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  • Maria Ferreira

    Hello! It was great to read this. I would like to ask something that may be related to the issue, since it is about collective living and collective good. I can’t formulate it in a more clear way right now, but here it goes. If one person is becoming exhausted with the daily 8 hours of meaningless and stressful work, and she decides to quit the job and go to look instead for something equally meaningless but that pays equal for half of the work hours, is this person being a reactionary? The person is looking for a better life for her, immediately, and by quitting the job, she is quiting also on the collective organization or forming a union. Still, the person is only trying to find a what is more helpful for her, from a psychologic point of view. The person is moving from a proletariat sphere to a lumpenproletariat sphere. Are there any ways in which she could still being engaged in a political and social change? If the proletariat is the political subject, and since middle class individuals and petit bourgeoisie usually find their way out of the blue collar jobs and maybe also from the precarious jobs, is it fair to put on the shoulders of proletarians the happening of the political revolution? I mean, if capitalism can only be solved by the collectivisation of the means of production, and since this can only take place through classe struggle and through actions taken by workers against the centralization of wealth at their work places, what is middle class bourgeoisie supposed to do? In some way, isn’t it lazyness and carelessness from the petit bourgeois to say that capitalism will be over when the workers gain access to the means of production?

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INTRODUCTION

The subtitle of Martin Hägglund’s new book, This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom, indicates its ambition. In the first half of This Life, Hägglund undertakes a critique of conventional religion, as well as of any philosophical outlook that understands our finite lives to derive their value from an infinite, unlimited being. Hägglund recommends instead what he calls “secular faith.” As he illustrates in a chapter contrasting Augustine’s Confessions with Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle, this is a faith based on our recognition that “eternal life is not only unattainable but also undesirable.” Even many putatively religious people, Hägglund contends, show through their actions that they believe their lives and projects have meaning in themselves, quite apart from their belief in immortality or eternity. Moreover, for secular people, it is important to acknowledge that finitude and failure—the fact that we will lose those we love, that our projects may come to nothing, and that we ourselves will die—are not defects to be addressed by the right spiritual or philosophical perspective but conditions of the possibility of the lives we lead meaning anything to us at all.

Once we have made this acknowledgement, Hägglund argues we will come to see that our ultimate value and resource during this life is time—the time we have to spend with the people we love and to pursue the projects that are meaningful to us. Accordingly, in the second half of the book, he undertakes a critique of capitalist society based on the way it compels us to sacrifice our time on the altar of “surplus value.” “When I sell my labor time to someone else for a wage,” Hägglund writes, “I am therefore necessarily selling my own life.” Primarily through his readings of Hegel and Marx, Hägglund develops the view that, to do justice to the idea of our “spiritual freedom”—which he defines as the ability to ask “which imperatives to follow in light of our ends, as well as to … transform our ends themselves”—we will need to create a society that prioritizes the creation of free time over that of surplus value. This society will measure wealth not by its GDP or any other strictly economic criteria, but rather by the amount of “socially available free time” it is able to produce, which we can then use to “pursue and explore what matters to us.” Such a society Hägglund calls “democratic socialism.”

At a time of renewed enthusiasm for socialism and radical democracy on the left, This Life has been heralded as making the “spiritual case for socialism” (Jedediah Britton-Purdy, the New Republic), and for inviting Marxist socialists to “think through their ultimate premises” (Samuel Moyn, Jacobin). The book has also received some criticism for its arguments against religion—a thread picked up in the exchange below, between the University of Chicago philosopher and Hegel scholar Robert Pippin and the author of This Life, Martin Hägglund. Beyond the viability of Hägglund’s translation of “faith” into a secular context, Pippin explores the attempt to harmonize Hegel and Marx in the second half of This Life. At issue is the question of whether, for a society to achieve freedom in the Hegelian sense—that is, to “make the idea of freedom actual”—it would be necessary or sufficient for it to overcome the main tenets of market capitalism: wage labor, private property, the orientation of the economy toward surplus value. Both sets of remarks are adapted from a colloquium on This Life hosted by Yale University on March 29th. —JB

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    Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. Because I focus on the question of freedom, I will limit myself to a few remarks in response to the questions that Pippin raises regarding my notion of secular faith. To begin with, my notion of secular faith is not “on a par with” and does not depend on the contrast to religious faith. There was secular faith before there was any religious faith and there will be secular faith even if we let go of all forms of religious faith. Why? Because there is always—in all forms of commitment—a question of fidelity and betrayal. To be committed to anyone or anything is to keep faith with the commitment. In this fundamental sense, we all have secular faith by virtue of sustaining any commitment. Pippin questions why I use the term “faith,” but as I demonstrate in This Life, Hegel’s own insight concerning the form of self-consciousness can and should be understood in terms of secular faith. Contrary to what Pippin claims, I never make the case that we need to have faith in our commitments, which would indeed be absurd. Secular faith is not a second-order faith in our commitments, but designates the temporal dynamic of any commitment. There are not two steps involved here, as though I could first be committed and then decide whether or not I should keep faith with the commitment. Rather, the demand to keep faith with the commitment is built into the commitment itself, since any form of commitment is a temporal activity and needs to be maintained from the beginning. For the same reason, it is always possible that I can fail to sustain the commitment. This risk of failure is not only a negative threat but also an intrinsic part of what positively animates the commitment, since without the risk of failure there would be nothing at stake in keeping faith with the commitment. This is the basic dynamic of secular faith. Any form of commitment—any form of trying to do something and trying to be someone—can make sense only in relation to the possibility of failure, loss and death. Again, these are not two steps. I do not have to add a sense of fragility to my commitment. Rather, in being committed I necessarily take myself and what I care about to be fragile. This is one act, not two.
  • Kindle
  • Maria Ferreira

    Hello! It was great to read this. I would like to ask something that may be related to the issue, since it is about collective living and collective good. I can’t formulate it in a more clear way right now, but here it goes. If one person is becoming exhausted with the daily 8 hours of meaningless and stressful work, and she decides to quit the job and go to look instead for something equally meaningless but that pays equal for half of the work hours, is this person being a reactionary? The person is looking for a better life for her, immediately, and by quitting the job, she is quiting also on the collective organization or forming a union. Still, the person is only trying to find a what is more helpful for her, from a psychologic point of view. The person is moving from a proletariat sphere to a lumpenproletariat sphere. Are there any ways in which she could still being engaged in a political and social change? If the proletariat is the political subject, and since middle class individuals and petit bourgeoisie usually find their way out of the blue collar jobs and maybe also from the precarious jobs, is it fair to put on the shoulders of proletarians the happening of the political revolution? I mean, if capitalism can only be solved by the collectivisation of the means of production, and since this can only take place through classe struggle and through actions taken by workers against the centralization of wealth at their work places, what is middle class bourgeoisie supposed to do? In some way, isn’t it lazyness and carelessness from the petit bourgeois to say that capitalism will be over when the workers gain access to the means of production?

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