How Camus and Sartre Split Up Over the Question of How to be Free

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Albert Camus by Cecil Beaton for Vogue in 1946. Photo by Getty

Sam Dresser | Aeon Ideas

They were an odd pair. Albert Camus was French Algerian, a pied-noir born into poverty who effortlessly charmed with his Bogart-esque features. Jean-Paul Sartre, from the upper reaches of French society, was never mistaken for a handsome man. They met in Paris during the Occupation and grew closer after the Second World War. In those days, when the lights of the city were slowly turning back on, Camus was Sartre’s closest friend. ‘How we loved you then,’ Sartre later wrote.

They were gleaming icons of the era. Newspapers reported on their daily movements: Sartre holed up at Les Deux Magots, Camus the peripatetic of Paris. As the city began to rebuild, Sartre and Camus gave voice to the mood of the day. Europe had been immolated, but the ashes left by war created the space to imagine a new world. Readers looked to Sartre and Camus to articulate what that new world might look like. ‘We were,’ remembered the fellow philosopher Simone de Beauvoir, ‘to provide the postwar era with its ideology.’

It came in the form of existentialism. Sartre, Camus and their intellectual companions rejected religion, staged new and unnerving plays, challenged readers to live authentically, and wrote about the absurdity of the world – a world without purpose and without value. ‘[There are] only stones, flesh, stars, and those truths the hand can touch,’ Camus wrote. We must choose to live in this world and to project our own meaning and value onto it in order to make sense of it. This means that people are free and burdened by it, since with freedom there is a terrible, even debilitating, responsibility to live and act authentically.

If the idea of freedom bound Camus and Sartre philosophically, then the fight for justice united them politically. They were committed to confronting and curing injustice, and, in their eyes, no group of people was more unjustly treated than the workers, the proletariat. Camus and Sartre thought of them as shackled to their labour and shorn of their humanity. In order to free them, new political systems must be constructed.

In October 1951, Camus published The Rebel. In it, he gave voice to a roughly drawn ‘philosophy of revolt’. This wasn’t a philosophical system per se, but an amalgamation of philosophical and political ideas: every human is free, but freedom itself is relative; one must embrace limits, moderation, ‘calculated risk’; absolutes are anti-human. Most of all, Camus condemned revolutionary violence. Violence might be used in extreme circumstances (he supported the French war effort, after all) but the use of revolutionary violence to nudge history in the direction you desire is utopian, absolutist, and a betrayal of yourself.

‘Absolute freedom is the right of the strongest to dominate,’ Camus wrote, while ‘absolute justice is achieved by the suppression of all contradiction: therefore it destroys freedom.’ The conflict between justice and freedom required constant re-balancing, political moderation, an acceptance and celebration of that which limits the most: our humanity. ‘To live and let live,’ he said, ‘in order to create what we are.’

Sartre read The Rebel with disgust. As far as he was concerned, it was possible to achieve perfect justice and freedom – that described the achievement of communism. Under capitalism, and in poverty, workers could not be free. Their options were unpalatable and inhumane: to work a pitiless and alienating job, or to die. But by removing the oppressors and broadly returning autonomy to the workers, communism allows each individual to live without material want, and therefore to choose how best they can realise themselves. This makes them free, and through this unbending equality, it is also just.

The problem is that, for Sartre and many others on the Left, communism required revolutionary violence to achieve because the existing order must be smashed. Not all leftists, of course, endorsed such violence. This division between hardline and moderate leftists – broadly, between communists and socialists – was nothing new. The 1930s and early ’40s, however, had seen the Left temporarily united against fascism. With the destruction of fascism, the rupture between hardline leftists willing to condone violence and moderates who condemned it returned. This split was made all the more dramatic by the practical disappearance of the Right and the ascendancy of the Soviet Union – which empowered hardliners throughout Europe, but raised disquieting questions for communists as the horrors of gulags, terror and show trials came to light. The question for every leftist of the postwar era was simple: which side are you on?

With the publication of The Rebel, Camus declared for a peaceful socialism that would not resort to revolutionary violence. He was appalled by the stories emerging from the USSR: it was not a country of hand-in-hand communists, living freely, but a country with no freedom at all. Sartre, meanwhile, would fight for communism, and he was prepared to endorse violence to do so.

The split between the two friends was a media sensation. Les Temps Modernes – the journal edited by Sartre, which published a critical review of The Rebel – sold out three times over. Le Monde and L’Observateur both breathlessly covered the falling out. It’s hard to imagine an intellectual feud capturing that degree of public attention today, but, in this disagreement, many readers saw the political crises of the times reflected back at them. It was a way of seeing politics played out in the world of ideas, and a measure of the worth of ideas. If you are thoroughly committed to an idea, are you compelled to kill for it? What price for justice? What price for freedom?

Sartre’s position was shot through with contradiction, with which he struggled for the remainder of his life. Sartre, the existentialist, who said that humans are condemned to be free, was also Sartre, the Marxist, who thought that history does not allow much space for true freedom in the existential sense. Though he never actually joined the French Communist Party, he would continue to defend communism throughout Europe until 1956, when the Soviet tanks in Budapest convinced him, finally, that the USSR did not hold the way forward. (Indeed, he was dismayed by the Soviets in Hungary because they were acting like Americans, he said.) Sartre would remain a powerful voice on the Left throughout his life, and chose the French president Charles de Gaulle as his favourite whipping boy. (After one particularly vicious attack, de Gaulle was asked to arrest Sartre. ‘One does not imprison Voltaire,’ he responded.) Sartre remained unpredictable, however, and was engaged in a long, bizarre dalliance with hardline Maoism when he died in 1980. Though Sartre moved away from the USSR, he never completely abandoned the idea that revolutionary violence might be warranted.

Philosophy Feud: Sartre vs Camus from Aeon Video on Vimeo

The violence of communism sent Camus on a different trajectory. ‘Finally,’ he wrote in The Rebel, ‘I choose freedom. For even if justice is not realised, freedom maintains the power of protest against injustice and keeps communication open.’ From the other side of the Cold War, it is hard not to sympathise with Camus, and to wonder at the fervour with which Sartre remained a loyal communist. Camus’s embrace of sober political reality, of moral humility, of limits and fallible humanity, remains a message well-heeded today. Even the most venerable and worthy ideas need to be balanced against one another. Absolutism, and the impossible idealism it inspires, is a dangerous path forward – and the reason Europe lay in ashes, as Camus and Sartre struggled to envision a fairer and freer world.Aeon counter – do not remove

Sam Dresser

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.

What did Max Weber mean by the ‘Spirit’ of Capitalism?

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The BASF factory at Ludwigshafen, Germany, pictured on a postcard in 1881. Courtesy Wikipedia

Peter Ghosh | Aeon Ideas

Max Weber’s famous text The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905) is surely one of the most misunderstood of all the canonical works regularly taught, mangled and revered in universities across the globe. This is not to say that teachers and students are stupid, but that this is an exceptionally compact text that ranges across a very broad subject area, written by an out-and-out intellectual at the top of his game. He would have been dumb­founded to find that it was being used as an elementary introduction to sociology for undergraduate students, or even schoolchildren.

We use the word ‘capitalism’ today as if its meaning were self-evident, or else as if it came from Marx, but this casualness must be set aside. ‘Capitalism’ was Weber’s own word and he defined it as he saw fit. Its most general meaning was quite simply modernity itself: capitalism was ‘the most fateful power in our modern life’. More specifically, it controlled and generated ‘modern Kultur’, the code of values by which people lived in the 20th-century West, and now live, we may add, in much of the 21st-century globe. So the ‘spirit’ of capitalism is also an ‘ethic’, though no doubt the title would have sounded a bit flat if it had been called The Protestant Ethic and the Ethic of Capitalism.

This modern ‘ethic’ or code of values was unlike any other that had gone before. Weber supposed that all previous ethics – that is, socially accepted codes of behaviour rather than the more abstract propositions made by theologians and philosophers – were religious. Religions supplied clear messages about how to behave in society in straightforward human terms, messages that were taken to be moral absolutes binding on all people. In the West this meant Christianity, and its most important social and ethical prescription came out of the Bible: ‘Love thy neighbour.’ Weber was not against love, but his idea of love was a private one – a realm of intimacy and sexuality. As a guide to social behaviour in public places ‘love thy neighbour’ was obviously nonsense, and this was a principal reason why the claims of churches to speak to modern society in authentically religious terms were marginal. He would not have been surprised at the long innings enjoyed by the slogan ‘God is love’ in the 20th-century West – its career was already launched in his own day – nor that its social consequences should have been so limited.

The ethic or code that dominated public life in the modern world was very different. Above all it was impersonal rather than personal: by Weber’s day, agreement on what was right and wrong for the individual was breaking down. The truths of religion – the basis of ethics – were now contested, and other time-honoured norms – such as those pertaining to sexuality, marriage and beauty – were also breaking down. (Here is a blast from the past: who today would think to uphold a binding idea of beauty?) Values were increasingly the property of the individual, not society. So instead of humanly warm contact, based on a shared, intuitively obvious understanding of right and wrong, public behaviour was cool, reserved, hard and sober, governed by strict personal self-control. Correct behaviour lay in the observance of correct procedures. Most obviously, it obeyed the letter of the law (for who could say what its spirit was?) and it was rational. It was logical, consistent, and coherent; or else it obeyed unquestioned modern realities such as the power of numbers, market forces and technology.

There was another kind of disintegration besides that of traditional ethics. The proliferation of knowledge and reflection on knowledge had made it impossible for any one person to know and survey it all. In a world which could not be grasped as a whole, and where there were no universally shared values, most people clung to the particular niche to which they were most committed: their job or profession. They treated their work as a post-religious calling, ‘an absolute end in itself’, and if the modern ‘ethic’ or ‘spirit’ had an ultimate found­ation, this was it. One of the most widespread clichés about Weber’s thought is to say that he preached a work ethic. This is a mistake. He personally saw no particular virtue in sweat – he thought his best ideas came to him when relaxing on a sofa with a cigar – and had he known he would be misunder­stood in this way, he would have pointed out that a capacity for hard work was something that did not dist­inguish the modern West from previous soc­ieties and their value systems. However, the idea that people were being ever more defined by the blinkered focus of their employment was one he regarded as profoundly modern and characteristic.

The blinkered pro­fessional ethic was common to entrepreneurs and an increasingly high-wage, skilled labour force, and it was this combination that produced a situation where the ‘highest good’ was the making of money and ever more money, without any limit. This is what is most readily recognisable as the ‘spirit’ of capitalism, but it should be stressed that it was not a simple ethic of greed which, as Weber recognised, was age-old and eternal. In fact there are two sets of ideas here, though they overlap. There is one about potentially universal rational pro­cedures – specialisation, logic, and formally consistent behaviour – and another that is closer to the modern economy, of which the central part is the professional ethic. The modern situation was the product of narrow-minded adhesion to one’s particular function under a set of conditions where the attempt to understand modernity as a whole had been abandoned by most people. As a result they were not in control of their own destiny, but were governed by the set of rational and impersonal pro­cedures which he likened to an iron cage, or ‘steel housing’. Given its rational and impersonal foundations, the housing fell far short of any human ideal of warmth, spontaneity or breadth of outlook; yet rationality, technology and legality also produced material goods for mass consumption in unprecedented amounts. For this reason, though they could always do so if they chose to, people were unlikely to leave the housing ‘until the last hundredweight of fossil fuel is burned up’.

It is an extremely powerful analysis, which tells us a great deal about the 20th-century West and a set of Western ideas and priorities that the rest of the world has been increasingly happy to take up since 1945. It derives its power not simply from what it says, but because Weber sought to place under­standing before judgment, and to see the world as a whole. If we wish to go beyond him, we must do the same.Aeon counter – do not remove

Peter Ghosh

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.

Why Religion is not Going Away and Science will not Destroy It

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At the Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora, Istanbul. Photo by Guillen Perez/Flickr

Peter Harrison | Aeon Ideas


In 1966, just over 50 years ago, the distinguished Canadian-born anthropologist Anthony Wallace confidently predicted the global demise of religion at the hands of an advancing science: ‘belief in supernatural powers is doomed to die out, all over the world, as a result of the increasing adequacy and diffusion of scientific knowledge’. Wallace’s vision was not exceptional. On the contrary, the modern social sciences, which took shape in 19th-century western Europe, took their own recent historical experience of secularisation as a universal model. An assumption lay at the core of the social sciences, either presuming or sometimes predicting that all cultures would eventually converge on something roughly approximating secular, Western, liberal democracy. Then something closer to the opposite happened.

Not only has secularism failed to continue its steady global march but countries as varied as Iran, India, Israel, Algeria and Turkey have either had their secular governments replaced by religious ones, or have seen the rise of influential religious nationalist movements. Secularisation, as predicted by the social sciences, has failed.

