Historical materialism v. modern scepticism

 An outline of the historical march of the skepticist-materialist argument


1)       Scepticism (From 360 BC, Democritus et al) rests on the idealist epistemological assumption that we can only know an artifice of categories, which may or may not correspond to the world behind it. The world is behind a veil of categories and inaccessible. Therefore we can never know the non-artificial world. All paradigms (and their theories, approaches, etc.) rest upon a foundation; each foundation is a biased selection of these artificial categories, with no guarantees as to their veracity. Therefore no paradigms are truthful, except the paradigm that points out that paradigms are untruthful.


2)       The founding Western materialist Epicurus (307 BCE) follows Democritus, but critiques the logic of the skeptic epistemology, holding that applied consistently it undermines itself and it does not correspond to how we navigate and encounter the world—how we know. (Pace Bhaskar) For realism, we must allow for actual encounters with (and feedback from) a world that can resist artificial constructions and promote innovation in categorical construction. Epicurus elaborates upon the physics foundations that emerge in our characteristic array of human senses and that emerge in but do not fully determine our concepts (constructions). The materialist system is designed to register changing (and distinguish them from consistent) relations, for a fuller discussion see Lewontin, Gould, Levins (but this has ramifications for your critique, see below). (I also have a lecture on this.)


3)       Christianity teams with other Western idealists to destroy almost all materialist texts and expurge from recorded scholarship the materialist tradition for 1,000 years (from the 3rd century AD)–until the Enlightenment recovers the materialist tradition in the 17th century.



4)       In the 1840s Historical Materialism (Marxism) modifies materialism’s sensory epistemology with historically-situated social constructionism—pace The German Ideology (The materialist Feuerbach introduced ahistorical social constructionism to materialist epistemology), see also Marx’s dissertation on Epicureans v. Democritus (Skeptics). Thus the epistemology of historical materialism is distinguished by three forms of recourse to the world behind social categories (which includes social and natural relations): a) categories partially informed by sensory information, b) sensory information, and c) historically-embedded relations. These three historical-materialist epistemological foundations are not held to provide knowledge completely independent from social constructions—they do not preclude social constructions, but rather they can cast into doubt, modify, limit, and check social constructions; although Marxists use social constructionism as a tool (consider the false consciousness argument), Marxism as an historical-materialist paradigm is not a radical social constructionist (idealist) epistemology. As historical materialism does not jettison ontology and its epistemology is a combination of sensory information and historicized social constructionism, its social constructionism is not absolute social constructionism.


5)       In the wake of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War and the 1968 “collapse” of the French Left, Postmodernism brings the idealist skeptic project to “political intervention” by isolating (and, claiming exclusive ownership of) modern materialism’s social constructionism, while rejecting Hist-mat’s sensory epistemology and its ontology. Postmodernism claims that to know we purely depend upon social constructions, built with power-over, which can only be known as it weaves the veil of artificial constructions absolutely separating human knowledge from the social and natural world. For logical reasons adumbrated below as well as historical-political context reasons, Postmodernism’s frequent political intervention targets Marxists.



6)       Thus targeted, historical materialists (Marxists) have responded to Postmodernism with the Epicurean critique of scepticism, adding the “Healthy Approach” manouever (see below). Insofar as we recognize that all categories are socially-constructed, all approaches and paradigms must rest upon assumptions, and thus scepticism can be applied to any approach or paradigm. Thus when we engage in deconstruction, critique of metanarratives, critique of grand narratives, etc., we are never innocent of politics, we always choose which foundations of which approaches and ideas we attack at which juncture. Ethically, we should be able to defend with integrity why we see the target as either the prime enemy worthy of continuous deconstruction, or as particularly prone to obscure its assumptions (eg. Because it rejects social constructionism). The Hist-mat approach holds that it clearly forwards social constructionism, that postmodernism’s social constructionism is derivative of and not epistemologically superior to Marxim’s, and Marxists clearly have explicitly, repeatedly laid out Marxist epistemology. Marxists point out that as Postmodernism fixates on Marxism as especially needing foundations-exposing political intervention above most other given paradigms, Postmodernism’s scepticism/Deconstruction/critique of metanarratives are subject to critique on the basis of what kind of social relations they support, because they can and they do choose. Although postmodernists assert the claim that the very act of deconstruction alone is definitively ethical, liberatory (as ultimately guaranteed by the skeptic epistemological assumption), nonetheless from the historical materialist epistemological position (a refutation of skepticism), each particular application of skepticism remains vulnerable to a critique of its situational ethics.


