The Dead in the West's Basement
Today's dominating system has proclaimed itself victorious: god is dead, Marx is dead, liberation theology died. They wish it were true but, as Franz Hinkelammert argues in this article, it is not. Humanity's survival depends on our resistance so it will not become true.
Franz J. Hinkelammert
Speaking today of alternatives to the existing neoliberal system cannot be limited to technical discussions about political alternatives. In their essence, the alternatives are quite clear. The existing system is fatal. It destroys human beings and the environment around human beings in ever greater measure. If humanity wants to survive, this must change. We also know in what direction the changes must take place.
We need new schemes of international action: a new market order, a new financial order, a new ecological order. But we also need new actions at the regional and national levels. We need a development plan based on human and natural conditions, which implies questioning the nature of development. We cannot continue to blindly hand over the planning and implementation of economic growth to multinational corporations that act as states without citizens and focus development exclusively on the profits that can be earned. To replace this corporate planning with international, regional and national plans oriented to the role of human beings and nature in general is an urgent and obvious task.
Metaphysics of InhumanityThis is an impossible task today in terms of any political action. A politician who takes these obvious tasks seriously would disappear from the map. Even attempts to propose or carry out alternatives are destroyed. So, to speak today of alternatives, it is necessary to speak of the powers in the name of which all attempts at alternative thinking or action are made impossible.
We can name these powers: what are called the G-7 countries (the United States, Japan, Germany, Great Britain, France, Italy and Canada), the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the gamut of giant capital corporations. These powers can exercise so much power only because they somehow sustain their legitimacy. The roots of this pro-claimed legitimacy are sustained today in a metaphysics of inhumanity that dominates our public opinion or rather, our published opinion and our communications media, and that is multiplied many times in the popular sectors themselves.
This system acts with a metaphysics and a mysticism all its own, derived from its principles of rationality, based on what it calls efficiency and competitiveness. For this reason, economic and social analyses are all insufficient. Everything that is presented with apparent pragmatism has its root in deep metaphysics.
I want to analyze this metaphysics of the system, this metaphysics that dominates us. I want to demonstrate this through some theses that the system transmits to us daily, and that reveal the underlying metaphysics. They are theses about the bodies buried in the West's basement.
God is DeadThe first announced death was of God. At least since Nietzsche announced it, it has been proclaimed: God is Dead. But the slogan that God is Dead has not been propagated because Nietzsche said it. It's the other way around. Nietzsche saying it was convincing because important parts of the bourgeoisie began to experience this death of God. What Nietzsche said was the confirmation of an experience and its expression.
To enter into this experience, the most famous of Nietzsche's texts appears in The Gay Science under the title The Mad Man:
Where is God? I will tell you. We have killed him; you and I, all of us are his assassins. But what have we been able to do? Don't you hear the murmur of the grave diggers who are burying God? Have we not yet perceived any of the divine decomposition?.... The gods are also decomposing.... Will we have to convert ourselves into gods or at least be worthy of the gods? There has never been such a great action, and those who are born after us will belong, because of it, to a more elevated history than any that has come before.... Add to this that the madman penetrated the same day into various churches and intoned his Requiem Aeternam Deo. Expelled and asked why he did this, he always made the same reply: `What good are these churches, if they are not the tombs and monuments of God?' -The key is in Nietzsche's insistence that we- have killed God, and that this assassination is the greatest action of all human history. It is a victory.
This greatness of the death of God is in no way an atheistic thesis. Nietzsche is not saying that God does not exist. This type of metaphysics was strange to him. It is a particular God that has died:
Effectively, we the philosophers, the free spirits, faced with the news that the old God is dead, feel ourselves illuminated by a new aura; our heart overflows with gratitude, astonishment, expectation and curiosity, the horizon seems to be free once again, even assuming it is not clear; our ships can once again set sail and head towards danger; once again all the seekers of knowledge are legitimate; the sea, our high sea opens again to us and, perhaps, we have never before had a sea so wide.
