Sure, we still speak of Modern Times though those times seem to be backward if seen from today. Sure, in one way or another they meant that we all would be caught between the cogwheels of this machine so well captured by Antonio Gramsci in his work and visualised by Charlie Chaplin.
In Quaderno 22 Gramsci gives a concise insight:
Registro di alcuni dei problemi più importanti o interessanti essenzialmente anche se a prima vista paiono non di primo piano:
1) sostituzione all’attuale ceto plutocratico, di un nuovo meccanismo di accumulazione e distribuzione del capitale finanziario fondato immediatamente sulla produzione industriale;
2) quistione sessuale;
3) quistione se l’americanismo possa costituire un’«epoca» storica, se cioè possa determinare uno svolgimento graduale del tipo, altrove esaminato, delle «rivoluzioni passive» proprie del secolo scorso o se invece rappresenti solo l’accumularsi molecolare di elementi destinati a produrre un’«esplosione», cioè un rivolgimento di tipo francese;
4) quistione della «razionalizzazione» della composizione demografica europea;
5) quistione se lo svolgimento debba avere il punto di partenza nell’intimo del mondo industriale e produttivo o possa avvenire dall’esterno, per la costruzione cautelosa e massiccia di una armatura giuridica formale che guidi dall’esterno gli svolgimenti necessari dell’apparato produttivo;
6) quistione dei così detti «alti salari» pagati dall’industria fordizzata e razionalizzata;
7) il fordismo come punto estremo del processo di tentativi successivi da parte dell’industria di superare la legge tendenziale della caduta del saggio del profitto;
8) la psicanalisi (sua enorme diffusione nel dopoguerra) come espressione dell’aumentata coercizione morale esercitata dall’apparato statale e sociale sui singoli individui e delle crisi morbose che tale coercizione determina;
9) il Rotary Club e la Massoneria
Leaving the cogwheels aside and not thinking too much about the body being reduced to an annex of the machine, one may still see the undeniably positive side of the “project industrial modernity”.
* We are talking about the independent individual, the personality as it emerged from the great enlightenment which, if we want to say so, gave the starting signal from the different angles – the trinity of the enlightenment represented by the central powers: the Scottish enlightenment with its emphasis of the liberty of the utilitarian market citizens; the French national unity of equal individuals as for instance highlighted by Montesquieu; and the Germans contributing by the idea of a rational fraternal political system – fraternity for those who ate the carrot and avoided the stick by anticipating its blows.
* We are also talking about ‘wealth for all’ – of course, it needed German fascism to avail of the ‘blessing’ of the Volkswagen, the people’s car. But it did have earlier the ‘Emporio Ford T‘ to become a simple reality. Yes, not for the people; and not for everybody – but for many as part of the programme had been the orientation on the domestic market, with this the orientation on relatively high income of the workers.
* Still, the system remained in need of two emergency breaks: The one is mentioned by Gramsci: the Rotary Club and the Masons. We can also translate this into a broader terminology, namely a capitalist anthropology which Herbert Marcuse characterised nicely in a presentation titled Man in a Socialised World. He highlights the following as characterising the current anthropological Zeitgeist, pertaining in modern capitalist economies:
- life is presented and perceived as plight and alienation
- however, there is a ‘better life’: the satisfaction of needs and wants as remuneration of labour – though suffering is the irretrievable foundation of happiness
- life is a matter of striving for being – and the substance of life is productivity with and in favour of society
- refined values are separated from ever day’s life, from the daily performance. Finding to yourself is left for the time outside of work.
We usually do not think much about how frightening this really may be – and perhaps permanently thinking about it would leave us unliveable. Still, we should occasionally pause – not least as we are today again facing this strive of exception, for excellence, for greatness. The presentation of Wilhelm Klemperer’s thoughts on the truth of language (listen to 23:00 ff) can serve as an eye-opener. Paradoxically it had been German fascism that used an Americanised language: speaking in figures and in superlatives.
