“The Process of Domination Spews out Tatters of Subjugated Nature”: Culture and Capital in Adorno and the New German Reading of Marx.

“The Process of Domination Spews out Tatters of Subjugated Nature”: Culture and Capital in Adorno and the New German Reading of Marx.[1]


Despite the formative influence he had on the formation of the New Left, contemporary evaluations of Adorno’s critical theory are indelibly shaded by his influential reception by two strands of scholarship that developed out of the New Left. The first, propounded by the radical student milieu, criticised Adorno for his pessimistic cultural theory in which his analysis of the totally integrated reified consciousness of the proletariat led to his abandonment of praxis, and with it Marxism, for residence in the hotel grand abyss. The second, as codified by Habermas and post-Habermasian critical theory, criticised Adorno for the totalizing philosophical history of instrumental reason advanced in Dialectic of Enlightenment, which is said to serve as the foundation of a social theory that eschews normative foundations, and disregards the emanicipatory potential of rational discourse and democratic politics. While these strands differentiate themselves in many ways, they also coincide on several points that might be said, with out too much exaggeration, to form the popular Anglophone take on Adorno’s work; which is said to have abandoned Marx in favour of totalizing one-dimensional cultural theory that must be modified or re-thought if it is to be of any relevance today.

I hope to complicate this picture to some degree in today’s talk by focusing on the Marxian strand of Adorno’s critical theory and mapping how it was taken up by his students in a school of thought largely neglected in the Anglophone world; the New German Reading of Marx. In contrast to these other two receptions of Adorno, this school can be said to have been inspired by, and sought to complete, this Marxian strand of critical theory. However, rather than focusing on the methodological and marxological minutiae at the heart of the New German Readin, my aim in mapping this development is to highlight the relevance this aspect of critical theory and the New Reading of Marx posses for a critical theory of contemporary capitalist culture. This will be done by tracing the development of the critique capitalist culture in Adorno and the New German Reading of Marx and then showing how I believe such a critique can illuminate the contemporary Canadian conjuncture.

To do so, I will first discuss the Marxian strand of the idea of the critical theory of society and show how this strand is refined in Adorno’s notions of culture and society. Here I will pay particular attention to the late Adorno’s conceptions of these ideas, which drew on Alfred Schmidt’s interpretation of Marx to conceive of culture as constitutive of the domination of external nature and internal human nature and of capitalist society as an instance of dominating second nature constituted and reproduced by the exchange abstraction. I will then focus on how Adorno’s students, Hans-Georg Backhaus and Helmut Reichelt, developed new interpretations of Marx’s critique of political economy as a critical social theory in order to provide a more sophisticated explanation of how and why exchange possesses these properties. Finally, I discuss how Werner Bonefeld’s recent work on the state and primitive accumulation has supplemented, and rounded out, these interpretations of society. I conclude by discussing how these interpretations can be brought together to illuminate the current Canadian conjuncture where I eschew widespread moral condemnations of the Harper government, by showing how the conception of capitalist culture as the historically specific autonomous and inverted social logic of exchange which compels individuals actions, and is premised on and perpetuated by the domination of nature, provides a critical theory of the state of extraction as the political purpose of this social logic,




The rough outline of such a conception of capitalism can already be seen in Horkheimer’s Traditional and Critical Theory. In this essay, from 1937, Horkheimer lays out the initial conception of the critical theory of society held by the institute for social research. Such an idea of critical theory is premised on a two-fold conception of society in which society is constituted by the manner in which humans interact with nature and with each other. Horkheimer’s account of the constitution of capitalist society explicitly draws on Marx, in two ways; on a socio-theoretical level, he uses Marx to argue that capitalist society is constituted by exchange, and that ‘the inner dynamism’ of ‘the exchange relation­ship’, which critical theory is said to outline, ‘dominates social reality’. Horkheimer proposes to provide this outline by drawing on several of the categories Marx deploys in Capital. Consequently, ‘the critical theory of society begins with the characterization of an economy based on exchange’ and proceeds to show ‘how an ex­change economy, given the condition of men (which, of course, changes under the very influence of such an economy), must necessarily lead to a heightening of those social tensions’. As he puts it in ‘broad terms’, ‘the critical theory of society’ thus unfolds a single existential judgement’ by deducing present conditions and tensions as a new barbarism that is unfolded from the concept of simple exchange.’

