You are on page 1of 21

Whitener 1

I. Definition

1. Zoon Politikon: Adjectival phrase connoting the necessity of communal relations in the

lives of individual human beings. The individual does not and cannot exist independently of

other individuals; his unique capacities qua man (lexis and praxis) are forever directed toward

the procurement of justice, and the cultivation of happiness both for himself and the

community of which he is a part. The telos of civil society, is then, contingent on, and co-

emergent with, the individuals who collectively constitute it.

2. Mode of production: The manner or means according to which goods are created, and

services are rendered. The productive capacities of an economic system may be divided into

three groups according to the manner in which they come to be; they are either: (1) the

product of human labor, (2) the product of mechanized action, or (3) the product of both. By

producing surplus value in its labors, the specific mode of production constantly reproduces

the foundations of the socio-economic system on which it is constructed.

3. Relations of Production: A series of social and technical interconnections between

members of a given economic system, the objective(s) of whom, are the continuation of their

material lives, and the preservation of the socio-economic system in which they are,

necessarily, participants.

4. Class: A collection of persons who share a common social standing, the distinction of

which is constituted by political or economic prominence. Marx contends that the capitalist

economic system creates and sustains two distinct classes: (1) the bourgeoisie, who own the

means of production, and (2) the proletariat, who operate the means of production. In the

modern, “post-capitalist” economic system, these class distinctions have largely been

subverted
Whitener 2

by the supra-personal machinery of the system itself, and increasingly cease to function as

classificatory means for a sociological analysis.

5. Alienation: An obstruction in the relation between persons and those principles upon which

their actuality qua human being, is naturally and fundamentally dependant. For Marx,

alienation conveys a separation of persons from those natural principles from which they may

derive meaning, purpose, and value in their lives; as a result, man’s essence is perverted to a

mere means to his existence. Alienation may manifest itself in four ways: (1) from the

product of man’s labor, (2) from the process of laboring from free, creative activity, (3) from

one’s species being, and (4) from one’s fellow human beings. As man is a naturally political

animal, dependant upon interaction with his fellow men for his actuality, economic alienation

would strip from him, his ability to exist as a genuinely human “species being.”

6. Species being: The essential characteristics, drives, and tendencies that constitute specific

differences in the genus animal. The species ‘man’ of the genus ‘animal’ requires the

realization of consciousness, of free, human spirit in order to differentiate it’s essence from

that of lower-order species. Moreover, man’s existence as a species being must be directed

toward some substantive and communal life-activity, but must never become solely that

toward which his life is directed.

7. Capital: The quantitative value derived by the owners of the means of production from the

raw materials, instruments of labor, and means of subsistence of all kinds, which are, in turn,

used to produce a means of new production. Capital presupposes wage labor; wage labor

presupposes capital; their existences are co-emergent and reciprocal.

Whitener 3
Money: A universal measure of value, qualitatively equal, and quantitatively comparable,

whose denomination is not derivative from the productive capacities of an individual laborer,

but the economic system of which he is part.

8. Commodity: The economically beneficial byproduct of individual or collective labor

power. For a commodity to have worth, it must possess either: (1) a use value or (2) an

exchange value.

Commodity Fetishism: A failure to recognize the value of a commodity as derivative from

human labor power, not simply from its utility or capacity for exchange in a social relation.

The result of which, is that the social character of man’s labor assumes a commodified, and

entirely objective character, “stamped upon the product of that labor.” The relation of the

laborers to the sum of their labors will then, be reduced from a social relation between

themselves, to an objectified relation between them and the mere products of their labor. The

consequence, is an obstruction in the relational consciousness between participants and the

political community of which they are part.

9. Use value: The capacity of a good or service to be utilized for the satisfaction of some

desired need, want, or purpose. Use-value, the “qualitative” aspect of value constitutes the

manner in which a commodity satisfies need.

Exchange value: The proportion in which values in use of one sort are exchanged for those of

another. As use-values, commodities are, above all, of different qualities, but as exchange

values, they are merely different quantities, and consequently do not contain a scintilla of use-

value.

