The Beauty and the Beast – or: Variations on the Seemingly Eternal

I admit, I did not expect that the question of the Beauty and the Beast would have so many different manifest facets, but I would always have assumed many hidden facets and we rarely think about them, and perhaps even barely recognise them. Some of these meanings may come across in a modern-dusted gown, others in old fancy dresses – of course I am aware of such formulation standing against the general expectation which usually sees dust on the old and fanciness with the new.

Be it so, I suggest starting with some patchwork snippets.

* The Beauty and the Beast – Crusades: the world of lords, knights, foot-soldiers, peasants: suggesting the fancy world of a suggested good: the One Lord reigning eternity, a holy empire for secularity, being an empire of holiness with gods, angels, gnomes and fairies …, presenting itself as mystical for some, but as simple and massive power block for others.

* The Beauty and the Beast – it is[1] about palaces and hovels: the world of glory, of glamour, first derived from gods; then derived from people’s votes; and frequently based on pure violence, all being seen as matter of power: the possession of ultimate control, all this standing against the corners, hidden, though they do not have anything to hide, suppressed though people are already living very much on the bottom, first supposed by gods as “his will” is that we are deprived from material goods which would distract from god; then seen as consequence of people’s decisions: the lack of work-ethics, the failure to show eagerness …, the refusal to serve the goods in form of commodities, and the adherence to the gods, seen as values of humane existence, worshipping justice and hoping for solidarity; and very often based on pure violence: open or structural, the force of competition of the pure market-society, people deprived from rights as much as labour is deprived from its social character – a disembedded economy.

– We may halt for a second as there seems to be another side to it: the lonely emperor, suffering from his old clothes, and the rich peasant, not controlling much, but at least controlling the little according to the own will. Much had been said about the happiness and the paradoxes, not only starting with the work presented by Richard Easterlin and the critique of the same – but too little had been said that the rat race is, or becomes at some stage purely capitalism as perversion, and nothing else: the production of waste, the perversion of its own rules and the perversion of people’s life – further topped by celebrating such perversion by a kind of exhibitionism.

* The Beauty and the Beast – new identities: in the society of No Logo the logo counts, and though there is still value to things in terms of their use, this use is shifting increasingly to a symbolic instance, the so called positional goods – the use of defining and allocating oneself, thus generating the social on a secondary, derived level: not the direct interaction as production and reproduction of everyday’s life as metabolism with nature, but the possession of goods: commodities, power and control over nature is “what counts”.

The old economy is “factory based” and “capabilities driven” and hence “production-focused” an manufacturing actual products

– and we should not forget: also on enjoying these products, nor should we forget that all this is also about hard work and suspension of gratification and satisfaction and maintaining, even reinforcing the Victorian distinction between the deserving and the non-deserving poor

while the new economy is “consumer based” and “consumer-focused” and hence concerned not with manufacturing products but “creating brands”.[2]

There is surely much to be discussed in the connection with all this and some had been pointed out earlier: the supposed facts, the analysis and the interpretation. Not least we have to consider

[t]hat defence [of traditional livelihoods] is easily supported by an anticapitalist Left in opposition, and has been adopted by the current World Forum Movement: ‘We do not want development. We just want to live’, declared a front-stage banner at the World Social Forum in Mumbai in 2004.

(Therborn, Gøran, 2008: From Marxism to Post-Marxism?; London/New York; Verso: 35)

As already stated elsewhere,

Of course, we should not overlook the inherent danger – and in particular looking back to Ireland as one of the pronounced EUropean countries or also looking at countries like Brazil one should not overlook what is easily forgotten: Pleading for more equal societies cannot mean ‘equality on unbearable levels of subsistence. The ‘old Irish poverty’, people likely saying ‘we are all poor’ may have had something tempting in its simplicity of suggested equality,[3] but it surely did not have anything tempting with respect to living standards, living conditions and simply in terms of bare existence.[4]


It seems that all this found a point of culmination recently – at stake is a place of adoration: La Cappella Sistina, a place of stunning beauty and a place of spiritual elevation which is second only to the Vatican catacombs and there Confessio[5] and the private chapel where the popes supposedly begin their days with a private celebration of a mass[6]. The latter has this meaning at least in terms of the spiritual elevation (in modern language it translates to something like it the meeting room where the boss [= god] provides everyday the guidelines to one of the top CEOs, the branch manager of the Catholic section of human kind – it is widely unknown if and where he meets the CEOs of other branches, let alone that we any idea if and where he meets the CEOs of other planets).

