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The End of Kantian Universalism: The Tricks of Economic Theory: Corruption, Creative Destruction, and Existential Corruptness (Part III)

The End Of Kantian Universalism: The Tricks Of Economic Theory: Corruption, Creative Destruction, And Existential Corruptness (Part III)

1. Corruption

Economic theory, economics and the economy are not only based on generalized, even infinite, limitless exchange, but also on corruption, in the etymological sense of the term.

What I centrally mean here is not the trivial sense of corruption, the way in which a local politician might take a bribe from a businessmen, or similar cases. While such things certainly happen, they are only a smokescreen that deviate attention from the much more basic degree of corruptness that is the very heart of the economy. Even further, the overwhelming attention devoted to these cases is even misleading, as such focus helps to redefine any gift as a kind of bribe, implying that gift relations, placed by Marcel Mauss at the heart of sociability, are a form of corruption. This is a very important issue, as this is one of the most basic instances of Nietzschean nihilism, or the revaluation of values, lying at the heart of the modern economy: as gift relations are redefined as instances of corruption, the values of the modern economy, which I argue are existential corruptness itself, are redefined as the right and moral way for any society.

Let me explain what I mean. In the Maussian, fundamental-anthropological perspective (which is radically different from the Durkheimian focus on ‘organic solidarity’ being produced by the ‘social division of labor’), the offering of gifts, as ‘total services’ (prestations totales), is the very heart of social life, as such gifts generate and reinforce mutual benevolence, friendship, positive and meaningful social relations. But according to the (trickster) logic of the modern economy, any social relation must rather be based on ‘mutual benefits’ (this concept will be soon analyzed in more detail), and so the details must be regulated in advance, and the equality of terms must be enforced. So social life is based on contract, and not on gift. The giving of a ‘free gift’ (of course, as Mary Douglas explains well, no gift is free, but involves a complex interplay of freedom and obligations, but Kantianism does not and cannot understand such intricacies and delicacies of life: it is the very core of Kantianism to denigrate any form of immediacy and spontaneity as a ‘Romantic illusion’, though – through the work of Girard – it is rather another core of Kantian thinking, the autonomous individual that can be recognized as ‘Romantic illusion’) surely must be a bribe, an inducement to corruption; one tries to ‘pay’ the other in advance, in order to gain some special favor. What it means is that according to the trickster logic of the economy every gift-giving is repositioned as an instance of corruption.

Before going further, let me explain shortly that what Mauss meant was not the exchange of gift objects (in fact, Mauss’s use of the very word ‘exchange’ was unfortunate, providing the occasion to misunderstand his argument as merely detailing ‘economic exchange’ in primitive societies (while of course the word ‘economic’ is meaningless there, being first used in the modern sense by Rabelais in the ‘first modern novel’), a misunderstanding that unfortunately has been codified by Karl Polanyi), rather practically everything what one was doing inside ‘traditional’, or simply decent normal societies. Thus, the central instance of gift relations involved life, the continuity of life, and the transmission of life across generations. Every birth of a child was considered as a gift, and such events were a prime reason why any human community had respect for higher powers – as the birth of a child could not be produced by purposeful human action, thus is from the start outside the logic of Cartesian-Kantian rationality. Then, anything parents did with the newborn was a kind of gift – of course, done out of love: but love itself is the heart of gift-relations. Such a necessarily asymmetrical, thus not equalitarian, symmetrical, contract-like relation between children and parents lasts until the child grows up and passes into adulthood (this event is the heart of rites of passage, origin of the term ‘liminality’). Then the child starts his or her independent life, though of course family relations even then don’t turn into contract-like relations – though it is with this transformation that central terms derived from Roman Law, like ‘emancipation’ and ‘alienation’ have their original meaning. For us now the central issue is that eventually parents become old, and then the asymmetry turns around and now the children care for the elderly, freely returning the gifts they freely received earlier – though of course this is also one of the most important human obligations. This is the core of Mauss’s idea why gift relations are the heart of any decent society. Thus, a gift is by no means ‘necessarily’ an attempt at bribing somebody; any meaningful social relation – love, friendship, respect (for example, of a student for a professor) – is based on asymmetry: benevolent and not abusive asymmetry.