Whitener 4

10. Systems Theory: A trans-disciplinary, analytical approach to the network of relations


between structures and participants in a systemic construct. As applied to the capitalist

economic system, systems theory may be utilized to identify the potential points of crisis that

may arise from the interaction(s) between the state and the subsystems of which it is

composed. In doing so, certain crises of legitimation may be made manifest in various

subsystems. Collectively, subsystem crises threaten the integrity of the state and require it to

undertake (time and resource consuming) acts of legitimation; the systems theoretical

approach

attempts to expose an “ultimate” economic legitimation crisis, to which all of the state’s

resources must be directed, and from which its collapse will inevitably come. It is, however,

decidedly reductivist in its methodology; its analyses are, in large part, emblematic of the

objective sphere of the system, and fail to treat adequately, the subjective components of

which it is composed, and on whom its explanative success is dependant.

Whitener 5
II. Short Answer: (1).

Surplus Value is the derivative of the difference between the price at which a
commodity is sold and the cost of the labor requisite for the production of the commodity.

The labor theory of value posits that what a thing is worth (i.e., it’s desirability quotient

among consumers in relation to other things), is the result of the quantity of labor expended in

its production. If we are producing shirts, the value of each, individual shirt is a function of

the following: (1) the quantity and quality of the material to be used, (2) the amount of labor

needed to procure these materials, and (3) the amount of labor power (expressed in quantities

of time) that is needed to fashion these raw materials into an object of use and desire. Let us

say, that the result of these three elements in the productive process, yield a cost to the

manufacturer of $50: (1) $20 for the raw materials themselves, (2) $10 for their procurement,

and (3) $20 for the 2 hours of human labor required to shape the materials into the form of a

shirt. The total cost of production is, therefore, $50.

In order to sustain its capacities for production (and finance its beach-front mega-

home in the Caymans), the manufacturer must exact a profit from the production of goods.

The selling price of a commodity must, therefore, be higher than the amount of money spent

on its production. Let us say that the manufacturer of the commodity wishes to exact a profit

equal to four times the cost of its production; the selling price will then be 5 X $50, or $250.

The difference between the price for which the commodity sells ($250) and the cost(s)

requisite for its production($50), is then, $200 dollars; this difference is called surplus value:

the monetary value exacted from the sale of a commodity, over and above the amount of labor

required for

Whitener 6

the production of that commodity.


(2).

The capitalist economic system is sustained by the manufacture and consumption of

commodities. Commodities are the products of human labor: their existence as commodities

is dependant upon the productive capacities of the laborer; so too are they derivative from

certain natural resources. When human labor power is exhausted, it is supplemented (or

replaced) by machinery; when certain productive resources are exhausted (or become too

costly to utilize), new ones take their place. Each component of a commodity (i.e. labor

power and natural resources) is, however, a finite quantity.

For the capitalist system to survive, it must expand by producing and selling more

commodities: it is not enough to simply satisfy the existing needs of the consumers; it must

necessarily create new needs among the consumers. In doing so, the finitude of the

components of commodities, presents a rather glaring problem: there are straightforward

limits as to how much of either are at the system’s disposal. When its resources are exhausted

and its limits are reached, the deck of cards on which capitalism is constructed will collapse

under its own weight. The crisis tendency is palpable: ever-increasing expansion cannot

continue forever; eventually, there will be nothing left to which the system may look, to

satisfy its

expansive ambitions.

Whitener 7

(3).

Marx’s theory of history begins with the physical-economic necessities of the life of
the individual. Just as the individual is incapable of sustaining his own material needs

without recourse to another, so too are they dependant upon a united community of men,

overseen and sustained by certain networks of subsistence. The labor of the individual,

therefore, gives rise to not only his continued existence, but also to the lives and crafts of his

fellow citizens, and the community of which they are, collectively, a part.

The material needs of the community--to which each of its inhabitants is forever

devoted--shape both the lives of its patrons and the course of its development; Marx sees, in

this thesis, the very essence of historical progression. The community is constantly, and

unconsciously in pursuit of realizing the economic needs of both citizen and society with

ever-increasing efficiency and quantity: the hunter-gatherer learned to domesticate his prey;

the feudal lord subjugated his bondsmen; and the parasitic capitalist robbed the worker of his

capacity for self-activity. In each political-economic system, the latter ‘partner’ is but the

means with which the former achieves his materialistic end. The individual qua individual is

left with no other alternative but to appropriate his productive capacities to the wishes of the

owners of the means of production. This phenomena quickly assumes a universal character

and subsumes the entire community (and indeed the historical epoch) of which the individual

is a part.