Now there is a “new access”: The Vatican opened the Chapel for “the public”, another public, namely that public that is able to pay: in this case a Porsche club, accessing the chapel supposedly as part of a charity event. The Vatican rejects that it is a business issue and claims the charitable character standing at the very centre.


Still, one may ask if this is the right point for surely needed disenchantment – or perhaps the question should be put forward in a different way: if this is the right way for such disenchantment. Asking this is not about religious issues: the justification of the claims of mystery that is usually connected with religion. But it may admittedly be a matter of the valuation of arts and the excitement of really experiencing the immediate and “private” confrontation with such masterpiece – I have am lucky and privileged in having some personal experience standing behind this statement, though linked to van Rijn’s Nightwatch and Picasso’s Guernica. Such experience – standing in front of such piece just by way of a “private encounter”[7] is truly unique and actually the opposite of private: it is about delving into the public, social world of another era: an era of unbelievable grandess and construction in the one case; an era of unbelievable dehumanisation and destruction in the other case.

Thinking about the “nuova porta santa”, I am torn between different interpretations: disenchantment of religion and arts by commodification of another realm; the need of money to appreciate something special or the availability of money as making something special – visiting the chapel because it is expensive, because others cannot do it (this way); and finally the interpretation that all this actually the return of (though not religion so at least) the institutionalised “modern” church to its very existence, while wearing a new dress. History gives surely some clues, the two most important: first, the sale of indulgences can be seen as taking a new form: “doing good”, paying for charity and being allowed to experience the extraordinary even during this life; second, the role in particular of the Medici, somewhat alternating between the two roles of being banker of the Vatican and being pope. Indeed and cum grano salis we may refer to the famous passage

Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.

This is surely a question about religion, the self-understanding of the Vatican, institutionalised religion and so on. But it concerns also a much wider issue. One commentator brings it to the point

Ma si! Affittiamo pure il Colosseo per fare di nuovo i giochi gladiatori. Renzi contro Berlusconi non sarebbe male! Sai i soldi che farebbe la RAI trasmettendo il duello in mondovisione!

It would also fit well into my considerations about World’s New Princedoms. Critical Remarks on Claimed Alternatives by New Life.

And even the recent posting on the Finnish Babybox plays a role.

Finally, is it true then… ? Can progress only be obtained for the price of exclusion ….? How do we define the backyards and the yards of the courts – and how do the rulers of the courts define us who are living in the backyards, occasionally being allowed to have a glimpse over the fence?

Disenchantement. Enlightenment suggested it in different versions as “pure reason”: The French rational citoyen; the German rational bourgeois, the Scottish rational market citizen – all moving rationally forward by the “pursuit of Happiness”.

This had been well summarised a long time ago:

This sphere that we are deserting, within whose boundaries the sale and purchase of labour-power goes on, is in fact a very Eden of the innate rights of man. There alone rule Freedom, Equality, Property and Bentham. Freedom, because both buyer and seller of a commodity, say of labour-power, are constrained only by their own free will. They contract as free agents, and the agreement they come to, is but the form in which they give legal expression to their common will. Equality, because each enters into relation with the other, as with a simple owner of commodities, and they exchange equivalent for equivalent. Property, because each disposes only of what is his own. And Bentham, because each looks only to himself. The only force that brings them together and puts them in relation with each other, is the selfishness, the gain and the private interests of each. Each looks to himself only, and no one troubles himself about the rest, and just because they do so, do they all, in accordance with the pre-established harmony of things, or under the auspices of an all-shrewd providence, work together to their mutual advantage, for the common weal and in the interest of all.

