Capital, nihilism, fascism


By Eleutério FS Prado*

Nihilism is a product of capitalist sociability that invades both the subjectivity of the dominant and the dominated. Nietzsche scrutinized, without knowing it, the subsumption of subjectivity to the logic of automatic reproduction of the capital relation.

Cease all that ancient muse sings
What other higher value rises

Nietzsche's statement made between 1884 and 1888 that European society had already opened the door to the desolate entry of nihilism, that is, the devaluation of all moral values ​​that kept humans together on earth with thoughts in heaven, is intriguing. . This is precisely what he prophesied; here's how he did it; behold how he denied an appointed cause; here is how he explained the advent of nihilism [1]:

Nihilism is at the door: where does this most sinister of all guests come from?

Starting point: it is a mistake to refer [this question] to “states of social indigence” or “physiological degeneration” or even to corruption, as a cause of nihilism.

[The cause of] nihilism (that is, the radical refusal of value, meaning, desire) (...) lies in a well-determined interpretation, in the moral-Christian interpretation [of the world].

Skepticism (skepesis) in the face of morality is decisive. The ruin of the moral interpretation of the world, which no longer has any sanction, after it has tried to take refuge in a beyond, ends in nihilism.

These four sentences summarize Nietzsche's announcement: humans had already entered a time when inherited morals had weakened, which would continue for the next two hundred years. Nihilism, according to him, came as the decline of Christianity as an ethical totality in which humans had been subsumed for centuries. The passage from medieval times to modern times had produced, using Max Weber's terms here, a disenchanted world; the spread of science and the strength of instrumental reason weakened belief in a world created by God.

Now, in this world, now, the lack of meaning prevails, an anarchy prevails that no longer fits in any new totality or even in any organization, “there remains only as an escape to condemn this world that evolves there as an illusion and to invent a world that is about to beyond it, as the real world”.

A sarcasm surrounds this last statement: behold, the “true world” of those who want to transform the existing world, namely, socialists of all stripes, is what is – according to this German philosopher – the true illusion. “As soon, however, man discovers that this world was assembled only for psychological needs (...) the last form of nihilism appears, which contains within itself disbelief in a metaphysical world, in which belief in a true world is prohibited” .

If Nietzsche sees the fall of ancient cosmological values ​​in general at a time when prosperity grows – even with periodic crises – in a way that it had never grown in history, what, after all, has come and is expanding there and which produces this great empty?

Here's what he assumes: because of Christianity, humans "lost their taste for the selfish, even after understanding the impossibility of the non-egoistic". That is, he deeply regrets that Christian morality has intensely repressed man's most basic instincts and, in particular, that human quality he calls "will to power", in such a way that he has lost his certainties and is now just toiling along the paths of life.

It is evident that Nietzsche has an acute perception of the transformation of man and his way of being in the modern era. He apprehends the “devaluation” of values ​​that manifests itself in the social life of Europe and, in particular, in Germany, but his explanation of the profound cause of this transformation does not seem to be fully satisfactory. And this cause is undoubtedly, for him, earthly. As, for him, a return to the past is not possible, he can only critically accept the dominance of nihilism in contemporary life.

Manifestations of Nihilism

Nietzsche is an attractive author, but also almost unbearable! But does he not have something to teach anyone who finds the effective violence of the ignorant rebel against human beings in general even more intolerable? It is therefore necessary to try to understand it in the best possible way.

Domenico Losurdo, in Nietzsche – The Rebel Aristocrat (Editora Revan, 2009), extensively investigates what would be for the philosopher of the “will to power” the main manifestations of nihilism, which the German philosopher himself constantly points out. From a conceptual point of view, Losurdo shows that nihilism is a category arising from the disjunction “everything/nothing”, in such a way that nothing, identified as nihilism, appears as an absolute negation of everything. From this perspective, he claims that nihilism, in the preceding tradition, used to be associated with revolutions.

Losurdo mentions, then, that there are three possible positions in relation to nihilism: antagonism, rebellious reception and victim. The first considers it as something negative that can be imputed to the adversary in the intellectual field or in the political field; so put, the accusation can be and usually is dismissed, and it can also be returned to the first accuser. The third takes it as a cause of disillusionment and suffering: behold, the peremptory affirmation of emptiness in social life and, in particular, in the field of thought, can only bring anguish and nausea. The second position is more complex, but in any case it implies a defiant acceptance of nihilism: it is taken “as a synonym of a daring critical rationalism and commitment to transforming the world without being intimidated by constituted authority”.

