The coloniality of capitalism

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By GABRIEL VEZEIRO*

Considerations on the thought of John Rawls

Coloniality is one of the constitutive and specific elements of the world pattern of capitalist power. It is based on the imposition of a racial/ethnic classification of the world's population as the cornerstone of this pattern of power and operates in each of the planes, spheres and dimensions, material and subjective, of everyday existence and on a social scale. Colonialism is a form of oppression that seeks to appropriate natural resources, moderately industrialized raw materials and labor power in colonized territories. Capitalism maintains and enhances that state of affairs because it serves its purposes of maintaining its inherent oppression.

In this sense, referring to the coloniality of capitalism, to a process that originated and became globalized from America, and during the same process by which world capitalism developed, in its different historical moments, in which important and significant changes and domination-exploitation strategies. Framing the debate in a theoretical-practical field of decolonization implies placing oneself in the complex contribution, for many paradigms, of the conceptual, epistemic and political articulation between certain types of decolonizing processes, around the planet, and the theoretical-conceptual work. There is much that is torn down and thrown away to make room for the new. Crises profoundly shake our mental conceptions and our position in the world. But not enough.

“Free competition” ends up subjugating sectors with lesser economic power, in any part of the planet's geography. The increase in productivity, which requires the optimization of processes to improve competitive and comparative advantages, confronts the monopolistic tendency that derives from a practice that guarantees the concentration of benefits in large transnational corporations and, therefore, threatens the economies of small and medium-sized producers independent local and national.

The power of the United States in the contemporary world order implies the globalization of Anglo-American constitutional principles and laws and the neoliberal mechanisms of accumulation and economic discipline. Globalization thus dilutes the “national” character of social relations, markets and politics and calls into question the traditional concept of sovereignty in order to achieve an asymmetric exchange between nations and social groups. It imposes standards of cultural homogenization as a form of domination. The hegemonic force of capital, of global supremacy, subjugates all countries; even those that promote socio-productive structural changes and are open to people's participation in national and international decisions in defense of sovereignty over their resources and territories.

Thus, the democratic conquests and constitutional reforms that introduced rights blocked for decades by the dominant elites, resurfacing the possibility of a socialist horizon in the XNUMXst century, while advancing in constitutional changes, for various reasons, accentuated export extractivism and could not escape “balkanization” commercial". Center-left governments were affected by neo-developmentalist attempts that fail to overcome dependence on large economic corporations, preserving the same state structure and institutionality that guarantee colonial neoliberalism

On this battleground, in Western philosophy and political philosophy in particular, the decolonizing enterprise still has a long way to go, indeed, in some respects, it has gone wrong. Tradition for its Eurocentrism and the centrality of current Anglo-American political philosophy contributed decisively to this. Critical scrutiny of the origins and evolution of the discipline in question; examining their overarching narratives, key assumptions, hegemonic structures, defining texts; seeking out the opposing voices of traditionally excluded others; and the felt need to revise and restructure it in light of its troubled past to its iteration in the present, have been a common feature of a wide range of disciplines.

But the scope was not uniform and in Western political philosophy in particular, the enterprise of “colonial undoing” still has a long way to go, falling into doldrums at the end of the XNUMXth century. With the so-called "end of ideology" in the mid-twentieth century, the discrediting of "totalitarianisms" left and right, all was so well with the post-war liberal-democratic Western world that no major reconstruction of normative claims needed to be done. be made. Would it be to run aground on the traditional Anglo-Saxon conception of philosophy as a humble “subaltern” that “leaves everything as it is”, to become a kind of housecleaning or conceptual reasoning that is a second-order classification and analysis, discarding any substantive normative claims about the reordering of society. No wonder, given this unpromising diagnosis, that the idea prevailed that the subject is either dead or unfortunately diminished in relief.

Political philosophy would then be just the application of these principles to political affairs, which meant the transfer to political science of socioscientific factual/descriptive questions and the deportation to the degraded eido of “ideology” of prescriptive recommendations about ideal ends. Otherwise it has become a modest matter of linguistic analysis, for example, how “sovereignty” or “authority” should be analyzed.

