Monday, October 4, 2010

Political Philosophy: First-Order Activity and Second-Order Activity

I had this view before about political philosophy, but I did not know how it was actually explained in an academic, theoretical way. That is, I always objected to the idea of studying ideas, political thoughts, theories, etc. in a purely academic, scholarly way to see if they have logical consistencies, to see how they evolved throughout the history, etc. This is not to say that I undervalued the studies, attempts which dealt with political philosophy/theory from this point of view. However, I found it definitely more exciting and perhaps even more important to read and study the writings of previous political philosophers and contemplate about them to develop my own ideas and thoughts about the problems, issues and questions of myself, my life, of the society, the world and the time I live in.

Today, while reading a book on political theory, Political Thinkers: From Socrates to the Present, I had the chance to find the "academic" discussion behind these ideas. Firstly the book reminds the reader of the distinction between the first-order activity of political philosophizing and the second-order activity of studying what political philosophers write. In that respect, what I like more is actually the first-order activity of political philosopizing. The book writes that David Easton attacked at the second-order activity by saying that the scholars of his time "simply reiterated the meanings, logical consistency and historical development of political ideas instead of analyzing and producing new value theories."

Further, he criticized historians of political thought for being "preoccupied with the narration of the intellectual events of the past, and suggested that the modern political theorist should use the history of values in order to discover the variety of moral outlooks with the hope that this would aim him in the construction of his own political synthesis or image of a good political life."

So, how this first-order activity of political philosophizing can be practiced? It is argued that "a reflection on past thinkers provides a prolegomena to actual theorizing. This is not intended in the simplistic sense of continueing a timeless conversation, nor of drawing simple lessons or arguments from past political thinkers. Rather it embodies a recognition that first-order political theorizing cannot emerge from nowhere, but instead is a constructive enterprise that involves building, expanding, and developing the vocabularies that are inherent in great political texts."

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Question of Alienation

There are mainly four dimensions of alienation according to Marx. 1) The first dimension of alienation has to do with worker becoming alienated in relationship to the production of his labor. That is to say, the worker becomes detached from the result of his/her own labor, from the result of his/her working action, from his/her own product. 2) In the second dimension, alienation takes place during the process of production, while producing something. Worker can become alienated while producing something because the process of production in capitalist mode of production turns him/her into an idiot, to a machine-like person who performs the same action thousands of times during the day. 3) Thirdly, the worker becomes alien to himself/herself because he/she cannot really realize his/her potentials, his/her faculties, both intellectual and physical faculties and capabilities. Therefore, he/she cannot realize his existence in the human sense. He/she can realize only his animal faculties, such as eating, drinking, cohabiting, etc. 4) Finally, as a consequence of all these, that is, the worker becomes alienated from nature, from his/her faculties, and from his/her existence, he/she becomes alienated from other men as well.

The alienation issue is important for Marx because he considers human as a species that contains both animal and human faculties. For Marx, animal life is united with nature, and it is an instinctual life. Human life, on the other hand, is a combination of nature, spirit, conscious life and free will. Therefore with alienation humans loose their most of human faculties, and almost turn into an animal because being an alienated human, he/she can only utilize his/her animal faculties, such as drinking, eating, cohabiting, etc.

But alienation is not all about that. There is one more consequence in that matter. The question is if the product of labor is alien to the worker, if it confronts the worker as an alien power, then to whom does it belong? This is a crucial question because with the answer of this Marx develops a broader understanding of the implications of being alienated. Marx’s answer is that “if the product of labor does not belong to the worker, if it confronts him as an alien power, then this can only be because it belongs to some other man than the worker. If the worker’s activity is a torment to him, to another it must be delight and his life’s joy.”

And who is this other man than the worker?

“Through estranged, alienated labor, then, the worker produces the relationship to this labor of a man alien to labor and standing outside it. The relationship of the worker to labor creates the relation to it of the capitalist (or whatever one chooses to call the master of labor).”

From all this analysis of alienation, Marx comes to a conclusion about private property. He concludes that as a result of this alienation process as a whole private property begins to exist. Private property, as understood here, is the end product, the result of the labor of the worker, but it is not the worker’s property, instead it is the capitalist’s property. Worker, by working for the capitalist, produces a property for the capitalist; and this is how private property comes into existence. In this way, Marx again reverses the analysis of private property as it was done by the classical political economists. Also, philosophers, such as Hobbes and Locke, begin with the premise that private property, just as freedom, right to live, etc., is a natural right of humans, a right that exists without being dependent on any other external thing. It is a right that is gained by virtue of being a human being, according to Locke and Hobbes. As for the classical economists, as Marx argues, the private property again is the primary assumption from which further analysis is pursued. That is to say, it is the private property that exists first and then there may occur some kind of alienation. In this way, it seems like private property is the cause and alienation is the result. However, as Marx shows it, there is a reverse relationship here, that is, alienation is what exists in the first instance, and from that private property emerges. That’s why private property is not something natural, is not something that can be accepted, tolerated. It is the product of the labor of a worker, but it belongs to someone else, to the capitalist, and therefore, it cannot be acceptable.

