Hegel, Marx, Goldner, C.L.R. James, Enlightenment
and the Philosophical Dichotomies

by Ralph Dumain

Introduction to Loren Goldner

Loren Goldner's web site, Break Their Haughty Power, proves to be perversely fascinating, and paradoxically may even help me in my work Goldner's orientation seems to be based on a romantic ultraleftism (influenced it seems by far left Trotskysism, council communism, anarchism, situationism, etc.) I find obnoxious.  He is erudite, though his philosophical foundation is confused and obscurantist.  He seems to be anti-postmodernist, anti-multiculturalist and universalist while simultaneously adhering to third-world-racial romanticism evidenced inter alia with dealings with the "Race Traitor" idiots. He has essays on multiracial American religious radical traditions, Marx and science, C.L.R. James, and Herman Melville.  A few samples:

Facing Reality 45 Years Later: Critical Dialogue With CLR James/Grace Lee/Pierre Chaulieu (2002)

Race, Class and the Crisis of the Bourgeois Ego in the Work of Herman Melville

Marxism and the Crisis of Scientific Ideology

Goldner has two essays on race and the Enlightenment; first, Race and the Enlightenment, Part I: From Anti-Semitism to White Supremacy. Goldner links the growing anti-Semitism of the period to the rise of modern racialism. Goldner has nothing to say about the Jewish Enlightenment here, nor does he account for the later linkage of anti-Enlightenment ideology with anti-Semitism, which go together like white on rice. This is my litmus test.

The second essay is Race and the Enlightenment, Part II: The Anglo-French Enlightenment and Beyond. Goldner weighs the positive and negative sides of Enlightenment. In one footnotes he notes that current anti-Enlightenment thought glosses over the positive aspects of Enlightenment.  However, Goldner also writes: "But the key point is that when deeply anti-Enlightenment figures such as Count Gobineau(21) (1816-1882) began the intensification of race theory that pointed directly to fascism, they had already found the concept of race in the Enlightenment legacy." Goldner also discusses C.L.R. James's The Black Jacobins. Goldner argues elsewhere to the effect that James is post-Enlightenment. While this is not exactly an irrationalist claim, it is worth noting that James does not conform to today's anti-Enlightenment climate, as he was an atheist (which many people do not know or wish to admit), and that this book is frequently criticized for not giving sufficient due to the voodoo religion.

All in all, Goldner seems to be an amalgam of erudition, intellectual sophistication, romantic childishness, and left sectarianism chafing at itself.  I think his critique of James's Facing Reality is largely very good, but it also reveals Goldner's own history of being poisoned by sectarian politics as it does of James's.  The Johnson-Forest Tendency was a sect against sectarianism, a vanguard against vanguardism. People who come out of such a background can be very irritating.


In  re: The Renaissance and Rationality: The Status of the Enlightenment Today by Loren Goldner.

Goldner begins with a quote from Hegel:

In the movement from Boehme to Bacon, there is a great step forward  in precision and an equally great step backward in sensuousness.

As we shall see, Goldern misunderstands its significance for Marx. Then Goldner's first paragraph:

Few people in the Western left today are very enthusiastic about defending the Enlightenment per se. And with good reason: its social legacy is in a shambles. In the 1945-1975 postwar expansion East, West, South and North, the "enlightened planner" (whatever the sordid reality) had cachet. Today, from Novossibirsk and Chernobyl to the dynamited high rise towers of St. Louis, by way of the giganticism of the semi-abandoned steel plants and superhighways built with Western and Soviet aid for now-forgotten Third World dictators, the planet is littered with the ruins of the bureaucratic appropriation of the Enlightenment project. A vigorous defense of the Enlightenment, as put forward by figures such as Habermas and his followers, might seem a breath of fresh air in the contemporary climate of post-modernism and "identity politics", whose hostility to the Enlightenment, drawing on Nietzsche and Heidegger (often without knowing it) the Habermasians rightly decry. To seriously defend the Enlightenment today means to draw on a historical culture which is totally unfashionable, suspiciously "white male", in the trendy academic radicalism of today. But such defenses also shows signs of not realizing how serious the problem is. One cannot today defend the Enlightenment (and we agree that a defense is necessary) with the ideas of the Enlightenment alone. However unpalatable it may be to do so in the contemporary climate, where the Enlightenment project is everywhere under attack by Nietzscheans, "cultural studies" ideologues, Christian, Jewish and Muslim fundamentalists, Foucaultians, Afrocentrists and (most) ecologists, it is necessary to discuss the limits of the Enlightenment in order to defend it, and to go beyond it.