Whitener 8

The emergence of the state and its corresponding economic system, is, historically,

simply an extension of the political-economic dominance of the ruling class of a society.

If bourgeois exploitation is to be overcome, the proletariat must effect “the abolition of the
very condition of their existence hitherto” (which has been that of all society up to the

present); …to assert themselves as individuals, they must overthrow the state…” Thus, for

Marx, the end of history, begins with the abolition of the capitalist economic system, and,

after an interlude of state-mediated socialism, culminates in the establishment of a universal

brotherhood of man, free of class antagonisms and state-sponsored exploitation. It is only

then, in a Communist society, that each individual merges with the whole of humanity,

produces in accordance with the realization if his free, human spirit, and is freed from the

shackles of socio-economic bondage that have dominated the entirety of human history

hitherto.

(4).

The capitalist economic system has reached yet another apex with the introduction and

maturation of the culture industry in contemporary society. In doing so, it has exacerbated the

ails that capitalism has historically fostered, and perpetuated the degree to which the

individual has been robbed of his personhood; yet, its introduction and adoption has been

tacitly acknowledged, rather than universally affirmed. It has inconspicuously burrowed its

way into every crevice of modernity, without the knowledge or consent of its targets.

Whitener 9

The modern culture industry has sought to integrate every member of society, from

shop-keeper to stock-broker, into its auspices. The economic and class distinctions that divide

society, have themselves become objects of mass consumption to be bought, sold, and

produced in accordance with the demands of the consumer. To quote Adorno,


“something is produced for all so that none may escape; the distinctions are emphasized and

extended.” Just as one man may seek an inexpensive media player from Walmart, another

may seek an ultra-expensive automobile from Maranello; yet each object of desire is no more,

nor no less, unique than the other: both are the mere commodified byproducts of mass

production; they are simply marketed to different strata of society.

The industry forever seeks to preserve the stupidity of the consumer, and constantly

strives to advance just enough intelligence so that the “superior” commodity may be accepted

as desirable and distinguished from its counterpart. Yet, the “differences” are, in actuality,

only illusory: that which propels the consumer to neglect them, is the pleasure potential to be

realized with their use. In an effort to separate himself from his neighbor, and identify with

the objects and persons of his desires, he becomes even more entrenched in the economic

quagmire from which he sought to extricate himself.

The end result, is that no one can escape from the system; everyone, regardless of

societal standing, is viewed as (and indeed becomes) a mere consumer of goods, to be utilized

for the attainment of profit. This phenomena is, perhaps, all the more clear in the life of the

individual; for now, as a mere consumer, he is interchangeable with anyone else; his existence

is valuable only to the extent that it sustains the capitalist economy; to the extent that it does

Whitener 10

not, he is an utterly insignificant being. Unwittingly, society has come to understand this; in

an effort to inject “meaning,” “purpose,” and “value” within their otherwise miserable lives,

individuals ingest the venomous poison that their culture seeks to inject. In doing so, they

accept and perpetuate the false individuality that capitalism seeks to advance, and sustain the

efforts of their own socio-cultural gravediggers.


(5)

The capitalist economic system has long outlived many of those who viewed its

dissolution is not only inevitable, but imminent. While remaining mindful of supplementary

factors of contribution, I wish to attribute the resilience of the capitalist system to the

following: (1) the implementation of an industrialized, consumer goods economy after the

second World War, and (2) the utilization of culture as an apparatus for economic, industrial

development. I hold the connection between (1) and (2) above, to be self-evident; I will,

therefore, discuss the salient features of each in relation, rather than isolation, to one another.

The Keynesian doctrine of demand-side economics has, ostensibly, dug a whole in the

American economic markets from which they will never recover. Moreover, its advocacy for

state-sponsored spending, has fostered a culture thoroughly addicted to spending for the sake

of spending, and created a network of productive systems transfixed on profit via production

and commodification. In its embryonic state, this phenomena manifested itself simply in an

increased demand from the average consumer ,for more things, at lesser prices. The profit

potential for the producer and the pleasure potential for the consumer perpetuated the system.

