworking and rethinking may be a permanent feature of
the enterprise – but this is no cause for despair.

The ‘Philosophy of Organism’ needs the support of more
general arguments, showing that it can make sense of the
whole of our experience of the world in a way which is
consistent with our understanding of how that world
works. Thus Whitehead attempts to assimilate the way we
experience the world to the way ‘things’ are constituted
through manifold processes of interaction. In


‘experiencing’ we interact with the world and both alter it
and are altered by it. In analogy with our conscious
apprehension of other objects, ‘objects’ themselves
prehend other objects. And this is more than analogy:

ultimately the former must be seen as a special case of
the latter. Furthermore the ‘ingressions’ of such
‘prehensions’ into ‘actual occasions’ are constitutive of
those occasions. There are no fixed, immutable, material
objects with their own intrinsic characteristics persisting
in empty Space through limitless Time. Gone is Lucretius’

world of ‘Atoms and the Void’! The ingredients of
Whitehead’s world are organic processes in which we are

This notion that the World is a Process is central to
Whitehead’s thought. He felt that if the history of nature
is conceived as a succession of instantaneous
configurations of particles then the idea of change is
altogether lost. Now some objects are ‘uniform’ in the
sense that they remain unchanged throughout a certain
period of time, while others are ‘non-uniform’ implying
that they cannot be defined except in terms of ‘temporal1y
extended processes’. If we fix our gaze on the abstractions
of Classical Mechanics we tend to expect the ultimately
real entities to be objects of the former type – like
Democritus’ atoms. On this viewpoint ‘objects’ of the
latter type are treated as derivative and secondary. They
are merely conveniently label1ed bundles of the
permanent entities in changing configurations. But it is
arguable that, from the level of atoms and molecules to
the level of large biological organisms and beyond, it is
‘objects’ of the latter kind that we actually encounter.

All of these ‘objects’ are processes extending over other
processes. In chemical combination the electron in the
hydrogen atom has to be conceived in terms of threedimensional ‘orbitals’ which are essentially ‘spread’ in
space and time. The hydrogen atom has the potential to be
an instantaneously localized electron associated with a
localized proton. But once this is realised
experimentally the ‘atom’ is totally disrupted. The
biological metaphor of the ‘organism’ fits the actual
atoms of physics and chemistry a good deal better than a
metaphysics of instantaneous configurations fits organic

In a world pictured as a creative process where
everything exists in organic relationship to everything
else there has to be some account of the emergence of the
stable features known to experience. ‘Objects’ are more
properly thought of as ‘communities’ of related processes
persisting through time. But there are other stable
features of experience which cannot be analysed in this
way, viz what we usually refer to as ‘universals’.

Whitehead refers to them as ‘Eternal Objects’ but he does
not think of them as things which exist independently of
‘actual occasions’, rather they are ‘eternal possibilities’




or ‘potentialities’ of things. What then has to be
explained is how these potentialities are realised in
concrete processes. ‘Eternal objects’ appear as
teleological factors in the ‘creative advance of nature’,
preventing degeneration into ·an unintelligible
Heraklitean Flux. This is surely one of the most
problematic aspects of Whitehead’s theory. If ‘family
resemblances’ between objects show the way they express
‘real potentialities’ then there must be some notion of
‘correctness’ in the recognition of resemblances which is
prior to and independent of socially constructed
classifications reflected in language. How can the
‘potentialities’ which ‘respects of resemblance’ exhibit
actually produce novelty? To explain this Whitehead has
recourse to a creative ‘Principle of Concretion’ which
brings novelty into being. The ‘stuff’ of the World is
neither a featureless material substratum nor an abstract
mathematical substance but Creativity, and the Principle
of Concretion is ‘God’ considered as immanent, evolving
and involved in the World. Moral purpose is thus infused
into the very stuff of things.

This conception explains why Whitehead’s metaphysics
has been seized upon by theologians and religionists.

Scientific advance constantly squeezes the gaps of
ignorance in which miraculous intervention may seem to
occur. In this situation only two metaphysical roles seem
to remain for ‘God’ to fill. ‘God’ may remain as the Cause
of an Original Miracle – the ‘Creation’. But this is the
humanly irrelevant First Cause of Deism. Or ‘God’ may
remain as the Necessary Being which sustains a Perpetual
Miracle – viz. the fact that contingent things continue to
exist at all. But in either case ‘God’ is impaled upon the
problem of evil and has to bear a terrible responsibility
for the way the World has turned out. Thus this gentle
late Victorian Anglican denounced the God of orthodox
theology as an evil metaphysical monster and the
projection of political domination – ‘The Church gave unto
God the attributes which belonged exclusively to Caesar.’

Whitehead invites us to participate in the Divine Work of a
suffering God who is alongside us in the process of
creation. This ‘Galilean’ God is neither the transcendent
‘Pantokrator’ or ‘Universal Ruler’ of Newton and Aquinas
nor the immanent ‘Brahman’ or ‘Absolute Ground of Being’

of Shankara and Tillich. Though clearly metaphysical,
Whitehead’s theology has a moral impulse akin to that of
the ‘religionless Christianity’ of the 1960s, and the
present-day writings of Don Cupitt and the Bishop of

What then should we make of Whitehead? Should he
have a central place in the philosophical curriculum?

The increased volume of publications and theses in the
USA in recent years may presage an explosion in
Whiteheadian studies – some focussed on internal exegesis;
some applying his ideas to perennial philosophical
problems; some linking him to other thinkers from Hegel
and Aristotle, to Ramanuja of the theistic Vedanta and
Uisang of Hua- Yen Buddhism. Whitehead’s own writings
are a curious mixture of dense and tightly woven thickets
of novel terminology mingled with lucid sweeps of
sparling aphorisms. There are challenges for the
expositor; inexhaustible opportunities for comparative
study; and enough ‘misty profundity’ (to borrow one of
Whitehead’s own cautionary remarks) to attract purveyors
of the esoteric. But why Free Association Books? What is
there about Whitehead’s enterprise to hold the attention
of the readers of Radical Science (or Radical

Bob Young’s view of the matter is that Whitehead
provides a very acute diagnosis of what is wrong with
‘scientific materialism’, and that we can draw strength
from this critique without committing ourselves to a
version of the Philosophy of Organism. ‘Scientific
materialism’ fails as a World View. It fails
philosophically because it engenders a series of
unbridgeable ‘bifurcations’ – mind/body; primary

quality/secondary quality; cause/purpose;
free will/determinism; fact/value – which threaten to
excise everything of human significance from the real
world. It fails politically for precisely the same reason:

‘scientific materialism’ implies all genuine knowledge is
technical and instrumental and the ends we choose are
arbitrary, and thus it serves as an ideology of domination.

However, it may not be quite so easy to accept
Whitehead’s critique without accepting his solution. If
Whi tehead did construe the problems of ‘scientific
materialism’ in the right way, then his are possible
solutions and must be taken seriously. On the other hand
if there are doubts about solutions of the type he offered
then there must be doubts about his diagnosis. You may
feel Whitehead is right to criticise ‘scientific
materialism’, but you should not regard him as an ally

unless you are prepared to grapple with his posJtJve
theses. Bob Young has done a disinterested service in
putting one of Whitehead’s more approachable books from
the Metaphysical Period back into circulation again.

Unfortunately it seems to me that many of Whitehead’s
positive theses continue to stand in need of ‘translation’ if
they are to be fruitful for the resolution of concerns on
the current philosophical agenda. Of course it may be
that we should allow Whitehead to play a part in setting
that agenda. If this reprint stimulates such
reconsideration then Free Association Books will have
achieved more than they seem to have intended, but
anything short of this would be of little value.

