Overcoming the dogmatic image of economics: Deleuzean ontology and political economy.
1. Introduction: the question of ontology and political economy
The discourse of neoclassical economics is simultaneously one of the most politically and socially influential and theoretically and scientifically bankrupt research programs in existence. That such a situation persists – that it is still seen as compelling, both to its popular and academic adherents, as well as to the capitalist elite which funds its popular and academic defense, warrants explanation. Additionally, from a postliberal perspective that seeks to re-invigorate technological, industrial and cultural production from under the weight of financialization and ideology – the continued influence of neoclassical economics and the bureaucratic, bourgeois social order that it helps to maintain is an obvious impediment to these goals, and therefore one that must be overcome. What I will argue is that the failings of neoclassical economic discourse ultimately rests on both a flawed methodology and social ontology, that in turn supervenes on a set of tacit presuppositions regarding the nature of being, thought and reality: what Deleuze defined as 'the dogmatic image of thought'. To avoid reproducing implicitly liberal presuppositions within new political economic theories – and within the social, cultural and political insights that are drawn from them in kind – we must avoid the ontological pitfalls of the dogmatic image. Thus, the problem of ontology and its relation to political economy must be investigated.
This process will proceed via two main lines of argument, the first is to outline the need for ontological inquiry into political economy in general. This will involve introducing the key issues in the field, (1) the theoretical and especially ontological failings of the dominant neoclassical paradigm as well as (2) the critiques and alternatives offered by its heterodox rivals. This problem is posed in the context of the critical realist philosopher Tony Lawson and his arguments for a realist ontology in economics. What will be revealed is that the social is an open complex system, inimical to neoclassical equilibrium modelling, a deeply flawed approach that in turn rest on dogmatic image of economic methodology, what Lawson calls deductivism. This in turn will be shown to be a product of The dogmatic image of thought as described by Deleuze, but will also point towards the limitations in Lawson's approach. Insights from notable heterodox economists Steve Keen and Bichler & Nitzan will be introduced in turn to provide a means of addressing some of these shortcomings. Though ultimately, to lay the groundwork for the creation of a holistic, non-reductionist theory of political economy which can be integrated into a broader post-liberal political vision, a clear ontological ground for the construction of political economic theories is required as a necessary first step, which leads to the second line of argument. As, while Lawson's theory and the critical realist program as a whole has a great deal of merit, it has its limitations as a result of its residual essentialism. This is where the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze enters the fray, with his philosophy of immanence and event, and of structure and genesis will provide us with the most plausible ontology for complex open social systems. As whilst the social demonstrates degrees of structure and striation, it is ultimately characterized by change and becoming. This enables the overcoming of the limitations of Lawson's ontological proposals, which lack an philosophy of time adequate to the understanding of becoming and the creation of the new.
Additionally, philosophy imposes its own criteria upon the advancing of ontological claims. Thus, it will be argued that a viable ontology must push the critical method to its limits by applying it to all forms of reification and dogmatism. It must be turned upon all valuations, the notion of discrete identities and propositional language itself. It is in this context that Deleuze sees his critique of the dogmatic image of thought as a foundational aspect of his work, which exposes the many failings of not just philosophical but also economic discourse. What exposing the dogmatic image of thought reveals, is how the processual nature of reality is obscured by representation, enabling the reconceptualization of human thought, language and even representation itself as instead actualizations of the virtual problematic field which is their ground and in turn necessitates a temporal ungrounding (which is the focus of section 6 of this essay). The critique of the dogmatic image lays the groundwork for Deleuze’s constructive project by signifying an imperative imposed on constructive philosophy: a viable ontology must not subordinate itself to the dogmatic image. This critique targets the age-old enemy of philosophy: doxa (opinion: or what is taken as obvious and true); Deleuze seeks to expose the paralogisms underpinning thought, specfically those which cause it to fail to escape circular self-reference within representation. The fourfold shackles which representation imposes, the “identity of the concept, analogy of judgement, opposition of predicates and resemblance of the perceived“ ultimately lead human thought as such, as well as economic thought specifically astray. (Deleuze 1994:vi) As a result Deleuze sets out to articulate the implicit presuppositions and ideas that underpin representationalist discourse as a whole as “It is in terms of this image that everybody knows and is presumed to know what it means to think” (Deleuze 1994:131) As long as we are unaware of this our philosophy and ultimately our picture of world rests on a foundation of sand.
We would do better to ask what is a subjective or implicit presupposition: it has the form of ‘Everybody knows. …. Everybody knows, in a pre-philosophical and pre-conceptual manner . . . everybody knows what it means to think and to be . . . As a result, when the philosopher says ‘I think therefore I am’, he can assume that the universality of his premisses – namely, what it means to be and to think...will be implicitly understood, and that no one can deny that to doubt is to think, and to think is to be . . . Everybody knows, no one can deny, is the form of representation and the discourse of the representative. When philosophy rests its beginning upon such implicit or subjective presuppositions, it can claim innocence, since it has kept nothing back – except, of course, the essential (Deleuze 1994:165.)
Deleuze argues that “the traditional image of thought mistakes a representation of thinking for thinking itself” (Somers-Hall 2013:97). This leads to the privileging of the notion of the judgment of the subject in pure abstract reasoning over the naming of perceptual encounter, as “thinking in terms of judgement obscures that foundations cannot themselves be comprehended in terms of judgement” (Somers-Hall 2013:105). Deleuze’s objection isn't against the representation of thought in a secondary movement of active reflexivity – as the discursive space of reasons has its practical uses,but rather that those trapped in the dogmatic image mistake this representation to be the totality “of thought” when it is instead just a specific “moment of thinking” that is easily reified (Somers-Hall 2013:97). The real temporal processes of production and the real itself are obscured beneath the discursive world of language; shot through as it is with power relations and tacit norms, which we are thrown into. Instead, philosophy must: ‘ﬁnd its difference or its true beginning, not in an agreement with a pre- philosophical Image but in a rigorous struggle against this Image, which it would denounce as non-philosophical’ (Deleuze 1994:167), for it to simply reflect this pre-philosophical mode of reason is an insult to the practice of philosophy as a discipline. To liberate thought from the dogmatic image and escape the strictures of what is already presupposed; to open it up to the nature of the real as difference is the task of critique. However, as the dogmatic image and transcendental illusion are intrinsic features of human thought, this is not an easy task.
Deleuze's critical approach enables him to provide an account of the transcendental conditions of real experience, and thus a means to critically speak of the structure of economic theorizing and the processes it studies. As Deleuze’s ontology is merely critical, but also for Delanda (2002) (an admittedly unusual) form of realism, a realism about dynamic processes not discrete static things, and therefore not an idealism or relativistic constructivism making it is well suited for the task of genuine social science. Deleuzean ontology also rejects the classical conception of essence, instead according to Deleuze “a species (or any other natural [or social] kind) is not defined by its essential traits but rather by the morphogenetic process that gave rise to it” (Delanda 2002). In this way it historicizes and temporalizes the word, as entities are defined in terms of their means of becoming, not by static essences or transcendent forms or structures. It is this trait that allows Deleuzean ontology to model open social systems and their methods of study without falling into reifcations which replace thought with its mere image. It is important however not to reduce Deleuze's ontology to an unorganized and undifferentiated flow which doesn't explain formal structure and apparent order and stratification, as “multiplicities[Ideas] specify the structure of spaces of possibilities, spaces which, in turn, explain the regularities exhibited by morphogenetic processes” (Delanda 2002:10). As these concepts and terms will be used intermittently before their full exposition in section 5, the constitutive elements of Deleuze’s system and their interdependent relations can be briefly introduced as follows:
(1) actual products or beings, with extensive properties and qualities;
(2) intensive processes, or more precisely, morphogenetic processes with intensive properties (systems exhibiting intensive properties are those that (a) cannot be changed beyond critical thresholds in control parameters without a change of kind, and that (b) show the capacity for meshing into ‘heterogenous assemblages’);
(3) the virtual structures of such processes (‘multiplicities’ defined by ‘singularities’), which collectively form a realm (‘the plane of consistency’), the structure of which can be explicated as a meshed continuum of heterogeneous multiplicities defined by zones of indiscernability or ‘lines of flight’. (Protevi 2003)
Thus, the Deleuzian world is a pure becoming always in the perpetual process of transformation – driven by time, with an indetermined future. It is this ontology of virtual genesis and structure, and temporal becoming that is ultimately adequate to the task of providing a philosophical basis for a necessarily new paradigm in political economy and the social sciences in general. As to overcome the contemporary capitalist political order what is needed is not just the creation of the new in theories of political economy, but ultimately in the political economy (or social reality) as such. This paper deals specifically with Deleuze's ontology, derived primarily from Difference and Repetition and Logic of Sense, and its relation to economic theory and debates regarding ontology and political economy. The integration of these theories with Deleuze's own interventions into political economy as well as the implications of his social theories more generally will constitute further parts of this series of essays in this publication and will not be addressed here.
2. Lawson against the dogmatic image of economics
The turn towards ontology in the field of heterodox political economy, which parallels the more general ontological turn in the social sciences at large, has been pioneered by Tony Lawson (1997). Lawson proceeds by arguing against the dogmatic acceptance of a deductivist methodology that in turn necessitates the presumption of a social ontology of closed systems and social atomism. Instead, he favours a critical realist approach that seeks to uncover the underlying structure of the institutions and practices that compose the social field. As a consequence, Lawson wishes to recast economics as a descriptive social science, and views a realist ontology as a necessary methodological foundation from which to achieve this. His work is foundational in the nascent but growing interest in ontological questions regarding economics, making it a good place to begin the discussion on ontology and economics before offering our Deleuzian amendments.
Lawson considers economic discourse as “marked by an effective neglect of ontology, by a lack of attention to elaborating the nature of (social) being or existence”, and strives to provide “an account of natural and social being” intended to give both an explanation for and resolution to the problems that leave economics as a discipline with a reputation as a 'dismal science' (Lawson 1997: xii). Talk of the lack of realism in the assumptions and axioms of mainstream economics itself is hardly new, and the lack of realism in economics is no secret to economists themselves. Economists have been known to be well aware of their reduction of a complex social world to a rigid set of axioms in conjunction with a vulgar utilitarian model of human agency, and for the most part they simply don't care, deriding critics as either stupid or unscientific. A rather puzzling attitude if one presumes they have sincere scientific objectives. Friedman provides a perhaps superficially reasonable, but notorious example of the common attitude of economists toward the issue of the realism of their presuppositions:
Truly important and significant hypotheses will be found to have “assumptions” that are wildly inaccurate descriptive representations of reality, and, in general, the more significant the theory, the more unrealistic the assumptions (in this sense)…the relevant question to ask about the “assumptions” of a theory is not whether they are descriptively “realistic,” for they never are, but whether they are sufficiently good approximations for the purpose in hand. And this question can be answered only by seeing whether the theory works, which means whether it yields sufficiently accurate predictions. (Friedman 1966, The Methodology of Positive Economics)
Hahn’s attitude is even worse and exemplifies the contemptuous attitude of neoclassical economists to basic questions regarding methodology, let alone the philosophical worldview that underpins their approach when he stated in regards to methodology: “What I really wanted to advise the young to do was to avoid spending much time and thought on it. As for them learning philosophy, whatever next?” (Hahn 1992). The longstanding rejoinder from heterodox economists to these attitudes, and one which no adequate response has ever really been offered, is to simply point out the atrocious predictive track record of mainstream economics. It is an obvious conclusion to draw that the neoclassical economist’s approach to the study of the social world and their lack of concern for realism might have something to do with their long history of spectacular failure at their stated objective. When mainstream models at the time failed to even account for the possibility of a crash of the kind that occurred provoking 2008's global financial crisis, this is hardly a difficult task. Yet in spite of its many failures, neoclassical economic discourse remains as dominant as ever in both the academy and political establishment. Now on a basic methodological level, even if economists could make reliable predictions, adopting Friedman's approach would still be absurd. If this method were applied to astronomy for example, there would have been no need to abandon the Ptolemaic model, as its predictive performance exceeded that of Galileo's for some time in spite of the latter’s ultimate superiority (Keen 2016b). The instrumentalism of Friedman is therefore simply bad methodology regardless of any talk of the pluralistic nature of scientific inquiry, a view that that both Deleuze and Lawson ultimately endorse. This still does not ultimately get at why these demonstrably flawed and unrealistic methodological practices would appear to so many to be viable. Consequently, Lawson wants to reach behind these merely factual critiques of economics to its presupposed dogmatic image, to borrow a Deleuzian phase, which as we shall see takes the form of a method of deductivism, and the imposition of closed system social ontology. Essentially what Lawson is trying to do is articulate why overt anti-realist attitudes typified by Friedman and rank dismissal of methodological concerns we saw from Hahn might seem reasonable, both to believe and to then employ in political policymaking. It is ontological inquiry that Lawson views as alone being capable of providing an answer to why would it seem right for one to assert the reality of an abstract, arbitrarily postulated subject (homo economicus) as the basis for the study of the social, and why it seems justified to privilege this abstraction (and the destructive free market politics that usually results) instead of the social world in its dynamic complexity, and human agency in its indetermination. If one were to simply to read the above quotes from Hahn and Friedman to anyone living outside the bubble of economic theory, they would likely be rather puzzled at best, and would justifiably shift towards outrage in the realization that a discipline with such scant regard for reality is employed to inform and justify policy decisions. However, to Hahn’s credit, he is one of the few economists who is critical of the application of economic theory and its models to public policy – which raises the question of why he still bothered with them. Clearly there is an image of thought at play in the discipline of economics that warrants articulation.
Thankfully for Lawson, anti-realist economic orthodoxy will not do, and so he commits to realist ontology via the philosophy of Roy Bhaskar. This he views as a solution to the failures of economics as a discipline, that is to be reformed as a descriptive rather than deductive practice in his view. Lawson ultimately sees the key problems within economic theory resulting from a “a widespread, rather uncritical, reliance by economists upon a questionable conception of science and explanation” and seeks to resolve this crisis via replacing the deductivist image of economic ontology with “a more adequate one, derived by way of adopting an explicitly realist orientation” (Lawson 1997:14).
