On understanding Gillian Rose somewhat

For the last week, I’ve been working my way through the very frequently recommended Hegel Contra Sociology by Gillian Rose — and I do mean “working,” because it is a very dense book that arguably draws a bit too much on Hegel’s writing style as well as his ideas.

As I was getting toward the end, I began to feel lost and went casting about for articles that might help. This one looked promising, until I came to this sentence:

One problem regarding Rose’s critique of Marxism is precisely her focus on Marxism as a specifically “philosophical” problem, as a problem more of thought than of action.

At that point, I realized I had probably understood more than I thought — certainly enough to realize that one of Rose’s primary goals is to critique the simplistic Marxist dichotomy between theory and practice.

16 thoughts on “On understanding Gillian Rose somewhat

  1. Since I was one of the people to recommend Rose, maybe I should say what I like about her, and her Hegel book. First, I take her to be interested in finding a way to talk about the legitimacy of the law in bourgeois society. She is critical of the neo-Kantian approach that says that some law is necessary for any possible society, but not which law. Law is law if it is valid law (=created according to formal procedures defined in some written or unwritten constitution), or if it reflects a value of the society (=if it mainatins public hygiene, for example). Rose finds these legitimations to be simply capitulating to the status quo and incapable of crititicizing existing positive law. So, she finds Hegel’s account of the tension between the ethical and the legal to be useful, with the ethical understood as a never-achievable ideal in which the individual and the group are in perfect harmony. The space of the law is the space of contestation over the recognition of the failure of individual and group to be in harmony. (I see it something like Ranciere’s view of dissensus.) What Rose wants, above all, is to avoid the extremes of, on the one hand, basing the law on the positing will of the (transcendental) ego, or, on the other hand, destroying all law as a mere cover for the power of the propertied class.

  2. In my essay, I was emphasizing the *problem* of “action,” which I thought Rose neglected, emphasizing instead the problem of “thought,” or philosophy. The actual practice of Marxism (including the matter of differences and transformations within it) is left out.

    Rose argued as if Kant — as exemplary “bourgeois” philosopher — was responsible for the dichotomy of theory and practice. Really, though, it is an antinomy of theory and practice, and hence a dialectic of theory and practice, for Kant, Hegel and Marx. And not only in thought. I think Rose is unfair to Kant, as well as Marx, in so prioritizing Hegel. Nonetheless, Rose’s recovery of Hegel is invaluable.

    One thing I would say, about the issue of law in bourgeois/modern society, is that Rose mobilizes a critique of (“actually existing”) “Marxism” (i.e., Stalinism) on this point in terms of Hegel’s critique of Jacobinism. It doesn’t occur to Rose how the condition of Jacobinism differs historically from Marxism.

    There is much more to Marx’s critique of capitalism than taking issue with private property or even class rule more generally. This is what Rose’s approach to Marx and Marxism is lacking, the point of departure for Marx in the historical specificity of the problem of capital after the Industrial Revolution. Marx had already critiqued pre-Marxian socialism and communism (e.g., of Proudhon and Lassalle) precisely for what he took to be its one-sided and limited focus on (“abolishing”) private property, which he thought was insufficient and also dangerously misleading.

    Marx thought that the working class’s own activity, in organizing, collective bargaining, and even in its “socialist” politics, was a driving force and not simply antithetical to capital’s concrete historical development. Marx had a bottom-up view in which the proletariat was capital-constituting. Even the early Marx but certainly the late Marx thought of overcoming capital in terms of the proletariat’s own “self-abolition,” that is, the overcoming of labor as a socially mediating activity, as it is under capital (and was not before capital). But Marx thought that overthrowing the capitalists and expropriating their property in the means of production for the benefit of society was a necessary if insufficient political step to take.

    Rose doesn’t address this but remains focused on what she regards as the botched Hegelianism of Marxism. Nevertheless, Rose concludes her book with a call for a “critical Marxism.” Why she does so is an important question that most readers of Rose gloss over and forget.

  3. With apologies in advance, I hope it is not too grave a violation of the comment policy to celebrate the arrival of my copy of Jameson’s The Hegel Variations: On the Phenomenology of the Spirit by sharing the (stunning to me) penultimate paragraph:

    No, the most serious drawback to the Hegelian system seems to me rather the way in which it conceives of speculative thinking as “the consummation of itself” (namely, of Reason). We have quoted this passage in giving an account of Hegel’s critique of epistemology; but perhaps it can now be quoted against himself: Reason, he says there, “must demand that difference, that being, in its manifold variety, becomes its very own, that it behold itself as the _actual_ world and find itself present as a shape and Thing.” We thereby search the whole world, and outer space, and end up only touching ourselves, only seeing our own face persist through multitudinous differences and forms of otherness. Never truly to encounter the not-I, to come face-to-face with radical otherness (or even worse, to find ourselves in an historical dynamic in which it is precisely difference and otherness which is relentlessly being stamped out): such is the dilemma of the Hegelian dialectic, which contemporary philosophies of difference and otherness seem only able to confront with mystical evocations and imperatives. But it is a reproach which may well primarily challenge the Hegelian system as such rather than the _Phenomenology_, whose heterogeneities we have tried to display here.

