A new week, an old task


Max Horkheimer 1939: The Social Function of Philosophy

We cannot say that, in the history of philosophy, the thinkers who had the most progressive effect were those who found most to criticize or who were always on hand with so-called practical programs. Things are not that simple. A philosophical doctrine has many sides, and each side may have the most diverse historical effects. Only in exceptional historical periods, such as the French Enlightenment, does philosophy itself become politics. In that period, the word philosophy did not call to mind logic and epistemology so much as attacks on the Church hierarchy and on an inhuman judicial system. The removal of certain preconceptions was virtually equivalent to opening the gates of the new world. Tradition and faith were two of the most powerful bulwarks of the old regime, and the philosophical attacks constituted an immediate historical action. Today, however, it is not a matter of eliminating a creed, for in the totalitarian states, where the noisiest appeal is made to heroism and a lofty Weltanschauung, neither faith nor Weltanshauung rule, but only dull indifference and the apathy of the individual towards destiny and to what comes from above. Today our task is rather to ensure that, in the future, the capacity for theory and for action which derives from theory will never again disappear, even in some coming period of peace when the daily routine may tend to allow the whole problem to be forgotten once more. Our task is continually to struggle, lest mankind become completely disheartened by the frightful happenings of the present, lest man’s belief in a worthy, peaceful and happy direction of society perish from the earth.


Independent thinking ….

… and the small steps the academic world undermines it …

Two weeks teaching are over, today with the long Sunday sessions … – it is good to see the students (well, some of them) again being around, eager to learn, interested in understanding the world and gain independent thinking. Sure, independent thinking does by no means deny the meaning of work that had been done – putting all us of on the shoulders of giants and as well on those of the forgotten labouring masses of the academic world on which the monuments of giants are erected. Al this talk about giants and the acknowledgment of the pedestals on which they stand is not just about referencing but it is of fundamental importance to learn about the work that had been done, climbing on the shoulders of giants. And this is not least a matter of methodologies, theories and methods. Only this way we are able to work according to fundamentally important principles: Asad Zaman presents them in the following way:

The first of this is to consider the central role of institutions as mediators of change. … A second principle is “methodological communitarianism,” according to which only collective action creates social change … . A third principle is the strong interaction between the social, economic and political spheres which requires simultaneous consideration of all three … . A fourth principle is the reflexive relationship between theories and history. Changing historical circumstances generate theories designed to understand this change. In turn, theories affect history, since responses to change are mediated by theories. Finally, … social change is initiated by external factors, but understanding the process of change requires considering responses to these external stimuli by various groups.[1]

But what is then about independence? Just before taking up teaching again, I submitted an article to a journal – and the style guidelines deserve in the context of learning independent thinking some special attention:

The use of personal pronouns (‘I’ and ‘we’) is to be generally avoided in the text, as are phrases such as ‘This paper will analyze …’, since the paper itself is an inanimate object and incapable of cognition.

The age old and lasting Werturteilsstreit (value judgment dispute) in new veils. This dispute was at its height before WW I, in the early 1960 and it has its clandestine renaissance now — Doesn’t the quoted formulation suggest that any academic should leave personality, opinion, values etc, at the wardrobe when entering the ivory tower? – Sure, another reading is possible: academics of all disciplines, leave the tower and act in a responsible way wherever responsibility is asked for. Not least on the streets and squares – when crossing them and blocking them …

Coming back too teaching, the challenge remains: how to prepare academics to find the door of the ivory tower, making them thoroughly aware that getting in does not suggest one has to stay inside.

It is indeed still true what had been said in thesis 11:

The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.

Part of my tiny contribution to the interpretation and change can be found here in the lecture recordings, which will be frequently updated throughout the term.


[1] Zambian, Asad, 2016: The Methodology of Polanyi’s Great Transformation; in: Economic Thought 5.1: 44-63; here: 46; I may add that I talked about methodological socialism in the book “Opening Views against the Closure of the World” which had been published earlier this year.

War – the political intercourse carried on with other means — 9/11/1973

While writing, just before the 9/11 date, I can only assume that there will be another series of memorials … — and the one nearly complete amnesia: September 11, 1973 is the date which marks much more than just another violent rebuke of an alternative to business as usual as capitalist is called — and it is called even more so today, while the hegemony of this kind of business is barely contested in real terms.
What makes the Coup in Chile special?
To begin with, an important point can be taken from a piece by  Ralph Miliband, published in the Jacobin. He makes us aware of the fact that Chile was a showcase. We read
When Salvador Allende was elected to the presidency of Chile in September 1970, the regime that was then inaugurated was said to constitute a test case for the peaceful or parliamentary transition to socialism.
And leaving the different interpretations Miliband utters aide, it is surely true that
class struggle also means, and often means first of all, the struggle waged by the dominant class, and the state acting on its behalf, against the workers and the subordinate classes. By definition, struggle is not a one way process; but it is just as well to emphasize that it is actively waged by the dominant class or classes, and in many ways much more effectively waged by them than the struggle waged by the subordinate classes.
Gabriel García Márquez out this into the wider context in his piece Why Allende had to die?