By 2030, two-thirds of people in the world’s middle class will be Chinese, Wolfensohn said. “These are not trivial changes — they are tectonic changes in the way the planet works. In my generation we didn’t have to think about it. We knew we were a rich country.”
But today’s students will have to confront a new world in which Africa is no longer an isolated continent but the fastest-growing market for cell phones.
Yes, even if modern times had been geared to mass-production also for the domestic markets, this world depended still fundamentally on the division which Andre Gunder Frank characterised as Development of Underdevelopment.
And indeed, it should not be forgotten that the enlightenment and its expression in the French trinity of Liberté, égalité, fraternité (mind the sequence) had been standing on another pillar, one that is often forgotten. The complete parole reads
Unité, Indivisibilité de la République; Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité ou la mort
And it would be an easy task to turn the death into a strategy of Development of Underdevelopment.
Of course, Development of Underdevelopment is one side of the medal though, and the other is the shift mentioned by Wolfensohn – and as usual, each of these issues deserves intense debates. And still, we should not forget impressions, prejudices … – the world is complex and exactly this complexity gives permanent raise to debating convergence and divergence, sameness and difference – also looking for heuristic means. Indeed, one thing seems to be clear
… a wing does not make an angel …
Ernst Bloch elaborated on different facets of ‘possibility’, allowing us with this an informed approach to understanding them in their objectivity. He points on (i) the formally possible – what is possible according to its logical structure; (ii) the objectively possible – possible being based on assumptions on the ground of epistemologically based knowledge; (iii) the objectively possible – possible as it follows from the options inherently given by the object; (iv) and the objectively real possible – possible by following the latency and tendency which is inherent in its elementary form.
Recently I went to a concert – something there caught my special attention. A young pianist – as people say: one of the two top pianists here, playing mainly Chopin. People sitting there, making photos (as everywhere), some using flash though not allowed to do so (as everywhere), some chatting (not as everywhere) … – and something else: some people say that a problem of many Chinese artists, when playing ‘Western music’ is the lack of emotional engagement. It links to the wider picture, suggesting that Asian economies and their success is very much based on copying and producing cheaply. I do not want to engage with this argument; I do not want to generalise. Still, Chopin, for me, saw better pianists. Really interesting are two other points though: During the technically really difficult parts Yundi really performed well – but in other parts …: well, I occasionally got from his play the impression that difference of emotions seems to be translated into simple difference of volume, evoked by the strength of the key-stroke (I admit that, listening later on youtube I got a slightly better impression of the musician).
I remembered videos, presenting Daniel Barenboim in the masterclass with LangLang histories, life stories finding an impression in how a person is playing and living, living and playing. So much more in it than ‘technique’. And this brings me to the second remarkable point: the encore. It had been a little Chinese piece. The best part of the evening I think, not because it had been for me something ‘exotic’, ‘new’, but because there was the ‘drive’ one would expect.
A critical statement on globalisation if you want – something we also see in learning and teaching that is pressed into an electronic blackboard frame: the corset fitting to students, the students requiring the corset …, an endless story, without real end and without real beginning. The enlightenment ending in the eclipse of reason, we unlearning to write notes on the thing Zuszsa refers to, asking does it
mean what it did in my childhood?
No, though at this stage we still have it; and I always suppress my slight temptation to curse: dust, the dirty clothes, and the fear to lean against it … – Yes, I see you smiling …, you know about the odi et amo here too.