In The Antichrist, Nietzsche laments the fact that no new gods have appeared for such a long time:
New gods have not been created. Almost two thousand years, and not even one new God! By misfortune that pitiful God of Christian monotheism exists, like an ultimatum and a maximum example of the creating force of the divine, of the spiritus creator in man!
And he communicates to us the alternative to this Christian God from Jewish tradition:
A people that retains faith in itself also has a God that belongs to it. In that God it admires and adores the conditions that have made it triumph, its virtues; it projects the sensation of pleasure that it brings to itself and the feeling of its power, in a being that can exist thanks to them. The rich man wants to appear generous; an arrogant people need a God to which to sacrifice.... In these circumstances, religion is a form of gratitude. Man is thankful to himself and therefore he needs a God.... This alternative is common to all Gods: either they are the willingness to be dominated and therefore they are the gods of a people, or they are total impotence and therefore become good by force.
The we that Nietzsche refers to when he states that we are all assassins does not have a universalist sense. It refers to we the philosophers, the free spirits. That is, all of those who decided to assassinate God. The others, who insist on not assassinating him, are the enemies excluded from this we. They are the impaired and the priests and ascetics who act in the name of the impaired. Of them Nietzsche says they do no more than maintain the shadow of a God that has already died. Therefore, Nietzsche's we have effectively assassinated God.
The assassination of God, as the most grandiose action in all human history, contains a noteworthy investment and a showy aggressiveness. Nietzsche wants gods to be created. But they must be gods of power and victory, before which the powerful can express their gratitude for having won and to whom they can make sacrifices. The assassinated God, on the other hand, is the God of the weak and of victims. This is the God killed by the most grandiose action in human history.
This is evidently an investment along the lines of denouncing idolatry, which we find in the Judeo-Christian tradition. In that tradition, God is the God of the poor, of victims, of widows and orphans, who is revealed through justice. This is all inverted in Nietzsche: God is the God of the powerful, who has nothing to do with the weak. He could say, though he does not, that the God of the weak is the idol. In Nietzsche's eyes, what the Judeo-Christian tradition sees as the idol is God, and vice-versa.
For the God of power, the God of the poor is an idol. It is this God of the poor that Nietzsche says was assassinated and is dead.
Although this God is dead, a problem persists for Nietzsche: Do we not yet perceive anything of the divine decomposition?... The gods are also decomposing. God is dead, and the grave diggers are around. But God is not yet in the tomb. He is decomposing and he smells bad. Nietzsche returns to the problem in another context:
After Buddha's death his shadow appeared for years in a cavern. God has died, but men are of such a condition that for thousands of years there will perhaps be caverns where his shadow shows up.
This is what happens with God. He is dead, but his shadow continues. Like decomposition that smells bad, and like the shadow of death that remains, Nietzsche keeps coming up against this God, even though he is dead. Being dead is not enough. His cadaver and his shadow must also disappear, the caverns where his shadow is seen must disappear. This is where the aggressive nature of these considerations appears. Because there are those who are responsible for the fact that the dead God has not disappeared.
This is particularly noticeable in the claim that God was killed by us. Nietzsche knows what he is talking about. He is referring to a tradition of Christian anti-Semitism which has persecuted the Jewish people as God's assassins. In secularized form, this tradition remained in the anti-Semitism of the liberal-capitalist society of his time, which appeared as the result of a populist anti-Semitism and apparent anti-capitalism. Nietzsche breaks with this tradition: We have killed him; you and I, we are all his assassins. This means: it was not the Jews who committed this act, the most grandiose in human history. It was us. This us of Nietzsche can also include Jews, but only if they convert, converting their Jehovah into a God of the victorious.
Marx is AliveA new guilty party appears here, very different from the assassin. It is the party guilty of the fact that this God, who according to Nietzsche is dead, has not disappeared. He smells bad because of his decomposition or his shadow continues. These new guilty ones are all those who do not accept being the assassins of God and who resist the most grandiose act in human history, the assassination of God.