Jonathan Powers

The Idea of Socialist Right
Emst Bloch, Natural Law and Human Dignity, translated by Dennis
J. Schmidt. London: M.LT. Press, 1986. 323pp.

£21.25 hb.

‘Where everything has been alienated, inalienable
rights stand out in sharp relief’ (Bloch, p. xxvii).

This is an important book. No issue in socialist theory is so
central to the project of socialist construction, and yet
has been so persistently plagued by theoretical and
political disagreement between socialists, as the question
of rights. And few people have been in so favourable a
position to address themselves to its reformulation as
Bloch. At once a materialist and a metaphysician, a
defender of the utopian tradition and yet an orthodox
communist, and a resident of both East and West Germany
in the post-war years, Bloch embodied many of the
political and philosophical tensions and ambiguities that
bedevil the question of ‘right’.

Socialist debate on the question of rights has tended to
be polarised around two sharply conflicting positions. On
the one hand, taking its cue from Marx’s location of the
origin of political alienation in the very existence of a
state separate from civil society, the Soviet Marxist
tradition ha~ conceived of ‘right’ (Recht) as an essentially
bourgeois category, and as such, as something of strictly
delimited historical significance. The libertarian, or more
recently, ‘pluralistic’ socialist tradition, on the other
hand, has tended to maintain the absolute validity of
certain individual rights over and against the state; not
just in relation to capitalist and pre-capitalist societies,
but also, and even in particular, in relation to the
socialist state. Furt.hermore, this tradition has tended to
associate the idea of socialism itself with the extension
and upholding of ‘right’; especially ‘human’ right.

The problems which arise for each of these positions are
distinctive, but they share a common feature: an apparent
inability to give any substantive specificity to the idea of
socialist rights. For the first position, the problem of
socialist rights appears as an essentially technical one.

There is no distinctively socialist ‘right’. There are only
socialist rights: the expression in a legal, formally
universalistic, and hence bourgeois, form of the social
content of the transitional socialist (class) state: a
‘bourgeois state without the bourgeoisie’ (Lenin) which
acts to further the (uni versa!) interests of the working
class. The content and justification of socialist rights, in
other words, appears as external to the form of right.

From the standpoint of the second position, on the other
hand, it is precisely the universality of the form of right
which gives rights their specifically ‘human’, and hence

socialistiC, content. The problem for this position
concerns the precise way in which such a content is to be
derived. ‘Human’ rights, at least as currently generally
understood, appear to be a form of natural right. As such
though, there would seem to be no way of conceptualising
them other than within the framework of bourgeois natural
law theory; since it is precisely the abstract universality
of bourgeois legal norms which, historicaHy, gives them
their specifically bourgeois character. The idea of a
distinctively socialist right is thus as theoretically
problematic for those who want to tie the idea of
socialism to that of right, as it has been politically
problematic for those who have conceived of socialism in
terms of the ‘withering away’ of right.

Natural La~ and Human Dignity (first published in
German in 1961, shortly after Bloch moved “to the West,
and here translated into English for the first time)
confronts this aporia of the idea of socialist right in two
ways. Firstly (chapters 4-18), it reconstructs the social
meaning of the natural law tradition through an account
of its development from its origins in the Sophists’ concept
of ~ through its classical period in the early modern
age, to its annihilation in the ‘decisionism’ of Carl
Schmitt’s fascistic legal theory. Secondly (chapters 1925), it reconsiders the relationship between bourgeois and
socialist revolutions, and lays the foundations for a
materialist theory of socialist right as the heir to the
radical natural law tradition.

The constitutive heritage of natural law theory, Bloch
argues, is the postulate of human digni ty implicit in the
opposition of the idea of ‘natural’ or ‘human’ right to the
positivity of existing legal norms. All natural law
theories, he argues, ‘are primarily directed toward
dignity’. More specifically, natural law ‘is orientated
above all toward the abolition of human degradation’. It
‘wants to do away with all that stands in the way of
autonomy and its eunomia’ (p. 205). As such, it is
essentially revolutionary. It is ‘the insurgent element in
all revolution’, ‘the element that resists’, ‘the pride of
the upright carriage’ (p. 275). Its basic impulse is a
materialist one, and the fundamental right it sustains is
the ‘right not to be treated like scum’ (p. 220): the right to
the recognition of one’s essential humanity.

The concrete social meaning of such a ‘right’, Bloch
argues, is always, in classless societies, ‘justice from
below’. The immediate means for its implementation is
the ‘necessary evil’ of the revolutionary tribunal. But it
can only be sustained in the long run through the
construction of a new social order (‘the main goal of
revolutionary justice’). Without the revolutionary


tribunal, Bloch insists, ‘there is no release of humanity’

(p. 202). But ‘the goods of the construction never support
the tribunal’, since the idea of natural law in terms of
which they must be justified represents ‘an instruction
against ~ usurpation from above, all reification of the
means of power, and all exercise of uncontrolled power’

(p. 203).

There are three distinctive features to Bloch’s
appropriation of the idea of natural law. Firstly, there is
the idea that natural law represents a form of justice
‘that can only be obtained by struggle’ (p. xxx). ‘There
are no innate rights’ (p. 188). All rights are acquired, and
acquired through struggle. Secondly, and consequently,
there is the idea that the specific social content of
natural law develops historically, within the parameters
of its basic meaning, in a manner determined firstly by the
historical process of the formation of human nature, and
secondly by the possibilities for freedom afforded by the
state of the development of the productive forces.

Radical natural law, it is argued, ‘posits human freedom
in the solidarity that has become possible’ (p. 243).

Finally, there is the idea that the ‘basic tenor’ of natural
law theory, its opposition to all reification of power, is
the classless society; and that it ‘only grows insofar as it
is a prelude’ to such a state of affairs (p. 275).

Bloch’s aim is to recover from the natural law tradition
a dialectical conception of ‘right’ which, historical
without being relativistic, can provide the basis for the
theorisation of the continuity between bourgeois and
socialist revolutions, not just at the economic level, but
in terms of their general ‘human’ significance. In this
respect, he argues, the recovery of the natural law
tradition’s orientation towards individual dignity and
autonomy is a necessary complement to the recovery of
the utopian tradition’s orientation toward the question of
happiness: ‘there can be no human dignity without the end
of misery and need, but also no human happiness without
the end of old and new forms of servitude.’ Both ‘issue
from the empire of hope’. Furthermore, it is argued, ‘the
intended “emancipation of man” takes ~ less from the
philanthropic affect of social utopias than it does from
the pride of human dignity’ (p. 208). Natural Llaw and
Human Dignity, in other words, must be seen as both a
continuation of, and a corrective to, Bloch’s earlier work.

In particular, it represents a response to those who have
criticised Bloch’s earlier work (especially the massive
The Principle of Hope, reviewed in gf 45) for its
complicity with an authoritarian form of state socialism;
not so much despite its utopianism, as because of it. It is
in opposition both to such criticism, and to certain aspects
of Eastern European states, that Bloch here affirms the
‘legal utopia’ of natural law.