  4. Chris, I’ve reread your article and your comment, and I still think you’re not being fair to Rose’s argument or intent — it seems like you just have a purely negative critique where she says “Marxism suffers from a false antinomy between theory and practice” and you respond “Marxism enjoys an entirely accurate antinomy between theory and practice.”

  5. Adam, I just think that Rose neglected to think about the development and transformations of Marxism in the history of its political practice. Rose’s critique of “Marxism” is much too broad-gauged. In her book, she keeps to a discussion of Marx based on his critique of Hegel in The Philosophy of Right and on his Theses on Feuerbach. Rose makes positive mention of Marx’s Capital, but doesn’t address it.

    And Adorno and Lukacs are also dealt with much too summarily. — In her book on Adorno, she critiques Lukacs’s category of “reification” for being undialectical, but in so doing neglects Lukacs’s very deliberate dialectical treatment of the category, in the mostly ignored but crucial 3rd part of his “Reification” essay, “The Standpoint of the Proletariat,” as well as in Lukacs’s other contemporaneous writings, such as his book on Lenin.

    I think Rose misconstrued Marxism (the Marxism of Marx himself and of Lukacs and Adorno) because she didn’t deal with figures such as Luxemburg and Lenin, who, like Marx, had a more nuanced politics, self-aware of the socialist workers’ movement’s participation in (advancing) the historical development of capital, than the call for expropriating the capitalists’ property (to which Marxism should not be reduced, especially because Marx himself critiqued the call to abolish private property, as early as in his 1844 Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts) can apprehend.

    Lukacs, and the more neglected figure Korsch, and Benjamin and Adorno following them, elaborated a recovery of Marx’s “Hegelianism,” precisely on the basis of Lenin and Luxemburg, who had a dialectical understanding of their own “revolutionary” politics. This is invisible to Rose’s view — and to most of Rose’s readers.

    It’s not that Marxism has “enjoyed” an antinomy of theory and practice, but the most sophisticated Marxists (including, e.g., Lenin and Luxemburg, and Marx himself) were aware of this antinomy, its historically specific basis in capital (“alienation,” or the contradiction of social being and consciousness), and how it inevitably affected their own politics. They didn’t capitulate to or ontologize the antinomy of theory and practice (and neither did Kant, by the way), but rather sought to work through it, as part of a self-consciously dialectical (i.e., “Hegelian”) approach to the problem of capital.

    Since Rose took issue with Marxism precisely on its “Hegelianism,” it would have behooved her to have addressed not only what Marx had to say about Hegel (and what Lukacs and Adorno had to say about “consciousness”), but also how Marxism, in various (including quite different and opposed) ways, considered itself to be a “dialectical” political *practice*.

    Rose’s failure to do so limits her call for a “critical Marxism” based on Hegel, which is why the most fundamental point of her book, to advance, via Hegel, the “comprehension of the conditions for revolutionary practice,” is left out of most of Rose’s readers’ accounts. Rose’s neglect of Marxist politics contributes to the depoliticized reading of Rose.

    The question remains: In what ways was Marxism “Hegelian” — “dialectical?” This cannot be understood apart from the history of actual Marxism in practice, i.e., that of those such as Lenin and Luxemburg, whose critique of other “Marxists” was of the undialectical character of their politics.

  6. By 1981, wasn’t it pretty well obvious that Marxism hadn’t really worked out as anyone had envisioned it? I’m not sure a nuanced reading of Lenin and Luxemburg is going to do much good when it’s clear that their legacy was the Soviet Union and European Social Democracy, respectively.

    It seemed clear enough to me that the concern throughout was the “comprehension of the conditions for revolutionary practice” — you seem to be saying simultaneously that (1) she did not achieve that goal and (2) she did achieve that goal but her presentation made it too easy to misread her. To me, she put forward a much more socially and politically engaged Hegel than I had ever suspected, and her point that the Hegelian commodity fetishism analysis from Capital has proven most productive in Marxist ideology critique was pretty convincing to me — especially given the sterility of debates over base/superstructure, etc.

    (I know you’re putting much more effort into the conversation and I may be coming across as dismissive. That’s not my intention. I just can’t engage in detail with the Lucacs and Adorno.)

