[Marxism] Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Quine and Hegel

Jeff Rubard jeffrubard at gmail.com
Sat Jan 11 21:59:20 MST 2014

The miniature *Positivismusstreit* occurring here on Marxmail is cheering
-- philosophy is a natural "instinct of reason", as Hegel said, and one of
the grand features of the Marxist tradition, as Engels said, is its
encouragement of philosophical culture among the masses. Yet the parties to
the debate are perhaps not quite getting to what would be the point for
young people "seized by theory". Hegel did not quite have the dialectical
hurdy-gurdy attributed to him by Soviet "philosophy", but he is correctly
viewed as the apotheosis of modern bourgeois culture: reasoning from the
sources of both the French Revolution and the Protestant tradition, he
attempts to show the entire purchase of "free men, free land, and free
soil" on reality. Marxism *is* a radical break with this faith in liberal
individualism: even the militant least oriented to "theory" will correctly
point out that at least the mass immiseration of the workers reveals
genuine truths unknown to Fukuyamaite defenders of "the end of history".
The interest of Hegel for political radicalism is aporetic -- he is the
"prelapsarian" thinker whose brilliant waffling demonstrates that modern
capitalist society writes checks its ass can't cash.

Still, the Hegelian Marxists would be right in suggesting that even a
"post-Quinean" naturalism draws far too close to an uncritical enshrinement
of instrumental reason as the ultimate achievement of the human mind. As
the recent debate on GMOs usefully shows, class collaboration of course
often shows up as "scientistic" enthusiasm for solving the problems of
humanity by throwing technology at a nature "red in tooth and claw".
Because human society under capitalism is still so variegated and trying to
find resources for self-assertion occurs so "naturally" to any human being,
presenting philosophical naturalism as a "first-line" defense of the
capitalist order -- intellectual Cipro, as it were -- would be
wrong-headed, but the sorry state of modern "bourgeois" social science
shows that even a very lively enthusiasm for neuron and quantum does not
even putatively solve the massive and intractable problems posed by social
conflict, either for the "tolerant wet liberal" or an insurgent publicist.
Alain Badiou is unfortunately quite a bit the mystic of modern mathematical
logic, but his general insistence on the importance of irreducible "truths"
of human existence and their genuine importance for radical politics is
quite correct.

Jeff Rubard

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