However, A Theory of Justice John Rawls's work came to the fore that "grand theory" in political philosophy was still possible, that substantive moral claims could be given a rationalist-politically constructivist, if not metaphysically realist and moral cognitivist basis, and the resources of economics and theory of morality. choice could be harnessed in a synthesis of ethics and the social sciences. It has always been said that John Rawls's ideas have another undoubted advantage because they are not metaphysical ideas: he gives absolute priority to justice and understands it as the first virtue of social institutions, the focus of social justice being the basic structure of society and in it especially the way in which social institutions distribute duties and rights within society.

In addition to reviving both Anglo-American political philosophy and social contract theory, John Rawls reoriented the field so that the adjudication of social justice, rather than the justification of political obligation, became the focal point of the subject. The front lines of the debate were therefore competing with normative perspectives on justice, whether utilitarians countering Rawls to defend their theory against his criticisms, libertarians defending Lockean rights and property rights that impeded Rawlsian social-democratic redistribution, egalitarians looking to push John Rawls further to the left, or communitarians trying to exorcise the ghostly, disembodied individuals they found in John Rawls' contractualist cast.

Remember what, for John Rawls, is the ideal theory: the determination of the “principles of justice that regulated a well-ordered society”, “what a perfectly just society would look like”. So the ideal theory is not just a normative theory, which of course necessarily needs to pass judgments about social justice. The ideal theory is the theory of justice for a perfectly just society. Questions of “compensatory justice” then fall under non-ideal rather than ideal theory. But we need to start with the ideal theory, argues John Rawls, because "it provides the only basis for a systematic understanding of these most pressing problems [of non-ideal theory]."

The ideally just society must, then, somehow provide a normative target that will serve to judge questions of non-ideal theory. We do not find in Rawls how the transition from the ideal theory to the non-ideal theory as compensatory justice should be made. In the book where he talks at length about the non-ideal theory, The right of peoples, it is not a matter of compensatory justice, but of those mentioned "burdened societies” and “outlaw states”.

His ethical individualism, which demands that we treat everyone as free and equal persons in moral dignity, deserving, therefore, equal respect and care when pursuing his particular notion of “the good life”, is the pillar of an idea of ​​justice that is political, not metaphysics. John Rawls's theory claims to be, in fact, independent of metaphysical doctrines, and directed towards a practical objective: acceptable coexistence for all in pluralistic societies where a priori there are very diverse and even opposite or incommensurable conceptions of the good.

However, when serious violations of justice are involved, such as genocide, enslavement and mass expropriation of indigenous peoples, an ideally just society in the Rawlsian sense will be unattainable because there is no way for the most well-intentioned corrective measures (death camp museums, financial settlements , apologies…) being able to bring about a social order morally equivalent to one in which such measures are not necessary because no injustice was committed in the first place. A relapse into metaphysics shown through the myth of instrumental naturalism and its pragmatist world view of the reality and facts of the grand rationalist-politically constructivist theory but perhaps not taking enough account (permit the reader this license) of the place from which the subject speaks, so that we learn to listen, or know how to read emerging events that can make us freer.

While Rawlsian justice does not apply to “ultimate values” or ideas about “the good”, but to the institutions that form the “basic structure” of society, that is, those that distribute and regulate primary goods, goods that provide the conditions necessary to pursue as moral persons their own conceptions of the good: wealth, income, rights, offices, positions, prerogatives and even self-esteem. to construct some principles that guide its distribution and that are, at the same time, consistent with solidly grounded moral intuitions.

In one of his most controversial arguments, he makes use of a thought experiment or “representation device”: the original position, in which reasonable individuals and motivations consistent with what we know of human psychology, are subject to a veil of ignorance, which it prevents them from knowing what their social positions, personal traits, cultural or generational circumstances will be, and even their conceptions of the good or their affections, loyalties and hatreds; the veil of ignorance, in a word, excludes knowledge of everything that must be morally irrelevant to establishing principles of justice, of everything the knowledge of which would give rise to arbitrary distinctions between individuals and social categories.