All this is surely also part of a somewhat strange development of social thinking – the difficulty may be not primarily to smoothen the contradiction, or even to surmount it. Instead, only by fully acknowledging the tension we can truly solve the problem. It is the old tension of ‘objectivity’ and ‘value’ as structural factors determining historical development. I discussed this in the work on the Vatican Spring and Liberation Theology; and recently I was getting aware of it again and perhaps even more, when looking a bit into the reformation. It is too often that we forget the extremely conservative factor of this reformist movement, (cl)aiming to be a movement of renewal. Leaving all the other facets aside, reading the last sermon in Wittenberg on the Second Sunday in Epiphany by its main protagonist Martin Luther is enlightening – and it is so well captured in a collection of quotes and sayings:
Vernunft und Verstand sind des Teufels Huren. Ein altes, tüchtiges Pfaffen-Wort, Allen denen zu Lieb und Ehren, denen Vernunft und Verstand im Wege stehen. Sie sagten auch: ‘Verstand und Vernunft können Gottes Wort nicht verfechten; sie sind nur große Wettermacher und Hagelsieber in der Schrift! Freilich machen sie anderes Wetter in der Schrift, als es die Pfaffen gerne haben, welche lieber im Dunkeln munkeln und immer nur vor dem Teufel warnen, aber nicht anders, wie jener Dieb auf der Flucht, der immer aus Leibes-Kräften rief: ‘Haltet den Dieb!’ – damit man ihn selber nicht dafür erkennen möchte.
Really, are reason and intellect the whores of the devil? One of the problems will be that we do not easily recognise that such valuations are in some ways evaluations of a historical situation, of a phase of transition that deals with the entirety of the value system that defines and redefines human existence. Indeed,
[t]he qualitative leap from the animalistic to human = societal existence is thus given by the new quality of the relations of inner and outer nature. While even the most developed species reach at most the individual adaptation to the given living conditions, humans change the outer nature in an in independent, socio-historical process, thus creating the conditions of their own development. So human existence means much more than striving for individual survival under the given conditions; it is identical with overcoming dependence … . As part of this process of anticipating change of relevant living conditions we see that human abilities, cognition, needs and relations are also developing.
And indeed, this defined also part of enlightenment – the part that had been enlightening in a very literary way, namely when Michael Kohlhaas showed in the 16th century his understanding of freedom that would be only much later accepted as part of the bourgeois revolution. And indeed, all this was not least about putting Anselm’s dictum on its feet. For him it had been clear:
Ergo Domine, qui das fidei intellectum, da mihi, ut, quantum scis expedire, intelligam, quia es sicut credimus, et hoc es quod credimus.
In other words, he accepts ‘understanding’, ratio, as understanding the reasons for subordination under god. The question gains a slightly different turn if we turn it towards on open understanding of ends and means. Of course, we may agree in some way with Antonio Sabetta when he says
Anzitutto, in quanto due ali, fede e ragione si presentano come necessarie in vista dello scopo; propriamente esse hanno lo statuto del mezzo rispetto al fine, il quale, oltre ad essere più importante del mezzo, ne qualifica l’identità e il valore, poiché il mezzo è per sua natura ordinato ad un fine, senza il quale perderebbe significato. Il fine in questione è la verità che lo spirito umano desidera conoscere o, più esattamente, contemplare; infatti, la conoscenza di cui si parla nel testo non ha un carattere astratto ma concerne la vita dell’uomo.
But latest when he ultimately insists on the dogma, linking truth to abstract ideals, saying
La tensione alla verità, ovvero, in definitiva, a Dio, nella cui conoscenza l’uomo incontra la verità su se stesso e comprende chi egli sia, costituisce il segno distintivo della sua creaturalità.
It is not by chance that the protestant reformation had been reluctant to reforms, and aggressively combatting those who, like Kohlhaas, did not see the end in god but in the change needed in reality, in the change of the mode of production – the words Luther used are testimony of misanthropy, oppression, violence, support of the rulers and plea for drabness:
Drumb sol hie zuschmeyssen, wurgen und stechen heymlich odder offentlich, wer da kan, und gedencken, das nicht gifftigers, schedlichers, teuffelischers seyn kan, denn eyn auffrurischer mensch, gleich als wenn man eynen tollen hund todschlahen mus, schlegstu nicht, so schlegt er dich und eyn gantz land mit dyr.