The essay thus begins in a propagandistic tone. Certain conceits prevalent in the milieu of intellectuals are taken for granted by Goldner, as if they are everyone's common sense: nobody believes in the Enlightenment anymore, it's an embarrassment to defend it. It—an entity—can be partially defended at best—a defensive position at best.

But there was another critique of the Enlightenment afoot in Europe well before the French Revolution, the German Sturm und Drang movement, which included figures of no less stature than Herder and Goethe, and which prepared the way for another critique of the Enlightenment, romanticism.

This is the putative alternative to counterrevolutionary organicism and Romanticism.

Marx studied the work of the conservative German historical school of law, in order to appropriate elements of its organicist critique of the abstraction of the Enlightenment for the revolutionary movement. The romantic philosophers Schelling and Fichte developed an idea that also exists nowhere in the Enlightenment, except as adumbrated (at its end) by Kant: that human activity constitutes reality through its praxis. G.F.W. Hegel, who critiqued both the limits of Enlightenment and of romanticism, pulled all these elements into a philosophy of history that was, as Herzen said, the "algebra" of revolution. There would have been no "Theses on Feuerbach" without these figures, and hence no Marx as we know him today.

Some basis in truth, but for the conclusions drawn, mostly ballocks.

Marx here is explicitly referring to Enlightenment materialists such as Hobbes, Mersenne, and Holbach, emphasizing the importance of the "active side developed by idealism", by which he means Schelling, Fichte and Hegel, none of whom can be considered "Enlightenment" thinkers, even if they are also not "anti-Enlightenment" , in the same way as figures such as Maistre, for whom the Enlightenment and then the French Revolution were quite simply the eruption of the satanic in history.

The problem with this feeble analysis is that Goldner mystifies the purpose and dynamic of Marx's thinking.  It's a childish argument: Enlightenment + Romanticism = Marx.  The Enlightenment itself is treated as a metaphysical category.  However, the contradictions of the French Enlightenment (and what about English, Jewish, and other national currents in Enlightenment?  What about Spinoza?) themselves require social explanation.  Romanticism was not the cure, but a symptom of the other half of the unresolved contradictions of the modern world.  Indeed, the Germans tried to stave off the fragmentation of modernity, but at a price of maintaining archaicism.  This was not Marx.

Another important point.  English Romanticism was not German Romanticism, except in its worst tendencies.  The better English Romantics were also trying to resolve the contradictions of modern fragmentation.  If you can show how Marx was influenced by Shelley, you would have a better argument.  Blake was written about in a German article, but was virtually unknown.

History vs. abstract principles, polis community vs. statism, the alienated human truth of religion vs. 18th-century atheism, constitution of the world by activity vs. a mere contemplative vision of reality as "out there": all these key concepts were developed not by the Enlightenment but by Sturm and Drang, and then romanticism and idealism, they were all fundamental for Marx. A straight line from the Enlightenment to socialism which does not exist, makes both an easier target for the post-modernists as a "master narrative" of "domination", resting on schoolboy notions of "materialism" which derive from Newton's atomism.This telescoping of Enlightenment and socialism is actually (and usually quite unintentionally) reminiscent of Stalinism, which did not have much use for the post-Enlightenment (not to mention pre-Enlightenment) sources of Marx (as sketched above) either.

Again, no explanation of the dynamics behind these categories and their interrelationships.  Marx did of course transcend this categorial contradiction, but Goldner only mystifies the process.

Furthermore, Marx's engagement with Feuerbach does not explain the later development of his scientific method, in the Grundrisse, for example.  How does one combine Marx's statements about science in the 1844 mss ("there will be one science") with his conception of scientific idealization developed later?  Goldner is provincial and propagandistic.  He is not treating the attempt to synthesize abstraction and sensuousness in a serious manner.

The philosophical dimension of Stalinism also remains unanalyzed.  Soviet philosophy led an ecclesiastical existence which can be precisely dated, though its origins were long in the making.  The New Turn officialized in January 1931 mandated the unity of theory and practice in a way that forever destroyed the possibility of rational critique.  The official ideology gave a rationalistic veneer to the naked pragmatism of the Stalin dictatorship, hiding its irrationalism.  Ruling elites are always irrational.  If you must blame the Enlightenment, you would do better to go to Adorno and Horkheimer.

