November 29, 2008

Being and Capital

Filed under: NP, Philosophy — duncan @ 7:24 pm

So here’s a fun parlour game. (NP is best at it :-P). Spot the many different ways in which philosophers attribute to Being the properties of capitalism, or of capital. Here’s a good one, from Heidegger’s A Dialogue on Language:

We say ‘correlation’ also when talking about the supply and demand of commodities. If man is in a hermeneutical relation, however, that means that he is precisely not a commodity. But the word ‘relation’ does want to say that man, in his very being, is in demand, is needed, that he, as the being he is, belongs within a needfulness which claims him.

Doesn’t this demand for man “as the being he is” (and the attentiveness to this demand required for an authentic relation to the two-fold of presence and presence of beings) sound a lot like the capital-labour relation?

“J: Man stands ‘in relation’ then says the same as: Man is really as man when needed and used by…

I: … what calls on man to preserve the two-fold.” [Those aren’t my ellipses – they indicate great minds finishing each others’ sentences.]

“[M]an who by nature stands in relation to, that is, is being used by, the two-fold.”

It is only when man is made into a use-value, when man is used (or used up ) in the relation to Being – that is, when man is used by capital in the relation to and production of capital (or, if you prefer, in the preservation of the two-fold) – it is only in this scenario that man truly is. That which uses man can only be preserved if man maintains his relation to it – capital depends on the capital-labour relation for its reproduction. Therefore it is our ethical duty, above all else, to attend to capital/Being’s demand.

It’s probably not a coincidence that this dialogue between “a Japanese and an Inquirer” also thematises what Heidegger calls “the complete Europeanization of the earth and of man”; the “modern technicalization and industrialisation of every continent.” I ought to say more about this – the way in which Heidegger’s romantic anti-capitalism reinscribes the production of the capital-labour relation within its (manifestly troubling) discourse of authenticity – but I think the parlour-game fragment will do for the moment…


  1. Can’t comment on the parlour game but in relation to Heidgger the idea seems to be that although (as you say) he is anti-capitalist, his philosophy ends up affirming the status quo. What is interesting to me is what happens to the critical impulse in Heidegger (or how, in Heideggerian terms, critique of the sort we are interested in might be possible). Heidegger seems to assume that history is a succession of epochs and that in each epoch there is one way of revealing beings. There are no contradictions in epochs (discounting some vague notion of forgetfulness) that might imply someone critical process immanent to history. So the upshot is a resounding affirmation of history, and the anticapitalist moment ends up being nothing more than an obscurantist use of language (so that without being understood the work sounds so resoundly at odds with its time – a time of simplified mechanics when the last veil of mystery has long since been torn to shreds).

    Marxism fuses with other currents of thinking from time to time, but (I feel) a Heideggerian Marxism would be impossible.

    Comment by neo-anchorite — November 30, 2008 @ 8:10 am

  2. Hey. Thanks for commenting. I think if Heidegger had just affirmed the status quo his political commitments would have been less horrific. But I agree there’s a massive tension between Heidegger’s ‘return to Being’ and his critical gestures. All beings have Being, so how does Heidegger think he can use the relation between people and Being to ground some kind of more-or-less-empirical-level critique of existing society (or of anything at all)? I haven’t worked through enough Heidegger to be able to trace out adequately what he thinks he’s doing – but it’s a huge problem, and would be a huge problem even if his politics were less appalling.

    w/r/t a Heideggerian Marxism – I agree, they’re antithetical. But I’m sure someone out there is working on it. (And I believe Marxuse had a go? Google gives me this: So much to read…) I’ve also been startled by how many of the thinkers in the new ‘materialist turn’ think it’s okay to draw on Heideggerian resources.

    Comment by duncan — November 30, 2008 @ 5:21 pm

  3. Wikipedia defines Laissez-faire as, “a term used to describe a policy of allowing events to take their own course with minimal intervention.” In the context of capitalism it means minimal government intervention. Most philosophical concepts of Being, however, would most likely have (I am just hazarding a conjecture, I’m not up to speed when it comes to philosophy) free will as a dominant component. In the cause-and-effect world of free will events seem to take their own course with minimal intervention from higher sources. The deux ex machina type of intervention we dream of is usually the imaginative stuff of Hollywood. Being must utilize free will to regulate, sustain and limit itself since it is mostly independent being that it is more of an abstract as opposed to a physical entity.

    That’s the best that I could come up with.

    I also thought of this analogy between capitalism as a social system and collective Being:

    Just as one of the roles of government in capitalism is to protect private ownership of capital, government also has an ethical obligation to protect workers and consumers from various forms of oppression and exploitation. This is because capitalism is inextricably linked to the human lives which neccesitate the demand and create the supply. In this way capitalism as a social system has a symbiotic relationship with personal and collective Being. Each one of us plays a crucial part in capitalism’s survival, and in return capitalism sustains us by providing us with the supply we need and crave as well as allowing us to partake of the profit from the system of creating and selling.

    Not as hard as Tiddlywinks.

    Comment by Tim — January 2, 2009 @ 9:12 am

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: