Ernst Bloch today



A philosophy capable of facing the problems of the present.

Ernst Bloch's work walks with freshness and does not age when it arrives in the XNUMXst century. If he is a typical philosopher of the XNUMXth century, more specifically with regard to the set of concerns of his first half, Bloch is current due to a peculiar process of philosophical affirmation: on the one hand, due to his themes and concerns, he constituted himself in a displaced, withdrawn and diluted enough not to allow itself to be contaminated by the specific and commonplace of its immediate time; on the other hand, he was always radical in betting and positioning time, which paradoxically not even time could deliver or confirm.

His Marxism is also something Aristotelian, of the best medieval eschatology, of the bourgeois revolutionary tricolor. Its revolutionary Leninism is more rigorous and ethically demanding than that of Leninists and Soviet practice. The journey of Ernst Bloch's philosophy, therefore, always seems politically anachronistic and, at the same time, more committed to the desired future of struggles. It is true that Bloch is often engaged in the struggles of the day and photographs his time as no one else has – his work on Weimar and Nazism, Erbschaft dieser Zeit, is exemplary of this view.

But, at the same time as having in his hands the photos of what everyone also sees ahead, Bloch carries and handles the paintings and drawings of the past and, in particular, the architectural projects of the future, through which he always allows himself to point to what is happening. should undertake destruction/construction for socialism. It is never just the present for its own sake, since it always returns to the past and looks to the future.

Such an anachronistic displacement movement as well as a radical launch into the future is confirmed in all the central questions of Ernst Bloch's thought, highlighting: (a) his own philosophy; (b) Marxism; (c) politics and law; (d) aesthetics; (and) utopia.

Philosophically, Bloch seems to be the bearer of an ancient humanism, charitable or almost spontaneous, that German philosophy, in other paradigms, also saw flourish in Friedrich Nietzsche, Walter Benjamin or Hans-Georg Gadamer, a less academic or analytical philosophy and more based on lived reality; on the other hand, it is not necessarily attached to the fads and beacons of the XNUMXth century: it does not suffer the weight of the official anchors of institutionally established thought, from analytical philosophy to the linguistic turn, nor from adherence to existentialism and other waves that later succumbed, perishing philosophically.

For questions of Marxism, Bloch is less orthodox than other thinkers such as György Lukács and, compared to the latter, also less engaged in terms of Stalinism; at the same time, he is more passionately Leninist, mass revolutionary, linked to the working class. With regard to politics and law, he is contrary to state rigidity and to the standardized and legalized world; popular power and justice against the law are corollaries of it. Aesthetically, it has not kept up with the adventures and misadventures of socialist realism; his expressionism embraced, with shock and discomfort, the avant-garde.

Philosopher of utopia and hope, he was less practical than those who lived the day-to-day struggle; however, when the ebb of revolutions and anti-Marxism arrived, he did not get tired or become conservative like those who saw danger in utopia and then, on the contrary, began to advocate the “responsibility principle”. Nor did he naturalize capitalism to the point of considering its historical condition insurmountable. Bloch perseveres by pointing to the hope of a socialist future.

Bloch's philosophy today

Ernst Bloch's mode of philosophical attainment – ​​the style of thinking, as some would now say – is not typical of the XNUMXth century. When philosophy had already professionalized and become university, turning around its own references and becoming analytical, almost always limited to the structural reading of texts, Bloch, although creating monuments of conceptual and systematic philosophy, such as Subject – Object, Das Materialismusproblem, seine Geschichte und Substanz ou Experimentum Mundi: Frage, Kategorien des Herausbringens, Praxis, constructed in particular an open philosophy, sensitized by the fragments and demands of lived life, without fear of proceeding with totalizations, conclusions or extractions of practical, political, ethical, even moral implications.

