[Marxism] Graeco-Roman heritage of capitalism

Charles Brown cbrown at michiganlegal.org
Tue Oct 11 11:56:26 MDT 2005


With respect to the famous notion that being determines consciousness, the
superstructural changes that follow a revolution in the base, a revolution
in the relations of production such as the capitalist revolution, need not,
in Marx and Engels theory ,be confined to ideas that are new, have never
been expressed in history before.  Nothing in the historical materialist
model claims that old ideas from a previous mode cannot be recycled in a
revolution.  The bourgeoisie recycled some ideas from the mode prior to
feudalism as part  of the bourgeois revolution. 
 
So, the bourgeoisie superstructure was a new one relative to feudalism.  It
was determined by the revolution in the relations of production ( the
primitive accumulation of capital). But it also went back and picked up
elements of the old Graeco-Roman superstructure for its specific content.
The determination of the superstructure by the base ( which only occurs
especially intermittently,  in punctuations admits long equilbria) does not
specify all the content of the superstructure.  The determination by the
base is only that the superstructure fit within certain limits. It is a
negative determination, a condtional determination.  The base is a necessary
cause of the superstructure. It is not a sufficient cause of the
superstructure. The new superstructure must meet a certain minimum to meet
the new demands and requirements of the new base. But "above" that minimum,
the base does not determine the form of the superstructure.  The ruling
class can choose the specifics . The ruling ideas of any age are the ideas
of its ruling classes, and these ideas are consciously chosen to some
extent. 
 
Roman law worked fine for early capitalism. Roman society had a market,
though it was not the predominant economic form.  Caveat Emptor !  Bourgeois
law is largely based on Roman law especially early.  ( More on this later).
We have a Senate, in the U.S. What book do I recall "Republic" in the title
? etc., etc. Napoleonic Code is based on Roman law. In my father's
generation, law students had to take Latin. Why is it that Roman law is more
fit for bourgeois society than feudal law ? Because the bourgeois are
building an empire: slavery and colonialism ( more than specifically than
"conquest" as I said in previious posts)
 
The new bourgeois ruling class could look at old Rome and Greece and see a
sort of precedent on how to rule.  The elements of colonialism and slavery
were organized with a developed rule system for a market and for slavery at
the same time in the Roman system, just the ticket the new capitalist ruling
class was looking for. They viewed Classical society as a prior golden age
,before the "dark" age of feudalism.
 
So capitalism is both a step backward from feudalism to slave society as
well as a step forward from feudalism in all the wellknown ways, wage-labor,
science and technology. 
 
The Spirit of Capitalism is as much pagan as Protestant. This "paganism" of
the bourgeoisie is also a veiled atheism, for the bourgeoisie idealize the
Classical humans not their gods. The bourgeoisie needs an atheist outlook to
be more class conscious than the working class. It is a very important point
that the bourgeoisie consciousness is more atheist than that of the masses. 
 
Charles



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