The Enlightenment is not just, not even primarily, a body of thought; it is that, but it is still more a social project and a social practice that was, in the majority of cases, taken up and implemented by state civil servants. This was not the case in England, where Enlightenment thought of the 17th and 18th century, the work of Bacon, Newton, Hobbes, Locke, Hooke, Boyle, Smith, Gibbon, Hume and Paine unfolded in a new civil society which had successfully freed itself from absolutism by the revolutions of 1640 and 1688. Nor was this the case in America, where Jefferson, Franklin, Paine and Madison were just as much at the cutting edge, freeing America from colonial domination. But the Enlightenment on the continent, to a great extent as ideology and above all as the practice of Enlightened absolutism, was statist through and through, from the philosophes and their dreams of benign Asian despots, to the Jacobins, to the Prussian reformers of 1808. In France, Spain, Portugal, the Italian states, Prussia, Sweden, Austria and Russia, (and in the Iberian and French colonies in the New World), the Enlightenment was the theory and practice of civil servants working for absolutist states.

Goldner contradicts himself.  Is Enlightenment a body of thought or a social practice?  If its political character is different in different social environments, what does this say about the ideas?  The French Enlightenment had much of the aristocratic in it.  Do we deduce its hidden contradictions from a category known as Enlightenment, or from the social contradictions themselves.  How then do we evaluate the ideas and the problems contained in the ideas themselves?

The problem of many contemporary defenders of the Enlightenment is their failure to see that the bedrock foundation, what the Enlightenment itself accepted as its undisputed point of departure and its model of the power of rational thought was Newton's physics. But Newton's physics (which were, in their time, undoubtedly revolutionary) were not merely about physics, or nature: they stood for 150 years, and in reality for 300 years, as the very model of what "science" was and ought to be. For most figures of the Enlightenment (important exceptions are Diderot and Rousseau) the rigor and exactness of mathematical physics stood as a model for all realms of human endeavour, including the psyche and the arts.

Again, childish.  No explanation of why this happened, or even a recognition of the distinction between Newton's actual physics and the ideological construct made of "Newtonianism."  Goldner doesn't know what Newton's physics was about as a real science, nor did Goethe.

Only a generation ago psychological behaviourism, which has to be seen as a very degenerate heir of the late Enlightenment of Condillac, LaMettrie and Holbach, still got a serious hearing in Anglo-American universities, and Talcott Parsons in the 1940's boasted that he was "close to splitting the sociological atom".

No explanation of the philosophical basis of behaviorism.  No discussion of the conflict between materialism and positivism, or of the nature of scientific explanation.

Newton's physics were, once again, not merely a physics, (the latter undoubtedly being of great power, a guiding research program for over 200 years), they were little less than an ontology, and they were unquestioned by the Enlightenment. Few contemporary defenders of the Enlightenment have much to say about Newton's alchemy, astrology, Biblical commentary, history (attempting to confirm the truth of Old Testament chronology), anti-Trinitarian theology or search for the Egyptian cubit, a body of work which Newton himself placed on an equal footing with his physics and of which, for him, his physics was only a part. (Interestingly, and revealingly, the Frankfurt School and the Foucaultian critics of the Enlightenment have little to say about them either.)

A mass of confusion.  Goldner fails to distinguish the actual content of science from the total cultural system in which it appears.  Hence he cannot proceed to analyze the relationship between Newton's physical theories and the totality of the social-cultural complex in which Newton pursued his other interests.

This "third stream", of which again Kepler is the culminating figure, was hardly, as Enlightenment ideology portrayed it by assimilating it to "religion", hostile to science or to scientific research. Indeed, Kepler's work provided one part of the key to Newton's theory of universal gravitation. The "third stream" was of course characterized by many untenable a priori views such as the correspondance of the microcosm-man and the macrocosm-universe, or by Kepler's own search for Platonic form, as in a perfect Platonic circle in the orbit of the planets. Kepler passed over into modern science by abandoning that form for the empirically-discovered ellipse, but he got there by looking for it. The "third stream" had little or nothing to counter the successes of the Newtonian- atomist program, until the latter had exhausted itself. Nevertheless, a history of the science since Newton which has attempted to revive the "third stream", too complex to concern us here, would include names of the stature of Baader, Schelling, Oersted, Davy, Faraday, Goethe, W.R. Hamilton, Georg Cantor and Joseph Needham, and the issues they raise are far from settled.

