The Second Mystery: Employee Ownership and the Democratic Economy


This essay, which is quite different than most of the essays on this site (especially as it unavoidably includes mathematical equations) explores that which is deemed here as the ‘second mystery’, which concerns why there are not more employee owned firms, given that they have been shown to be objectively more productive.  The first mystery, which was the focus of an investigation by Roger McCain in his ‘The Mystery of Worker Buyouts of Bankrupt Firms,’ examines the reason why workers will take over a bankrupt firm (a bankrupt country, global governance), even if it means a short-term fall in wages.  His conclusion is that the Neo-Classical economic theory of John Bates Clark, which depends upon the reductive notion of rational self-interest among workers, sets forth a false conception of the interests of the worker as a ‘one-dimensional man’ (Marcuse), and thus, cannot explain the complexity and depth of the decision-making process of workers in the crisis situation of a bankrupt firm or a bankrupt planet.

In this current essay, ‘The Second Mystery: Employee Ownership and the Democratic Economy’, in addition to giving a detailed account of McCain’s essay, sets forth the political and cultural reasons for the lack of confidence and interest by the banking sector in employee owned firms.  These reasons turn on the false picture of the worker in Neo-Classical economics and the anti-democratic prejudices of the ‘movers and shakers’ of the capitalist economy, including scholars of economics.  Beyond the alternative theoretical model set forth by McCain, which is based upon Game Theory (the expertise and theoretical basis of Syriza’s Yanis Varoufakis’ thinking in Greece) and the capacity of workers to initiate subgame strategies in the context of an employee buyout of a bankrupt firm, the essay lays out historical examples of previous successful and non-successful attempts of employee ownership, emphasising the need for the creation of a Democratic Economy which is based on a revaluation of the intelligence and capacity for self-management of employees in the context of an ongoing concern – one of the most important of which is democracy itself (and its meaning).

To read this essay, please visit ‘The Second Mystery: Employee Ownership and the Democratic Economy.’

The Tragic Community: Friedrich Nietzsche and Mao Tse Tung

The Tragic Community
Friedrich Nietzsche and Mao Tse Tung
James Luchte


With those two gods of art, Apollo and Dionysus, we link our recognition that in the Greek world there exists a huge contrast, in origins and purposes, between visual (plastic) arts, the Apollonian, and the non-visual art of music, the Dionysian. Both very different drives go hand in hand, for the most part in open conflict with each other and simultaneously provoking each other all the time to new and more powerful offspring, in order to perpetuate for themselves the contest of opposites which the common word “Art” only seems to bridge, until they finally, through a marvelous metaphysical act, seem to pair up with each other and, as this pair, produce Attic tragedy, just as much a Dionysian as an Apollonian work of art.

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, 1872

Contradiction is universal and absolute, it is present in the process of development of all things and permeates every process from beginning to end. (II)

By the former we mean that contradiction exists in and runs through all processes from beginning to end; motion, things, processes, thinking — all are contradictions. To deny contradiction is to deny everything. This is a universal truth for all times and all countries, which admits of no exception. (III)

Mao Tse Tung, On Contradiction (1937)

Mao’s Ontology and Early Greek Thought

Contradiction, for Mao, abides at the heart of all things – within each particular being and amidst the universality of the cosmos, or the All. Contradiction is the existence of all things – the birth, life and death of all things, and of the incessant re-birth of all particular kinds of thing, or being. Contradiction consists in, and gains its immense power from, a unity of opposites. Mao describes this disunited, or dialectical, unity of opposites:

The interdependence of the contradictory aspects present in all things and the struggle between these aspects determine the life of all things and push their development forward. There is nothing that does not contain contradiction; without contradiction nothing would exist. (Mao Tse Tung, On Contradiction, II)

Contradiction is the modus essendi, modus existendi and modus operandi of all things. It is the reality, actuality and existence of all things. The primary axiomatic  significance of the universality of contradiction, a notion to which Hegel and Marx also ascribed, is that change is ubiquitous to all things, and thus, nothing can or will ever remain the same.