Losurdo unfolds the second position into two others that he considers antagonistic, one of which is, for him, effectively critical of what exists and the other poses as metacriticism. The first, while denying the prevailing values ​​in society or which are reflected in a certain way of thinking, uses dialectics to propose an overcoming of this state of affairs. Behold, people are tormented because they suffer, without knowing it, with their contradictions and antagonisms, when they, deep down, want nothing more than to be healthy and have a good life.

The second makes use of a total, twisted critique, which strives to assert that the current state of affairs as well as its oppositional critique are equally nihilistic. “A demystification” – he says – “is opposed by a half-mystification; to criticism, a metacriticism”. Thus, both the existing situation that receives the criticism and the attitude that makes the criticism are accused of belonging to the same locus of thought, to the same ideological house. Thus, for example, the critic of current religion is also a religious person who has denied it; the socialist who criticizes capitalism is just someone who wants to replace the capitalist with the bureaucrat in charge of society.

How are these positions presented in Nietzsche's texts? Losurdo says simply that "Nietzsche's absolute uniqueness resides in the first place in the simultaneous presence in him of all the different, possible attitudes towards nihilism cited above".

At the same time that he criticizes Christianity, he also criticizes socialism, which evidently does not detract from some of its fundamental values, such as, for example, solidarity and love of neighbor. At the same time that, as seen in the first citation, he considers the devaluation of all values ​​as strongly negative, that is, as the most unwanted of all visitors, he also feels affected by it.

the author of the gay science e will to power, as we know, he also feels like the madman who killed God: “What happened, deep down? The feeling of lack of value was targeted when it was understood that neither with the concept of “end”, nor with the concept of “unity”, nor with the concept of “truth” could one interpret the global character of existence. (...) The all-encompassing unity is missing in the plurality of happenings: the character of existence is not “true”, it is false… one has absolutely no more grounds for convincing oneself of a true world…”.

There is another statement by Losurdo that deserves attention. According to him, in the course of Nietzsche's writings, “the victim of nihilism progressively gives way to the nihilist rebel”. It should be noted, then, that the German philosopher was only able to think of a kind of overcoming of nihilism through a heroic and aristocratic individualism that, according to him, would not be open to all men – not to those who obey –, but only for those who are able to assume the hierarchical position of supermen in society – those who rule.

The Contradictions of Nihilism

In any case, as it does not seem possible to reject and accept nihilism at the same time, one is certainly in the presence of a contradiction. But what if the “rebel nihilist” can be understood as a determined, albeit mystified, negation of oneself by nihilism, which Nietzsche contests?

In this case, there would no longer be a formal contradiction and, consequently, two possibilities would arise: either this negation takes place through a socialist position or an individualist position. As the philosopher shows himself to be an antagonist of socialism, understood as a transfiguration of the debilitating religiosity of the will that has become earthly and profane, the only thing left for him as a denial of nihilism is the acceptance of the aforementioned individualism. Now, the literary adoption of a new man who sees himself as a superman seems more like a figuration than a prediction!

How does Nietzsche characterize him? Losurdo explains that this author opposes nihilism at the level of a revolution at the axiological level: “it is the successful individual who 'puts value on things'. To this 'value' there corresponds no reality, no thing or value in itself”. The nihilist rebel, in this perspective, is the one who is able to “affirm his power and will to power”.

Now, to whom would this successful individual correspond in the real world, taking into account that he endlessly blasphemes against the unsuccessful ones? Perhaps the answer lies in a famous consideration in which Nietzsche presents two deviant manifestations of the will to power: “The form of this will to power has changed over the centuries, but its source is still the same volcano… God' is made now for the love of money… That is what at the moment confers the highest feeling of power”.

Losurdo, continuing his argument, comes to the conclusion that nihilism is a controversial category that needs to be rethought in terms of social classes. It is, for him, a feeling that affects people from the dominant classes because they allow themselves an excluding selfishness that kills the taste and pleasure of social life itself; by excluding the mass of the population from the “banquets of life”, they sink in the absence of the values ​​that are required for an existence full of meaning.