Goldner points to an important dynamic he does not understand.  He is only a propagandist.  He works playing off big categories against one another: Enlightenment, Romanticism, Third Stream.  But his analysis is external to the concrete content of the phenomena he adumbrates.

It is significant that neither the pro-Enlightenment Habermasians or the anti-Enlightenment deconstructionists and Foucaultians have much use for Renaissance- Reformation cosmobiology, and the reason is that all of them tacitly accept the Enlightenment linear view of history and progress as the sole possible kind of progress, in which the "third stream" disappears into the "religion" of the "dark ages". There is an unacknowledged agreement here between opposing sides which makes possible a recasting of the debate. This largely unspoken agreement accepts the division of the world between culture and nature, (or Geist and Natur as the Germans would say) and, however differently various figures may treat the world of consciousness, they concede the world of nature to the mechanists.

Clever, but this 'third stream'; is just another mystical concept.  Goldner too accepts the 'linear view' or he would have proceeded on an entirely different basis.

Such a division was only possible after Newton and the ideological suppression of the cosmobiological "third stream", which, whatever its flaws, presented a unitary vision of consciousness and nature.

"Whatever its flaws"  ... just a small detail, n'est ce pas?

Nor should the reader get the impression that Renaissance-Reformation cosmobiology did not have political implications, as atomism and mechanism shaped the political thought of the Enlightenment. Its first and major political implication stems from the fact that it was decidely an ideology of "interregnum", appearing between the collapse of the medieval Holy Roman Empire and the consolidation of English capitalism and above all continental absolutism, both of which eradicated it everywhere. In a meaningful sense, the Renaissance and Reformation as a whole can be understood as an interregnum phenomena, but many other currents within them competed with what I call cosmobiology. These political implications were not as well articulated by its theoreticians as was the Enlightenment, partly because the concept of the "political" (itself recognized by Marx as an alienated separation) only autonomized itself later and partly because these movements, unlike the Enlightenment, were primarily of the lower classes, and thus were completely defeated, and their history mainly written by the victors. Their finest hours were the radical wing of the Reformation (essentially, the Anabaptists and their leader Thomas Münzer) and the radical wing of the English Revolution, the Levellers, Diggers and smaller sects. (Gerard Winstanley stands out as a spokesman for this milieu.) One only fully appreciates Newton's political meaning when one understands the importance of his tirades against these "enthusiasts", as they were called. Here it can be seen clearly that the English Enlightenment triumphed not merely by defeating reactionary Stuart absolutism but also by defeating radical currents to its left.

Again, very interesting, but Goldner is incapable of analyzing and explaining the actual ideas of the defeated "left."  He constantly equates ideas to the social forces behind them, but he fails to explain the ideas, what they represent, or how they incarnate social forces as they do.  He points to all the right phenomena, but his basis for analyzing them is purely ideological.

Stated briefly, the spirit of Marx's underlying world view is more truly the direct heir, the "realization" of the sensuousness of figures such as Shakespeare, the Brueghels and Paracelsus, than of any subsequent phase of the Anglo-French Enlightenment and its aftermath.

Horseshit!  The "heir", the "realization" .... ballocks.  If Marx developed a view capable of reconciling contradictions, overcoming fragmentation and alienation, and providing a perspective for (re)constituting wholeness, why does that make him an heir to all the mystical organicisms of the past that can somehow be characterized as progressive or at least not unequivocally reactionary?  Goldner is engaging in pure mystification here.  He coordinates the big categories, but he doesn't understand what makes them tick.

The crisis of the Enlightenment today is the world-wide crisis of that state civil service stratum, welfare-statist, Stalinist or Third Worldist, and its inability after the mid- 1970's to continue to develop the productive forces and to advance their Enlightenment program, something they had done rather successfully in the previous century, particularly from 1945 to 1975. The international left is in crisis because it uncritically took over the Enlightenment, and thereby confused the tasks of the bourgeois revolution with those of the socialist revolution; the left's claims to fight for social emancipation got completely entwined with the state bureaucracy and civil service, which are irreducible obstacles to full social emancipation. There is nothing more to be done with the Enlightenment, taken by itself, because there is no more bourgeois revolution to make. There is also nothing more to be done with the Enlightenment view of nature, derived as it is from Newton's atomism and mechanism.