To be sure, this failure is not unqualified. Many Western countries continue to witness decline in religious belief and practice. The most recent census data released in Australia, for example, shows that 30 per cent of the population identify as having ‘no religion’, and that this percentage is increasing. International surveys confirm comparatively low levels of religious commitment in western Europe and Australasia. Even the United States, a long-time source of embarrassment for the secularisation thesis, has seen a rise in unbelief. The percentage of atheists in the US now sits at an all-time high (if ‘high’ is the right word) of around 3 per cent. Yet, for all that, globally, the total number of people who consider themselves to be religious remains high, and demographic trends suggest that the overall pattern for the immediate future will be one of religious growth. But this isn’t the only failure of the secularisation thesis.

Scientists, intellectuals and social scientists expected that the spread of modern science would drive secularisation – that science would be a secularising force. But that simply hasn’t been the case. If we look at those societies where religion remains vibrant, their key common features are less to do with science, and more to do with feelings of existential security and protection from some of the basic uncertainties of life in the form of public goods. A social safety net might be correlated with scientific advances but only loosely, and again the case of the US is instructive. The US is arguably the most scientifically and technologically advanced society in the world, and yet at the same time the most religious of Western societies. As the British sociologist David Martin concluded in The Future of Christianity (2011): ‘There is no consistent relation between the degree of scientific advance and a reduced profile of religious influence, belief and practice.’

The story of science and secularisation becomes even more intriguing when we consider those societies that have witnessed significant reactions against secularist agendas. India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru championed secular and scientific ideals, and enlisted scientific education in the project of modernisation. Nehru was confident that Hindu visions of a Vedic past and Muslim dreams of an Islamic theocracy would both succumb to the inexorable historical march of secularisation. ‘There is only one-way traffic in Time,’ he declared. But as the subsequent rise of Hindu and Islamic fundamentalism adequately attests, Nehru was wrong. Moreover, the association of science with a secularising agenda has backfired, with science becoming a collateral casualty of resistance to secularism.

Turkey provides an even more revealing case. Like most pioneering nationalists, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish republic, was a committed secularist. Atatürk believed that science was destined to displace religion. In order to make sure that Turkey was on the right side of history, he gave science, in particular evolutionary biology, a central place in the state education system of the fledgling Turkish republic. As a result, evolution came to be associated with Atatürk’s entire political programme, including secularism. Islamist parties in Turkey, seeking to counter the secularist ideals of the nation’s founders, have also attacked the teaching of evolution. For them, evolution is associated with secular materialism. This sentiment culminated in the decision this June to remove the teaching of evolution from the high-school classroom. Again, science has become a victim of guilt by association.

The US represents a different cultural context, where it might seem that the key issue is a conflict between literal readings of Genesis and key features of evolutionary history. But in fact, much of the creationist discourse centres on moral values. In the US case too, we see anti-evolutionism motivated at least in part by the assumption that evolutionary theory is a stalking horse for secular materialism and its attendant moral commitments. As in India and Turkey, secularism is actually hurting science.

In brief, global secularisation is not inevitable and, when it does happen, it is not caused by science. Further, when the attempt is made to use science to advance secularism, the results can damage science. The thesis that ‘science causes secularisation’ simply fails the empirical test, and enlisting science as an instrument of secularisation turns out to be poor strategy. The science and secularism pairing is so awkward that it raises the question: why did anyone think otherwise?

Historically, two related sources advanced the idea that science would displace religion. First, 19th-century progressivist conceptions of history, particularly associated with the French philosopher Auguste Comte, held to a theory of history in which societies pass through three stages – religious, metaphysical and scientific (or ‘positive’). Comte coined the term ‘sociology’ and he wanted to diminish the social influence of religion and replace it with a new science of society. Comte’s influence extended to the ‘young Turks’ and Atatürk.

The 19th century also witnessed the inception of the ‘conflict model’ of science and religion. This was the view that history can be understood in terms of a ‘conflict between two epochs in the evolution of human thought – the theological and the scientific’. This description comes from Andrew Dickson White’s influential A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1896), the title of which nicely encapsulates its author’s general theory. White’s work, as well as John William Draper’s earlier History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science (1874), firmly established the conflict thesis as the default way of thinking about the historical relations between science and religion. Both works were translated into multiple languages. Draper’s History went through more than 50 printings in the US alone, was translated into 20 languages and, notably, became a bestseller in the late Ottoman empire, where it informed Atatürk’s understanding that progress meant science superseding religion.

Today, people are less confident that history moves through a series of set stages toward a single destination. Nor, despite its popular persistence, do most historians of science support the idea of an enduring conflict between science and religion. Renowned collisions, such as the Galileo affair, turned on politics and personalities, not just science and religion. Darwin had significant religious supporters and scientific detractors, as well as vice versa. Many other alleged instances of science-religion conflict have now been exposed as pure inventions. In fact, contrary to conflict, the historical norm has more often been one of mutual support between science and religion. In its formative years in the 17th century, modern science relied on religious legitimation. During the 18th and 19th centuries, natural theology helped to popularise science.

The conflict model of science and religion offered a mistaken view of the past and, when combined with expectations of secularisation, led to a flawed vision of the future. Secularisation theory failed at both description and prediction. The real question is why we continue to encounter proponents of science-religion conflict. Many are prominent scientists. It would be superfluous to rehearse Richard Dawkins’s musings on this topic, but he is by no means a solitary voice. Stephen Hawking thinks that ‘science will win because it works’; Sam Harris has declared that ‘science must destroy religion’; Stephen Weinberg thinks that science has weakened religious certitude; Colin Blakemore predicts that science will eventually make religion unnecessary. Historical evidence simply does not support such contentions. Indeed, it suggests that they are misguided.

So why do they persist? The answers are political. Leaving aside any lingering fondness for quaint 19th-century understandings of history, we must look to the fear of Islamic fundamentalism, exasperation with creationism, an aversion to alliances between the religious Right and climate-change denial, and worries about the erosion of scientific authority. While we might be sympathetic to these concerns, there is no disguising the fact that they arise out of an unhelpful intrusion of normative commitments into the discussion. Wishful thinking – hoping that science will vanquish religion – is no substitute for a sober assessment of present realities. Continuing with this advocacy is likely to have an effect opposite to that intended.

Religion is not going away any time soon, and science will not destroy it. If anything, it is science that is subject to increasing threats to its authority and social legitimacy. Given this, science needs all the friends it can get. Its advocates would be well advised to stop fabricating an enemy out of religion, or insisting that the only path to a secure future lies in a marriage of science and secularism.Aeon counter – do not remove

Peter Harrison

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.

Philosophy Primary Sources II

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This post will serve as Part II of Philosophy Primary Sources and a supplement to Primary Sources & Encyclopedias (check out the Links section for even more research sources). There are certain books that are essential to an education about the human condition of which I believe should be available for free and with easy access to everybody. This list is more comprehensive and nuanced than the previous list, as it includes books that hold cultural significance in various fields of study. Each book on this list is in PDF format. I have organized them by topic (many topics intersect) and the last name of the author.