7)      When postmodernists are confronted with the ancient materialist critique of skepticism (the modern version being absolute constructionism), they deploy the rhetorical move of temporarily moving down to a “soft” constructivist approach–eg. From “Lyotard’s work is characterised by a persistent opposition to universals, metanarratives, and generality. He is fiercely critical of many of the ‘universalist’ claims of the Enlightenment, and several of his works serve to undermine the fundamental principles that generate these broad claims.” down to “Lyotard’s narrative in The Postmodern Condition declares the decline of only a few defunct ‘narratives of legitimation’ and not of narrative knowledge itself. It is not logically contradictory to say that a statement about narratives is itself a narrative, just as when Lyotard states that “every utterance [in a language game] should be thought of as a ‘move’ in a game” his statement is itself a ‘move’ in a language game.” Here in its soft constructionist version, we have a postmodern admission that recognizes the defensible approach involves not fighting against the tyranny of metanarratives or grand narratives per se, but making political choices (with ethical ramifications) about which community to demand to defend its foundations. This is in essence a reversion to the historical-materialist position, which is more sustainably undergirded by historical-materialist sensory-soft constructionist epistemology, not radical constructionist skepticist epistemology in temporary suspension. If you are going to attack historical materialism on the idealist grounds of scepticism, then you must know that its critique of scepticism’s infinite logical regress is forthcoming, and you can’t in good faith defend your position from that critique by pretending that you invented or you own soft constructionism, which is a partial epistemology forwarded by historical-materialism and designed to require a materialist supplement.




Although they have been in conversation (and in the case of materialism, suspension), over 2500 years, no one has found a way to reconcile materialism to scepticism (of whatever necessarily idealist bent). They are distinct traditions, with distinct epistemologies corresponding to a presence and an absence of ontology. 