Now let’s see the other side: how, quite on the contrary, it is the idea of ‘mutual benefits’, the core of economic mentality, that can be ­– and most often simply is, necessarily – corrupt. As an example, let’s consider the replacing of carpenters by a company that makes tables, following the principle of the ‘division of labor’.

Once upon a time there was a carpenter who for some reason – no doubt because his desires have been ‘metaphysically incited’ – came up with the idea of wanting to gain more income from his activities, or to ‘make some money’. For this, he decided to join forces with another carpenter, in order to make more tables, using less effort. The suggestion is that, instead of each making a full table, they become specialized, one making the table-legs, while the other the tabletop. In this way, they could both gain, and both time and money. The point demonstrates that, pace Marx, the central problem of modern capitalism is not exploitation; the proselytizing logic of the ‘fairground economy’ is even more lethal where no direct exploitation is involved, only mutual gain. Furthermore, while the idea is eminently ‘rational’ from the perspective of modern, technological reason, it is literally irrational, and in several ways, from the perspective of both Greek mathematics and the logic of ordinary social life. It is irrational, as it replaces the whole, a table finished by a qualified artisan, by mere fragments pieced together; just as it breaks the identity of the two carpenters, who are no longer carpenters, producing a whole table, a beautiful object of which they can be proud, rather mere slaves of the mechanical production of copy-made segments. But the breach of ratio, or harmonious proportion, goes way beyond the two (ex)-carpenters, as they include the other carpenters, whose trade, and activity, suffers by the over-production of this new, socially parasitic (an intrusion, in the sense in which Michel Serres, lifelong friend of René Girard discusses this in The Parasite, his chief work; also an interference or disruption, to use the other buzzword of contemporary business schools), as useless and corrosive, ‘technologically innovative’ consortium; their buyers, who no longer acquire a genuine work of artisanship, which can be transmitted from generation to generation, but a fragmented, fake technological product, to be thrown away as garbage at the first occasion, if it is not broken before; and the entire community, as they spread the ‘model’ idea that by giving up yourself, by breaking your integrity, you can ‘gain’ something: a model offered for the others to follow, with the proviso that if more and more people pursue such logic of cor-ruption, or joint break, those who try to keep their integrity will indeed loose, as the community gradually disappears. Thus, as another performative speech act, those who keep their integrity become redefined as losers, being opponents of progress, thus outright stigmatized as ‘enemies of the people’, or even of ‘mankind’.

Thus, the search for mutual advantages results in a corrupt mode of living. It represents the fragmentation of the whole of social life into segments, with the creation of the ‘free’, atomized individual, with its ‘rights’, or the severing of all integrity and identity, personal and communal. Liberal Enlightenment individualism is identical with the systematic corruption of the human beings, following alchemical receipts (in the sense of metallurgy, of which alchemy is the theorization: you must destroy the rocks, symbol of integrity, in order to gain the ore, with the produced metals that, in contrast to the rocks, indeed corrode), the violence of which is ignored and hidden through functionalist evolutionism. Furthermore, Marxism eminently follows the same logic, and even in two different senses: first by accepting, even hailing the liberal individualist revolutions; and second, by proposing as the way to move beyond even the limits of a liberal constitutional order the alchemic principle of mobilization for the new, second-order revolution, through the idea that ‘the worse it is, the better’: the more people become exploited and deprived under liberal individualistic capitalism, the more they will want ‘change’, or a new, socialist/ communist revolution – an even more drastic leap into the void.

The case of ‘mutual benefits’ is only one instance of the radical corruptness disseminated by economic theory. For a more comprehensive view, we turn to the idea of creative destruction (which is again put effectively into motion by the current crisis), and then its central ontological foundations: concerning nature (‘scarcity’), and anthropology (infinite desire and maximization of pleasure).