It is evident that the Jewish people are the guilty ones, as long as they continue being Jews.
To fully capture this perspective, it must be recalled that the problem for Nietzsche is not theism vs. atheism, but God vs. idol. But for Nietzsche idol is the God of the poor and the victims, and God is the God who affirms the power of the victorious. For him, the idol is the God of universal humanism, who excludes no one and thus opts for the excluded. In that way, Nietzsche has a criterion of faith that is a simple inversion of the criterion of Christian faith. Where the Christian opts for the excluded, the poor and the victim, there is according to Nietzsche idolatrous faith, independent of whether one is atheist or believes in God.
For Nietzsche, then, humanist atheism which appears in the thinking of Marx belongs in the same family as the Judeo-Christian tradition. According to Nietzsche, that atheism is no more than one of the many types of that tradition. This also explains why Nietzsche does not concern himself with a discussion of anarchy or of socialism. He knows of them very superficially and does not worry about learning more. Of Marx he knows almost nothing. He sees Marxism as the result of the Judeo-Christian tradition.
In the figure of Saint Paul, Nietzsche confronts what in his opinion is idolatry par excellence. For Nietzsche all Western history turns around Saint Paul and his claim that God is revealed through the weak, the crucified Jesus was resurrected as hope for those who are crushed by power.
Nietzsche sees two great poles in human history. One is Paul, whom he considers to be the founder of Christianity, the one who made use of the figure of Jesus. According to Nietzsche, Paul made the first reappraisal of all values and put the dispossessed, in which God is present, as God's representative instead of power. The second pole of history for Nietzsche is himself, who promises to reappraise Paul's reappraisal of values to favor the God who is revealed in power. This is his true alternative.
Marx is DeadWhen Nietzsche writes a book with the title The Antichrist, it should be understood to mean the Anti-Paul. Paul is to Nietzsche the sum of Jewishness, and at the same time the sum of all universal ethics of concrete human beings, including socialism and Marxism. All of this is the God that is dead by an assassination that is the most grandiose act in human history. However, all of this is also the enemy that makes the dead God still present, to continue as a bad smelling decomposing cadaver, or like the shadows of a death that has still not disappeared.
For the dead God to disappear, those who are preventing his definitive disappearance must die. Only with Nietzsche's logic can one understand that this begins with the cry: Marx is dead. The formulation does not come from Nietzsche, but he has expressed a systematic logic, not just simple philosophy in the air. From this logic it is concluded that Marx is dead. If God, the God of universal humanism, is dead, then it follows that Marx must be dead. God is dead if all universal humanism is dead.
The most concrete humanist thinking in modernity is Marx, in addition to being the founding thinking of alternatives to bourgeois society. Following Nietzsche's logic; if Marx is not dead, than neither is God, because God, although dead, cannot disappear. What smells so bad to the bourgeoisie about Marx is the decomposing smell of the cadaver of that God that has not yet been buried.
This thesis appeared for the first time in 1896, shortly after the publication of the third volume of Marx's Capital, when Bohm-Bawerk wrote his famous article, The Conclusion of the Marx System. The word conclusion has a double meaning. On the one hand, the sense of completeness: with the third volume, Marx's work was complete. But it has a second meaning; Marx is finished. And this comes to mean: Marx is dead.
This article has a curious history. Bohm-Bawerk is known today because of it. The theory of capital that he developed is barely mentioned in books on the history of economic doctrines. Not even the most recalcitrant neoclassicists pay any attention to his economic theory. That is why the author is not published and it is very hard to get hold of his works. No one has criticized them, they have been forgotten. The only exception is this article on the death of Marx.
The last time it was published in Spanish was in 1974, about the same time as in other languages. Bohm-Bawerk thus owes his life to his thesis on the death of Marx. And because this death has not yet been consummated, he remains alive. No one, however, declared Bohm-Bawerk's death. He died peacefully and disappeared, and no one gave any cheers of victory. He had the same luck as other human beings.
