Tag Archives: critical theory

Some thoughts on Barthes’ *Mythologies*

I finished Roland Barthes’ Mythologies this week. I don’t recall ever reading this collection of essays before, so I was quite pleased by how current many of them still seemed. Barthes’ had a keen eye for society. What I was stricken by the most were two passages in the lengthy essay on myth that ends the book.

First:

The first bourgeois philosophers pervaded the world with significations, subjected all things to an idea of the rational, and decreed that they were meant for man: bourgeois ideology is of the scientistic or the intuitive kind, it records facts or perceives values, but refuses explanations; the order of the world can be seen as sufficient or ineffable, it is never seen as significant. Finally, the basic idea of a perfectible mobile world, produces the inverted image of an unchanging humanity, characterised by an indefinite repetition of its identity. (142)

I think looking at the history of Western philosophy we can trace this to the Greeks. This being the case, the interesting thing is how resistant to change the discipline has been. We see this now in the increasingly violent reactions to calls for change, such as the backlash Bryan van Norden and Jay Garfield received for their op ed in the New York Times a few years ago.

Philosophy reproduces itself by rejecting any form of radical change, and when it takes up new ideas, it’s only by assimilating them – i.e. by turning them into itself.

The other passage touches on this as well, at least slightly:

The Other becomes a pure object, a spectacle, a clown. Relegated to the confines of humanity, he no longer threatens the security of the home. This figure is chiefly petit-bourgeois. For, even if he is unable to experience the Other in himself, the bourgeois can at least imagine the place where he fits in: this is what is known as liberalism, which is a sort of intellectual equilibrium based on recognised places. The petit-bourgeois class is not liberal (it produces Fascism, whereas the bourgeoisie uses it): it follows the same route as the bourgeoisie, but lags behind. (152)

The Other in Western philosophy is relegated to the margins, or, assimilated. When marginalised, it manifests in the form of a complete rejection of the discourses that matter to the Other. An example of this, to my eye, is dropping any sort of religious connotations from Buddhist thought. This doesn’t happen only to non-Western philosophy though; consider the case of stripping away the theological assumptions in Cartesian philosophy, or taking any sort of ideas without their proper context, really. In assimilation, the Other is included only insofar as its discourses fit within those of the West.

Barthes isn’t talking about philosophy, he’s talking about culture. Nonetheless, philosophy, as practiced in the West at least, is a bourgeois endeavour. It doesn’t surprise then, that the failures of the bourgeois and petit-bourgeois that Barthes can identify in the French society of the 1950s are in some sense reproduced in academia.

Guest Post: Basic Readings on Capitalism

Guest post from William Hebblewhite:

Capitalism is a word we hear a lot about these days. It’s an all pervasive social form; an economic system which represents the highest order of individual freedom; an historical abnormality. It is often difficult to have a real, true sense about what capitalism is, where it came from, what it represents and what the future holds or capitalism. I am under no illusion that I can offer any answers to these questions. Luckily for me, there has been a myriad of writers across the ideological spectrum who have attempted to answer them for me. Here I list some of my favourites, and ones which I believe really showcase the vast vista that is capitalism, and the subtly and multivalent definitions that can arise from that one word.

The list is separated into disciplinary categories: History, Philosophy and Economics. I do not mean to purposefully exclude other disciplines, such as sociology, anthropology or political science, but I believe most of the work done in those disciplines can easily be folded into the others. For instance, David Harvey, one of the world’s foremost critics and commentator on Capitalism is a trained geographer. His interpretation of what capitalism is, and what is does to the world is uniquely informed by this geographical perspective. However, much of Harvey’s work can be broadly construed as philosophical and economic. Another case is that of the work of Milton Friedman and Frederick Hayek, who were economists by training, while their work also fits into the category of philosophy – particularly when they start speaking about “freedom” and its relation to capitalism. What I mean to be saying by these examples is that my categorisation is not to be taken too seriously, but rather that it provides an easy way for new readers to the subject to engage in those questions and topics that are of most interest to them.

Lastly, this is not a comprehensive list, and I do not suggest it is. This just represents a small window to the wide world of academic work on capitalism. There are wonderful authors which I have not listed with wonderful pieces on capitalism. There are also authors who I have not listed, merely because I have not discovered them yet. If you know of other works, or authors you think should be listed do leave a comment. With that being said, let us dive straight into my selections.

History:

Ellen Meiksins Wood, The Origins of Capitalism: A Longer View (2002, Verso), and Liberty and Property (2012, Verso)
Robert Brenner,  Merchants and Revolution (1993, Princeton University Press – Available on Verso)
T.H. Ashton and C.H.E. Philpin (eds.), The Brenner Debate (1985, Cambridge University Press)
Charlie Post, The American Road to Capitalism (2012, Haymarket Books)
Leo Panitch & Sam Gidins, The Making of Global Capitalism (2012, Verso)
Michel Beaud, A History of Capitalism (2001, Monthly Review Press)
David McNally, Monsters of the Market: Zombies and Global Capitalism (2011, Brill)
Milton Friedman and Anna Jacobson Schwartz, A Monetary History of the United States, 1867-1960 (1963, Princeton University Press)

Economics

Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-first Century (2014, Belknap Press), The Economics of Inequality (2015, Harvard University Press)
Anthony Atkinson, Inequality: What Must Be Done (2015, Harvard University Press)
Milton Friedman, Freedom and Capitalism (1962, University of Chicago Press)
Joseph Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (2012, Routledge)
Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations (1776, available via the Liberty Fund)
Karl Marx, Das Kapital Volume 1 (1867, available via Marxists.org)
David Harvey,  A Companion to Marx’s Capital (2010, Verso)
Steve Horwitz, Microfoundations and Macroeconomics: An Austrian Perspective (2000, Routledge), and Monetary Economics, Free Banking, and Economic Order (2019, Routledge)

Philosophy

David Harvey, The Enigma of Capital and the Crises of Capitalism (2010, Oxford University Press)
Louis Althusser, On The Reproduction of Capital (2014, Verso)
Yann Moulier Boutang, Cognitive Capitalism (2011, Polity)
Edward Younkins, Capitalism and Commerce (2001, Lexington Books)
G.A Cohen, Self-Ownership, Freedom and Equality (1995, Cambridge University Press)
Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State and Utopia (2013, Basic Books)
Jason Brennan, Why Not Capitalism?  (2014, Routledge) and Markets Without Limits (2015, Routledge)
Nancy Fraser & Rahael Jaeggi, Capitalism: A Conversation in Critical Theory (2018, Polity Press)
Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism (2009, Zero Books)


William Hebblewhite received his PhD in philosophy from Macquarie University. His research is focused on areas of contemporary European philosophy and political philosophy. In particular, he is interested in equality, and the relations of equality that exist in economic, social, moral and political spheres. He tweets @Whebblewhite.


I’ve added the year of publication and publisher for all of the texts Will suggests. Where possible, it is that of a cheap paperback edition or a free pdf. Any inaccuracies in this regard are my responsibility – Maks.