The Market Principle
I could just as well have called this “In The Shadow of the Enlightenment IV” but the iteration of the same heading was getting a bit tedious.
Today, I want to speak to the hegemony of the market, and what it means, as one of those same remnant “grand narratives” or metanarratives which much that is called “postmodernism” seems to overlook, having not gained much in the way of “ironic distance” from the ubiquity of it. This post is an experiment in that “ironic distance” or in “deconstructing the myth of the market”, since the myth of the market, as we might call it, insinuates its logic and infiltrates our habits of though in practically everything we do at our “end of history”.
The search for a principle of unity — which we might just as well call a principle of integrity — has a long history. It might even be said to be the very substance and meaning of what we call “history”. Heraclitus claimed to have discovered it and called it “the Logos”. In Christendom, it was the quest for the “Holy Grail”. Today it is called “Theory of Everything” or “Integral Theory”. And while the Greek quest for the principle of unity and integrity within the context of the many (and proliferating) gods and goddesses, and the strife and competition of the elements Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, is a very interesting and extensive subject in itself, I want to restrict myself here to the Modern Era. By “Modern Era” I mean the last 500 years, and which I date from the discovery or invention of perspective which allowed for the systematic (conceptual and perceptual) coordination of spaces, or the dimensions of space, in terms of length, width and depth.
The principle of integrity or unity at the onset of the early Modern Age is still “God”. That’s still reflected in the, then, name of what we now call “Europe”. Then, it was called not “Europe” (which is the Greek name for everything north of Greece) but “Holy Roman Empire” or simply “Christendom”. Monotheism is the principle of universality and therefore also of unity and integrity. “God”, however, is beginning to become distant and remote by this time, rather than as presence — becoming the “Great Clockmaker” or “Architect” now lost somewhere in the mists of antiquity and at gates of dawn and in the beginnings of time and not, as earlier he “in whom we live, move, and have our being”.
The universal God, as central or core value representing unity and integrity, began to fall apart and disintegrate into schism and sect with the Reformation (Lutheran or German Revolution) and Counter-Reformation . The Cross splintered and fractured. This was, in effect, the beginnings of that event that Nietzsche calls “death of God” (or really “murder of God”), and by the time the dust had settled, “Christendom” had been replaced by a system of autonomous Nation-States (Treaty of Westphalia), and was even rebaptised with the Greek name “Europe”, and a new principle of integrity and unity was sought out in the absence of God and was called “Reason”, or more specifically “Universal Reason”, although it was hard to disguise the fact that “Universal Reason” was simply the new name for “God”, as “Reason” was considered to be identical with the “Mind of God”, and figuring things out was simply “Reading the Mind of God“. This new conception of God was represented in Deism — the God apart and who has become really peripheral and marginal to existence, as exemplified in the physicist Laplace’s remark that “God” was an hypothesis that he did not require to explain his system of the world.
Some confused people seem to think that that statement marks Laplace as an atheist. But in fact Laplace was a Catholic and a Deist. But the God apart, as Great Clockmaker, simply reflected the new perspectivist attitude to the world — it’s division into subject and object. God was the New Mind, but that mind was not present in the Machine it had engineered. God had created it, then stepped aside to let it run along according to its own laws of motion.
In the absence of God, therefore, the principle of “Universal Reason” stepped into the breach as principle of universality, unity, and integrity, nurtured by the university, made manifest in the rational and enlightened State. For a time, this novel faith in the universality of Reason worked, which we call “the Enlightenment” or “the Modern Project”. If “Universal Reason” wasn’t identical with God, then at least it was an adequate substitute for God in human affairs.
This faith in Universal Reason as ruling idea or principle of human unity was abruptly shattered by the First World War and subsequent events. The whole period 1914 – 1945 represents a major disillusionment in the Age of Reason and in the adequacy of “Universal Reason” to serve as a principle of unity and integrity. It began itself to fracture and disintegrate, as the “two cultures” of Arts & Sciences, and even within the natural sciences and within humanism itself the unity of knowledge represented in the “university” became incoherent, so much so in fact that people now speak of the “multiversity” rather than “university”. And the university itself is in decline as being “ivory tower”.
The loss of confidence and faith in “Universal Reason” to serve as the principle of unity and integrity is pretty much the whole meaning of “postmodern condition” and the problem of cynical reason. The fracture and disintegration of “Universal Reason” is what Gebser means by “the mental-rational structure of consciousness now functioning in deficient mode”, which has many symptoms.
Into the breach represented by “death of God” and disintegration of “Universal Reason” now steps the “Universal Market”. Economism is the name we give to this new faith in the hegemony of the universal market to function as the principle of unity and integrity. The universal market is seen as the linchpin of global economic (and human) integration, the happy meeting place where the world’s peoples can meet in mutual peace and concord to exchange their goods and services and ideas, or what we call “Commerce”.
Church, State, University, Corporation are four experiments in the hegemony of a principle of unity and universality. The current obsession with the marketisation and commercialisation of everything, 24/7, is the very naive belief, even delusion, that the market can function as centre and as principle of unity and integrity where the others have faltered and failed. The market will serve as universal altar, advertising as its mythology, brands and logos as its sacred symbols, commerce as communion.
Does anyone really believe this will work?
The hegemony of the market and commerce, and the Earth seen as a global marketplace, cannot serve the purpose that is envisioned for it. This is even becoming clearer to neo-liberals themselves (Amy Chua’s World On Fire being one example). The market is, amongst other things, also cunning and craftiness, deceit and deception, dissembling, contention, conflict of interest, competition of interests, inequality of interests, disinformation, “irrational exuberance” and “animal spirits”. The market is, amongst other things, also “law of the jungle” and “survival of the fittest”.
The myth of the market as the “borderless world” (including the erasure of the borders between “public” and “private”) is doomed to fail also. The market cannot perform the function envisioned for it — the centre and principle of unity.
You probably all remember the famous Coke ad, “I’ld like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony” while everyone holds a Coke. That’s the new iconography of the market hegemony and brand as integrating and unifying principle. It’s absurd. It’s lunatic. But it’s “the new normal”.
The “end of history” really was intended to buttress this faith in the hegemony of the market as the new principle of human unity and integrality. All the old gods have failed, so why not this new god? But it too will fail and is, in fact, failing. But, essentially, “economism” is the delusional belief and totalising worldview and paradigm in which the hegemony of the market serves as new unifying principle and principle of integrity.
A lot of postmodernism, because of its continuing retrospective critique of Enlightenment, has also been accused of feeding into that market paradigm, consciously or unconsciously, and of not being sufficiently self-critical in that regard. There’s some truth in that, I think.