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Essays

My Focus

Being a political economist by training, I have originally concerned myself with the history of economic thought, the nature of economic institutions, and especially monetary dynamics. The latter has, via e.g. the exploration of Nazi finance, subsequently led me, first, to historical explorations (viz. Conjuring Hitler, the Cold War, etc.), and finally to my main research focus, which is the study of power.

By the “study of power,” I mean the sum of all those chronicles, biographical testimonies, and psychological and sociological insights that, together, allow one to profile the nature of this maniacal and (more or less overtly) violent drive to dominate over others. In the final analysis, such indeed appears at all times to be the factor that keeps “it” all (forcibly glued) together. Tolstoy called this drive, this ongoing phenomenon of prepotence and domination, the “Law of Violence.”

What I find crucial in the treatment of this theme –—humanity’s foremost, in my view— is its aesthetic dimension. Let me explain.

In so-called “social science” there is very little “science,” in fact; much of what (pompously) passes as “theory” is but a story, a narrative, which, in the final analysis, is nothing but a veiled re-edition of an old tale, of a myth or a religious apologue, studiously purged of its metaphorical and poetic adornments. Because we do not know, as a race, whence we came, we can only guess; and therefore the metaphorical work of surmise as to our social beginnings can only occasion a series of yarns that make up what is in essence a stuffy repository of “social mystique.” So, in the quest for sociological truth, the best we can do, I think, is to sort out the best ~ the most aesthetically cogent~ “stories” and rank these, in turn, according to their putative degree of plausibility.

Pessoa said it best: “all is religion.”

In this framework, then, the Law of Violence is best appraised in the realm of so-called “theodicy”: that is, through the discursive art of accounting [rationally] for the methodical commission of “ritualized” evil (viz. murder, rape, torture, massacre, exploitation, etc.) within the designs of an all-seeing Creator, which is traditionally believed to be good and nurturing; or, conversely, accounting for all such ritualistic brutality within the purposeless agenda of a godless creation. This is an old philosophical sport, which has yielded, so far, very unimpressive results. But we keep at it, for there is nothing else we can do.

In this framework, then, the question becomes,

What is the actual standard for evaluating the moral valence of a deed ~ be it an indictable “crime” or what may be rated (on what grounds?) as a State’s “disastrous” (foreign, military, or economic) policy~ and what does this labor of evaluation ultimately say about our “chances” of seeing peace and cooperation prevail?

In one form or another, most of my late essays are concerned with this subject; hence the emphasis on sociology and the insistence on criminological dissection, which easily doubles as a demonology of sorts when the argument transcends its prosaic boundaries.

Being constantly on the prowl for glimpses of poetic, raw truth, which I can use to the advantage of my theses, I have also come to depend, no less than on historical compilations, on works of fiction, i.e. on the literary (for the most part) anti-modern production of the last century or so, which, phenomenologically speaking, I have often found to be, in point of fact, far more insightful and, as a documentative trove, far more valuable, than its contemporary scholarly, non-fictional (i.e. “scientific”) corpus.

Politically, my roots are in green, communitarian, and pacifist anarchism; esthetically, on the other hand, I have tended of late to drift towards pessimistic ruminations (I am not a confirmed champion of theodicy just yet), but I have managed to stay the course by abiding as best as I can by the loving Apollonian exhortation of Gabriel Tarde, a great teacher of “social mystique”:

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The first condition for being a sociologist is to love social life; to sympathize with men of all races and countries gathered in the hearth; to carry on the search with curiosity, to discover with bliss what lies in the way of affectionate altruism in the hut of allegedly the most ferocious of wild men, or even in the lair of the criminal; and finally, not to believe condescendingly either in the stupidity, in the absolute wickedness of man in his past, nor in his present perversity, and never despair of his future.

(“Les deux éléments de la sociologie,” 1894).

Essays by Guido Preparata