Sunday, November 27, 2011

Is Capitalism a Bad Faith?

Since taking up the Communist Manifesto for symposium on Tuesday, I’ve been thinking about Marx and whether the revolution is on the way. The probably stems from my preoccupation with the Occupy Movement, which seems to be forcing people to recognize the class distinctions we try to ignore in America. I will not go down that argumentative path for this blog post, but instead focus on another interesting question that came about as a result of the symposium.

During the Sartre group’s questioning of my group (Marx), I replied by saying that capitalism could be interpreted as a type of Bad Faith, to reconcile the idea with Sartre’s philosophy. I know it is tricky to cross philosophers, as was proven earlier this semester when we discussed how someone cannot be both a Kantian and Utilitarian. But I wonder if there is some relative applicability with Marx and Sartre, at least when it comes to Bad Faith. For Sartre, Bad Faith is a lie to oneself. This takes many forms, from the waiter to the homosexual friend. But it fundamentally is our attempt to deny the truth of our situation. Marx labels capitalism as a system that constantly evolves and changes itself to prevent “class consciousness.” Could this not be considered an economic form of Bad Faith? Capitalism, in keeping with Sartre’s language, is the attempt to prevent us from realizing the truth of our socio-economic situation and alienation. The only way to exercise our freedom and transcend the facticity of capitalism is through the proletariat revolution that will instill a completely new order. There was some fear expressed that the proletariat revolution would just result in the slave morality Nietzsche wrote about, but the revolution does not merely reverse the current order, but invent a new one where there is no slave or master (now we’ve covered all three philosophers somehow…).

To take up the Marxist argument with some Existential support, isn’t capitalism just an imposed form of Bad Faith? I think the comparison of Bad Faith and transcendence holds true with viewed in connection with capitalism and communism. Perhaps the Occupy protestors, in attempting to change the current system, are really the first of us to transcend the Bad Faith of capitalism in order to bring about the proletariat revolution.

I am, as usual, interesting to hear what people think about this comparison. As I said above, I know that comparing philosophies is often futile, but I think the potential connection between Sartre and Marx is there, at least in the basic notions of Bad Faith and transcendence.


  1. Jane, I really think you wrote a great post. I never thought about this before but now that you suggest this idea, I definitely have to say, it is a very convincing one. Capitalism and it‘s products, i.e. the idea of private property are, as you said in Marx language the reason for “alienated labor”. As we all know, this leads to several forms of alienation, also from ourselves. So, the secret question is, is there a difference between “alienation from ourselves” and a “lie to ourselves”? I don‘t think so. Therefore, I would only suggest a little change in your post: Rather than calling it a comparison of Marx and Sartre, I would call it synonyms.
    Again, great post!

  2. This is a really interesting post, and Jane I think you did a beautiful job of blending the two theories. In fact, I just wanted to let you and everyone else know that Dr. J informed me of an unpublished lecture that Sartre gave in Rome in1964 that apparently was an argument for the socialist revolution. This obviously pertains to your post, yet unfortunately I haven't read the lecture and cannot cite it. However, it's interesting to note that Sartre did discuss issues such as this in his own writings, and seems to have potentially drawn from Marx to do so.

    But getting back to your post, I think your argument is completely valid. Capitalism does seem to be a form of imposed Bad Faith - especially when considering the alienation of labor that occurs on numerous levels for society, as well as the continuous moves to skirt class consciousness.


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