On the question of the relation of socialist to bourgeois
right, Bloch’s position is a twofold one. Firstly, he argues
that, although ‘bourgeois freedoms were always more
bourgeois than freedoms’ (p. 175), insofar as their basis in
the right to exclusive possession (private property)
transforms the universality of their form into an


effectively particularistic (class) content, they were
never merely bourgeois. Socialism must inherit their
general ‘human’ content. Secondly, it is argued, socialism
must not only inherit the general human content of
bourgeois right, but finds within it demands which remain,
and indeed must remain, unsatisfied within bourgeois
society. The ‘utopian side of the bourgeois revolution’, in
other words, remains unfinished, and can only be
completed through socialism. In this sense, ‘the bourgeois
revolution is at the root of the proletarian revolution’ (p.

171). Its aim, at the political level, must be the retrieval
of the idea of the citizen from the abstract, individualistic
moralism of its bourgeois formulation, and its affirmation
as a conceptualisation of the individual as ‘the bearer of
socialised freedom’ (Marx), in a concrete programme of
rights of citizenship.

Such rights will attain to individuals not with respect
to their (abstract) ‘humanity’, but with respect to their
socialised individuality as members of an historically
specific social form, the political rationale of which is
the ‘withering away’ of ‘the political’ itself (the state) as
an institutional form standing separate from and above the
economic activity of civil society. Socialist rights, in
other words, derive both their essential meaning, and their
justification, from the (human) goals and (necessarily
democratic) means of socialist construction. The struggle
for rights within socialism is thus, according to Bloch,
essentially a ‘search for the rights of an uncompromising
practical criticism that intervenes in the interests of the
goal of socialist construction within the framework of
solidarity (pp. 177-78).

To the extent that it is ‘the goal of socialist
construction’ here that is the basis for the derivation of
right, Bloch lines up with the orthodox Soviet position in
opposition to the abstract humanism of its liberal socialist
opponents. At the same time, however, he decisively
distinguishes himself from Soviet legal orthodoxy by
conceiving of that goal itself in terms of a materialist
theory of ‘natural’ right. He is thus able to reappropriate
a substantive concept of right without falling prey to the
abstract universality of bourgeois legality; a’t le’ast, at a
philosophical level. The concrete content of socialist
rights, it is implied, must be derived from (and fought for
within) the historically specific forms and levels of
development of the transitional social formations
themselves. The basic meaning, though, is clear.

Socialistic legal norms are to be understood as ‘codified
solidarity pro rata for the production of an economicpolitical condition wherein, as Lenin said, every cook can
rule the state and the state itself would no longer require
any codification’ (p. 227). It is the idea of solidarity which
is the key. For, Bloch argues, it is only solidarity (the
free identification of the individual will with a
col1ective project over and above its particularistic
interests) that can ‘bring to a happy conclusion the
requisite liberal predominance of subjective rights (and
the individual moral conscience) over objective rights (and
their public, their social morality)’ (p. 221).

This is not an easy book, in any sense. Its argument is
neither ful1y developed (at a philosophical or political
leveI), nor free from ambiguity. Yet in both the richness
of its treatment of its historical material, and the
subtlety and force of its dialectic, it provides an account
of the radical implications of natural law theory which
remains far superior in both its philosophical and political
acuity to the majority of more recent, more direct
analytical accounts. It is decisive in its rejection of the
false absolutes of liberal humanism. Yet it refuses to
give up the progressive aspects of its heritage. In its
maintenance and mediation of this tension, Natural Law
and Human Dignity stands as an enduring example of the
continuing indispensability of the dialectical tradition to
the construction of a materialist political theory.

Peter Osborne

Surpassing HegeJ
C.J. Arthur, Dialectics of Labour: Marx and his relation to Hegel.

Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986. 182pp.

£22.50 hb.

To regular readers of Radical Philosophy with reasonably
retentive memories, much of this new book will be
familiar, as most of the major arguments have already
been rehearsed in previous issues of this journal (Nos. 26,
30, 35). Arthur’s theme (to remind the forgetful or the
recently converted) is the theory of labour and alienation
presented by Marx in the Economic and Philosophical
Manuscripts of 1844, and the influence of Hegel’s
Phenomenology of Spirit on this theory. Both of these
topics are considered with admirable care, clarity and
attention to detail, although (as I shall make clear> I
have some reservations over his discussion of Hegel.

Arthur begins his book with the claim that in the 1844
Manuscripts Marx for the first time recognized the
fundamental importance of productive activity as the
mediating element between man and nature, in so far as
this activity enables man to realise himself in nature, and
thereby objectify himself. However, over and above this
first order mediation, the productive activity itself is
mediated through a system of private property, division of
labour, exchange and wages. This system of what Arthur
(following Istvan Meszaros) calls second order mediations
does not unite man with nature, but rather separates him
from his product, with the result that he is now alienated
from the results of his objectification and productive
activity. Arthur then goes on to discuss in detail the
place of private property in this system of second order
mediations, and in particular Marx’s odd-looking claim
that private property is not the cause of alienated labour,
but rather its result. Arthur argues that the private
property system arises out of the dialectical relation of
labour and capital, whereby each determines itself in
opposition to the other, an opposition that eventually must
be overcome. However, this opposition cannot be overcome
through a unifying synthesis, but only by the revolt of the
proletariat, which dissolves the private property system.

This leads Arthur on to a discussion of communism,
described by Marx as ‘the positive supersession of private
property as human self-estrangement’. He points out that
Marx distinguishes this ‘positive supersession’ from purely
negative sweeping away of private property that is called
for in crude egalitarianism. Private property has a
positive significance as the objectification of human
productive activity and man’s essential properties, and it
is this aspect of property that must be retained in its
overcoming by communism.

In the second part of his book, Arthur then moves to a
discussion of how Marx’s theory of alienation and of the
reappropriation of man’s alienated product is influenced
by Hegel, and in particular by Hegel’s Phenomenology of
Spirit. Following Lukacs, he argues that in the
Phenomenology Hegel describes the becoming other of
spirit in the object, and then the overcoming of this
alienation through the reappropriation of this otherness.

Marx himself clearly held this interpretation of the
Phenomenology, and Arthur rightly says that this account
of Hegel was important for Marx in developing his own
theory of labour and alienation.

What troubles me, however, is the ease with which
Arthur accepts this reading of Hegel. As Lukacs himself
points out, Marx arrived at this account via the
interpretations of Hegel given by the Young HegeJians,

who tended to subjectivize Hegel’s idealism (and thus to
give spirit a fundamental role in positing all reality). If
one looks at the Encyclopaedia, however, it is clear that
according to Hegel’s Absolute Idealism, the Idea and
nature are independent of (though transparent to) mind,
and that nature is the becoming other of the Idea, not
spirit, as Marx’s reading clearly suggests.

—To be fair to Arthur, he does discuss in an appendix
whether Marx’s account of Hegel is in fact accurate,
although he admits that he does not see this as crucial to
his argument, which is only concerned with Hegel as ‘the
dialectically surpassed predecessor of Marx’ (p. 74). It is
not clear to me how he can judge whether or not Hegel has
been surpassed, however, unless he makes every effort to-understand Hegel fully, and not just take Marx’s word for
it, that in him Hegel’s errors are overcome.

This failure to look closely at Hegel himself, rather
than just at Marx’s own view of him, leads Arthur to
accept without any qualification Marx’s well known
criticisms of HegeJ: that Hegel knows only ‘abstract
spiritual labour’, and that (in Lukacs’ terms) he confuses
estrangement with objectivity. Both of these criticisms
only stick, however, given a subjectivist reading of Hegel,
so that his discussion of these criticisms would have been
deepened if a prior assessment of that reading had been

Before leaving Arthur’s account of Hegel’s influence
on Marx, attention must be drawn to his striking claim that
Marx’s theory of labour is not in fact derived in any way
from Hegel’s account of the master-slave relationship in
the Phenomenology. As a refutation of a persistently
repeated claim made by several interpreters of both Marx
and Hegel, I found his argument here convincing.