It is this aspect of Marx, which interprets his critique of political economy in conjunction with the critical theory of society, that I will focus on in today’s talk. For, as I will now show, the canard that Adorno abandoned Marxism in Dialectic of Enlightenment, not only fails to address this conception of Marx, and thus Adorno’s interpretation of this conception of Marx, it also ignores the fact that Adorno’s later work in the 1960s actually consisted in his most complex, and certainly most extensive, engagement with this Marx. This can be seen by focusing on his interrelated conceptions of culture and society, and of society as a dominating second nature.

Such a conception of culture pertains to Adorno’s use of the term in its broadest sense, rather than in the more narrow sense of the culture industry, cultural commodities or indeed of aesthetics. (I note in passing that several of the talks at the upcoming conference will focus on Adorno’s conception of culture in a more narrow sense) Adorno provides a concise definition of this broad notion of culture in his talk Culture and Kultur, where he states ‘whenever one speaks of culture, one speaks of an area in which people confront nature’. As this use of ‘confrontation’ indicates, Adorno does not hold that culture consists in a reciprocal or mimetic relationship between humanity and nature. Rather, this relationship is characterized as ‘human being’s coping with nature in the sense of its mastery; that is, domination of both the external nature that opposes us as well as domination of the natural forces in the human being itself’.

Adorno’s notion of society is interrelated with this conception of culture. This follows from Adorno’s statement that ‘such a notion of culture’ is ‘one whose substance is essentially the moulding of reality’. Consequently, Adorno’s theory of society holds that society is melded by this process of dominating external and internal nature, and so consists in a dominating second nature in which society, like nature, is an autonomous and capricious entity that compels and maims humans. Such a broadly defined understanding of culture and of society runs through Adorno’s work from his earliest writings to his last.[2]

Yet it is after his return to Germany in the 1950s that these ideas receive their most sophisticated formulation. It is also when they make their most explicit use of Marx. The latter is due above all to Adorno’s relationship with his student, Alfred Schmidt. Following Adorno (and Horkheimer’s) supervision of Schmidt’s Ph.D. thesis on The Concept of Nature in Marx (written between 1957 and 1960, first published in 1962), Adorno would make use of Schmidt’s interpretation of Marx in this later work, to refine his conceptions of culture and society.

This can be shown by comparing Schmidt’s interpretation of Marx’s conception of nature, with the idea of culture that Adorno presents in Part III of Negative Dialectics. In general, Schmidt argues that Marx’s idea of the metabolism with nature held that ‘The whole of nature is socially mediated and, inversely, society is mediated through nature as a component of total reality’. This is because ‘By acting on the external world and changing it’ humanity ‘at the same time changes his own nature.’ Consequently, ‘In a wrongly organized society, the control of nature, however highly developed, remains at the same time an utter subjection to nature’. This means ‘that men are still not in control of their own productive forces vis-à-vis nature, that these forces confront them as the organized, rigid form of an opaque society, as a ‘second nature’ which sets its own essence against its creators.’


Thus, while


            Hegel described the first nature, a world of things existing outside men, as a blind conceptless occurrence. The world of men as it takes shape in the state, law, society, and the economy, is for him ‘second nature’, manifested   reason, objective Spirit. Marxist analysis opposes to this the view that Hegel’s  ‘second nature’ should rather be described in the terms he applied to the first:   namely, as the area of conceptlessness, where blind necessity and blind chance  coincide. The ‘second nature’ is still the ‘first’. Mankind has still not stepped beyond natural history.

