All animals are equal,

but some are more equal than others”

G. Orwell, The Animal Farm

The theoretical shift…


Since the emergence of modernity a great part of philosophical thought had been thought of protest. From the radical democratic urge of Locke and Rousseau, which was oriented toward the advancement of capitalism, to the radicalization of philosophy in Marx and the total critique of capitalism throughout the twentieth century, philosophy had maintained independence from the status quo and a radically disapproving relationship to it. It clearly seems that at present this is not the case. Even though philosophical profession has become massive, with literally thousands of scholars dealing with a radical critique of capitalism from various angles, the sad truth is that among leading and internationally renowned thinkers the situation had never been worse. It is important to note that the criticism in this paper is not against the marginal scholar, but primarily against the academic leader, against those who exercise influence and form schools and who claim to have overcome historical restrictions and advanced social theory. While the need for renovation of critical social theory has been evident for decades, radical critique has disappeared among leading philosophical schools.

Mainstream social criticism having silently accepted the rules of the game, has turned itself to the other side of the same, to a ‘critical ally’ of capitalism. As a modern critic puts it, “postcolonial discourse generated in the “First Word” academies turns out to be one more product of flexible, post-Fordist capitalism, not its antithesis.”[1] Especially after the collapse of the former Soviet block and the triumphal and seemingly unconditional victory of capitalism it became even trendier to talk about all-human values, universalistic morality, discourse ethics, public discourse, and several similar concepts, as well as the unlimited perspectives that await us in the light of modern technological revolutions.

Indeed, there are serious confirmations for such a view. If it were to generalize its underlying assumptions, these would be the following:  there exists a relatively embedded democratic system; there exists a relative economic prosperity; there exists a relative social stability; the modern technological revolution promises a permanent growth.  When combined, all these promise further improvement in transcending the caution expressed in the word ‘relative’. Hence, the feeling is that the details can be worked out from within the system. This is emphatically expressed in correlation with the crisis and recent strident collapse of its most serious challenge, the Marxist option. The old claim of the status quo seems to be now more absolutely justified: lack of realistic alternatives.

One cannot but remember K. Popper here. For Popper, too,  “the injustice and inhumanity of the unrestrained ‘capitalist system’ described by Marx cannot be questioned.”[2] The problem consists in ‘interpreting’ the situation. Freedom under capitalism is indeed what Marx and Marxists call “merely formal freedom”. However, such “merely formal freedom” is a realistic foundation and the only warranty for democracy in an ‘open society’. It makes possible to “control” capitalism and exploitation, and this is better than any other alternative. In such questions, says Popper, one must think in more pragmatic terms than Marx: one must realize that control over physical power and exploitation is not only an economic, but also a central political problem. So in order to establish democratic control, one has to establish that “merely formal freedom”[3] which capitalism offers. Popper’s claim is not that we live in the best world in general, but, as if agreeing with Leibniz, that we live in the best of all possible worlds. The outcome of such considerations is the same: although this world is far from being perfect, one may work to develop it, but it is not worth taking the risk to radically alter it. Note that such an argument was raised at a time of serious challenge to the system.

Today, one cannot avoid observing a surprising feature: the legendary fierce attacks against Popper on behalf of the left in the sixties and early seventies gave their place to a peculiar concord in evaluating post-communist era. Offering his version of kratos dikaiou in a work which he pronounces as his own “Philosophy of Right”, J. Habermas writes: “Marx and Engels, satisfied with allusions to the Paris Commune, more or less left aside questions of democratic theory.  If one takes into consideration the formative philosophical background of both authors, then their blanket rejection of formal right, and even the sphere of right as a whole, could also be explained by that they had read Rousseau and Hegel too much through the eyes of Aristotle, failed to appreciate (verkannt) the normative substance of Kantian universalism and the Enlightenment, and misconceived the idea of a liberated society as something concrete.“[4] Habermas’ own version of a democratic theory – despite his well known critique of transcendentalism – is Kant-based, formal and universalistic, trying, on the one hand, to cope with Kantian concerns about an oppressive global state and, on the other hand, to transcend any ‘obsolete’ social or class distinctions and restrictions.

Besides some rhetoric and linguistic differentiations, today both left and right share Popper’s assessment. Hence, modern discourse rotates around the ‘revived’ notion of “civil society”[5], of its discontents, its nature, its perspectives, etc.  As R. Rorty argues in a recent book, modern left, having historically suffered from Marxist radicalism[6] has been today transformed to a “Cultural Left” [7] specializing in what they call ‘politics of difference’ or ‘of identity’ or ‘of recognition’[8]. And he adds: “When the right proclaims that socialism has failed, and that capitalism is the only alternative, the cultural Left has little to say in reply. For it prefers not to talk about money. Its principal enemy is a mind-set rather than a set of economic arrangements – a way of thinking which is sometimes called ‘Cold War Ideology’, sometimes ‘technocratic rationality’, and sometimes ‘pallogocentrism’ (the cultural Left comes up with fresh sobriquets every year). It is a mid-set nurtured by the patriarchal and capitalist institutions of the industrial West, and its bad effects are most clearly visible in the United States”.[9]  I would add one significant comment to those discerning remarks. There is certainly nothing wrong with the other field of criticism. However, the choice of reply is not just a matter of taste. Modern left does not ‘opt’ to deal with something else. To the contrary: they deal with something else because they have nothing to reply. Their theoretical impotence in the field of political economy and its abandonment make it inevitable to turn to other fields of criticism. Clearly, this argument applies not only to academic leadership, but also to the majority of ‘average’ scholars, whose abstract social criticism incorporates the most versatile elements from Nietzsche to psychoanalysis, to literary criticism, etc., accompanied by the self-illusion of  ‘radical attitude’.