Philosophy

The Life of the Mind by Hannah Arendt

The Human Condition by Hannah Arendt

Language, Truth, and Logic by A.J. Ayer

The Problem of Knowledge by A.J. Ayer

Selected Writings of Jean Baudrillard

The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir

The Ethics of Ambiguity by Simone de Beauvoir

Matter and Memory by Henri Bergson

An Introduction to Metaphysics by Henri Bergson

I and Thou by Martin Buber

The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays by Albert Camus

The Rebel by Albert Camus

Language and Mind by Noam Chomsky

The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

Nietzsche and Philosophy by Gilles Deleuze

What is Philosophy? by Gilles Deleuze & Félix Guattari

Darwin’s Dangerous Idea by Daniel Dennett

Speech and Phenomena & Other Essays by Jacques Derrida

Dissemination by Jacques Derrida

In Praise of Folly by Desiderius Erasmus

The Vocation of Man by Johann Gottlieb Fichte

The Science of Knowledge by Johann Gottlieb Fichte

The Archaeology of Knowledge & The Discourse on Language by Michel Foucault

Selected Writings of Mahatma Gandhi

Being and Time by Martin Heidegger

The Question Concerning Technology & Other Essays by Martin Heidegger

What is Metaphysics? by Martin Heidegger

God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens

Logical Investigations by Edmund Husserl

Reason and Existenz by Karl Jaspers

Fear and Trembling by Søren Kierkegaard

The Sickness Unto Death by Søren Kierkegaard

Philosophical Fragments by Søren Kierkegaard

Last Writings: Nothingness and the Religious Worldview by Nishida Kitarō

The Levinas Reader edited by Sáun Hand

The Postmodern Condition by Jean-François Lyotard

Essays of Michel de Montaigne

On the Genealogy of Morals by Friedrich Nietzsche

The Portable Nietzsche edited by Walter Kaufmann

The Self-Overcoming of Nihilism by Keiji Nishitani

Philosophical Explanations by Robert Nozick

Man Has No Nature by José Ortega y Gasset

The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine

Pensées by Blaise Pascal

The Morals of Plutarch

The Virtue of Selfishness by Ayn Rand

Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity by Richard Rorty

Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature by Richard Rorty

The Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Free Thought & Official Propaganda by Bertrand Russell

In Praise of Idleness by Bertrand Russell

Mysticism and Logic: And Other Essays by Bertrand Russell

Being and Nothingness by Jean-Paul Sartre

Existentialism is a Humanism by Jean-Paul Sartre

The World as Will and Representation – Vol. 1 by Arthur Schopenhauer

The World as Will and Representation – Vol. 2 by Arthur Schopenhauer

The Basis of Morality by Arthur Schopenhauer

My View of the World (Excerpt) by Erwin Schrödinger

Athens and Jerusalem by Lev Shestov

The Ego and His Own by Max Stirner

The Courage to Be by Paul Tillich

The Eternal Now by Paul Tillich

Weak Thought edited by Gianni Vattimo and Pier Aldo Rovatti

The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts

Philosophical Investigations by Ludwig Wittgenstein


Science

The Essays of Francis Bacon

The New Organon by Francis Bacon

The Grounds for and Excellence of the Corpuscular or Mechanical Philosophy by Robert Boyle

On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres (Dedication) by Nicolaus Copernicus

On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection by Charles Darwin

The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins

The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins

The Principles of Quantum Mechanics by Paul Dirac

Relativity: The Special and General Theory by Albert Einstein

The Assayer by Galileo Galilei

Dialogues Concerning the Two Chief World Systems by Galileo Galilei

A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

Physics and Philosophy: The Revolution in Modern Science by Werner Heisenberg

The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking & Leonard Mlodinow

Treatise on Light by Christiaan Huygens

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn

The Copernican Revolution by Thomas Kuhn

The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy by Sir Isaac Newton

Science and Hypothesis by Henri Poincaré

What is Life? by Erwin Schrödinger

Mind and Matter by Erwin Schrödinger

The Physics of the Healing by Ibn Sīnā (Avicenna)


Psychology

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

The Complete Works of Sigmund Freud

The Principles of Psychology: Volume I by William James

The Principles of Psychology: Volume II by William James

Man and his Symbols by Carl Jung

Memories, Dreams, Reflection by Carl Jung

Écrits by Jacques Lacan

Religions, Values, and Peak Experiences by Abraham Maslow

Cognitive Psychology by Ulric Neisser

Verbal Behavior by B.F. Skinner

Existential Psychotherapy by Irvin D. Yalom


Literature

The Tragedies of Aeschylus

The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Euripides: Ion, Hippolytus, Medea, & Alcestis

Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The Iliad of Homer

The Odyssey of Homer

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

The Complete Stories of Franz Kafka

Paradise Lost by John Milton

1984 by George Orwell

Animal Farm by George Orwell

In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

The Notes of Malte Laurids Brigge by Rainer Maria Rilke

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare

The Tragedies of Sophocles

Walden by Henry David Thoreau

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Candide by Voltaire

Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut

Note: Planet Publish hosts a vast selection of literature in PDF format available for free.


Religious

A Study of Dōgen by Masao Abe

Deliverance from Error by Al-Ghazali

The Incoherence of the Philosophers by Al-Ghazali

The Summa Theologica by Thomas Aquinas

The Teaching of Buddha

Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin

The Analects of Confucius

The Vedas compiled by the Dharmic Scriptures Team

On Divine Names & Mystical Theology by Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite

The Shōbōgenzō: Volume I by Eihei Dōgen

The Shōbōgenzō: Volume II by Eihei Dōgen

The Shōbōgenzō: Volume III by Eihei Dōgen

The Shōbōgenzō: Volume IV by Eihei Dōgen

Dōgen’s Extensive Record: A Translation of the Eihei Kōroku

The Tibetan Book of the Dead edited by W. Y. Evans-Wentz

The Essence of Christianity by Ludwig Feuerbach

Christian Apologetics by Norman Geisler

Philosophy of Religion by Norman Geisler

The Principia Discordia by Greg Hill and Kerry Wendell Thornley

The Perennial Philosophy by Aldous Huxley

The Guide for the Perplexed by Moses Maimonides

The Mūlamadhyamakakārikā of Nāgārjuna

On Buddhism by Keiji Nishitani

The Upanishads translated by Swami Paramananda

On the Harmony of Religion and Philosophy by Ibn Rushd (Averroes)

The Incoherence of the Incoherence by Ibn Rushd (Averroes)

Forgotten Truth by Huston Smith

An Introduction to Zen Buddhism by D.T. Suzuki

The Bhagavad Gita translated by Shri Purohit Swami

The New Being by Paul Tillich

The Way of Zen by Alan Watts

Note: Internet Sacred Text Archive hosts an archive of online books about religion, mythology, folklore and the esoteric (including the writings of the early church fathers).