This is mostly a load of crap.  Goldner is right about two things that he mystifies.  One, that social democracy and Stalinism represent managerialism and statism, hence they take over certain ideas that have their roots in the Enlightenment that foster their dreams of rational administration.

All of these notions were much better handled by the Johnson-Forest Tendency—C.L.R. James, Raya Dunayevskaya, and Grace Lee (Boggs).  See their book State Capitalism and World Revolution (1950). [1]

Goldner is right about something else: since the collapse of the dreams of rational administration, economic prosperity, and the resolution of contradictions in the mid-1970s, all of society—its leaders, its intellectuals, and the masses—have regressed to irrationalism.  Goldner is a symptom of this degeneration.  One need not defend anything about the Stalinist states to recognize this.

Goldner's conclusion:

Yet the usual critique of them is undermined by the tacit agreement across the board that "nature is boring", i.e. the realm of mechanism, as Hegel, articulating the ultimate state civil servant view, cut off from practice in nature, said. Both sides of this debate still inhabit the separation of culture and nature, Geist and Natur, which came into existence through the Enlightenment's deflation of cosmobiology. It is the rehabilitation, in suitably contemporary form, of the outlook of Paracelsus and Kepler, not of Voltaire and Newton, which the left requires today for a (necessarily simultaneous) regeneration of nature, culture and society, out of Blake's fallen world of Urizen and what he called "single vision and Newton's sleep".

Completely confused.

Hegel's Third Way

I do think that Hegel also sought to deal with this dichotomy.  How he ends up doing it is a matter for open discussion.  I haven't figured the whole thing out, but considering the extremes that Hegel's interpreters have gone to, from the non-metaphysical Hegel to Hegel the hermeticist, it's not an easy structure to unravel. [2] My guess is that Hegel is the greatest idealist philosopher of all time precisely because he wasn't just an idealist.  He tried to do justice to the innovations of modern science and to incorporate the insights of skepticism and empiricism.  But it is obvious that he was also limited by the uneven development of science in his day and by the inheritance of archaic thought, synthesizing these elements as best he could.  We still haven't solved the mind-body problem, for all our advances.  Hence, while Hegel did try to find a third way, it remains a deeply contradictory one, whose resources have yet to be fully exploited while other certain aspects of it are obviously obsolete.  From a scientific view, my guess is that Hegel might have been both behind and ahead of his time.  His relation to Newton and his naturphilosophie to me are markers of uneven development, including the mismatch between Britain and Germany.

Marx's Third Way

Marx is something different.  Most people take off from another famous quote from the 1844 mss, where Marx argues for a viewpoint beyond both idealism and materialism, a "thoroughgoing naturalism."   What the hell does this mean?  From this one sentence quoted out of context some people go nuts.  Aha, Marx was no materialist after all, yay!  I don't buy it.  Marx was interested in incorporating the insights of German idealism and going beyond the limitations of French materialism.  His naturalism is still materialism, but it's a more evolved kind.  But there is something else people do not generally understand.  Marx implicitly redefines the dynamic relationship between idealism and materialism.  Engels missed it, but Lenin picked up on it later and wrote about it in his notebooks, but by the time they were published it was too late for people to understand their implications, least of all official Marxism-Leninism.

As I say, some people go nuts over this one-liner from Marx, usually the same people who argue, also based on a single sentence, that Lenin's notes on Hegel refute his earlier work Materialism and Empirio-Criticism.  Raya Dunevskaya did this for example; James did not.  It's all silly.

However, the question remains: what was Marx's synthesis like?  What did Marx mean when he wrote "there will be one science"?  Again, can such statements be understood as one-liners, outside of any context?  And how does such a statement congrue with Marx's sketch of scientific idealization in the general introduction to the Grundrisse?  How do Marx's concerns in the Feuerbachian period compare to those when he was engaged in the critique of political economy?  For all the hundreds of thousands of books written on Marx, how many of their authors address this question or would even understand it?

What does "there will be one science" mean?  If the answer is "the science of history", what does that mean, if history includes nature?  This is the opening to the anti-materialist argument.  No, I don't buy it.  This statement reflects a stage in the development of Marx, not one he rejected later after some mythical "epistemological break", but rather a programmatic statement which is not concrete, but promises an end to the separation of a certain conception of science under conditions of alienation in the division of labor and organization of modern industry from the irrationalism that governs the rest of human activity.  Marx is making a statement about what is implied in overcoming the contradictions of world view in class society with its alienated consciousness.  Marx makes a promise for a future integration, a promise we have not kept.  My unprecedented argument is that Marx anticipated in advance the overcoming of the dichotomy that was about to unfold in bourgeois thought—positivism vs. lebensphilosophie, a new incarnation of the tensions inherited from an earlier era—empiricism vs. Romanticism.