The characteristic feature of the last few decades is that critically oriented philosophy changes its role, it ceases to challenge the system per se, and loses sight of a realistic alternative. Its social and political involvement is now grounded on liberal ideals that were set by Kant and Locke, Rousseau etc, that is, in revitalizing the “forgotten in the 20th century notion of civil society”[10] it appropriates what was earlier considered exactly as the theoretical background of the system, Radicalism has been gradually offered to oblivion and critical philosophy becomes a modest cultural assessment of the human situation without ‘dissident’ claims. Let us not forget that, from a slightly different, methodological-gnoseological perspective, the discerning R. Rorty is one of the first to redefine the involvement of philosophy.[11]


… and its application: Habermas, Rorty and other leading figures


The above-described reorientation is matched with a specific focus and comprehension of the ‘forgotten’ social problems of capitalism that globalization brings to the surface. I mean the Third World, its “own” problems (note my quotation marks), as well as its role in the reevaluation of modern capitalism. My argument in this section will be that modern critical philosophy has an explicitly ‘western’ vision and fails to assess the proper dimension of globalization and to evaluate capitalism in both its periphery and centers. The critique will be pursued primarily in relation to J. Habermas. His assessment of capitalism is typical for modern critical philosophy where he is perhaps the leading figure and also known for his political involvement and broad view. As the most celebrated leader of the ‘second generation’ of the Frankfurt School (which had once emerged as a “Neomarxist” and Hegelian[12] trend), that is, of critical social thought, one might claim that he represents the best that recent social criticism has produced. Therefore, he offers the best sample for my purposes. My argument will be that Habermas, too, when referring[13] these problems, does not transcend the characteristic given above.

Let me begin with a core perspective of globalization, the abolition of the nation state. Habermas asks the question: „’Overcoming’ the Nation-State. Annulment or Sublation?“[14] The first option means abolition via domination (through Neoliberal policies of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank etc), while as the other option represents, so to say, a democratic transformation. Certainly, Habermas vows for the latter. A methodological elaboration on this question offers his discussion of Kant’s ‘On Perpetual Peace’[15] where he suggests that a potential “world commonwealth” should develop obligatory policies at the expense of reducing member states’ inner and outer sovereignty. Although fiercely criticized by the radicals, the idea of compulsory character of international decisions could become extremely fertile because it is based on the acknowledgement of a substantial, organic unity of the world. The democratically minded Habermas is by no means unaware of the above-mentioned Kantian concern of a global ‘graveyard of freedom’. Yet this concern does not annihilate the global perspective: in the same way in which policies are obligatory within a separate nation state today, in that same way a unified humanity should deal with its ‘internal’ problems.

Further, the globalization process is far from being smooth and linear. Elsewhere, Habermas mentions its negative potential and observes that “in a stratified world society the asymmetric interdependence between developed, newly industrialized and underdeveloped countries seems to produce irreconcilable opposition of interests.”[16] One could expect that a radical critique might emerge from this remark. However, this is not the case. According to Habermas, such irreconcilability applies only under the conditions of absence of relevant organs for “global governance” that would express a transnational will-formation[17].  This is what the above-mentioned idea of obligatory policies is matched with.  Hence, if relevant organs were present, it would become possible to overcome the irreconcilability. As of the economic disparities, this problem would be solved through conscientious raising of the standard of living in poor countries. Habermas introduces here the idea of ‘compulsory solidarity’ (Zwangssolidarisierung): “The decisive question, therefore, is whether in civil societies and political public spheres of largely developed regions there can emerge a consciousness of compulsory solidarity.”[18] Habermas' suggestion adequately expresses his Kantian moralistic view on politics.

On the one hand, the problem is touched upon at its center: both the perspectives of global unity as well as the results of current stratification are acknowledged. On the other hand, the suggestions and expectations that he expresses are clearly based on an optimistic view about the dynamics of modern capitalist democracy: that it will affect the world community and reorganize international economic relationships. The evaluation of modern capitalism and its potential is the point where the whole Habermasian strategy stands or falls. It must be noted that Habermas had been realistically minded throughout his life, discerning the utopian facet of political radicalism. But it should also be noted that his current call for a ‘cosmopolitan compulsory solidarity” is no less utopian: no concrete mechanism to enforce such a measure is in place or expected.

Habermas does not offer an answer to the question why the current situation should change, besides positing the dilemma. His view represents a moralistic assessment, while as critical social science reveals necessity and inevitability in social processes and thus unites the ”is” and the “ought”. Seen from that perspective, the problem that Habermas’ assessment faces is twofold. Not only is the “ought” utopian, but also the “is” is not accidental. Modern status quo is not unintentional, or the result of a ‘mistake’ or ‘evil will,’ but is the result of hard necessity formed by social and economic interests. Hence, there is no reason for it to change by its own.  Quite the contrary: the interest of world corporations is given, and even more, on this question it coincides with the interest of the masses in the capitalist centers. With all respect to the role of the masses, no historical change was ever made out of “solidarity” for someone else, but out of pursuit of their own interests. Reversibly, a change of the rules of the game as they stand today would affect the social and economic situation in capitalist centers and create instability.  The relative controllability that is enjoyed there is sustained by the resources brought from the periphery, and counterbalanced by the instability in the periphery. The fragile public support to the capitalist system in its centers is directly related to the existing (also fragile) welfare. The change of strategy toward the Third World would negatively affect such welfare.