In the last section of the book, Arthur discusses Marx’s
relation to Feuerbach, and the influence of the latter on
the 1844 Manuscripts. He argues (no doubt rightly) that in
these manuscripts Marx was already beginning to move
away from Feuerbach, partly as a result of his return to
Hegel and Hegel’s theory of objectification (as it was
interpreted by Marx). In the following chapter Arthur
then turns to an assessment of Marx’s position in the 1844
Manuscripts, rebutting some criticisms, and adding one Of
his own: that Marx’s picture of the relation of man to
nature is too optimistic in this period (largely as a result
of Feuerbach’s influence), and that in the manuscripts
‘there is no real recognition of the sheer recalcitrance of
nature to human use’ (p. 133). His point is that even if the


alienating effects of private property are overcome, the
fundamental opposition of man to nature remains, and still
requires mediation. He argues that when this became clear
to Marx, he saw that the abolition of labour (as productive
activity) is not possible, and that labour must remain in
place as this mediating element. Arthur concludes by
emphasising the importance of the 1844 Manuscripts for
the later development of Marx’s theory, and in particular
argues that his picture of alienated productive activity
presented, here is vital to Marx’s later critique of
political economy.

Even without this lead into the ‘mature’ Marx, Arthur’s
precise and penetrating study does enough to reveal the
intrinsic interest of the 1844 Manuscripts, as a place in
Marx’s thought where his economic and political analysis


R.A. Stern

Elster’s New Clothes

Jon Elster, An Introduction to Karl Marx. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1986. 200pp. £17.50 hb, £5.95 pb.

Jon Elster, Karl Marx: A Reader. Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1986. 345pp. £17.50 hb, £6.95 pb.

Jon Elster is one of the leading figures in the new school
of ‘analytical Marxism’. His massive ~aking Sense of
Marx, which appeared last year, has already been the
subject of a review and an article in Radical Philosophy
[1]. Even where they have been critical, the responses
have been sprinkled with respectful references to its
‘formidable erudition’ and deferential murmurings about it
being ‘an event of real importance on the intellectual
scene’ which is ‘likely to dominate discussion for years to

An Introduction to Karl Marx is a shortened and
simplified presentation of the-arguments of this weighty
work, intended as a student text. On the basis of the
shorter version, it is difficult to see what all the fuss is
about. What Elster has done is to strip away the covering
of supporting argument and discussion, the clothing of
textual exegesis and commentary, to lay bare the outlines
of his position, naked and unadorned. What is revealed is
the emperor, so to speak, without any clothes. Sad to say
it is a sorry sight, even by the low standards of Marx
‘scholarship’ set by such predecessors as Popper and

The book is intended for introductory courses on
Marxism. Potential students and teachers should be
warned that it is completely unsuitable for this purpose.

Elster gives no overall picture of Marx’s theories. He
makes no attempt to describe any of the different schools
and interpretations of Marxism, nor the debates and
controversies they have generated. What explanation
there is of Marx’s views is brief and perfunctory. Indeed,
at times they are presented in terms so far removed from
Marx’s own that it is difficult to recognize the passages in
Marx referred to. There are short bibliographies at the
end of each chapter, but these are idiosyncratic and
eccentric in the extreme. Although they give some clues
to the background of Elster’s ideas, they will be almost
no help to students in search of guidance about
introductory reading on Marx.

All this is very puzzling; until one realizes that the
book’s title is seriously misleading. For Elster’s first
concern is to present his own views and theories. What
Marx may have said isof secondary interest. Had the book
been called ‘An Introduction to Elster’, this much at least
would have been clear. However, it is still a mystery why


is influenced by his philosophical background. The great
virtue of this book is that it brings out very clearly the
way in which these two strands come together in the
manuscripts, and thereby helps to highlight the influence
of philosophical questions and modes of thought on Marx’s
developing political and economic theories. My one
cr i ticism is that Arthur does not consider whether, in
seeming to develop Hegel’s ideas, Marx was not in fact
guilty of misreading them. If he had considered this
question, he might not have been so quick to conclude that
in Marx Hegel is ‘dialectically surpassed’.

Elster should have chosen to present his own ideas via an
account of Marx – a thinker with whom he has next to
nothing in common.

Elster’s philosophy has three main strands. These are
spelled out at the beginning of the book. The first is
methodological individualism, also known as ‘the search
for microfoundations’. This involves the view that ‘all
institutions, behaviour patterns, and social processes can
in principle be explained in terms of individuals only:

their actions, properties, and relations’ (p. 22) [2]. The
second is ‘rational choice theory’, derived from
marginalist economics. This is a version of the theory of
homo economicus, which seeks to explain individual action
on the assumption that ‘people will choose the course of
action they prefer, or think best’ (p. 26). Thi.s is spelled
out with the help of a smattering of games theory. The
problem for such individualism is to give some account of
collective action. In the jargon of ‘rational choice
theory’, this is known as the ‘free rider problem’ and the
‘Prisoner’s dilemma’, according to which ‘the result of all
[people] acting in an individually rational way is that the
outcome is worse for all than it could have been had they
been able to cooperate’ (p. 29). The third element of
Elster’s outlook is an extreme hostility to teleological
and functional patterns of explanation.

Armed with these assumptions Elster then proceeds to
assess Marx’s theories. Needless to say, given the initial
assumptions, Marx comes off badly~ For, although
Elster’s views may constitute the last word of
sophistication in Chicago, they are quite alien to Marxism.

In the first place, Marx was not a methodological
individualist. Quite the contrary, a strong and
ineradicable strand of ‘methodological collectivism’ runs
through his work. To his credit it should be said that
Elster never suggests otherwise. His conclusion, however,
is: so much the worse for Marx. Likewise, Marx’s social
and economic thought is grounded in ideas of human action
and human nature which implicitly and explicitly conflict
with the extreme individualism and utilitarianism of
‘rational choice theory’. To what extent Marx’s work
makes use of teleological and functiona’l forms of
explanation is a subject of considerable controversy.

However, there is no discussion of these issues here – only
a dogmatic assertion of Elster’s view.

The final chapter is a reconning of accounts. It takes
the form of a catalogue of ‘what is living and what is dead
in Marx’s philosophy’. Since Marx had both the misfortune
and lack of foresight to disagree with Elster all down the
line, the casualty list is impressive. ‘Scientific socialism
… dialectical materialism … teleology and functionalism

••• Marxian economic theory ••• the theory of productive
~orces and relations of production – perhaps the most
important part of historical materialism’ – are all
pronounced ‘dead’ (pp. 188-93). Marx, we are told, ‘was
almost never “right”. His facts were defective by the
standard of modern scholarship, his generalizations
reckless and sweeping’ (p. 3).

But there are a few signs of life amidst the carnage.

Th~ aspects of Marx~sm which meet with Elster’s approval
mamly have to do with Marx’s moral and political values.

The list includes ‘the theory of aienation and Marx’s
concept of “the good life for man” ••• the theory of
e~ploitation ••• Marx’s conception of distributive justice
his theory of class consciousness, class struggle and
politics’ (pp. 194ff.). In short, Elster does not wish to

reject entirely the values of socialism, although he is
anxious to disassociate himself from virtually all the
substantial aspects of Marx’s social, historical and
economic theories.

One is reminded of Popper’s verdict that Marx’s ‘moral
radicalism is still alive ••• “Scientific” Marxism is dead.