Before I proceed any further I should probably pause and answer the question any non-philosophers reading this must be thinking.. What is "ontology" anyway? Delanda (2002) who advocates a Deleuzian position quite similar to our own, poses the question of ontology in terms of what kind of entities a philosopher is willing to grant the status of existence in their theory of reality. Bhaskar (1986) the founder of critical realism takes a similar approach arguing that any mode of inquiry “entails some theory of the objects of knowledge; that is, every theory of scientific knowledge logically presupposes a theory of what the world must be like for knowledge, under the descriptions given it by the theory, to be possible" [Bhaskar, 1986, p. 6]. Thus, questions of ontology are unavoidable if we don't want to just assume uncritically the form the objects of our inquiry are going to take. Ontology ultimately concerns the question of Being, and the most notorious articulation of the parameters of this question was undertaken by Heidegger (1969, 1985) who correctly found that the classical western approach to this problem, and the model of subjectivity it presupposes is unviable, insofar as it conflated Being as such with particular beings/actualized identities in his theory of the ontological difference. Deleuze can be seen as responding to this fundamental question of ontology, resolving it in his creation of an ontology which privileges difference over identity. Additionally, Collier (1994) sees Bhaskar's more localized view focusing on primarily on the sciences as being somewhat complementary to Heidegger's rejection of the typical western notion of subjectivity exemplified by the likes of Descartes. Delanda, Deleuze and Lawson also share another similarity, the granting of the status of existence to not just actual entities but also to potentials, tendencies and capacities, which are called in Delanda and Deleuze's (1994) philosophies 'virtual entities'. What both agree on is that an adequate ontology for the social sciences cannot be a simple actualism, as this would provide a radically impoverished philosophy unable to grasp the ontological status of the real objects of study in economics: the underlying structures and practices that compose the social field, as well as how they change over time and are reciprocally modified along with the human agents which compose the society and are in turn modulated and transformed by its structure and practices. Lawson outlines the critical realist view on these real but not actual entities as follows:
The conception I am proposing to defend is of a world composed in part of complex things (including systems and complexly structured situations) which, by virtue of their structures, possess certain powers—potentials, capacities, or abilities to act in certain ways and/or to facilitate various activities and developments. A bicycle, in virtue of its constitution or structure has the capability of facilitating a ride; gunpowder of causing an explosion; a language system of facilitating speech-acts. Such powers exist whether or not they are exercised. The bike can facilitate a ride even though it always sits in the back of the shed; the gunpowder has the power to cause damage even if it is never ignited; the language system makes a conversation possible even where people choose not to speak. In many cases we can infer something of a thing’s potential from a knowledge of its structure. Certainly a good deal about the powers or capabilities of rockets, planes, bridges and parachutes are inferred before any particular one is built and subsequently ‘tried out’. Complex things, then, have powers in virtue of their structures, and we can investigate their structures and in some instances thereby infer something of their powers. (Lawson 1997:20)
These tendencies and potentials and powers are real but not necessarily actualized, and are seen as adding necessary explanatory depth to Lawson's ontology. The critical realist account of reality is thus described by Lawson in terms of the actual, the empirical and real: with the “empirical (experience and impression), the actual (actual events and states of affairs in addition to the empirical) and the real (structures, powers, mechanisms and tendencies, in addition to actual events and experiences)” composing his picture of reality (Lawson 1997:20). The goal of social science for the critical realists is to identify these real structures tendencies and powers and mechanisms, “that govern or facilitate the course of [actual] events” (Lawson 1997:22). This leads to a pluralistic view of scientific inquiry, with differing methods seen as appropriate for differing domains, with different irreducible levels of emergent strata requiring differing methodical strategies. One of the key problems Lawson will identify in economics is a mismatch between the methods of enquiry used by economists and the aspect of reality they study. Realism for Lawson begins with the seemingly obvious claim that the objects of scientific investigation have reality, and that scientific practice is capable of providing insight into this. The precise ontological status of the structure of these objects as well as their composition is therefore the foundational methodological question. The answer that will be offered is that the proper modality of the potentials and capacities that are constitutive of social structures or assemblages is Virtual, requiring us to follow Deleuze and Delanda rather than Bhasker and Lawson on this issue, even much of their insight can be subsumed within a Deleuzian account.
Lawson following Bhasker endorses a realism regarding the objects of economics study – the social field, its human agents, technologies, and their dynamisms tendencies and structures. Therefore:
...socio-economic phenomena are to be explained as the outcome of the causal interplay over historical time between (antecedent) social structure and (subsequent) human agency. More specifically, the initial stage of an explanation involves the identification of the practices responsible for the phenomenon under investigation, after which it is necessary to uncover the social structures and tacit skills which facilitate those practices, together with any conscious and unconscious psychological factors which motivate them (Lewis 2004:10)
Lawson's realism is not naive or uncritical however, as while he advocates an ontological realism, he also advocates an epistemological relativism. Where the “domain of knowledge – consisting of theories, observations, intuitions, (theory-laden) observations and the like” exist alongside ontological reality (Lewis 2004:11). This implies that our knowledge of the world is historically situated, theory-laden and fallible. It is a social product generated via the endeavours of the researcher through the process of testing, applying, re working and extending “existing theories and data” (Lewis 2004:10). The critical realists view this as allowing for the capacity to decide pragmatically between competing theoretical models based on their explanatory power even if this process is socially mediated and fallible (Lewis 2004).
It is from this critical realist perspective that Lawson constructs his critique of economic theory and its ontology. He identifies the key properties of mainstream economic thought as:
a body of substantive thought that... focuses upon individuals rather than collectivities; upon exchange activities rather than production or distribution; upon optimising (maximising or minimising) behaviour rather than satisficing or habit following; upon conditions of perfect competition rather than oligopoly or monopoly; upon structures facilitating constant (or decreasing) returns to scale rather than increasing returns; upon presumptions of perfect knowledge and foresight or ‘rational expectations’ rather than uncertainty or ignorance; upon end-states, fixed points, or equilibria, rather than processes in time; upon functions (utility, cost, preference, profit) that are well behaved (where appropriate, convex, differentiable, fixed, well ordered over all the arguments, etc.) rather than otherwise. (Lawson 1997:83-84)
Not all of these aspects are necessary however, the elements seen as indispensable for Lawson are: “1) an individualistic perspective, a requirement that explanations be couched solely in terms of individuals; 2) an acceptance of some rationality axiom; and 3) a commitment to the study of equilibrium states” (Lawson 1997:83-84), all of which are highly problematic from a realist perspective. Not only are these assumptions empirically false, as numerous critics of neoclassical economics have demonstrated, they also imply a dogmatic image of economic methodology, that in turn presupposes a very specific vision of the nature of society and humanity. Lawson refers to this uncritical assumption of implicit ontological postulates as 'Deductivism', which Lawson explains in neoclassical economics is the “thesis that closed systems are essential to social scientific explanation (whether the event regularities, correlations, uniformities, laws, etc., are either a priori constructions or a posteriori observations)” (Lawson 2015:143). Lawson sets out to attack the very methodological foundation of this practice of deduction from the abstract postulation of axioms as patently unfitting for the social sciences. Lawson describes the methodological practices of mainstream economics as reflecting the view that to: “explain some event, thing, or phenomenon, (i.e. the ‘explanandum’) is to provide an account (the ‘explanans’) whereby the initial phenomenon is rendered intelligible”, where the deductivist method of scientific investigation meets this challenge by seeking to deduce the explanandum from “a set of initial and boundary conditions plus universal laws of the form ‘whenever event x then event y”(Lawson 1997:16). Systemic closure is necessary for this, thus deductivism supervenes on a social ontology of closed systems, that are the necessary “conditions required for the sorts of mathematical methods that economists continually wield to be generally applicable” (Lawson 2015:143). Additionally, this presupposed closed system is seen as resolving in an equilibrium, producing the illusion of a self-governing market justifying the neoliberal political prescriptions typically derived from this school of thought. This deductivism ultimately plays out in neoclassical economics not via a conventional scientific empiricism of one sort or another but via the postulation of an abstract world that is “1) populated by sets of atomistic individuals or entities (an atom here being an entity that exercises its own separate, independent, and invariable effect, whatever the context); where 2) the atoms of interest exist in relative isolation (so allowing the effects of the atoms of interest to be deducible/predictable by barring the effects of potentially interfering factors)”(Lawson 2015:143). The basic deductivist method has even been utilised in the creation of an entire model of scientific inquiry, the Deductive nomological model. This totalizing approach that seeks to universalize this one very specific model of scientific investigation has been heavily criticized, including by Delanda (2002:121). The failure of this approach in economics strongly undermines the deductive nomological view as necessarily characteristic of scientific inquiry as such.
The inadequacy of [deductivism] is exposed once some reflection is given to the nature of those situations within which such event regularities hold. Critical realists recognise that closed systems are rarely spontaneously occurring. Two observations are especially pertinent here. First, outside astronomy most of the strict event regularities uncovered in science have been produced in situations of experimental control. Second, experimental results are frequently applied outside the experimental situation where event regularities are no longer found. In order to render intelligible these observations critical realists argue that it is necessary to interpret the world as structured and open thereby breaking away from....[an] ontology...exhausted by events and experiences, associated with the positivist position. That is, the confinement of most event regularities, but not of the application of scientific knowledge to situations of experimental control, can be explained if it is acknowledged that the world is structured in that actual events and states of affairs are produced by equally real underlying structures, mechanisms, powers and open in that actual phenomena are typically conjointly determined by numerous often countervailing mechanisms. (Pratten 2004:23)
As a consequence, Lawson's (1997) critiques revolve around the argument that while the economy is an open system, “economists insist on dealing with it as if it were “closed.” Controlled experiments in the natural sciences create closure and in so doing make possible the unambiguous association of “cause” and “effects”. Macroeconomists, in particular, never have the privilege of dealing with systems that are closed in this controlled experiment sense.” (Leijonhufvud 2001:3) The basic deductivist approach, or something approximating it is seen in both the “persistent search for event regularities of a probabilistic kind [that] characterises econometrics” (Lawson 1997:17); as well as in the “positing of strict constant event conjunctions, interpreted usually as ‘axioms’ or ‘assumptions” (Lawson 1997:17). Furthermore, according to this deductivist ontology, explanation and prediction are essentially identical: “the former entails the deduction of an event after it has (or is known to have) occurred, the latter prior to (knowledge of) its occurrence” (Lawson 1997:16). In this way, mainstream economics adopts a methodology and social ontology entirely inappropriate to its real object of study (an open complex social system affected by human agency), it is then little wonder that incoherent results ensue. The recent turn to behavioural economics has done little to ameliorate this, as the often interesting insights from psychology that appear to challenge aspects of the dominant neoclassical paradigm are ultimately recaptured by the deductivist method. The assumption of a clockwork universe that typically follows from this view explains the relation of the Friedman style instrumentalist defence of economic dogma to its underlying ontology of deductivism and closed systems. The “positing of strict constant event conjunctions, interpreted usually as ‘axioms’ or ‘assumptions’” (Lawson 1997:17) is deeply unfitting for the study of the social, as:
...while the generalised usefulness of deductivism is dependent upon a ubiquity of closed systems, the social world, the object of social study, is fundamentally open and seemingly insusceptible to scientifically interesting local closures, or at least to closures of the degree of strictness that contemporary methods of economics require. The ultimate source of all the problems is the epistemic fallacy, the belief that questions of ontology can be reduced to questions of epistemology. In the writings of Hume this leads to reality being reduced to the course of events given in experience. And with reality so contained the ‘whenever this then that’ conception emerges as the only form of scientific generality or ‘law’ that can be sustained. In this way, the real is collapsed onto the actual which is anthropocentrically identified with a human attribute” (Lawson 1997:275)
For Lawson (1997) respecting the irreducible openness and complexity of the social enables an escape from this ontologically naive methodological approach. Otherwise the necessary presumption of a closed system which allows mainstream economic methods to be enacted abstracts us from reality to an unreasonable degree, leading economists to lose sight of what ought to be their proper objects of study. This in turn problematizes the standard use of mathematics in economics which is dependent on these assumptions and on the dogmatic image of economics as a whole. Leijonhufvud elaborates on this claiming:
“Our mathematical representations of both individual and system behaviour require the assumption of closure for the models to have determinate solutions. Lawson, consequently, is critical of mathematical economics and, more generally, of the role of deductivism in our field. Even those of us untutored in ontology may reflect that it is not necessarily a reasonable ambition to try to deduce the properties of very large complex systems from a small set of axioms. Our axioms are, after all, a good deal shakier than Euclid’s...The impetus to “closure” in modern macroeconomics stems from the commitment to optimising behaviour as the “microfoundations” of the enterprise. Models of “optimal choice” render agents as automatons lacking “free will” and thus deprived of choice in any genuine sense. Macrosystems composed of such automatons exclude the possibility of solutions that could be “disequilibria” in any meaningful sense. Whatever happens, they are always in equilibrium. (Leijonhufvud 2011:3)
Lawson (1997) therefore considers the deductivist view as a whole and the mainstream account of preferences to be unable to account for genuine human agency, as it subordinates it to the determinism of the neoclassical view of preferences and utility, removing space for authentic choice and agency . The key reason for the dynamism of the economy is its status as an open system that he views as perpetually transformed via human practices. For the critical realists, the individual is modulated by the social environment that it inhabits and human agency reciprocally alters the social field in turn. Thus, social rules and structures are constitutive of subjectivity, which are in turn expressions of human agency and its interaction with both the natural world and social field in one form or another. The echoes of Veblen and his theory of institutions are very strong on this point.
This richer ontological picture accepts the “existence of unobserved events and of the structures or mechanisms which generate those [observed] events and which he identifies as the primary objects of knowledge” (Fullbrook 1998). This requires (to put it in Deleuze's terms) an account of the genesis of real experience, and of actual strata and emergent properties. Empiricism must therefore become transcendental, and transcendental philosophy must break the anthropocentric shackles of so called 'correlationism' and seek the genetic conditions of reality external to the human subject, as we need to an ontology of the real beyond shackles of representation. This also overcomes the anthropocentrism of positing nothing as real beyond observation, a view which in turn raises all kinds of questions about the subject doing the observing and the tacit image of “identity of the concept, analogy of judgement, opposition of predicates, resemblance of the perceived “(Deleuze 1994:vi) that appears to be presupposed by this. The real ultimately cannot and should not be “collapsed onto the actual which is then anthropocentrically identified with, or in terms of, human experience, measurement or some other human attribute” (Lawson 1997:275). To do so only “serves to deny the differentiation of the world, its depth, and the openness of the future” (Lawson 1997:61).
Instead, the mode of investigation proper to economics as social science for Lawson is not deduction from a set of presupposed axioms but rather abduction/retroduction. This: “consists in the movement, on the basis of analogy and metaphor amongst other things, from a conception of some phenomenon of interest to a conception of some totally different type of thing, mechanism, structure or condition that, at least in part, is responsible for the given phenomenon” (Lawson 1997:23). While the deduction moves from the axiom “all ravens are black” to the specific “inference that the next one seen will be black”, and induction from a multitude of observations of black ravens to the construction of a “general claim” about their colour (Lawson 1997:23). For Lawson “retroductive or abductive reasoning is indicated by a move from the observation of numerous black ravens to a theory of a mechanism intrinsic (and perhaps also extrinsic) to ravens which disposes them to be black (Lawson 1997:23). It is a movement, paradigmatically, from a ‘surface phenomenon’ to some ‘deeper’ causal thing” (Lawson 1997:23).
Overall, then, critical realism implies that socio-economic life is best conceptualised as an intrinsically dynamic process of interaction between pre-existing social structures and current human agency, occurring in historical time. Social structures are a necessary condition for individual acts but it is only through (the totality of) the actions of individuals that they persist over time. Social structures should never be regarded as permanently fixed – they should never be reified – because, given their dependency on (potentially creative and so transformative) intentional agency, the scope for change is ever-present. Hence, both society in general and specific social institutions, such as the market, must be understood as inherently dynamic processes in which change is initiated not only by exogenous shocks but can also be endogenously generated as an integral part of social life (Lewis 2004:9-10)
The key points to take away from Lawson's work are (1.) deductivism is not the proper methodology for the study of political economy. (2.) Political economy must be reconceived as a primariliy descriptive social science rather than a bad parody of the methods of Newtonian physics that are manifested in economic deductivism. (3.) The ontology proper to the study of the social must not be actualism or anthropocentrism, but must seek to account for real structures and mechanism as well as the reflexive and non-linear causal relation between human agents and the social field they inhabit. (4.) The social is an open complex system not capturable by equilibrium modelling.
3. The three limitations of Lawson’s theory
3.1. The question of essentialism
There are several issues with Lawson's theories that warrant mention however. They are: 1) The elements of essentialism that limit the critical realist theoretical framework as a whole. 2) His primary methodological focus leading him to present the ideological nature of mainstream economics primarily in these terms rather than in terms of the political forces the underpin these methodological concerns. 3) His apparently overly strong stance against mathematics in economics. All of which provide opportunities to introduce other interesting ideas from the domain of heterodox economics as well as provide grounds for Deleuze’s ontology as the preferred framework into which these insights ought to be situated.
The first issue is whether Lawson's thought and the critical realist program entirely escapes essentialism and the static worldview that it criticizes. While Rutzou (2017) sees a great deal of convergence between Deleuze and the critical realist perspective he also identifies key differences, particularly on the respective privileging of structure and dynamism.