What one should actually expect is not a reminiscent of Christian morality “social solidarity” movement, but a resistance movement created from within Third World countries, that is, those who are negatively affected. A realistic concern about the abolition of world inequalities, should involve a theoretical scrutiny of this perspective, its conditions, possibilities and shapes. This is the true task of modern social theory. It should question the objective nature of capitalism as a global social-economic system and the varieties in its centers and the periphery, instead of assuming a ‘post-capitalist’ view. Clearly, for as long as this problematic is not brought by social philosophy to the surface, such resistance will be exploited by local nationalism, Muslim fundamentalism and other inverted forms of protest.

Let us now see the argument about the need for developing obligatory policies. The objection that the integration of world community has not yet been achieved and that the existing local particularities exclude any organic unity, would clearly not be effective. The tendency for that is evident. However, the problem is not unity, but its current negative potential, the way this unity is being actualized today. Habermas contrasts only Neoliberal to other policies within the system, while in fact, under the conditions of globalized capitalism such a unity turns to repression independently of its Neoliberal or not governance. The current “Machtpolitik” (which Habermas acknowledges and discusses) turns globalization to repression covered by democratic slogans, again, independently of who is in power in capitalist centers, Neoliberals or ‘Socialdemocrats’.  Only during the past few years the world community has seen slogans about democracy and human rights being (ab)used for interventions in the Persian Gulf, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Somalia, etc, etc. Of course, we know that in all these cases there was an existing problem. However, interventions were not undertaken to solve the problem but to use it (if not create it) to enhance western positions. Whereas in other cases, e.g., the Middle East conflict etc, the reaction ranges from mild to cynical, to say the least.  Finally, there is in Habermas no theoretical insight about why does this happen or why it should change. The already mentioned objection about the ‘is’ and the ‘ought’ equally applies here. Habermas posits the problem and juxtaposes its morally right solution. Critical social science needs to demonstrate the necessity of both.  

The entire issue has an underlying economic exploitation substance that is not difficult to discern. Some passages imply that Habermas admits the roots of the predicament as being of such nature.[19] Certainly, this commonplace observation does not exhaust the problem. One needs to systematically analyze it, to assess its importance, to explain its inevitability and its solution. However, this does not happen. Habermas is not interested in it because he has long ago replaced the essence with the surface of social process by initially ‘complementing with’ and then simply substituting the importance of the labor process with that of communication (respectively, the role of political economy with that of communicative reason). The assumption is that the latter proceeds independently of the former, and even more, it is able to determine it instead of being determined by it. Habermas’ vision is the vision from the West where democratic consensus, conflict resolution and peaceful transformation become possible, the power of public opinion in affecting policies is present, and the power of democratic institutions as interceding transformations is given. What such assessment overlooks is that democratic consensus is not the cause, but the effect. It becomes possible in the West only under certain economic arrangements, namely, the stability reserve offered by unequal relationships with the Third World. For assessments like the Habermasian, the vicious circle has closed: the stability reserve changes the vision of capitalism as being capable of democratic transformations, and this vision does not discern the stability reserve.

It is not then accidental that in those rare cases when Habermas attempts a socio-economic critique, he does so by employing old and inefficient schemes: an alleged increasing impoverishment in the capitalist centers.  Here is a lucid example: „The sources of social solidarity are drying up so that the living conditions of the former Third World expand in the centers of the First“ something which results in the creation of a new “underclass”.[20] Habermas reproduces the typical arguments about the widening of “the gap in the living conditions of the employed, underemployed and unemployed”[21] etc. The accord with R. Rorty’s ideas on this question is impressive[22]. Rorty claims that globalization negatively affects the US population. “The new economic cosmopolitanism, he writes, presages a future in which the other 75 percent of Americans will find their standard of living steadily shrinking.”[23] Rorty proceeds even further, and portrays a detective picture in which the status quo plots to keep the masses distracted from their true problems: “The aim will be to keep the minds of the proles elsewhere – to keep the bottom 75 percent of Americans and the bottom 95 percent of the world’s population busy with ethnic and religious hostilities, and with debates about sexual mores. If the proles can be distracted by their own despair by media-created pseudo-events, including the occasional brief and bloody war, the super-rich will have little to fear.”[24]

It is noteworthy that these arguments, from way back as they are, are reminiscent of a desperate radicalism, which is clearly not the position of Habermas or Rorty. It is a radicalism unconsciously reproduced in front of a theoretical dead-end: the inability to assess capitalism as a global system, and capitalism as a global system. I have no intention to underestimate the contradictory nature of modern western societies. However, this contradictory nature is today subordinated to the broader contradiction(s) of global capitalism. The old orientation toward some ever increasing problems and ‘declining’ life standards in capitalist centers does not take into account these new realities, the particularities of class struggle within the centers and the differences from the periphery. 