Its feeling of social responsibility and its love of freedom
must survive’ (The Open Society 11, p. 211). In other ways,
however, Elster’s book compares poorly with Popper’s. At
least Popper felt some obligation to present an account of
Mar~’s theories in something like a recognizable form, and
to give a coherent and argued critique of them.

The Reader that Elster has assembled is designed to
accompany the text that I have been talking about. It
consists of fragments and excerpts from the whole range
of Marx’s writings (Engels is eXcluded). However, only a
very few pieces are included in their entirety. The choice
of material and the way it is organized is designed to tie in
closely with the arguments of the Introduction: the
Reader thus stands – or rather falls – with it.

Sean Savers

See G. McLennan’s review in Radical Philosophy 42; and J. McCarney,
‘A New Marxist Paradigm?’ in Radical Philosophy 43.

Elster’s version of methodological individualism is noteworthy for its
broadness. Whether it can remain a distinctive and significant position
when extended to include also the relations of individuals is an
important issue, not discussed by Elster in this book.

Capital Class
Istvan Meszaros, Philosophy, Ideology and Social Sciences: Essays in
Negation and Affirmation. Brighton: Wheatsheaf Books, 1986. 284pp.

£28.50 hb, £9.94 pb.

Istvan Meszaros will be well known to readers of Radical
Philosophy. His prodigious output has included the most
penetrating analyses of Marx, Lukacs and Sartre and, in
terms of philosophical discourse, one often turns to his
work with a sense of relief – grateful for his refusal to
take the accepted horizons of debate (particularly in this
co~ntry) for granted.

The present collection of essays,
articles and converted lectures lies four-square in this
Meszaros tradition. From his successful demolition of
~aniel Bell’s celebrated claims concerning the ‘end of
ideology’, through to his discussion of the relationship
between Marxism and human rights, Meszaros is always
combative, scholarly and entertaining. In between lie
cogent and instructive essays on the problems of class
c~nsciousness~ Marx as a philosopher, and a quite brilliant
pIece comparmg the philosophies of history of Kant, Hegel
and Marx. The collection concludes with two essays, on
~etaphor and simile and on alienation in European
l~terature, whose relevance seems only tangential to the
title of the volume and which do not, I think, maintain the
high standards of the rest of the collection.

A guiding theme of Meszaros’ perspective is that the
‘structural subordination of labour and capital’ is ‘a
necessary feature of all conceivable forms of capitalism’

(p. 70). The consequence of this subordination is
fundamental social conflict, whose conscious expression
takes the form of contending ideologies· which represent
the ‘hegemonic alternatives’ (p. xiii) of the interests of
capi tal and the interests of labour (p. 241). The social
expression of the subordination of labour to capital is a
working-class subject to the vagaries of cap(tal and
sacrificed to the extraction of profit. The concrete
historical expression of this SUbjection has been the
succession of economic booms and slumps which are
experienced by the working class as moments of material
advancement followed by periods – generally temporary of deprivation and unemployment.

Under these conditions, it is the unique relationship of
the working class to labour which makes it the ‘universal
class’ capable of bringing about ‘universal emancipation’.

The working class ‘cannot impose itself on society as a
new form of exploitative and parasitic sectional interest
since it represents the condition of labour’ (p. 208).

Clearly, formulations such as this provoke the question:

what constitutes the working class? In the Communist
Manifesto, Marx refers to the proletariat as taClass of
labourers, who live only so long as they find work, and
who find work only so long as their labour increases
capital’. Generally speaking, the capitalist countries
have, until now, been able to provide work (both manual
and intellectual) often enough for labour expectations to
be fulfilled, and so it has made sense to continue talking
of a ‘working class’ as the vehicle for universal
emancipation, even if capitalism has always been able to
offer it enough rewards to stunt its revolutionary
inclinations. Now, unemployment has always been
structural in capitalism because the existence of Engels’s
‘industrial reserve army’ is an essential feature of the
strategy for depressing wages and increasing profits. What
may be new to the post-industrial era (a term which
Meszaros scathingly refers to as an expression of a
wishful transcendence of the contradictions of
contemporary capitalism without going beyond capitalism
itself), is the existence of structural permanent
unemployment and, more generally, capitalism’s inability


even to hold out the promise of the fulfillment of labour
expectations. Are we witnessing the birth of a new class,
a class for -whom the ‘subordination of labour to capital’

does not mean depressed wages and intermittent work, but
no wages an~ no work? If this ‘class’ exists, and given the
impossibility of its co-option by capitalism (because
capitalism has nothing to offer it), does it possess greater
revolutionary potential than the working class? Is there
now a positive place in Marxist theory for these casualties
of capitalism, peremptorily referred to by Marx in the
Communist Manifesto as ‘social scum’ and ‘that passively
rotting mass thrown off by the lowest layers of old

Contemporary capitalism has thrown up many new forms
of the reproduction of domination, and it is Meszaros’

intention in these essays to go no further than the study of
the ‘active intervention of powerful ideological factors
on the side of maintaining the order in existence’ (p. ix)
(my emphasis). But such is his standing now as a Marxian
theoretician, and such is the evidence of expansive power
contained in these essays, that one feels sure he must be
ready to subject Marxism to the test of contemporary
capitalism and see what lessons may be learnt. I, for one,
would be delighted to see him confront the theoretical
challenge for Marxism represented by the millions of
European permanently unemployed.

Habermas’s position within it, is more subtle than is often
assumed. Habermas, it is allowed, defends the ‘project of
modernity’ and the ‘rationalist’ goal of a co-operative
society of complexity, freedom and undistorted
communication. But Dews details how, in his view anyway,
Habermas’s theory of truth and validity is distanced from
epistemological objectivism, the theory of social
evolution from speCUlative philosophy of history, the
theory of communicative action from ‘crude’ materialism,
and a conception of SUbjectivity removed from
preconceptions about a constitutive consciousness. In all
these respects, Habermas appears not to fall into what are
often taken to be typically modernist philosophical
notions. In fact, Dews perhaps overdoes his defence of
Habermas against the new philosophers here, for he seems
to go out of his way to show how Habermas got to ‘postmodernist’ ideas first. Somehow, the idea of Habermas as
the uncompromising last stand of the Enlightenment has
more consistency and grandeur – worth paying the price of
a subtlety or two.

Andy Dobson

Confronting Modernity
Peter Dews (ed.), Habermas: Autonomy and Solidarity. London:

Verso, 1986. 216pp. £6.95 pb.

The subtitle of this collection of interviews with
Habermas suggests that the book has a substantive and
political flavour. Unless ‘autonomy’ and ‘solidarity’

cover everything, this phrase is rather misleading, for
those terms and issues are seldom directly addressed, and
Habermas’s political reflections emerge as less firmly
based than, and secondary to, his principal theoretical
concerns. There are judicious insights into contemporary
politics, but Habermas shows considerable uncertainty as
to progressive tasks and directions. However, when
combined with his willingness to be corrected (and even
improved) by his interviewers, and with his occasional
humorous twinkle, this openness in the face of dilemmas
and problems is attractively unpompous. The broad
context and the spoken form therefore work well to bring
about Habermas the person as well as Habermas the

The author of the big books is here too though, and
while it is not quite an introduction for the uninitiated,
the volume does succeed in progressively encapsulating
the main lines of Habermas’s thought. Several of the
interviews rather tediously re-run his early intellectual
biography, but otherwise they complement each other
well, considering they were conducted at different times
by different people. The New Left Review interrogations
towards the end are particularly full, probing and pushing
their subject towards a coherence he is reluctant to admit

In an excellent introduction, Peter Dews sets up and
tries to resolve the debate between Habermas and the
post-structuralists. Dews does not underestimate the
extent to which there is a real argument here, with
Habermas cast as the defender of Enlightenment
rationalism set against the forces of unreason and despair.