[The] resonances with Bhaskar’s distinction between closed systems and open systems, and the critique of laws, and the advocacy of causation as ‘conjunctual’ is quite striking. Indeed, both Deleuze and Bhaskar stake their ontology of open systems in the natural and social world on similar ground, the critique of accounts grounded in repetition [of the same thought in terms of discrete identity, or generalisation] (in the language of Deleuze) or constant conjunction (in the language of Bhaskar). Both appeal to a language of production [via an intensive field of individuation] (Deleuze) or generation (Bhaskar) characterized by assemblages [the heterogeneous actualized entities that populate the social field] (Deleuze) or conjunctural causation (Bhaskar). Where Bhaskar uses the language of generative mechanisms and overdetermination, Deleuze favours the language of machines [assemblages], yet both concepts play a similar role. DeLanda’s suggestion that Bhaskar’s realism comes very close to Deleuze’s realism seems to be far less outlandish that one might think. And yet, perhaps unsurprisingly, there is a striking and important difference between the two. Where Deleuze advocates for a process-oriented ontology characterized by a changing and mobile network of interlocking, interweaving, interpenetrating relations which ground productive machines in dynamic contingency, Bhaskar favours an object-oriented or structure-oriented ontology grounded in hierarchical and stratified conception of structures, things, and essences. (Rutzou 2017:19)
The essentialist commitments of the critical realist program – even if Bhaskar's conception of essence is thought in dynamic and generative terms – are from the Deleuzean perspective on critical philosophy problematic, as they don’t provide an authentic account of temporal genesis and becoming. Additionally, as we will see, Deleuze gives a viable account of both the tendencies towards stasis and change and can explain both structure and transformation with equal plausibility. Deleuze’s ontology easily explains change, the production of individuated beings and the perception of stasis, and ultimately the perpetual becoming of the world transcendentally conditioned by Being (as temporal difference in itself), all without the need to posit and external forms or innate essences. Furthermore, when the criteria imposed by both Deleuze on any future metaphysics (not falling into the dogmatic image of thought or representationalism) are accounted for, any essentialist philosophy is necessarily eliminated as a viable candidate for an account of Being as such. Bhaskar (2005:43) correctly sees “differentiation and stratification, production and reproduction, mutation and transformation” as the view of philosophy as an under-labourer of the sciences where its task is simply to provide ontological guidance to scientific practices, to a practice of creative encounters with the problematic in a Deleuperpetual transformation and “incessant shifting, of the relatively enduring relations presupposed by particular social forms and structures” that compose the social field. Bhaskar also considers the objects of study in the social sciences to be interdependent and “concerned with conjunctural determination by a multiplicity of causes (including agency and reasons), all of which are both independent and interdependent” to the degree that they cannot be “collapsed into” or be “understood apart from one another” (Bhaskar 2005:43). However, the question of what the motor of becoming is and in what time and under what formal conditions this occurs he lacks an answer for. If we are concerned with an account of structure and the genesis of stratification, emergence and even novelty itself, we need an account of the structure of time itself as these are necessarily temporal processes. We also require a modal account of the singularities and bifurcations that define structure and mark changes and transformation of system states. This requires a move beyond Bhaskar's zean transcendental empiricism. As there is a more fundamental ontological picture requiring an appropriate immanent modality for the events and bifurcation points that structure the social field and its processes of becoming that account for apparent identities (the virtual) and an account of being as time. These limitations in the critical realist account may stem from the failure to deploy philosophy to its full potential. Deleuze instead sees philosophy as a genuine creative practice capable of providing genuine metaphysical insights in the nature of being as such; beyond the general case for the existence of potentials, tendencies, capacities etc (the virtual) and actual, but also the constitution of the virtual field and the nature of the process of individuation. All of which necessitate his transcendental philosophy of time.
Deleuze and Guattari distinguish between philosophy as the creation of concepts on a plane of immanence and science as the creation of functions on a plane of reference. Both relate to the virtual, the differential field of potential transformations of material systems (once again, the 'state space' of systems), but in different ways. Philosophy gives consistency to the virtual, mapping the forces composing a system as pure potentials, what the system is capable of. Meanwhile, science gives it reference, determining the conditions by which systems behave the way they actually do. Philosophy is the 'counter-effectuation of the event', abstracting an event or change of pattern from bodies and states of affairs and thereby laying out the transformative potentials inherent in things, the 'roads not taken' that coexist as compossibles or as inclusive disjunctions (differentiation, in the terms of DR [Difference and Repetition], while science tracks the actualization of the virtual, explaining why this one road was 'chosen' in a divergent series or exclusive disjunction (differenciation according to DR) . Functions predict the behaviour of constituted systems, laying out their patterns and predicting change based on causal chains, while concepts 'speak the event' (MP: 21), mapping out the multiplicity structuring the possible patterns of behaviour of a system - and the points at which the system can change its 'habits' and develop new ones. (Bonta & Protevi 2004:29)
As a result critical realism's key insights as well as those from other heterodox economics can seemingly be subsumed into a richer and more explanatorily powerful Deleuzean framework. This provides a theory that can explain both the ontological status of the pricing system, the capitalist social machine and the human agent as assemblage generated by contingent and historical processes that express virtual events. This is a theory that sees both social organizations, institutions and groups, as well as the humans they are composed of as entities individuated in time possessing the same ontological status. Therefore, it does not grant any transcendent status to either the lower level of personal behaviour as does methodological individualism, or endorse a structural determinism that altogether voids human agency (Delanda 2006:13). Instead “resemblances and identities must be treated as mere results of deeper physical [and social/linguistic] processes, and not as fundamental categories on which to base an ontology” (Delanda 2002: 38–9). The argument that necessitates this approach will be explored in section 5.
3.2. Economics as ideology and the Capital As Power theory of political economy
The second issue with Lawson's approach is the focus on the purely methodological aspects of neoclassical economic ideology, rather than implicit social factors and on the practices of academic economics rather than its broader political impact. This can be resolved in part via Bichler and Nitzan's (2009) Capital as Power (CasP) theory that also provides a relevant example of what descriptive political economy of the form Lawson advocates might look like, even if they do not themselves reference his work. Additionally, Bichler and Nitzan's theory of capital as a pecuniary and parasitical mode of power helps explain the institutional dominance of a seemingly broken economic discipline, as well as the specific nature of economic ideology – that is necessarily political in a way Lawson seems unable to fully countenance.
The question Bichler & Nitzan set out to answer is: what is capital? A question obviously fundamental to any theory of "capitalism", and any attempt to think of alternatives to the economic status quo. The relevance of a viable theory of capital for a politics that enhances rather than constrains our creative capacities is clear, if the goal is to reinvigorate innovation and unchain the creative capacities of civilization in the domains of industrial, technological and cultural production. Without an adequate theory of what capital is we lack a way to explain even seemingly elementary questions such as “Why is Microsoft worth $300 billion and not half that much? Why does Toyota pay $2 billion rather than $4 billion for a new car factory?” and why these “magnitudes” alter over time (Bichler & Nitzan 2009:5). The answer given by most theories is to see capital as an economic category derived from material-productive forces with its monetary value reflecting “underlying processes of consumption and production” (Bichler & Nitzan 2009:5). This claim is disputed by Bichler and Nitzan (2009) who provide a study of capitalism that differs both from both liberal and Marxist theories of political economy. Instead, they set out to think of capital the way capitalists do; as finance. The key methodological innovation they make is the rejection of the problematic division between the economic and the political, as a result they abandon what is conventionally thought of as economics as a distinct discipline and return to its origins as political economy. In this vein they rethink capitalism as a social formation that creates order ("cre-orders") contemporary bourgeois society via the pricing system. Capital is to be conceived of as the symbolic representation of social power, and described in differential terms as the measure of the relative power of competing capitalists. Thus, the internal logic of the capitalist social formation is the differential accumulation of capital: wherein capitalists struggle to out compete each-other and the rest of society to gain a greater share of power. Capital should consequently be understood neither in terms of marginal utility (as in neoclassical economics) nor abstract labour (as in Marxism). Instead, the explanation of capital accumulation is found not “in the narrow confines of production and consumption, but in the broader processes and institutions of power” (Bichler & Nitzan 2009:7). There is also a hint of alternate conception of creative energy or power, akin to Deleuze’s notion of puissance (immanent power to create, ultimately the productive power of being as such) in regards to the industrial activity of the productive as distinguished from pouvoir (repressive power of bureaucratic domination derived from abstract and transcendent identities and dependant on the illusions of representation ) in regards to the business activity of capitalists. Although, this question of creative power is, beyond several brief references to the work of Cornelius Castoriadis left almost entirely undeveloped by Bichler and Nitzan themselves and is an issue that will be taken up in the conclusion to this piece.
Bichler and Nitzan take a harder stance on Neoclassical economics than even Lawson, rather than a misguided science employing the wrong methodology and ontology, they question the very status of neoclassical economics as a science and valid mode of inquiry as such. It is instead in their view a form of ideology espoused by the powerful, as well as the discourse that the capitalist ruling class both thinks within and employs to shape or 'cre-order' society at large. Neoclassical economic discourse helps to obscure the power of these elites as it is a means of justifying capitalist industrial sabotage and rent seeking by creating the illusion that capitalist absentee owners offer productive and creative contributions to industry, and obscuring the reality of their power as grounded in the mere sabotage and distribution of genuine production. It becomes very apparent why this ideology would attract the funding of capitalist elites, an ongoing trend exemplified by John D. Rockefeller's claim that his patronage of the University of Chicago, a “bastion of neoclassical economics” was his best investment (Bichler & Nitzan 2009:76). Bichler and Nitzan view the key failing of mainstream economic discourse as grounded in the postulation of transcendent fundamental particles (the util in neoclassical economics), that are abstract and cannot be observed, yet are treated as though they are real within an internal theoretical context. This basic schema is shared by both neoclassical and Marxist economics (with Marxism simply subbing out the util for units of abstract labour thereby retaining a key aspect of the deductivist methodology, even if the many critical realists that are sympathetic to Marxism would be reluctant to admit it). Neoclassical economics privileges the reality of this abstract world of empirically impossible units of "utility" and superimposes models derived from these presuppositions over observable social reality, which is then convieniently seen as "distorted"by "intervention". This protects a supposed 'reality' of rational utility maximizers from disintegration despite non-corresponding empirical observation. This division is the second artificial bifurcation that Bichler and Nitzan (2009) reject: the division between the real and the nominal, that they also view as characteristic of economic ideology.
Bichler and Nitzan (2009) briefly introduce Thomas Kuhn's work into to picture to help illustrate the ideological and dogmatic rather than scientific nature of neoclassical economics (Bichler & Nitzan 2009:83). In his study of the history of scientific theories, Thomas Kuhn (1970) revealed a pattern in their historical development and transformation, by showing how under "normal" circumstances science operates within a paradigm (a shared set of methods and assumptions). Over time if enough anomalous findings are uncovered that destabilizes the existing paradigm this leads to a scientific revolution and the emergence of a new paradigm. This pattern is entirely absent in the discipline of economics, in spite of the many incoherences and anomalies found in its theories, documented meticulously in Keen's Debunking Economics (2011). A notable example often covered up or ignored by neoclassical theorists is the Cambridge controversy and the arguments of Piero Sraffa (1960) that challenged the core of neoclassical account of the nature of capital. While earlier critics had already shown that Clark's marginal productivity theory of distribution fallaciously “seeks to explain the magnitude of profit by the marginal productivity of a given quantity of capital, but that quantity itself is a function of profit” (Bichler & Nitzan 2009:78). Sraffa by beginning from the assumption of capital as a quantity and demonstrating that this is contradictory, undermined the neoclassical view that heterogenous capital goods can be aggregated via examining “the rate of interest” (Bichler & Nitzan 2009:79-80) Sraffa showed that:
…‘capital intensity’ need not have a unique, one-to-one relationship with the rate of interest. To illustrate, consider an economy with two technologies: process X, which is capital intensive, and process Y, which is labour intensive (i.e. less capital intensive). A rise in the rate of interest makes capital expensive relative to labour and, according to neoclassical theory, should cause capitalists to shift production from X to Y. However, Sraffa showed that if the rate of interest goes on rising, it is entirely possible that process Y once again will become the more costly, causing capitalists to ‘reswitch’ back to X. Indeed, since usually there are two or more ways of producing the same thing, and since these methods are almost always qualitatively different in terms of the inputs they use and the way they combine them over time, reswitching is not the exception, but the rule. The result is a logical contradiction, since, if we accept the rate of interest as an inverse proxy for capital intensity, X appears to be both capital intensive (at a low rate of interest) and labour intensive (at a high rate of interest). In other words, the same assortment of capital goods represents different ‘quantities’ of capital. . . . The consequence of Sraffa’s work was not only to leave profit in search of an explanation, but also to rob capital goods – the basis of so much theorizing – of any fixed magnitude. (Bichler & Nitzan 2009:80)
The outcome of this debate is the revelation that capital cannot be thought of as a “fixed quantity”. This undermines the production function, dependent as it is on “all inputs, including capital” having “measurable quantities” (Bichler & Nitzan 2009:80). In turn the supply curve that is derived from this falls; as does any notion of equilibrium as the “intersection between supply and demand”. In short, the neoclassical paradigm is a house of cards. For Bichler & Nitzan (2009:80) “the implication was nothing short of dramatic: without equilibrium, neoclassical economics fails its two basic tasks of explaining and justifying prices and quantities”. The institutional staying power of the the neoclassical approach despite this shows that beyond Lawson's demonstration of the methodological flaws of mainstream economics, something even more malevolent lurks.
Another amusing example of neoclassical economists ideologically motivated idiocy is highlighted by Keen (2011): the results of Sonnenschein-Mantel-Debreu theorem, that undermines the neoclassical account of the downward sloping market demand curve from within the neoclassical framework. This theorem “establishes that even if an economy consists entirely of rational utility maximizers who each, taken in isolation, can be shown to have a downward-sloping individual demand curve [an entirely unfounded set of assumptions in themselves], the market demand curve for any given market can theoretically take any polynomial shape at all” (Keen 2016b). Thus, even if key premises of the neoclassical paradigm are granted their program still falls into incoherence, as this implies that not only can a market demand curve not be “derived by extrapolating from the properties of an isolated consumer” and that the economy as a whole “cannot be represented by a single "representative" agent” (Keen 2016:247). That the neoclassical response to an obvious internal contradiction was to simply add more abstractions and to appeal to the supposed intuitive plausibility of their approach led Keen (2016) to dub their theories as 'mythematics' rather than mathematics. This again signals that there is something afoot beyond a mere dogmatic attachment to deductivist methodology and closed system social ontology driving the thought processes of economists, as if this were simply the case, the Sonnenschein-Mantel-Debreu theorem would not be so easily swept under the rug. Bichler and Nitzan make the case that this additional element is the role of capitalist political power.
Bichler and Nitzan also reject the most prevalent alternative theory of capitalism, namely the Marxist account that treats capitalism as “a social relation embedded in productive, material entities” (Bichler & Nitzan 2009:6). Where: “In order to understand capital, they argue, we have to look behind the hedonic veneer of liberal ideology and examine the industrial essence of the system. From this viewpoint, the key issue is not the utility that the capital produces, but the social process by which capital itself gets produced. Consequently, the proper way to approach capital is not from the output side, as per the neoclassicists, but from the input side – the side of labour” (Bichler & Nitzan 2009:6). This is also inadequate however, as the classical Marxists, in seeking to keep their theories independent from “the voluntarist indeterminacies of power” also retain a separation between the real and the nominal in a different form via the base/superstructure distinction (Bichler & Nitzan 2009:11). For Nitzan and Bichler the primary difficulty with the classical Marxist approach, following in a long lineage of critics of Marxism on this specific issue, is ultimately the incapacity to “differentiate productive from unproductive labour” (Bichler & Nitzan 2009:13). Even if this knowledge were available, Marxist theorists additionally lack the means of determining the quantity of productive labour that is incorporated into a “given commodity”; and as a result, have no means of determining commodities “labour value” or the “amount of surplus value it embodies” (Bichler & Nitzan 2009:13). Worse still, even if they knew the labour values, the issue of how they are converted into prices remains. This leaves Marxism without a viable account of commodity prices resulting in it being unable to offer a workable theory of capitalization as its positions on profit and accumulation depend on its model of pricing. As a result, while the Marxist and post-Marxist sociological critiques of capitalism have value, as a model of economic reality classical Marxism isn't fit for purpose for Nitzan and Bichler, this necessitates a new approach to the question of capital.
