Capitalism (I) – The Veins of the Future

An English translation of Le capitalisme (I) – Les nervures de l’avenir posted on my French blog on March 2nd.

In Reason in History (1837), a posthumous work composed from lecture notes, Hegel observes that “ … what experience and history teach is that peoples and governments have never yet learned from history, let alone acted according to its lessons”. This is true: had it been otherwise, no civilization having preserved the memory of those that preceded it would ever have died.

While failing to learn from history, men have never stopped however trying to decipher it and when reading it, our focus is either on what keeps reappearing under an identical shape or on what has never been seen before. Grasping to what extent these two ingredients are mixed: the same and the different, is fundamental of course, especially in those times of transition. We will not know where we’re heading if we fail to determine whether the times we live in are characterised by the brand new or by the eternal return. With the former, the processes observed are nearing completion, with the latter, they are bound to persist. We need distinguishing ruptures from continuities. When the first outweigh the second, then change is radical. This is why the ability at reading history is less crucial when in the early days of a new era than when, as currently, an exhausted era is coming to an end.

When cracking a chrysalis, a dark and thick liquid comes to light, revealing neither the shape of the larva in the process of being dissolved, nor that of the perfect insect which will emerge one day. Turbulent times are of this nature. Saint-Just was once forced to admit that: « Perhaps the force of circumstance leads us to outcomes which we had not thought of ahead. » Shortly after this admission, he surrendered without a fight to a fate of impending death, acknowledging his inability to understand the whirlwind that had overtaken him.

Should times evolve in a radical fashion, there will exist within them « veins »: rectilinear trajectories connecting the past to the future through the mesh that the present is made of. Other areas will remain unchanged but, for as long as the transition takes place, being part of the general effervescence, they will nonetheless be subjected to disquieting turbulence. Being able to detect the underlying presence of such “veins” amounts to reading the future written as of now in the present.

(To be followed …)

[Thanks to Bernard Bouvet for having had a first shot at translating this piece!]