Appendix: Skepticism v. Epicureanism
Skepticism (Democritus) rests on the idealist assumption that we can only know an artifice of categories, which may or may not correspond to the world behind it; we shall never know. The world is behind a veil of categories and inaccessible. Therefore we can never know the non-artificial world. All paradigms (and their theories, approaches, etc.) rest upon a necessarily biased selection of these artificial categories. Therefore no paradigms are truthful, except the paradigm that points out that paradigms are untruthful (scepticism!).
While Democritus is the skeptic that Epicureans originally critiqued, the idealist Descartes (Cogito ergo sum) is the first modern skeptic. Descartes’ skeptical hypotheses included “reality” as a dream or alternatively a contrivance of the devil. (Other modern skeptic hypotheses about reality include Brain in a Vat, Matrix, and Last Thursdayism, incl. Creationism. We will get to postmodern scepticism in a moment.)
Most philosophies have weaknesses and can be criticized, and this is a general principle of progression in philosophy. Pierre Le Morvan (2011) has distinguished between three broad philosophical approaches to skepticism. The first he calls the “Foil Approach.” According to the latter, skepticism is treated as a problem to be solved, or challenge to be met, or threat to be parried; skepticism‘s value on this view, insofar as it is deemed to have one, accrues from its role as a foil contrastively illuminating what is required for knowledge and justified belief. The second he calls the “Bypass Approach” according to which skepticism is bypassed as a central concern of epistemology. Le Morvan advocates a third, historical-materialist approach—he dubs it the “Health Approach”–that explores when skepticism is “healthy” and when it is not, or when it is virtuous and when it is vicious.
The Greek Materialist Critique of Skepticism
Epicurus started with Democritus, but had critiques of Democritus’ approach.
Materialist Epistemology is connected to Ontology
Epicurus says that all sensations give us information about the world, but that sensation itself is never in error, since sensation is a purely passive, mechanical reception of images and the like by sense-organs, and the senses themselves do not make judgments ‘that’ the world is this way or that. Instead, error enters in when we make judgments about the world based upon the information received through the senses.
Skepticism-tends-to-Nihilism (Infinite Regress)
Epicurus says that it is impossible to live as a skeptic. If a person really were to believe that he knows nothing, then he would have no reason to engage in one thought or course of action instead of another. Thus, the consistent skeptic would engage in no thought or action whatsoever, and would die.
Epicurus thinks that, in order to make judgments about the world, or even to start any inquiry whatsoever, we must already be in possession of certain basic concepts, which stand in need of no further proof or definition, on pain of entering into an infinite regress. This concern is similar to the Paradox of Inquiry explored by Plato in the Meno, that one must already know about something in order to be able to inquire about it. However, instead of postulating that our immaterial souls had acquaintance with transcendent Forms in a pre-natal existence, as idealist Plato does, Epicurus thinks that we have certain ‘preconceptions’–concepts such as ‘body,’ ‘person,’ ‘usefulness,’ and ‘truth’–which are formed in our (material) minds as the result of repeated sense-experiences of similar objects. Further ideas are formed by processes of analogy or similarity or by compounding these basic concepts. Thus, sense-experience undergirds all concepts, through which sensory data is filtered. (Historical materialists will modify this epistemology by adding a non-absolute social constructionism, but not excising the role of the senses in knowledge formation.)
Epicurus is concerned to refute the skeptical tendencies of Democritus, whose metaphysics and theory of perception were similar to Epicurus’. At least three separate anti-skeptical arguments are given by Epicureans, all basically addressing the problems with vicious scepticism, AKA either infinite regress (No idea or action can be asserted to be true, including this one, because nothing in human understanding can rest upon anything other than unprovable assumptions. A thoroughgoing commitment to scepticism precludes thought and action.) or poor-faith posture scepticism—a postured commitment to absolute scepticism (eg. A stated commitment to critiquing metanarratives.) as a fig leaf over an actual political game, the selective application of scepticism against a political enemy, whether the skeptic is calculating or being used as a tool.
For example, Harvey implicitly critiques (by analogy) a form of vicious skepticism:
“(T)he whole baggage of ideas associated with postmodernism could be deployed to radical ends, and thereby be seen as part of a fundamental drive towards a more liberatory politics, in exactly the same way that the turn to more flexible labour processes could be seen as an opening to a new era of democratic and highly decentralized labour relations and co-operative endeavours” (Harvey 1992: 353).
But though it can be portrayed that way, that is not how it is deployed nor how it operates.
Obviously, there is an alternative to vicious, bad faith, or “unhealthy” scepticism, and that is, for explicit reasons of political choice (which, Historical-materialism holds, can themselves be subject to contextual critique), deploying the sceptical approach, not as a total (totalizing) approach, but to instrumentally identify (and possibly to refine) or critique paradigmatic assumptions. Virtuous skepticism requires political judgement, and a refinement of epistemology to permit social constructionism, and not social constructionism to the epistemological occlusion of all else. (Correctly) identifying assumptions is not a complete manoeuvre, as, explicitly acknowledged or not, all approaches must rest on epistemological assumptions, even scepticism, and this includes postmodernism.
The Epicurean/Materialist Critique of Skepticism (incl. Democritus)
As Skepticism has been modified by postmodern social constructionism, the following 2/3 Epicurean critiques of scepticism pertain:
1) Skepticism is a Self-refutating Argument
If a skeptic claims that nothing can be known, then one should ask whether he knows that nothing can be known. If he says ‘yes,’ then he is contradicting himself. If he doesn’t say yes, then he isn’t making a claim, and we don’t need to listen to him.
2) The Argument from Concept formation
If the skeptic says that nothing can be known, or that we cannot know the truth, we can ask him where he gets his knowledge of concepts such as ‘knowledge’ and ‘truth.’ If the senses cannot be relied on, as the skeptic claims, then he is not entitled to use concepts such as ‘knowledge’ and ‘truth’ in formulating his thesis, since such concepts derive (at least partially-HM) from the senses.
The “Modern Epicurean” (Historical materialist) Response
Given the Epicurean tradition was destroyed for a thousand years by an idealist coalition of Christians & skeptics, materialist assumptions have been modified since the Enlightenment, notably by historical-materialism:
1) Maintenance of insistence on the role of senses in epistemology (Epistemology connects with ontology.), while allowing that social relations (featuring power) also condition the concepts (which are therefore partially social constructions) through which knowledge passes.* See E Scarry, Marxist historical materialism.
2) Maintenance of the Epicurean insistence on the necessity of establishing concepts (paradigmatic assumptions), adding a condition that those concepts should be made explicit (which is NOT understood as a property of postmodernism). The paradigm is not moot when the assumptions are exposed; the paradigm changes when both the sociological relations and the sensations informing the assumptions no longer hold.
*Note: You can see here that false consciousness is a problem for historical materialists because it is produced when power disallows and strips away sensory information from social construction. In effect, Marxists recognize in false consciousness radical social construction, and since radical social constructionism legitimates such concept-stripping (or refuse to recognize a diminishment in concept formation), Marxists do oppose radical social constructionists.
Postmodern scepticism (The aftermath of the 1967 Six-day War and conservatism’s 1969 defeat of the Paris students)
Postmodernism is modified form of scepticism that rests upon rests upon the epistemological assumption (as all positions and approaches, not just Marxism or other “totalizing ideoglogies,” must rest upon characteristic assumptions, pace Kuhn) that we can only know social constructions. This is an assumption because it is not provable against the alternative (Hist-mat) epistemological assumption, sensation interacting with social construction; but it is required to found the postmodern project (to found the view that deconstruction is a particularly, and uniformly liberatory project). It is this epistemological assumption (and the corollary jettisoning of ontology) that distinguishes the skeptic (incl. Postmodern) tradition from the materialist (incl. Historical materialist) tradition.
Postmodernism is a form of scepticism that in adopting historical materialism’s constructionism (a part of the epistemological foundation of historical-materialism, which also retains materialism’s sensory epistemology connected as it is to its ontology), was reformulated in a reaction to the materialist critique of scepticism’s tendency to solipsism (see above). Post-modernism tries to save the idealistic skeptic project by isolating and adoting historical-materialism’s social constructionism and jettisoning Hist-mat’s sensory epistemology and its ontology. Postmodernism claims that while our senses are immaterial to epistemology (sensation is always behind the veil of social constructions), we instead use social constructions, built with power-over. For social science postmoderns, rejecting historical-materialist dual epistemology and clinging to sceptical idealism, material relations do not inform concepts. The social constructions are the pure product of BrainS in a Vat. Social change is a matter of wilfully changing the concepts against a social power that exists only to the extent that we imagine it to. Historical-materialism’s weaker and sensory-supplemented version of social constructionism fails to reach the same political diagnosis.
This idealist diagnosis is what repeatedly leads postmodernists to determine that historical materialism is the most direct and dire political threat to freedom. However, historical-materialists are dissatisfied with the postmodern approach not (just) because it fingers historical-materialism as the problem but because its sceptical epistemological assumption is logically unsatisfactory and postmodernists tend to play fast and loose in alternating between absolute scepticism and soft social constructionism (just as conservative economists interpolate between hard and soft versions of their own assumptions when faced with devastating critique, pace Varoufakis, who also examines further correspondences between the contemporaneous assumptions of postmodernism and conservative economics).