Instead of a selfishness associated, through various mediations, with the institution of private property, this demands that the social being always maintain a deep and communal sympathy for others. Thus, Losurdo criticizes Nietzsche because he, erroneously, sees emerging as a product of nihilism “resentment and rancor of the miserable and unsuccessful who, in the face of wealth, power and hierarchy, put into question and deny life as such”.

The capitalist sociability

However, even having no sympathy for certain of Nietzsche's theses, it is not assumed here that he is the archetype of the right-wing extremist, a complex and sophisticated precursor of the fascist and the Nazi. This position appears to be untenable. It is then simply admitted that his understanding suffers from the absence of a critique of political economy. Now, in the face of this lack, his powerful thought focuses on the examination of morality after the end of medieval times and the emergence of modern temporality.

By adopting this perspective, nihilism emerges as a product of capitalist sociability that invades and dominates not only the subjectivity of the dominant classes, but also that of the dominated classes. If this philosopher thought he was examining a profound evil that was due to the devaluation of all values, in fact, he had scrutinized, without knowing it, the progressive subsumption of modern man's subjectivity to the logic of automatic reproduction of the capital relation.

It is necessary to remember, then, that capital appears objectively as a recursive logic of “more-and-more”, or rather, of “always-more”. In Marx's words, the movement of capital is insatiable. As you know, the author of The capital acutely apprehends how this recursion takes the subjectivity of the capitalist as capitalist: “As a conscious bearer of this movement, the owner of money becomes a capitalist. Your person, or rather your pocket, is the starting point and the point of return for money. The objective content of that circulation — the valorization of value — is its subjective goal, and only insofar as the increasing appropriation of abstract wealth is the sole inducing motive of its operations, does it function as personified capitalist or capital, endowed with will and conscience. Use value must therefore never be treated as an immediate goal of capitalism. Nor isolated profit, but only the incessant movement of gain.” (The capital, chap. IV).

But how is the behavior of the man who serves capital in its movement of accumulation tending to infinity configured, that is, that social objectivity that Marx himself called the automatic subject? Well, that “scientificity” that he called vulgar presented the attributes of this behavior as specific characteristics of the rational economic man. This, no doubt, is a fiction, but it is nevertheless very informative about the performance of the real man who supports the capital.

That individual who suits capital to begin with is also insatiable. He doesn't limit himself; on the contrary, he not only wants to reach a given quantitative target expressed in money, at each moment in time, but he always intends to extrapolate it; in the perspective of future time, therefore, he always wants to achieve more. He thus invariably seeks to satisfy his self-interest or, more narrowly, just his selfish aims.

To do so, it makes use of the instrumental and optimizing rationality that, in principle, instructs how to allocate the available means to achieve collimated ends. The man who operates in the economic system, finally, is a competitive being who postulates it as natural to want to supplant all his competitors at work and in the markets and, by extension, in life in general. His motto is “meritocratic” individualism: pecuniary gain must always come as a result of competence, dedication, cunning, intellectual endowment, etc.

Now it is necessary to mention that Marx, in the passage quoted above, seems to admit only that the logic of capital is satisfied with taking for itself only the behavior of the capitalist. But it is evident that this cannot be so. Behold, as we know, it invades social life as a whole and, thus, people's subjectivity in a generalized way.

As the historical development of capitalism has shown, the logic of “always more” can also take over the subjectivity of self-employed and salaried workers, as well as petty bourgeois in general – and not just capitalists. Here, then, appears as a desire to work more and more, to improve more and more, to be able to consume more and more goods and, eventually, to save some money.

Now, this implies that the subsumption of labor to capital, in the course of history, is not restricted and remains only to the functional forms within manufacturing and large-scale industry, that is, the formal and/or real subsumption in Marx's terms, but also that extrapolates these spheres to assume the general social form of mental and intellectual subsumption of work to capital.