Now, disenchantment has also some other dimension, bringing dialectically two issues together: It had been said that

[m]en make their own history.[8]

And it had been said that

[t]he philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.

In this light, thinking about progress has to mean to change the conditions under which we make our history, i.e. to control these conditions under which we make history.

Finally, isn’t it true?

There are no supreme saviours

Neither God, nor Caesar, nor tribune.


[1]            Keep also Buechner’s Hessian Courier in mind.

[2]            Barber, Benjamin R.: Consumed. How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole; Bew York/London: W.W. Norton&Company: 169 f., with reference to Marc Gobé, 2001: Emotional Branding. The New Paradigm for Connecting Brands to People; New York: Allworth Press: XIV

[3] Leaving aside the fact that such equality surely had been at no stage absolute.

[4]            Social Policy – Production rather than Distribution. A Rights-Based Approach; Bremen/Oxford: EHV Academicpress; 2014: 89

[5]            Rarely open to the public

[6]            Of course, more or less never open to the public – here religion finds the only location it should be allowed to claim: the private realm.

[7]            Yes, there had been security …

[8]            Yes, women too – just one example for Marx thinking in this way comes from a letter to Kugelmann, written in 1868:

“I think that German women should begin by driving their husbands to self-emancipation.” Actually there are many other references, taking up the immediate role of women and also the reference to assessing progress by looking at the emancipation of women.


Living on the Margins

Acknowledgements [1]

Kant is frequently coming to my mind these last day’s – one reason may be that Birgit mentioned him; to be honest she talked about her appreciation of the well-known categorical imperative, as he stated in the second half of the 18th century

act so that the maxim of thy will can always at the same time hold good as a principle of universal legislation

But there had been another reason for thinking about him, namely changing the train: the change from going high speed, non-stop from Roma to Milano, and then going on with the regional train to Pavia.

After arriving there, I receive an SMS from Lorenzo:

Welcome in padania

And for a philosopher, trained in the spirit of Western (which means very much German) philosophy there is only a small step from Pandania to Kant. Isn’t the “umbrella story” nearly as famous as the categorical imperative? The story of a philosopher of whom Heinrich Heine wrote:

The history of Immanuel Kant’s life is difficult to portray, for he had neither life nor history. He led a mechanically ordered, almost abstract bachelor existence in a quiet, remote little street in Königsberg, an old town on the northeastern border of Germany. I do not believe that the great clock of the cathedral there performed more dispassionately and methodically its outward routine of the day than did its fellow countryman Immanuel Kant. Getting up in the morning, drinking coffee, writing, giving lectures, eating, walking, everything had its appointed time, and the neighbors knew for certain that it was half-past three when Immanuel Kant, in his gray frock-coat, his Spanish cane in his hand, stepped out of his house and strolled to the little linden avenue called after him to this day the “Philosopher’s Path.” Eight times he walked up and down it, in every season of the year, and when the sky was overcast, or gray clouds announced a rain coming, old Lampe, his servant, was seen walking anxiously behind him with a big umbrella under his arm, like an image of Providence.[2]

I suppose there is a very close link between Kant’s very specific modesty and his imperative.


And in one way or another this had been the topic of the workshop on the 15th and 16th of May in Pavia, organised by the Istituto Universitario di Studi Superiori, Pavia, as part of the Laboratorio EXPO+EXPO Milano 2015 in collaboration with the Fondazione Giangiacomo Feltrinelli – I already mentioned it earlier.

One general theme had been the search for responsibility. And of course this means today – and in the context of discussing sustainability (which is one of the focus points of the 2015-EXPO in Milano).

I am not entirely sure, but at least it looks as if I am accommodated these days in an old monastery. Pavia, at least if one comes from Rome, has indeed something of a sleepy little town. We frequently take this as being something negative, but I mean it here very much in a positive sense: People seem to be “in place”. Sure, this is also something, I frequently experience at home, but there it is more something that is located outside of real life: outside of the hassle and bustle of hectic daily life that is concerned with securing …, well, what is it actually securing?