And no one, according to John Rawls, can be held responsible for what natural or social chance has bestowed upon him. In this situation, argues John Rawls, morally capable people endowed with a certain amount of reason – though not necessarily altruistic – would choose two principles of justice: according to the first, each person should have an equal right to the largest system of basic liberties that he possesses. Are compatible with similar freedoms for all; for the second principle, economic and social inequalities are only admissible if, firstly, positions and prerogatives are accessible to all under conditions of equal opportunity and, secondly – ​​and here lies the famous principle of difference –, if they are necessary for those who have less to be better off than they could be in any other viable situation.

The difficulty is that given its normative starting point, the transition cannot be made. To begin with, if you are serious about using “cooperative enterprise” as a conceptual filter for the social reach of your theory of justice, then societies characterized by coercion, by deep structural oppression, are eliminated early. So, precisely where a theory of justice is most needed, it is most lacking. But leaving this non-trivial problem aside, it is difficult to see how a perfectly just society can constitute a normative target for profoundly oppressive societies.

The political and economic interrelationships that shaped the two poles of the international order, exploitative relationships that allow Western democracies today to position themselves as presumably much closer to the “well-ordered” ideal than so-called “rogue” states, do not they are just not examined, but conceptually blocked by a frame that denies their current interconnectedness.

Strict rationalists do not recognize the possibility of interpretation, and this always implies resorting to metaphysics. The fact that racial justice was not central to the political philosophy of a former colonial state – in the Anglosphere and the Hispanosphere, among others – the failure to make racial justice a central element of the political philosophy of former colonial nations alone only attests to its colonial character. Since the anti-dogmatic egalitarian liberalism of Rawls (very leftist and radical in the United States, but too moderate and liberal in other latitudes) does not accept that “metaphysics” cannot be fully overcome, perhaps we should be attentive to the ontology of today, that is, trying to ontologically understand today's actuality as Michel Foucault prescribed. The possibility of playing this to our advantage, the idea that in the space that remains we should try to open possibilities for emancipation.

The unjustly dead cannot be restored to life, the suffering that occurred cannot be historically erased, the legacy cannot be dematerialized even if the rectification serves to palliate its infamous legacy a little without even imagining any Benjaminian redemption of the past. A perfectly just society would really have to be one with no history of profound injustice, because for any candidate with such a history, we could always imagine a superior society in which injustice had not occurred in the first place.

Instead, given the real history of the real world, we have to settle for a sub-optimal normative target that redresses injustices as best we can. But such a target cannot be grounded in ideal theory in the Rawlsian sense – perhaps because it is too metaphysically far from the real world to be useful. The rectifying ideal will necessarily be different from the Ideal ideal. The shift to the margins of John Rawls's normative concern with the issue of compensatory racial justice is itself one of the clearest manifestations of the ongoing colonial nature of Western political philosophy.

At a time when the focus of the discipline was shifting from political obligation to social justice, at a time when the colonial system is formally "ending" and racism is being rejected officially and in its biological incarnation, at a time when black people are emerging as global actors and challenging the existing order as actors and thinkers, just as subaltern philosophers are beginning to reach the previously excluded white academy. effect of erasing the past, marginalizing race, and taking rectifying justice, including racial justice, off the shelf.

It is the result of working group ideologies and perspectives, of what feels “right” and what feels “wrong” for specific epistemological communities, of issues they wish to explore and issues they wish to stay away from – in short, patterns of cognition. of the majority group that influence someone as a member of a racially privileged Caucasian community that inhabits a world of white social and intellectual life, and how this world establishes epistemic and normative horizons for that subject and makes certain strands of developmental theory more “ natural” and attractive than others.

