Re: [OPE-L] Hegel's and Smith's historical materialism?

From: Jerry Levy (Gerald_A_Levy@MSN.COM)
Date: Sun Oct 09 2005 - 08:44:14 EDT

Hi  Chris,  Paul C,  Andy, Ajit and Riccardo:

Thanks for all of the comments -- mostly on Smith.

In reply:

1a.  While Smith was a materialist and had a (certain) historical
perspective, historical materialism is more than just the sum of
materialism and historical.  It is a _particular_ philosophical
perspective and I think it is at best confusing to refer to Smith's
historical materialism.  While there is no doubt that materialism
preceded Marx (a point made by Paul C and highlighted in various
writings by Marx and Engels themselves) there are particular and
central  perspectives associated with HM which were original.

1b.  Consider the quote from _WN_ provided by Ajit:

> "Had human institutions, therefore, never disturbed
> the natural course of things, the progressive wealth
> and increase of the towns would, in every political
> society, be consequential, and in proportion to the
> improvement and cultivation of the territory and
> country."

Would M&E have referred as above to "the natural
course of things" in relation to wealth creation?  Of
course not.  It is a central proposition of historical
materialism that neither capitalism nor any mode of
production is natural: there is no "natural course of
things" related to social and economic development.
In this sense, I think I agree with the basic thrust of
Andy's point:

> I'd suggest Smith and classical political economy
> were certainly materialist (they had classes based on
> production,  they introduce the LTV) but not really
> historical because capitalist classes are taken as
> natural and 'history' merely a set of aberrations
> prior to the natural (capitalist) order.

2.  While I see the point made by Andy Blunden (and
re-stated by Chris) about Hegel's early writings,  the
reason why it is misleading to refer to Hegel's historical
materialism is because Hegel at no point in his intellectual
career was a materialist.  To understand why this is the
case one can not look at one part of his work in isolation;
one has to examine his world-view as a whole.  Thus
Chris makes the point:

> It is true he gives more importance to labour in the
> early work but it is still in the interests of the spirit.

Whatever we can or can not gain by an examination of
Hegel's theory we must not forget the role of Absolute
Spirit in that world-view.  That is a world-view that, despite
affinities for other aspects of Hegelianism, Marx and Engels
took exception to.

It turns out that the claim that  Andy Blunden, on the 'hegel-marx'
yahoo group, made about Hegel's historical materialism could
very well have been a typo: while he simply referred to Hegel's
historical materialism in one post he added several days later:

> I presume I put "historical materialism" in inverted commas.

He hadn't  and in his first reply didn't correct the mistake hence
the misunderstanding.

In solidarity, Jerry

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