First, while the so-called “relative impoverishment” (that is, the broadening of the gap between the rich and the poor) is beyond question, one still has to take into account that “relative impoverishment” has quite specific content at the beginning of the new century when it includes accessibility to a whole spectrum of social goods. This content radically affects social behavior. Second, things become worse when a version of the old Marxist claim about “absolute impoverishment of the working class” is employed. This is a 19th century assessment, which contradicts real facts when referred to capitalist centers a hundred and fifty years later. At the time of global capitalist production, absolute impoverishment concerns entire nations of the periphery, and is by no means massive within the centers.  It is not by accident that starvation on a world scale has never been more widely spread, but this refers entirely to the Third World. This is precisely where “sources of social solidarity dry out.”

Third, not only such assessment underestimates what the masses in the West have achieved but has no way to explain their apathy than to attribute it to manipulation.  It reveals a detective vision of history as the result of ‘class conspiracy’ and, once again, rejects the necessity of social process[25]. However, if 75% of the population were truly economically unstable (this would imply unemployment rates of 20% and 30%, annihilation of social benefits, decline of affordability of basic goods, etc), then there would be no ground to be manipulated by “ethnic and religious hostilities” and the like, as Rorty claims. To the contrary, there would be catastrophic social instability. There is in fact a real ground for the existing conformity to the system. The conformity of the working mass is the result of the positive outcome of its struggle.

Still, fourth, the logic of focusing  on the West alone to explain the conformity is again on the wrong track: the fragile social stability and welfare within the capitalist centers was achieved not because of the class struggle alone. The struggle is successful in the center because of the redistribution of additional resources offered by the periphery. Such success makes possible for the masses to go on accepting the system, and is reflected in the weakening of social criticism. There is no ‘conspiracy’ in that, but unity and difference of interests in the time of global capitalism. Neither Habermas nor Rorty see that.[26] 

Finally, one might note that in these arguments universalism goes overboard: the real concern is not humanity as a whole, but just a part of it, the West, viewed from an angle of an exaggerated internal conflict. The true problem is from time to time mentioned but bypassed as something of secondary importance: Third World is remembered to the degree to which some of its negative characteristics are reproduced in the capitalist centers.

My specifically gathered references to Habermas might create the wrongful impression that the conflicting make-up of globalization, world political economy, the Third World, and the like are for him central concepts. The truth is that in his voluminous work one can find very view references to these problems. However, even fewer references can be found in the works of other leading academics.  Just to recall one example, one of the most broadly discussed works throughout the 90-s was C. Taylor’s brochure about “multiculturalism”,[27] where an interesting argument of the road to further embedment of democracy, tolerance and mutual recognition in the multiethnic Western countries is advanced. Principles of a democratic commonwealth are rendered, however, with the Third World simply absent, as if social and economic processes in the West take place entirely independently.  The latest Habermas’ collection of essays covering the last ten years[28] rotates around parallel problems with focus on a unified Europe taken as a model (instead of Canada in the case of Taylor). Habermas discusses the European perspective[29] and goes on to argue about the prospect of a ‘Weltbürger’ on the basis of expanding the European model. He argues about the democratization process, the problem of mutual understanding, the problem of the public sphere and its moral principles, and the like. The Third World is mentioned again ‘parenthetically’, with a look to a long-term goal. Habermas points out the need to abridge the divide between developed/undeveloped countries: “the long-term goal should be to step-by-step overcome the social split and stratification in world society without the impairment of cultural particularities”[30]. Habermas is surely right about the “long term goal”.  But with the problem being mentioned at the very end of this article (being impressively absent from the rest of that book as well) it is clear that the Third-World problem is not perceived in its real dimensions: as created and perpetuated by the West and as a key concept in evaluating this society. In fact, an inverted scheme takes place again. The West plays the role of ‘sample,’ Platonic ‘eidos’ for any society, and there from, its problems are represented as universal ones. Naturally, any acknowledgement of the conflicting makeup of the globalization process remains an empty statement.


The real problem…


Within the above-described intellectual atmosphere, which with few exceptions[31] characterizes the orientation of leading academics, the dramatic calls of underground academy are drowned along with the dramatic voices of the starving in the Third World against their economic suffocation by western countries. To the contrary, and not without the contribution of the media, protest against the negative results of globalization, although granted some initial moral justification, is overall represented, again, as: protest against any globalization in general, hence regressive and utopian; based on emotional charge instead of intellectual substantiation; marginal in influence; politically extremist and irresponsible

The ‘initial justification’ is granted in accord with all rules of absolute morality, and with the acknowledgment of the existence of a problem with the Third World. What is not properly taken into consideration is that this problem is produced and reproduced by the West. For world capitalism there is a connection between facts like that Pakistani kids make Nike products for fifty cents per day, and facts like that 14% of the world oil production is used to fuel American cars alone. The assertion of absolute morality is reconciled with tolerance toward immorality, with double standards and indifference. At a time when additional resources needed to provide basic health and nutrition for everyone in the world are less than what Europeans and Americans annually spend on… pet food[32], no one would seriously claim that the value of life is the same for the West and the Third World, and no one would say that the reaction would be the same if the Sept. 11 attacks were undertaken against a neighborhood in a Latin American country than against the twin towers in New York City.