These aspects of Schmidt’s interpretation of Marx’s concept of nature are echoed, and indeed serve as the basis of Adorno’s account of culture in Negative Dialectics where Adorno uses passages from Marx often sourced from Schmidt, and more specifically Schmidt’s work on Marx, to articulate his account of culture as the domination of external and internal nature and of capitalist society as a dominating second nature. This is most evident in a statement of Adorno’s that is essentially a paraphrase of the preceding Schmidt quote: ‘Marx recognized that against Hegel’, ‘the objectivity of historical life is that of natural history.’ So that the history of culture is ‘that of the control of nature, progressing into domination over human beings and ultimately over internalized nature’. Consequently, contemporary society consists in a second nature, since its ‘Natural lawfulness is real however as a law of motion of unconscious society’. Schmidt’s interpretation of Marx can thus be seen to have influenced Adorno’s formulation of his late, and most sophisticated, accounts of culture as the domination of external and internal nature, and of capitalist society as an instance of dominating second nature. The latter can be seen in greater detail by turning to examine how Adorno followed Horkheimer in conceiving of the dominating second nature of capitalist society as arising from the dynamism of exchange.




This can be seen by focusing on Adorno’s account of contemporary society in works such as Late Capitalism or Industrial Society?, Society, On subject and object, Cultural Criticism and Society, as well as The Positivist Dispute and again Negative Dialectics. In these works, what Adorno refers to as late capitalist society is characterized as an inverted and autonomous entity that opposes individuals as a second nature and dominates and maims humans beings by compelling their actions. Whereas Adorno’s earlier work essentially developed Lukacs’ method of utilizing the commodity form as a basis for a theorization of the dominating objective and subjective properties of capitalist second nature, his later work rests on his notion of exchange.

This notion of exchange provides the grounds for Adorno’s conception of how capitalist society is constituted. As he states, providing a more developed account of Horkheimer’s notion of dynamism, ‘society, in its ‘socialized’ form … is determined, as its fundamental precondition, by exchange.’ Consequently, ‘What really makes society a social entity, what constitutes it both conceptually and in reality, is the relationship of exchange, which binds together virtually all the people participating in this kind of society’.

As a consequence, exchange is also what makes capitalist society a second nature. In Adorno’s view, exchange not only possesses social objectivity because it is the basis for social synthesis, it ultimately possesses its own autonomy, which Adorno describes as a ‘conceptuality which holds sway in reality’. This means that the ‘law which determines how the fatality of mankind unfolds itself is the law of exchange’. As Adorno further enumerates, this ‘negative primacy’ of exchange also means that‘individuals are subsumed under social production, which exists as a doom outside of them’. As a result, individuals are compelled to function in their respective social roles, what Adorno following Marx refers to as charactermasks, such as workers or capitalists, to insure their own survival. This, in turn, maims human psyches, or their own internal nature. These points are brought together in Adorno’s characterizations of modern society, as a whole, in the following:


            [T]he economic process, which reduces individual interests to the common denominator of a totality, which remains negative, because it distances itself by means of its constitutive abstraction from the individual   interests, out of which it is nevertheless simultaneously composed. The             universality, which reproduces the preservation of life, simultaneously endangers it, on constantly more threatening levels. The violence of the self- realizing universal is not, as Hegel thought, identical to the essence of individuals, but always also contrary. They are not merely character-masks,             agents of value, in some presumed special sphere of the economy. Even where they think they have escaped the primacy of the economy, all the way down to their psychology, the maison tolère, [French: universal home] of what is             unknowably individual, they react under the compulsion of the generality; the  more identical they are with it, the more un-identical they are with it in turn as defenceless followers. What is expressed in the individuals themselves, is that             the whole preserves itself along with them only by and through the antagonism.

In many ways, this dense passage can be said to mark the culmination of this strand of Adorno’s critical theory and with it the Marxian strand of the first generation of critical theory. Here we see a refinement of Horkheimer’s socio-theoretical use of Marx; in Adorno’s evocative expression, Horkheimer’s notion of the ‘inner dynamism’ of exchange is reflected in ‘the economic process’ of the ‘constitutive abstraction of exchange’ dominating reality as a negative totality which possesses an autonomous and contingent dynamic, thus dominating humans as a second nature. We also see, in this exemplary instance, that Adorno’s critical theory of society begins with exchange and unfolds to show how society dominates and maims individuals.