One point, I found especially important during these last days had been the following: Frequently and actually increasingly we speak of responsibility and agency in a seemingly neutral way. We may reach from Kant who has the rational individual in mind – still as if there would be one and only one “unbound” rationality – to Smith who established at least the foundation for thinking in a very restricted way of the homo oeconomicus, leaving the Moral Sentiments outside, a kind of adjunct feature of wishful thinking, characterised in Chapter I of Part IV of the book by the words:

The produce of the soil maintains at all times nearly that number of inhabitants which it is capable of maintaining. The rich only select from the heap what is most precious and agreeable. They consume little more than the poor, and in spite of their natural selfishness and rapacity, though they mean only their own conveniency, though the sole end which they propose from the labours of all the thousands whom they employ, be the gratification of their own vain and insatiable desires, they divide with the poor the produce of all their improvements. They are led by an invisible hand to make nearly the same distribution of the necessaries of life, which would have been made, had the earth been divided into equal portions among all its inhabitants, and thus without intending it, without knowing it, advance the interest of the society, and afford means to the multiplication of the species.

Sure, the chain of persons – philosophers, economists, lawyers and sociologists and others – could be continued. However, having said

leaving the moral sentiments outside, a kind of adjunct feature of wishful thinking

is not quite right and needs at least some qualification. “Wishfulness” in the given sense is about attempting to define appropriateness.

In this way, I am actually not too convinced if Heine had been right, speaking of Kant’s ideas as most revolutionary, radical, as he worded it: “world-crushing thoughts”. Actually, his thought had been very conservative, a matter of conserving the frontiers, encapsulating the world as it is. His categorical imperative had been finally depending on limited scope:

  • the accountable process – which then indeed had been translated into procedures
  • the elimination of content/substance
  • the limited, i.e. accountable space of action

Seen in this light we have to emphasise that the imperative is actually not an innate universal law as long as we cannot fill the formula substantially – broadly speaking it had been the expression of the appropriation of the now stabilised odern nation state by the citoyens. In other words: affirmation of power in space and time.


As valid as the point Niklas Luhmann made by pointing out the importance of Legimitation by Procedure is, he did not recognise the actually important difference between procedure and process. Sure, both have much in common at first sight; but finally processes are much more, are full of contradictions and connotations which cannot be overcome by simple reference to forms, be they understood as structure or as process.

Mauro van Aken stated in an article that had been also presented during the conference, dealing with Local Management of Common Resources:

Appropriating water, by means of various techniques and solidarity networks, is unavoidable for many farmers facing plant stress or patterns of distribution not adapted to local needs (on the contrary, they are often adapted according to water bureaucracy needs). Taking water out of turn constitutes in fact a ‘savoir-faire’, a set of incorporated practices that become more complex the greater technical complexity and lack of transparency of the distribution system. At the same time, it constitutes a way of making water a public sphere, more closely related to social relations and farming needs. The processes of local participation and institutional restyling according to the new developmental idiom are deeply linked to economic liberalization and neoliberal paradigms imported into the Middle East.[3]

With this we come easily to the in practice difficult to tackle point:

  • The point of reference for determining substance is people’s production and reproduction of everyday’s life. In this light we are dealing with ‘social production’ as production which is (i) a social process (acting together) but also (ii) a matter of producing relations (between people and between people and the natural environment)
  • Furthermore the point of reference is demarcation – as matter of appropriation; this is concerned with defining the means that are appropriate to the goal of production and the need and available means of production
  • Also of relevance is the determination of power structures – in the light of the before mentioned demarcation
  • Finally – but not least – we are confronted with the issue of resilience as matter of securing congruence.

