The White House
November 27, 2014
At last, the time has come in which all that human beings had considered as inalienable has become the object of exchange, of traffic, and may be alienated. It is a time when the very things which before were conveyed, but never bartered; given, but never sold; conquered, but never purchased -- virtue, love, opinion, science, conscience etc. -- when, in short, everything has finally become tradable. It is a time of generalized corruption, universal venality or, to speak in terms of political economy, the time when anything, moral or physical, receives a venal value, and may be taken to market to be appraised for its appropriate value.
Each progress of the capitalist agriculture is not only a progress in the art of exploiting the worker, but also in the art of plundering the soil; each short term progress in fertility is a progress in the long term destruction of the basis of this fertility. ( . . ) Capitalist production thus only develops . . . but at the same time exhausting the two springs from which flow all wealth: the land and the laborer.One can see here the expression of a really dialectical view of progress -- also suggested by the ironical way the word is used -- which could be the starting point for a systematic ecological thinking, but this was not to be developed by Marx
The pursuit of riches is fully stripped of all pleasurable, and surely all hedonistic aspects. Accordingly, this striving becomes understood completely as an end in itself -- to such an extent that it appears as fully outside the normal course of affairs and simply irrational, at least when viewed from the perspective of the 'happiness' or 'utility' of the single individual. Here, people are oriented to acquisition as the purpose of life: acquisition is no longer viewed as a means to the end of satisfying the substantive needs of life. Those people in possession of spontaneous (unbefangene) dispositions experience this situation as an absolutely meaningless reversal of 'natural' conditions (as we would say today). Yet, this reversal constitutes just as surely a guiding principle of [modern] capitalism as incomprehension of this new situation characterizes all who remain untouched by [modern] capitalism's tentacles."Supreme expression of modern aim- oriented rationality -- Weber's Zweckrationalität or, according to the Frankfurt School, instrumental rationality -- capitalist economy reveals itself, from the viewpoint of the "substantive needs of life." or of human happiness, as "simply irrational" or "absolutely meaningless." Weber returns several times to this issue in The Protestant Ethic, always insisting on the irrationality -- his emphasis -- of the logic of capitalist accumulation: a comparison between the spirit of capitalism and economic traditionalism -- for whom business is simply "indispensable to life" -- "renders obvious the irrationality, from the viewpoint of one's personal happiness, of this way of organizing life: people live for their business rather than the reverse."
The peculiar irrationality formed within the process of rationalization (…) also appears to Weber in terms of this relation between means and ends, which for him is the basis for the concepts of rationality and freedom -- namely, in terms of a reversal of this relation. (…) Means as ends make themselves independent and thus lose their original 'meaning' or purpose, that is, they lose their original purposive rationality oriented to man and his needs. This reversal marks the whole of modern civilization, whose arrangements, institutions and activities are so 'rationalized,' that whereas humanity once established itself within them, now it is they which enclose and determine humanity like an 'iron cage.' Human conduct, from which these institutions originally arose, must now in turn adapt to its own creation which has escaped the control of the creator.
Weber himself declared that here lies the real problem of culture -- rationalization towards the irrational -- and that he and Marx agreed in the definition of this problem but differed in its evaluation. (…) This paradoxical inversion -- this 'tragedy of culture,' as Simmel has termed it -- becomes most clearly evident when it occurs in exactly the type of activity whose innermost intention is that it be specifically rational, namely, in economically rational activity. And precisely here it becomes plainly apparent that, and how, behavior which is purely purposive-rational in intention turns inexorably into its own opposite in the process of its rationalization.