Yet, despite the evocative and all too palpable description of the negative totality that functions by virtue of exchange as a doom hanging over us, such an account of contemporary society – i.e. capitalist culture — is ultimately enigmatic, undercutting the efficacy of Adorno’s critique of capitalist culture. This is because, in an unfortunate echo of Horkheimer’s broad conception of society conceived merely in terms of exchange,

Adorno stresses that exchange is ‘what really makes society a social entity’, and that such a conception of exchange as the key to society is what differentiates Frankfurt school critical theory from other types of sociology. However, Adorno never really made clear why and how exchange possesses these social properties, how it constitutes a totality and thus not how and why this society functions as a second nature forcing people to behave as character masks. The closest Adorno comes are in enigmatic phrases such as the following, which rely on enigmatic references to Capital: ‘Natural lawfulness is real however as a law of motion of unconscious society, as it is pursued in Capital from the analysis of the commodity form down to the theory of economic crisis in a phenomenology of the anti-Spirit’

And ‘in a grand manner, the unity of the critique of scientific and meta-scientific sense is revealed in the work of Marx. It is called the critique of political economy since it attempts to derive the whole that is to be criticised in terms of its right to existence – from exchange, commodity form and its immanent ‘logical’ contradictory nature’.

Two students of Adorno, Hans-georg Backhaus and Helmut Reichelt, found this explanatory gap was indicative of the first generation of the Frankfurt School as a whole. As Reichelt would recall, when he and Backhaus first became interested in ‘Capital-analysis’ as students at Frankfurt in the early 1960s, they ‘wanted to know in the first place what ‘reification’ really is.’ So they set about ‘systematically plaguing horkheimer …. and discovered … that after three sentences long silences set in, and that basically there was very little to learn from these theoreticians.’

Moreover, as Reichelt later wrote ‘Adorno … assumes that the whole economy is to be developed out of a principle – the exchange principle’ yet ‘How this process of autonomisation is to be conceptualised in detail is not explained by Adorno: the central concepts – objective abstraction, inversion, autonomisation, totality, power of the universal over the particular – remain postulates with regard to their concretisation as far as the critique of economics is concerned.’ It is this explanatory gap that served as a motivating basis for Reichelt, and Backhaus, to turn to investigating how Marx explains the dynamic of exchange in order to provide a more rigorous explanation for Adornian critical social theory. Consequently, the reading of Marx they uncover is shaded by this critical theoretical interpretation of Marx. As Bonefeld notes, ‘Adorno’s negative dialectics did not just provide the theoretical catalyst for the new reading. Rather, it provided both the incentive and the critical insight for the development of the critique of political economy as a critical social theory.’




Reichelt’s work on Marx’s conception of social reality provides a neat summation of how this New Reading of Marx’s conceived of Marx’s critique of political economy as a critical theory of society. In this reading, which draws on Adorno, Reichelt argues that Marx’s critique of political economy consisted in a theory of the constitution of social forms that become autonomous and inverted, compelling and dominating individual bearers of these relations. As he sees it ‘Marx pursued a programme of deciphering society. In this programme … the forms or categories of political economy … was identical with the critique of the inverted forms of social existence, an existence constituted by the life-practice of human beings’. Moreover, Reichelt holds for Marx ‘All these forms obtain as inverted form of a ‘community’ that is external to the individuals, and from which they must emancipate themselves in order ever to be able to interact with one another ‘as individuals’ (Marx and Engels, 1962, pp. 70f). For Reichelt, Marx’s project ‘is thus a matter of deciphering theoretically the appearance [Schein] of independence that this ‘surrogate of community’ posits (ibid., p. 74), and then of expelling it practically from the world so that human beings will be able to enter into relationship with one another, not as character-masks, but as real individuals. The critique of these forms of political economy, as a critical social theory, thus consists in deciphering why these forms arise and how they reproduce these very same conditions.