It may seem odd at the so-called digital age, yet the facts are as concerning as they are indisputable. In large areas of the Third World there still exist societies that have maintained much of their medieval scaffolding and social structure, while in general included in and exploited by modern global capitalism. Economists have attempted long ago not without success to explain how global capitalism embraces and squeezes large regions of the planet, by holding them at a precapitalist stage of development, using them according to its own needs.[33] It is not correct to call these societies genuinely precapitalist, once they are directly included in world economy. On the other hand, it is an elementary truth that a society in which the majority of the population is still occupied in agriculture cannot be called a genuinely capitalist society. And if it is not such, then it is necessary that it maintains elements of earlier social structure, mentality, culture: rural economy, caste system, increased role of religion, lapse of democracy, just to name a few.  In the Third World there is today a mosaic of societies existing at various stages of capitalist development as well a mosaic of fractional capitalist structures in each one of them taken separately.  It is important to maintain that these societies are not undeveloped simply because of their own lack of dynamic but primarily because of their inclusion in a system of unequal economic dependences. Their low economic level, lack of dynamic and anarchy of their own fractional capitalist structures are not the same with their pauperization within global capitalism and its consequences. However those two sides are matched, the former is exploited and magnified by the former.

Its dangerous political potential notwithstanding, the widely spread argument about modern crisis as “clash of civilizations” is based on an odd for our century, yet true, observation: the immense divide in a globalized world. It is a clash between the dominating world-capitalism with its culture and mentality, and still resisting feudal remnants.  There is an economic and cultural chaos between the two, which modern Western economic policies rapidly broaden. The odd picture of a clearly medieval in nature mullah communicating via a post-capitalist satellite phone is made possible only under an equally odd system.

Technological advancements offer an unthinkable opportunity to overcome many of the problems that shake modern world, like hunger, illiteracy, etc. But one needs to be very careful with time frames because technology is not in condition to rapidly change mentalities and cultures rooted of centuries.[34]  The problem has a historical dimension[35], and what is needed is permanent, systematic effort for structural changes as well as perseverance, due to the long-term nature of the project. Further, any attempt to restructure international economic relationships must be aware of the economic and social cost for the ‘developed’ nations. If you have to divide 10 units between two people in a more just way than the 8 to 2 ratio, the only way to make it is to take from the rich (8) and give to the poor (2). To some extend, the possibilities of growth offered by new technologies may make this ‘redistribution’ less felt for those who will ‘lose’. A systematic and planned restructuring of world economic relations may create greater growth possibilities that those existing now.

Easy to detect, the bet of modern capitalism is whether it will be able to integrate the whole of the planet in a constructive way, not only by using it as a by-product to accommodate the needs in capitalist centers. So far, it does not do so, and there is no ground to claim that this would change. Moreover, it is utopian to expect that this will change as a result of some good will or unfolding of democratic process in the West alone. The world community sees that the reaction to the September 11 events is one of the same. It takes place without penetrating into the core of the problem, the problem of poverty and neocolonialist exploitation that perpetuates conditions, which give birth to violent reactions and terrorism. Despite the dramatic calls of those immediately affected in the Third World and of some moderates in the West, the response of the status quo tends towards a restitution of the previously existing order without any change. If there is some change in the horizon, it is about creating stricter control and preventive mechanisms (created for ‘preventing terrorism’, but potentially preventing any resistance). Nevertheless, it is not simply about some inability to assess the real roots of the predicament. The problem is more serious, and such reaction is not accidental. If one accepts that Western economic prosperity and social stability (fragile as it is) is largely based on favorable for the West economic relations with the rest of the planet (where Third-world countries ‘subsidize’ that relative prosperity), then one should accept the following: the system is unable to solve the problem, because it is the problem itself that is the ground of the maintenance of the system. It is created and perpetuated by the system[36].


…and the tasks of philosophy


The other side of the coin is that the pre-capitalist structures (in the South) are combined with post-capitalist elements (mostly in the North), with these latter being magnified by the reserves offered by the South. Hence, the misleading impression of a technological super civilization is created.  The view of the whole has been overshadowed even for philosophy, the vision that offers the meaningfulness or the hermeneutic horizon of its time, ‘one’s age gathered in thought’ as Hegel’s famous aphorism utters. The anarchy and dramatic contradictions of capitalist production are overlooked as such. That is, despite the acknowledgment and condemnation of the contradictions (within the above mentioned juxtaposition of the “is” to the “ought”), the theoretical search for alternatives to capitalism and control over the powers of the market is abandoned by critical philosophy as utopian. Again, I refer primarily to the academic leader, but not exclusively to that. For example, the most part of the so-called “postmodern” criticism obeys to the same rules, mutilating thus its critical potential[37]. Following a mistaken reevaluation of the nature of modern Western societies, the discourse has been derailed from the tracks of radical social-economic critique to cultural and moralistic interpretation and reflections over an abstractly, often even irrationally understood ‘human condition’.

What current critical philosophy does not see is that it indulges into considerations and assessments of an artificial and artificially defined word.  Such world is artificial because it is based on a multi-faceted exploitation (raw materials, intellectual resources, cheap labor force, etc) of the Third-World countries. Not to add the unsolvable contradictions of current energy consumption and environmental damage. Such world is artificially defined because it consists of roughly twenty percent of the population of the planet. The pauperized Third World is almost non-existent in those considerations. Current philosophical assessments of capitalism as a social system fail to take into account 75-80% of the world’s population.