Historical

World History: Patterns of Interaction by Beck, et al.

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: Volume I by Edward Gibbon

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: Volume II by Edward Gibbon

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: Volume III by Edward Gibbon

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: Volume IV by Edward Gibbon

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: Volume V by Edward Gibbon

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: Volume VI by Edward Gibbon

The Histories of Herodotus

I Have a Dream by Martin Luther King Jr.

The History of Rome by Titus Livius

The History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell

Anti-Semite and Jew: An Exploration of the Etiology of Hate by Jean-Paul Sartre

The Decline of the West by Oswald Spengler

The Annals of Tacitus

The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides

Note: Project Gutenberg and the Internet Archive are excellent sources of historical writings and much more. Ancient Greek and Roman histories can be found at Loebolus.


Important Historical Documents

Magna Carta Libertatum (Great Charter of Liberties)

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The Code of Hammurabi

Note: OurDocuments.gov hosts a list of 100 milestone documents, compiled by the National Archives and Records Administration, and drawn primarily from its nationwide holdings. The documents chronicle United States history from 1776 to 1965.


Political & Social Theory

On the Reproduction of Capitalism by Louis Althusser

An Introduction to The Principles of Morals and Legislation by Jeremy Bentham

Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky

Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism & Schizophrenia by Gilles Deleuze & Félix Guattari

Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison by Michel Foucault

The History of Sexuality by Michel Foucault

Madness and Civilization by Michel Foucault

The Theory of Communicative Action by Jürgen Habermas

Between Facts and Norms by Jürgen Habermas

Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes

Dialectic of Enlightenment by Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno

The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money by John Maynard Keynes

Structural Anthropology by Claude Lévi-Strauss

The Savage Mind by Claude Lévi-Strauss

The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli

Capital: Critique of Political Economy, Volume I by Karl Marx

Capital: Critique of Political Economy, Volume II by Karl Marx

Capital: Critique of Political Economy, Volume III by Karl Marx

Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 by Karl Marx

The German Ideology by Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels

Areopagitica by John Milton

The Spirit of Laws by Montesquieu

A Theory of Justice by John Rawls

Émile, or Concerning Education by Jean-Jacques Rousseau

The Origin of Inequality by Jean-Jacques Rousseau

The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau

The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith

Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau

Writings of Leon Trotsky

The Theory of the Leisure Class by Thorstein Veblen

The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism by Max Weber


Check out the Links Section for more sources of primary texts and general research.

The Self-Overcoming of Nihilism

the self-overcoming of nihilism

Full Book (PDF): The Self-Overcoming of Nihilism by Nishitani Keiji

As a past reader of Nishitani in both the original Japanese and English translation, I find this manuscript to be the most accessible and clearly written of any book-length work I have read by him. It shows Nishitani as a vital and vigorous thinker, and serves as an introduction to his widely acclaimed Religion and Nothingness.

The summaries of the relation to nihilism of Hegel, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Feuerbach, and Stirner, a nearly forgotten figure in intellectual history, are all perspicacious. Even the chapters on Nietzsche, about whom volumes are written these days, provide new insights. The brief section on the problem of nihilism for Japan is unprecedented in the English literature, and the sketches on karma and historicity whet the appetite for the more extensive and difficult expositions in Religion and Nothingness.

It will be mandatory reading for an understanding of both Nishitani’s thought and the problem of nihilism. Scholars and other persons interested in nihilism, in Nietzsche, and/or in contemporary Buddhist or Japanese philosophy, will greatly profit from a study of this book.

– John C. Maraldo, Department of Philosophy, University of North Florida

This is a fine translation of an important work in the corpus of Nishitani’s early writings. The translation is timely both because of the Western interest in Nishitani as a preeminent contemporary Japanese philosopher and because of the continuing Western perplexity about the problems Nishitani addresses. Nishitani is one of the world’s greatest living philosophers and even in this early work of his that brilliance shines through.

– Thomas P. Kasulis, Department of Philosophy, Northland College

Nishitani Keiji was for many years Professor of Religious Philosophy at Kyoto University and the leading thinker of the “Kyoto School” of philosophy. He died in 1990. Graham Parkes is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Hawaii, the editor of Heidegger and Asian Thought and Nietzsche and Asian Thought, and the author of Composing the Soul: Reaches of Nietzsche’s Psychology. Setsuko Aihara has taught Japanese at the University of Hawaii and Harvard University, and is the author of Strategies for Reading Japanese: A Rational Approach to the Japanese Sentence.

Contents

Chapter One – Nihilism as Existence

1. Two Problems

2. Nihilism and the Philosophy of History

3. European Nihilism

Chapter Two – From Realism to Nihilism: Hegel, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Feuerbach

1. Hegel’s Absolute Idealism and Radical Realism

2. Schopenhauer—Will as Real—The Nullity of Existence

3. Kierkegaard—Becoming and Existence

4. Feuerbach—Critique of Religion, Philosophy, and Ethics

Chapter Three – Friedrich Nietzsche: The First Consummate Nihilist

1. The Significance of Nihilism in Nietzsche

2. Radical Nihilism

3. Nietzsche’s Interpretation of Christianity

4. The Concept of “Sincerity”—”Will to Illusion”

Chapter Four – Nietzsche’s Affirmative Nihilism: Amor Fati and Eternal Recurrence

1. Value-Interpretation and Perspectivism

2. The Problem of Amor Fati

3. Love of Fate as “Innermost Nature”—Suffering—Soul

4. The Idea of Eternal Recurrence: The “Moment” and Eternity

5. Eternal Recurrence and Overcoming the Spirit of Gravity

6. Love of Fate and Eternal Recurrence

7. The Self-Overcoming of Nihilism

Chapter Five – Nihilism and Existence in Nietzsche

1. “God is Dead”

2. Critique of Religion

3. The Stages of Nihilism

4. Nihilism as Existence

5. The First Stage of Existence

6. The Second Stage of Existence

7. Nihilism as Scientific Conscience

8. Science and History as Existence

9. “Living Dangerously” and “Experimentation”