Hans-Georg Backhaus put forward the influential argument that what he termed Marx’s monetary theory of value played this role in Marx’s critique of political economy. Such a focus can be seen to follow from Horkheimer, and especially, Adorno’s notion of exchange. Indeed, Backhaus often compares Adorno’s account of the properties of the exchange abstraction with those of Marx. Yet, in contrast to Adorno, who only noted that ‘In developed societies the exchange takes place, as you all know, through money as the equivalent form’, Backhaus’s philogical study of Marx provides an account of why money is necessary and why its function as the equivalent form provides it with an autonomus social power that compel individuals actions and in so doing reproduces society. Succinctly put, money is necessary because the capitalist mode of production is characterized by a social division of labour in which production occurs for the purpose of exchange. This, in turn, means that some type of general equivalent is necessary to facilitate exchange. Money is this equivalent. But rather than serving as a mere equivalent that simply facilitates exchange, because money is the only equivalent that facilitates exchange, it acquires what Marx refers to as a social power that not only assures individuals preservation, but the possibility of preserving themselves in affluent ways. This also means, as Marx shows in the course of his further presentation in Capital, that since the capitalist mode of production consists in a class relation in which a class of workers sell their labour power in order to reproduce themselves to a class of capitalists who exploit this labour power in order to sell commodities for the purpose of valorizing capital, that the capitalist process of valorization, occurs through the medium of money for the sake of acquiring money. Money thus posseses what Marx terms a ‘social power’ and becomes the sole aim of production, ‘the self-sufficient purpose of the sale’, and thus the ends of the process of valorization, which is simultaneously one of reproduction. As Marx states, its thus ultimately capital, as self-valorising value that is ‘the dominant subject [iibergreifendes Subjekt] of the process’ of valorization in which each side of the class relation is compelled; proletarians are compelled to sell their own labour power for money in order to survive; capitalists, as personifcation of capital, are compelled to exploit labour power in order to sell commodities for money to assure they remain capitalists.

In Backhaus’s view, Marx’s monetary theory of value thus holds that money necessarily arises from the historically specific form of capitalist social labour and becomes autonomous as the medium of capitalist valorization, compelling people to behave in certain ways in order to acquire money so that they can survive leading to the reproduction of these social conditions.

With this notion of the monetary theory of value, Backhaus’s interpretation of the critique of political economy as a critical social theory can be seen to have provided explanatory power to Horkheimer and Adorno’s conception of exchange as the dynamic force that dominates social reality. Yet such a notion of a critical theory of society, clearly fails to account for other important social phenomena. While a number of scholars have sought to extend this critical theoretical reading of Marx to social domains such as gender, race, etc. in the next section I will highlight the recent contributions Werner Bonefeld has made which focus on how the state and primitive accumulation participate in this logic. I will then, finally, move to discuss how the development of this line of thought can be said to relate to the Canadian capitalist culture




Bonefeld has written on both of these topics several times. In what follows, I focus on how he formulates these ideas in his newly published Critical Theory and the Critique of Political Economy.


In this work, Bonefeld’s analysis of the state is neatly put in the following: ‘ Crudely put, the purpose of capital is to accumulate extracted surplus value, and the state is the political form of that purpose.’ He argues that ‘Marx’s conception of the state as the concentrated and organized force of society – ‘of society viewed in relationship to itself’ – focuses political economy as a political practice’. Consequently, ‘ As the organized force of the system of wealth based on free labour’ the state plays three crucial roles; facilitating ‘the order of economic freedom’, ‘sustaining the capitalist relations of production and exchange’, and seeking the further progress of the system of free labour by facilitating the ‘cheapness of provision’.

He further argues that the neoliberal state even, and especially, performs these roles, ‘The conventional view that neoliberalism has to do with the weakening of the state has little, if anything, to do with the neoliberal conception of the state.’ Rather, ‘The free economy is a practice of government’.

Bonefeld’s analysis of neoliberalism focuses on how this practice ‘facilitates (free) economy as a politically ordered freedom’ on the level of structure and practice. The former pertains to the separation of the economic from the political spheres. In this realm, neutral laws assure that people have the freedom to sell their labour-power in order to survive, whilst such a separation also depoliticizes this freedom. Governmental practice perpetuates this structural division by assuring the perpetuation of this type of freedom. In the case of neo-liberalism, this means that laissez-faire policies, which are a ‘highly ambiguous and misleading description of the principles on which a liberal policy is based’, aim at ‘the complete eradication of all orderlessnes from markets and the elimination of private power from the economy, securing the social individuals as rational actors of economic value, mere human material for the valorization of value’.

