Saturday, July 23, 2022

Initial Thought on The Society of the Spectacle

Guy DeBord seems to have been onto something (in fact, he seems to have been onto a lot of things), but his true theses were derived from a false starting point, that starting point being Marxist class theory (yes, I stole the gravamen of that claim from Hans-Hermann Hoppe's paean to the Marxist theory of history).

I haven't finished the book yet, but I detect a thread running through the bulk of it that I've read so far:

DeBord observes some particular X. Then he correctly ties that X to a cause Y, which is, in a word, "capitalism."

His false starting point is the conflation -- urged on us by Marx and then later by "capitalists" -- of capitalism with free markets. And he maintains this conflation even as he describes non-free markets (in fact, he seems to be describing Burnham's managerial state) as proof of thesis.

Which is not to say he doesn't criticize Marx, Lenin, et al. He does. But he starts from Marx's incorrect premises (Marx's cribbing of libertarian class theory and shift from productive class v. political class to labor v. capital; labor theory of value; alienation/commodification, etc.), then tries to use those incorrect premises to explain his fairly accurate observations of events.

Oddly, he presages his own problem by opening the book with a quote from Feuerbach:

But for the present age, which prefers the sign to the thing signified, the copy to the original, representation to reality, appearance to essence … truth is considered profane, and only illusion is sacred. Sacredness is in fact held to be enhanced in proportion as truth decreases and illusion increases, so that the highest degree of illusion comes to be the highest degree of sacredness.

DeBord writes from attachment to sacred illusion (Marxism). What's surprising is not that he interprets the facts through the fog of that illusion, but that he sees so many of those facts so clearly through that fog in the first place.

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