It cannot be said that this position had been frequent in the past and only in the XNUMXth century did it become anachronistic. If one takes paradigmatic thoughts like those of Hegel and Marx in the XNUMXth century, or that of Kant in the XNUMXth century, it will be seen that a more kaleidoscopic or essayistic philosophy has always been the exception. At the beginning of the XNUMXth century, a Lamennais was a philosopher more of enthusiasm than of concept; in a completely opposite horizon, at the end of the same century, Nietzsche is a model of philosophy in counterpoint to the text of a slim style or the self-limited dissertation. In the XNUMXth century, Benjamin, Bloch's friend, is yet another example of a peculiar philosophical work, which will leave clear marks, among others, in the tracks Blochians.

Bloch also shares a view of reality that seeks not to place a grid or spreadsheet of concepts before what was experienced on it. In this sense, it proceeds to a valuation of the effective, which does not mean to consecrate or support it, but, rather, to make the task of criticism begin with it – to lean on the effective against itself. With that, Bloch does not operate in the usual procedures of sociology, establishing categories, propositions and generic deductions such as those that could consider the working class, lacking the means of production, revolutionary at once. Nor, on the contrary, could he verify that, since the German masses were fascists, then contradictions did not spring up there that could be exploited for resistance and even revolution.

Lived life pulsates more dynamically and more contradictory than the general concepts or labels that are tried to be placed on it. Such respect for the misery, fragility and everyday life of human beings, their social relationships, their values, orientations, blockages and impulses, makes Bloch a peculiar thinker in the XNUMXth century. Gadamer, in his hermeneutic perspective, called charitable for observing with respectful eyes the wisdom, contradictions and way of doing of the jurist, the theologian, the reader or the doctor, in this sense he is on par with Bloch in not overlapping, in advance, the philosophical and conceptual guides to that which is existence in its fluidity of prejudices and difficulties.

Bloch's weakness – as well as Nietzsche's or Benjamin's – in the face of the more conceptual, more self-referential philosophy is also the cause of much of its constant freshness. At least one major axis was established in the official, university philosophy of the XNUMXth century, stifling the patterns of theoretical thinking: philosophy with an analytical aspect, which has language as its mainstay. Typically Anglo-Saxon and American, with an almost automatic power of coercion in the intellectual centers that emulate capital and its financing bases, this philosophy of confirmation of the forms and standards of capitalism, if it has a floor of success, it has a ceiling of embarrassment of possibilities that makes it wither by not advancing against the contradictions of its own time. In the face of this dominant environment, Bloch is always a blow against the so-called philosophical moorings of the mainstream.

At the same time, in those that are not the official axes of English-speaking analytical and linguistic philosophical thought, the continental European axes, therefore, there have been dominant philosophical waves that, if not limited like those of the dominant axis, are markedly tied to the times. histories in which they gained prominence. Existentialisms – from Heidegger's existential philosophy to the French views of Sartre or Camus – greatly impacted sectors of Marxism itself, such as parts of Marcuse's thought or the case of Lukács in its last phase. Although some points of dialogue can be established, Bloch does not embark directly on an existential or existentialist perspective.

Its anachronism also made it possible for it not to be swallowed up with the exhaustion of this vacancy. Structuralist or post-structuralist readings – of which Bloch is unsuspected of proximity –, in contrast to existentialist ones, manage to absorb Bloch's thought more easily than they do with Lukács and Marcuse. Something of Bloch's vitality in the present comes precisely from his philosophy which, revolving around its own themes and concerns, crosses official philosophical trends or constraints as being almost an exotic, curious or picturesque counterpoint or composition.

Bloch's Marxism Today

Ernst Bloch approached Marxism after the first stage of his intellectual training was completed with a doctorate on Heinrich Rickert and, also, sharing coexistence and environments such as those of Georg Simmel, Max Weber and Gustav Radbruch. During the Russian Revolution, Bloch, already in the second edition of his Geist der Utopie, in 1923, began to dialogue directly with Marxism. His whole trajectory, from then on, is Marxist, whether in the philosophical field or in his personal life. After World War II, having gone into exile in the USA, he chose to return to the German Democratic Republic, East Germany, in an unusual move among other German left-wing intellectuals exiled at the time of Nazism.

