Marx's Fundamental Insight into Capitalism

I have been thinking about the way MacIntyre uses Marx in Ethics in the Conflicts of Modernity. He says a couple of times that Marx’s key insight into capitalism is the theory of surplus value. But it seems to me that what MacIntyre’s argument actually shows is that it is Marx’s insight into the way use value is subordinated to exchange value that is really the key insight. The two are closely related, but I think they are distinguishable.

The account of the subordination of use value to exchange value is something that Marx develops out of his reading of Aristotle (as I have discussed before). He contrasts the case where one exchanges good (C) for money (M) in order to buy other goods that one needs (C-M-C) with the case where one exchanges money for goods in order to exchange them for even more money (M-C-M’).

Capitalism is set up to get you M-C-M’. That is it is set up to increase exchange value and use value is produced for the sake of exchange value. So that equation is an expression of the subordination of use to exchange. According to Meikle, whom MacIntyre cites, this is the true essence of capitalism:

In order to capture the difference between capitalist economy and pre-capitalist ‘economy’ the distinction required is that between use-value and exchange-value. The most fundamental question to be asked about a society is which of these predominates in it. A capitalist society is predominantly a system or exchange-value; economics is the study of the developed forms of exchange-value and of the regularities in its movement, or ‘actual market mechanisms,’ and it can come into being only with the appearance of full-blown market economy, that is, with markets in labour and capital, Antiquity was predominantly a system of use-value, partially administered, and if it had regularities, these were nothing like the cycles, laws, and trends which characterize a system of exchange-value.

I think he is correct.

Of course, the theory of surplus value is meant to explain where the increase in value comes from that gives you M’ in the equation. Marx thinks it comes from exploitation, and this is the essence of capitalism.

Doubtless, there is a lot of exploitation going on in capitalist economies, and this is a great injustice. But it seems to me that Marx’s account of exploitation is too simplistic. Moreover it is hard to reconcile with the teachings of Rerum novarum and Quadragesimo anno on the cooperation of productive property and labor:

Hence it follows that unless a man is expending labor on his own property, the labor of one person and the property of another must be associated, for neither can produce anything without the other. Leo XIII certainly had this in mind when he wrote: “Neither capital can do without labor, nor labor without capital.”[Rerum novarum] Wherefore it is wholly false to ascribe to property alone or to labor alone whatever has been obtained through the combined effort of both, and it is wholly unjust for either, denying the efficacy of the other, to arrogate to itself whatever has been produced. (Quadragesimo anno §53)

So the most fundamental insight into capitalism is not the theory of surplus value, but rather the theory of the relation between exchange value and use value on which that theory is based. It is this relation that supports the lust for money through social pressure. And then in order to satisfy that lust for money it has to create fake needs in consumers, propagating a false image of the good life. As MacIntyre puts it:

[W]hat agents learn from both success and failure in market transactions is the importance of increasing whatever money they have, by selling for as much as possible, by buying as cheaply as possible, by saving, and by investing, and this no matter how much money they may have already. So they learn to want more and then more and then more and become consumed by their own desires. Moreover, it is by how good they are at increasing their stock of money that others measure their success or failure, admire them or withhold their admiration. So the trait that the Greeks called pleonexia, acquisitiveness, a trait that both Aristotle and Aquinas took to be a vice, comes for the first time to be treated as a virtue by large numbers of people and money becomes an object of desire, not only for what it can buy, but also for its own sake. Yet this is not all.
Every economic order is an order of producers who are also consumers and what distinguishes one such order from another is in part how those who inhabit it understand the relationship between their activities as producers and their activities as consumers. The paradox of capitalism is that, while it requires that consumption should serve the ends of expanding production, it imposes on many a way of life in which their work, their productive activity, is thought of as valuable only because it serves the ends of consumption. It creates consumer societies in which its products can be successfully marketed only if the desires of consumers are directed toward whatever consumable objects the economy needs them to want. So the seductive rhetoric of advertising and the deceptions of marketing become necessary means for capitalist expansion, means that shape and elicit desires for objects that agents qua rational agents, directed toward the ends of human flourishing, have no good reason to desire. (Ethics in the Conflicts of Modernity, p. 109).

The Pope’s Two Bodies: the The Weinandy-Farrow Thesis as Lancastrian Ecclesiology

In a recent article for The Catholic Thing, the Capuchin theologian Fr. Thomas Weinandy comes to some rather startling conclusions. He argues that Pope Francis is both the visible ruler of the Church on earth— as Vicar of Christ— but also at the same time the head of a ‘schismatic church’ which has separated itself from the Unity of the Una, Sancta, Catholica. Here are Fr. Weinandy’s words at length:

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Integralism and the Lamb that was Slain

Over at Church Life Journal I have an article up responding to a critique of integralism by Timothy Troutner. I give an exposition of the goods of hierarchy and obedience, and how true freedom and equality depend on them. I argue that the exercise of temporal power for spiritual ends can be a good, albeit secondary, instrument in aiding persons toward their final end. The article was rather long as it was, so I didn’t have time to go into the specific instances of the use of such power that Troutner mentions, and distinguish the good ones from the bad ones. So, as a sort of addendum to my article, I will briefly consider four of them here: 1) the possession of slaves, 2) the burning of heretics, 3) the persecution of Jews, and 4) the “Mortara Case.”

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Ignaz Seipel on Double-Citizens

I’ve been reading Nation und Staat by Msgr. Ignaz Seipel, chancellor of Austria in the 1920s. He makes the following interesting point about persons whose parents are from different nations or different states:

Even when one’s father and mother come from different nations, he is generally led by education and external circumstances to feel himself a member of one nation, while his feelings for the other, whose language he speaks perhaps just as well and whose way of life is familiar to him, are merely friendly and not national. But should in an exceptional case someone really not feel more a part of one nation than the other, then he is certainly not a double-nationalist, but not nationalist at all. In this case, the cosmopolitan feeling has displaced the national feeling. Similarly, no one is a patriot in two states. Although the laws do not always exclude the citizen of a state acquiring or keeping citizenship in an other state, nevertheless, the devotion and enthusiasm that are essential to patriotism are not capable of being divided between two states.

Wenn auch jemandes Vater und Mutter verschie­dener Nation waren, so führen ihn doch in der Regel die Er­ziehung, die äußeren Lebensumstände oder auch eigene Neigung dazu, daß er sich dennoch als Angehöriger e i n e r Nation fühlt, während seine Empfindungen für die andere, deren Sprache er vielleicht gleich gut beherrscht und mit deren Lebensart er völlig vertraut ist, nur freundschaftliche, nicht aber eigentlich nationale sind. Sollte sich aber ausnahmsweise jemand tatsächlich nicht der einen Nation mehr zugehörig fühlen als der anderen, dann ist er keinesfalls doppelt national, sondern gar nicht. Das weltbürger­liche Empfinden ersetzt und verdrängt in diesem Fall das nationale. Und ähnlich ist niemand Patriot in zwei Staaten. Die Gesetze schließen es zwar nicht immer aus, daß der Bürger eines Staates neben der eigenen Staatsangehörigkeit eine fremde erwerbe oder beibehalte. Aber jene Hinneigung, jene Begeisterung, die dem Patriotismus wesentlich ist, läßt sich ihrer Natur nach nicht auf zwei Vaterländer verteilen. (Nation und Staat, p. 3).

His observation fits with my own experience, of growing up with an Austrian father and an American mother. My approach to the question of immigration, which some of my friends find it so difficult to understand, is, I suppose, partly an effect of ‘the cosmopolitan feeling [displacing] the national feeling.’

Max Weber’s Critique of Marx

In my post “Use Values and Corn Laws, Aristotelian Marxists and High Tories” I argued that Marx’s analysis of capitalism contains some insights that can be useful to those who, like me, reject his egalitarianism and atheism. The post was mainly taken from a longer writing project, which has since been completed, but won’t be coming out for some time. In the same project I also argue that Marx’s analysis is missing some key insights that a necessary to understand capitalism. Particularly, I argue that Max Weber was right to criticize the excessive materialist determinism in Marx’s economic thought. Marx is surely right that the conditions of production influence human social life, but man is a rational animal, and his reasoning can never be entirely reduced to the “superstructure” concealing a material “infrastructure.” As Weber put it:

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Integralism Today

Artur Rosman invited me to write something on integralism for Church Life Journal, and so it went up today under the title “What Is Integralism Today?“— a reference to Balthasar’s “Integralismus heute“. Here is a snip:

All political agents, whether they admit it or not, imply some definite conception of the good for man in their action. As Leo Strauss used to tell his students, all political action is concerned with change or preservation. When it is concerned with change it is concerned with change for the better. When it is concerned with preservation it is concerned with preventing change for the worse. But the concepts of better and worse imply a concept of the good. Therefore, all political action is concerned with the good. The Weberian account of separate spheres of social activity, each acting according to its own inherent rationality, conceals more than it reveals of modern social life. There is not and cannot be a neutral “political rationality” that reduces politics to a technique of achieving certain penultimate objectives. For, such penultimate objectives can only become objectives pursued by human beings when they are ordered to an (implicit) ultimate objective. And if the ultimate objective is not the true end of man, the City of God, then it will be a false end, the diabolical city.

Read the rest at Church Life Journal.

St. Augustine on the Trans Moment

Concerning the effeminates consecrated to the same Great Mother, in defiance of all the modesty which belongs to men and women, Varro has not wished to say anything, nor do I remember to have read anywhere anything concerning them. These effeminates, no later than yesterday, were going through the streets and places of Carthage with anointed hair, whitened faces, relaxed bodies, and feminine gait, exacting from the people the means of maintaining their ignominious lives. Nothing has been said concerning them. Interpretation failed, reason blushed, speech was silent. The Great Mother has surpassed all her sons, not in greatness of deity, but of crime. To this monster not even the monstrosity of Janus is to be compared. His deformity was only in his image; hers was the deformity of cruelty in her sacred rites. He has a redundancy of members in stone images; she inflicts the loss of members on men. This abomination is not surpassed by the licentious deeds of Jupiter, so many and so great. He, with all his seductions of women, only disgraced heaven with one Ganymede; she, with so many avowed and public effeminates, has both defiled the earth and outraged heaven. (Civ. Dei VII,26)