13 January 2007

More on the relation between ethics and reality

James Curcio, meet Chris Harman:

Moral concepts are not arbitrary concepts made up by or imposed on individuals. They are social products. They assert a view of what human beings should do if a society is to continue functioning so as to satisfy the needs of its members. To be ‘good’ is to behave socially in certain ways (or at least not to ‘misbehave’).In a stable, cohesive society which provides clear benefits to all its participants, what is involved is unproblematic. [...]

But things change with the move from such primitive communist societies to class societies. Then contradictory notions of what is ‘good’ arise. People are torn between contradictory moral codes. This, for instance, is where the power of the ancient Greek tragedy comes from—to abide by an old code is to infringe a new one. In the process moral codes of any sort can come to seem arbitrary as different social groups counterpose their codes to each other. Yet the very fact that they can argue over what is ‘good’ means that they all recognise, implicitly, that some code is necessary for social living to continue. Arguments over what is ‘good’ rest on arguments about reality, even if they seem not too. ‘Ought’ does rely on arguments about what ‘is’.

The central parameters within which these arguments take place are class ones. A class which fights to preserve existing society has one set of notions about what is necessary to keep society going, and attempts to impose on people the moral notions that correspond to this. It has to portray the values it propagates as the values necessary for society as a whole, what is good for itself as absolutely ‘good’. By contrast, a class which feels its needs are not met and presses for society to be reconstituted on a different basis necessarily begins to advance different interpretations of moral notions. The contradictory interpretations become most intense when society enters deep economic and social crises, in which ‘things cannot continue in the old way.’


  1. Grazie mille for this - it seems like you and I are on the same page. I'm sorry that the thread degenerated once the libertarian-capitalists (who claim to "believe nothing" but worship the Alienated Self / Ego as if it were something real) got involved. Two points:

    1) I would disagree that Lukacs is in a different "tradition" of Marxism than Lenin. Remember that the latter is the man who said "ideas become real things when they seize the masses". The emphasis on consciousness and its role in shaping reality is in common between magic and classical Marxism, and totally absence from either Stalinism or social-democracy.

    2) I heartily agree with a struggle against mysticism, but for magic.

  2. Thread on consciousness, especially page 5.

    re Lukacs, he is quite a confusing figure to follow isn´t he, he kept changing position. I guess you are right he is close to Lenin.

    My background is fairly anti-lenin, most of the people I got involved with were anarchists. I am not in favor of either a centralized party or centralized state. I did read some Lenin a few years ago. I liked Imperialism the highest stage of capitalism, that was a good one. Talk to you later.

  3. Lukács certainly had a varied career, but his most exciting work (History and Class Consciousness) was written while he was a committed Leninist in 1923, before his shabby compromise with Stalinism.

    As to Lenin himself, much like Crowley he gets a bad reputation from people who've never read him and only heard the scare stories (and really, isn't accepting society's myths blindly the death of all consciousness, magical or otherwise?). State and Revolution is his work that would appeal the most to those from an anarchist background.

    My only point on "centralism" is that to defeat an enemy you must be symmetrical to them. Our enemies operate on a worldwide basis - if we want to actually defeat them (rather than create a guerilla campaign to annoy them, which is what most people think is the best possible) we need to co-ordinate our efforts.

  4. can you email me? brunonolano@hotmail.com

  5. I would prefer not to, to maintain my anonymity, but you are free to email me at doloras AT randomstatic DOT net.