2. Creative Destruction

The idea of creative destruction, in such simple terms, and as an explicit ideology to offer an apology of capitalism (his own words), was first proposed by Joseph Schumpeter. This is important for a series of reasons: because Schumpeter was Austrian, Viennese, thus this idea is also Viennese, like other, super-destructive and typical (as unreal) Viennese ideas: like ‘opportunity cost’, considered by Hayek as the heart of Austrian economics, and which means that everything we do should be assessed in terms of what we could have done instead, or the same mad principle of infinite substitutability as Ricardo’s exchange theory, resulting in the fact that any ‘natural’ inclination is disturbed as we are forced to deal with an infinite number of – non-existent, unreal, meaningless – ‘alternative possibilities’; like Popper’s reduction of validity to the possibility of falsification; like Kelsen’s reduction of law to universal normativity; like Freud’s reduction of love to the satisfaction of sexual urge – all consistently looking at life from a reverse, thus even perverse, perspective; because it was due to a limited reading and misunderstanding of Nietzsche, similarly to Ayn Rand, another extremely influential propagator of existential corruptness; and because Schumpeter’s related work became the foundation of both the theory of economic development and of entrepreneurship, two of the most influential ideas shaping our current (un-)reality.

The idea is again extremely simple, and can sound attractive on a first instance. It starts by valorizing innovation and creativity, and who would object to these, the call to be innovative and creative? Well, actually, one could raise objections even here, as unlimited innovation implies a problematic cult of the new: of course, it is always important, for any child and even adult, to search for something new, but certainly not at the mad price of discarding and ignoring anything that is ‘old’, or follows tradition. For a newborn, everything is new, this is a trivial saying; but only for him. Creativity, on the other hand, until modernity, was a feature of God only, and even there it had its problems, as the idea of a creatio ex nihilio is one of the most problematic aspects of Christian theology: how could any ‘entity’ create something ‘out of nothing’?!

However, Schumpeter is simply banking on the modern mentality of always searching for the new – after all, in German modernity is called Neuzeit, or the ‘new age’; evokes it, takes it for granted, and then introduces his trademark novelty: well, in order to really produce something new, the old first of all has to be destroyed. And it is not sufficient to do this once, but it must be performed continuously, infinitely. No society has ever managed to follow this principle – a true magic wand, source of infinite wealth, according to Schumpeter – only our modern world, and this is because the only persons capable to do so are the entrepreneurs. This is why we must glorify and not criticize capitalism at its very heart: modernity, capitalism, entrepreneurship, universal well-being and richness are identical, and can only be procured by creative destruction, by the continuous swiping away of everything that has become obsolete, outmoded, overcome. This is the principle that underlies the economic policies of our current rulers, whether private or public; and this is the principle that is being taught in any business school. But this principle is radically corrupt, and is identical to the systematic destruction of nature, culture and the human person.

Let me offer a few quick comments, indicating the prevalence of this thinking, and its impact. First, this idea, while being a radical misapplication of Nietzsche – as for Nietzsche this way of thinking is rather a crucial part of modern nihilism, or the re-valuation of values – the idea actually is very close to the thinking of Marx (the justification of bourgeois revolutions, as they ‘cleared away the old system’), and especially to Trotsky’s permanent revolution. The only difference is that Soviet Marxists could not find a proper agent of the permanent revolution – the Party, with Stalin, became rather an agent of settling down, this is why Trotsky broke with Stalin, and this is why at the end of Communism it was not clear whether the party was an institution on the left or on the right – while ‘capitalism’ (using the terminology of not only Marx but Schumpeter and Weber) did. However, it should be noted here that the idea of permanent revolution, as Voegelin noticed (this is one of the most important insights of Voegelin, yet surprisingly little referred to), was verbally formulated earlier, and at a particularly important time and place: in 1815, by French liberal economists – a liminal moment, or a chronotope, just as important as fin-de-siècle Vienna.

