Struggle between the Communautarianism of the Radical Enlightenment and the Possessive Individualism of the Moderate Enlightenment

From P2P Foundation
Jump to navigation Jump to search


Arran Gare:

"Since the end of the Eighteenth Century there has been a struggle, often confused, between the humanists associated with the Radical Enlightenment and the atomists and mechanists associated with the Moderate Enlightenment. The former have defended the potential of humans through being educated to take responsibility for themselves, their communities and the future, the latter have claimed that the distinctive qualities of humans with their apparent consciousness and freedom are illusions that can be explained away. They have defended egoism in the context of social mechanisms, most importantly, imposed markets and punitive laws and their enforcement to protect life and property along with the manufacture of consent to maintain order. Proponents of the Radical Enlightenment have defended communitarianism of one form or another while proponents of the Moderate Enlightenment have defended possessive individualism. For the Radical Enlightenment, liberty is equated to not being enslaved and being empowered by developing their potential to participate in the life of their communities; for the Moderate Enlightenment, liberty is equated with freedom from constraint in private life, providing the life and property of others are respected.

The Radical Enlightenment involves a commitment to democracy, while the Moderate Enlightenment involves efforts to impose and extend markets, and rule by plutocracy. While often confused, the forms of thinking upholding the Radical Enlightenment were developed in the humanities where the importance of philosophy, history, literature and the arts were upheld as essential to the cultivation of character and advance of civilization, while the forms of thinking upholding the Moderate Enlightenment were developed in the sciences and economics faculties of universities. The two traditions collided in the human sciences, with proponents of the Radical Enlightenment defending humanistic approaches treating humans as essentially cultural beings capable of achieving self-determination, and the Moderate Enlightenment arguing that the human sciences should conform to the natural sciences and produce the knowledge required to control people efficiently.

It is more complicated than this, however, since many philosophers aligned themselves with the Moderate Enlightenment, promoting “scientism,” the view that only science, mathematics and logic provide genuine knowledge, accepting that history, literature and the arts, or “high culture,” are simply refined amusements. Almost always, this involved defending reductionist approaches in the sciences with the conviction that economics and other human sciences could be modelled on and finally reduced to the natural sciences. In the Twentieth Century this reductionism was strongly defended through logical positivism. The ultimate aim of such reductionists has been to reduce all explanations to mathematical models. Conversely, as I have noted, many mathematicians and scientists have rejected such reductionism and in the tradition inspired by Schelling and the Naturphilosophen have striven to overcome reductionism and align the sciences with the humanities (Gare, 2011).

This complication and confusion were vastly increased through the work and influence of Marx. Marx was and is a major figure in the Radical Enlightenment, being inspired by the German Renaissance. The triumph of the Moderate Enlightenment was associated with huge technological advances along with concentrations of wealth, an industrial revolution, impoverishment of the working class, recurring depressions and imperialism, mainly by Britain and France. Marx exposed the irrationality and illusions of freedom created by the Moderate Enlightenment where people were being alienated from their own work and its products as they were forced to sell their labour power as a commodity, at the same time, alienating them from each other, from nature and from their humanity (their “species-being”). Most people in Nineteenth Century Britain were being reduced to wage-slaves under appalling conditions and people in colonized countries were being subjugated and impoverished. However, in searching for a solution to this problem, Marx placed his faith in the growth of the working class and its potential to take power and gain control over the rapidly developing means of production. However, he did not publish his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 where he analysed alienation, and at one stage, he formulated a theory of history claiming that the development of the base, consisting of forces of production (technology) and relations of production, was the driving force in history, with the superstructure simply serving this base. Marx left it very unclear what kind of social order could be created to replace capitalism, putting his faith in a revolution that would establish a ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ without spelling out the implications of this, even when challenged to do so by the Russian anarchist, Mikhail Bakunin.

Although Marx himself rejected the base-superstructure model of society in his major work, Capital, having expunged it from the final version (White, p.461), this characterization of history was embraced by most Marxists, particularly outside the advanced capitalist countries. What these supposedly orthodox Marxists aspired to was ‘scientific socialism’ based on a conception of humans far closer to the Moderate Enlightenment than the Radical Enlightenment. Orthodox Marxism was essentially Hobbesian Marxism.

With the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, there were many followers of Marx who understood the radical nature of Marx’s critique of political economy and rejected the base-superstructure model of society. The most important of these were Alexander Bogdanov and his brother-in-law, Anatoly Lunacharsky, who became Commissar for Enlightenment (or Education) (White, 2019). Bogdanov argued that the creation of a new social order would involve the creation of a new culture (proletkult), incorporating the best of all previous cultures but going beyond them, overcoming Cartesian dualism and the mechanistic view of nature and according value to “ideological” work as well as physical work. With the support of Lunacharsky, this vision inspired enormous creativity in the 1920s, not only in the arts and humanities, but also in the development of post-reductionist science, most importantly, ecology, although many objected to the characterization of this new culture as ‘proletarian’ culture. This creativity was associated with the discovery and publication of Marx’s Manuscripts of 1844 and other early writings, revealing the deeper assumptions about humans and humanity driving Marx’s critique of capitalism, and vindicating philosophers such as György Lukács who had interpreted Marx as a radical Hegelian thinker.

However, orthodox Marxism was used to justify the creation of command economy, which under Stalin served to rapidly industrialize the Soviet Union, but effectively enslaved most of the population to a new class of bureaucrats and technocrats, as Bogdanov had predicted (Gare, 1994). It had no place for those involved in the creative burst in the arts, the humanities and the sciences in the 1920s, and many of the major figures in this cultural renaissance were sent to the Gulag.

Some were executed in the 1937 purge. David Riazanov, who founded the Marx-Engels Institute and published Marx’s Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, was executed in 1937. Pavel Medvedev, a member of the famous Bakhtin circle and author of the brilliant The Formal Method in Literature Scholarship, was arrested in 1930 and shot in 1938. The Bolshevik order facilitated the defence of Russia, but also the expansion of what was really a Russian Empire. Bolshevism under Stalin proved to be at least as brutal as capitalism, although this was only fully revealed in the 1950s. "