With the orthodox accounts of capital rendered incoherent, Nitzan and Bichler begin their constructive work via adopting Veblen's view that industry and business fundamentally differ in kind as their initial point of reference. For Veblen (2007) industry is the realm of production and involves the expression of man’s tendencies towards creativity and cooperation in collective social projects in a positive actualisation of what he calls as the instinct of workmanship. Industry builds on the collective wealth of human knowledge and social practices that are qualitative and irreducible to pecuniary measure, which is instead a property of business (which is solely concerned with distribution), and proceeds via parasitic absentee ownership drawing upon man’s invidious and predatory tendencies. Business is thus a regime of “pecuniary distribution that pursues profit for the sake of differential advantage” (Bichler & Nitzan 2009:15). On this last point they break with Veblen’s still more traditional interpretation of capital that sees the logic driving capitalism as absolute (self-referential) accumulation rather than viewing it in differential (relative) terms ( Bichler & Nitzan 2018). Ultimately, for Veblen capitalists are absentee owners, who do not productively contribute to industry but dominate it for the sake of profit; and a capitalist regime is, according to Veblen one in which industry is heavily subordinated to the accumulative goals of business. This is achieved via sabotage which Nitzan and Bichler link with power, thus Capital accumulation is an expression of this “organized power” (Bichler & Nitzan 2009:16). Business proceeds by way of sabotage as the limitation and monopolization of supply is necessary for the extraction of profit. Mariana Mazzucato (2013, 2017) clearly shows how innovation is not the product of the free market but of cumulative effects of largely state driven long-term investment and human collective knowledge, and Nesvetailova and Palan (2020) provide a clear exposition of the nature of contemporary financial sabotage of industry. Thus parasitic financial capital-power permeates social reality like a “social hologram...that integrates the resonating productive interactions of industry with the dissonant power limitations of business” (Bichler & Nitzan 2009:16). Rather than driving innovation and industry, business enterprise instead limits it with major firms not merely functioning as “price takers” but also as “price makers” (Bichler & Nitzan 2009:16), further undermining liberal economic accounts as the normal rate of return reflects organized power not (as other theorists would have it), productive output. This exposes macroeconomic phenomena as driven by the strategic agency of a capitalist-power elite (who Bichler & Nitzan call dominant capital), this elite investor coalition forms an oligarchy by co-opting the state apparatus to defend and facilitate its monopolistic dominance (Bichler & Nitzan 2009).
According to Nitzan and Bichler power is immanent to the social field and defined as “confidence in obedience”, where “it expresses the certainty of the rulers in the submissiveness of the ruled” (Bichler & Nitzan 2009:397-98). Therefore, in period of high confidence rulers are proactive in their shaping of society and see revolts and minor disturbances as only minor issues. However, rulers become reactive when confidence is low, this simultaneously undermines social order and stability. In our era capitalism manifests the relation of confidence and obedience via the logic of differential accumulation. This is played out under capitalism via a process of accumulation that expresses the capacity of dominant capital to cre-order society. Nitzan and Bichler claim that the conflictual nature of this process requires us to think in terms of “differential accumulation – the ability of dominant capital to accumulate faster than the average”, where Capital is understood as entirely the symbolic power of finance, and in relative not absolute terms (Bichler & Nitzan 2009:18). This process incentivizes owners to continuously seek to increase their relative power at the expense of others, especially small industrial enterprises and workers, not to merely protect their existing capitalization. This simultaneously drives the centralization of capital, it “pulls the independent units of capital closer together. It causes them to join, coalesce and fuse into ever larger units” and suppress the emergence of rivals. This generates the “tight constellations of large corporate–government alliances” that constitute the ever more centralized dominant capital regime (Bichler & Nitzan 2009:18).
From the perspective of a business, its Capital is the debt and equity it holds, the magnitude of which is its capitalization (Di Muzio 2013). Therefore, its capitalization is “the corporation’s expected future profit and interest payments, adjusted for risk and discounted to their present value” (Bichler & Nitzan 2009:8). This must be maximized at all cost to stay afloat, at the expense of all qualitative ethical evaluations, social norms and customs. The pernicious effect of finance on the arts is the ultimate example of this. Additionally, there are two regimes of capitalization in Nitzan and Bichler's theoretical model of the structure of capitalism. These serve to explain how capital accumulates in differing economic conditions and maintains its grip on the social order. Firstly, the breadth regime is for Di Muzio (2013:xv) “characterized by overall growth, corporate amalgamation and greater proletarianization” and is “dynamic and less conflict prone than a depth regime”. The depth regime is in contrast “characterized by stagflation (a combination of stagnation and inflation). It tends to consolidate corporate power but it is a more conflictual and often violent method of accumulation than breadth regime” (Di Muzio 2013:xv). This basic framework is expanded upon in enough depth to provide a plausible framework to explain the last century of economic history and the rises of dominant capital who can benefit from both regimes.
Nitzan & Bichler's work provides a positive constructive work in political economy broadly in keeping with the basic requirements outlined for economic practice by Lawson, even if they do not endorse a critical realist or any other philosophical grounding for their theories. With the key insight that a viable model of the structure of capitalism cannot separate the social and the economic and must account for the role of power. Their critical work also exposes the complete vacuousness and ideological nature of neoclassical economics in a way that Lawson's critique of deductivist methodology and closed systems social ontology fails to adequately capture. However, many ontological questions remain regarding the status of the pricing system, the capitalist social formation and the nature of social power, conceived in this text primarily in terms of power to dominate (pouvoir), 'power over' rather than power to create, and the productive nature of being itself (puissance).
3.3. The place of mathematics in political economy
The final difficulty with Lawson's position is his overly strong stance on mathematics in economics. Lawson, while not adopting a truly elimitavist point of view on this topic, expresses a stronger degree of skepticism towards the potential use of mathematics than is truly warranted. This is a very subtle point that boils down to the issue of what math and in what context. Lawson himself seems to equivocate on this point, with the weaker position that he has expressed being agreeable, whereas the stronger view goes too far, even going to the length of critiquing many heterodox economists as remaining ‘neoclassical’. This question does however provide the opportunity to briefly discuss the use of complexity theory in heterodox political economy, and the restriction of Lawson's comments on mathematics and economics to linear rather than non-linear methods. Thus, Lawson's view on the correct approach to the study of political economy as a social science rather than a pale imitation of the methods of Newtonian physics can in general be endorsed – with one important caveat regarding his general scepticism of mathematical economics; and the capacity of mathematics to provide insight into open social systems. Instead, Keen convincingly claims that the use of mathematical techniques derived not from conventional equilibrium economics but rather from complexity theory can provide valuable insight into the economy in a heuristic way without falling into the traps of claiming the capacity to deduce the future from arbitrarily postulated axioms, of dogmatic views about the inherent predictability of the social, or any form of social atomism. Keen (2011) refers to the example of his Minsky model, that well prior to the 2008 global financial crisis helped awaken him to the prospect of a crash being preceded by a period of apparent stability, an idea that was not otherwise apparent to him. For Keen:
Lawson’s characterization of mathematical methods as presupposing the existence of discrete atoms, which: “must be assumed to act in isolation from any countervailing factors” is true of linear systems only. A linear system is one in which the interactions between its variables are additive (even if the variables themselves are transformed in some nonlinear fashion), so that the contribution of one variable to a systemic outcome is not influenced by the value of any other variable. The technical term for this property is “superposition,” the colloquial is that “the whole is precisely the sum of its parts.” A nonlinear system is one in which the entities in a system interact in ways that breach superposition, so that: “the whole is not the sum of its parts,” but rather is dependent upon the interactions between its components. In particular, given Lawson’s definition of “atom” as: “anything that (if triggered) has the same independent effect,” in a nonlinear system the impact of a system variable can be dramatically altered by the values of other system variables. Any nonlinear dynamic system can therefore be characterized as nonatomistic, in Lawson’s sense of the word, and mathematical models of such systems abound.” (Keen 2016:241)
Keen provides the use of such methods in biology as an example, and the field of contemporary biology can even provide valuable insights into the field of political economy as shown by David Sloan Wilson(2016). In contrast, Neoclassical economics still reflects the neo-Laplacian worldview that it inherits from the time of its founding, in addition to the bourgeois ideological proclivities of its founders. The core contingent of economists always (at least tacitly) retain faith in some form of a clockwork economic world where the future can be practically predicted and that the behaviour of the economy is capturable by the limited kind of mathematics they employ. According to Keen (2011), in contrast to the obsolete attitude of many economists:
For mathematicians, that dictum was dashed in 1899 by Poincaré’s proof of the existence of chaos. Poincaré showed that not only was it impossible to derive a formula which could predict the future course of a dynamic model with three or more elements to it, but even any numerical approximation to this system would rapidly lose accuracy. The future could be predicted only if the present was known to infinite accuracy, and this was clearly impossible....Today, mathematicians are quite comfortable with the proposition that most mathematical problems cannot be explicitly solved in a manner which yields the kind of didactic statements which economics makes as a matter of course – such as ‘perfect competition gives superior welfare outcomes to monopoly,’ ‘free trade is superior to protection,’ and so on....Other developments, such as Gödel’s proof that a mathematical system cannot be self-contained – so that it must take some axioms on faith – and the proof that there were some mathematical problems which could not be solved, added to this realization by mathematicians and physicists that mathematics and science had innate limits. As a result, in place of Laplace’s grand conceit, there is a humility to modern mathematics. The future cannot be known, mathematics cannot solve every problem, some things may not be knowable. (Keen 2011:418)
Deleuze drawing on Bergson also shows that the claim to predict the future in the manner engaged in by neo-Laplacian economists rests on shaky ontological grounds, as does the view of the possible it presupposes. Their deductivist method and the conflation of prediction and explanation are dependant on what Ayache (2010) calls the metaphysical view of the possible. This view, that that the possible “is ready-made, preformed, pre-existent to itself’ (Deleuze 1991:98), thus it must also resemble the experienced current world, and is “In sum, [the view that] possible future states are supposed to both pre-exist the real and follow upon it as its modified copy” (Roffe 2015:20) is what Bergson objects to. The implication for attempts at economic futural prediction are that these pre-existent possible states, thought in their future mode, are merely projections of this flawed model of an abstract existent possible projected into the future as a multiplicity of possible future system states whose likelihood is supposed to be calculated. This is absurd as:
When such claims are made, when we think in terms of possible future states of the world, Bergson notes, [we] assert that ‘the possibility of things precedes their existence. They would thus be capable of representation beforehand; they could be thought of before being realised.’ Consider the unusual character of such a supposition. If I say ‘it is possible that I could have missed my train from London this morning’, I assert that two (at least) images of the present existed before either of them was real. But then we have to ask how on earth it is possible for us to know what will be the case, not only as it will be but also in its variations. How is it that the possible future states of the world already resemble what will have come to be the case? And, as if this were not bad enough, we must also ask how on earth it is that these images of possible futures are transformed into real states of the world. (Roffe 2016:3)
For Bergson the inverse is actually the case, thereby resolving these paradoxes. According to Bergson “the possible is only the real with the addition of an act of mind which throws its image back into the past, once it has been enacted” (Bergson 2007:81). Why is this the case? Firstly, as the possible is a retrojection of the real after the fact; the possible thus cannot be more fundamental to the real but instead adds an addition element and with this greater complexity, thus the possible cannot serve as the ground for the real but is abstracted from it. This leads Deleuze to conclude that
...if the real is said to resemble the possible, is this not in fact because the real was expected to come about by its own means, to ‘project backwards’ a fictitious image of it, and to claim that it was possible at any time, before it happened? In fact, it is not the real that resembles the possible, but the possible that resembles the real, because it has been abstracted from the real once made, arbitrarily extracted from the real like a sterile double. (Deleuze 1991:98)
Thus, we are subject a kind of transcendental illusion, that negatively impacts our capacity to understand the market itself. Wherein, for Roffe and Ayache, the “real contingency of the market is subordinated to the ideal distribution of probabilities” making the performative act of trading, and the action of the market redundant (Roffe 2015:29). As possibility is a “human attempt to bring back within the confines of representation, and to domesticate, the utter otherness of contingency” (Ayache 2010). Instead, it is prices, as the “translation of contingent claims” that are the reality of the market not possibilities (Ayache 2010). Probability in the market is for Ayache context dependant, and contingency the alteration of this context – a bifurcation point – with the act of trading and price making “animating” the market as the perpetual alteration of this context. As trading is “process of change of contexts (a.k.a. recalibration) not of possibilities” (Ayache 2010), the making of prices is therefore a virtual capacity to be actualized, not a possibility. This leads to the view that the “pricing process is not oriented by any pre-existent endpoint. Pricing, being contingent, is a passage without a fixed conclusion” (Roffe 2015:28-29) and is an intensive process structured by the virtual, an internal difference “not a splendid present value as general equilibrium theory holds” as “to price something is to trade something in order to earn a difference. It is to make a difference” (Ayache 2010).
Secondly, this view of the possible leads to the related false problem of non-existence that has long led philosophy astray. This is due to a general misunderstanding of the more and the less that is a common feature of human thought. While it is commonly assumed that the possible is somehow less than the real, that order is less than disorder and nothingness is less than something (Lundy 2018). In contrast, for Bergson: “there is more intellectual content in the ideas of disorder and nothingness when they represent something than in those of order and existence, because they imply several orders, several existences and, in addition, a play of wit which unconsciously juggles with them” (Bergson 2007:81). According to Bergson nothingness presupposes an already existing something, and then the addition of a negation of it. Thus “In the idea of nonbeing there is in fact the idea of being, plus a logical operation of generalized negation, plus the particular psychological motive for that operation (such as when a being does not correspond to our expectation and we grasp it purely as the lack, the absence of what interests us)” (Deleuze1991:17). The cause of these errors is “the failure to recognize radical novelty is the original cause of those badly stated metaphysical questions” (Bergson 2007:78). This is a result of the dogmatic image of thought that subordinates difference and the new to representation and its illusions via these acts of mind. As a consequence of this argument, strict criteria are imposed of philosophy and ontology as a whole, and on the status of non-actual powers tendencies and capacities. Firstly, it becomes no longer viable to employ the traditional view of the possible as the basis for ontology, and secondly, any replacement or re-conception of it cannot resemble the real. Finally, Being and ontology cannot be thought in terms of negation or the negative but instead in terms of production and becoming. This leads Deleuze to introduce the category of the virtual as opposed to the actual to replace the traditional metaphysical view of the possible that is opposed to the real. The virtual is both entirely real and inheres with the actual, yet does not resemble it, as actualised extensities do not resemble the virtual singularities incarnated in them. Thus, the actualisation of the virtual is “always a genuine creation” (Deleuze 1994:212).
Deleuzean ontology can also provide valuable insight into the ontological status of the elements of the study of complexity, and nonlinear dynamical systems, that Keen (2001) as well as Arthur (2015) show can be valuable to heterodox political economy. For Protevi:
…dynamical systems theory shows the topological features of manifolds (the distribution of singularities) affecting a series of trajectories in a phase space. It thereby reveals the patterns (shown by attractors in the models), thresholds (bifurcators in the models), and the necessary intensity of triggers (events that move systems to a threshold activating a pattern) of material systems at many different spatial-organizational and temporal-processual scales. Insofar as it can also model the transformation of behavior patterns (not just a switch between pre-existing patterns) by tracking changes in the attractor / bifurcator layout, dynamical systems theory enables us to think material systems in terms of their powers of immanent self-organization and creative transformation (Protevi 2010:421-422)
Deleuze allows us to ontologically situate these components, as well as the material or even social systems being modelled in terms of the tripartite interdependent registers of the virtual, actual and intensive. For Protevi: “Beneath the actual (any one state of a system), we find intensive "impersonal individuations" that produce system states” (Protevi 2010:422). Where the field of individuation itself is distinguished from the individuation process itself, what operates underneath these processes of morphogenesis and that structure the field of individuation are “virtual "pre-individual singularities" (the key elements in manifolds that mark system thresholds that structure the intensive morphogenetic processes)” (Protevi 2010:421). These singularities are thought of as potentials rather than in terms of the traditional view of the possible in light of Bergson’s critique. Thus, the manifold as a “space of possible states which the physical system can have” (Delanda 2012:12) and its singularities are virtual potentials rather than abstract copies of the actual; they are also not exhausted by any specific actualization but instead compose what Deleuze calls the Idea. These Ideas are “constituted by the progressive determination of differential elements, differential relations, and singularities” (Protevi 2010:421) and take the form of problems to be solved via actualisation; as well as composing the virtual problematic field. For Deleuze the relations between them are differential, as difference is his fundamental ontological category, whereas actual states are instead qualified and extended, thereby avoiding the problem of merely tracing the transcendental from the empirical. Additionally, for Protevi: “There is always the potential for "counter-actualization" in which an intensive individuation process will trigger a transformation of the capacities of the system; in model terms, the attractor layout changes due to a change in the distribution of singularities” (Protevi 2010:422).