10. The Third Stage—Existence as Body

11. The Dialectical Development of Nihilism

Chapter Six – Nihilism as Egoism: Max Stirner

1. Stirner’s Context

2. The Meaning of Egoism

3. Realist, Idealist, Egoist—”Creative Nothing”

4. From Paganism to Christianity

5. From Christianity to Liberalism

6. From Liberalism to Egoism

7. Ownness and Property—All and Nothing

8. The State and the Individual

Chapter Seven – Nihilism in Russia

1. Russian Nihilism

2. Bazarov’s Nihilism—”Fathers and Sons”

3. Nihilism as Contemplation—”Notes from Underground”

Chapter Eight – Nihilism as Philosophy: Martin Heidegger

1. Existentialism as a Discipline

2. The “Ontological Difference”

3. Transcendence and Being-in-the-World

4. Being-toward-Death and Anxiety

5. Finitude—Metaphysics—Existence—Freedom

Chapter Nine – The Meaning of Nihilism for Japan

1. The Crisis in Europe and Nihilism

2. The Crisis Compounded

3. The Significance of European Nihilism for Us

4. Buddhism and Nihilism

Appendix – The Problem of Atheism

1. Marxist Humanism

2. Sartrean Existentialism

3. Atheism in the World of Today

Lost Tribes

uncontacted_tribes

A few nights ago, I watched The Lost City of Z, which is about British explorer Percy Fawcett who was sent to Bolivia and later made several attempts to find an ancient lost city in the Amazon. He disappeared in 1925 along with his son on an expedition. It got me thinking about people today who are still uncontacted by the rest of humanity. It’s a bewildering thought, indeed, but could there be anything that they could teach us? I think so.

Some people want to protect these “lost tribes” from contact with the Western world for various reasons. For example, our “civilized” immune systems have developed immunities to diseases that would kill most of them. Many feel that these uncontacted people should be left alone to determine their own destiny; that we should afford them the same basic human rights that we (supposedly) apply to the rest of humanity. Reservations have been created to prevent the abuse of those rights where businesses large and small would like to encroach on tribal territory. Questions of morality arise in complex ways.

What intrigues me, of course, has nothing to do with their rights or protections. I’m concerned with the philosophical implications, as selfish as that might sound. These uncontacted people have no ideology or sense of history that could be remotely similar to the rest of humanity. I’m sure they have their own simple ideologies and codes of ethics to live by. The point at which I think we could learn from them lay precisely in these differences of worldview.

Many of them are still preliterate and think thunderstorms are the work of gods. They may even look upon us as gods with all of our great technological advancements. But what of their moral sense? A thought experiment: a human being is raised and lives in the wild for the entirety of their life. Would they develop the same or a similar sense of morality that we civilized Westerners have? Do unto others? I tend to think not, though some would disagree.

The point at which we could learn from the lost tribes lay precisely in seeing how exactly we Westerners are conditioned from birth. It makes me think twice about my own study of philosophy. They live close to the earth, as it were. We are mostly emancipated from the earth. They are not burdened by our lifestyle, yet we feel that they must be living miserable lives out there alone in the wild. What I am studying, really, is the history of the thought processes of civilization. And what is my concern with history? Why do I believe it to be so important?

Lastly, though less important I think, the entire situation makes possible another thought experiment: suppose there exist intelligent life forms outside of Earth that look upon us as we look upon the lost tribes. Or suppose that we happen across a newfound planet that contains intelligent life forms similar to us, but far less technologically advanced. These thought experiments inevitably bring up serious questions of morality.

The movie gave me a lot to think about, so I figured I would share my thoughts. Should we take a closer look at how we are conditioned? Would it be healthy to attempt to live a more simple lifestyle? More than our material lifestyle, I mean to question our spiritual lifestyle. Perhaps they go hand in hand. In any case, I think the thought deserves some consideration.

Philosophy Primary Sources

sky-bookshelf

Full books in PDF format. These are the books that are generally considered standard reading for anybody interested in philosophy. You can find even more primary sources in Philosophy Primary Sources II, and head to the Links section for even more research sources!

Fragments By Anaxagoras of Clazomenae

Summa Contra Gentiles By Aquinas

De Anima (On the Soul) By Aristotle

Categories By Aristotle

On Dreams By Aristotle

Nicomachean Ethics By Aristotle

On Interpretation By Aristotle

Metaphysics By Aristotle

Physics By Aristotle

Poetics By Aristotle

Politics By Aristotle

Posterior Analytics By Aristotle

Prior Analytics By Aristotle

Rhetoric By Aristotle

City of God By Augustine

Confessions By Augustine

The Meditations By Marcus Aurelius Antoninus

Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous By Berkeley

A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge By Berkeley

The Consolation of Philosophy By Boethius

The Dhammapada By Buddha

The Vagrakkhedikâ Or Diamond-Cutter By Buddha

Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting the Reason and Seeking for Truth in the Sciences By Descartes

Meditations on First Philosophy By Descartes

Democracy and Education By Dewey

Discourses By Epictetus

The Enchiridion, or Manual By Epictetus

Letter to Menoeceus By Epicurus

Principal Doctrines By Epicurus

The Philosophy Of History (Introduction) By G. W. F. Hegel

Philosophy Of Mind: Part Three of the Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences By G.W.F. Hegel

Fragments By Heraclitus

Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion By Hume

An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding By Hume

Does Consciousness Exist? By James

What Pragmatism Means By James

The Varieties of Religious Experience By James

The Will to Believe By James

The Critique of Pure Reason By Kant

Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals By Kant

The Critique of Judgement By Kant

Introduction to the Metaphysics of Morals By Kant

Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysics By Kant

Critique of Practical Reason By Kant

Tao Te Ching By Lao-Tzu

Monadology By Leibniz

An Essay Concerning Human Understanding By Locke

The Second Treatise of Government By Locke

Communist Manifesto By Marx

On Liberty By Mill

Utilitarianism By Mill

On Subjection of Women By Mill

Thus Spake Zarathustra By Nietzsche

Fragments and Commentary By Parmenides

The Fixation of Belief By Peirce

How to Make Our Ideas Clear By Peirce

Apology By Plato

Charmides By Plato

Cratylus By Plato

Crito By Plato

Euthydemus By Plato

Euthyphro By Plato

Gorgias By Plato

Ion By Plato

Laches By Plato

Laws By Plato

Meno By Plato

Parmenides By Plato

Phaedo By Plato

Phaedrus By Plato

Philebus By Plato

Protagoras By Plato

The Republic By Plato

Sophist By Plato

Statesman By Plato

Symposium By Plato

Theaetetus By Plato

Timaeus By Plato

Enneads By Plotinus

Fragments and Commentary By Pythagoras

On Denoting By Russell

The Problems of Philosophy By Russell

Ethics By Spinoza

On the Improvement of Understanding By Spinoza

Fragments and Commentary of Thales

A Vindication of the Rights of Women By Wollstonecraft


Check out Philosophy Primary Sources II and the Links section for even more research sources!

