Monday, 21 March 2011


Is there a prejudice against capitalism by the intelligentsia in comparison with the general population, especially in advanced capitalist countries, and if so, do intellectuals oppose capitalism because they are not capitalists themselves to recognize the benefits and rewards of the system? Are intellectuals the exception to the average person who supports capitalism and tries to work within the system, and sees all the positive aspects of it in order to survive because there is no alternative? 

It may be that the intellectual is by training a critic who must investigate and point out the negative aspects of a system, thus the intellectual is paid to criticize whether from the left, center or right ideological perspective. After all, the great philosopher Socrates was somewhat of a pest with his method of questioning everything, his constant criticism of the status quo that cost him his life. How else can humans develop critical thinking if not by stating a point (thesis), then a counterpoint (antithesis), and arrive at a higher level of reality (synthesis) (Hegelian dialectic). This was the dialectical method that has been around in both East and West since ancient times and one that both G. W. Hegel and K. Marx used among many others. The method certainly appears scientific, though anti-historicist philosophers have rebelled against it, some on philosophical grounds others on political.  

If we assume that everything exists in time and is finite, made up of opposite forces and that lead to qualitative spiraling and horizontal change qualitatively. If we accept that the laws of opposites and negation necessarily lead to the law of transformation, then we accept that the political economy of capitalism exists in time it is finite and will wither away as a a higher mode of production will take the place of the existing one. Like previous modes of production, capitalism does not transcend time and we cannot assume that it will exist until the earth's extinction because it is an integral and unalterable part of human nature.

Perhaps intellectuals oppose capitalism not on any 'objective' grounds of the system itself, but on purely subjective ones. Given that the vast majority of intellectuals are not wealthy but belong in the broader middle class, their reward emanates from prestige and influence of their ideas - and the more original and creative those ideas, the greater the reward of approval for the intellectual. Going against established institutions and prevailing ideologies is neither in the interest of the individual nor easy to pursue, but it may be the case that a segment of the intelligentsia has a 'martyr' or Jesus complex and wants to save the world. It may be argued that this was the case with Marx who wrote against the political economy of 19th century industrial capitalism. Marx recognized that the political economy impacted every aspect of human conduct including mental attitude, ethos, and psychology at the individual and mass or community levels. 

Capitalism shapes everything from how science is conducted and applied to how people carry out their interpersonal relationships and behave. In short, capitalism absorbs and subordinates the free will of humans to the system which is essential for survival. Intellectuals who have deviated from the conditioning that formal education has imposed on their minds are more aware of this reality than the general population. 

Whether they choose to be apologists or critics of capitalism, intellectuals know that their will has been subsumed by the mode of production in a society that does not honor them while affording all power, glory and prestige to capitalists who are behind political power. Even those intellectuals who dedicate (sell) their services in praise of capitalist institutions know that they are mere servants and their role is only useful as a tool for something greater than their intrinsic value based on merit instead of money.

Intellectuals are critical of capitalism as a system, its particular institutions, lifestyle and ethical structure not only owing to the dialectical method that they feel obligated to embrace even in part as a means to understand the society, but they are obliged to examine the issue of value system. In short, the distributional process raises the question not just of value but of social justice. From ancient times to the present, intellectuals deem what they do 'valuable', in some cases the most valuable work than any other enterprise. Therefore, they are worthy of commensurate rewards, but in 'the real world' reward flow to capitalists who live by a very different value system.

The chasm between the sense of self-worth that in some cases translates into a sense of 'entitlement' in terms of societal appreciation and commensurate rewards, and the reality of the intellectuals' real societal role is a source of overt of underlying predisposition to criticize the system that gives rise to such injustice. Ironically, institutions that emerged alongside capitalism contain within them the seeds of criticism against the very system. Intellectuals merely reflect as much. The ideology of liberal democracy rooted in the Enlightenment's merit-based value system gave rise to a sense that society must be organized in a rational manner where individuals have opportunity to experience self-development and upward mobility on those criteria and no others such a aristocratic (birth) privilege.

That capitalism by nature concentrates wealth in few hands, thus limits opportunities of upward mobility and self-development for the vast majority, while it exists as a political economy under an ideology that preaches 'equality of opportunity' is at the root of the contradiction that intellectuals express when they analyze capitalism and its shortcomings. In other words, intellectuals critical of the capitalist political economy merely express the system's contradictions and the gap between theory that promises Shangri La for all people, and the reality that concentrates wealth for the few, while the many who create the wealth never own it.

Overall, intellectuals are not nearly as hostile to capitalism as the system that breeds inequality and social injustice merits. This much history attests in the last five hundred years. The vast majority of intellectuals fall into the majority of conformists who rarely question the system even when it works against them personally and in dramatic fashion like when they are unemployed, have lost their savings, etc.

The vast majority of intellectuals serve the system faithfully. On a daily basis, they indoctrinate others, from students to newspaper readers, to accept the system as the best and only option on earth that exists not beyond time for eternity like the universe itself. That there is a small minority questioning a political economy from every perspective in order to improve conditions for the victims of social injustice is an anathema to the political, social and financial elites who wonder why it is that not everyone has submitted their will and free thought to the cash register of capitalism.

Finally, let us imagine there was never any critic of capitalism and there were only apologists who constantly praised the system no matter its shortcomings in the various aspects of human life from economy and politics to education and culture. Could the system survive and evolve to accommodate changing human and societal conditions in a society where there was 100% robotic conformity by intellectuals and the general population to the system?

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