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The Order of the City


Jacques Ranciere ` Translated by John Drury, Corinne Oster, and Andrew Parker

Critical Inquiry 30 (Winter 2004) From The Philosopher and His Poor by Jacques Ranciere ` Used with permission. 2004 Duke University Press.

Online verfügbar unter http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/toc/ci/2004/30/2 - nur für Abonnentinnen. Abrufbar mit einer IP der Uni Wien (Computerraum, aus dem WLAN des ZID oder über https://univpn.univie.ac.at/ (VPN-Tunnel des ZID, Infos dazu unter http://www.univie.ac.at/ZID/vpn/ ).

In the beginning there would be four persons. Maybe five. Just about as many as the needs of the body. A farmer for food, a mason for housing, a weaver for clothing. To these let us add a shoemaker and some other worker to provide for material necessities.

That is how Plato’s republic presents itself. Without a deity or founding legend. With individuals, needs, and the means to satisfy them. A masterpiece of economy — with its four or five workers Plato founds not only a city but a future science, sociology. Our nineteenth century will be grateful to him.

His own century had a different judgment of it. His disciple and critic Aristotle put it succinctly: a city is not simply a concentration of needs and a division of the means of production. Right from the start something else is needed—justice, the power of what is better over what is less good. There are greater or less noble tasks, jobs that are more or less degrading, natures appropriate for one group or for another, and all these must be distinguished. Even in a republic of four or five citizens, there must be someone to represent and ensure respect for the common good that defines the aim [la fin] of the city above and beyond the satisfaction of needs. How else could justice ever come about from simply gathering together equally indispensable workers?

There must be a misunderstanding somewhere. Or a trick. For justice is, precisely, the subject of Plato’s dialogue, and in order to define it he constructs his society as a magnifying glass. So justice must already be there in his egalitarian gathering of workers, or else it will never turn up at all. It is up to us to look for it.

The Fifth Man

A first clue might be a slight fluctuation concerning the number of equals. Four or five, we do not know exactly. But whether the number is even or odd ought to have some consequence for a philosopher infatuated with mathematics. Later on he will subject even the couplings of his warriors to the golden number, but for the moment he seems indifferent to the details of his inventory. In the city of necessity he leaves open the possibility that there is one person too many.

That may be a first reply to our question and to Aristotle’s objection. No one among the equals is superior, but one of them could be less indispensable than the others. Could it be the fifth man, whose essential function is not spelled out any further? Or could it be the shoemaker? Is a specialist in footwear really needed when a single worker suffices to handle all aspects of building houses? It is no big deal to provide Attic peasants with footwear, and Plato himself tells us later on that they will carry on their work in summer “for the most part unclad and unshod.” If so, should one-fourth of this primitive labor force be assigned to that office? Or should we assume, rather, that the shoemaker is also there for something else? The fact is that at every strategic point in the dialogue—whenever it becomes necessary to think about the division of labor, to establish difference in natures and aptitudes, or to define justice itself—the shoemaker will be there in the front line of the argument. As if he were doing double duty behind the scenes. As if this worker who is not to judge anything but footwear retained some usefulness for the philosopher that goes far beyond the products of his trade: the marginal and at first glance paradoxical function of allowing a doubt to hover about the actual utility of useful workers.

And yet our shoemaker and his fellow tradesmen are there to teach us a fundamental principle: a person can do only one thing at a time. It would be inconvenient for the farmer to stop his labor in the fields and devote three-fourths of his time to repairing his roof, making his clothes, and cutting out his shoe leather. The division of labor will take care of that problem. It will assign a specialist exclusively to each activity, and all will be for the best: “More things are produced, and better and more easily, when one man performs only one task according to his nature, at the right moment, and is excused from all other occupations” (R, 370c).

Many things in such few words. First, a question: It is true that more will be produced under this system, but why is it necessary to produce so much? Apparently these people are already living within a market economy, even if this market is quite limited. And one need not have read Adam Smith to realize that such a division of labor will quickly produce unexchangeable surpluses. Starting with shoes, of course. With such a limited population and such limited needs, the division of labor is an absurdity. It may not be more convenient for the shoemaker to cultivate a plot of ground, but it is certainly a safer bet for him to do so.

So argues the economy of Adam Smith. Plato’s economy differs in that the needs of the first members of his society are not restricted—indeed, at the beginning they are infinite. He tells us at the start that these men need many things. Later he will tell us that these workers need many tools. From the very outset it is necessary to make more, and, for that, time is lacking. It is not that the worker must work all the time, but he must always be available to do his work at the right moment, and that is why he must have only one job. An observation then occurs to Socrates just in the nick of time: experience shows that nature provided for this necessity by distributing diverse aptitudes to different individuals. These aptitudes will be suited in turn to various occupations and everything will run smoothly.