Whitener 11

In doing so, it fundamentally altered the nature of the capitalist system from the one

toward which Marx’s project was directed; for now, both the necessities and luxuries of life

the very essence of life itself were the monopolized property of the capitalist system. What it

meant to be a citizen in, let us say, America in the early 20th century, was inextricably

connected to the economic trappings toward which his life was directed. The stalwart cultural

credo known as the “American Dream,” could not only be conceptualized and envisioned, but
it could be purchased.

Jovially nestled in his ‘dream state,’ the American has failed to appreciate the vast

extent to which the seat of his culture has been commodified. The sustenance of capitalism

has come at the expense of the individual’s integrity and his culture’s authenticity. His

transition from the Model T and a checking account, to the Hummer and a hedge fund, simply

underscores the pervasiveness and resilience of the capitalist system; in doing so it has

cheapened the value of the life experiences for those under its auspices.

Whitener 12

III. Essay: (1).

As I write this in my powerless home, the temperature is a frigid 45 degrees

Fahrenheit. My fountain pen has replaced my computer, and my candles have replaced my

lamps. I am tired; I am cold; I am hungry; I am miserable. I have never felt like more of a

philosopher; yet, I have never felt like less of a person. As I look out the window and see

other homes with power, their televisions tirelessly burning the midnight oil, and their plastic

Christmas decorations so ostentatiously alight, I feel all the more alone, hopeless, and
depressed. Though I understand that my predicament is temporary, the past 48 hours have

seemed as long as my first 21 years. I am having difficulty finding the strength--first

physical, now psychological--to continue to exist as I presently am. How can it be that a brief

outage of a modern convenience has distanced me so far from my community, and the person

that I thought I was? To find the answer, I must search within myself and examine the person

that I actually am.

I am a person with few needs and even fewer desires: a warm bed, a warm meal,

warm clothing, something to read, and someone to talk to; that is it, no more, and no less. My

personhood is intimately connected with my needs and desires: not having a way to fulfill

them has, in some sense, made me less of a person. I feel alienated from my “species being;”

yet, I know that I am not alone in my plight; the thousands of other individuals without power

are, without doubt, experiencing similar feelings; but perhaps most paradoxically, the very

people in whom our thirst for modernity is embodied, are themselves the most obvious

victims of its

resources. Their lives of movie watching, internet surfing, mocha java buying, and cell phone

Whitener 13

chatting have not been interrupted; their fetishism for commodities has remained

unchallenged at the same time that mine (to the extent that it even existed) has been

destroyed. For what mere commodity is more desirable than warmth when you are freezing,

company when you are alone, or bread when you are hungry? Would an iPod be successful in

nourishing my soul in its present, shattered state? Would a Ferrari 355 Berlinetta? Would

anything other than its most basic needs?

My experience has demonstrated to me that the reification of commodities is deadly to


the intellectual life of the individual and the community of which he is a part. When we lust

after commodities, we ignore the interpersonal relations upon which the existence of

commodities is dependant. Our existence as human beings, in need of meaningful relations

with persons and not things, is destroyed by our desire for nourishment in commodities, rather

than souls. A life in pursuit of things does nothing other than transform oneself into a mere

“thing.”

My life has, in every way, been turned upside down, but I feel in my heart, that it has

finally been turned right side up. If I may be permitted the liberty, I should like to compare

my

situation in modernity (or at least that which must temporarily pass for it) to that which Marx

was analyzing in the mid-19th century; for in my view, they are wholly analogous.

The proletarian must toil to procure the bare means of his subsistence; he must

prostitute himself to the highest bidder to ensure that his stomach is filled with food and his

body is covered with clothing. The bourgeois capitalist lives content in the knowledge that

his life of luxury comes from the mass exploitation of his fellow human beings; he must

broker his

Whitener 14

personhood to the most productive agent to ensure that his stomach is filled with caviar and

Chianti, his body his covered in fur and Gucci, and his garage is stocked with Lamborghini’s

and Lear Jets. The squalor of the former is requisite for the opulence of the latter.