Hobsbawm on the Vicissitudes of Left-liberalism

Hobsbawm, Eric. 2012. “After the Cold War: Eric Hobsbawm Remembers Tony Judt.” London Review of Books, April.

Beautifully-written rebuttal of the 20th century liberal rejection and condemnation of communism, as well as homage to civic courage. Crafting a story of intellectual and political maturation and redemption, Hobsbawm dissects how Tony Judt traversed from the Cold Warrior troops and conservative tooldom (as Judt started out trivially focused on critiquing dying French Left intellectualism) to trenchant critic of imperial Israeli apartheid politics.

Both Hobsbawm & Judt understood the twentieth century’s “basic passion: namely the belief that politics was the key to our truths as well as our myths.”

 …Judt “launched one of the most implacable attacks on (Hobsbawm) in a passage which has become widely quoted, especially by the ultras of the right-wing American press. It amounted to: ‘make a public confession that your god has failed, beat your breast and you may win the right to be taken seriously. No man who doesn’t think socialism equals Gulag should be listened to.’

 …after 1968 (Judt) became much more of a militant oppositionist liberal over Eastern Europe, an admirer of the mixed but more usually right-wing academic tourists who provided much of our commentary on the end of the East European Communist regimes. This also led him and others who should have known better into creating the fairy tale of the Velvet and multicoloured revolutions of 1989 and after. There were no such revolutions, only different reactions to the Soviet decision to pull out.