Chile had long been a favoured area for research by North American social scientists. The age and strength of its popular movement, the tenacity and intelligence of its leaders and the economic and social conditions themselves afforded a glimpse of the country’s destiny. One didn’t require the findings of a Project Camelot to venture the belief that Chile was a prime candidate to be the second socialist republic in Latin America after Cuba. The aim of the United States, therefore, was not simply to prevent the government of Allende from coming to power in order to protect American investments. The larger aim was to repeat the most fruitful operation that imperialism has ever helped bring off in Latin America: Brazil.

And this is the core of such class struggle: undermine systematically any success story that shows that another world is possible. So we read

During the first year, 47 industrial firms were nationalised, along with most of the banking system. Agrarian reform saw the expropriation and incorporation into communal property of six million acres of land formerly held by the large landowners. The inflationary process was slowed, full employment was attained and wages received a cash rise of 30 per cent.
Hegemony, we know too well from Gramsci, is linked to two ways: the direct control, using violence where needed — and this is the force making sure that oppression is maintained if the soft means of hegemonic control fail to fulfill their duty. The geopolitical constellation was clear — The Time Magazine (October 19, 1970) brought it on the point, titling:
Marxist Threat In The Americas – Chile’s Salvador Allende
Indeed, as Márquez points out,
For the Christian Democrats, it was proof that the process of social justice set in motion by the Popular Unity coalition could not be turned back by legal means but they lacked the vision to measure the consequences of the actions they then undertook. For the United States, the election was a much more serious warning and went beyond the simple interests of expropriated firms. It was an inadmissible precedent for peaceful progress and social change for the peoples of the world, particularly those in France and Italy, where present conditions make an attempt at an experiment along the lines of Chile possible. All forces of internal and external reaction came together to form a compact bloc.
At the time, and I remember it well, everything was clear though undocumented – and there was still the attempt of denial – the denial of the obvious fact that this was a geopolitical strategy with many heads behind it. And mentioning those heads, pointing out that it was a coup that had been prepared for some time, had to face too often skeptical answers — but at some stage the truth cannot be denied anymore.
Actually, what is true for the hot war is also true for the cold war. Chile was, at the time of Pinochet, celebrated as blueprint for what is now known as neoliberalism – to on a pedestal by Milton Friedman; and fostered by the IMF. But even in the IMF, some people wake up, seeing in tendency the wrongs for which they stand today:

An assess- ment of these specific policies (rather than the broad neoliberal agenda) reaches three disquieting conclusions:

• The benefits in terms of increased growth seem fairly dif- ficult to establish when looking at a broad group of countries.

• The costs in terms of increased inequality are promi- nent. Such costs epitomize the trade-off between the growth and equity effects of some aspects of the neoliberal agenda.

• Increased inequality in turn hurts the level and sustain- ability of growth. Even if growth is the sole or main purpose of the neoliberal agenda, advocates of that agenda still need to pay attention to the distributional effects.

Back to today’s main stage then where it had been
against Chile as well — for Cuba it had been already the known strategy for a while.
And the new strategy after the democratically elected government was overthrown, was clear. The Pinochet-regime, after first establishing itself by bloody measures, established the new reign – present in an article published in The Guardian:
After Allende’s enemies finally claimed their victory against him on 11 September, Chileans protected themselves as best they could while Pinochet and his cohorts, well favoured now by Washington, turned to making themselves fortunes from the privatisation of public services and, quietly, from the trade in cocaine from Bolivia which the US never seemed to want to criticise or attack.
Indeed, Clausewitz new it and spelled it out:
War is not merely an act of policy but a true political instrument, a continuation of political intercourse carried on with other means.
And it is in this sense that we have to learn about the “invisible financial and economic blockade” Allende spoke of, addressing the UN in December 1972.
— A topic Paul E. Sigmund discussed in Foreign Affairs (Vol. 52, No. 2 (Jan., 1974), pp. 322-340)
And that the war reports today – those on the ‘cold war’ – are not necessarily widely discussed, though fatalities and winners easily can be seen. And we should also not forget that THIS war can be found in many places around the globe – North and South, and often enough not really just as cold war. And Michael Hudson analysed this issue of Finance as Warfare.
Coming back to Ralph Miliband’s article, we read at its beginning:
Of course, the Wise Men of the Left, and others too, have hastened to proclaim that Chile is not France, or Italy, or Britain. This is quite true. No country is like any other: circumstances are always different, not only between one country and another, but between one period and another in the same country. Such wisdom makes it possible and plausible to argue that the experience of a country or period cannot provide conclusive “lessons.”
But still, despite that there are many lessons we can learn from history, also from the history of 9/11 1973 – in particular when we see all these events, now and then, not as individual occurrences but as part of the ongoing history of striving for global hegemony.