  7. It’s precisely my contention that the legacies of Lenin and Luxemburg were *not* inevitably “Eastern” Communism of the USSR and “Western” Social Democracy. In fact, both Luxemburg and Lenin had fought against both (incipient) tendencies (reformism and authoritarianism) — this struggle for the heart of Marxism defined their politics. Rose knew this. Rose was not critiquing merely the manifestly degraded outcomes of Marxism as politics (recognizable long before Rose was writing, in the late 20th century), but Rose was, rather, as part of the post-WWII “New Left,” reconsidering this legacy and its deeper historical background. In fact it led Rose all the way back, before Marx, to Hegel.

    Marxism had become “undialectical,” to say the least — and long before Stalinism and its mirror opposite in Social Democracy. This is what led Rose to Hegel, as part of a greater turn (in the 1960s-70s, when their works were first taken up for translation into English) to reconsiderations of the earlier Marxist critical theory of Lukacs, Korsch, Benjamin and Adorno, et al. — so-called “Hegelian” Marxism. It was such reconsideration of Marxism that motivated Rose’s interpretation of Hegel, but the limitations of the former affected the latter. The missing link in Rose’s exposition is the generation of Marxist radicals, Lenin and Luxemburg, who had inspired inspired Lukacs et al.’s “return to Marx” via a return to Marx’s “Hegelian” roots.

    There was already a split — a crisis — in Marxism before it fell apart into Stalinism and Social Democracy (and sectarian dogmatism of various tendencies). Lenin and Luxemburg lost their (common) fight, against the degeneration of Marxism. In this sense, Marx lost his fight, too. And Hegel. Rose was following Lukacs and Adorno in their attempted recovery of a “critical,” “Hegelian” Marxism. But Rose encountered problems there, which could only be adequately expressed in consideration of the practical political controversies within Marxism. Rose didn’t go there, but I am contending that the concerns of her critique of Marxism can be addressed this way. Rose helpfully pointed the way, but didn’t pursue it far enough.

    (This is what leads her to the rather inadequate treatment of the politics of Hegel in terms of “religion and the state,” which in her subsequent work was found in the figuration of the antinomy of “Athens and Jerusalem” in the Western tradition — over which the specter of Rome loomed. After the initial but unconsummated flirtation with Marxism, Rose became a Hegelian liberal.)

  8. This is what leads her to the rather inadequate treatment of the politics of Hegel in terms of “religion and the state,” which in her subsequent work was found in the figuration of the antinomy of “Athens and Jerusalem” in the Western tradition — over which the specter of Rome loomed. After the initial but unconsummated flirtation with Marxism, Rose became a Hegelian liberal.

    This would be the focus of my point of contention with your reading of Rose, Chris. I would question why the “religion and the state” thematic (political theology, in other words) is an inadequate treatment of Hegel’s politics, given than Hegel himself sees politics (if we define this as the way the state preserves itself in history) as a question of its embodiment of the world spirit (hence, a function of its religious development). Further, I would question whether Rose is repeating the old dichotomy of Athens and Jerusalem, “with the specter of Rome looming over them,” but rather precisely identifying modern bourgeois existence as in tension between Athens (an ideal fusion of religion and the state, with religion reduced to the practices of state) and Jerusalem (an ideal fusion of religion and the state, with the state dissolved into the practices of the religion), and Rome is in fact the middle territory (the “broken middle”) where the tension is ineluctably played out in the space of the law. And, finally, I would ask what is wrong with Hegelian liberalism? If it is seen as a counter to Adam Smith’s liberalism of competitive individualities and if it holds the possibility of a real civic life of (let us call it Arendtian) politics, is this so bad a goal?

  9. There is a problem here, even from Hegel’s point of view. Hegel thought that religion had been superseded by art (already in Classical Antiquity!), which was in turn superseded by philosophy, in terms of the forms of appearance of the essence of Spirit. Hegel was not an ancient but a modern philosopher. Hegel sought to surpass (the limitations of classical bourgeois) liberalism. There is a difference between Hegel and Arendt, which Rose herself maintained.

    But since the topic is Rose’s book Hegel Contra Sociology, the question must be asked, what was she after in Hegel? I think that in many respects her subsequent works were a diminution of the goal she set herself early on. Rose’s work became increasingly rhapsodic and less rigorous. She herself recognized and acknowledged this in the preface to the republication to Hegel Contra Sociology in 1995. Political theology is not Rose’s agenda, but a rather Right-wing, quasi-Heideggerian one (hence, Arendt). The phrase itself comes, tellingly, from Carl Schmitt, the Right-wing (actually, Nazi) legal theorist.

    I am not being ad hominem here, but rather raising the question of what Rose herself, in Hegel Contra Sociology, called “revolutionary politics.” Arendt (and not only Schmitt and Heidegger) was a conservative critic of modernity. Hegel was not. Neither was Rose. (Arendt was a conservative critic of modern democracy, and was against universal suffrage as an abuse of politics, for instance.) But liberalism becomes a kind of conservatism in the face of historical developments that Marxism in its best forms sought to address. If Arendt was a liberal conservative (or conservative liberal, whatever), Rose was not, at least not when she wrote Hegel Contra Sociology.