Even further, the underlying mentality has important predecessors, as it can be taken back as far as Leonardo da Vinci – and certainly not much further than that, at least in Europe. It is part of the radical novelty Leonardo represented in engineering, in particular the building of fortresses, first used – a striking coincidence! – as an architect of Cesare Borgia, the most feared of the many corrupt late Renaissance condottieri, son of the most corrupt Renaissance pope, Alexander VI, and also presumed model for Machiavelli’s Prince, the prelude of modern political science, codified by Hobbes. Up to Leonardo, whether in Europe, in the Islamic areas, or in pre-Columbian America, fortresses were built on spots that had natural advantages: hilltops, using the rocks there; promontories; islands in the interflow of rivers. Based on the rediscovered Vitruvius, also a source of Alberti’s ‘ideal city’, and most probably used through a Byzantine lens, Leonardo came to argue that the ideal fortress should rather be built, according to general, universalistic principles, on a completely flat surface. Or, the ‘natural’ features of the surface, instead of being assets that must be incorporated into the building of the fortress, should rather be considered as liabilities: obstacles that must be cleared away before the universally ideal fortress could be built. This is still taught as the foundational principle of modern architecture and engineering (note that Auguste Comte, founder of sociology, even coiner of the word, studied engineering). Locke’s tabula rasa thus should be taken back to Leonardo da Vinci, who also was a central figure in the history of mathematics, in particular through his ‘philosophy of the zero’ (title of a 1966 talk, inaugurating a series of conferences celebrating Leonardo in his birthplace Vinci, still running). As the source of Leonardo’s related thinking, we need to signal the extreme importance of Byzantine ideas: Gnosticism, Neoplatonism, alchemy, magic, hermetic thinking, all seeping into Europe together from the collapsing Byzantium, and disseminated widely through the effective coincidence with the discovery of the printing press.

Schumpeter, just as Kant or Ricardo, was not the guilty one in a legal sense, as did act in a particular context; only gave a particularly clear and strikingly programmatic formulation to the general idea. The point can also be illustrated by the most famous play of Chekhov, Cherry Orchard; a close contemporary of Schumpeter (who was about 20 when the play was written and first staged).

The play is about a Russian noble family who is going bankrupt, as cannot keep up with the ‘spirit’ of modern times. The pearl of their property is a cherry orchard; wonder of the entire place. Now, one of their former serfs, still in good terms with the family, as personally grateful to them, suggests the idea of cutting down the trees, parceling the land and selling it to the new Moscow middle classes, in search for a second home in the countryside. The owners consider such an idea impossible, even crazy. In their world, it lies beyond understanding. But their world is collapsing; the serf buys the land in auction, and performs, for his own profit, what he suggested the family of doing. The last scene of the play, the last scene of Chekhov’s life, as he died shortly after, is performed while from the background the audience could hear the chopping of the cherry trees.

The current relevance of the play is enormous, and it is not accidental that it should have been right now staged in Ireland – the performance certainly was cancelled due to the pandemic. It is a perfect illustration, in a nutshell, of creative destruction: in order to build second homes for the upwardly mobile, cherry orchards, and any other gardens, anything that simply pleases the eye (we should remember that the blossoming of cherry trees was simply the most important motive of Japanese art) and the mouth (eating cherries from the trees), should be destroyed. Why? Because of progress; because of the economy, stupid! But still we should ask the further question about the meaning of all this, and of course it is nothing: nothingness itself, zero, nulla, tabula rasa, back to the philosophy of Leonardo. We indeed ‘progress’, in the sense of going ahead, but only to our own destruction.