I don't think many people understand this—I have yet to encounter anyone who does—yet the history of Marxist thought is littered with both this contradiction and attempts to mediate it.  I'm still in the process of searching out the sources—I find something from Horkheimer here, something from Adorno there, etc., a number of sources scattered about that have not been collocated and put under the rubric I use.  I have also argued that the Frankfurt School did not succeed in integration—though they did make gestures toward the natural sciences at times—because they never really understood the natural sciences on the other side of the filter of the positivism they were fighting.  I never received a single response to my claim.  I'm betting no one understood what the hell I was talking about.  I could be completely nuts, or this could be a sign of the stagnation—disintegration even—we are now in.  We have got to synthesize our fragmented knowledge base; it is an essential part of the cultural struggle.

Goldner, C.L.R. James, and Sectarianism

Another aspect of some of Goldner's essays I now perceive: a parallelism between the mystical subcultures of the past and the sectarian subcultures he inhabits in the present.  For him, the truth does not reside in the whole but in the repository of radical wisdom in a sectarian subculture.  It's so obvious.  And it means he is incapable of analyzing the contradictions knotted together in the contrarian movements he names. He can't see how they reflect uneven development.  For Goldner, they are the alternative, marginalized by the bureaucratic Enlightenment (aspects of which he defends).  Here we have the revolution of body-piercing and pink hair.  This childishness will not do for the 21st century. The prevalence of this admittedly sophisticated intellectual incarnation of infantilism means I have to go ahead and answer the question: what are the implications of Marx's remarks on "one science" and his vision of transcending the bourgeois rationalism of capitalist production and the irrationalism of subjectivity and daily life? 

And now I see how C.L.R. James and his cohort made an end run around the entire intermediate history of the geisteswissenschaften.  And the impossibility of developing collectively past their summa of 1950, in which, moreover, there is no alchemy or hermeticism.  The Johnson-Forest Tendency could not overcome its own contradictions including the alienated conditions of its own sectarianism. Raya becomes a Hegel cultist developing her philosophy of revolution off of Hegel's Absolute; Grace discovers Nkrumah and Mao and the black community and deteriorates to the level of a third-worldist-romanticist-communitarian crackpot; Glaberman remains a philistine running the same tapes for the rest of his life; Gorman cannot function in society; James ceases to get intelligent intellectual feedback. James never developed another intellectual support structure which would allow for the further social objectification of the intellectual synthesis he had developed by 1953. And James studies has not advanced theoretically one millimeter since. At best, we have Anna Grimshaw's pamphlets, the Blackwell books, Jim Murray's essay "The Boy at the Window" which establishes a framework for understanding James's method, and the underlaboring provided by the C.L.R. James Institute (Jim Murray and me). Other studies have contributed to an understanding of this or that facet of James's work, but there is nothing—nothing at all—that has advanced the totality of James's method one iota.

Overcoming the Dichotomies

It is essential to understand the nature of the issues.  There is almost nothing in our culture—by this I can only speak of the English-speaking countries—that prepares us to grapple with the scientism-romanticism dichotomy.  Nothing, no matter how many PhDs you get.  Other people saw this crisis coming and understood it much better.  In this regard I recommend the works of Aant Elzinga, perhaps commencing with The Man of Science in a World of Crisis: A Plea for a Two-Pronged Attack on Positivism and Irrationalism.

This was published in 1980 (some years before I met Elzinga and had the opportunity to read his work), at the very moment I began to confront the current of irrationalism head on.  I had put up with it in the counterculture for a whole decade, but once I realized that irrationalism had taken over the whole culture including the academy, I was on the warpath.  Yet I was incapable of properly conceptualizing the dynamic.  So for example one-two years earlier I was also fascinated by the relationship between Newton's ideas about physics and the totality of Newton's world view, implicating the total cultural/philosophical complex in which they were framed, but my conceptual basis was a mishmosh, no better than Goldner's and less informed about the history of ideas.