Unfortunately, Bonefeld does not extend this prescient analysis of the neoliberal state to other areas in which it can be seen to play a crucial role in sustaining the capitalist relations of production and exchange’, and seeking the further progress of the system of free labour. They can, however, be drawn out of Bonefeld’s interpretation of primitive accumulation. He argues that this process, which is facilitated by the state, consists in the forced privitization of land and the subsequent organization of labour (and land) for the purposes of capitalist production. In contrast to some analyses of this Marxian category, which argue that it only pertains to the historical process that preceeded capitalism, with its classical locus in the English enclosure movement, Bonefeld’s also stresses that this process has to be ‘re-constituted continuously in the process of accumulation proper’.

I think it is precisely these areas of Bonefeld’s analysis of the state that can be drawn out to analyze the Harper government, in order to show how this strand of critical theories conception of capitalist culture pertains to the idea of the state extraction. Prior to that, let me recap and bring together this strand.

I began with an overview of Adorno’s critical theory which holds that culture consists in the domination of external and internal nature, and that this type of domination occurs in capitalist society as a result of the dynamism of exchange. I then showed how Reichelt, and particularly Backhaus, provided an explanatory basis for this social dynamic in his interpretation of Marx’s monetary theory of value. Finally, I showed how Bonefeld supplemented this analysis by showing how the state as the political form of capital is responsible for instituting policies that perpetuate this social dynamic. These points can be crudely drawn together as follows: Capitalist culture can be said to consist in the domination of nature for the purpose of valorisation; as the political form of this purpose the state is responsible for insuring that this type of domination qua valorisation is perpetuated. With that in mind let us finally turn to the state of extraction.




As I stated at the beginning of the paper much of the critical commentary which characterizes Canada as a petro state consists in moral condemnation that faults ‘corporate ideology’ or even provides psychological analyses of Harper himself as a ‘paranoid and narcissistic’ ‘useful idiot’ with a ‘fevered imagination’. In both cases, these criticisms engage in what Adorno referred to as surface critique, providing an asocial account that focuses on individual decisions rather than the social dynamics that compelled these decisions. Yet, I think the present conjuncture can be better explained by drawing on the line of analysis from above.

From this perspective, the critical theoretical conceptions of capitalist culture as the domination of nature for the purpose of valorisation and the state as political form of this purpose, provide the basis for a more deep-seated explanation that reads the state of extraction as exemplary of the neoliberal expression of this social logic. This can be shown by contextualizing the development of the contemporary regime of extraction accumulation within the context of the neoliberal project and then tracing the consequences of such a dynamic in terms of the pronounced domination of nature and the increased immiseration and maiming of individuals. I sketch these developments in closing.

As Jim Standford and Sam Gindin point out the neoliberalisation of the Canadian economy began in response to economic stagnation in the 1970s. As Gindin shows the neoliberal project consisted in a global offensive that intended to raise profits at the expensive of the western working class by securing property rights, market freedoms and profits through various forms of economic restructuring. Following Bonefeld, these measures were thus intended to raise profits through the states eradication of all orderlessnes from markets and the elimination of private power from the economy, securing the social individuals as rational actors of economic value, mere human material for the valorization of value’.

This was particularly true in Canada where the workforce held an unprecedented share of the GDP in the 1970s. Here, the state, as the political purpose of capital, played an instrumental role in instituting this project by implementing policies that enacted neoliberal restructuring. Not only did these decisions eradicate orderlessnes from the market; they can also be seen as examples of the states role in facilitating ‘the order of economic freedom’ by ‘sustaining the capitalist relations of production and exchange’, and seeking the further progress of the system of free labour by facilitating the ‘cheapness of provision’. Finally, they contextualize the present.

This is particularly the case for two of the policy decisions that Stanford attributes as responsible for the neo-liberalisation of Canada; the dramatic shift in monetary policy in the early 1980s, which was engineered to make mass unemployment a ‘deliberate, permanent feature of the economy’ and the FTA. These policies, especially in the case of the FTA, also laid the institutional and political framework for a huge shift in the focus of Canada’s economy. As Stanford further notes, ‘several factors’ coincided with these policies that further weakened Canada’s traditional exports, at the same time that demand for resource commodities skyrocketed, shifting Canada’s economy to renewed dependence on the extraction and export of raw natural resources (or “staples”), led by a massive expansion of bitumen production and export from northern Alberta.’

