Re: (OPE-L) New Dialectics and Critical Realism

From: Christopher Arthur (cjarthur@WAITROSE.COM)
Date: Mon Mar 15 2004 - 07:31:03 EST

>what is the new dialectics; how does it differ from the "old?"
Here is a n extract from the introduction to my book
Chris A
The term Œthe New Dialectic¹ it is a convenient way of grouping together
thinkers of independent spirit, clearly doing something rather distinctive
in the present intellectual conjuncture.  many of the most active
researchers believe they are working within a new paradigm they call
ŒSystematic Dialectic¹  What is involved in the first place is simply a
return to sources, making a serious study of what Hegel and Marx really
achieved with respect to dialectic. But the New Dialectic has not only
recovered much of this indispensable original work, it is characterised by
new thinking about the issues, and it has reconstructed the inheritance of
Hegel and Marx in various ways. The new interest in Hegel is rather
different from that of earlier Hegelian Marxism which was (rightly or
wrongly) called Œhistoricist¹. The new interest in Hegel is largely
unconcerned with recovering the grand narrative of Hegel's philosophy of
history and relating it to historical materialism; rather it is focussed on
Hegel¹s Logic and how this fits the method of Marx¹s Capital. The point is
usually put by saying the effort is to construct a systematic dialectic in
order to articulate the relations of a given social order, namely
capitalism, as opposed to an historical dialectic studying the rise and
fall of social systems.  What, then, is ŒNew¹ about this dialectic? What is
implicitly referred to here as the ŒOld Dialectic¹ is the Soviet school of
ŒDiamat¹, rooted in a vulgarised version of Engels and Plekhanov, which
amounted to an unsystematic compilation of 'examples'. Diamat ran out of
steam in the 1950s. In the West this was followed by a recovery of the work
of historicist Marxists such as Lukács, Korsch and Gramsci. But then came
the high tide of structuralism and post-structuralism, analytical Marxism,
discourse theory, etc., which rejected Hegel altogether, and generally had
a skeptical a attitude to dialectic.  It was Althusser¹s strident
anti-Hegelianism that opened the way for paradigms completely alien to
Marxism to absorb it; thus there was the rise of so-called analytical
Marxism, which relied on axioms that were essentially generalisations of
neo-classical economics. But there were always  people who refused to
follow the fashion. Now we see a number of Hegelian inspired
reappropriations of the dialectic. (R. Albritton; C. J. Arthur; J. Banaji;
R. Bhaskar; M. Eldred; I. Hunt; M. Lebowitz; J. McCarney; P. Murray; R.
Norman (and S. Sayers); B. Ollman; M. Postone; G. Reuten; T. Sekine; A.
Shamsavari; F. C. Shortall; T. Smith; H. Williams; M. Williams).
There is little in the secondary literature on how to do systematic
dialectic even though Hegel¹s and Marx¹s major works are not historical but
systematic. I attempt a general characterisation of Systematic Dialectic
(emphasising that not all the thinkers I cite would accept everything in
the following paragraph). At the philosophical level it is a way of working
with concepts that keeps them open and fluid, and above all systematically
interconnected. At the methodological level it puts the emphasis on the
need for a clear order of presentation, which, however, is not a linear
one, for the starting point is not empirically or axiomatically given but
in need of interrogation. Epistemologically it insists on the reflexivity
of the subject-object relation. Ontologically it addresses itself to
totalities and thus to their comprehension through systematically
interconnected categories, which are more or less sharply distinguished
from historically sequenced orderings.Textually it prefers to look at Hegel
and Marx afresh, setting aside sclerotic received traditions of
interpretation. Substantively it reexamines or reconstructs Marxian theory
in the light of the above protocols.

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