The death of Marx, however, continued to be announced. At the beginning of this century, it was Benedetto Croce who expressly announced and spoke of the death of Marx. There is a whole history announcing this death, right up to today. Marx thus plays a unique role. Of no other modern thinker has there been such continuous insistence in his death. Nobody announced the death of Adam Smith, or of David Ricardo. No one declared the death of Kant or of Hegel. Or of Nietzsche, for that matter. But since every generation of humanity rewrites history, every generation of bourgeois society rediscovers the death of Marx.
Today, when bourgeois society is trying to consummate the death of God in Nietzsche's sense, to discover a new God that affirms the power of the victorious, the insistence on the death of Marx is broadened: death of the utopia, death of the ideology, death of the theory of dependence. It is the declaration of the death of universal ethics, the death of the right of all to be recognized as participants in a human life that belongs to all. That is the death of God, proclaimed by Nietzsche; that death demands the death of all critics of the system that dominates us. And the critics offer the viewpoint of the weak, the poor, the victim.
Liberation Theology is DeadWhen the current archbishop of San Salvador, Fernando Saena Lacalle, took over his post, he declared that liberation theology in El Salvador was dead. When Pope Juan Pablo II visited Central America for the second time in 1996, he also declared, in Guatemala, that liberation theology was dead.
Neither of the two clarified the fact; liberation theology had not died, but almost all liberation theologians of the Central American University in San Salvador were dead. They had been assassinated in 1989 by the legitimate armed body of the democratic Rule of Law in El Salvador. Today's bishop of San Salvador was at that time the highest-level chaplain of the Salvadoran armed forces, with the rank of colonel. The liquidation of the center of liberation theology took place in an action termed, in the best style of totalitarian European regimes of the 1930s, Night and Fog. When the Pope went to San Salvador, he refused to visit the tombs of the massacred Jesuit theologians.
Faith and IdolatryIf liberation theology has anything in common with Nietzsche, it is the consideration that the problem of Christianity is not theism/atheism, but rather faith/idolatry. The perspectives on this common vision are, however, opposed. What is idolatry in Nietzsche's vision is faith in liberation theology. But in both cases, the faith/idolatry criterion is the reference to ethical humanism. What indicates idolatry for Nietzsche indicates faith in liberation theology. In Nietzsche, faith is the condemning of the victim, while in liberation theology the victim is the place where God is revealed. In liberation theology hope is anchored in a resurrected God, and in Nietzsche in the death of God. Nietzsche presents the death of God, the assassination of God, as the resurrection of man:
Before God! But this God is dead! Besides, before the plebes we don't want to be equal. Superior men, do not go to the plaza!
Before God! But this God is dead! Superior men, this God was your greatest danger.
"When he is put in the tomb, you will have been resurrected. Only now will the great day arrive! Only now will the superior man be the boss!... Only now is the mountain of the human future giving birth. God is dead, long live superman. That is our will.
In liberation theology, recognition of the other is his/her integration as subject in social relations. In Nietzsche, it is the recognition of the enemy to be destroyed, and loving the enemy is a way to win friendship in order to destroy that enemy:
The spiritualization of sensibility is called love; it is a great triumph over Christianity. The building of enemies is another great triumph of our spiritualization. It consists of profoundly comprehending what one gains by having enemies.... When war is renounced the greatness of life is renounced.
Nietzsche sees himself as the antithesis of Christianity, and for that reason his thinking develops pure negations of Christianity. Rather than an afterlife of good and evil, what Nietzsche promises simply inverts the good and evil. What Christianity, through Paul, determines to be good, Nietzsche denounces as evil.
This generates great discomfort for Christian churches. What Nietzsche expresses is, in effect, the logic of a social system, not simply a philosophy. Nietzsche more than Marx explodes the accommodated positions of the Christian churches their cheap grace, as Bonhoeffer termed it. Nietzsche makes clear the same incompatibility between Christianity and capitalism that liberation theology sustains. Then he calls for a new God.