Economics is for Everyone!

Published on Jul 14, 2016

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Speaker: Ha-Joon Chang
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Plutonomy and the Precariat

Day_12_Occupy_Wall_Street_September_28_2011_Shankbone_33

05/08/2012 08:44 am 08:44:21 | Updated Jul 08, 2012

Noam Chomsky

Institute Professor emeritus, MIT Department of Linguistics and Philosophy; Author, ‘Who Rules the World?’

On the History of the U.S. Economy in Decline

Cross-posted with TomDispatch.com

The Occupy movement has been an extremely exciting development. Unprecedented, in fact. There’s never been anything like it that I can think of.  If the bonds and associations it has established can be sustained through a long, dark period ahead — because victory won’t come quickly — it could prove a significant moment in American history.

The fact that the Occupy movement is unprecedented is quite appropriate. After all, it’s an unprecedented era and has been so since the 1970s, which marked a major turning point in American history. For centuries, since the country began, it had been a developing society, and not always in very pretty ways. That’s another story, but the general progress was toward wealth, industrialization, development, and hope. There was a pretty constant expectation that it was going to go on like this. That was true even in very dark times.

I’m just old enough to remember the Great Depression. After the first few years, by the mid-1930s — although the situation was objectively much harsher than it is today — nevertheless, the spirit was quite different. There was a sense that “we’re gonna get out of it,” even among unemployed people, including a lot of my relatives, a sense that “it will get better.”

There was militant labor union organizing going on, especially from the CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations). It was getting to the point of sit-down strikes, which are frightening to the business world — you could see it in the business press at the time — because a sit-down strike is just a step before taking over the factory and running it yourself. The idea of worker takeovers is something which is, incidentally, very much on the agenda today, and we should keep it in mind. Also New Deal legislation was beginning to come in as a result of popular pressure. Despite the hard times, there was a sense that, somehow, “we’re gonna get out of it.”

It’s quite different now. For many people in the United States, there’s a pervasive sense of hopelessness, sometimes despair. I think it’s quite new in American history. And it has an objective basis.

On the Working Class

In the 1930s, unemployed working people could anticipate that their jobs would come back. If you’re a worker in manufacturing today — the current level of unemployment there is approximately like the Depression — and current tendencies persist, those jobs aren’t going to come back.

The change took place in the 1970s. There are a lot of reasons for it. One of the underlying factors, discussed mainly by economic historian Robert Brenner, was the falling rate of profit in manufacturing. There were other factors. It led to major changes in the economy — a reversal of several hundred years of progress towards industrialization and development that turned into a process of de-industrialization and de-development. Of course, manufacturing production continued overseas very profitably, but it’s no good for the work force.

Along with that came a significant shift of the economy from productive enterprise — producing things people need or could use — to financial manipulation. The financialization of the economy really took off at that time.

On Banks

Before the 1970s, banks were banks. They did what banks were supposed to do in a state capitalist economy: they took unused funds from your bank account, for example, and transferred them to some potentially useful purpose like helping a family buy a home or send a kid to college. That changed dramatically in the 1970s. Until then, there had been no financial crises since the Great Depression. The 1950s and 1960s had been a period of enormous growth, the highest in American history, maybe in economic history.

And it was egalitarian.  The lowest quintile did about as well as the highest quintile. Lots of people moved into reasonable lifestyles — what’s called the “middle class” here, the “working class” in other countries — but it was real.  And the 1960s accelerated it. The activism of those years, after a pretty dismal decade, really civilized the country in lots of ways that are permanent.

When the 1970s came along, there were sudden and sharp changes: de-industrialization, the off-shoring of production, and the shift to financial institutions, which grew enormously. I should say that, in the 1950s and 1960s, there was also the development of what several decades later became the high-tech economy: computers, the Internet, the IT Revolution developed substantially in the state sector.

The developments that took place during the 1970s set off a vicious cycle. It led to the concentration of wealth increasingly in the hands of the financial sector. This doesn’t benefit the economy — it probably harms it and society — but it did lead to a tremendous concentration of wealth.

On Politics and Money

Concentration of wealth yields concentration of political power. And concentration of political power gives rise to legislation that increases and accelerates the cycle. The legislation, essentially bipartisan, drives new fiscal policies and tax changes, as well as the rules of corporate governance and deregulation. Alongside this began a sharp rise in the costs of elections, which drove the political parties even deeper into the pockets of the corporate sector.

The parties dissolved in many ways. It used to be that if a person in Congress hoped for a position such as a committee chair, he or she got it mainly through seniority and service. Within a couple of years, they started having to put money into the party coffers in order to get ahead, a topic studied mainly by Tom Ferguson. That just drove the whole system even deeper into the pockets of the corporate sector (increasingly the financial sector).

This cycle resulted in a tremendous concentration of wealth, mainly in the top tenth of one percent of the population. Meanwhile, it opened a period of stagnation or even decline for the majority of the population. People got by, but by artificial means such as longer working hours, high rates of borrowing and debt, and reliance on asset inflation like the recent housing bubble. Pretty soon those working hours were much higher in the United States than in other industrial countries like Japan and various places in Europe. So there was a period of stagnation and decline for the majority alongside a period of sharp concentration of wealth. The political system began to dissolve.

There has always been a gap between public policy and public will, but it just grew astronomically. You can see it right now, in fact.  Take a look at the big topic in Washington that everyone concentrates on: the deficit. For the public, correctly, the deficit is not regarded as much of an issue. And it isn’t really much of an issue. The issue is joblessness. There’s a deficit commission but no joblessness commission. As far as the deficit is concerned, the public has opinions. Take a look at the polls. The public overwhelmingly supports higher taxes on the wealthy, which have declined sharply in this period of stagnation and decline, and the preservation of limited social benefits.

The outcome of the deficit commission is probably going to be the opposite. The Occupy movements could provide a mass base for trying to avert what amounts to a dagger pointed at the heart of the country.

Plutonomy and the Precariat

For the general population, the 99% in the imagery of the Occupy movement, it’s been pretty harsh — and it could get worse. This could be a period of irreversible decline. For the 1% and even less — the .1% — it’s just fine. They are richer than ever, more powerful than ever, controlling the political system, disregarding the public. And if it can continue, as far as they’re concerned, sure, why not?

Take, for example, Citigroup. For decades, Citigroup has been one of the most corrupt of the major investment banking corporations, repeatedly bailed out by the taxpayer, starting in the early Reagan years and now once again. I won’t run through the corruption, but it’s pretty astonishing.

In 2005, Citigroup came out with a brochure for investors called “Plutonomy: Buying Luxury, Explaining Global Imbalances.” It urged investors to put money into a “plutonomy index.” The brochure says, “The World is dividing into two blocs — the Plutonomy and the rest.”