Bloch's Marxism was always based on peculiar foundations, given even the themes that moved him. Eschatology, religion, utopia were not, in the XNUMXth century, central issues of Marxist thought or political struggle. Hence, historically, the distrust of the Soviet camp or official communist parties with Bloch's positions. His commitment to the communist cause was not accompanied in the same way by the cause of some of the reputed communist governments.

When comparing him to his more immediate Marxist counterpart, Lukács, two divergent movements are perceived. In the philosophical field, the Blochian theme – unique and constant – is persistently tangential to that of “orthodox” Marxism, while the Lukacsian one – in its varied and distinct phases – always seeks to be official: class consciousness, the working class as a revolutionary subject, ontological centrality from work. In the political field, both were close to the Soviet world and at some point contrasted with it, but Lukács is more Stalinist – see his position in support of socialist realism – and also more directly political, as in his position in the Hungarian government of Imre Nagy, while Bloch is more prophetic, less practical agent. He was always a Leninist, and that did not mean considering all of Stalinism as an immediate and necessary sequel to Leninism. His enthusiastic Leninist position is revolutionary because it is based on a constant disposition to overcome capitalism, in a process that can always be started and can be increased in the same way.

It so happens that Bloch, less aligned with the official socialist governments of the XNUMXth century, is more Marxist for the purposes of Marxism. His theoretical fixation around utopia makes him the greatest specialist in projecting what was desired for a socialist society. With that, he was also less concerned with the mishaps along the way – and with the sometimes failed, sometimes unhappy choices – of the Soviet world. Its minor practical commitment is also its theoretical commitment and its major horizons. His very opposition to Lukács on socialist realism is a demonstration that he was stricter with communist horizons than the communists in Soviet power. If the socialist struggle was vanguard, Bloch never renounced it. At the time, he was less involved in the daily work than the victors. But when such former victors were overthrown, Bloch's thought remained consistent and vigorous.

Bloch's politics and law today

Immersed in the German environment of the Weimar Republic and the failure of the SPD, Bloch perceives in the rise of Nazism an appeal to the working masses that the left and Marxism did not reach. In Erbschaft dieser Zeit, seeks to understand the cultural, religious, spiritual connections between the Nazis and the poor classes. It was not enough for socialist struggles to be bearers of truth and science: it was necessary to speak the language of the people, touch feelings, reach the multiple temporalities that overlapped in each historical time. To fight for the future was to reach the pasts that still reigned and gave meaning to subjectivities. In some way – and in his own way – Bloch anticipates the great problems of ideology and subjectivity, which will be treated with greater concern by contemporary reflections on Marxism.

Em Naturrecht und menschliche Würde, written in the years of World War II and exile in the USA, Bloch advances the understanding of politics in quadrants very close to those of the tradition of Marxist philosophy. Like Engels, he considers the State linked to private appropriation. Like Lenin, he also advocates that the State will perish under socialism. His political position is based on the generic Marxist formulas – State as a managing committee of the bourgeoisie. However, it never slides towards valuing the bourgeois and democratic State, as was the case in most of the social democratic thoughts that originally had Marxist bases, in the second half of the XNUMXth century (see Eurocommunism or democracy as a universal value in Brazil).

Bloch insists on the transitory nature of the state phenomenon, to be inexorably defeated by socialist struggles. With that, when new Marxist readings about the State appear, more rigorous, scientific and consequential, such as those of the debate about the derivation of the State, Bloch's propositions, although generic, are not opposed to it, allowing a reappropriation. The utopia about the State is the extinction of the State.

The same pattern can be seen in Bloch's legal reading, still in Naturrecht und menschliche Würde. His ability to envisage a structural critique of law is unique in his time. It is notable that Bloch was the first to rediscover Pachukanis, shortly after his decline under Stalin. Associating the legal phenomenon not with a generic normativity, but with the mercantile form, Pachukanis will be Bloch's parameter to consider the socialist horizon not as a utopia of a new law, but as a utopia of the extinction of law. In its place, Bloch points to what is just, to human dignity.