    (Adam Smith, by the way, had a concept of what Marx would call capital, but specific to the manufacturing era, in which “competitive individualism” actually gives rise to new and deepening forms of social relation and interdependence: capital, in Smith’s view, is a form of society, and is not antithetical to the social, as Hegel, an avid reader of Smith, recognized. Smith and Hegel both drew from and sought to elaborate Rousseau’s concept of the “general will,” which was not majoritarianism, not the democratic aggregation of individual wills, but spoke rather to how modern society is more than the sum of its parts: this underlies Hegel’s notion of Geist.)

  10. This is a very interesting discussion. I must be on the same wavelength as Adam, because I just finished Hegel contra Sociology, and I think the real enemy is not Kant but rather Fichte, who sets up the tension between the activity of positing and the law that is posited and it’s that antinomy that Hegel tries and ultimately fails to resolve (except at the level of abstract theory).

    I read Rose (and I haven’t read any of her other books) as suggesting that contemporary academic Marxism (she’s not interested in Marxist politics here) is too indebted to neo-Kantian sociology which is caught in the trap between values and validity and therefore is unable to seriously engage the issue that Hegel was struggling with, which concerns bourgeois law and property, and the possibility of morality or ethics (Sittlichkeit).

    She wants to liberate a critical Marxism but it has to make the break with neo-Kantianism and realize its indebtedness to Fichte in order to truly be able to matter, at least in theory.

    I was also curious how much Rose’s rereading of Hegel accords with that of Zizek and Malabou. I think Jameson’s critique is the standard postmodern reading that Rose, Zizek and Malabou give us good reasons to take issue with.

  11. The identity of religion and the state is the fundamental speculative proposition of Hegel’s thought, or, this is to say the same thing, the speculative experience of the lack of identity between religion and the state is the basic object of Hegel’s exposition.
    —-Rose, Hegel Contra Sociology, p. 53

    So, call it political theology or not, this is Rose’s pivot for interpreting Hegel. She goes back to the issues that Marx deals with in The German Ideology and “On the Jewish Question,” namely, the way that bourgeois property relations become imbricated with the false representation of the individual in relation to the transcendent realm of universality (God). Such representation is only a reflection of the legal relations of property owners. So, what is Rose proposing? I would say, simply, this: to maintain the tension of the speculative experience of the lack of identity of religion and the state. Under different guises, this has been discussed in many other threads on this blog (“Critique of Religion” most recently). Though Jameson wouldn’t call it “religion,” he does have sympathetic words about the “utopian” thrust of Bloch, for example, if it is maintained as a constant critical reflection on existing social relations.

  12. I’m not familiar with the other threads on this site, but I am very much aware of Marx’s critique of the critique of religion (a la Feuerbach, Bruno Bauer, et al.). It’s an interpretive issue whether Hegel was a theological thinker (and what this would mean either way). I think not. I appreciate Robert Pippin’s exegesis of Hegel, which has important parallels to Rose’s. So one must interpret what is meant by religion in Hegel, and, furthermore, what is the rational object of the concept of God, in any serious thinker’s discourse. I don’t think either religion or God is treated traditionally by Hegel.

    The concept of “ethical life” is concerned with post-Kantian (i.e., Hegel took Kant seriously) morality. Religion and the state, morality and law, private and public spheres, civil society and the state — which takes priority, which conditions the other? Marx was interested in treating these as antinomies of modern society in and through the commodity form of subjectivity in capital. Not the productive tension but rather the contradictions, in the sense of the self-undermining of the antinomies of capital. This is the difference between Hegel and Marx, but not as a matter of thinking one way or another, but an actual historical reversal/inversion, or what Adorno called a “negative” dialectic. Marx’s critical appropriation of Hegel was his continuation of the Hegelian dialectic under changed historical conditions.

  13. Gillian Rose in 1994 describes a post-modern world in which “philosophic ‘truth’ or ‘reason’… are charged with legitimizing forms of domination which have destroyed or dispossessed their ‘others’ in the name of universal interest.” Homologous with the onset of the attack on the welfare state and bureaucratic “socialism” in the 1990s a sort of anti-statism emerges in the forms of libertarianism and communitarianism – which, while opposites, are not absolute opposites. Because the libertarian argument presupposes “formal rationality,” and because communitarianism presupposes “traditional authority,” Rose sees both of them are types of “legitimising domination as authority.” The consumer “rights” of libertarians presuppose the inequalities of capitalist society and the reinforcement of police coercion. Communitarian “empowerment” politics legitimises the “potential tyranny of the local or particular community,” in which it is “the abused who become the abusers.” [G Rose, Mourning Becomes the Law, 2-5]
    In the first years of the 21st century I think we can now see how this has played out.

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