Ideological and Material Confluence (archive)

More needs to be studied about the relationship between ideological and material confluence.  What do I mean here?   In “Theses on Feuerbach,” Marx’s posits that there is a way out of what seems like a hard determinism implied from a Newtonian view of physics:

All social life is essentially practical. All mysteries which lead theory to mysticism find their rational solution in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice.

The highest point reached by contemplative materialism, that is, materialism which does not comprehend sensuousness as practical activity, is contemplation of single individuals and of civil society.

The standpoint of the old materialism is civil society; the standpoint of the new is human society, or social humanity.

In order words, if you read this closely, it something a kind to a system’s theory of material-ideological feedback loops which emerge out of human activity and narrativizing of that activity.   The narratives develop into theoretical models, the theoretical models into myths, and the myths back into justification for the various forms of material production in which we are interacting.   Marx’s sees this in a dialectical matter, but my description suffices for its relationship to contemporary systems theory and various forms of structuralism.  marx-eng5

The confluence means that ideologies are appearing all the time, human beings social life and the imagination of individuals is nearly infinite, but the an idea that has no social being dies with its thinker.  Christianity manifestation in the world is tied to both the destruction of the Jerusalem temple for its salience and to the chaos of the third-century Roman empire for its spread to a “European religion.”  The idea has to exist at the right time and then it can used to confluence with material and political reality.


Another example,  both Roman Catholic thinkers and Steve Bruce, in his book God is Dead: Secularization in the West, that liberalism and the Protestant reformation seem to be pretext for both the Enlightenment and the waves of secularization that come after the technological and political developments of the Enlightenment.  What Bruce emphases differently than most Roman Catholics is that the Reformation itself was only possible through a series of economic and political changes in the Western Europe.   Ironically the Reformation is possible through the weakness and degeneration of the Holy Roman Empire as well as the strength of the post-Norman state in Henry’s VIII’s England.  These times corresponded with increased printing technologies, new forms of agricultural arrangement, and the development of capitalist (or proto-capitalist) markets in some of the Italian city states.   Furthermore, to keep Henry’s break-away from becoming something like a repeat of the Eastern-Western schism in the church, the German developments in theology were necessary.  It is important, however, to understand that developments in Augustinian theology were already heading in a Protestant direction. It is no surprise that the original leaders of the reformation started as Augustinian reformers within the church.  As  controversies with the Jensenists, which developed similarly to Calvinists in their theology,  and the radical Franciscans, which also were decried as heretics.   It is also important to remember that our modern notions of the differences between Protestants and Catholics would not be fully articulated until the Council of Trent and some of the differences not until the first council of the Vatican and the decline of the Papal states.   Many people read modern Catholic doctrines, such as the explicit nation of Papal infallibility ex cathedra into the late medieval, early modern context.  This would be anachronistic.


Bruce does not talk about this development as much, but shows developments in Protestantism which moderated influence–the moderation of the Presbyterian, Quaker, and Mennonite sects as well as the capitalization of Calvinist countries show that over time economic and political necessary encouraging religious, sectarian, or, at least, theological pluralism leads to the softening of radical ideas.    One can easily see this with 19th century American sects–particularly the Mormons–whose relationship to the modern world required the reputation of many prior doctrines on polygamy, race, and even trade.  The moderating of evangelical opinions in the US, despite a few radical hold outs, follows this view, and so thus the increased secularization of the society. Bruce documents well.


Here material and ideological confluence can be seen again: if one studies the English civil war’s mixture of Puritan and propertied interests, is it any surprise that both early modern liberalism and the culture of capitalism emerge out of this process. I was persuaded by Jarius Banaji’s view in Theory as History that economic form we know as capitalism begin in Catholic Italian city-states, but the culture of liberalism and capitalism would require the heavy-handed centralized government of Norman then Tudor England and the ideological developments of the Northern European reformation. The areas of contest, the borderlines between the Catholic and the Protestant world as the diversity developing out of Catholic humanism prior to the Council of Trent created the conditions for the Enlightenment. That the main areas of the Enlightenment were German and French, places on the borderline of the Catholic/Protestant divide should be no surprise.  Ellen Meiksins Wood’s (as well as Brennerite Political Marxists in general) challenge to the Banaji’s view, which says that both the state form and the ideas of reformation, were required for the culture of capitalism to the develop could actually be reconciled with the idea of confluence.  The economic form was developing, but its various ideological confluences to develop something akin to early bourgeois required both the stronger state and the religious ideas of the early reformation.  Many of the ideas linked to both US and French revolutions only happen have they are tried in the English civil war.  In other words, the idea of an expanding and universalized culture of capitalism, like the reformation itself, beings in the political-economy of the Western Catholic world.  It, however, does not universalize until many material and ideological conditions converge at once.  It is important to remember that many of the ideas linked to both capitalism and the Enlightenment can be traced to late Roman empire, but in the economic and geo-political chaos of the Roman Empire after the third century forwards, as well as the use of slavery and peasants to make the development of economic technology less necessary, it seems like the collapse led to Feudalism instead. (I have read several places that feudalism and slave/peasant working estates can be seen to correspond with as loophole to avoid heavy Roman taxation and as a way to get around the inflation through currency manipulation which plagued the empire.).


Without studying such confluence, it is almost impossible to deal why some social-political and technological revolutions take hold and others do not.  I am not claiming that this is a particularly Marxist view of historical development.  Nor am I claiming that anything was absolutely inevitable, but the probability of ideological and values shift happening being tied to the somewhat chance political and economic developments seems to be a better answer that either a purely historically and materially deterministic or the ideological view so popular after left-liberal po-mo and the Zizekian uses of Marx began in the last two decades of scholarly analysis.    Also, the limits of this universalism can been seen in a exploration of Locke:  it is important to remember that the philosopher credited with the founding of liberalism was a product of growing up in the English civil war as much as his relationship to the Enlightenment in general as well as the fact that Locke wrote the South Carolina constitution and could legitimately be appealed to by people like John Calhoun as putting what was otherwise a pre-modern form of slavery like chattel slavery and its defense in the liberal tradition. The double-think one saw in Jefferson may be traceable back to Locke, if not Cromwell.

(originally published here)


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