To read the rest of the essay, please visit The Tragic Community

A Note on Kant and Bataille

Kant and Bataille emerge as thinkers on either side of the industrial-technological revolution.  Philosophers of the period in between,Bataille - Acephalae such as Hegel, Kierkegaard, Marx and Nietzsche, have argued that the meaning of both reason and the ‘sacred’ have undergone a radical transformation with this historical and existential revolution.  For Kant, reason remains specifically aloof from temporality and history – indeed, as he alludes in the Critique of Judgement, reason emerges with the self-suppression of imagination, of temporal and spatial perspective, in the sublime.  In parallel, his notion of the sacred or true morality, especially that portrayed in the Critique of Practical Reason, admitted no admixture with the imagination and motivations of experience – with temporality.

To read the rest, please visit A Note on Kant and Bataille.

Prometheus Dismembered: Bataille on Van Gogh, or The Window in the Bataille Restaurant

Karl Jaspers Society of North America

This essay will be presented at the APA Central Conference of the Karl Jaspers Society of North America in the Palmer House Hilton, Chicago.

The Karl Jaspers Society Conference will focus upon the reception of Van Gogh amongst Continental Philosophers.

‘Prometheus Dismembered: Bataille on Van Gogh’ will be given as part of Session One, Van Gogh with Jaspers, Heidegger, and Bataille, on Thursday, February 27th, 2014, 7:40-10:40PM.

Click here for more information on the American Philosophical Association Central Annual Meeting 2014

Prometheus Dismembered: Bataille on Van Gogh, or
The Window in the Bataille Restaurant
 James Luchte

I will begin my address with a minor coincidence.

The Window of the Bataille Restaurant, sketched with pencil in Paris in 1887, shows us a typical Van Gogh scenario, a table with a chair, setting in front of a window, which not only reveals the (framed) world outside, but also lets the soft light into the space of the restaurant.  We can see Van Gogh’s hat and coat hanging on the wall by the window.  We can also see two men below outside on the street. The Window in the Bataille RestaurantIn general, the painting is quite dark, except for the intensity of the window and the motes of light that it channels onto the chair and table and the one who stands where he stands, in the position of the artist.  Yet, this does not in itself disclose the coincidence.  That it is a window in namely the Bataille restaurant is where the coincidence comes into view since today I came to talk with you upon the theme of light in Bataille’s interpretation of Van Gogh – yet, at the same time, there is a painting by Van Gogh with a central motif of light, and in reference to the name of Bataille.  Of course, to give any real significance to such a coincidence, even if it is one, is, one would usually argue, merely faulty logic, fuelled by superstitious thinking, by the fatalism of synchronicity.

To read the rest of the essay, please visit Prometheus Dismembered

Marx and the Sacred

Religious suffering is at one and the same time the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions. Religion is the opium of the people.


Perhaps the most formidable obstacle in the task of retrieving a sense of the sacred in Marx consists in his repeated, and often polemical, statements against religion. Indeed, such an obstacle may in the end be one of our own making, as we are trapped within the labyrinth of our own historical understanding. Yet, assuming, for the moment, that religion and the sacred are the same phenomena, if we take his pronouncement (in the opening quotation) that religion is the opium of the people in isolation, we may be led to believe that Marx felt that at best religion—and thus the “sacred”—is a narcotic, which, while it may be utilized to alleviate pain, remains an illusory amelioration for a situation of despair.

Religion as an opiate not only implies sedation from the pain of a life of exploitation, but also suggests a systematic and strategic attempt to deaden or absorb any critical impulse to liberation. In this sense, Marx’s characterization of religion as an opiate is a forerunner to many of the most radical criticisms of religion in twentieth-century theology and philosophy—Gutierrez, Miranda, Bultmann, Heidegger, and Bataille. Each of these thinkers, in his own way, articulated a sense of the sacred in the wake of Marx and his deconstruction of religion as an ideology.

To read the rest of this essay, please visit Marx and the Sacred


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