From this perspective, a critical theoretical reading of the development of the state of extraction comes into light. Such a theory does not fault Harper or read this development as a deficit in democracy, but views this type of production for exchange as representative of neoliberal capitalism. Consequently, the numerous state policies, which have been shaped ‘around maximizing the extraction of wealth from the country’s natural resources’ can be seen as further expressions of the states role in sustaining these particular capitalist relations of production and exchange’ and ensuring the further progress of the system of free labour by facilitating the ‘cheapness of provision’ For not only is this type of neoliberal production, and the state policies that foster this production, an instance of securing property rights (in a form of eradication akin to primitive accumulation in the case of subordinating land and labour to capitalist production) and symptomatic of globalization and free trade, it is also relatively mechanized, requiring a small workforce and thus contributing to permanent unemployment, the erosion of living standards and wage depletion.

This can be shown in a few alarming statistics. While Canada’s overall GDP increased from $600bn to 1.7 trillion over the course of the last 20 years, income inequality has actuality increased. For, while ‘The Alberta tar sands are the world’s largest industrial project with investments in the hundreds of billions of dollars, only 20,000 people worked there in 2011. Consequently, for all its rapid growth, Canada’s oil and gas sector has created only about 16,500 new jobs between 2000 to 2011, the same period in which 520,000 manufacturing jobs were lost’. This has led to a situation in which one in seven children live in poverty and Income inequality has increased faster than the US, with the rich getting richer and poor and middle class losing grounds over the past 15 to 20 years. In other words, in this instantiation of the neoliberal project, like the other instantations of neoliberalism, “Most of Canada’s increase in wealth went to the big shareholders in the resource industries,” says Daniel Drache, a political scientist at Toronto’s York University. “It mainly went to the elites.” This is to say nothing of the unparalleled degradation, and domination of nature, that this type of valorisation consists in, nor of their environmental impact.

What’s more, as these statistics indicate, this economic dependence on extraction seems to have set up a dynamic, in which the petro dollar has further weakened other export industries, making the economy more reliant on it and thus compelling the state to institute more policies that further expand this type of accumulation, meaning that these inequalities and degradations are only set to increase.

I believe this sketch demonstrates the relevance of the ideas of capitalist culture and the state that I have outlined. For not only is the process of extraction exemplary of the domination of nature purely for the sake of valorsiation, but the state’s role in assuring and perpetuating this process attests that its political purpose is to perpetuate this domination. Brought together, both can be seen to exemplify Adorno’s insights into how capitalist culture ‘spews out subjugated nature’ because of [T]he economic process, which reduces individual interests to the common denominator of a totality, ….remains negative … reproducing the preservation of life by simultaneously endangering it, on constantly more threatening levels’.

In providing a single existential judgement against this new barbarism by unfolding a strand of critical theory that views these developments as an instantiation of the conceptuality that holds sway in reality and views the state as a political purpose of this reality, premised on the continued domination of external and internal nature, I hope that I have not only demonstrated the relevance this strand of critical theory holds for the critique of the capitalist culture of extraction, but have provided a lens through which to understand the genesis of these developments, in order to negate the society responsible for them.




























[1] What follows is the transcript of a talk I gave yesterday at Simon Fraser University

[2]This can first be seen in 1932 lecture, entitled The Idea of Natural History, where Adorno draws on the notion of second nature that Lukacs uses in The History of the Novel, which arises from the separation with first nature to constitute society ‘objectively as an ‘alienated’ ‘world’ of ‘things’; subjectively, as ‘long dead interiority.’ The negative philosophy of history adumbrated in Dialectic of Enlightenment sketches the genesis of this process of the domination of external and internal nature and the subsequent development of different forms of second nature encapsulated in the pre-capitalist practices of ‘animism’ and ‘myth’ and the contemporary one of commodity fetishism. As Adorno notes in a gloss of this schema ‘In the enlightened world, mythology has entered into the profane […] It is not merely that domination is paid for by the alienation of men from the objects dominated: with the objectification of spirit, the very relations of men – even those of the individual himself – were bewitched. […] Animism spiritualises the object, whereas industrialism objectifies the spirits of men.’


About HR

Deep in the adjunct crackhole.
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