The God of the VictoriousTo reaccommodate oneself, one must subscribe to the new God that Nietzsche offers. It is the God who is revealed in power, in victory over other people, in the production of victims. Being chosen by this God is revealed in the ability to defeat others. It is the God whose blessing is in the increase in income, the God of the fundamentalism that is so admirably presented to us from the United States. It is the God revealed in victory, the victory of armies and victory in competition.
Blum, the Federal Republic of Germany's Minister of Social Affairs, traveled to Poland in 1987 with a battle cry: Marx is dead, Jesus is alive. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Blum traveled to the former socialist Germany, and, because it is a secular country, did not repeat what he had said in Poland. There he said: Marx is dead, Ludwig Erhardt lives. Erhardt was the postwar Minister of Economy in Germany, who was linked to the phrase social market economy. Erhardt also made miracles: the economic miracle of postwar Germany.
Today Blum does not repeat that slogan either, and so he is quiet. He would have to say: Marx is dead, the savage market lives. Erhardt today is considered a populist, a mercantilist suspected of being leftwing, even socialist. Today one does not speak in Germany either of Erhardt or of his social market economy. Now one talks of the free market economy, which is another name for the savage market in place today.
Nietzsche was a thinker not about class struggle, but about the annihilation of the losers. He thought in terms of exclusion, and talked about a system of exclusion. As this ideology that legitimized exclusion grew, liberation theology developed its thinking about a society of inclusion, a society with a place for everyone, including Nature, which seems to be external to human beings. Hence, liberation theology does not talk about a classless society, but about a society without exclusions.
It is a strange community that the West has declared to be dead. What unites all those declared dead, in fact, is one single death: the death of the human being, of humanity itself. The announcement of a well-known Latin American media commentator, Carlos Alberto Montaner, says it well:
Successful capitalism is not just a way of producing goods and services, but a peculiar psychology, certain values, a special way of understanding life. In countries where the system has triumphed, there is no envy of those who have honorably enriched themselves; they are admired and emulated. They are put on the front pages of magazines. No one, or almost no one, is horrified that the miserable homes of the losers of Harlem can be seen from the terrace of a winner in a New York skyscraper, because equality is not a goal in capitalist societies.
The Hour of ExterminationWhen God is dead, all critical analysis and claims in the name of God's justice also die. This is the anti-utopic utopia that now fascinates public opinion and the ideology of the empire. But it is a utopia, because the world is not really like that. They want it to be like that and they paint our reality as if it were. But, if it really were, we would be in the last days of humanity.
Montaner himself knows that it is not this way. He wants this anti-utopian utopia imposed and he wants to help impose it, it once and for all. In 1990 he stated:
In some Latin American nations Peru, Colombia, perhaps El Salvador the fight against communist fundamentalism will probably be much more bloody than it has been up to now. Those fanatical and raving guerrillas will move from selective assassinations to indiscriminate massacres, provoking as energetic and brutal a response in society as the aggressions inflicted on them.... In both Peru and Colombia steps are being taken to authorize military trials made up of secret tribunals to judge and summarily condemn those accused of subversion.... As if instinctively and fatally, all have begun to admire that the final hour of extermination has arrived.
Montaner's utopia has to be imposed, but it has not yet been imposed. He therefore announces that the final hour of extermination has come. The winners announce the final hour of extermination" for those losers who do not submit to the demands of an ominous utopia at the end of history: God is dead and a new God has emerged, the God of winners. Montaner states very clearly the option for the opposition and dissidents: either convert to what he terms liberalism, or face the final hour of extermination
In this 20th century, the final hour of extermination was already announced once, and the entire West swore Never again! a new final hour of extermination is being announced.
Dissidents Equal IdiotsIf one values the world the way Montaner does, it is not surprising that dissidents are seen as nothing more than perfect idiots. That is why a book could be published in Latin America, with Montaner as co-author, entitled Manual of the Perfect Latin American Idiot.
