Nettime mailing list archives

Re: <nettime> Debt Campaign Launch
Keith Hart on Wed, 23 Nov 2011 23:18:28 +0100 (CET)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

Re: <nettime> Debt Campaign Launch

Thanks for this, Ted. I enjoyed Mark's rant, although I knew it played to
my old fart tendency. It was well-written too. Brian did a great job of
reasoning with people of unlike mind. But your post and Ed's (which is on
the other half of this split thread)  both cranked up the intellectual and
political stakes, galvanizing me into action.

You are right to say that it isn't parochial to talk mainly about the US,
given that we all live in the American empire. My academic association just
held its annual meetings. Just like African politicians between the wars
who could only meet each other in London or Paris, nationals from countries
around the world now find each other at the American meetings. That is why
OWS had such a global impact. It gave all those protestors in Egypt, Syria,
Greece, Spain and Chile some hope that the Americans might at last stir
themselves in the name of democracy. CLR James used to say in the 70s that
there are only two world revolutions left, the second Russian revolution
and the second Aemrican revolution. So we are all watching. But I want to
enlarge the part of your analysis that refers to monarchy.

It is alright to use terms like "rentseekers" and "imperial presidency",
but I believe the way to pose the question of what this economic crisis
means, not least in its US heartlands, is "Has capitalism reverted to the
Old Regime it once overthrew?" Of course Marx knew that capitalism was
feuda;lism in drag. that is why he used the term "surplus value" for the
profit of capital. But the Victorian world he knew was one where the most
reliable way to get seriously rich was to produce something useful cheaper
than your competitors, rather than use political privilege to extract rents
by threat of force. I have found Dean Baker's *The End of Loser
Liberalism*to be a wonderfully lucid introductory text explaining the
shift from
profit to rent in our time and its political consequences. It is available
as a free download at

It was easy enough to see Bush 2 and Halliburton as the King George and
East India Company de nos jours, less easy to pin these labels on Obama and
Goldman Sachs (but not impossible). I was once invited for coffee by an Air
Force colonel who worked in the Pentagon. He opened up with this: "Your Eur
wouldopeans have stolen our moral high ground (but not longer). The Chinese
have stolen our manufactures. All we have is the weapons. I guess it's
double or quits." So a legitimate question might be what sort of revolution
be adequate to displace this latterday Old Regime? This is why I find
Rousseau's* Discourse on the Origins of Inequality among Men* so salutary
and Tocqueville's rethink of *Democracy in America* two decades later, *The
Old Regime and the French Revolution*, so inspiring.

The short answer is of course a liberal revolution. But after living in the
shadow of Hegel for two centuries, interpreting that answer is going to
take a lot of work. Before heading off, I want to take seriously your
throwaway line about the generation war. In 2004 I wrote a sort of mea
culpa, 'How my generation let down our students'
http://thememorybank.co.uk/2004/12/15/december-2004/. It was a kind of
historical analysis of academic proletarianization in Britain. A guy wrote
to me from a website called *Generation* which had been running a
discussion of Hardt and Negri among other things. He said that I was the
first person of my generation who had admitted in public that we had cocked
it up for the young because of our indifference toward them. Could he
repost my article? Sure, I said, but before you launch the war, just
remember that my generation wouldn't have asked first.

CLR James wrote a book intended to save himself from deportation in New
York around 1950. It was eventually published as *American Civilization* in
1993 and is now out of print. He argued then that there was a growing
conflict between the concentration of power at the top of society and the
aspirations of people everywhere for democracy to be extended into all
areas of their lives. This conflict was most advanced in America. The
struggle was for civilization or barbarism, for individual freedom within
new and expanded conceptions of social life (democracy) or a fragmented and
repressed subjectivity stifled by coercive bureaucracies (totalitarianism).
The intellectuals, he thought, were caught between the expansion of
bureaucracy and the growing power and presence of people as a force in
world society. Unable to recognize that people?s lives mattered more than
their own ideas, they oscillated between an introspective individualism
(psychoanalysis) and service to the ruling powers, whether of the right
(fascism) or left (Stalinism).

 As a result, the traditional role of the intellectual as an independent
witness and critic standing unequivocally for truth had been seriously
compromised. The absorption of the bulk of intellectuals as wage slaves and
pensioners of academic bureaucracy not only removed their independence but
separated their specialized activities from social life. I still believe
most of that, but I know an awful lot of American intellectuals who don't.
Most of them have taken refuge in the universities.

Keith Hart

On Wed, Nov 23, 2011 at 9:27 AM, t byfield <tbyfield {AT} panix.com> wrote:

> The secular trend is simple enough: with each new decade, edudebt has
> become increasingly oppressive, to the point where it's now a modern form
> of indenture plain and simple.

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime>  is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: http://mx.kein.org/mailman/listinfo/nettime-l
#  archive: http://www.nettime.org contact: nettime {AT} kein.org