But he does persuasively insist that the debate, or at least


In any case, each of the aspects of Habermas’s work, and
the way they are strung together in his thought, is given an
airing in the course of the various interviews, as are the
several major criticisms which can be laid against them
single or as a theoretical juggernaut. The book is
therefore a useful and engaging way of placing Habermas’s
strenuous, honourable, and unignorable contribution to
social philosophy. For me, the picture which most clearly
emerges is that Habermas, however impressive, remains a
grappler with the problems of modernity and their
theorization. Eclecticism and originality, rigour and mere
speculation flow in and out of one another, even in this
kind of systematic oeuvre. As he remarks in one interview,
Habermas has not produced, nor intended to produce, a

Gregor McLennan

Paul A. Bove, Intellectuals in Power: A Genealogy of Critical
Humanism. New York: Columbia University Press, 1986. 340pp.

$27.50 hb.

This book contains an intelligent and effective
deployment of Foucault’s work on power/knowledge. Its
aim is to examine genealogically the formation of the
institution of academic literary criticism. Bove is
committed to the politicisation of the human sciences,
arguing that ‘intellectual work, the “truth” of scholarly
production should be put in the service of political
struggles for self-determination’. It is the book’s central
thesis that the theory and practice of critical humanism as
carried out in academic and educational institutions today
prevents the struggle for self-determination. He wants to
reveal the contradictory nature of the humanist project,
‘how the very powerful weapons of humanist scholarship
can be made to operate for progressive and humane
purposes; at the same time I shall show how they delimit
such action and how, in fact, they do precisely because
they are involved with some of the darkest aspects of
modern history’ (p. 37). He contends that humanism has
become part of the disciplining machine of advanced
capitalism. Humanism must be rejected because it fails to
recognise its own complicity with the powers that be.

Despite its progressive intentions critical humanism is
antidemocratic and politically dangerous in ways it
cannot acknowledge.

Bove argues that intellectual activity must be situated
in a materialist context of interest, power, and desire, and
in the context of the formation of a political culture. To
this end he develops detailed, incisive readings of certain
key figures in the history of academic literary criticism I. A. Richards, Eric Auerbach, Edward Said – and places
their work firmly in its institutional and cultural context.

All three are seen to have played an important role in
defining the function of literary and cultural studies for
critical consciousness, but all three, despite the
significant differences between them, Bove argues, remain
entrapped in the delusions and political ineffectivity of
the humanist project.

It is in Foucault’s work that Bove sees the basis for a
truly democratic cultural politics and one which will be
antihumanist in its aims and objectives. Foucault’s work,
Bove argues, renounces the one major thing that
constantly recurs in all forms of critical humanism,
whether liberal or Marxist – it renounces the figure of the
leading or representative intellectual and advocates
instead a politics of decentralisation and selfdetermination. Foucault’s antihumanist position, much
misunderstood by disciples and detractors alike, Bove
argues, is not one of political quietism as is frequently
claimed; it is rather that his position is inimical to
critical humanists because it is opposed to all forms of
political and cultural elitism, and it thus attacks the
very basis on which humanism rests – the idea of the
sublime master and leading intellectual who arrogates to
himself the right to speak for and represent others in the
name of freedom and justice. Thus he argues that
‘Foucault’s thinking about and analysis of power is fully
intelligible only when seen as a challenge to the
legitimacy of the leading intellectual as a social subject’

(p. 210). The role of the intellectual in power today
should be, it is argued, one of challenging and changing
specific forms of power by encouraging and fostering local

Bove’s argument suffers from several weaknesses.

First, too much seems to be taken for granted with the
concept of the intellectual. Bove recognises that in order
to concretise his argument further there is needed a full

materialist analysis of the interrelations between state,
the ruling class, culture and academia, and which needs to
be developed in terms of class, gender, race, etc. Second,
insufficient attention is paid by Bove to the problems with
Foucault’s antihumanist position, problems with his
understanding of power and problems which arise from the
deep contradictions to be found in his ironic postures, and
which work against the political effectivity and coherence
of his antihuman ism.

The book advocates a politicisation of the humanist
‘disciplines’ so as to raise important questions about how
truth is produced and about the political role it plays. It
is a work of genealogical analysis and historical
reflection designed to enable one to question the why,
where, and for whom of the human sciences, i.e. to reveal
the will to power behind the will to truth and knowledge.

It should be of interest and value to anyone engaged in the
teaching and learning of the human sciences and who has a
bad conscience over their supposed humanist function.

Keith Ansell-Pearson

To Battle
Keith Graham, The Battle of Democracy: Conflict, Con census and the
Individual. Brighton: Wheatsheaf Books, 1986. 261pp. £8.95 pb.

This is very much a text-book designed for the student of
political philosophy. It is clearly and concisely. written
and the arguments are well-presented. On the whole it is
immensely readable and informative. The author is
thoroughly familiar with the requisite secondary
literature and he closes each chapter with suggestions for
further reading. He is thus a very reliable guide.

The book and its argument are divided into two main
parts. The first part – ‘Pure Theory’ – lays down the basis
for a philosophical conception of democracy. The
question it poses and explores is why should democracy
secure our favour and preference as a model of social
organisation? Should it be on grounds of liberty?

equality? or interests? Graham wants to argue that the
political struggles for democracy are pointless unless
they are grounded in sound theory. The result of the
inquiry in part one is that democracy can be valued
intrinsically on the grounds that it provides the political
space and expression for a belief in human beings as
rational, autonomous agents, and, furthermore, that – in
contradistinction to the tradition of liberal individualism
which has achieved perhaps a monopoly of argument in this
area – this conception of democracy can best be realised
by adopting a collectivist and consensual view of human
life and activity.

The second part – ‘Applied Theory’ – examines, from the
perspective of the conclusions reached in part one, four
leading political theories and their democratic
pretensions. These are, in turn, elite theory, participation
theory, Marxist theory, and Leninist theory. The merits
and demerits of all four are examined and assessed, and it
is argued that it is Marx’s writings which contain a
theoretical vision of society in which the philosophical
conception of democracy argued for in part one can best be
realised, for it is Marx’s writings that contain a proposal
for the entire social transformation of existing society in a
way that will lead to the realisation of a fully


democratised society of economic and political equals: a
classless society. The transformation of capitalist
society through social revolution is also the
transformation of politics under that society.

It is a fundamental contention of Graham’s argument
that Marx’s relation to democracy has been poorly
conceived. According to Graham we have seen Marx’s
theory being lost to history, largely through its
deformation in the hands of Leninist theory and practice.

He argues that throughout his life Marx was committed to
the view that the emancipation of the working class must
be an emancipation for and ~ themselves, and that this
belief is enough to discredit Leninism. This ‘loss’ of Marx
to history, however, he maintains, is no reason for
abandoning Marx and consigning his work to the rubbish
bin; the fact that his writings have been used and are still
used to justify the existence of oppressive and highly antidemocratic regimes, the fact that class consciousness has
not developed amongst the working class in the manner
envisaged, etc., is, ultimately, no argument against the
validity and appositeness of Marx’s theory. Rather, it
shows us what is to be done – the forging of theory and
practice in a conception of revolutionary educative and
democratic praxis.