history establishes, indeed, a weird pattern when forgetting that the real struggles are not those between values but those between ‘ways of life’ as matter of productive relationships in wich humans create themselves as social individuals, though too often still caught in the idea that social is nothing more than superior individuals looking after others. Indeed – and as said earlier – the attentive reader of Marx Introduction to a Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy will surely know it:
For one thing, the object is not simply an object in general, but a particular object which must be consumed in a particular way, a way determined by production. Hunger is hunger; but the hunger that is satisfied by cooked meat eaten with knife and fork differs from hunger that devours raw meat with the help of bands, nails and teeth. Production thus produces not only the object of consumption but also the mode of consumption, not only objectively but also subjectively. Production therefore creates the consumer.
Without doubt, it has a bit of the Gordian Knot … – respecting individuals who are individuals only because they are …., just a cogwheel in a systemic setting.
Eclipse of the moon, the recent noonday, mid autumn festival … I did not see much of it. There were different reasons, the ‘difficulty’ to access this world which is to some extent the personal laziness and lack of the spirit of adventure. It is also about the development being so fast that those things that are specially worthwhile to see and to experience are more pushed to small corners, nearly invisible, or visible in passing, in small corners – showing up by accident, randomly roaming, roaming randomly …. – … and showing up in the small remarks, as for instance when the driver pointed at the moon, being excited … – such a meaningful, telling gesture for somebody coming from a world of cogwheels where moon and sun lost somewhat their meaning ….
… well, caught in cogwheels – at least it seems that we are still enough we, ‘independent’, personalities that can be caught …. Only death and decay of the thousand superlatives lost all its faces whereas, to use the words of Daniel Barenboim
[e]very great work of art has two faces, one towards its own time and one towards future, towards eternity.
 See in this context as well The Gramsci-Reader. Selected Writings 1916 – 1935; edited by David Forgacs; New York: New York University Press; 2000; http://ouleft.org/wp-content/uploads/gramsci-reader.pdf; see here for a short presentation of Fordismus
 Marcuse, Herbert, 1966: Der Mensch in einer sozialisierten Welt. Aufnahme: 03.10.1966, BR Technik: Schmitt Laufzeit: 47:13; CD 2: track 1: 2.45 min; from: Der Mensch in einer sozialisierten Welt. Originalvorträge von Herbert Marcuse. Autor: Herbert Marcuse. Sprecher: Herbert Marcuse. Aus der Reihe: O-Ton-Wissenschaft. Thema: Soziologie, Wissenschaft. 4 CDs – ca. 200 Minuten; see in this context also for further discussion: Herrmann, Peter, 2014: Social Policy – Production rather than Distribution. A Rights-Based Approach: 92 ff.
 see Bloch, Ernst, 1959: Prinzip Hoffnung; Frankfurt/M: Suhrkamp [written in 1938-1947; reviewed 1953 and 1959]: 258-288
 Die Sprichwörter und sprichwörtlichen Redensarten der Deutchen: nebst den Redensarten der deutschen Zechbrüder und aller praktik Grossmutter, d.i. der Sprichwörter ewigem Wetter-Kalender; Wilhelm Körte; F.A. Brockhaus, 1847; 567 pagine; hier: Seite: 450; see in this context not least Martin Luther’s Last Sermon in Wittenberg … Second Sunday in Epiphany, 17 January 1546.Dr. Martin Luthers Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe; Weimar: Herman Boehlaus Nachfolger, 1914), Band 51
 Osterkamp, Ute, 2000: Hat der Marxismus die Natur des Menschen verkannt oder: Sind die Menschen für den Sozialismus nicht geschaffen? aus: Schriftenreihe der Marx-Engels-Stiftung 20; Kommunistische Streitpunkte – Zirkularblätter – Nr. 6 – 15.10.2000 – Onlineversion; 1