The inventory he carried out of the history of natural law reveals, at various times, the struggle of those from below as a sense of justice. The future will not be social administration through good law, it will be the seizure of power by the exploited themselves. Bloch's legal reading, although dissolved in the waters of multiple sources of justice and dignity, is radical in the position that the form of law should be extinguished in socialism.

If the course of the XNUMXth century was all mobilized and signaled by the socialist revolution, its last decades and the beginning of the XNUMXst century are marked by the impediment of the revolution. The self-reputed triumphant capitalism, of neoliberal nature, repositions the terms of political philosophy. Habermas, who came from a Marxist tradition, rejects revolutionary standards in favor of praising liberal democracy, law and supposed consensus. Bloch lived before neoliberalism, in times of revolutionary apogee. He died an enthusiast of radical transformation, unaware of the linguistic shifts, the consecration of the right and the shortening of political horizons in later years. His thought has gone through the neoliberal decades against the grain, without praising the State and law as social alternatives. Bloch's appropriation, after his death, has always been on the left. In a patent and immaculate way, there is no benefit from Bloch to neoliberalism.

Bloch's aesthetics today

Aesthetics permeated all of Bloch's thinking. He actively participated in the artistic debates and erudite references of his time, in environments directly disputed by Marxism. At the beginning of his work, in Geist der Utopie, dealt abundantly with music, such as that of Wagner. But in the Germany of Weimar times, it was expressionism that marked the critical force in art. Bloch shared this environment, having been a friend of most of its exponents. Karola Bloch, the second of his wives, an architect, was trained in the Neue Sachlichkeit, new objectivity, steeped in expressionism.

Peculiarly, if the Russian revolution released, in the first years of the Soviet Union, great avant-garde aesthetic energies, soon afterwards it hardened and converted art to the purposes of consolidating Soviet state power. Thus began a long journey of affirmation of the so-called socialist realism. Based on an aesthetic of orthodoxy in artistic representation, of easier understanding and acceptance by the masses, socialist realism sought to connect directly to the bases already consolidated by the aesthetic fruition of the working class. As a result, avant-garde artistic movements were opposed and even, in a short time, suffocated.

The horizons of socialist realism identified the official, pro-Soviet positions, more Stalinist than properly Leninist, given Stalin's special attention to the subject. In the great arc of artists and philosophers who, by the middle of the XNUMXth century, produced or defended socialist realism, Lukács stood out. Praising in literature manifestations that could still mirror reality, with classicist forms and narratives, with canonical features, such as those of Thomas Mann, Lukács gradually separates himself from Blochian positions, which were soaked in the German avant-garde experiences and which Lukács would accuse of decadence . The contrast marks the relative backwardness of Lukács' aesthetic positions and Bloch's insistence on the new.

His expressionist matrix also made Bloch firm himself in avant-garde principles that were not merely subjectivist or idealistic. The tiredness of contemporary aesthetics or its merely performative condition, for mercantile appreciation, were not scopes of his aesthetic request. If new vanguards emerged after the initial years of the formulation of Bloch's artistic thought, they were less radical than those of his time, in such a way that there was never a question of taking his position as conservative or archaic: he remained radical in his political orientation. that modulated, deformed, magnified and put reality into perspective in order to make social outcry out of it. His expressionist, modern aesthetics, of the new objectivity, even though they were typical of the beginning of the XNUMXth century, live on.

Bloch's utopia today

Utopia is the most important banner of Ernst Bloch's thought, his recurring theme, the concern that crosses all other areas of his philosophy. Distinguishing himself from the many visions of utopia that existed in previous centuries – mystical, religious, idealistic or voluntary, in a long arc that passes through the medieval times until reaching the utopian socialism of the XNUMXth century – Bloch raises the horizon of concrete utopia, which The principle of hope it is his monumental work. The concrete possible, sustained both in objectivity and in subjective action, erects the Noch-Nicht-Sein.