In both such cases, the individuals and the classes of which they are a part, are

alienated from the very basis upon which human existence is dependant. For man is a species

being; his life in its fullest and most complete sense, can only be realized in meaningful and
mutually-beneficial relations with his fellow human beings. The individual exists for society

just as much as society exists for the individual. To ignore this relationship is to denigrate the

human condition to a relationship of self-interest and usurpation; it is to perpetuate the already

pervasive cultural fetishism of commodities; it is to strip from the individual the last vestiges

of his species being. To deny this relationship to others, is to commit social homicide.

In my present state, I feel the enormity of Marx’s criticisms all too well. Though my

present condition is not directly attributable to capitalistic exploitation, I feel, for perhaps the

first time in my life, what it means to be an individual with no connection to his community;

to be a person without access to the bare means of his subsistence; to have little reason to live

other than the knowledge that his condition will, hopefully, improve.

As I write these words, and as you read them, this situation is being replicated with

alarming rapidity--and not just among those without electricity! As the good, dutiful

consumer is “supposed” to do, she takes her monstrous, gas-guzzling automobile to the

shopping mall and searches for things. Like hedonistic animals, she and her fellow shoppers

roam the

garlanded isles looking for the newest cell-phone, the most delicious confections, the most

Whitener 15

intoxicating fragrance, the most luxurious fur coat, in short, the “perfect gift.” But have any

of

them given more than a nominal thought (as if they were capable of anything more) to the

individuals, whose toil, labor, and exploitation was requisite for their lives of gleeful revelry?

Do their actions demonstrate any concern whatsoever for the human being whose childhood

was exchanged to finance their affinity for “North Face” winter garments? Does their naïve
and apologetic tone in any way diminish the suffering upon which their lives of luxury

depend? Do they themselves realize that they are not immune to the universal human

condition, but only slightly larger cogs in the same motor of bourgeois exploitation? It hardly

seems so; if I were incorrect, I doubt very seriously that an intended celebration of the alleged

birth of Jesus Christ, would have become sufficiently perverted as to be regarded by many as

a month long shopping spree-- its consequences and ramifications be damned!

If commodities could speak, as Marx has them do, they would say, “Our use-value

may be a thing that interests men. It is no part of us as objects. What, however, does belong

to us as objects is our value. In the eyes of each we are nothing but exchange values…[our]

value is realized only in exchange, that is, by means of a social process” (The Economics,

480). How l

long ago our fellow human beings seemed to have forgotten this! How much longer must we

endure the trials and tribulations that the errors of their ways have fostered?

To those among us who might scoff at the mere mention of “Karl Marx,” or

“Communism;” I entreat them to (re)examine who they are, and what they think the purpose

of society actually is. Marx’s project remains relevant, if for no other reason, than its tenets

speak so pristinely to the modern condition. At every turn, with each glance, one cannot help

Whitener 16

but be bombarded with images (indeed experiences) of alienation, examples of exploitation,

and symptoms of commodity fetishism embedded in the very fabric of modernity. The defeat

of those principles, toward which Marx’s life was devoted, is perhaps more important now

than it ever has been. For the sheer gravity of the capitalist system and its attending

exploitive capacities, is reaching an acme heretofore regarded as unimaginable. This is,


however, to say little about the accuracy of Marx’s thought, or the relevance of his project.

Marx could not have foreseen the adoption of an industrialized, consumer goods

economy; nor could he have conceptualized the extent to which modern culture would be

perverted in the wake of capitalism’s advance. Though flawed in its assessment of the

immediacy of capitalism’s demise, Marx’s project continues to exist as a beacon hope for the

exploited, and an ominous harbinger of things to come for the exploiters. The task of

modernity, is to advance his work, to refine its rough edges, to crystallize its relevant theses,

and champion its liberating capacities. It is not with exaggeration that I say, that the

preservation of who we are as persons, and what we are as a community, is fundamentally

dependant upon our doing so.

Whitener 17

III. Essay (2).

Attempting to quantify the magnitude of that which I have learned from you in this,

and in previous semesters, may not be possible to do in a lifetime, let alone a brief essay. I

should like, therefore, to concentrate on what I feel are the most meaningful lessons that this

semester’s study has attempted to foster; in doing so, I leave open the possibility that it may

take years to fully appreciate the extent of their breadth.