Though not very clearly. The argument about time is itself already not so simple. If it is true that the job does not wait for the worker, the converse is not true as well. Nature may have given the farmer exactly the right dispositions for working in the fields, but it has also given vegetables their growing cycles. And it has made the seasons, which put unequal demands on the exercise of these agricultural dispositions. Is the farmer really supposed to spend the whole off-season and bad-weather days waiting for the right moment to turn over the soil? Isn’t there a right moment for him to cultivate his field and another moment, just as right, for him to make his clothes and those of others? That is what many farmers still will think in the very midst of the Industrial Revolution, without agriculture or industry having anything to complain about—except wages. But that is a different matter.

Would a philosopher so expert at describing for purposes of comparison the operations of artisans be so ignorant of the conditions surrounding their exercise? That is highly unlikely. If he pretends not to know whether nature leaves the farmer and the mason with sufficient leisure, and whether society does the same for their fellow workers, it is because he has decided that they should not have all the time that circumstances, sometimes too generously, have given them. The very principle of a social nature shaping temperaments to functions could be the price of this omission. Behind the apparent paradoxes of this economy another game is being played, slightly askew, as four terms arrange themselves into a pattern: countless needs, time in short supply, workers who are more or less indispensable, and aptitudes among which we do not know how to distinguish. For while we readily admit that nature gives individuals different aptitudes and tastes, and that it forms some bodies better suited to work in the open air and others to the workshop’s shade, how are we ever to differentiate a weaver-nature from a shoemaker-nature except through that absence of time that, combined with the urgency of the tasks at hand, never allows the one worker to be found in the other’s place?

And so the argument moves ahead on its two lame legs. The difference in natures comes to rescue the poorly demonstrated impossibility of performing two separate functions. And that impossibility, in turn, evades the questions posed by the same enigmatic difference that would shape in advance the division of labor. If this economically improbable division can be expressed in the natural evidence of social utility, the reason is that this is where the arbitrariness of nature and the conventionality of the social order exchange their powers. The agent of this exchange is a notion too trivial to engage much attention: time.

Übersetzung der letzten beiden Absätze

Könnte ein Philosoph, der ein Experte beim Beschreiben der Handwerker-Tätigkeiten ist, so unkundig bezüglich der Voraussetzungen dieser Tätigkeiten sein? Das ist sehr unwahrscheinlich. Wenn er vorgibt, nicht zu wissen, ob die Natur den Bauern oder den Steinmetz genügend Freizeit lässt, oder ob die Gesellschaft ihnen genügend Freizeit lässt, dann deswegen, weil er (AKA: Platon) beschlossen hat, dass sie nicht die Zeit haben sollten, die die Umstände ihnen - manchmal zu großzügig - gegeben haben. Das Prinzip der Gesellschaft, dass nun Temperamente zu Funktionen umgestaltet werden, könnte der Preis dieser Unterlassung sein (AKA: Kann man das so übersetzen?). Hinter den scheinbaren Paradoxien dieser Ökonomie wird ein anderes (etwas schräges) Spiel gespielt, indem sich vier Bestimmungen zu einem Muster zusammenfügen:

  • zahllose Bedürfnisse
  • Zeit ist Mangelware
  • Arbeiter, die mehr oder weniger unentbehrlich sind
  • Fertigkeiten, worunter einige sind, die wir nicht unterscheiden können

Für eine Zeit lang sind wir bereit zuzugeben, dass die Natur den Individuen verschiedene Fertigkeiten und Geschmäcker gibt und dass sie einige Körper besser formt, um im Freien zu arbeiten oder im Schatten der Werkstatt, aber wie können wir jemals zwischen einer Weber- oder einer Schusternatur unterscheiden außer durch die Abwesenheit der Zeit, kombiniert mit der Dringlichkeit der jeweiligen Aufgabe, in der der Arbeiter am anderen Platz aufgefunden werden kann?

Und so bewegt sich das an beiden Beinen hinkende Argument vorwärts. Die Unterschiede zwischen den Naturen kommen der schlecht bewiesenen Unmöglichkeit, zwei unterschiedliche Tätigkeiten zu vollziehen, zu Hilfe. Und diese Unmöglichkeit wiederum entgeht den Fragen, die aus den rätselhaften Unterschieden zwischen den Naturen herrühren, die die Arbeitsteilung eigentlich Grund legen sollte.

(AKA: anders formuliert:

  • Warum kann jemand nicht zwei Berufe haben? Weil jeder Mensch nur eine Sache von Natur aus gut kann.
  • Und warum sind wir von Natur aus verschieden? Na schau dir mal an, du siehst doch, dass jeder unterschiedliche Sachen gut kann.)