Now available: Cohesion Instead of Integration – Shifting Borders and the Role of Communications

A new publication is now available from Nova Publishers:

Cohesion Instead of Integration – Shifting Borders and the Role of Communications

(see also: 班戈学院Herrmann教授参与编撰的新书正式出版)


The chapter presents some theoretical and methodological considerations regarding communication. The fundamental question is if – and if so, to what extent – communication is playing a new role in today’s societies, where borders have shifted in multiple ways. The aim is to provoke reflection on the multitude of shifting borders, incompletely captured by the concept of globalisation. Furthermore, some ideas will be developed towards the role of communication in overcoming the tensions that accompany globalisation. A guideline for achieving multilevel integration as line of reference will be made including a short presentation of the theory of social quality.

It is published in the book:

Eds.: Lu Zhouxiang and Peter Herrmann;  New York: Nova, 2016
Book Description: 
Focusing on the themes of conflict, communication, and globalisation, this book provides interdisciplinary studies of modern and contemporary Asia and highlights the latest developments in Asian Studies. Beginning with a discussion on the role of communications, the book offers theoretical and methodological considerations on dealing with conflict and communication. It then explores self–other relationships through an investigation of the ethical structure of responsibility in the context of globalisation. In the following chapters, contributors from China, Germany, Ireland, Japan and South Korea provide a clear grasp of conflicts and communications within and beyond Asia from political, economic and cultural perspectives. They offer insight on a wide range of topics including the Sino-Japanese conflict, the political and ideological struggles between the two Koreas, Asian countries’ responses to the economic crisis, the World Fair and globalisation, the development of NBA culture in China, and Sino-Western comparison on mother-in-law–daughter-in-law dynamic. The book concludes that Asia’s rise should present more opportunities than conflicts and threats, and that it will eventually lead to the emergence of a multipolar world. (Imprint: Nova)

Off to class …

… the same dingdong …, teaching economics. Funnily enough (well, not really funny at all) the schedule should start with an “Introduction into Economics” – after learning English during the first year. No propaedeutics in the true meaning of introducing into academic thinking.

Still, looking at the requirements and standards sent from the British “mother university”, there seems to be some change. Work should now follow the CORE Project, i.e. the Curriculum in Open-Access Resources in Economics, elaborated by the Institute for New Economic Thinking. At first glance, the idea is surely laudable – as the website advertises:

Teaching economics as if the last three decades had happened.

Still, looking closely at the proposal there are some flaws. For instance from a heterodox perspective, as we brought forward by the World Economics Association, the following is contended:

The CORE project in particular seems to neglect to teach:
• that economics can be defined in different ways;

• that an economic problem can be looked at from different theoretical perspectives;
• that economists constructively disagree;
• that economists can be in error;
• that economic ideas can be dangerous if uncontested; and
• that there is more to teaching economics in a historical context than simply a narrative and some data.
 And part of the story is that “teaching economics as if the last three decades had happened” has to consider from where exactly the economy and economic developed and not least it requires
Teaching economics as if there is a future that can be shaped and will be shaped by and for people

Admittedly high aspirations. And paradoxically they are going well hand in hand with the “Keynesian plea for modesty” laid down in the “Essays“:

‘But, chiefly, do not let us overestimate the importance of the economic problem, or sacrifice to its supposed necessities other matters of greater and more permanent significance. It should be a matter for specialists—like dentistry. If economists could manage to get themselves thought of as humble, competent people, on a level with dentists, that would be splendid!’

(Keynes, J., 1932: Essays in Persuasion; New York: Harcourt Brace: 373)

Well, that is what I am trying to follow – beginning by … coming to the core of academic education: propaedeutics, dealing with the questions of meaning. And not least, aiming on teaching that we – as economists – may do something for the set of teeth, but the biting takes place outside of the setting of the surgery.