Systems like the current one cannot perceive any reason outside of themselves, no matter what it may be. Hitler considered all of his opposition to be either idiots or traitors. There is no possible reason outside the system in this type of vision. Precisely because of this it is the human being that dies when God, the God of victims, whose death Nietzsche announced, dies.
The system and Montaner as well sees only idiocy in resistance. Montaner speaks of the idiot dependency theory, which for him is a barbarity. Why is a theory that Montaner considers false also idiotic? He also speaks of the mad Marxist recipe, understanding by Marxist recipe any alternative that a person can think of. Why is it mad? What happens when someone discovers in differences only idiocies, madness and no reason?
Folly and WisdomThere is a need to reflect on the game of madness that these positions reflect. There is a long tradition of madness in the West, which began with the appearance of Christianity. It appears for the first time in Saint Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, in which Paul says:
We proclaim Christ yes, Christ nailed to the cross, and though this is a stumbling-block to Jews and folly to Greeks, yet to those who have heard his call, Jews and Greeks alike, he is the power of God and the wisdom of God. Divine folly is wiser than the wisdom of man, and divine weakness stronger than man's strength.
And he adds, God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish.
This is how the game of madness appeared. God's wisdom is folly to the wise eyes in this world, and the wisdom of this world is folly in the eyes of God. It is folly for the world, because:
To shame the wise, God has chosen what the world counts folly, and to shame what is strong, God has chosen what the world counts weakness.
The gospel of the weak, the victim, the poor, is God's wisdom; that is what it is:
I do not speak the wisdom belonging to this passing age, nor to any of its governing powers, which are declining to their end; I speak God's hidden wisdom, his secret purpose framed from the very beginning to bring us to our full glory. The powers that rule the world have never known it; if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory.
Paul's vocation is to preach this. Not to baptize but to make God present to victims, God who identified with them in his crucifixion and promised them salvation: Christ did not send me to baptize, but to proclaim the Gospel.
These passages from Paul provoked ire in Nietzsche. In no other part does Paul so openly confess his faith in a God of the dispossessed, the weak, the poor and the victims. Nothing could provoke such a reaction in Nietzsche and his cry: God is dead! And nothing could so feed his dream of the return of gods of power, of victory, of those who have won the struggle for power.
Paul knows and preaches that the wisdom of the powerful is true madness. This comes from an earlier tradition. During the siege of Jerusalem, the prophet Jeremiah, with no hope of escape and when all market rationality had disap-peared, committed the folly of buying land and paying the market price from before. It was the folly of God's wisdom. The book of Erasmus of Rotterdam, Eulogy of Madness, also follows this tradition. And Luther's response when asked what he would do if he knew that the world would end tomorrow. Luther gave Jeremiah's response:
I would plant an apple tree.
Resist, Respond, HopeResistance is needed to be able to respond to the current system, which is precisely the madness of rationality. We must move from this madness of rationality to the rationality of madness. Because humanity's survival depends on this ability to do what the rationality of the system can only perceive as folly.
The problem is not so much what the alternatives could be; this is within sight, and what is needed is to refine them in case they can be implemented. The real problem is another: the legitimacy of the current system. Power does not come only from cannons. It comes from the legitimacy that is given to the use of cannons. The cannons that the system uses speak of a deep metaphysics of inhumanity. We will not be able to defend ourselves from the cannons if we do not respond to that metaphysics of destruction and death.
In the current world, which has given itself over to the madness of rationality, the only way to overcome it is to make our resistance in favor of life visible, to integrate it into a dignified human life in a society where everyone fits.
Our place is not the caverns showing the shadow of the dead God. God, the God of victims, did not die. Nor did critical social analysis from the viewpoint of the weak, the poor and the victim -- an analysis that with good reason is linked so often with Marx. Therefore, liberation theology did not die either. It is more needed than ever. And that is why the alternatives will return.