We find this argument already outlined in the reflections on the Critique of Instrumental Reason, written by Max Horkheimer in 1947. He refers to a «new thinking» as subjectivist reason and writes:

In the subjectivist view, when «reason» is used to connote a thing or an idea rather than an act, it refers exclusively to the relation of such an object or concept itself. It means that the thing or the idea is good for something else. There is no reasonable aim as such, and to discuss the superiority of one aim over another in terms of reason becomes meaningless. From the subjective approach, such a discussion is possible only if both aims serve a third and higher one, that is, if they are means, not ends.

It is a multiple issue – requiring looking at economic issues, not least the question of inequality – be it in the commonly discussed understanding but also in terms of “environmental democracy”[4]; the mechanisms of “social support”, revisiting the typology provided by T.H. Marshall[5]; also the questions of rights and legality gain new momentum; and we may also look at mental health – latest since Durkheim’s work on Anomy, the other on Suicide we know that these are specifically relevant also in the context of causing mental illness as matter of power imbalances – sure, it comes not least to my mind as I wrote briefly about it, replying to a mail in which Joanne, a student from a couple of years back, asked for some general points on mental illness – so here the answer then:[6]

… if we look seriously at the “construction” of mental (ill-)health in daily life, we are actually dealing innately with soci(et)al power. And then you may of course come back to what we most likely (even for me teaching is somewhat repeating myself every year, though not literally) talked about: the twofold character of power (being able to, pouvoir, potere, machen) and control (as matter of violence, oppression etc.). On the other hand – and closely linked – the question of appropriation as matter of acquiring property and control over something (or somebody) and the appropriateness as matter of being appropriate, suitable for the subject, person, constellation in which we act.

If you put this into a matrix, you see where (abuse of) power is “causing” madness. Those points where you find massive fractures …. – of course, this is not least also a matter of degrees. Finally we are all somewhat mad: using power that we do not have, doing things we are not completely able to do etc.. I think there is nothing wrong with it – and we may even see here a germ of innovation etc. Though not being too agreeable on Bell in general, there is some validity in the point when he writes:

And even madness, in the writing of such social theorists as Michel Foucault and R.D. Laing, is now conceived to be a superior form of truth.[7]

And as much as I yalked here about mental (ill-)health, it is actually much more and more general: the issue of socio-environmental sustainability or as I wrote in the beginning: of “being in place”.


Pavia – Padania – it all comes back again to the point: Think Global, Act Local. Or the paradox may actually by that if we really think local, we may arrive at being able to act finally global.

Economically it is the simple thing that is so difficult to set into place: establishing the congruence of producing  use value and exchange value. At the end, at least demarcation should be mentioned again: competition, in particular competition in the global economy, but also more in general: as “competitive lifestyle” and “lifestyle of competitiveness” is actually one factor causing and expressing this shift from being guided by use-values to being guided by exchange values. The first is surely – as well – a matter of subsistence-sustainability based lifestyles where lifestyles are understood as matter of accumulation systems, entailing as such specific patterns of consumption.



[1]            My special thanks go to the team of IUSS, in particular to Enrica, Enrica and Nadia. I also want to thank the Fondazione Giangiacomo Feltrinelli for making my participation in the workshop possible. I am especially grateful to Nadia for the interesting conversation the day after the workshop.

[2]            Copied from

[3]            Participating in Agribusiness: Contested Meanings of Rurality and Water in Jordan; in: Agrarian Transformation in the Arab World: Persistent and Emerging Challenges, H. Ayeb, R. Saad eds, Cairo Papers, 2014 Vol. 32. No. 2, The American University in Cairo Press, Cairo

[4]            see my presentation, to be delivered in June in Hangzhou, PRC.

[5]            see Marshall, Tom H., 1950: Citizenship and Social Class; in: Citizenship and Social Class; Marshall, Tom H./Tom Bottomore; London et altera: Pluto Press1992

[6]            She thought as editor of a relevant book I could give her some advise – I edited the book Mental Health and Risk (New York: Nova Science 2006) together with Lydia Sapouna.

[7]            Bell, Daniel, 1976: The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism; New York: Basic : 34: