Karl Marx

Etienne Vermeersch : Provençaalse gesprekken

Etienne Vermeersch’s ‘Provençaalse gesprekken’ was een van de meest inspirerende boeken dat ik sinds een tijd had gelezen. Niet dat ik het altijd eens was met meneer Vermeersch, maar de delen waar ik zijn mening niet deelde waren minstens net zo inspirerend als die waarover ik het volledig met hem eens was. Hij heeft mij dus vaak aan het denken gezet… (more…)

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Bertrand Russell : A History of Western Philosophy

I’d had high expectations of this book, and I wasn’t disappointed. Since reading it I’m very much a confirmed Bertrand Russell fan, and if I was in the habit of putting pictures of my heroes on the wall, I’m sure his would be among them. The full title of the book is A History of Western Philosophy And Its Connection with Political and Social Circumstances from the Earliest Times to the Present Day, and the preface to the edition I read starts as follows:

Many histories of philosophy exist, and it has not been my purpose merely to add one to their number. My purpose is to exhibit philosophy as an integral part of social and political life: not as the isolated speculations of remarkable individuals, but as both an effect and a cause of the character of the various communities in which different systems flourished.

In other words, Russell wants to put philosophy into its social and political context, and I think he succeeds very well. That said, and excellent though this book is, it could still have been better if Russell had spent slightly less time on the Middle Ages and on people like Plotinus, St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, and dealt more fully with the much more interesting philosophers of the last few centuries. Ever since I started to look into western philosophy in any detail, I’ve become more and more convinced that although many of the pre-Socratic philosophers, certainly up to Democritus, did their best to search for truth in an honest, dispassionate and careful manner, things went rapidly downhill from there on. While people like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle certainly were great thinkers and had some brilliant ideas, the basis of their thought was fundamentally flawed, and they sent philosophy off in completely the wrong direction. As soon as it fell into the hands of the Christians things got even worse, and we have to wait till the Renaissance before they gradually start to improve and get back on the right track. Only with people like Hobbes, Descartes, Locke, Hume and Kant can we really say that honest, unprejudiced investigation has regained its rightful place. Reading this book I see plenty of evidence that Russell would more or less agree with this analysis, so why does he waste so much time on the Middle Ages, rather than moving on more quickly to something more interesting? If and when I read this book again, there are large sections which I shall be skipping! (more…)

Bob Black : The Abolition of Work, and other essays

Before coming across The Abolition of Work, and other essays I’d never even heard of Bob Black, but by the time I’d finished (in fact by the time I was even half way through my first reading of the title essay), I could definitely count myself a fan.

The Abolition of Work started life as a speech, and even though it was changed and expanded before appearing in print, it still has s strongly oratorical feel about it. That means it’s designed first and foremost to impress and convince the first-time listener or reader, sometimes sacrificing points of detail, scientific evidence and background information to “the majestic breadth and sweep of [the] argument”. This can give the impression that Black perhaps isn’t aware of, or isn’t interested in, the obvious objections to his ideas, and that he’s just sketching a vague and superficial picture of some sort of utopia without bothering too much about whether his ideas could ever be put into practice. It’s obvious from the start that Black is an intelligent guy and a good writer (or speaker), with a good sense of humour – even if he’s slightly too addicted to word-plays and to phrases such as ” If you’re not revolting against work, you’re working against revolt” and “In place of ‘majority rule’ we see an increasingly unruly majority”! It’s also clear that what he writes can be interesting, entertaining and even inspiring, but is there more to him than that? In other words, does he really know what he’s talking about? And does he deserve to be taken seriously ? Reading more of his essays, many of them more or less directly related to his ideas on work, was enough to convince me that he’s done his homework: he’s read widely, studied deeply and thought long and hard about everything he writes in this essay, and yes, he definitely does deserve to be taken seriously! (more…)

David Harvey : The Enigma of Capital and the Crises of Capitalism

The Cambridge Online Dictionary defines ‘enigma’ as “something that is mysterious and seems impossible to understand completely”, and that definitely applies to capitalism. David Harvey is very conscious of the urgent necessity of making it less mysterious, and of the fact that this mystery, this opacity, far from being unavoidable, is deliberately maintained and promoted by those whose interests lie in keeping things mysterious:

Unravelling the enigma of capital, rendering transparent what political power always wants to keep opaque, is crucial to any revolutionary strategy. (p.241,7)

He goes a long way towards unravelling this enigma, even if not quite as far as I’d (perhaps overoptimistically) hoped. When trying to understand anything complex it’s important to look at it from a higher level, to step back and see things in perspective, to see the general principles which are so easily obscured by the many practical details – and this is especially difficult when the person trying to understand the system finds himself sitting in the middle of it, as is the case with any attempt to understand the existing economic system. If you’re in the middle of a wood, you can’t see the wood for the trees… (more…)