Why capitalism, like nature, is beyond good and evil

A warning not to differentiate between the good "real" economy and bad "unreal" economy. Heidegger makes a rare appearance.

Published August 17, 2007 5:39PM (EDT)

Of all the critiques of my Salon cover story primer on Wall Street's recent mishaps, the one that hurts the most anonymously labeled me "uncritically Heideggerian" and told me I was guilty of "reiterating the strategic misunderstanding of the reformist left."

Hurts so good, I mean. Here it is in full:

OK, Andrew, here's my problem about your write-up: you're setting up this opposition between the "real" economy with "real men" and the speculative, derivative economy of finance capital. This opposition between real and unreal is in essence, uncritically Heideggerian. That is, it ascribes a moral valence/superiority to "real" -- real work, real life, real men -- vs. the derivative, speculative, unreal world of global finance. As long as you use these binaries to try to critically explain the movement of capital, you are in fact disarmed. That is, you are postulating that somehow, somewhere, there is a "good" and "real" economic (i.e., capitalist) ethos -- the hardworking, manly one. And that those hedge fund speculators just fuck it up with their greed and their credit swaps. In short, by creating those binaries -- which in and of themselves have a dubious history (hint: it starts with Sorel and Mussolini) -- you are misrecognizing and misrepresenting what is in fact a unified social form -- capitalism. In that sense, you are reiterating the strategic misunderstanding of the reformist left, who still believes that there is a good form of capitalism. Capitalism has become nature -- it is neither good nor bad. It is the Hegelian totality, and therefore knows no outside and -- as a corollary -- cannot be the object of moral judgment. Just like nature, it subjects us to random catastrophic events.

I feel compelled to note that in my original draft, I distinguished between "real men" pushing each other around in the "Super Bowl" and "real people" engaged in making, selling and buying goods and services in the real economy. That would include real women, too.

But otherwise, I have to confess that I am nailed to the bull's-eye by this letter. But perhaps foolishly, perhaps quixotically, I will soldier on, hoping to reach a deeper understanding of how we can tame this wild beast of capitalism, and make it serve our interests rather than trample over them.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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