The utopias with an idealist and metaphysical profile developed in different times in which the revolution did not present itself as a paradigm. But, at the end of the XNUMXth century, starting from the socialist struggles, utopia became concrete, scientific and possible. Soon after, amidst the horrors of a world war, the Soviet Union flourished. For this reason, already in the XNUMXth century, Bloch develops his entire philosophy of hope in revolutionary terms, which means that, in the face of his own time, Bloch's thought on utopia presents itself both as a coupling and as a projection. With regard to coupling, the socialist revolutions allowed a concrete glimpse of utopia and, in this sense, Bloch operates in tune with the revolutionary time.

On the other hand, with regard to projection, the insistence on utopia in times when the first post-revolutionary struggle states were already emerging demonstrates that Bloch operates in relative counterpoint with time itself, pointing to the necessary utopian projections that the Soviet Union did not achieved and which still had to be fulfilled. With this, neither the philosophy of Bloch's utopia can be considered totally divergent from the concrete struggles of his time, nor totally contained in the terms of the given revolutionary experience. His position, relatively out of place and persistently radical in its purposes, is here confirmed. In times of revolutionary hope, Bloch's utopia is both synchronic and critical.

After the times of the Soviet revolution, many struggles that arose throughout the XNUMXth century in the world found in Bloch the references of their hope. From the liberation theology religionists – who drank directly from Atheismus im Christentum e Thomas Müntzer als Theologe der Revolution – until reaching the students and youth of May 1968, passing through a myriad of progressive movements, Bloch's thought was a paradigm for several battles for a new tomorrow. It so happens that, at the end of the 1970th century, the conservative times come. When Bloch died, at the end of the XNUMXs, neoliberalism was already in sight. Then came the collapse of the Soviet world. Utopia and hope came to be considered failures, fought and abhorred. In this large present scope of hostility to hope, I propose the existence of two categories of opposition to Bloch's utopia: impossibility or ethics.

Bloch's philosophy of utopia finds itself, in the final decades of the XNUMXth century and the first of the XNUMXst century, with the ebb of struggles. Francis Fukuyama's declaration about the end of history – proclaiming the victory of capitalism and liberalism – is symbolic of times that do not envisage utopia and change. The idea that one cannot escape the terms of capitalism begins to hover, then, in the framework of philosophy and ideology, constituting the present subjectivities.

With this, there is a growing naturalization of what is a historical and quite recent mode of production in humanity. Liberal and neoliberal ideological propositions dominate the intellectual scene: competition, competitiveness, progress by inducing the strongest and most capable, meritocracy, the invisible hand of the market, lex mercatoria, individualism, self-help. Such is the naturalization of capitalism that several new Marxists, some directly inspired by Bloch, such as Fredric Jameson, but also Slavoj Žižek, point to the recurring phrase that says it is easier to think about the end of the world than the end of capitalism.

Effectively, in today's social imaginary – in films, works of art, arguments from political debates, the media or intersubjective conversations, materials that were also of great pleasure for Bloch's analysis –, the hypothesis that the capitalism is overcome. Nuclear, astronomical, viral, sanitary hecatombs are expected, but not socialism. Already at the beginning of the XNUMXst century, Mark Fisher, in the same vein, demonstrates that the current phase of capitalism flattens any utopian possibility: the ideological horizon of current times is one of capitalist realism, in its full rawness, without a glimpse of alternatives.

But, in addition to the fight against utopia based on the impossibility of its realization, there is also a strand of opposition to Bloch that does not accept the very terms of the philosophy of utopia. In this “progressive” counterface of the same neoliberal moment, with airs similar to those of Hannah Arendt, it is argued that the revolutions were bloody, violent, that communism has dictatorial characteristics that suffocate individual freedoms, socialism is equated with nazifascism, in such a way lucky that utopia starts to be considered exactly the projection of what must be avoided.