In any case, it is necessary to see how the reaction to this logic embedded in social life as a whole takes place: behold, it is usually contained or contested through religion, art and politics - however, as Nietzsche showed, all this lost its place. strength in modern society because values ​​are no longer anchored in firm morality. Now, if the greatest value is the quickest possible reproduction of capital, the other values ​​inexorably lose their firmness and preponderance. Furthermore, everything that runs counter to the logic of accumulation, but which does not go deep with the purpose of overcoming it, can, contrary to what it intends, feed and reinforce it. It matters little whether or not those who hold partial opposition to capital are aware of the incontestable supremacy of the capital relation in modern society.

The capitalist and the worker

There is in general, however, a crucial difference between the capitalist and the worker: behold, in the first case, there is no subordination, but only a willingness to serve the capital that he himself possesses as a capitalist. If he puts his will and conscience at the service of this social relationship, he does so willingly and to his own advantage; on the other hand, the salaried worker – and even the non-salaried worker – is objectively and strongly constrained to put them at the service of the capital of others, even if it does not seem to him that way, even if he thinks he is doing it because he wants to and for his own benefit. own good. However, it is a question of conduct that is imposed on him – that is, imposed on his subjectivity and his way of acting – because he, the worker, has to accept it as a practical necessity.

The worker, in general, internalizes capitalist values ​​and norms because he is obliged to do so. Behold, he is subject to a situational imperative. And he only eventually overcomes this objective conditioning through a critique that goes through the practice of contestation and through the theoretical knowledge that another worker (or a political party) can teach him.

Even if it seems deliberate, this behavior takes over the being of the worker because capital surreptitiously makes use of his positive impulses, oriented towards survival. In principle, if critical practice is lacking, the worker remains alienated and unaware of his effective subordination to the dictates of the social and automatic subject, that is, of capital. Now, isn't it, capital as such, the unconscious of the will to power diverted in various ways on the surface of modern society?

To the extent that the worker – and especially those from the middle classes – adheres – and always has to adhere to a certain point – to economic behavior, he is subject to enormous frustrations. This situation also includes the self-employed and small entrepreneurs who, despite a certain pride, are always on the edge of an economic precipice. In general, the earnings are low and he cannot buy what he wants and which is blown to him as necessary, day after day, by advertising and marketing.

In recessive periods, moreover, the number of losers, those whose life gets worse, increases a lot in relation to those who get better, the “winners” in capitalist competition. Furthermore, adherence to economic behavior is not free for human beings; on the contrary, it demands the continual repression of family, community and humanitarian values.

Frustrations can and often do turn into deep resentments, as well as a diffuse anger that its bearer is not able to understand. Behold, the logic of value creation and, therefore, of capitalist competition, resides in the social unconscious and manifests itself in a distorted way and through transfers: for example, in Nazi Germany, the Jew came to be seen as a corrupt creature of money and the capital. Now, the death drive that moves the right-wing extremist manifests itself, at the limit, as a bestial desire to destroy everything that he thinks bothers him.

Here it is argued that nihilism, ultimately, is a result of the preponderance of economic values ​​in society, a soil in which not only violent and irrational behavior thrives within the family and community, but also fascism in the sphere of everyday life. and of politics.

This impulse sometimes appears in individual conduct, but, under certain conditions, it is captured and organized by parties led by charismatic extreme right-wing leaders. The latent explosiveness that is spread within society and that is strongly present in certain individuals is now transformed into a mass movement that starts to parade under the banner of hatred and in the name of the cult of a leader. The possibility that he will come to power is where the great danger lies.

That is why in the ruins of neoliberalism – the “religion” of freedom and rationality of capital and not of the possible human being who lives, suffered and oppressed, within the personification of “economic man” – the weed is now thriving in many countries. bad and toxic of neo-fascism.

It remains, therefore, to ask: after all, what greater value does it raise? The question is open. How about a radically democratic socialism that overcomes the sociability of capital, that promotes the commons, among them the democratic space, and that thus does not fall into either authoritarianism or totalitarianism? Is there an alternative? The indicated possibility exists, but it requires abandoning the logic of the “always-more”, of the insatiable. Only then can nihilism be effectively overcome.

*Eleutério Prado is a full and senior professor at the Department of Economics at FEA/USP.

Note: The theses in this article were influenced by Wilton Moreira's writings found on his blog poetry now.


[1] All references to Nietzsche's writings come from the work with the same title, from the Os Pensadores Collection, Abril Cultural, 1983, section “About Nihilism and the eternal return”.

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