4. Deleuze’s critique of the Dogmatic Image of Thought
For Deleuze (1994) we misconceive of difference (that is for him a transcendental principle) in two main ways. 1) An objective philosophical error, that of Hegel, Aristotle and many others that identify it consciously and explicitly with contradiction. 2) A more pernicious tacit subjective misrecognition of difference that underpins the dogmatic image as such. Deleuze demonstrates the objective philosophical misrecognition of the first case to be constructed on the basis of the second case of subjective misrecognition, where it lies lurking malignantly in the shadows leading thought astray. Deleuze addresses the first case specifically via detailed critiques of the Western philosophical tradition addressing and co-opting aspects of Kant, Leibniz, Spinoza and Plato amongst many others, with the prime targets of his ire ultimately being Hegel and Aristotle. This is unnescessary ground for this essay to cover, as his second critique, of the subjective misrecognition of difference via the dogmatic image of thought is itself the basis for the many failings of mainstream economic discourse, with objective misrecognition being a mere special case of this more fundamental phenomenon. Deleuze identifies 8 postulates of the dogmatic image that are “are not propositions the acceptance of which the philosopher demands; but, on the contrary, propositional themes which remain implicit and are understood in a pre-philosophical manner” (Deleuze 1994:131). This section will address each of these postulates and their implications for the discourse of economics. According to Deleuze, attaining liberation from the dogmatic image necessitates that we abandon our existing doxic presuppositions and ally ourselves with paradox and affirm the truth of the problematic. However for Deleuze, paradox is thought in terms of a paradoxical and problematic field that goes by the name virtual. Which differs from the usual (doxic) perception of paradoxes and problems that conceive of the former as an arbitrary chaos or incoherence and the latter as determined by its actual solutions – paradoxes and problems instead take on a genetic and generative character as transcendental conditions.
The first four and the last four postulates are strongly interrelated. The initial quartet revolve around the notions of representation and common sense which Deleuze develops into a technical term, defined as the “faculty of cognition that allows the other faculties (whether difference sense modalities, or different ways of relating to objects) to communicate with one another.” (Somers-Hall 2013:97) The first postulate serves an introductory function, to set the stage for what is to come; it is the Postulate of the Principle. This entails the mistaken presupposition that there is a ‘good will on the part of the thinker’ and an ‘upright nature on the part of thought’ (Deleuze 1994:131). This postulate relates to the assumption that we all know what it is to think. It has two aspects, the first concerns the assumption of the good will of the thinker; namely that we all seek 'capital T truth' in terms of identity and the question ‘what is?'. The second is that of the good nature of thought: where thought seen as innocent and is in tune with, and can reach this naive conception of 'truth'. This is ultimately moral assertion, a declaration of faith in the power of discursive reason and logos. As “morality alone is capable of persuading us that thought has a good nature and the thinker a good will, and only the good can ground the supposed affinity between thought and the True—what else if not this Morality, this Good which gives thought to the true and the true to thought?” (Deleuze 1994: 132). For Deleuze the classic Platonic question of “what is?” conceived in terms of the each for eternity and essence leads philosophy astray. What is instead needed are the questions who? which one? how many? how much? With the answers given in terms of difference, process and becoming rather than eternity. For Deleuze, “Individuation is what responds to the question 'who?', just as the Idea responds to the questions 'how much?'and 'how?', 'who?' is always an intensity. Individuation is the act by which intensity determines differential relations to become actualised, along the lines of differenciation and within the qualities and extensities it creates.” (Deleuze 1994: 246)
The second postulate “of the Ideal, or Common Sense” (Deleuze 1994: 167) has common sense providing “the formal nature of a uniﬁed subject to which objects correspond” (Somers-Hall 2013: 107). It also guarantees the harmonious or concordant use of different mental faculties in the judgement of the object. This is the first side of the infamous subject-object dichotomy that has long haunted western thought. As “For Kant as for Descartes, it is the identity of the Self in the ‘I think’ which grounds the harmony of all the faculties and their agreement on the form of a supposed Same object” (Deleuze 1994: 133), even if their notion of self takes differing forms. Good sense relates to the object side of the equation as we still need a presupposed world of stable objects to be coordinated as well as a means of doing so (the subject). Good sense is partitioning the world into objects; it is the “dynamic instance, capable of determining the indeterminate object as this or that, and of individualising the self situated in this ensemble of objects” (Deleuze 1994: 226). Consequently, “Good sense determines the contribution of the faculties in each case, while common sense contributes the form of the Same”, these two elements “complete each other” constituting doxa (Deleuze 1994:134). This presupposition of a dichotomy between an abstract subject and a static world of objects that it perceives is seen clearly in the assumption of the utilitarian economic agent and a static distribution of a closed social world. To quote Lawson summarising the view of mainstream economists insofar as they demonstrate these presuppositions (which in turn underpins their deductivist methodology);
The individual agent of mainstream economics usually inhabits a world composed of …surface phenomena as (measurable) events and states of affairs, phenomena which, by and large, each agent is supposed unproblematically to perceive. The deductivist aim is then to specify each economic model in such a way as to guarantee that under given determinate conditions x a specific outcome y is guaranteed to follow. This goal is achieved, typically, by imputing to any ‘economic agent’ some unitary objective, a set of beliefs/knowledge of the measurable events and states of affairs which comprise the agent’s environment, and an ordering of some kind over the perceived potential satisfiers of the imputed objective, one that facilitates an ‘optimising decision’. Often the knowledge-set in question is fantastic; it is almost always, in the standard account, sufficient to facilitate an unambiguous optimising (maximising or minimising) response or decision on the part of the agent. In other words, this assumption of calculative optimising behaviour, i.e. of economic rationality, which is sustained throughout much of contemporary mainstream economics, is merely a gloss on the proceedings. (Lawson 1997:181-182)
The third postulate of recognition unites the first two and presupposes the harmonious exercise of our faculties on an object that is supposedly the same for each of these faculties, this introduces the possibility of error, in the distribution when “one faculty confuses one of its objects with a different object of another faculty” (Deleuze 1994:167). This recognition can take the infamous quadripartite forms of Identity, Analogy, Opposition and Resemblance. The fourth postulate is “of the element or of representation (when difference is subordinated to the complementary dimensions of the Same and the Similar, the Analogous and the Opposed)” (Deleuze 1994:167). This is the result of the errors of the first 3, where thought is trapped within the confines of representation and rendered unable to think difference and becoming, crucified by representation and its four poles of “identity in the concept, opposition in the predicate, analogy in judgement and resemblance in perception” (Deleuze 1994:167). This in turn leads to the fifth postulate, Error. If thought is naturally oriented towards "truth" and the faculties work consonantly on a purportedly identical object; then the only means by which thought can fail is empirical error. There is no potential for the failure of thought intrinsic to thought itself, instead “Stupidity, malevolence and madness are regarded as facts occasioned by external causes, which bring into play external forces capable of subverting the honest character of thought from without” (Deleuze 1994:149). This is absurd given our propensity for forgetfulness, mistakenness and madness. Descartes trite dismissal of the prospect of the latter is paradigmatic here, instead “Cowardice, cruelty, baseness and stupidity are not simply... traits of character or society; they are structures of thought as such” and express a virtual structure (Deleuze 1994:151). The dogmatic image as a whole is an example of how the capacity for mistakenness in a form other than empirical error is a property immanent to thought as such, not something that merely happens to us. This leads to an interesting discussion of stupidity as the welling up of the field of individuation in a way that produces this innate capacity for stupidity.
For Deleuze, Individuation “involves fields of fluid intensive factors which no more take the form of an I than of a Self. Individuation as such, as it operates beneath all forms, is inseparable from a pure ground that it brings to the surface and trails with it” where this “field of intensity…already constitutes the sensibility of the thinking subject” (Deleuze 1994:150-151). These intensive factors can intrude into human thought when it is pushed its limits, revealing virtual potentials. This can be the positive form of stupidly, the willingness to reject doxa and instead be open to the encounters that problematize representation, revealing what is truly interesting and important. The inverse of this is the stupidity of the neoclassical economist, who remains trapped in the abstract world of representation via his modelling practices and remains blind the encounters with the real and its nature as transformation.
The sixth postulate of the proposition in which “designation is taken to be the locus of truth, sense being no more than the neutralized double or the infinite doubling of the proposition)” (Deleuze 1994:167) relates to the critique of the limitations of the uncritical use of language that privileges reference/denotation over sense. This argument is given more rigour in Logic of Sense (1990), and builds on the distinction between sense and reference established by Frege, where Deleuze makes the case that language can neither find its ground in any of the three modes by which the proposition formally gives meaning; designation, manifestation or signification. The relationship between these three elements of the proposition's meaning necessarily refer back to one another in a circular and therefore paradoxical fashion. Deleuze puts forward the solution of a fourth pre-propositional element as its ground, as no singular element of the proposition is able to provide a ground for the others in a relation which isn't self-underming. Hence the inadequacy of propositional language and the need for the concept of sense, thought of as the problematical and paradoxical event of sensing the pre-propositional by Deleuze. To clarify, 'denotation' is the reference of language to the world, to an “external state of affairs”; 'manifestation' is the relation to the intentionality of the speaker or “point of writing”, and 'signification' “its meaning as decipherable through the position of words in relation to one another, the intra-linguistic relations between propositions” (Williams 2008:40). According to Williams, “each one of these must be attached to the others for its own process to be complete. How a proposition refers to something in the world depends on how it is qualified by the moment when it is written or spoken by someone, and this in turn depends on how its meaning is set, for example according to dictionary definitions, but this is in turn incomplete without a reference” (Williams 2008:40). Thus, “From denotation to manifestation, then to signification, but also from signification to manifestation and denotation, we are carried around in a circle, which is the circle of the proposition” (Deleuze 1990:16-17). The conclusion draw from this is that a pre-propositional ground for language is required, a “fourth dimension of the proposition…sense, the expressed of the proposition, is an incorporeal, complex and irreducible entity, at the surface of things, a pure event which inheres or subsists in the proposition” (Deleuze 1990:19). Sense, “like the [problematic] Idea which is developed in the sub-representative determinations”, “is constituted of structural elements which have no sense themselves”, and is the genetic condition that “constitutes the sense of all that it produces” (Deleuze 1994:155). Roffe outlines the implication of this, where:
A proposition, no matter how abstract or vacuous in character, is always a complex response to the event as a problem. Or again: language-use is never the spontaneous act of a radically free, sovereign subject, but the situated resolution of a problem posed to a finite person (who is always in the middle of their embodied agency) caught up in the actualization of an event. I am provoked to speak by the events that are actualized in my body and the world around me; the changes that these involve are what I speak about; and the general categories that we develop to talk about and understand the world are attempts to grasp the underlying structure of what is happening. (Roffe 2019:274-5)
Consequently Deleuze writes, “Sense is thus expressed as the problem to which propositions correspond insofar as they indicate particular responses, signify instances of a general solution, and manifest subjective acts of resolution” (Deleuze 1990:121). While this brief introductory presentation of Deleuze thoughts on language barely scratches the surface of the issue, it does at least assist in to establishing a problematic ground for meaning in language and the access of knowledge through language in kind, leading us to the next postulate. The seventh postulate of “modality, or solutions” where problems are “traced from propositions or...defined by the possibility of their being solved” (Deleuze 1994:167), setting the stage for Deleuze's constructive project by undercutting the typical conception of problems as defined in terms of their solutions, as seen in the “grotesque image of culture that we find in examinations and government referenda” (Deleuze 1994:158). Instead, problems persist and insist within solutions. The conventional of view of problems leads to an absurdity wherein the problem is seen double of the solution, this “has the effect of treating solutions as being there just waiting to be found or discovered rather than as being generated and variable products of problems” (Bryant 2008:156). By contrast, Deleuze views problems as “organizing structures or systems” rather than “negative instances or propositions as inverted solutions” (Bryant 2008:160). The problematic cannot be determined from within representation and it differs in kind from the individuated identities and objects usually encountered in experience. Instead, it is the generative paradox that is the transcendental condition of the world, and even of representation and language. In fact the discussion of sense in relation to the previous postulate on language provides an example of how something ungraspable in experience as such can be thought as a condition. Deleuze even re-conceives the age-old division between truth and falsity in terms of his ontology of problems. Rather than falling into vulgar relativism regarding truth, “Deleuze extends it so that it not only applies to the answers to questions, but to the questions themselves.” He moves to think "truth" as applicable “primarily to [the very real] problems, and only derivatively to their solutions” (Delanda 2011). And so for Deleuze, “problems exist in reality defined by singularities, hence problem-solving is an activity in which all kinds of material [and social/political] assemblages may engage” (Delanda 2011). As problems are real and problem solving an objective trait of reality, what appears to be uniquely human is instead specifically active problem-posing, “that involves distinguishing in reality the distributions of the special and the ordinary, and grasping the objective problems that these distributions condition” (Delanda 2011). Failure to sense and pose real problems is embodied in the stupidity of the economist, the illusion of their "correctness" is sustained by their adherence to false problems. This capacity to seek the singular, as what is interesting and important, and to encounter and adequately pose problems is the locus of our capacity to create concepts and enquire into the state of the world, including its virtual and intensive aspects. To paraphrase Heidegger, we are the one type of being whose (problematic) being is an issue for it.
For learning evolves entirely in the comprehension of problems as such, in the apprehension and condensation of singularities, and in the composition of ideal events and bodies. Learning to swim or learning a foreign language means composing the singular points of one's own body or one's own language with those of another shape or element which tears us apart but also propels us into a hitherto unknown and unheard-of world of problems. (Deleuze:1994:192)
The final postulate “of the end, or result, the postulate of knowledge (the subordination of learning to knowledge, and of culture to method)” (Deleuze 1994:167), refers to the reduction of learning and culture to the dogmatic image and to bureaucratic 'method'. Instead, learning is an encounter where (in the example of learning to swim) we "conjugate the distinctive points of our bodies with the singular points of the objective Idea in order to form a problematic field” (Deleuze 1994:165). Thus, the imperative is to experiment, not to do as I say but rather “do with me” (Deleuze 1994:23). This culture is an apprenticeship of signs, a pedagogy that leads one to be open to encounters that rupture ordinary modes of thought and push the faculties to their limits, to the discordant exercise of the faculties where true creativity occurs. Delanda (2002) describes how this process of leaning via the encounter with the problematic plays out in a generalised scientific context, which is also applicable to political economy specifically. As the study of the economy necessarily must incorporate and involve the experimentation with a heterogeneous range of biological, psychological and sociological theories, materials and modelling techniques, forming assemblages in the process, which include both the researcher and his objects of study. This fits Delanda's general description of Deleuzean learning in scientific practice. Additionally, the broader social and institutional context is also an undeniable factor in this process, therefore:
Following Deleuze we may think about these complex assemblages as the epistemological counterpart of the intensive in ontology. Much as virtual multiplicities (viewed as self-posed ontological problems) depend on intensive assemblages like ecosystems to progressively give rise to ontological solutions, so experimental problems must first be embodied in an intensive assemblage prior to their being solved. In learning by doing, or by interacting with and adjusting to materials, machines and models, experimentalists progressively discern what is relevant and what is not in a given experiment. In other words, the distribution of the important and the unimportant defining an experimental problem (what degrees of freedom matter, what disturbances do not make a difference) are not grasped at a glance the way one is supposed to grasp as essence (or a clear and distinct idea), but slowly brought to light as the assemblage stabilizes itself through the mutual accommodation of its heterogeneous components. In this assemblage the singularities and affects of the experimentalist’s body are meshed with those of machines, models and material processes in order for learning to occur and for embodied expertise to accumulate. On the other hand, besides this expertise (which may be applied in the design and performance of other experiments and which, therefore, remains intensive) there are also extensive or formal products of laboratory [or other scientific] practices: individual pieces of data, individual facts, individual solutions, which take their place in the corpus of accumulated knowledge. As Deleuze writes, “Learning is the appropriate name for the subjective acts carried out when one is confronted with the objectivity of a problem . . . whereas knowledge designates only the generality of concepts or the calm possession of a rule enabling solutions. (Delanda 2002:143-144)
Therefore, what is needed is not dogma or deductivism, but for us to finally to come to grips with the relevant distributions of the singular and the ordinary and adequately pose the problem of political economy. The first step in this process is determining the right ontology.
