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Showing posts from January 16, 2011

the bourgeois economists and the equilibrium

The figure of the homo economicus is first used in economics as a model for building a truly mathematized ‘social physics’ in the 1890s, which is also the decade in which Freud laid the foundation of psychoanalysis. These may seem like coincident moments in the intellectual history of two disciplines, but I wonder… The marginalist ‘advance’ towards an economics that imitated the models of physics – that is, the breakthrough to the kind of ‘social physics’dreamt of by Bagehot - divorced value from production in order to grasp what, from the marginalist point of view, was the outstanding feature of the modern economy – the price system. It is a well known story: in economics, it is the age in which the insights of the classical economists were finally systematized as a science by leaving aside the labour theory of value. The theory, not being able to provide a direct explanation of prices, was, according to Jevons, Walras and Menger, incoherent. In its place, the marginalists advance

the enlightenment of strategy vs. the enlightenment of the Absolute

In 1822, Stendhal’s master, Destutt de Tracy, published Condorcet’s notes on the 29th book of Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws. Condorcet’s objections to Montesquieu voice the protest emitted by the revolutionaries at the end of the Enlightenment period against the first Enlightenment generation. Within intellectual history, the French revolution was mounted not simply against what the revolutionaries called ‘feudalism’, but also against the first Enlightenment generation, those who were celebrated, later, in Michelet’s history of the Regency. The revolutionary generation was already thinking in terms of the universalism for which the codex was The Phenomenology of the Spirit. The force of Condorcet’s objections are summed up in the comment on Chapter IV, The laws which shock the views of the legislator: “How is it that in The Spirit of the Laws Montesquieu never speaks of the justice or injustice of the laws that he cites, but only of the motives that he attributes to these laws? W

on the image of revolution

In the introduction to the history of the Regent’s reign that forms the 14th volume of his History of France, Michelet writes: “The regency is a whole century in eight years. It lead to three things at once: a revelation, a revolution, a creation. I. It is the sudden revelation of a world arranged and masked for fifty years. The death of the King [Louis XIV] is a coup de théâtre. What was underneath becomes what is on top. The roofs are lifted up, and one sees everything. There never was a society so open to the light of day. A rare good fortune for the curious observer of human nature. II. And it is not only the light that returns; it is movement. The regency is an economic and social revolution, the greatest that we had before 1789. III. It seems to have aborted, and not less did it remain enormously fecund. The regency is the creation of a thousand things (the great roads, the circulation from province to province, free education, the bank account, etc.). The charming arts were