Monday, October 18, 2010

Moralism vs. Meliorism

Sandy Levinson, at Balkinization, asks how libertarians might respond to the recent rescue of miners in Chile, which was largely funded by the Chilean state. Levinson thinks the Chilean state was right to step in and ensure that the rescue effort was made, but thinks this stepping in by the state does not sit well with libertarian notions about legitimate state action, since the state was not protecting anyone against a violation of their rights. That is, the Chilean state was acting as an insurer, not as a police force. If one admits that the Chilean state was right to act as an insurer in this case, then Levinson thinks one will be hard pressed not to endorse a welfare state, which acts as insurer in lots of cases. So, libertarians are supposedly caught between a) admitting that the state rightfully serves a welfare function, and b) looking like hard-hearted bastards who think it was wrong for the miners to be rescued.

Jacob Levy responds by saying -- these are my terms, not his -- that there's a difference between legitimacy and justification. The Chilean state, like all states, has way more power than is legitimate. This is, in large part, because actual states are never the outcome of social contracts:

CFP: Rethinking Reification


Panel to be held at the 2011 meeting of the Society for Existential and Phe-nomenological Theory and Culture, May 31–June 3, at the University of New Brunswick and St. Thomas University, in conjunction with the Congress of the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences.

For much of the twentieth century, the concept of reification was a powerful tool in the intellectual arsenal of Marxist social critique. Beginning with Georg Lukács, and continuing through the work of figures such as Horkheimer, Ador-no, and Marcuse, the concept provided critical social theory with an incisive analytical capacity that also lent normative support to emancipatory goals. Along with much of the conceptual apparatus of Marxism, however, during the latter decades of the twentieth century the idea of reification grew increasingly marginalized within humanistic and social-scientific disciplines. With the new century, though, there are signs of renewed interest in the concept—for exam-ple, Timothy Bewes’ Reification, or the Anxiety of Late Capitalism (2002), Axel Honneth’s Reification: A New Look at an Old Idea (2008), and Kevin Floyd’s The Reification of Desire: Toward a Queer Marxism (2009). While such contribu-tions differ considerably in terms of their disciplinary foci and underlying theo-retical commitments, they nonetheless jointly attest to the idea that there may be an important place for a renewed concept of reification within contempo-rary critical social theory. The aim of this panel is to explore — from phenome-nological and existential perspectives — the potential value and feasibility of such a conceptual retrieval. Papers may address any aspect of reification, al-though those with a contemporary focus and/or interdisciplinary approach are especially welcome.

Paper proposals should be sent to Bryan Smyth ( by December 1, 2010. Proposals should include the title, author’s name, institu-tional affiliation, and a detailed abstract of approximately 250 words. Propos-als will be initially reviewed by the panel organizers, and acceptance will be conditional upon the author’s ability to submit a complete paper (not more than 4000 words) by February 1, 2011 for anonymous review.

For further information, contact Bryan Smyth (

Thursday, October 14, 2010

CFP: The Spirit of Capital: A Conference on Hegel and Marx

APRIL 28TH -29TH, 2011

“It is impossible completely to understand Marx’s Capital, and especially its first chapter, without having thoroughly studied and understood the whole of Hegel’sLogic. Consequently, half a century later none of the Marxists understood Marx!!” wrote Lenin in 1915. In 1969, Althusser responded, “A century and a half later no one has understood Hegel because it is impossible to understand Hegel without having thoroughly studied and understood Capital.” What are we to make of this challenge today? Are we now ready to understand Hegel through Marx, and Marx through Hegel? 
It is high time for a reassessment of the core stakes of the Marx-Hegel debate. What would it mean to think the concepts of capital and spirit together? This conference is a place to explore the internal relations between Hegel and Marx’s philosophical projects. Some possible questions include: how does Hegel’s phenomenology, logic, philosophy of nature, history and right internally contain the elements that Marx will use to decipher the world of property, labor, commodities and capital? Is Capital a logical theory of forms or a theory of history? How does Marx negate and realize Hegel’s project? What is the role of labor in Hegel, and the role of spirit in Marx? Does the development of history show the unfolding of freedom or the unfolding of capital?  This conference echoes the early Frankfurt school tradition, with its project for a critique of the social forms of the present. We encourage submissions on a wide range of topics and thinkers:
Possible Themes
Capital and Spirit
Hegel’s Logic and Marx’s Grundrisse
Property, Alienation, and Class
Form and Content in Hegel and Marx
Concrete and Abstract Labor
Master and Slave
Critique, Dialectic and Method
Time and History
Freedom and Necessity
Substance and Subject in Capital
The Value-Form
Critique of Labor
Revolution and Negation
Materialism and Idealism
Proletarian Self-Abolition
Commodity, Money and Capital
The Philosophy of Right

Possible Thinkers:
I.I. Rubin
György Lukács
Karl Korsch
Ernst Bloch
Walter Benjamin
Alfred Sohn-Rethel
Theodore Adorno
Herbert Marcuse
CLR James
Raya Dunayevskaya
Guy Debord
Alexander Kojeve
Jean Hyppolite
Frantz Fanon
Helmut Reichelt
Hans-Georg Backhaus
Gillian Rose


Papers should be sent as word documents or pdfs, not exceeding 5000 words. Personal information including institutional affiliation is to be sent in the body of the email and should not appear on the paper itself or in the file name.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Redeeming History: What It Is, and What It Is Not

On the basis of my lecture today:
Franz Fanon, in "On Violence," makes the following, arresting claim: “The violence which governed the ordering of the colonial world […] will be vindicated and appropriated when, taking history into their own hands, the colonized swarm into the forbidden cities.” (pp. 5-6)

This seems to say that colonialism will come to be justified, retrospectively, by decolonization.  This theme in Fanon is an echo of a theme in Marxism and many other radical liberation movements: that of an eschatological redemption of history, or the justification of suffering by its overcoming.