5. Virtual structure and intensive individuation
5.1. The composition of the virtual
At several points the category of the virtual has been discussed, both as a replacement for the naive view of the possible and as the modality of a transcendental structure that governs processes of individuation, as well as in relation to the priority of problems over solutions. As was previously established, virtual is not the possible, nor can it resemble the actual, nor is it a transcendent realm of forms or essences, instead it is an immanent problematic structure constituted by pre-individual singularities generated by differential relations between genetic elements. Sounds rather confusing, doesn’t it? There is a great deal of further philosophical context in need of exposition that should elucidate the issue somewhat.
Let’s begin with the question of the nature of transcendental philosophy itself, that is a move from the encounter with something in experience to its condition. For Kant this involved the determination of the conditions of possible experience. Deleuze adopts from Maimon's (2010) critique of Kant, the argument that Kant's categories are too general and consequently allow reality to slip through the gaps, leading to the broader issue that while Kant’s system may be coherent in itself, it appears abstract and may not applicable in fact. Deleuze therefore adopts Maimon's solution that an account of real experience is needed; “experience is generated within thought, and the genetic elements at the root of this process are Ideas” (Roffe 2012:48). Deleuze takes from Maimon the notion that Ideas are differential, and involved in the generation of experience as a part of a broader model where the mind and its differential unconscious is just a specific case of a broader ontological process, embedding the conditions of real experience in reality itself and softening Kant's rigid boundary keeping the phenomenon from accessing the noumenon. As a result, “the problematic..Idea is a system of connections between differential elements, a system of differential relations between genetic elements” not human thoughts or static forms (Deleuze 1994:181). Deleuze raises the stakes from just the genesis of experience, as to escape both Kant and Maimon's idealism he endeavours to account for the conditions of reality as such.
Here is where Deleuze deploys his recasting of the problem we discussed earlier, granting it genetic status and ontological primacy over individual solutions themselves. Deleuze references Kant's own view that the Ideas of reason cannot be given in experience, and are intrinsically problematic to superimpose his recasting of the problematic upon the structure of the Idea itself. The Idea as problematic event is referred to by many names throughout Deleuze's ovoure (Idea, Multiplicity, Diagram), and serves as an immanent replacement for essences. The retention of the name Idea in Deleuze's inversion therefore of not just Kant but Plato, shows a respect for and conscious participation in the most profound conceptual grandeur and philosophical ambition the Western tradition has to offer; as does Deleuze's sharing of the rejection of doxa as the definitive trait of philosophy. Deleuze's reversal of Platonism reconstitutes Ideas as imminent to a world composed of only simulacra, as for Deleuze reality can be produced without the need for “a transcendent model” (Roffe 2012:16). This rejection of transcendent models applies to the transcendent fundamental particles identified in economic thought by Bichler and Nitzan as special cases of the same tendency which inspired the philosophical construction of the Platonic forms. Deleuze’s theory of internal genetic difference in the Idea and morphogenetic intensive process signals a break not just from Platonic transcendence but also the Aristotelian hylomorphic schema. As Deleuze endeavours “to replace essentialist views of the genesis of form (which imply a conception of matter as an inert receptacle for forms that come from the outside) with one in which matter is already pregnant with morphogenetic capabilities, therefore capable of generating form” (Protevi 2003). In contrast to the classical Platonic conception of the Idea, Deleuze's Idea is intrinsically problematic and immanent rather than transcendent, and does not resemble the actual things it conditions, rather it structures processes of intensive morphogenesis. For Deleuze the Idea is a problem that is solved in actual domain, an example in the context of political economy would be Graeber's theory of the emergence of money (2011) as a solution to the problem of the provision of armies abroad in the ancient period. Additionally, free market ideology could be viewed as a solution to the problem of justifying, concealing and maintaining bourgeois rule. The idea of the economy itself is even addressed by Deleuze, identifying a structure of capitalism that “incarnating its varieties in diverse societies” albeit one framed in Althusserian structural Marxist terms (Deleuze 1994:186). Deleuze’s problematic ontology applies as much to the natural world as the social, as the evolution of a species is a solution to the problems posed by its environment. The same can be said of the evolution of institutions in a Veblen's heterodoxical model of political economy. Deleuze, by providing a series of examples of the application of his theory of Ideas to shifting paradigms in biology and physics shows that his concept of virtual Idea is theory neutral and describes the ontological modality of structures and theories. This plays out in the development of his own view on economics all of which fit within his view of theoretical and scientific structures, as he moves from his earlier more conventionally Marxist position to his later much more innovative and unique work on political economy in the Capitalism and Schizophrenia series (which I will explore in the next essay of this series). The Ideas are Deleuze's account of ontological status of structures which are real but not necessarily actualised, or only actualised in different processes and circumstances, as seen by the different actualisations of the Idea of capitalism in different eras and locations. Consequently, the problematic Idea is not exhausted by particular actualisations, thus a key trait of virtual multiplicity is multiple realizability. Additionally, Ideas persist as a part of the problematic field and this “impersonal and pre-individual transcendental field...does not resemble the corresponding empirical fields” of the actual (Deleuze:1991:102). It is real but has its own ideal mode of reality different in kind yet immanent to and inhering within the actual. As these multiplicities/problems are considered to be as real as their solutions, this is still very much a realist picture of the world – but one with an ideal virtual aspect as well as an actual, qualified and extended one.
The virtual is not opposed to the real but to the actual. The virtual is fully real in so far as it is virtual . . .Exactly what Proust said of states of resonance must be said of the virtual: 'Real without being actual, ideal without being abstract'; and symbolic without being fictional. Indeed, the virtual must be defined as strictly a part of the real object – as though the object had one part of itself in the virtual into which it plunged as though into an objective dimension . . . The reality of the virtual consists of the differential elements and relations along with the singular points which correspond to them. The reality of the virtual is structure. We must avoid giving the elements and relations that form a structure an actuality which they do not have, and withdrawing from them a reality which they have. We have seen that a double process of reciprocal determination and complete determination defined that reality: far from being undetermined, the virtual is completely determined. (Deleuze 1994, p. 208-209 emphasis mine)
Therefore: “If we think of the market as a material medium, as a body of prices, then the virtual is the inseparable part where this body differentiates: the part from which the sense of the market flows ….. Yet this virtual, nonactual, dimension is not abstract” (Ayache 2010)
Deleuze is willing to go beyond Bhaskar's stance of simply positing the existence of real but not necessarily actual tendencies and capacities that, as we have seen, is necessary for an ontology of open systems. Deleuze accepts all of the above, and but is willing to take as step further, by providing a theory of the interaction between these virtual Singularities (unactualised tendencies) and their formation of a transcendental plane and a theory of their actualisation. This virtual problematic field is composed of a distribution of singularities produced by differential relations between genetic elements forming continuous multiplicities. The specifics of composition of the virtual is explained by Deleuze in terms of the principles of (un)determination, reciprocal determination and complete determination that “together form a sufficient reason” and constitute the virtual (Deleuze 1994:171) as the transcendental structure and ground of his ontology. This basic tripartite schema is derived from the Kantian Ideas of reason such as Totality or Freedom. These Kantain Ideas are “ undetermined with regard to their object” and thus intrinsically problematic but are “determinable with regard to objects of experience”, and bear “the ideal of an infinite determination with regard to concepts of the understanding” (Deleuze 1994:169). In constructing his own theory of the Idea, the example of the calculus is employed as a means to illustrate a relation that precedes its terms, and how “undetermined elements can become determinate through entering into reciprocal relations” (Somers-hall 2013:142). Thus, the differential relation is primary and the generative element that produces the thing related – ensuring the transcendental priory of difference over identity. In this context Deleuze describes indeterminability as corresponding to “the undetermined as such (dx, dy),” reciprocal determination “to the really determinable (dy/dx),” and complete determination that “corresponds to the effectively determined (values of dy/dx).”In Deleuze's conception of sufficient reason, a philosophical concept of the differential relation operates as the “pure element of potentiality” where the virtual structure is produced by the relations of pure difference (Deleuze 1994 p.175). Thus, the differential relations that compose Ideas are indeterminate in themselves and “undetermined with respect to representation, and hence to the field of solutions” (Somers-hall 2013:140). They are simultaneously reciprocally determined in relation to each other – generating a plane of multiplicities upon multiplicities producing the pre-individual problematic field, as “Ideas are varieties that include within themselves sub-varieties” (Deleuze 1994:187). The relation between the singularities and the multiplicities that they compose is one of reciprocal determination that “is not opposed to the indeterminate and does not limit it" (Deleuze 1994:275), producing a plane of differential structures. Finally, the virtual is completely determined, via the correspondence of singularities to the differential structure of Ideas. As a result:
Deleuze ...does not view the differential relations defining a model as expressing a law governing the generation of the series of states that make up a trajectory, but as defining a vector field which captures the overall tendencies of the system as a distribution of singularities. “Beneath the general operation of laws” as he says “there always remains the play of singularities.”54 These singularities define the conditions of the problem, independently of its solutions, while each solution curve is the product of a specific individuation process guided at every point by the tendencies in the vector field. (Delanda 2002:146)
Deleuze's philosophical appropriation of these mathematical methods to grant genetic priority to problems over solutions is not in itself unique and draws heavily on the work of mathematician Albert Lautman (2011). This is a modern, static and relational reading of the calculus, in contrast to the earlier philosophical appropriations of it, such as Leibniz's employment of the infinitesimal as an infinitely small quantity. Thus, it is an intrinsic and static genesis, that in turn necessitates Deleuze's concepts of intensity and his third synthesis of time as the locus of dynamism in his thought, as well as his theory of intensive individuation. The calculus is not the only or perhaps even the optimal approach within mathematics to illuminating how problems have priority over their solutions and that relations precede their terms for Deleuze. He mentions Abel and Galios and their work on “the solvability of polynomial equations” (Duffy 2013) in this context, and the Idea is not exclusively mathematical. Ultimately Deleuze's virtual Idea and the process of differentiation that is intrinsic to it is summarised by Smith as:
- The elements of the multiplicity are merely “determinable”; their nature is not determined in advance by either a defining property or an axiom (e.g., extensionality). Rather, they are pure virtualities that have neither identity, nor sensible form, nor conceptual signification, nor assignable function (principle of determinability).
- They are none the less determined reciprocally as singularities in the differential relation, a “non-localizable ideal connection” that provides a purely intrinsic definition of the multiplicity as “problematic”; the differential relation is not only external to its terms, but constitutive of its terms (principle of reciprocal determination).
- The values of these relations define the complete determination of the problem: that is, “the existence, the number, and the distribution of the determinant points that precisely provide its conditions” as a problem (principle of complete determination). (Smith 2012:303-304)
It is the complete determination that involves the production of singularities or events that is especially crucial for Deleuze's accounts of structure and genesis. As these virtual singularities are able to determine the distribution (Roffe 2012:66) of neighbouring ordinary points, with examples being attractors, as well as bifurcation points that mark shifts in system states. As Simon Duffy elaborates, “according to Deleuze's reading of the infinitesimal calculus from the differential point of view, a function does not precede the differential relation, but rather is determined by the differential relation" (Duffy 2004:204). Thus, “the differential relation characterizes not only the singular points which it determines, but also the nature of the regular points in the immediate neighborhood of these points” (Duffy 2013). Singular points are “turning points and points of inflection; bottlenecks, knots, foyers, and centers; points of fusion and condensation, and boiling; points of tears and joy, sickness and health, hope and anxiety, ‘sensitive’ points” (Deleuze 1990:63) that appear universally not just in the study of dynamical systems, but as we have seen, in reality as a whole. As they are implicit “topological rather than geometrical” structural elements that are carried within the dynamic “energetic materiality” of “formed or formable matter” (Deleuze 1984:408). They are for Delanda (2002), the still real but “unactualized tendencies” of a system. A multiplicity is a specific distribution of singularities, a cube for example has 8 singular points that define it as a structure. Social structures are far more complex and are marked by many singular points that form diverging and converging series. The process of determination, reciprocal determination and complete determination in the idea is called differentiation; the actualization of the Idea in actual qualities species and parts is called differenciation. Delanda (2000) provides an example of an extremely simple multiplicity with one singular point that can be actualized in multiple instances, producing objects with different metric properties, from soap bubbles to light rays. This opens up the prospect that both a mathematical model and the system it models could both be actualisations of the same multiplicity (Delanda 2010), explaining the effectiveness of scientific practice without merely having hypotheses as to “the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the natural sciences” (Wigner 1979, 222). As if there is a virtual plane, “it becomes possible to think of any one of those multiplicities as becoming actualized in a variety of physical systems, as well as in a variety of mathematical entities” (Delanda 2010:327). This might might hint at the grounds for the ineffectiveness of conventional economic modelling, that it instead actualises the structure of ideological discourse in the form of order-words dispensing power and social control. Thus, to think of neoclassical economics in terms of a science that makes predictive models of the social is mis-posing the relevant problem. Additionally for Ayache, a Deleuzean ontology understands the use of mathematical financial and trading tools as actualising the virtual capacities of the trader to participate in and performatively make the market. As the “meaning of the mathematics of price is not the same as the mathematics of the physical world. From the start, BSM [Black–Scholes Model] doesn’t apply to the market and doesn’t hold for the market because the market is in the hands of the market-maker who is using BSM to create the option market. The mathematical statement is part of the creation; therefore, what it expresses cannot be independent of it” (Ayache 2010). The power to make prices rests not just in the hands of the individual trader, but predominantly with the paradigms through which the most powerful investors model the aspects of the market in which they perceive strategic opportunity, as Ayache himself laments. This is another reason why, following Veblen and his business/industry distinction I take a more negative attitude to the practices of modern finance than does Ayache.
To continue with Delanda's soap bubble example and its one singular point that shows Deleuzean conception of ontological problem solving in a scientific context, where “a population of interacting physical entities, such as the molecules in a thin layer of soap, may be constrained energetically to adopt a form which minimizes free energy. Here the "problem" (for the population of molecules) is to find this minimal point of energy, a problem solved differently by the molecules in soap bubbles (which collectively minimize surface tension) and by the molecules in crystalline structures (which collectively minimize bonding energy)” (Delanda 2000 p.1-2). In this example there is no essence of the soap bubble, or of sphericity somehow imposing itself from the outside via a hylomorphic schema. Instead the virtual singularity takes the form of a single point attractor and operates as an “endogenous topological form (a point in the space of energetic possibilities for this molecular assemblage)”, indicating the point of minimal energy (Delanda 1998). This structures and guides process of actualization that can produce “different physical forms ... each one with different geometric properties.” (Delanda 2004, p.16).
5.2. Intensive individuation
The means by which Ideas are implicated in the production of extensities, qualities, species and parts is via processes of individuation that are intensive in nature. An intensive theory of individuation is needed, as “qualitative or extensive interpretations of individuation remain incapable of providing reasons why a quality ceases to be general, or why a synthesis of extensity begins here and finishes there” (Deleuze 1994:247). While the productive morphogenetic capacity of intensive fields is grounded in virtual potentiality, the particular way these potentials and capacities are actualized is determined by the processes of morphogenesis themselves, with this process in turn reordering the virtual field. The relation between the virtual and intensive is that of expression, where by ‘expression’ we mean that “relation which involves a torsion between an expressor and an expressed such that the expressed does not exist apart from the expressor, even though the expressor relates to it as though to something completely different.” (Deleuze 1994:260). Where “the changing totality of Ideas, the variable ensemble of differential relations” are expressed in each intensive process/individual (Deleuze 1994:252). But “each intensity clearly expresses only certain relations or certain degrees of variation. Those that it expresses clearly are precisely those on which it is focused when it has the enveloping role. In its role as the enveloped, it still expresses all relations and all degrees, but confusedly.” (Deleuze 1994:252). Consequently, the whole virtual field is implicated in each individual but only certain specific singularities and the Ideas they compose are clearly expressed and demarcate their structure. Thus, for Deleuze the individual is not an extensive totality but an intensive process. This view of intensive individuation draws on the work of Gilbert Simondon.