It seems that globalization changes the view. It brings back to the surface the ‘forgotten’ Third World problematic and its role in understanding the nature of modern society. This is an issue that was widespread in the discourse a few decades ago and had been abandoned by mainstream thought because of the crisis of traditional Marxism within which it was assessed, rather than because of its own ineffectiveness[38]. However, it has not been convincingly shown that this is not the case, i.e., that the poverty of the Third World is not related and to a large extent dependent on the historically unequal economic relations with the West, and vice versa: that the fragile equilibrium, relative wealth and growth of the West is not based on the ‘stability reserve’ offered by an ever intensifying exploitation of the resources of the whole planet, at the expense of the Third World.[39]I will underline two essential points here. First, one should not forget that what we have named for the last few years “globalization” is not an economic but primarily an informational and communicational change, which now makes visible an economic dependence that has been established a while ago. That is, globalization has been around for a while, and today it just becomes visible with a naked eye. Second, the talk is about this ‘stability reserve,’ which might possibly (although not necessarily) be low in percentage, yet of very high importance. Let us just remember that even the US economy faces up to 95% dependence on the imports of certain rare metals or that the US oil consumption is expected to double in the next three decades, etc.

The inner problems that the West faces, no matter how serious, are just a small part, almost drops in the ocean in relation to the problems of the Third World and certainly misleading for evaluating modern society. Once again to be repeated, I do not want to reduce the contradictory nature and the importance of social problems in the capitalist centers. However, for the theoretical evaluation of capitalism as a global social-economic system some broader standards are needed. Critically oriented social philosophy will continue to be in a dead end until it overcomes the shocking loss of sight, and makes the Third-World discussion central for the evaluation of nature of modern capitalist economy and society in general, as A. Dirlik emphatically puts it, “the idea of a Third World against the currently fashionable notion of the postcolonial”[40].

The imaginary conditions of the Athenian agora reproduced and glorified in modern discussions about public discourse, communicative reason, recognition, et cetera[41] become theoretically possible only for the minority of societies on the planet, ironically enough, as they where possible for the minority of humans in ancient Athens: the free citizens. Ancient slaves, as well as modern ones (in the Third World) have nothing to do with these conditions and these discussions. This is another facet of the vicious circle: the conditions provide the possibility of theorizing from a new angle, which in its turn provides the justificatory explanation of these conditions. For what is impossible to see from within is that the current self-satisfied whole has sublated itself in a larger whole: the planet as an organic totality.

In the meantime, the social problems philosophy is concerned with are of different nature. I will not claim that it is simply ahead of time to indulge into worries raging from cloning to the consequences of deciphering of human genome’[42] which seem to be a primary concern of modern discourses left and right alike.[43] I do not want to take anything away from the importance and seriousness of these problems. However, the Third-World problem is at least as serious, and deserves at least as much attention as they do. There can be another side of my argument raised here, namely that the problem can be addressed from a simply moral perspective[44]: even if the above-described logic of mutual economic and social dependence is not correct, even if poverty and underdevelopment in the Third World is not related to wealth and growth in the West and vice versa, elementary moral reasons still require that the problem be worked out: that humanity be treated by philosophy as a whole, that the Third World crisis be solved, that a social system that fails to solve it (not to mention creating it) is radically confronted, that a search for an alternative is initiated.

Recently, a broad discussion about justice has been opened between Habermas and his followers, on the one side, and Rawls and his followers, on the other[45].  I have above criticized the Habermasian cul-de-sac between the Scylla of Kantian formalism and the Charybdis of transcendentalism. Although there is no space here to deal with the formality of arguments of the second, Rawlsian and post-Rawlsian type,[46] I will just outline a counter claim due to the relevance of that discussion to my theme. Not only are arguments of Rawlsian type even emptier and ineffective for examining the need for international justice and equality; they are also possible from any perspective: formalism may equally prove that justice is needed or not needed, and there can be no formally deduced supremacy of justice over injustice, egalitarianism over libertarianism, and the like. Let alone, form without concrete content turns to a game of the Verstand, and substitutes the undisputable question of how to implement justice with the disputable about the self-identical and transcendental conditions of its necessity. Hence, it is likely to cheat on a problem that is concrete, economical, and political (not to mention, again, prima facie moral). 

I am not one of those who believe in the voluntary nature of philosophical process, and that the current situation is a mistake that ‘ought’ to be corrected. As I have mentioned in this paper, social processes, including intellectual ones, follow a necessary, albeit post festum observed trajectory, and this necessity will certainly be revealed when “the Owl of Minerva spreads its wings”. It is in the interest of philosophy itself that it is revealed. This is the way philosophy becomes its time grasped in thought and, to borrow another Hegelian term, this is the way philosophy becomes of historical magnitude. The question now is whether philosophy will be able to discern the real roots of the crisis or will remain within the logic of antiterrorist campaigns, and unwillingly provide theoretical coverage for interventions for the sake ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’. As if I. Wallerstein targets modern philosophers when he writes: “The problem is structural. In an historical social system that is built on hierarchy and inequality, which is the case of the capitalist world-economy, universalism as description or ideal or goal can only in the long run be universalism as ideology, fitting well the classical formulation of Marx, that the ruling ideas are the ideas of the ruling class.”[47] This is not to simply turn philosophy into politics or to pursue new utopias. It is about detaching it from academic inwardness and a new provinciality. It is about avoiding being overwhelmed by previous failures, it is about keeping the uncompromising struggle. True philosophical voice today must be raised on behalf of all mankind. The discourse is about humanity in its totality, and nobody accepts the latent logic of modern imperialism about humans and “less humans.”