Although the argument can sometimes be repetitive and
arduous, it is more than worthwhile in the end to follow it
carefully on account of the theoretical clarity that
Graham brings to bear on what can fairly be regarded as
one of these essential ‘essentially contestable concepts’.

It is on this level of theoretical clarity and rigour that
the book will make, I believe, an important and
substantial contribution to the recent flourishing of
literature on democracy. Graham, it should be noted, is
fully aware that the ‘battle of democracy’, as Marx
originally envisaged it, is not simply a theoretical contest
but a praxial one too. His book, therefore, should also
succeed in enlivening a real, substantive interest in
Marx’s work from the perspective of a concern with
democracy. Through powerful, persuasive argument
Graham succeeds in showing in a highly refreshing manner
that the battle of democracy, far from being lost, has
only just begun.

Keith Ansell-Pearson

Other Lands
Francis Barker et al (ed.), Europe and its Others (2 volumes).

Colchester: University of Essex, 1985. 193pp. £7 per vol. pb.

The papers collected in these two volumes are the
proceedings of the Essex Sociology of Literature
conference, held in 1984. Their purpose is to attempt to
‘break away from the narrowly European focus of much
theoretical work’ and deal ‘with the relationship between
Europe and other cultures’. The autonomy of these ‘other
cultures’, however, is implicitly questioned by the title of
the volumes, and the 1984 conference: Europe and its
Others. And so, in a sense, it must be, considering that the
central problematic tackled by most of the papers is that
of colonial/.imperial possession, and thus, according to
Spivak, that of the near impossibility of a free intercultural dialogue after ‘the planned epistemic violence
of the imperialist project’ (Vol. 1, p. 131). The violence
was (and is) more than epistemic, but it is the character of
colonial discourse that is particularly being referred to in
these papers.


Language, according to Marx and Engels, is ‘practical
consciousness’. It is useful to see these analyses of
colonial and imperialist discourses as analyses of
practical consciousness at its most practical: the process
of imperial identity formation through the ideological
subjugation – distancing and framing – of ‘other cultures’

as the. Self’s ‘Others’, in a sort of imaginary mirror
reflection. These are discourses which, narcissistically,
portray Europe as the subject and the Other’ as the object
of representations; which deny the latter their own
narrative voices, and by extension their history. In so
doing they also conceal ‘Europe’s’ own ideological and
socio-histor ical underpinnings.

The topics dealt with in the papers are quite wide
ranging. The majority look at the way in which colonial
discourses ‘manage’ the Orient and the ‘New World’, but
others also discuss such questions as the dispersion of
racist ideology throughout ethnopsychiatry and
anthropology in South Africa (Chabani Manganyi), the
internalisation of colonial discourses’ into racist policing
practices in Britain (Feuchtwang), debates on
multiculturalism in Australia (Gunew), the founding
national romances of Latin American populism (Sommer),
the problems of translation in anthropology (Asad ·and
Dixon), Levi-Strauss and Derrida’s ethnocentrism
(Brotherston), and the reporting of the Brixton riots of
1982 as a white racist fantasy (Rackett). Most of the
general ideas, however, are to be found in what could be
called one of these volumes’ founding or ‘classical’ texts:

E. Said’s archaeology of a discipline, Orientalism (London,

Of the conference papers, Said’s intervention,
‘OrientaJism Reconsidered’, is by far the most
programmatic. Taking it together with those of the
conference as a whole, it is possible to see Europe and its
Others as registering a turning point within cultural
studies whereby some kind of ‘answering back’ by the
dispossessed may be possible. Said’s main point is that
both ends of the grammatical structure (‘subject’ and
‘object’) need to be deconstructed and fragmented through
historical and cultural analysis, in order to reconstruct a
plurality of both objects and subjects around which
alternative (liberationary) discourses may be produced:

feminist, socialist, and anti-imperialist ones: discourses
whose ground would be that of the deconstructed
‘classical’ Others: women, proletariat, the colonized •••
This kind of perspective allows H. K. Brabha to note
the fundamentally ambiguous character of colonial
processes of legitimation. On the one hand they must
portray the government as representing the whole of a
colonized society, whilst on the other, legitimize this by
parading their difference from it. He is also able to
pinpoint how this ambiguity reappears in specific instances
of cultural resistance to colonial discourses by describing
the adoption of dominant insignia by certain subaltern
cultural groups as a mockery of them. This forms part of
his theory of ‘colonial mimicry’ (Vol. 1).

Two papers stand out as critical of the title of the
conference, i.e. the implication that ‘Europe’ is presented

as a unified ahistorical subject: Ian Birchall reminds us of
the class nature of these societies in his discussion of
French .intellectual solidarity (or lack of it) with the
Algerian national liberation movements; and Jacqueline
Kaye highlights Islamic imperialism in a colonized Europe
in a historical critique of such founding texts as The Song
of Roland.

John Kraniauskas

Niklas Luhmann, Love as Passion. The Codification of Intimacy,
translated by Jeremy Gaines and Doris L. Jones. Cambridge: Polity
Press, 1986. 247pp. £22.50 hb.

Luhmann’s densely written study is an attempt to describe
changes in the semantics of love from the seventeenth
century to the present day. It construes love as a
symbolic code which provides ground rules for the
expression and formation of feelings rather than as a
feeling ~ se, and employs a methodological framework
deriving from systems analysis and communication theory.

Luhmann sees society as a system consisting solely of
communications, which in any given historical period is
characterized by a dominant semantics which becomes
plausible through its compatibility with the social
structure. The transition from traditional to modern
society – from stratified to functional differentiation of
the social system – thus occurs primarily through the
differentiation of generalized symbolic media of
communication: the differentiation of the economy is a
consequence of the use of money, but can only come about

of the respective status of reason and passion in human
affairs, and second through the Romantic view that love
comes from nowhere.

Although some two thirds of Luhmann’s study are
devoted to historical analysis, especially of the semantics
of love in seventeenth-century France, his approach
throughout is extremely generalized, refuting rather than
confirming his claim that ‘only highly abstract
sociological theories of a very complex nature can bring
historical material to life’ (p. 10), and the aridity of his
writing is not compensated for by the methodological
rigour one expects of German sociological theory. His
primary sources consist largely of literary works
consciously chosen for their lack of aesthetic quality, and
while this is consistent with Luhmann’s view that
motivation in intimate relationships is semantically
determinate, his exploitation of textual materials lacks
sophistication. He is quite right to argue that
investigations into love must examine symbolic codes
provfded by cultural traditions, literary texts and
situational images, but his own study rarely rises above
the level of crude content analysis. At the same time,
much of his argument is based on largely uncritical
assimilation of secondary sources copiously referred to in
footnotes yet not indexed, and it is difficult not to be
sceptical about the reliability of materials which
apparently support the view that in eighteenth-century
Germany, ‘any interest in sexuality was still rejected out
of hand’ (p. 115), when recent research has shown
precisely the opposite to be the case. There are problems
too with the overall status of Luhmann’s claims.