 …Four things shaped French history in the 19th and 20th centuries: the Republic born of the incomplete Great Revolution; the centralised Napoleonic state; the crucial political role assigned to a working class too small and disorganised to play it; and the long decline of France from its position before 1789 as the Middle Kingdom of Europe, as confident as China of its cultural and linguistic superiority. Denied a Lenin and deprived of Napoleon, France retreated into the last and, we must hope, indestructible redoubt, the world of Astérix. The postwar vogue for Parisian thinkers barely concealed their collective retreat into Hexagonal introversion and into the ultimate fortress of French intellectuality, Cartesian theory and puns. There were now other models in higher education and the sciences, in economic development, even – as the late penetration of Marx’s ideas implies – in the ideology of the Revolution. The problem for left-wing intellectuals was how to come to terms with an essentially non-revolutionary France. The problem for right-wing ones, many of them former communists, was how to bury the founding event and formative tradition of the Republic, the French Revolution, a task equivalent to writing the American Constitution out of US history. It could not be done…

 …Tony had so far made his name as an academic bruiser. His default position was forensic: not the judge’s but the barrister’s, whose objective is neither truth nor truthfulness, but winning the case. Faced with governments and ideologues who read victory and world domination into the fall of communism, he was honest enough with himself to recognise that the old verities and slogans needed to be junked after 1989. Probably only in the ever nervous US could such a reputation have been built so quickly on the basis of a few articles in journals of modest circulation addressed exclusively to academic intellectuals.

 …(Judt) was well aware of the risks, personal and professional, he ran in attacking the combined forces of US global conquest, the neocons and Israel, but he had plenty of what Bismarck called ‘civilian bravery’ (Zivilcourage) – a quality notably lacking in Isaiah Berlin, as Tony himself noted, perhaps not without malice. Unlike the ex-Marxist scholiasts and intellocrates on the Left Bank who, as Auden said of poets, made ‘nothing happen’, Tony understood that a struggle with these new forces could make a difference. He launched himself against them with evident pleasure and zest. This was the figure who came into his own after the end of the Cold War, widening his courtroom technique to flay the likes of Bush and Netanyahu rather than some political absurdity in the Fifth Arrondissement or a distinguished professor in New Jersey. It was a magnificent performance, a class act; he was hailed by his readers not only for what he said, but what many of them would not have had the courage to say themselves. It was all the more effective because Tony was both an insider and an outsider: English, Jewish, French, eventually American, but plurinational rather than cosmopolitan” (Eric Hobsbawm 2012).

The How & Why of Privatization Touts

At the Ivies, the students are instructed by only the most high-status, most fail-tastic privatization marketeers (AKA conservative economists) that only the best-funded gentlemen’s networks can float.

How privatization and class warfare is sold to future US leadership: with lies, covering obscene kleptocracy and its further socialized costs.

Note: Larry Summers may have long since lost his royal Harvard throne, but not just because of his sexism (the putative cause) and racist ecological imperialism (There’s that too.), or even just being an evil overlord of the rampant social, economic and environmental mega-destruction that is neoliberalism. Rather, his Harvard departure is likely due to this: Summers decided to use Harvard funds to pay the costs (The US Justice Department fined Shleifer $26.5 million) of Andrei Shleifer’s massive kleptocratic privatization profiteering in post-communist Russia.

Yee-ha! Good ole fancy boys! Creme de la…uh… I’m guessing Summers himself has enjoyed many, many such back-scratching indulgences over the years, and it’s all par for the course for that highly-oiled and polished ruling mafioso. What was that? Did someone mention Goldman Sachs owns the Fed and the US government? You don’t say. Now what were we talking about? Berlusconi?

Harvard University: You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious.

Micro Neoliberal Diffusion & Adoption

Hypothesis about neoliberal policy diffusion & adoption, receiving end:

Junior professionals a) have got wherever they are because they embody “good boys/girls” rational actor culture, & use the ideology of meritocracy for self-promotion, b) have not developed a hegemony-strategic collective-action repertoire or habitus, and c) have low horizontal social capital. This means junior professionals are not very capable when it comes to engaging in collective action in any capacity independent of the professional hierarchy. It also means that they have been and are being socialized as sharks.

At a minimum, extra organization must be undertaken to move junior professionals to action independence from the professional hierarchy in which they are embedded and receive their incentives.

What Do Tuition Increases Accomplish?

Mind-blowingly, the normally right-wing Maclean’s somehow, doubtless by tactical mistake, recently published this article reviewing the data on how the astronomical tuition increases in Anglosphere societies is spent:

on bloated administration, bloated administrative salaries, lawyers, million-dollar managerial consultant firm fees, for-profit private training firm subcontracts, R&D subsidies to for-profit technology firms such as Monsanto, construction firm contract graft, and pre-professional sport feeder franchises.

