[OPE] Samuel Bowles

From: Jurriaan Bendien <adsl675281@tiscali.nl>
Date: Sun Dec 28 2008 - 18:04:37 EST

If by historical materialism you mean a progression of successive "modes of production" defining world-historical stages of development, probably Samuel Bowles isn't a historical materialist. But then, that is also not what Marx himself argued, as I explained before, and anybody capable of reading a few reputable books on the "long view of human history" doesn't believe that either.

The concept of unilinear development according to inevitable stages was mainly an innovation of the Marxist theorists in the second International, and Russian Marxism. Nobody in scientific circles takes that seriously anymore, because such stage-like progressions rarely existed in reality. Eventually, reality triumphs over dogmas.

Trotsky/Parvus were closer to the mark with their idea of "combined and equal development" - i.e. a combination of cultural diffusion with temporally and spatially differentiated cultural developments.

Marx himself considered "world history" and "world historical development" as being very much a specific result of the capitalist era, with the formation of the world market as its basis. Marx just briefly delineated different economic formations as broadly marking major steps of progress in the history of civil society, but that was not a stage-theory of history, that is just a plain misreading of what he says.

However if you mean by historical materialism the historical investigation of social practices and social relations in terms of the material interests structuring them, and the rejection of ideologies, or of "great individuals", as the main motive force in historical development, I think Bowles would subscribe to historical materialism - a historical materialism in which conceptual "pairs" such as self-interest and altruism, competition and cooperation, solidarity and conflict, materiality and spirituality are dialectically related - implying each other, but also contradicting each other. In a somewhat similar way, the anthropologist Marvin Harris also mooted a "cultural materialism".

Of course it is an American way of thinking - influenced by functionalist-type of explanation and game-theoretical inquiry. In American thought, social solidarity comes about principally through religious values, it's almost literally "each man for himself, and God for us all". In American ideology, either the pursuit of self-interest is in the best interest of all, or if it is not, it must be because of moral-religious considerations influencing perceptions of human nature. William James for example was a pure pragmatist, except that he was deeply religious, accepting the need for "over-belief" (belief for which there was no practical basis or evidence).

William James tried to understand Hegel under the influence of nitrous oxide http://www.des.emory.edu/mfp/jnitrous.html . This is the kind of intellectual culture Bowles battles with.


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Received on Sun Dec 28 18:09:42 2008

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