This lack of discussion of, for example, racial justice in the justice literature is all the more surprising because it is not as if the concept is unknown elsewhere; the subjects of theory queer or gay, were generally taboo, and their advocates risk not only personal ostracism, but, in some cases, death. Rather, racial justice was explicitly the banner under which the black American civil rights movement operated and in reference to which the anti-colonial struggle was often prosecuted. So this concept was already available in the public sphere to be appropriated. It took no conceptual innovation to be discovered or political courage to be publicly articulated.

For political theorists from other equally legitimately designated “Western” traditions, of course, this narrative is biased. Certainly for the Marxist tradition, rejection as mere “ideology” - or perhaps as mere routine work that does not creatively develop the historical materialism of Labriola, Gramsci, Plekhanov, Kautsky, Lenin, Luxemburg, Trotsky, Bukharin, the Frankfurt School and Althusser – would have confirmed the penchant for bourgeois political categorization masquerading as neutral evaluation and apolitical. The big theory was still being produced and saying things that mainstream liberal theory didn't want to hear.

Furthermore, in addition to the Western Marxist tradition one would also need to take into account the work of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir who developed a philosophical position with political implications, as well as often intervening directly in the debates of the day, for example in the controversies of 1950s on the nature of the Soviet state, or on his militant stance against the Algerian War and his subsequent anti-colonial activism. The book second sex, by Simone de Beauvoir, first published in 1949, is considered the most important feminist text of the XNUMXth century and, therefore, a landmark in feminist political philosophy.

In the United States, the socially and politically engaged pragmatism of John Dewey, so influential in the 1920s and 1940s, should not be ignored, nor should the postwar writings of Hannah Arendt. Thus, the Anglo-analytical picture is misleading, a testament to a particular narrow view of the field rather than a comprehensive assessment. Marxism is largely inspired by the work of Jürgen Habermas, Axel Honneth and others and thrives on, of course, the challenge to orthodox conceptions of politics and political power in the work of Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida. However, this rebirth was not accompanied by systematic postcolonial and anti-colonial rethinking of the subject.

However, in Marxist thought and specific theorists as different as Arendt, Sartre and Foucault, or, earlier in the liberal tradition and the radical Enlightenment of Denis Diderot and the Encyclopaedists, it is not just that resources for anti-colonial critiques can be found, but that of in fact have already been done. The longstanding existence of an oppositional current of anti-imperial political theory authored by Western thinkers themselves, which was both grounded in and contested by those forcibly embodied in the West, must also be recognized and brought back into the self-conscious awareness of the discipline.

Many of these subversive contestations have also been forgotten, so that the tradition appears more monolithically imperial than it really is, and these hegemonic, uncontested assumptions continue to shape debates in the present, especially given the collapse and attempts to find alternatives to incorporation in the capitalist world-system. For the Anglo-merchant account, none of the texts produced in global political struggles by Martí, Gandhi, Douglass, Sun Yat-Sen, Garvey, Du Bois, Fanon, among others, deserve inclusion, either because they are insufficiently analytical, non-Western, or simply unworthy of the designation of political philosophy.

It is not just a narrow view of analytic philosophy or an unjustifiably restrictive conception of the discipline because even though it extends over the Frankfurt School, discourse ethics, existentialism, Heidegger and Saussure, Foucault, Deleuze and Derrida, Lyotard and postmodernism and the epochal level of Sartre and Camus on the Algerian War, the challenge to Marxism and the critical theory of the global North was posed by theorists of the global South: the anti-imperialist problematic and its possible reformulation of the cartography of the political, questions of race and ethnicity and how they can affect a fundamentally based conceptualization of class and class struggle, the alternative periodization offered to the European postmodern by the temporality of the non-European postcolonial, the notion of a distinctly black, indigenous or originary existentialism that would make the “ absurdity” of white domination and the “dread” and “anguish” it produced are not discussed.