These are heavy parasitic cost burdens that only aggravate the contemporary neoliberal problems we suffer, such as debt, academic proletarianization and deskilling, economic and political inequality, and social class sclerosis (immobility).

What do tuition increases accomplish in the neoliberal Anglosphere? Essentially, they increase the rate of exploitation.

Education is a social good, and its costs should be socialized and judiciously contained to education: teaching/learning, research, libraries, educator and librarian compensation and networking, student community development, minimal but sufficient technical, secretarial and janitorial support staff, and spaces and technology conducive to those activities.

The data suggests that of the Canadian university bloat costs, the greatest are administrative salary rents and the growing costs associated with research–supplying researchers and cheap student labor to private firms (as well as to a lesser extent state legitimation and social integration campaigns). It is very clear that legislatures, and not students, are acting irresponsibly as they privatize these massive costs–upon the backs of students, their families, and the future community. The university has a constructive function in society and should not be reduced to a black-box dumping ground for unpalatable, expensive legislative policy.

1) If legislators believe universities are there in large part to subsidize for-profit firms’ R&D, then the state, not tuition, should pay for that economic subsidy to capital. To do this, legislators should have to explain convincingly to the public why supplying public subsidy to for-profit firms is in the public’s interest, as they seek to raise taxes to cover the R&D subsidy costs. It’s a political question; don’t give it the form of a debt albatross and sling it around students’ necks.

2) There are not sufficient internal checks and balances on ballooning administrative salaries in Anglosphere university systems. That means the checks must come from the legislature. Only the legislators have the capacity to reign in administrative rents. If they refuse to do it, or refuse to design into university systems adequate checks on administrative bloat (eg. adequate faculty union oversight of administrative costs), we have to ask why. Are university administrative positions political dispensations, political patronage? Students should not have to take on economically-crippling debt to pay for a badly-designed institution and corruption.

Quebec students are in the right to disrupt tuition increases, which will only feed the neoliberal managerial and privatization-graft bloat machine.

There is a more socially-rational, efficient and effective model of higher education financing and spending: Sweden‘s. Slovakia could provide another more effective higher education model.

Pro-Israel Campus Tactics and Branding

As a social movements scholar, I find this expose’ of Pro-Israel campus tactics pretty rich. It has fun lessons for scholars of branding as well.

 How do you silence your profs on a political topic? Accuse them of “academic malpractice.” “The current campus environment is much more sympathetic to charges that teachers are not satisfactorily teaching their subject.”

 Who can you co-opt? The ancient, entrepreneurial, anti-Muslim East Indians, & South Koreans. Enemy (other than profs) to be silenced: Latinos. Embarrassing ally: Evangelicals.

Good Old Brute Power

Look for the Union Label” (Chronicle of Higher Ed 2005)–On the very real, active, large, non-trivial, continuing, foundational role of hierarchical, non-“Foucauldian,” brute power in our everyday (especially our work) lives, and the importance of middle class radicalization (for example, academics’ recognition of brute power.)
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Nothing–no Walmart jobs, no charity, no church, no Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR), no tenured profs wrapping themselves gloriously in the flag of the Global Truly Oppressed in order to most righteously demand access to cheap adjunct labor–will “improve the lot of the poor” like middle class Americans becoming radicalized (Not forming their own labor aristocracy craft unions).

It’s what the whole world is waiting for. (…I know. That sounds overblown. This is not an ego love song; it’s pointing out a vast problem. This occurred to me again when I came across foreign graphic t-shirt websites; boy, does the world wish Obama were socialist. And as Zizek pointed out, the world gets fantastically buoyed by the small signs that democracy can break through the managerial barrier in the US.)

 If only the GSO Alum movement expanded. I hope that’s OWS.

In “Bright Minds and Dark Attitudes: Lower Cognitive Ability Predicts Greater Prejudice Through Right-Wing Ideology and Low Intergroup Contact,” Hodson & Busseri (2012)  give the conservatives a taste of their (Chas. Murray/The Bell Curve) own mystery g-factor snake oil.

As the countless, devout non-readers of this blog well know, I am a political sociologist who struggles with an inability to pick favorites between structuralist Marxist explanations and instrumentalist Marxist and social movement explanatory frameworks, and in particular I am of the view that if you’re interested in contemporary (post 1870) Anglosphere politics and political economy, then you’d better be analyzing what the capitalist (and pro-capitalist) Right has been up to lo this past century.