[1] San Juan E. Beyond Postcolonial Theory, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998, p.8

[2] Popper K.R.:  The Open Society and its Enemies, Vol.2: The High Tide of Prophesy: Hegel, Marx and the Aftermath, London: Routledge and Keagan Paul, 1962, p.124

[3] Ibid. p.128

[4] Habermas J. Between Facts and Norms. Contributions to a Discourse Theory of Law and Democracy. Trans. William Rehg, Cambrigde: Polity Press, 1996, p. 478 I have modified or changed all translations from the German wherever I considered appropriate

[5] Cf. Arato A., Cohen J.A., Civil Society and Political Theory, Cambridge (Mass.): MIT Press, 1995, esp. ch.  “The Contemporary Revival of Civil Society”, pp. 21-82

[6] “Marxism was not only a catastrophe for all the countries in which Marxists took power, but a disaster for the reformist Left in all the countries in which they did not”. Rorty R. Achieving our Country. Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America, Cambridge (Mass.): Harvard University Press, 1998, p.41. Although Rorty grants that Marxist thought has contributed in ‘encouraging us to look for such [moral – NL] purity’ (p.45), it would still be better if “the next generation of American leftists found as little resonance in the names of Karl Marx and Vladimir Ilyich Lenin as in those of Herbert Spencer and Benito Mussolini” (p.51)

[7] Cf. the names of Ch. 2 (‘The Eclipse of The Reformist Left’) and Ch. 3 (‘A Cultural Left’)

[8] Rorty R., op.cit. p. 76

[9] Ibid. p. 79

[10] Cf. Taylor C., Philosophical Arguments, Cambridge (Mass.): Harvard University Press 1995, pp. 204-224

[11] Rorty R. Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1979

[12] From this standpoint, the choice of Habermas is also not accidental. Despite the ocean of literature on Marxism, very few scholars seem to be fully aware of the intimate relationship between Marx and Hegel; to the contrary, readings like those of L. Althusser, L. Colletti, Analytical Marxists, and many others had always been be prevailing. In my opinion, Marxism is impossible to understand properly without investigating its methodological roots in German Idealism. For a recent serious restatement of the relation between Marx and Hegel see Rockmore T. Marx after Marxism, Oxford: Blackwell, 2002, esp. 159-211. Perhaps the two best works on this theme come from two unknown Russians. See Ilyenkov E.V. Dialekticheskaya Logika. Ocherki Istorii i Theorii, (Dialectical Logic. Essays on its History and Theory) 2nd Enl. Ed., Moscow: Politizdat, 1984; Vazyulin V.A. Logika “Kapitala” K. Marxa, (The Logic of Marx’s “Capital”), 2nd ed., Moscow: SPU 2002

[13] The critique applies also to his early work. For Habermas the problem never gained central importance, even at times when it was central in leftist discussions. See for example, Habermas J. Legitimationsprobleme im Spätkapitalismus. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1973

[14]Überwindung des Nationalstaates: Abschaffung oder Aufhebung?“ in: Habermas J. The Inclusion of the Other. Studies in Political Theory, edited by Ciaran Cronin and Pablo de Greiff, Cambridge (Mass.): MIT Press, 1999, pp. 124- 127

[15] Ibid. pp.165-201, esp.179ff. See also the abovementioned Between Facts and Norms

[16] Habermas J. The Postnational Constellation. Political Essays, Trans. Max Pensky, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2001, p.54

[17] Ibid. p.55

[18] Ibid.

[19] Habermas J. The Inclusion of the Other, p. 226ff, esp. 231, etc.

[20] Ibid. S. 122-123

[21] Habermas, The Postnational Constellation, p. 50

[22] It should not be surprising that two thinkers whose overall ideas radically vary demonstrate such accord on this question, because this is a characteristic of almost the entire spectrum of the left in the West.

[23] Rorty R.,  Achieving our Country, p. 86

[24] Ibid. p. 88

[25] Such way of looking at social process is widely spread among the left. For a detailed critique of such “conspiracy” view, see Limnatis N., Manipulirovanye: syshnost’, proyavlenya, puty sniatya  [Manipulation: essence, appearances, ways of sublation]Moscow: Ekonomycheskaya Demokratya, 2000

[26]  This should not hide some significant differences. Rorty claims that “the current leftist habit of taking the long view and looking beyond nationhood to a global polity is as useless as was faith in Marx’s philosophy of history, for which it has become a substitute.” Rorty R., Achieving our Country, p. 98

[27] Taylor C. Multiculturalism: Examining the Politics of Recognition, 2nd Ed., N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994; See also Benhabib S.(ed.): Democracy and Difference. Contesting the Boundaries of the Political, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996; etc, etc.

[28] Habermas J., Zeit der Übergänge. Kleine Politische Schriften IX, Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 2001

[29] See his essay ‚Euroskepsis, Markteuropa oder Europa der (Welt-)Bürgern in: Ibid. , S.85-103. 