Chekhov wrote this play in 1903, it was performed in 1904, when he died. It is important to note that he hated the performance, as it staged and advertised his play as a ‘tragedy’, while he called it a ‘comedy’. Of course, with tongue in cheek; and it is in this way that it was a prelude to the theatre of the 20th century, tragicomedy, the theatre of the absurd. Its ‘real’ hero, the serf, still had personal sympathy with the old family and its values, but this won’t be lasting. The slave (or serf) revolt of modern capitalism (or socialism, or democracy, the three title words of Schumpeter’s most famous book, but what do such words matter) would run its course, in Russia, in Europe, everywhere. In Russia, 1904 was followed by 1905 and its revolution, and then the even more bloody revolution of 1917, followed by four years of civil war and seventy years of Communist rule.

The central point is that whoever is capable of cutting down a cherry orchard is capable of anything – this was the great, prophetic insight of Chekhov. To cut a cherry orchard is a crime against nature and culture, and a sin against the Holy Spirit. It is a crime against nature, as cherries are gifts of nature; from the features of the tree through the blossoming of cherry flowers up to the eating of the ripe cherries straight from the trees. But it is also a crime against culture, as in nature only wild cherry trees grow: a cherry orchard requires decades and centuries of culture, of loving care; it assumes a perfect harmonizing of nature and culture, just as an olive garden in Tuscany. And finally, it is a sin against the Holy Spirit, a kind of sin that – in contrast to the sins against the Father and the Son, the sins that concern crime, trespassing of the law, even blasphemy or apostasy – can never be forgiven, as they imply such a radically corrupt personality that it lies beyond repair.

We know what followed in Russia the Cherry Orchard, but will only know in our own future what will happen if this current pandemic will be – as in a way it already is – used to further promote creative destruction. European culture was much stronger in Europe than in Russia; and the ‘exportation’ of the benefits of economic (and police) thinking always brought more devastating impact outside Europe (see how the current pandemic is dealt with in China or Iran, through the ‘modern’ instruments of political parties and states, to raise madness on the second or third power). But the difference might be that right now the devastation can be brought home to the core of ‘Europe’, and this is already happening; and that our current rulers, the ones brought forward by increasing technologization, depersonalization, and in particular the Internet, real-life impersonations of Weber’s ‘nullities’, or dies Nichts, evoked at the famous end-point of his Protestant Ethic, no longer have the same values and culture than the traditional ruling classes and the bourgeoisie. What will this lead to? Nobody has the answer, but we must try to ensure that the permanent revolution of creative destruction will not destroy everything that still remained of European culture.

3. The Ontology of Corruptness

What remains now to do is to indicate the ontological foundations of such a radically corrupt world vision, its anthropological and physiological foundations. I mean ‘physiology’ in the classical sense of physiology as a science of nature (physis), in the Presocratic sense (Anaximander, Parmenides, Empedocles, Heraclitus), where ‘philosophers’ (the word is an invention of Plato) called themselves physiologists. As indicated before, these involve the ‘principles’ of scarcity and of the infinity of desire.

3.1. scarcity as fundamental principle of nature

Scarcity again, seemingly, is commonplace wisdom. Everything imaginable in the world, perhaps except air, is scarce; staying with the wine example of Ricardo, certainly we cannot all have Chateau Latour to go with every one of our meals.

This is trivially true, but again meaningless, as most people would not even know about Chateau Latour, and would be quite happy – and satisfied – to eat and drink what they can get from their garden, land, or local shop. What they are not familiarized with, they simply don’t miss; and familiarization – an important synonym of ‘knowledge’ – means what they got used to since childhood as part of their lived experience in their natural surroundings (in so far as such existed). If they are deprived of this, it is something that they surely and sourly would miss.

Thus, dear reader, I certainly don’t know what you miss, but I can tell you that what I most miss are, for e.g., the cherries from the trees of my grandmother and the peaches from the trees of my grandfather. They are irretrievably gone, so they are not scarce, but were simply destroyed (certainly, from the perspective of some, creatively – the perspective of those who most certainly made much more money from them then my grandparents when they, for rather complex reasons, sold their home). And when these trees still existed, lived, they were most generous, in terms of both ‘quantity’ and especially ‘quality’.

