Sunday, January 27, 2008

Now, for something entirely different...

Instead of one of Belacqua’s letters, I am sharing a passage by the Hungarian Marxist philosopher Istvan Meszaros, which is especially relevant given all of the saber rattling over Iran that is coming from the Oval Office.

In this passage, Meszaros criticizes Hegel’s praise of the invention of the gun and the subsequent evolution of modern warfare. What Meszaros finds especially offensive is Hegel’s claim that, “It is for this reason that thought had invented the gun, and the invention of this weapon, which has changed the purely personal form of bravery into a more abstract one.”

Meszaros replies:

Yet, despite the intellectual greatness of its originator, the thought that the mass destruction of human beings—just because it is directed against groups and not particular individuals, as if the destroyed groups of people could be simply constructed as abstract ‘numbers of a whole’, instead of being human persons under all feasible circumstances—should be considered a ‘higher form of courage’ and an ‘abstract form of bravery' directly emanating from the superior reason of inventive World Spirit is worse than absurd. For capital’s power of overturning everything—by removing their human anchorage through the universalization of fetishistic commodity production—is mirrored here in philosophy by turning human values upside down, in the name of ‘thought and universal’. Thus it becomes possible perversely to equate the most extreme form of cowardice—as practiced in recent wars, whereby the technologically superior combatant, with no risk to himself, makes so-called ‘smart bombs’ rain out of the sky on his ‘underdeveloped enemy’—with the highest form of courage and bravery. With the help of this kind of reasoning it becomes possible to accept, and indeed to philosophically glorify, the fateful and potentially catastrophic idea that higher abstraction and its correspondingly developed technology amount to a higher form of courage and morality. This is a fateful and potentially catastrophic idea. For the ultimate logic of the underlying actual trend in modern warfare, arising from the liquidation of all human frame of reference through the universal triumph of capitalist reification and of the concomitant impersonal logic of the capital system, in complete defiance of human need and reason, in not ‘impersonal bravery’ but the truly impersonal destruction of humankind in its entirety: Holocaust and Hiroshima combined on a global scale. (Page 115)

Meszaros, Istvan. Beyond Capital. London: Merlin Press, 1995.

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