“Private property is thus the product, the result, the necessary consequence, of alienated labor, of the external relation of the worker to nature and to himself. Private property thus results by analysis from the concept of alienated labor, of alienated man, of estranged labor, of estranged life, of estranged man. True, it as a result of the movement of private property that we have obtained the concept of alienated labor (of alienated life) from political economy. But on analysis of this concept it becomes clear that though private property appears to be the source, the cause of alienated labor, it is rather its consequence, just as the gods are originally not the cause but the effect of man’s intellectual confusion.”

Then, what is the cure for alienation? Because as a critical theorist, Marx does not feel satisfied by just explaining the phenomena, in addition, he also shows how this current situation can be changed and how an alternative situation, a better one, can be developed in its place.

Unrestrained economic competition leads more and more people to lose control of means of production, forcing them to submit to the labor market. So, the cure for alienation is not mere removal of political restrictions but the creation of a new kind of economy, based on common control of production in the interest of reciprocity, expressive work, and the satisfaction of the needs characteristics of cooperating human beings. It can be said that Marx tried to explain the roots of spiritual ills, both alienation and the one-sided personal development, through economy and division of labor.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Antonio Gramsci, I Giorni del Carcere - My Life in Prison

Here is a documentary on Gramsci which focuses on his prison life particularly. The documentary is in Italian, so you can either watch it like that or try to find English subtitles somewhere on internet. I searched for the English subtitles, but could not find anything so far. So, if you find the appropriate English subtitles, I would be happy if you could inform me about it as well. Thanks in advance.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Laura Ruberto: Gramsci, Migration, and the Representation of Women's Work in Italy and the U.S.

Laura E. Ruberto's book, Gramsci, Migration, and the Representation of Women's Work in Italy and the U.S., is now available in paperback.


This book considers cultural representations of four different types of labor within Italian and U.S. contexts: stories and songs that chronicle the lives of Italian female rice workers, or mondine; testimonials and other narratives about female domestic servants in Italy in the second half of the twentieth century (including contemporary immigrants from non-western countries); cinematic representations of unwaged household work among
Italian American women; and photographs of female immigrant cannery labor in California.

These categories of labor suggest the diverse ways in which migrant women workers take part in the development of what
Antonio Gramsci calls national popular culture, even as they are excluded from dominant cultural narratives. The project looks at Italian immigration to the U.S., contemporary immigration to Italy, and internal migration within Italy, the emphasis being on what representations of migrant women workers can tell us about cultural and political change.

In addition to the idea of national popular culture, Gramsci's discussion of the social role of subalterns and organic intellectuals, the politics of folklore (or "common sense") and everyday culture, and the necessity of alliance-formations among different social groups all inform the textual analyses. An introduction, which includes a reconsideration of Gramsci's theories in light of
feminist theory, argues that the lives of subaltern classes (such as migrant women) are inherently connected to struggles for hegemony. A brief epilogue, on a lesser-known essay by photographer Tina Modotti, closes the discussion.

"Ruberto moves labor cultural history to a new level by exploring and connecting diverse areas previously ignored or understudied. Theoretically grounded in the work of Antonio Gramsci, this study revises earlier applications of his theories to gender and work to create a unique and rewarding challenge to earlier, limited views of Italian and
Italian American women's work. Ruberto's range of study and precision of analysis forces serious reconsideration of the roles women played in the Italian migration experience. There is a powerful freshness here that will no doubt spark new discussion in Italian and Italian Americans studies."—Fred Gardaphe, Director of the Italian American Studies Program, Stony Brook University

"Much like Gramsci in his notebooks, Laura Ruberto offers readings of diverse and complex networks of cultural products. Ruberto clearly, effectively, and engagingly threads "women's work" through expressive sites such as rice paddies, writing, film, and factories. Embroidering a context of activism and social change—Pasquale Verdicchio, Associate Professor of Italian and Comparative Literature, University of California, San Diego across continents, Ruberto's own work proposes further new ways of being Gramscian."

About the Author

Laura E. Ruberto is a professor in the Department of Arts and Cultural Studies at Berkeley City College in California.