Gilbert Simondon has shown recently that individuation presupposes a prior metastable state - in other words, the existence of a 'disparateness' such as at least two orders of magnitude or two scales of heterogeneous reality between which potentials are distributed. Such a pre-individual state nevertheless does not lack singularities: the distinctive or singular points are defined by the existence and distribution of potentials. An 'objective' problematic field thus appears, determined by the distance between two heterogeneous orders. Individuation emerges like the act of solving such a problem, or - what amounts to the same thing - like the actualisation of a potential and the establishing of communication between disparates. The act of individuation consists not in suppressing the problem, but in integrating the elements of the disparateness into a state of coupling which ensures its internal resonance. The individual thus finds itself attached to a pre-individual half which is not the impersonal within it so much as the reservoir of its singularities. In all these respects, we believe that individuation is essentially intensive, and that the pre-individual field is a virtual-ideal field, made up of differential relations. (Deleuze 1994:246)
Intensity is a difference between two potentials, which form a field of individuation. Thus, intensive processes for Deleuze “are characterized by linked rates of change such that any change in those internal relations past a threshold will trigger qualitative change in the assemblage” (Bonta & Protevi 2004:15). An example in the natural world of assemblage formation via intensive processes is a simple two-species assemblage produced by a “predator-prey relation” (Bonta & Protevi 2004:15). The intensive is contrasted with the extensive (actual), as extensive properties are divisible without changing in kind, whereas intensive properties cannot be ‘divided’ without changing in kind or undergoing a phase transition, the examples of temperature and pressure are simple cases which illustrate this. The reality of intensive processes are also obscured in their production of extensities, as for Protevi:
extensive properties of actual substances hide the intensive nature of the morphogenetic processes that give rise to them. Actual or 'stratified' substances are the result of the 'congealing' of intensive far-from-equilibrium processes as they reach equilibrium, a steady state, or stability. This congealment is a temporary fixing of an underlying flow that enables the' emergence of functional structures; such structures are nonetheless always subject to the flight of particles from the grasp of the structure, even though the time scale of the structure is very long and the rate of flight is very low. (Bonta & Protevi 2004:16)
This perception of stasis, that is only in actuality a temporary and contingent congealment of a dynamic world, is then reified by representation in a secondary movement of human thought and language, producing the illusions of the dogmatic image of thought. These illusions in turn underpin the multitude of methodological absurdities detailed by Lawson that characterise economic discourse, leading to its endless explanatory failures. This process of intensive individuation manifests itself in the sphere of economics, where both the composition of the social field as flows of money and labour, as well as the nature of the pricing system and the market itself are identified by many sources such as Ayache (2010), Lozano (2015), Roffe (2015), Malik (2014) and Holland (2019) as expressing internal, intensive differences of one form or another, even if their interpretations differ somewhat. Ayache for example, contends;
that the market of contingent claims, when it is understood as a writing medium and not as a theatre of fixed possible states and probabilities (what philosophers call ‘representation’ precisely), evades the order of chronological time and its spatial correlate (the identifiable possible states) altogether. Metrical time and space are extensive dimensions that can only receive extensive variables. Price, by contrast, is an intensive variable. (Ayache 2015:40)
Ayache stresses that “market price is always at the edge of a phase transition, always the site of intensive difference and differentiation and definitely not the recipient of the attribute of a settled state of the world” (Ayache 2010). And so, ultimately for Ayache:
If we neglect the dimension of price as an intensive difference (of price as a pure difference that is completely divergent from the mould of possibility, completely divergent from the process of resemblance and identity that subsumes it under the ‘identical’ concept of a fixed partition of states of the world), the market will ‘reduce to an alignment of facts in a homogeneous and continuous present. (Ayache 2010)
The entire process of the production of an extensity plays out via the fourfold schema of “differentiation-individuation-dramatisation-differenciation” (Deleuze 1994:251). Where differentiation as the intrinsic composition of the Idea, and its pre-individual singularities/potentials is the first movement. The second is the movement of intensity as the difference between potentials that constitute a field of individuation. The third is the interaction between the first and the second in a dramatisation of the Idea upon the field of individuation. This is where Ideas are able to be actualized in multiple extensities that are mutually exclusive, the specific extensity that is produced is determined via the productive differences of the intensive field of individuation, and the result is a differenciated extensity with a structure demarcated by singular points (Somers-Hall 2013:182). In the case of this actualisation of the Idea of lightning: “a difference in electrical potential between the cloud and the ground (individuation) leads to a process of equalisation of charge (differentiation) along a path of least resistance (dramatisation), leading to the visible phenomenon (differenciation)” that expresses the Idea and its singularities (Somers-Hall 2013:183).
6. Time and contingency.
6.1. The foundation of time: the first synthesis of habit.
A transcendental philosophy of timeis the ultimate dynamic (un)groundingfor Deleuze's ontology, whose three syntheses both establish the production of identities and stratifications whilst simultaneously ungrounding this apparent stability. The first two syntheses “work to create and conserve a stable surface”, whereas “the disjunctive synthesis constituted by the eternal return undermines this stability” and is the form of time as such. (Roffe 2012:56). While the movement of genesis from the virtual to its actualization “goes from the structure to its incarnation, from the conditions of a problem to the cases of solution, from the differential elements and their ideal connections to actual terms and diverse real relations which constitute at each moment the actuality of time” (Deleuze 1994:183), it is a static genesis. Thus, a temporal dimension that adds dynamism to his philosophy as whole is needed to drive becoming and power creativity in the production of the New. This presentation of Deleuzean time synthesis is largely derived from the interpretive work of Somers-Hall (2013) and Roffe (2012);(2019).
Deleuze’s first synthesis of time draws on the Hume's concept of habit and is a living present that is generated via both the “the synthesis or contraction of sensible impressions, but also matter as such” (Roffe 2012:90). This contractile process synthesizes discrete instants into a mode of lived temporality, possessing both the past and future as aspects of the present in the form of anticipation and habit. The past exists “in so far as the preceding instants are retained in the contraction” and “the future because its expectation is anticipated in this same contraction” (Deleuze 1993:70-71). This synthesis is passive as it operates prior to human consciousness and active thought or reflection.Timeis synthesized into “an organised structure”, a larval subject, with this process not being simply psychological but also material (Somers-Hall 2013:64). The process of synthesis is ultimately “the contraction of intensities and the composition of objects from these intensities” (Roffe 2019:221). It is also referred to as Chronos in Logic of Sense that expresses “the action of bodies and the creation of corporeal qualities” as a “vast present which....is an encasement, a coiling up of relative presents” (Deleuze 1990:165). Delanda invokes physicist Arthur Iberall who considers “the measurable flow of time of our everyday experience “ to be “a product of a metrization or a quantization of time into instants” to add further weight to this more general claim.
This embedded set would ensure ‘the unfolding of time, pulse by pulse . . . Time is not a universal unity for all levels of organization. Yet levels are nested within one another and, within limits, are referable to each other.’ In other words, rather than assuming that time exists as an already quantized flow (divided into uniform, identical instants) we should account for this metric structure using the embedded set of differently scaled oscillations. In a sense, each oscillation would ‘synthesize’ a pulse of metric time, many nested sequences of these pulses yielding the familiar form of time which we humans can measure using a variety of chronometers. (Delanda 2002:87-88)
For Delanda (2002:91): “material and energetic processes give time its metric and measurable form by their possession of a characteristic time scale, specified either through relaxation times....through the intrinsic period of nonlinear oscillations.” As a result, “the world is constituted as a field of co-existing rhythms operating with different tones, rather than as pure succession” (Somers-Hall 2013:65). This mode of time generates the temporal being of the present and of the actual, where Habit, the first synthesis is also the passive foundation of the active time of experience and measure. Active syntheses emerge from “constituent passivity, perceptual syntheses” that in turn “refer back to” organic syntheses the constitute us: we are a multi-layer assemblage of syntheses, both active and passive (Deleuze 1994:73). For Deleuze we are composed of “contracted water, earth, light and air - not merely prior to the recognition or representation of these, but prior to their being sensed” (Deleuze 1994:73). Our passive syntheses of perception and our active syntheses of reflection and contemplation are emergent from this. While the contraction of impressions, instants or material elements “into an internal qualitative impression within this living present or passive synthesis which” constitutes this first passive synthesis of time; we then “restore them in an auxiliary space, a derived time in which we may reproduce them, reflect on them or count them like so many quantifiable external-impressions” via our active faculties of language and memory (Deleuze 1994:72). This is the origin of the form of reflective thought that leads to illusions like the apparent plausibility of deductivism that results from representation. As our active faculties transform future of anticipation into the “reflexive future of prediction” a “reflected generality of the understanding”, that “weights the expectation in the imagination in proportion to the number of distinct similar cases observed and recalled” (Deleuze 1994:72).
As habit is the time of nature and we are a part of it, we necessarily partake in the first synthesis, that grants us consistency and a degree of stability. Deleuze thus endorses a bundle theory of the self, akin to both Humean and Buddhist accounts where our sense of 'self' is constituted out of the multilayered interaction of a world of habits and processes– be they technological, institutional, linguistic or biological, all of which our active sense of person-hood and human thought presupposes. To put it another way, for Deleuze we are process selves not essence or substance selves, and are in a perpetual state of modification and flux: “The self does not undergo modifications, it is itself a modification” (Deleuze 1994:79). This is the case for our social and political institutions also, with Veblen's insights into the habitual basis of social intuitions integrating well into this account. According to Veblen institutions are a product of the actions of the individuals that compose it, but these and their actions and even their modes of thought and being are modulated by institutions. For Veblen (1909:243), it is “through the habituation of individuals that institutions arise; and it is in this same experience that these same institutions act to direct and define the aims and end of conduct.” In fact, there is a mutual interdependence between the differing layers of active and passive syntheses where technics, social structures and human subjectivity all engage in mutually transformative interactions. While Stiegler (1998) correctly identifies man as always already technical and lacking innate essence, for Deleuze it is process not essence all the way down. In contrast, the essentialist view of the economic agent as a universal principle of identity defined by axiomatic traits, is nothing but an illusion of representation. This first synthesis is the locus of the repetition of the same, of the temporal production of selves and territories. This in turn presupposes the next two syntheses however, for if time were simply habitual then we would lack a viable account of how the present (and thefore time) passes and the future arrives, and why territories and assemblages arise, fracture and die.
6.2. The virtual ground of time
Here Deleuze moves from the actual and empirical register to the transcendental one, as to account for the passage of a specific present into the past and the movement of time as a whole, a transcendental ground of time – a time-in-itself is needed. He identifies 3 paradoxes of the past that necessitate and elucidate this move, and expose “inability of representation to characterise its own account of representation” (Somers Hall 2013:70). Instead, we must adopt a “non-representational” view of the past (Somers Hall 2013:70). Firstly, the past must be contemporaneous with the present not formed by it, otherwise the new present would never arrive nor the current present pass. As for “this present to be responsible for the constitution of the past, it would have to be replaced by a new present” (Somers-hall 2013:70). This can only occur “if the original present has already been constituted as passed” (Somers-hall 2013:70). This undermines the conventional view of time as a “series of atomic moments”, and of the past as the product of the present, and as a totality of former presents (Somers-hall 2013:70).
Which leads to the second the paradox of coexistence where: “If each past is contemporaneous with the present that it was, then all of the past coexists with the new present in relation to which it is now past”, where the past differs in kind from the present, as while the present is composed of unique instants, the past cannot be so (Deleuze 1994:81). Thus the “paradox of pre-existence... completes the other two: each past is contemporaneous with the present it was, the whole past coexists with the present in relation to which it is past, but the pure element of the past in general pre-exists the passing present”, an ontological past that inheres in the present (Deleuze 1994:81-82). The transcendental nature of Deleuze's approach brings with it an inversion of the typical approach to time that seeks to explain it in terms of the movement of bodies. Instead, the transcendental turn necessitates that we determine the way “movement conforms to time” and occurs within it (Bryant 2008:185). Thus, in addition to a transcendental philosophy of the nature of the structure of the real akin to that of Bhasker and Lawson, a transcendental conception of time is also required. This pure past “insists” and “consists” with the present “It is the in-itself of time as the final ground of the passage of time. In this sense it forms a pure, general, a priori element of all time” (Deleuze 1994:82).
This should start to sound rather familiar as, in fact what he refers to as the pure past is nothing other than the problematic field of singularities/potentials itself (Roffe 2019:226). As the pure past is described as inhering within the present, in precisely the same way that the virtual and actual form two parts of the one object and how, with the addition of new presents the virtual past is altered just as the identical problematic field of events that are effects and capacities of bodies are (Deleuze 1990). This crucially helps to coherently link the main aspects of his system together, and his argument for this problematic ground of the past gives further credibility to his other arguments for the problematic structure that is the virtual. The following quote confirms this linkage.
The Bergsonian schema which unites Creative Evolution and Matter and Memory begins with the account of a gigantic memory, a multiplicity formed by the virtual coexistence of all the sections of the 'cone', each section being the repetition of all the others and being distinguished from them only by the order of the relations and the distribution of singular points. Then, the actualisation of this mnemonic virtual appears to take the form of the creation of divergent lines, each of which corresponds to a virtual section and represents a manner of solving a problem, but also the incarnation of the order of relations and distribution of singularities peculiar to the given section in differenciated species and parts in the virtual ground the movement of actualisation, of differenciation as creation. They are thereby substituted for the identity and the resemblance of the possible, which inspires only a pseudo-movement, the false movement of realisation understood as abstract limitation. (Deleuze 1994:212)
If we think of the virtual as a domain of problematic transcendental conditions that structure processes of actualization and individuation; what forces these problematic encounters? What is the element that adds true dynamism to Deleuze's philosophy in a way that allows it to provide a genetic account of becoming and the evolution of open systems? This is the third synthesis, the eternal return of difference, as the positing of a transcendental virtual structure alone does not truly escape the circle of identity and resemblance, with the same issue facing Bhaskar’s somewhat similar account of powers and capacities. “The shortcoming of the ground [virtual structure] is to remain relative to what it grounds, and to be proved by these. It is in this sense that it creates a circle... Just as the ground is in a sense "bent" and must lead us towards a beyond, so the second synthesis of time points beyond itself in the direction of a third which denounces the illusion of the in-itself which remains a correlate of representation” (Deleuze 1994:88). Even if the virtual is itself differential, it is still an “effect” that is “erected on the basis of habit, which [virtual] memory as the ground of habit is relative to” (Roffe 2012:92), thus we have yet to uncover the true form of time.
6.3. The third synthesis: Aion, the empty form of time
The third synthesis is the form of time itself, and unlike the first two it is called a static synthesis as “time is the most radical form of change, but the form of change does not change” (Deleuze 1994:89). This structure of time is the eternal return as a principle of selection, it “fractures both time and the self that exists within it” (Widder 2011). Thus, “the expulsive and selective force of the eternal return, its centrifugal force” serves to ensure the prior two repetitions of habit and memory “do not return, that they occur only once and for all, and that only the third repetition which turns upon itself returns for all times” (Deleuze 1994:297). As “repetition in the eternal return defines the univocity of being” as difference (Deleuze 1994:vi).