Readings such as Hans Jonas's “principle of responsibility”, based on respect for ecology and restraint on technology, end up being fundamentally about combating transformative social and historical action. By associating socialism with the ills of industrial developmentalism, phenomena that, in the XNUMXth century, were typically capitalist in origin are confused, although they also took place on the soil of the second, Soviet world, which sought to modernize in terms of mercantile-productive updating in the face of the same proceeded by the first world.

A large block, which is not neoliberal due to the impossibility of a new one arising, in the style of Fukuyama and market economists, but rather neoliberal in terms of ethics – because the new can arise and it is undesirable – goes from Michel Foucault to the phase of self-care to the appropriations of Heidegger's critique of technology by thinkers such as Peter Sloterdijk, having Hans Jonas as its greatest exponent. If Jürgen Habermas went so far as to label Bloch a Marxist Schelling, this is due to the enormous utopia, “irresponsible” in the best possible sense of the term, of the incremental fusion of humanity with nature. This involves extracting, from sociability and the natural, the best that they keep in potency. Bloch's responsibility to nature is as much to respect and confirm it as to improve it, enhance it. As with human beings, the responsibility is to transform them. Correct and enhance nature; better human beings are born, live and die.

Thus, in such a context, the two philosophical oppositions of the present time to Bloch are outlined. For market neoliberals, utopia is non-existent, an impossibility – for them, Bloch is dead. For the “ethical” neoliberals, responsibility becomes the nemesis of utopia – for them, Bloch must be fought. But, by the enemies and by the persecution, the greatness of the persecuted is seen. Capitalist realism and the “ethics” that sustain the bases of the world as it is are the maintenance of a mode of production and sociability of exploitation.

On the one hand, saying about the death of utopia offends history. On the other hand, the responsibility, as opposed to utopia, is the conservation of the terms of the present, but it offends any orientation to dignity to consider capitalism to be ethical, as far as feudalism or slavery is considered to have been ethical in the past. Bloch's thought remains fresh because the concrete utopia is exactly opposed to two serious deviations: the economist, who takes capitalism as an ahistorical social determination; the politician, who takes ethics on a level that is alien to the mode of production and the sociability structure that capitalism constitutes.

In times of ebb of struggles, Bloch persists as the main indicator that only utopia points to dignity, which is still lacking and is a feasible meaning for the struggle that must be undertaken. The only possible responsibility in the face of present capitalist sociability is revolutionary “irresponsibility”. Socialism is once again dead and once again about to be built by the barely living. Concrete utopia is sustained as much in the contradictions and crises of capital as in the struggle of the masses and the working class that one day may succeed. Bloch is alive because as long as there is capitalism there is exploitation and domination and, hence, there is struggle and history: revolution and socialism are always the possibility.

*Alysson Leandro Mascaro He is a professor at the Faculty of Law at USP. Author, among other books, of Utopia and law: Ernst Bloch and the legal ontology of utopia (Latin Quarter).

Originally published in the magazine Dialectus no. 21, January-April 2021.



The complete works of Ernst Bloch were published by Suhrkamp Verlag, in Frankfurt, with editions in 1977 and 1985. His books referenced in this article follow with the year of their initial publication:

BLOCH, Ernst. Atheismus im Christentum. Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, 1968.

BLOCH, Ernst. Das Materialismusproblem, seine Geschichte und Substanz. Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, 1972.

BLOCH, Ernst. Das Prinzip Hoffnung. Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, 1954-1959.

BLOCH, Ernst. Erbschaft dieser Zeit. Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, 1935.

BLOCH, Ernst. Experimentum Mundi: Frage, Kategorien des Herausbringens, Praxis. Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, 1975

BLOCH, Ernst. Geist der Utopie. Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, 1918; 1923.

BLOCH, Ernst. Naturrecht und menschliche Würde. Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, 1961.

BLOCH, Ernst. Traces. Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, 1930.

BLOCH, Ernst. Subjekt – Object. Erläuterungen zu Hegel. Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, 1949.

BLOCH, Ernst. Thomas Müntzer als Theologe der Revolution. Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, 1921.


See this link for all articles