This is because the central principle of nature is not scarcity, but abundance or generosity – just as it is the central principle of gift-giving; and generosity is etymologically connected to both ‘generation’ and ‘gender’. Scarcity is not an inevitable principle of reality, but is a matter of perspective (we should not forget the enormous importance Max Weber attributed, following Nietzsche in his true spirit, to questions of perspective). Anything has, and must have, its concrete time and place, and is therefore limited. No tree can provide fruits for an entire population. But every single tree is incredible generous in its own way, as is grown from a single seed, on a small piece of land, and can offer fruits that is enough for an entire family. Kantian universalism – necessarily, given its own assumptions, or rather presumptions – ignores concreteness, thus comes up with meaningless universalisms which, however, through the ‘market’ and the ‘state’, impose a perspective on us which we all must comply with.

3.2. infinity of desire or pleasure maximization as anthropological universal

The last point to be discussed concerns the central underlying anthropological assumption of economic theory: that we all, as human beings, have unlimited desires, searching for infinite pleasures; we are ‘machines of appetite’ (Hobbes), trying to maximize our income so that we could maximize the satisfaction of our pleasures, and due to this are bound to enter into permanent conflict. We are by nature hedonists.

Well, one could object that economic theory does not really say so; it literally says that we are ‘maximizing our utility functions’. This is indeed so, but it only allows me to identify a further super-trick. As, on the one hand, it transforms the core of human motivation into a mathematical terminology where those who are not trained in mathematical economics cannot follow our tricksters (they say that we all of us have our ‘utility functions’, just we don’t know about it; a point that has the exact same character and validity than Lukacsian class consciousness – or is simply meaningless, a verbal-rhetorical trick). On the other hand – and this trick is even more blatant and blood-curling – it is a travesty of Aristotelian language. As the term ‘utility’ in economics is a leftover from Aristotelian oikonomia, but ‘maximization’ has no sense there, is a modern addition, and it has nothing to do with utility, rather with pleasure. This is best visible by giving a short account of the coining of the term of ‘marginal utility’ by Gossen, a bored and absentist Prussian bureaucrat – an astonishing example for the intertwining of police state and fairground economy.

Gossen hated to sit in his office, and instead preferred frequenting local pubs, which in a way is quite understandable. There he made the astonishing discovery which – through Jevons and Menger – became the cornerstone of the neoclassical revolution in economic theory: that while a third pint is good, it does not taste as well as the second pint did; and the fourth is even less pleasurable. Thus, while there is a natural limit of how much beer one can drink – in Ireland many people evidently do not stop until 12 or even 15 pints, which is hardly believable but evidently true, but certainly nobody can have 50 – there is also a diminishing satisfaction received for every additional item consumed (note that here economics, as always, immediately jumps from one concrete example to a universal generalization, and in doing so ignores, and makes us forget that it ignores, the plain truth the for ‘normal’ people, not Prussian bureaucrats escaping their office and drinking alone in a pub, what matters is drinking beer in a company, and having a good time, and not the relative pleasure derived from the mere act of emptying a glass). And while ‘we’ all desperately try to understand the technical details of marginal calculus, we comfortably ignore the plain fact that all this talk about ‘marginal utility’ has nothing to do with Aristotle’s oikonomia and the question of how households manage to perform what they need to do, as useful for them.

Thus, in the background, the anthropological assumption that ‘men’, we, all of us, are just trying to accumulate and enjoy as much pleasure as we can, seeps in the background and then is accepted as a plain fact; a truism. Sorry to go back again to my grandfather, but actually it is a proper reference point, because had he lived when I returned from Texas with my economics PhD, and had I tried to explain to him what really economic theory says, I can imagine the immense anger that would have swollen inside him: this is what they told you that man really is? This is why you spent four years away from home? Don’t you shame yourself?!

