While I am waiting for the video of my first Kant lecture to be posted on YouTube so that I can give the world a link, I thought I would draw together several stories I have been reading about and give them a Marxist gloss. [Think of this as a stroll down memory lane.] The three stories are the kerfuffle about the Clinton Foundation, the welcome decision by the French high court to overturn the ban on so-called burkinis on French beaches [cover-up swimming outfits favored by Muslim women], and a very interesting account of an aspect of the TPP with which I was completely unfamiliar. All three affairs strike me as examples, in very different ways, of what we might call the perfection of capitalism.
One of Marx’s many useful insights was his description of the revolutionary impact of capitalism on eighteenth and nineteenth century Europe and by extension the rest of the world. Capitalism, Marx observed perceptively, corrosively eats away at all existing long established institutions and arrangements, destroying everything that stands in the way of its relentless expansion. It is for this reason that he describes capitalism as the most revolutionary force ever loosed upon the world. Capitalism broke down the age old division between the city and the countryside; it hollowed out and eventually brought down both aristocracy and monarchy; it destroyed traditional craft skills, replacing them with semi-skilled machine labor; it ate into the structure of the family; and it reduced religion to a weekend amusement, turning cathedrals into tourist attractions and priests into serial child abusers. Capitalism flirted with racial disparities, using them when it could to drive down wages, but its inner logic pushed it eliminate racial distinctions, because they reduce the size of the available work force, thus keeping wages aloft. Capitalism broke down patriarchy, and tried its best to bring childhood to an end, all in the service of expanding the labor force. Capitalism’s most formidable enemy has been the autonomy of the nation state, but even that is now beginning to crumble.
The Clinton Foundation is not different from other charitable foundations in its essential functions, but it has been strikingly successful at undermining the walls between capital and state. An enormous accumulation of money acquired from foreign government officials and deployed on the world stage by a former United States President and a sitting United States Secretary of State on her way to the Presidency is almost a cartoon diagram of the social relations of production, as Marx called them, integrated with the political and ideological superstructure. Am I shocked by the revelation that foreign government officials made multi-million dollar donations to the foundation and then sought access to the American government in return? Only about as much as Claude Raines was shocked in Casablanca to learn that there was gambling at Rick’s saloon.
The TPP story is rather more complex, involving as it does an obscure provision of the treaty. This link to a Truthdig story tell you everything I know about the matter. It details the way in which the treaty allows private companies to sue and extort money from sovereign nations, thus furthering the subordination of the state to capital.
As for the burkini matter, it is a micro-example of capitalism’s success in destroying religion. The conflict between church and state has a long history in the west, going at least as far back as the fourth century conversion of Constantine and Charlemagne’s decision to crown himself head of his newly formed empire on Christmas Day in the year 800 A. D. I confess that I have always been offended by France’s efforts to enforce secularism. The case of the burkini ban and that of the hajib as well strikes me as especially egregious. In effect, the French state says that if a young woman chooses to sunbathe topless in a thong, with nipple rings, obscene tattoos, purple spiked hair, and pierced ears, nose, and tongue, that is her inviolable right, but if another young woman chooses to dress modestly in a bathing costume that would have been considered de rigeur a century ago, the full force of the state must be brought to bear to stop her from so scandalous a display. Puleeeze!
And there you have it, my meditation for the day. Now to check on that link.