Although he concedes that his accounts of the semantics
of love are class-specific, he manges to convey the
impression that shifts in the semantics of love which refer
only to the aristocracy or the bourgeoisie have the same
general applicability to all social groups as his
statements about the transition from traditional to modern
society. Luhmann’s study does not attempt an ideological
analysis or critique of a crucial area of discourse, and is
disappointing in its failure to give a convincing account
even in its own terms of the relationship between
transformations in social structures and shifts in symbolic

Steve Giles

Trotsky on Dialectics
given the availability of a semantics able to distinguish
the use of money from, say, the use of power. A major
consequence of the shift from stratified to functional
differentiation is that society offers more opportunities to
the individual for both impersonal relationships (modelled
on economic or legal transactions) and more intensive
personal relationships. Indeed, the extension of
impersonal relationships seems to generate in the
individual a need to develop a sense of inner self, while
the increasing differentiation of intimate relationships in
modern society is paralleled by distinct changes in the
semantics of love affecting four areas of its codification
in particular. The form of the code shifts from
idealization in Medieval times, to paradoxicalization in
the seventeenth century, to self-referentiality around
1800. The justification of love shifts from being based in
the loved one’s known characteristics, to his/her imagined
attributes, to the mere fact that one loves. These changes
in the code are provoked by shifting responses to
sexuality. And the code’s anthropological presuppositions
are modified first by the seventeenth century’s revaluation

Trotsky’s Notebooks /933-35, trans. and edited by Philip Pomper.

New York: Columbia University Press, 1986. 175pp. $25 hb.

There is less than forty pages of Trotsky here. But we get
it twice, in Russian and in English. The rest of the book is
editorial annotations and commentary. The notes were in
folders for Trotsky’s biography of Lenin of which only the
first part was ever written, and published as The Young
Lenin. Besides the material on Lenin’s character and
biography there is material on dialectic intended as
background for Trotsky’s assessment of Lenin’s dialectic.

This includes a few pages on Hegel’s Science of Logic and
quite a lot of material on evolution, which Trotsl<y
sometimes almost identified with dialectic.

It has to be said that all the Trotsky material is very
fragmentary and of no use at all to a beginning student.

But those with an insatiable appetite for anything on
Lenin, Trotsky, or dialectic, are given some intriguing new
material. The editor situates it in two essays of his own,
the first covering Trotsky’s relation to Lenin and the


second Trotsky’s philosophical development.

What do we learn about Trotsky’s dialectic here?

According to Pomper, this material has hitherto been
overlooked by Trotsky scholars, and, while continuous
with already published work, it is superior to such late
essays as ‘ABC of Dialectics’ collected in In Defence of
Marxism in which he observes ‘a certain deterioration’in
sophistication. According to his diaries Trotsky took a
growing interest in philosophy in his later years but the
pressure of political work left him little time for study,
let alone for a serious book on it. Given this, his notes on
Hegel and dialectics are impressively acute.

Trotsky takes the fundamental law of dialectic to be
that of ‘quantity into quality’ and in his opinion ‘Hegel
himself undoubtedly did not give (it) the paramount
importance which it fully deserves’. This connects with
his obsession with Darwinism – to which he gives a
revolutionary interpretation: rather than following the
master himself in the belief that ‘nature does not make
leaps’, Trotsky goes in for a strikingly modern
catastrophist reading.

Trotsky is convinced of the importance of dialectics for
scientific work. But, like many philosophers of science,
he does not seem clear whether he is describing or
legislating. Sometimes he asserts all scientists are
‘unconscious dialecticians’. Other times, he reads people
lessons, especially the Anglo-Saxon empiricists:

In the English scholar’s head, just as on the shelves
of his library, Darwin, the Bible, stand side by side,
without disturbing each other. Anglo-Saxon thinking
is constructed according to the system of the
impermeable bulkhead. From this issues the most
stubborn opposition in the conservative Anglo-Saxon
world to dialectical thinking, which destroys all
impermeable bulkheads (p. 89).

In another place he likens philosophy to tool-making,
emphasizing that it is not production itself:

In order to use a tool one has to know a special area
of production (metal work, lathe work). When an
ignoramus, armed with the ‘materialist dialectic’

tries to solve complicated problems in special areas
intuitively, he inevitably makes a fool of himself (p.


The notes show that Trotsky’s materialism is strikingly
non-reductive, and his epistemology non-reflective.

The editorial work is highly scholarly – although
sometimes descending to fact-grubbing:

“Hegel” is written on the front cover (without
quotation marks) with Cyrillic letters in blue pencil
and underlined. The capital is approximately 2 cms.

high and the lowercase letters, approximately 1 cm.

(p. 1).

Gripping stuff, no?

On the other hand, Pomper makes a very suggestive
comparison of Lenin’s, Bukharin’s, and Trotsky’s
dialectics, which deserves to be taken further.

C.J. Arthur

Erik Ohlin Wright, Classes, London: Verso, 1985. 344pp. £7.95 pb
This book firmly establishes Erik Wright as a leading
exponent of ‘game-theoretic marxism’. The first section of
the book will interest phllosophers most of all as it
contains a re-theorisation of marxist class theory along
game-theoretic lines. It begins with an overindulgent
auto-critique, and concludes that class should be

theorised using concepts of exploitation rather than
control as Wright had previously attempted to do. Via a
critique of Roemer he develops his own classification of
the four modes of exploitation corresponding to four sets
of game-theoretic ‘withdrawal rules’ in relation to four
types of economic assets. Unsurprisingly this yields four
types of society: feudalism where exploitation is mainly
around the asset of labour through the coercive extraction
of surplus labour; market exchanges of labour power
define capitalism with its unequal distribution of the
means of production being the most significant asset;
contemporary ‘Soviet’ societies are defined as statist with
the state functioning as the mechanism of exploitation
through the unequal distribution of ‘organisation’ assets;
and finally socialism is redefined as having its own
distinctive mode of exploitation where the negotiated
distribution of sklll assets wlll create an exploiting class
of experts.

This analysis yields a typology of twelve classes for
contemporary capitalist societies. This strange result
occurs because Wright argues that contemporary capitalist
societies combine elements of means of production,
organisation and skil1/credential asset based modes of
exploitation. However, the good old ‘contradictory class
locations’ remain with expert managers, for example,
being in contradictory locations within exploitation

All this is controversial and provocative, and although
I have some sympathy with the goal of rigorously
defending marxian theory, too much that is
methodologically and conceptually distinctive about
marxism is lost in the arid abstractions of game theory
mode11lng. The second part of the book develops a
comparative analysis of class structure and class
consciousness which seeks to demonstrate the utlllty of
Wright’s new theory. Whllst one may disagree that these
quantitative techniques can be used as proofs in the way
that is sought here, this section is certainly a significant
contribution to our systematic empirical knowledge of
comparative class structures.

Paul Bagguley

Rick Roderick, Habermas and the Foundations of Critical Theory.

London: Macmillan, 1986. 194pp. £20.00 hb, £6.95 pb.

Not as comprehensive as McCarthy’s study (1978), but more
accessible than Kortian’s (1980), this is a very good
introduction to Habermas that is lucidly written and wellorganised. The author has attempted not only to provide a
lucid introduction to Habermas, but also to provide the
basis for a critical reception of his philosophical project.

The book is made up of five chapters: the first examines
Habermas’s work in the context of the Kant, Hegel, Marx
tradition and the currently fashionable antifoundationalism of Rorty et aI, the second examines his
early work in the context of the work of the Frankfurt
School, the third examines his reconstruction of critical
theory, the fourth looks at his attempt to construct a
comprehensive concept of rationality, and the fifth and
final chapter offers a critical assessment of the major
theoretical task Habermas has set himself. In the final
chapter Roderick shows how Habermas has misread Marx in
certain key respects, but how his work needs to be
understood as a supplement to – and not as a replacement
for – Marx.

From this study Habermas emerges as a critical thinker
continuing the work of the cr i tical theory and HegelianMarxist tradition, and whose project is decisive for the
philosophical Left in articulating its voice today.

Keith Ansell-Pearson



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