And, of course, we are not maximizers of pleasure, and do not have infinite desires. I have already mentioned René Girard, a thinker since long recognized as having many parallels with the ideas of Voegelin, and who conclusively demonstrated the mimetic character of desire. The idea that the isolated individual has its ‘own’ desires is due to the Romantic illusion of the autonomous individual, a combination of Rousseau and Kant. It is only in our (unreal) reality that the various media disseminate both infinite products to be desired, and images of human beings who indeed has unlimited, and mostly shameful, desires, so that we ‘buy’ radically and manifoldly corrupt ideas (as, apart from being a corrupt vision of man, it is also a literal corruption of Aristotle) as plain truths.

And we pay a huge price for it, as it gives occasion for deploying in an effective way one of the most standard trickster tricks: of blaming the victim as the culpable one. This concerns the ideological justification of austerity measures. Most economic collapse or depression happens because the ‘markets’ (meaning, always, the stock-markets) became overheated, through no fault of ours, as ‘we’ do not play on the stock-market. But the justification, by businessmen, politicians and journalists alike – they, in so far as it can be generalized, and exceptions of course always are, but the point is valid for the dominant majority, are always on the same side – is ready: this is because we, all of us, were greedy, were consuming too much, as we never can have enough, searching always for more pleasure. And then ‘we’, feeling in a way touched – as of course we all feel that this kind of overheated consumption economy is not in order, and that we indeed somehow were enticed to go along with it – accept the blame and consent of ‘tightening our belts’. If one is interested in a script how the trickster works, including the trick of assigning the blame, ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ of the Rolling Stones, from their 1968 Beggars’ Banquet album, written literally under the joint impact of the May 1968 Paris events and Mikhail Bulgakov’s ‘Master and Margarita’, offers a perfect case.

Conclusion on Existential Corruptness

Economic theory is not just as set of ideas that help us organize ‘rationally’ our lives and the economy (as already stated, anyway there was no such thing as ‘the economy’ before about the 17th century). It implies, and has, a worldview. This view considers nature as being deficient, generating scarcity, which must be mended; it considers the human being as a kind of machine or automaton that is only concerned with accumulating and consuming as much money and objects as possible in order to satisfy its infinite desires and maximizing its pleasures; it considers society not as a community, a group of like-minded people having a degree of benevolence for each other, rather a bunch of atomized individuals necessarily competing with each other to use the universally scarce resources to satisfy their universally infinite desires. This worldview presents a radically corrupt vision of man and nature; it is therefore radically corrupt; but it then imposes this radically corrupt vision on our reality, and forces it – us – to conform to its vision and thus to confirm it.

As a result, we live in an increasingly corrupt world, breathing increasingly corrupt air, drinking increasingly corrupt water, and meeting increasingly corrupt people – our fellows who increasingly behave just as it is assumed by the theory, and to which we also have to conform, and are conforming, becoming ourselves increasingly more corrupt every day: we all, ‘Hypocritical reader, — my fellow, — my brother’, as Baudelaire said, quoted prominently by Girard. None of us to be sure is immune.

The current liminal situation in a way is a break in this corruptness – though to a large extent only to compensate it with another aspect of our corrupt world, the police state modality, another radical corruption of Aristotelian ideas, this time of the politeia. At any rate, the occasion is there to reflect on this corruptness, and perhaps to escape it. Otherwise, the destruction unleashed by the current liminal moment will only spin further, creatively, the destructiveness of the modern fairground economy, and the modern police state.


This is the third of four parts with parts one, two, and four available.

Arpad SzakolczaiArpad Szakolczai

Arpad Szakolczai

Arpad Szakolczai is a Board Member of VoegelinView and a Professor of Sociology at University College Cork in Ireland. He is author of Comedy and the Public Sphere (Routledge, 2012); Novels and the Sociology of the Contemporary (Routledge, 2016); and Permanent Liminality and Modernity (Routledge, 2017).

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