The key philosophical background to this is Kant's theory of time as the pure and empty form of the inner sense and his concept of a divided subject. While Descartes, in emblematically dogmatic philosophical fashion posits the foundations of his system in terms of an act of determination perpetuated by the ‘I think' which determines an undetermined element the 'I am', which thereby determined in the form of a substantial conception of a thinking subject. He neglects to explain the form in which determination happens, thus Kant adds an additional element to resolve this lacuna: the form of determination. These transcendental conditions are for Kant the a-priori pure intuitions of space and time. The consequence of this innovation is a “Kantian subject...torn between the form of spontaneity, that is the ‘I think' which accompanies all concept production and guarantees the unity of synthesis, and the empirical self which experiences the effects of thought rather than initiating the act of thought itself” (Voss 2013:2015). This erects a division between an active transcendental ego and a passive empirical self that appears in space and time. Deleuze follows Kant in liberating a truly transcendental philosophy of time from the measurable motion of bodies as is its for Plato, and from the notion of succession more generally (Bryant 2008). For Deleuze succession (in the form of habit via contraction of material or mental processes into a characteristic time scale) is a mode of time and thus cannot define time as such; as is virtual coexistence of the pure past (transcendental memory and potentiality). Thus the “structure of habit and the co-existent structure of memory are both simply modes of one underlying pure form of time” (Somers-Hall 2013:75), and for Deleuze “you cannot define a thing through its modes.” (Deleuze lecture 14/03/78)
[T]ime is no longer defined by succession because succession concerns only things and movements which are in time. If time were succession, it would need to succeed in another time, and so on to infinity. Things succeed each other in various times, but they are also simultaneous in the same time, and they remain in an indefinite time ... Permanence, succession and simultaneity are modes and relationships of time ... Everything which moves and changes is in time, but time itself does not change, does not move, any more than it is eternal. It is the form of everything that changes and moves, but it is an immutable Form which does not change. It is not an eternal form, but in fact, the form of that which is not eternal, the immutable form of change and movement. (Deleuze 1983:vii-viii)
Kant frees time from any attachment to a “prior representational structure” revealing a time “prior to any particular content”, its pure form (Somers-Hall 2013:75). This kicks open the door for a philosophy of time not based in representation and that provides representation a non-representational ground (Somers-Hall 2013:78). Kant desperately attempts to slam the door shut on such a move as he restricts the power of synthesis to active faculties, therefore time becomes simply “a material” to be “be taken up by the understanding.” (Somers-hall 2013:83). In this way, Kant ensures time is once again subordinated to a principle of identity in a transcendental subject and the judgement of the understanding. Deleuze has no need for this move as his theory of the passive synthesis of habit can more plausibly explain the coherence and emergence of human experience and of the subject, as a processual rather than essential self. As for Deleuze, “receptivity must be defined in terms of the formation of local selves or egos, in terms of the passive syntheses of contemplation or contraction” (Deleuze 1994:98). Additionally, on the basis of his prior critical work and commitment to reach the real beyond the anthropocentric strictures of human experience, Kant's representationalist resolution is out of bounds. Instead in the Deleuzean world, “the self-identical does not subsist over time... the future, being empty, has no ‘room’ for identity. All that it could possibly affirm is what can undergo transformation” (Roffe 2019:229). Without recourse to a transcendental subject, “time itself” must “be responsible for constituting both the passive self and the world that the passive self encounters” (Somers-Hall 2013:77), thus the third synthesis is the formal condition of reality as such. Therefore, temporal becoming and contingency, rather than static eternal or transcendent being is absolute in Deleuze's philosophy. This is further elaborated in a reading of the eternal return that is for Deleuze “not an external order imposed upon the chaos of the world; on the contrary, the eternal return is the internal identity of the world and of chaos, the Chaosmos” (Deleuze 1994:299). This is expressed via the motif of the dice throw, that overturns ‘the moral imperative of predetermined rules’ (Deleuze 1994:198) and the logic of bureaucratic organisation. Instead:“The singular points are on the die; the questions are the dice themselves; the imperative is to throw. Ideas are the problematic combinations which result from throws” (Deleuze 1994:198).
Nietzsche correctly points out that if it were the One which returned, it would have begun by being unable to leave itself; if it were supposed to determine the many to resemble it, it would have begun by not losing its identity in that degradation of the similar. Repetition is no more the permanence of the One than the resemblance of the many. The subject of the eternal return is not the same but the different, not the similar but the dissimilar, not the one but the many, not necessity but chance. (Deleuze 1994:124)
For Ayache (2010) this has radical implication for our understanding of the market as it, like all material processes expresses this ontological contingency, as:
The market is a historical process that is not a series of actualizations of possibilities, but a series of redistribution of whole ranges of possibilities, a series of throws of a dice that repeat not a possibility but the whole concept of the game. In that sense, the market takes place only once, univocally, for chance as such can only be thrown once......To be in the market is to position oneself in a flow that has the appearance of a temporal series, but which is in fact a ‘series’ of eternal returns, the repetition of a single univocal throw
We could consider the prior two syntheses, and all aspects of reality to be the contents of time, and the third synthesis is its form. While the first synthesis is the agent, and content of time as such and the second its virtual structural ground, the third is the transcendental form that characterizes being as pure difference, which perpetually undergrounds the prior two syntheses (Roffe 2015). This imposes a radical immanence, asthere is necessarily nothing outside of time, no transcendent being, subject, identity or Hegelian historical teleology to subordinate time to its logic. Instead, all identities are selected out by the eternal return as the differenciator of difference that guarantees the production of the new (Roffe 2015). While the first synthesis of habit is constitutive of the present, and the second the ontological past that the present passes into (Roffe 2019:227). The reason for the passing of the present is seen in terms of the question of the meaning of the future as such. We can’t simply claim the future is another moment the same as“the current one, and in the endless sequence of presents”, as understanding the future like this “belongs entirely to the present, to the first passive synthesis of habit and the active faculty of intelligence that is founded on it. In other words, it is not really the future at all” (Roffe 2019:227). For the concept of the future to be in any way meaningful, a mode of time subordinated neither “to the present or the past and their respective contents” (Roffe 2019:227) is needed. The future must be absent of content, as if the future possesses any type of content this “content would be necessary”, a necessary being present in all futures which would make the term 'future' meaningless, subordinated to an eternal abstract identity rather than to the present. For the future to exist it must be empty, subordinated neither to a transcendent being or populated by a set of abstract possible states (Roffe 2019).
The how of the emergence of novelty is explained by Deleuze's account of the encounter with the problematic, but that this can occur at all is due to the third synthesis as the form of time, this is the glue that connects the components of his system. This synthesis has 3 motifs that Deleuze employs to add more depth to his model (Roffe 2019). They are; 1) The cut or caesura, the rupture that perpetually breaks down seemingly stable totalities. Here time emerges as a pure form that fractures the Kantian 'I', where the future appears as “a kind of disequilibrium, a fissure or crack […] an alienation in principle, insurmountable in principle” (Deleuze 1994:58). A violent rupture of the existent consistency of habit that produces the “a formal and empty order” of time (Deleuze 1994:89). 2) The line which renders time “out of joint” and free from the repetition of the same and the circular repetitions of habit (where time is cardinal and measurable), as habit and memory are cracked open by the caesura producing an ordinal temporality delineated in terms of a past present and future. Because “Time itself unfolds…instead of things unfolding within it” (Deleuze 1994:8), where “the caesura, as the ‘too much’, is the agent of this new linear distribution” (Roffe 2019:230). For Roffe (2010:93) while identities are a result of how the first two syntheses “come to grips with their proper contents”, what the third “imposes on time is an impassive and inflexible NEXT, which breaks open the circle and arrays it in the form of a before and an after”, as while the circle has a centre the line has none and lacks identity. Here the cut takes on the form of a totality of time, as the symbol “determined in the image of a unique and tremendous event, an act which is adequate to time as a whole”, where the “I which is fractured according to the order of time” and the self “is divided according to the temporal series” (Deleuze 1994:89-90). This all leads us to the third movement, the series, that brings the two prior elements together as the fracturing of the circle of memory and habit. In the series, “the future as caesura distributes the temporal registers into their respective places, no longer on the basis of the habitual present but from the point of view of the time of the future” (Roffe 2019:220), as an “encounter with a problem demands the transformation of the one who encounters it” (Roffe 2019:220). In the social realm, the encounter of the flows of labour and money are transformed into the nascent form of capitalism, this in turn alters the composition of the social field at expense of the despotic state form as the body of the despot as the socius which is supplanted by the market, leading to the actualisation of the capitalist idea and its singularities at the expense of the despotic one (Deleuze 1984). So, whilst the first two syntheses ultimately explain how stability and identity is produced, the third explains how these are undone and transformed, providing the ontological basis for becoming and the creation of the new.
The third synthesis of time, or pure and empty time, is a cut, an assembly, an ordering and a seriation. It is deduced as an a priori condition for action, which in simple terms claims that any novel action depends on a cut in time. This cut though must also assemble what comes either side of it. This assembly is itself dependent on a putting of time into an order of before and after the cut. The third synthesis of time is therefore a division of time and an ordering of time. This ordering though is also a seriation; it distinguishes the before and the after, rendering time asymmetrical. This complex third synthesis is the time of the future making the present and the past, which become dimensions of it, because the action it is posited upon is essentially determined by an open future. Neither the subject nor the self is a foundation for Deleuze’s philosophy, because in the third synthesis of time they are both ungrounded. (Williams 2011:94)
This final synthesis relates all aspects of time in Spinozist model where succession and co-existence are attributes of time and habit and memory modes. These are modal expressions of time's pure empty form – resolving the “problem of the priority of succession over co-existence, or vice versa” (Sommers-Hall 2013:82). For Somers-Hall (2013:82), this pure and empty form of time considered “in itself apart from its references to the subject it constitutes” is “a pure form of time that is neither successive nor co-existent.” Yet, it is this that “bifurcates itself into the past of memory and the present of habit”, as it constitutes “the space of the first synthesis” the “field of individuation” (Deleuze 1994:246–7), that produces identities, subjects and objects as well as the relations between diverging series of intensities and their individuating fields. The final synthesis performs the role of the ‘differenciator of difference’ (Deleuze 1994: 117), that is the ‘difference which relates different to different’ (Deleuze 1994:119) in time. Where series of intensive fields of individuation are related not by means of resemblance but as a result the of the temporal difference in itself that “finds expression in both [series] simultaneously, while resembling neither” (Somers-Hall 2013:82). These intensive series and the virtual series of singular and ordinary points that structure them “are liable to resonate under the influence of a fragment or 'dark precursor' which stands for this totality [of time] in which all the levels coexist: each series is therefore repeated in the other, at the same time as the precursor is displaced from one level to another and disguised in all the series” (Deleuze 1994:292); through which the process of the cut, ordering and seriation play out in each. Through which time fractures identities, subjects and stratifications as the motor of being and the guarantor of becoming. This final synthesis is the time of the event, what Deleuze calls Aion: the creative puissance of being that ensures the production of the new.
7. Conclusion: Prolegomena to a postcapitalist future
Armed with Deleuzean ontology we now have a theory which accounts for the origins of the failings immanent to thought (the dogmatic image), as well as the conditions of the genesis of thought which gives it its tendency towards these failings that have led economic discourse astray into an inappropriate closed systems social ontology and deductivist method, which have allowed it to become the ideological tool of capitalist power. In response, an ontology of virtual structure and genesis can serve as a philosophical framework for new innovations in heterodox political economy and begin rectifying these issues. To finish this essay, I will briefly gesture at some of the implications of this and the capacity of political economy and its ontology to make a difference. The imperative that an ontology of immanence imposes on the application of political economic theory is the necessary illegitimacy of any political platform that seeks to place its organising principle or philosophical ground in a transcendent dimension outside the immanent plane of reality. Thus, there can be no abstract or transcendent ground for action in the political, or for the grounding of values and ethics and social organisation. Deleuze in his reading of Spinoza makes exactly this point:
In this way, Ethics, which is to say, a typology of immanent modes of existence, replaces Morality, which always refers existence to transcendent values. Morality is the judgment of God, the system of Judgment. But Ethics overthrows the system of judgement. The opposition of values (Good-Evil) is supplanted by the qualitative difference of modes of existence (good-bad). (Deleuze 1988:23)
Instead, what is prescribed is the practice of creative encounter with the problematic field, to seek the singular over the ordinary. He makes a similar point to his reading of Nietzsche, where the active forces that express creative power (puissance) are separated from what they can do by means of a fiction or mystification, a form of controlling power (pouvoir), and as a consequence can become reactive.
We know that reactive forces triumph by relying on a fiction. Their victory always rests on the negative as something imaginary: they separate active force from what it can do. Active force thus becomes reactive in reality, but as a result of a mystification. 1) From the first essay Nietzsche presents ressentiment as "an imaginary revenge", "an essentially spiritual vindication" (GM 17 and 10). Moreover, the constitution of ressentiment implies a paralogism that Nietzsche analyses in detail: the paralogism of force separated from what it can do (GM I 13). (Deleuze 1986:87)
This logic is easily extrapolated to political thought that problematizes much of existing political discourse that depends on mystification and transcendence in one form or another. What is needed is ethical and active means of social organisation based on creative affirmation as opposed to the reactive bourgeois regime of dominant capital and the abstracted economic subject, the mystification that they wield to suppress the construction of alternative social systems. In short we need an active post-capitalism, and creativity not just in the realm of art science and philosophy as Deleuze himself advocated, but also in the political and the institutional. Several candidates for the construction of postcapitalist systems of governance exist: The left-accelerationists rightly emphasize the need to create new organizational and governmental tools and practices, and even invoke some of some of the insights of Veblen, and Bichler & Nitzan (Malik 2014);(Mackay 2014), and Brassier's (2014) Promethean approach to technological innovation is admirable. To the extent that this program is fused with neorationalism, and the representationalism that this philosophical outlook involves this is problematic however. The work of Bratton (2015) is promising, but Bouvard’s (2020) theory of post-liberalism even more so. Bouvard rejects the reification of the proposition (declarative) and views representation as presupposing a pre-declarative paradoxical basis. He also rejects the grounding of the construction of social systems in mystification and abstraction, be it via the myth of abstract economic agent or the abstract rights bearing subject of liberal political theory. Bouvard instead offers an immanent theory of leadership based in the linguistic practices that we as humans are significantly constituted by, and seeks to overcome the ideology and resentment plagued discourse that is characteristic of contemporary politics.His objective is to align creative power and social responsibility and to reorganise society along these lines. This positive re-alignment of power away from the abstractions and transcendent ideological signifiers of one form or another that where encountered in the prior discussion of ideology in economics, and that characterise contemporary political discourse is necessary for the development of the kind of technological, industrial and cultural production appropriate for a genuinely postcapitalist politics. He additionally offers a refreshing realism regarding the power relations embedded within language and human cultural practices, and how this reality may be turned against the dominant capital regime. Just as we need a more realistic political economy, we also need a more realistic politics that goes with it in a theory of the human and the social order at large. Human agency must be theorized both in its expression of active, creative power, as well as the social emergence and impact of reactive power and the resentment it thrives on – which is an area where Bouvard's Generative Anthropology can be of assistance. However, a full comparison of this theory with the Deleuzean insights expressed here is beyond the scope of this essay, it is a topic that will return later in this series. Finally, the nature of the world defined as process means that no social formation is necessary or eternal. Thus, there is no reason to take capitalism or bourgeois rule as a given nor is there any reason to accept it. Instead, while one can easily feel powerless, the intensive dynamism of the world is always subject to change. We must affirm that “human subjects can indeed change the world” even if “only under far from equilibrium, crisis situations” (Palmås 2007:43). The onus is on those seeking social transformation to both able to recognise and take advantage of these crisis points, and the opportunities for change they present. This is the identification of the interesting and the important in the political, and the means of its creation and transformation. As Prigogine and Stengers (1984: 206) put it:
Thus we are led to conclude that the same nonlinearities may produce an order out of the chaos of elementary processes and still, under different circumstances, be responsible for the destruction of this same order, eventually producing a new coherence beyond another bifurcation.
This essay has focused on the question of ontology in political economy, and made the case that Deleuze's ontology is the right one for the construction of genuine and viable postcapitalist and postliberal positions on this topic. It was in the end primarily an exercise in introducing key ideas and theoretical frameworks that will be expanded upon and utilised later in the series (CasP and critical realism), as well as the general ontological framework into which they will all be integrated: Deleuze's ontology. The next part in this series of essays addresses the question of the nature of the capitalist system more directly. This will involve the synthesising of these existing heterogeneous elements along with additional insight from other theorists, as well as the anthropological theories of Bouvard, and Deleuze's own intervention into political economy in his later works written in collaboration with Felix Guattari. The objective of this is provide a theory of the operation of and structure of capitalism, as well as to direct attention to potential means by which it may be overcome.
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