Plutonomy refers to the rich, those who buy luxury goods and so on, and that’s where the action is. They claimed that their plutonomy index was way outperforming the stock market. As for the rest, we set them adrift. We don’t really care about them. We don’t really need them. They have to be around to provide a powerful state, which will protect us and bail us out when we get into trouble, but other than that they essentially have no function. These days they’re sometimes called the “precariat” — people who live a precarious existence at the periphery of society. Only it’s not the periphery anymore. It’s becoming a very substantial part of society in the United States and indeed elsewhere. And this is considered a good thing.

So, for example, Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, at the time when he was still “Saint Alan” — hailed by the economics profession as one of the greatest economists of all time (this was before the crash for which he was substantially responsible) — was testifying to Congress in the Clinton years, and he explained the wonders of the great economy that he was supervising. He said a lot of its success was based substantially on what he called “growing worker insecurity.” If working people are insecure, if they’re part of the precariat, living precarious existences, they’re not going to make demands, they’re not going to try to get better wages, they won’t get improved benefits. We can kick ’em out, if we don’t need ’em. And that’s what’s called a “healthy” economy, technically speaking. And he was highly praised for this, greatly admired.

So the world is now indeed splitting into a plutonomy and a precariat — in the imagery of the Occupy movement, the 1% and the 99%. Not literal numbers, but the right picture. Now, the plutonomy is where the action is and it could continue like this.

If it does, the historic reversal that began in the 1970s could become irreversible. That’s where we’re heading. And the Occupy movement is the first real, major, popular reaction that could avert this. But it’s going to be necessary to face the fact that it’s a long, hard struggle. You don’t win victories tomorrow. You have to form the structures that will be sustained, that will go on through hard times and can win major victories. And there are a lot of things that can be done.

Toward Worker Takeover

I mentioned before that, in the 1930s, one of the most effective actions was the sit-down strike. And the reason is simple: that’s just a step before the takeover of an industry.

Through the 1970s, as the decline was setting in, there were some important events that took place.  In 1977, U.S. Steel decided to close one of its major facilities in Youngstown, Ohio. Instead of just walking away, the workforce and the community decided to get together and buy it from the company, hand it over to the work force, and turn it into a worker-run, worker-managed facility. They didn’t win. But with enough popular support, they could have won.  It’s a topic that Gar Alperovitz and Staughton Lynd, the lawyer for the workers and community, have discussed in detail.

It was a partial victory because, even though they lost, it set off other efforts. And now, throughout Ohio, and in other places, there’s a scattering of hundreds, maybe thousands, of sometimes not-so-small worker/community-owned industries that could become worker-managed. And that’s the basis for a real revolution. That’s how it takes place.

In one of the suburbs of Boston, about a year ago, something similar happened. A multinational decided to close down a profitable, functioning facility carrying out some high-tech manufacturing. Evidently, it just wasn’t profitable enough for them. The workforce and the union offered to buy it, take it over, and run it themselves. The multinational decided to close it down instead, probably for reasons of class-consciousness. I don’t think they want things like this to happen. If there had been enough popular support, if there had been something like the Occupy movement that could have gotten involved, they might have succeeded.

And there are other things going on like that. In fact, some of them are major. Not long ago, President Barack Obama took over the auto industry, which was basically owned by the public. And there were a number of things that could have been done. One was what was done: reconstitute it so that it could be handed back to the ownership, or very similar ownership, and continue on its traditional path.

The other possibility was to hand it over to the workforce — which owned it anyway — turn it into a worker-owned, worker-managed major industrial system that’s a big part of the economy, and have it produce things that people need. And there’s a lot that we need.

We all know or should know that the United States is extremely backward globally in high-speed transportation, and it’s very serious. It not only affects people’s lives, but the economy.  In that regard, here’s a personal story. I happened to be giving talks in France a couple of months ago and had to take a train from Avignon in southern France to Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris, the same distance as from Washington, DC, to Boston. It took two hours.  I don’t know if you’ve ever taken the train from Washington to Boston, but it’s operating at about the same speed it was 60 years ago when my wife and I first took it. It’s a scandal.

It could be done here as it’s been done in Europe. They had the capacity to do it, the skilled work force. It would have taken a little popular support, but it could have made a major change in the economy.

Just to make it more surreal, while this option was being avoided, the Obama administration was sending its transportation secretary to Spain to get contracts for developing high-speed rail for the United States, which could have been done right in the rust belt, which is being closed down. There are no economic reasons why this can’t happen. These are class reasons, and reflect the lack of popular political mobilization. Things like this continue.

Climate Change and Nuclear Weapons

I’ve kept to domestic issues, but there are two dangerous developments in the international arena, which are a kind of shadow that hangs over everything we’ve discussed. There are, for the first time in human history, real threats to the decent survival of the species.

One has been hanging around since 1945. It’s kind of a miracle that we’ve escaped it. That’s the threat of nuclear war and nuclear weapons. Though it isn’t being much discussed, that threat is, in fact, being escalated by the policies of this administration and its allies. And something has to be done about that or we’re in real trouble.

The other, of course, is environmental catastrophe. Practically every country in the world is taking at least halting steps towards trying to do something about it. The United States is also taking steps, mainly to accelerate the threat.  It is the only major country that is not only not doing something constructive to protect the environment, it’s not even climbing on the train. In some ways, it’s pulling it backwards.

And this is connected to a huge propaganda system, proudly and openly declared by the business world, to try to convince people that climate change is just a liberal hoax. “Why pay attention to these scientists?”

We’re really regressing back to the dark ages. It’s not a joke.  And if that’s happening in the most powerful, richest country in history, then this catastrophe isn’t going to be averted — and in a generation or two, everything else we’re talking about won’t matter. Something has to be done about it very soon in a dedicated, sustained way.

It’s not going to be easy to proceed. There are going to be barriers, difficulties, hardships, failures.  It’s inevitable. But unless the spirit of the last year, here and elsewhere in the country and around the globe, continues to grow and becomes a major force in the social and political world, the chances for a decent future are not very high.

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor Emeritus in the MIT Department of Linguistics and Philosophy.  A TomDispatch regular, he is the author of numerous best-selling political works, most recently, Hopes and Prospects, Making the Future, and Occupy, published by Zuccotti Park Press, from which this speech, given last October, is excerpted and adapted. His web site is www.chomsky.info.

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Source: Huffington Post

See Also

Occupy (Occupied Media Pamphlet Series) by Noam Chomsky

Occupy (book) on Wikipedia

“Precariat” (Wikipedia)

Critical Voter

critical voter

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