It is also essential to recognize the limitations of a genealogical approach to ideas, such as: Paracelsus begat Boehme begat Goethe who with Kant Fichte Schelling begat Hegel begat Feuerbach begat Marx.  This is just too naive a conception, and this mode of thinking fails to explain discontinuity and innovation.  I have pointed out something not usually noticed: selective use of Hegel to help fill a vacuum and find an alternative philosophy/methodology of scientific theory which combats both empiricism and mystical holism. This is a phenomenon that requires close scrutiny.  There are many ways in which Hegel matters, but this is one of them that can be easily overlooked.  The phenomenon can be observed over a long period of time in various figures: Marx, Engels, Lukacs, Goldmann, Horkheimer, Adorno, C.L.R. James, etc.  But to get at the underlying structure of ideas one must go beyond mere genealogy.  One must look at the sum total of ideas available at a historical moment, and understand the problems thinkers struggle with as they think their way out of a given heritage and formulate a new perspective, and account for the effects of uneven development in the world of ideas.  Perhaps other affinities can be detected.  The Poznan School for instance finds Marx's conception of scientific idealization akin to Galileo, rather than seeing him simply as a descendent of Hegel.  The very split between artificial constructs like "Western Marxism" and "Orthodox" Marxism reflects the split in the modern world at large, reproducing rather than resolving the contradictions of a divided, fragmented world.

I suggest that you will be going round in circles without getting to the crux of the issues presented here, unless you proceed: (1) to understand the inner tensions within systems of ideas; (2) to understand the relationship of ideas to social forces without substituting the latter for an understanding of the former; (3) to understand how to do historical explanation. [3] Goldner is completely confused on all these matters.  Does Goldner have one word to say about scientific method?  Nada.  And of course he doesn't think about how Enlightenment matters to non-elite classes.  That would never occur to him.  He can only speak to his coterie of alienated intellectuals from a framework of hollowed-out ideological constructs.  He was smart enough to look for a third way, but no smarter.

Only an intellectual mountebank could portray Marx as Goldner does.  Historical materialism is the negation of myth.  Marx also obliterates the reactionary mystical construct known as the volksgeist.  No Paracelsus, no Herder for Marx.  No shirt, no shoes, no service for Goldner.


[1] There are several state capitalist theories, and while I'm not convinced by the term as an accurate characterization of the economic organization of these societies, it does capture other properties (no pun intended), and helps to explain why so many people have been fooled into thinking that state property = socialism, whether a good or bad variety or just an "actually existing" one.  Without understanding the nature of managerialism, people will always be fooled. The theory of state capitalism developed by C.L.R. James and his colleagues purports to explain this process historically.  Their viewpoint is summed up in State Capitalism and World Revolution (1950).  Raya Dunayevskaya later went on to found what she called Marxist-Humanism and spent the rest of her life on the philosophy of Hegel.  James wrote his own work, Notes on Dialectics (1948), which is about Hegel, Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, and the development of state capitalism and the cooptation of the labor movement, beginning with an analysis of the English and French Revolutions.  James uses Hegel to explain the sublation of the labor movement by capital.  As labor evolves more and more sophisticated instruments to organize itself, the cooptation of the labor movement progresses to higher forms, too.  Thus, the final form of class society—state capitalism—is based on the cooptation of the workers' party by the petty bourgeois elite that abolishes private property without socializing it, negating the rule of labor.  While technically I don't believe in state capitalism as an adequate economic theory, this logical construct helps to explain what happened and even more importantly the ideological illusions contained within it.  Alvin Gouldner once referred to the managerial class that created state "socialism" as a flawed universal class.  I have problems with him, but again, he was addressing the illusions of the revolutionary intelligentsia. [—> main text]

[2] Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition Glenn Alexander Magee.  I have known Marxists who have gone for this dubious work. I suspect this is an inevitable flipflop that occurs whenever people brainwashed by Communist or other sectarian parties rebel against years of social conditioning, feel they have been bamboozled by bad ideas, and fall for the first half-assed philosophical explanation that purports to explain their past illusions.  Magee's book is creepy.  The introduction to his book alone is curious.  At the beginning he blames the Young Hegelians for over-secularizing Hegel's ideas with their left-wing bias, as well as Klaus Hartmann's non-metaphysical Hegel for distorting Hegel as well.  Magee denies he is a Right Hegelian and claims he is only giving us the real Hegel.  He also claims that Hegel was not only influenced by hermeticism, he represented it wholeheartedly, even through his rationalized version of it.  Hegel is in the final analysis a hermeticist and magus. The way Magee bends over backward to make his case is instructive.  At the very least, he presents so much evidence for his case so forcefully, that it cannot be ignored in the process of engaging in the rational reconstruction of Hegel's ideas.  He emphasizes so strongly all the most archaic, superstitious, and backward ideas that can be found in Hegel's naturphilosophie as well as in his sources, that he unwittingly exposes Hegel's and German philosophy's greatest weakness, the inheritance of archaic, pre-modern ideas that cannot stand in the face of the progress of modern science.

