Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Ressentiment of Socialism and Class Struggle

Against my better inclinations, I've already been compelled to write on political philosophical issues. But, I've taken issue with Sam's description of intuitive socialism, along with his implicit defense of this sort of socialism as the better solution, as the response to capitalism which opens on to a society in which one finds the importance of community and the response to the excesses of individualism. My claim is that, first of all, I fail to see how this weaker form of socialism is at all 'intuitive' in a very meaningful way. Or I should say that if this is the intuitive form of socialism, it can only be etymologically intuitive -- that is, "social" - "ism" is that ism which speaks to the urge towards the social. If this is the intuitive sense of socialism, then as the response to capitalism, it remains fairly meaningless, since capitalism also doesn't do away with the social element of the capitalist community. This socialism would speak nothing at all to class struggle, nothing at all to alienation, and nothing at all to the teleology of history that characterizes the whole history of the tradition of socialist thought.

However, every socialism which opposes itself to capitalism always does so on the basis of the historical struggles between classes, in particular the lower classes against the higher classes. This is why Marx, and every other socialist theory or system, always speaks to struggle of the "worker." The teleology of historical socialism is the rise of the lower classes terminating in the evolution of a classless society. However, a classless society only occurs on the basis of the disappearance of the other classes. The privileged class, in the sense of the surviving class and the class which attains an historical normativity and absoluteness of perspective, is that of the "worker." Every other class becomes an obstacle to this class and its historical destiny, and herein lies the problem and the clue to the fact that socialism does not and cannot purport to be anything but the ressentiment, or hatred, of the "workers" over their situation.

I use the term ressentiment, a French term first used in its technical, philosophical sense by Friedrich Nietzsche which can literally be translated as "resentment," though it means much more than that, in order to describe a certain type of reponse and feeling of hatred and resentment, a certain longing for revenge or reversal of power relationships, that I believe characterizes every socialism. The "workers" of socialism rise up in hatred and jealousy against the upper classes, demanding a redistribution of wealth and power, which cannot be accomplished without the destruction of the upper classes and the bourgeoisie. The ressentiment of socialism is often covered up and disguised in the form of vague humanisms, the love of mankind, which becomes really only the love of a certain class, the "worker," or perhaps, in it's most deluded moments, in the "tough-love" for the upper classes who would be "better" people, perhaps, without all of their wealth and their abuse of power. However, from a Christian standpoint, it must be remembered that "love is never jealous," it never rejoices in the destruction of others or other classes, but "rejoices only in the right."

In contrast to the capitalism-socialism debate of the nineteenth, twentieth, and now again twenty-first centuries, Christianity has posed itself as a third option, one which rejects both options of two sides of the same bad coin. While I have certainly rejected socialism as nothing more than the ressentiment of the "worker," I do not mean to defend the upper classes against the lower, nor to reject the need for justice for the poor and the development of a just economic situation. However, this must only be accomplished on the basis of the universal love which Christianity preaches. Christianity does not preach a classless society, but rather preaches that class distinctions are not important before God and shouldn't accord any greater honor or dishonor among men. However, there must be justice for the poor and the rich alike. Charity, as the defining virtue of a Christian community, demands that society should take care of all of its members, though it is important to recognize that for the Christian, society does not equal government, but rather society as Christian society equals the "Kingdom of God," the "People of God," i.e. the Church. It is the Church and Church communities that are responsible for building a society of virtue and thus of ensuring that people take care of one another and develop a community in which there is justice for the poor and rich alike. But this must a society in which greed and jealousy are rejected in all forms and in every class.

One can, however, hardly expect a philosophical theory ever to accomplish or encompass this sort of love which builds virtue and alters the very character of a society. In all likelihood, the philosophers will continue to be caught up in this debate and will never extricate themselves from these systems of ressentiment. In the process, I fear that society will continue to be subjected to incessant references to Adam Smith and Karl Marx and get nowhere in the process.


samrocha said...

I really like what you have done here, Bill. This is one reason I am put off by Marxist sensibilities. The weakness of my approach is, at its best, something of the sort you argue for. However, the reality of classism makes it rather annoying to address so piously. I will write something up tomorrow...

Adam said...

Americans are among the last people debating Marxism.

Modern socialism is about a European-style mixed economy, not the plight of the proletariat.