Despite its conceptual density, the very postcolonial theory of Said, Spivak, Bhabha, Galeano, Dussel and Sousa Santos, among other postulators of epistemological and political decolonization that overcome the coloniality of power, only receives attention from an Anglo-American point of view. and even European. Neither the global domination of the euro nor the resistance to it figure as important themes nor even any self-critical writing in solidarity with the non-Western world.

What is claimed, then, is a rethinking of Western political philosophy that will, in Chakrabarty's well-known phrase, "provincialize Europe", situating it as a particular part of the globe and not as the center of the globe, whose dialogue with the rest of the world the world has, however, as a result of imperial hegemony (however decadent it is in its current phase), it has been more like a monologue, drowning out the voices of others. A revisionist history needs to be undertaken, one that not only recognizes alternative non-Western political traditions both outside and within the West for its redesign, but makes central how the failure to recognize the equality of others has, since modernity, distorted the mapping itself. descriptive and prescriptive of the West.

Such a story would seek, inter alia, recovering and consciously engaging with the epistemological and normative resistance, internal and external, that the project of Eurodomination has always encountered. The rethinking of familiar categories in the light of their imperial genealogy, the admission of new categories that illuminate structures of domination not registered in the official lexicon, the complication of standard narratives, would open the cognitive field of the current self-conception of the discipline to enable a genuine self-knowledge that current orthodoxies – given the need to escape the past – prevent it. Within this revised framework, a true dialogue of equals could take place that would be better able to address and begin to remedy the legacy of the Europolice, thereby giving due respect and justice to the “non-political” Others upon which for centuries it has historically been imposed. .

Thus, there is a policy of amnesia both at the philosophical level and at the level of official and dominant public policy. Furthermore, it affects not only official representations, or non-representations, of the general structural subordination of colonialism and slavery, but also specific events. The best-known example is the Belgian government's refusal to take responsibility or educate its citizens about the genocide of ten million people under King Leopold II; the French failure to prosecute anyone for the now publicly admitted atrocities of the Algerian War, the German denial of reparations to the descendants of survivors of the Herero and Namaqua genocide that took place in German South West Africa (present-day Namibia), the British failure to respond to the atrocity revelations and tortures of its counterinsurgency war in Kenya, the mass murders of Italy's colonial wars in Libya and Ethiopia, and the continued American refusal to apologize for slavery.

The heartbreaking abandonment of the population of the Sahara and the daring imposture of Spain sending neo-conquistador monarchs who act as “entrepreneurial” representatives of Spanish companies in America and in the world without thereby having contributed to the unveiling (Dussel) of what was done in colonization of the Americas. In short, the permanent doubt about the involvement of the French State, England and the United States of America, among others, in the destabilization of the democratic and popular revolution processes and against the leaders of the non-aligned movement in Africa and America, including Fidel Castro ( Cuba), Sankara (Burkina Faso), Samora Machel (Mozambique), Maurice Bishop (Granada) and since the 1990s the emancipatory projects (which have to do with the defense of common goods) represented by Chávez, Lula and Morales after centuries of non-recognition of its urgency (inequality, injustice,...). However, on another scale, examples multiply, including numerous cases of “taming and castration”, of internal European colonialism, resolved with coups or exterminating the internal ideological enemy.

John Rawls incorporates into the individualist tradition the idea that societies have patterns of inequality that persist over time and, at the same time, systematic ways in which people are assigned positions within hierarchies of power, status and money. He rejects utilitarianism and its subjectivist measures of well-being, meritocracy, self-ownership, he also proposes an objective measure to assess equality and primary social goods, tests priority rules to avoid or reduce the arbitrariness of intuitions in decision-making moral decisions, at this point, the priority of justice over efficiency and fairness over what is good goes against the common sense of the current era and the style of capitalism in the neoliberal phase.