I don't believe there is any such animal as the "non-metaphysical Hegel", although I believe in the legitimacy of non-metaphysical Hegelians.  It's just not the same as the original, perhaps in the manner of liberation theology cleaning up embarrassing remnants of a superseded stage of social development.  Interesting how the non-metaphysical Hegel and the supermetaphysical hermetic Hegel complement one another, as entities abstracted out of the complex amalgam that is Hegel.  It's just like an episode of the original Star Trek in which Captain Kirk is split into his good and evil selves. It's also interesting now to take another gander at Hegel the Magus, just to reinforce the idea that none of this esoterica has a thing to do with Marx. [—> main text]

[3] There is a question of historical and social causality that always comes up in discussions like these.  The two erroneous extremes are: (1) the autonomy of ideas (or ideals) which (a) are either "betrayed" by those who turn them into a social force or which (b) directly issue forth in political results, and (2) social reductionism, by which ideas have no intrinsic content but mean only what they are used for. The idea of political developments either issuing from someone else's ideas or betraying these ideals is not the proper form of historical explanation; this leads to the idealist explanation of history. On the other hand, the notion that people's ideas mean nothing other than the way others have socially instantiated them does not explain their role in historical development either.  One cannot understand the nature of the ideas themselves without peeling back layers of accretions.  In arguments over Marx and Marxism, this means distinguishing the ideas of Mao, Soviet Marxism-Leninism,  Lenin, Kautsky, Engels, and Marx all one from another.  This does not mean that Marx young or old is sacred, but one cannot know how ideas are used in history—what gets lost, adopted, adapted, transmuted—unless one understands the ideas and how they were transmitted. [—> main text]

References for further research

References to C.L.R. James in related writings by R. Dumain, June-November 2003:

2003 Reading Review: [1]

R. Dumain's Critique of Dialectic of Enlightenment: [1]    [2]    [3]

Notes on Herbert Marcuse’s Reason and Revolution: [1]    [2]

December Diary 2003: [1]

Intellectual Traditions, Alienation, and the Integration of Knowledge [1]    [2]


(1) C.L.R. James (and his Tendency's) critique of rationalism and state capitalism; a quote and some background:

C.L.R. James on the (Post)Modern Intellectual & the Division of Labor (1950)

Philosophy and State Capitalism, Chapter XI of State Capitalism and World Revolution

Other C.L.R. James related texts: http://www.clrjamesinstitute.org/clrtexts.html and http://www.clrjamesinstitute.org/clrlinks.html

(2) My discussions in the Hegel lists about the problems of naturphilosophie and archaicism.

(3) Posts in the Hegel lists regarding Hegel's third way between empiricism and reactionary mysticism.

(4) All the links in my exemplary study guide positivism vs lebensphilosophie.

(4) On Science, Society, and Life: Extract from "Private Property and Communism" from the Economic-Philosophical Manuscripts of Karl Marx (1844)

Bibliography on the Enlightenment:

Israel, Jonathan I. Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity, 1650-1750. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Jacob, Margaret C. The Radical Enlightenment: Pantheists, Freemasons, and Republicans. London; Boston: Allen & Unwin, 1981. (Early Modern Europe Today; 3)

Munck, Thomas. The Enlightenment: A Comparative Social History 1721-1794. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Payne, Harry C. The Philosophes and the People. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976.

Israel's book is the most current and places Spinoza front and center.  Munck writes about the significance of the Enlightenment for non-elite classes.  Remember them? Then of course there is the entire modern history of working-class autodidacticism to consider, partially documented on my web site.

Written 4-6 June 2003. Compiled, edited, and revised for this web page 6 December 2003.
© 2003 Ralph Dumain. All rights reserved.

Positivism vs Life Philosophy (Lebensphilosophie) Study Guide

100 Years of C.L.R. James

2003 Reading Review

Descartes & Marxism: Selected Bibliography

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