Perhaps most importantly, I have learned that our individuality must never be

abandoned or ignored; for it is what gives our life meaning and value; to compromise or

abandon it, would be to hold all that we are, and everything that we have to offer, to be

completely and utterly inconsequential. To view education as a means to an end, or an

occupation as a mere stepping stone to something “better” and more lucrative, is already to

have neglected one’s unique capacities for free expression and purposive action. In some

sense, coming to this realization was the hardest thing that I have ever done; after having done

so, I am confident that it was the most beneficial.

If, after having completed this course, and graduating from this University, I remain

uncertain as to what my future may hold, then so be it. Life is far too valuable for it to spent

living on other people’s terms, in pursuit of merely illusory gains. Without a knowledge of

who we are and what we want, we are nothing. Thales’s challenge is so profoundly more

difficult than many will ever realize; but for those of us courageous enough to accept it,

genuine meaning in a life largely meaningless, might begin to provide a reward that most will

never understand. Is this arrogant, elitist, esoteric? To ask or answer such questions, is to

Whitener 18

always remain a prisoner, and never yearn for the liberating rays of the sun.

Just as I have come to value my individuality, so too have I developed a greater

appreciation for the communal relations which sustain it. No matter how much I may despise

their actions, disagree with their opinions, or reject their methods, I still retain profound

respect for the community of which my fellow citizens and I are a part. We are not isolated

individuals living independently of, and in opposition to, one another; we are a united

community of persons, the prosperity of which is dependant upon rational and purposeful
discourse. The theory of communicative action is inextricably connected to the establishment

of a society devoid of exploitation, oppression, and injustice; for it is our role as citizens to

engage in dialogue with others, and work as one, united force for the procurement of equity

and justice amidst a culture of corruption and avarice.

We are each more than mere consumers of goods; the socio-economic system on

which our lives depends, is more than a mere supplier of goods. When we fail to recognize

either of the above--whether individually or collectively--we fail to grasp so much of what

human existence actually means. When we attempt to solve problems in the lives of

individuals, or avert crises in the functioning of state subsystems, we must do so with genuine

and discursive communal relations. Rightly so, the necessity of rational dialogue between

members of society has been one of this course’s hallmarks; for a community constituted by

rational and political actors cannot sustain itself if it fails to employ its unique and

individuating capacities for speech and action.

I will take from this course a profound detestation of the ails to which many (in some

Whitener 19

ways even all) of my fellow citizens are subjected by the capitalist system; so too, will I be all

the more perplexed at their reticence to reject a system which is so destructive to so much of

human existence could otherwise be. I will increasingly view the Christmas season with

spectacles of secularism; for its true meaning has been subverted by a vast network of

economic gain and commodified pursuits. God is indeed dead, but the commodified “buddy”

Christ is alive and well! How disturbing it is that a nation that prides itself on its Godliness

has fundamentally lost sight of His holiness! I suppose that this should come as no great

surprise in a nation dominated by ambition, greed, and profit, but I would hope we may come
to correct the errors of our ways before all semblance of sanctity has been vanquished.

Perhaps we are too late!

In the hope that we are not, I recall the life of Karl Marx. Isaiah Berlin’s treatment of

his life and project was, in my view, extremely influential in coming to understand the subject

of his criticisms. I was, permit me the use of the cliché, inspired by Marx; though he lived his

life in virtual squalor, was faced with the death of two children, and experienced the

dehumanizing effects of capitalism in all of their enormity, he remained resolute in his

convictions and never allowed his fate to dictate his life. Prefiguring Nietzsche, he practiced

a humanizing gay science--albeit somewhat cold and rational--in the midst of a wholly

misguided and pragmatic culture of exploitation. This is profoundly meaningful and equally

influential. It serves as a beacon of hope, and reminds one that despite all of the horrors that a

system may inflict on those which sustain it, the strength of the individual and the solidarity

of the community will, one day, emerge victorious in the indefatigable march toward freedom

Whitener 20

that has characterized all of human history hitherto.


Philosophy of Karl Marx:

Final Examination
Saint Louis University

Joe Whitener

Brian Cameron

12.7.06