Finally, it is interesting to consider since it did not exclude the possibility that the two principles that define what justice is (in its conceptual apparatus) could be realized in a society where there is social ownership of the means of production. We could add that John Rawls makes transparent the interference that social institutions have in the generation, strengthening and promotion of social inequalities. However, in the light of history, the “radical equality of opportunity” that obliges us to correct all the inequalities that come from living or being born in unhappy and unchosen social conditions shows that any attempt to equalize these conditions under a capitalist economic model will large movements and outflows of capital or oppositions of such magnitude that they only leave blood in the country that tries to do so.

The profoundly predatory logic of capital – in its current phase – is incompatible with an egalitarian society of primary goods and capacity generation, and the proof of this is given from time to time by each Human Development Report, which only ratifies the impossibility of materializing of these principles. The answers and solutions pointed out by John Rawls fall short of the question of the possibility of reconciliation in societies in which not only the growing differentiation of ways of life or the plurality of moral conceptions and about the existing good, but also coexist with innumerable forms of degradation and human regression.

Certainly, the redistribution of social and primary goods proposed by John Rawls, based on the disadvantaged, is absolutely insufficient for a society like ours. By not breaking with the structures that cause poverty and inequality, the intention to improve the outcome of a historically established unjust situation only maintains its reproduction.

Is it sustainable in societies where plurality reaches the point of denying human dignity, or where those who participate in the original position are not all who they really should be? How could those who were unrecognized participate except to be discarded? John Rawls's theory avoids dealing with the relationship between politics and large consortia that undoubtedly influence the concentration of economic power. They allied themselves with the political and military spheres to maintain their interests. The predominance of the market over the State cannot be ignored, as the State does not have any primary means of regulation, but depends on the means of the market, that is, money.

However, the mediated power attributed to the State and, theoretically, most of the time, identified with money, does not have any primary hierarchical degree, hardly a secondary degree, since all State measures need to be financed, not just legal activities, infrastructure. structural, etc. However, justice requires something more than building a better form of distribution, but a real transformation of production and distribution structures. The weakness of the theory of justice presented is the belief that justice can be realized within the capitalist system, ignoring the role of exploitation in creating and maintaining existing structures of inequality, as well as all the various forms of human regression.

As Callinicos says, John Rawls's contributions to the conception of a just society lead us to think that they can only be achieved against colonizing neoliberal capitalism. At this point, the Rawlsian theory of justice fails to account for the dimensions of identities, gender and recognition. By rejecting that the particularities of history, culture and belonging to a group define the choice of principles of justice, John Rawls points to its construction as universalist and abstract, which leaves aside the differences, the “alterity”, materialized in the multiple minorities that today claim their rights to participate in decisions, nor does it question social structures and contexts such as capitalist institutions and class relations. As a result, according to the principle of differentiation, the predilection for the fulfillment of certain rights (accepting the relative “advantages” offered to the most disadvantaged) transforms them into a closed structure, immutable in the face of the movement and struggles of different forms of life to achieve equality. socioeconomic equality and recognition of identity.

Even though its emergence was recognized, there was no government that changed the neoliberal colonialist framework after the crisis. In our present, neoliberal measures have intensified so much that major events such as the revelations of Assange and Snowden, which reveal great truths and cases of systemic corruption that are geographically distributed, have not managed to overthrow any government. How can it be that nothing has changed? In the same way, with the financial crisis, the banks were saved and did not fall either.

The important thing is to keep in mind the idea that liberal democracies are shaped. The absence of hermeneutical tools in a specific discourse is itself a distinct kind of injustice, leaving subordinates without the materials to conceptualize and theorize about their situation. Of course, the difference here is that there is already an anti-colonial and anti-racist tradition, so it's not starting from scratch. But the refusal to enter the legitimate realm of political philosophy of this body of thought is nevertheless a cognitive handicap, at least for purposes of challenging dominant structures.

The non-naming of this political system in current Western political-philosophical discourse, in a sense, erases it from existence, deprives us of the cognitive resources to analyze it, or even talk about it, given the way the field is currently structured. and framed. He feels out of bounds, out of bounds, transgressing the rules of discipline.

* Gabriel Vezeiro is a Bachelor of Philosophy.

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