Therefore, although I’ve not found political scientists to be terribly useful to me in the past, at this stage, I’ve found political scientists Corey Robin’s and Radhika Desai’s works on conservatism to be very stimulating and a perfect next step from social movements sociology, and a wonderful complement to the a-bit-more-structuralist (but nowhere near so bad as Bloch) analyses of Varoufakis, Dumenil & Levy, Monthly Review, Harvey, Henwood, Pollin, Baker, and PERI, etc.(1)

While Radhika is pretty good at feeding me her books and articles, Robin is doing the hard public intellectual road, and therefore continually throws out fascinating US conservative mobilizations historical tidbits all the time, which I need to store for future reference. Here.

Good old brute power is executed in the workplace, for example in universities. During the McCarthy era, Whitney Griswold (who was something of a 5th Amendment scholar) had a famous line that there would be no witch hunts at Yale because there would be no witches at Yale. One of the things that I have to look into is the pre-McCarthy-era (1941 & on) NY state effort to purge education institutions of socialists, that served as the template for the national HUAC purges. This is written about, I am led to believe, in Andrew Hartman’s Education and the Cold War.

(1) On the other hand, for an excellent example of the descriptive and predictive limitations imposed by instrumentalist Marxist/elite scholarship’s avoidance of structural explanations, see William Carroll’s “From Canadian Corporate Elite to Transnaitonal Capitalist Class: Transititions in the Organization of Corporate Power” (2007). Now don’t get me wrong–I love me some Domhoff, Burris, etc. and Carroll’s no doubt a great scholar. But this 2007 article is an interesting example of how instrumentalist method–unrelieved by structuralist analysis– can produce subpar political economic analysis. The reliance on corporate interlocking directorates as well as financial press discourse (seen as constructing a multicultural, pro-reform “value framework”) leads the analyst to overlook the very structural way that banks stayed central, stayed in power, stayed in control of the “business community” and everything and everybody else, in the financialization era.

Whereas in the same pre-financial collapse period, JB Foster at the more structuralist MR was basically flapping his arms from the barn roof, shouting, trying to point out the profound flaws and non-equilibrium poise of the financial system and public and private debt, proud anti-structural determinists were basically affirming a contradiction-free marketing story (parallel to and not unlike the eco-modernism story) of how the capitalist elite had both elegantly reformed into a more meritocratic, cosmopolitan, multicultural and so trustworthy fraternity, and, via conflictless, voluntary, pro-democratic capitalist institutional reform, institutional investors (eg. teacher’s unions) now efficiently controlled and disciplined investment.

Carroll did allow that from the mid-70s on, national and international capitalist policy planning organizations were the new coordinating mechanism for–now cosmopolitan, meritocratic, so trustworthy–banker hegemony. But that doesn’t change that fact that neoliberal-era scholarship that refuted or discounted or avoided structuralist Marxism tended to produce an analytical bias toward taking financial capital’s beautiful 1990s legitimation campaign at face value, and amplifying it, blinding them, blinding lots of people to the development of Crisis conditions.

Obviously, the post-2007 banks’ clearly-continuing, central role in regulating liquidity strictly for the benefit of FIRE upper management (And oh okay, for the benefit of US imperial hegemony as well. That’s the same class benefitting there.–Unless of course you’re the sort who likes to argue that working class stagnant wages, indentured servitude, wrecking-balled working class state institutions, and the measurable health symptoms of declining working class welfare are all subjectively or objectively in working class interests in some random, tiny timeframe or cosmic global sense or in some opportunistically-idealist theoretical view.), and banks’ clear colonization and control of the state, blew any marketing amplification to smithereens (and demand caution about the explanatory power of the network analysis-dependent and media analysis-dependent power structure methodology).

I mean, I think in the year 2012 Canadians still basically believe Carroll’s story operates in Canada, because, obviously, Canadians are so civilized (relative to Americans), that determines all; but look at the private (and future public) debt, the reversion to an extractive economy–with the class warfare uberalles politics (Wild Rose, conservative diffusion and adoption) that tends to (except in the case of Norway) produce.

People who’ve gotten themselves to a place where they can consider social context are reliable if they can both pay attention to political movements, including elite-maintaining conservative movements, and seriously take into account the structure as well.