[30] Ibid. S..103

[31] Cf. the uncompromising N. Chomsky. Chomsky N., “Terrorizing the Neighborhood: American Foreign Policy in the Post-Cold War Era, San Francisco: Pressure Drop Press, 1991;Chomsky N., Acts of Aggression: Policing Rogue States, New York: Seven Stories, 1999; Chomsky N., The Umbrella of U.S. Power: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Contradictions of U.S. Policy, (New York: Seven Stories Press, 1999; etc. Of course, the stability of capitalism is not the result of propaganda and the question is not just political. To the contrary, the effectiveness of propaganda in western countries is the result of the existing stability. In the Third World, the propaganda is certainly not effective. It is just that the specific local social structures create specific, often ‘inverted’ forms of resistance.

[32] “Americans and Europeans spend $17 billion a year on pet food – $4 billion more than the estimated annual additional total needed to provide basic health and nutrition for everyone in the world”, From: Kofi Annan’s Astonishing Facts, New York Times, Sunday Sept. 27, 1998.

[33] Cf. Samir Amin’s basic argument that local capitalism has been made impossible. See the classical Amin s., Unequal Development. An Essay on the Social Formations of Peripheral Capitalism, New York: Monthly Review Press, 1976; also the recent Amin S. Les Défis de la Mondialisation, Paris: L'Harmattan, 1996, etc.

[34] The relapse of the Soviet Republics of Central Asia despite seventy years of ‘secular’ propaganda offers a unique study case on the problem.  From this optical angle one can see how premature the discussion of a global welfare is. 

[35] The idealization of the immediate potential of all masses, including those in the periphery, is the most common illusion of leftist critics, especially Marxists.  The historicity of the question, the transformation of personality, on the one hand, and its relation to objective ‘technocratic’ aspects (relevant to social structure, automatization, creativity of labor process, etc), on the other,  are overlooked. Cf. here Dirlik A. Postmodernity’s Histories. The Past as Legacy and Project, New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2000, esp. the essay “Revolutions in History and Memory. The Politics of Cultural Revolution in Historical Perspective” pp.19-61. A rare and profound in its methodological insights assessment is Vazuylin V. A. Logika Istorii. Voprosi Teorii I Metodologii,(The Logic of History. Questions of Theory and Methodology) Moscow: Moscow State University Press, 1988

[36] The known A. Giddens offers an example of a scholar who perceives the centrality of Third World problem, yet without considering the mutual dependence between capitalist welfare and poverty. The contradiction is whether a restructuring of the North-South relationships is possible without creating instability for the centers of capitalism, and of course, whether is possible as a peaceful redistribution initiated from the West. See: Giddens A. Beyond Left and Right. The Future of Radical Politics, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1994, Ch. 6 and 7.

[37] This remark covers a broad spectrum of trends, like the descendants of Neomarxism, of Critical Theory,  Postcolonial Theory, Poststructuralism, etc. The work of J. Butler, S. Zizek, and many-many others is characteristic of this tendency.  San Juan’s insightful remark against postcolonial theory that “it occludes its own historical determinacy by deploying psychoanalytical and linguistic conceptual frameworks that take market/exchange relations for granted” (San Juan E. Op. cit., p. 10) has, in my opinion, wide applicability.

[38] For a recent interesting Marxist critique see Dirlik A. The Postcolonial Aura. Third World Criticism in the Age of Global Capitalism. Boulder (Colorado): Westview Press, 1997

[39] For a more extensive discussion of my understanding of this problem see Limnatis N. Op.Cit., Ch. 5, esp. pp. 153-164

[40] Dirlik A. The Postcolonial Aura , p. 2.

[41] Although I have argued above only against Habermas, similar critique could be advanced against almost all of current leading figures. For an eloquent example (with feminist and deconstructive accents)  against the eurocentrism of G. Deleuze and M. Foucault, see Spivak G. “Can the Subaltern talk?” in: Grossberg L., Nelson G. (eds.), Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988, pp. 271-313; also: Spivak G. A Critique of Postcolonial Reason, Cambridge (Mass.): Harvard University Press, 1999, esp. 248ff. There is a thin yet critical distinction between denouncing suppression of the periphery in imperialist practice, and, to the one or the other extent idealizing the precapitalist structures and mentalities in the periphery, which imperialism, as an objective stage of historical development, inevitably transforms. The search for objectivity in social processes, as I argue in this paper, is crucial for social criticism.

[42] See Habermas’ latest concerns about the danger of a ‚liberal Eugenic’ in Habermas J., Die Zukunft der Menschlichen Natur. Auf dem Weg zu einer liberalen Eugenik, Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 2001, about cloning in the above mentioned „Die postnationale Konstellation“, etc.

[43] Cf. the numerous anthologies in ‘Contemporary Moral Problems’ used for college teaching in the US. They all have chapters on cloning, euthanasia, abortion, etc. Many of them have even chapters on animal rights. But they rarely mention starvation or any other Third World problem. This is truly a peculiar morality.

[44] Cf. Pogge T. Priorities of Global Justice. pp.6-24. In: Pogge T. (guest ed.) Global Justice. Metaphilosophy Vol. 32, Nos.1-2, January 2001, Special Issue

[45] The common denominator of all approaches is Kantian universalistic morality. For an extensive exposition of Habermasian and Rawlsian approaches see Cronin C., De Greiff P. (eds.), Global Justice and Transnational Politics, Cambridge (Mass.): MIT Press, 2002.

[46] Cf. much of Pogge T, (guest ed.), Op. Cit. ; Cronin C., De Greiff P. (eds.), op. cit., Part I; etc.

[47] Wallerstein I. Geopolitics and Geoculture, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991, p. 217