Wenn diese ökonomisch unwahrscheinliche Aufteilung als natürliche Evidenz des gesellschaftlichen Nutzens formuliert werden kann, dann nur weil die Willkür der Natur auf der einen Seite und die Gesellschaftsordnung auf der anderen Seite ihre Kräfte/Mächtigkeit messen. Die Vermittlerin zwischen diesem Machtkampf ist ein Begriff, der zu trivial ist, um ihm viel Aufmerksamkeit zu schenken: Zeit. --Andyk 13:44, 18. Mär. 2009 (UTC)

Normalerweise ("natürlich") kann jemand das besser, wofür er sich Zeit nimmt. Und der Aufwand ist ein Qualitätsmerkmal: Ein "lieblos hingefetzter" Text ist einem "sorgfältig ausgearbeiteten Text" unterlegen. Aber das stimmt nur bedingt. Man kann "Zeit vertrödeln" und etwas "kurz und genial" fassen.

Die Überlegungen zur Zeit stehen vor dem Hintergrund, dass ein politisches Regime die "Zeiten" der einzelnen Berufsgruppen im Auge haben muss. Dass es einen Zeitmodus besitzt, der abgehoben vom Erwerbsbetrieb operiert. --anna 07:39, 19. Mär. 2009 (UTC)


The Two Monies:

Communism in Power We know that Plato did not invent the theme of the three orders of human beings made up of gold, silver, and brass. What interests us here are the particular details he gives it.

First of all, the myth is not exactly antiegalitarian. It does not seek to consecrate an immemorial order. The philosopher-molder is egalitarian in his own way. Once the educational machine is in operation, it should handle the necessary declassifying and reclassifying for each generation. Most of the time, the brother citizens in each category will have children like themselves. But it might happen that warriors and educators produce children with souls of iron, and these must be dropped down pitilessly into the class of plowmen and artisans. By the same token, the sons of plowmen or artisans who display some gold or silver in their soul will have to be elevated to the class of warriors or guardians. This is a myth of education more than a myth of hierarchy. A meritocracy, then? Its application nevertheless may pose some problems. For it is easy enough to see how the apprentice warrior could reveal the soul of a shoemaker, but not as easy to see where and how the apprentice shoemaker will have the leisure to reveal his warrior-soul or guardian-soul. There is, apparently, no provision for sending the children of the laboring classes to school. The egalitarianism is in danger of operating in one direction only—downward. The main concern seems to be preventing iron and brass from corrupting the city’s elite.

So it is an antioligarchic rule rather than an antipopulist one. The main thing is to separate the gold of power from the metal of trade. Workers grown newly rich should not be able to convert their capital into power, and the guardians and warriors should not be able to make money from their functions. As always, it is a cross-relation. The guardians are the ones being addressed: they must be preserved from the seductions of wealth; they must be paid in symbolic money of a kind scarce enough to turn them away from hard cash, to persuade them to leave to the men of iron and brass the petty advantages of ownership. In short, the chief aim of the myth is to get magistrates and warriors to accept the principle of the nonownership of goods, which alone can prevent the corruption of the state: “Gold and silver, we will tell them, they have of the divine sort from the gods always in their souls. They have no need of the metals of men, and it is impious to contaminate their possession of divine gold with the possession of mortal gold” (R, 416e–417a).

As a result, they will not even handle gold or silver, or enter a house that harbors these metals, or wear them, or drink from cups made of them. But this prohibition must be understood correctly, for the danger here is not the gilded enervation of luxury but the brass austerity of thrift: “But whenever they acquire land for themselves and houses and coin, they will be householders and farmers instead of guardians. They will become despots and enemies of the rest of the city instead of being their defenders, hating and being hated, plotting and being plotted against” (R, 417a–b).

A complex hierarchy of metals both precious and base, of realities and symbols, of possession and what follows from it. The philosopher does not say here that the occupation of manual workers is too lowly to form the soul of a citizen. He simply says that the possession of exploitable goods is incompatible with the defense of the city. The object of the prohibition is the oligarch, the capitalist, rather than the manual laborer (for example, the smith who also profits from a little joinery enterprise on the side).

But the distinguo is the most malicious of tricks. It gives us to understand that what is specific to souls of iron is the thinking only of money, of hard cash, to the exclusion of all symbolic honors. The oligarch, on the other hand, is no con man: “He is thrifty and hardworking. He satisfies only his necessary needs, wasting no expense on all his other needs and repressing them as vain and unprofitable” (R, 554a). The oligarch is the good worker, the model worker for whom the modern age will create the savings bank. And that is why he is contemptible, not because he is an industrious body opposed to the leisures of the soul, but because he is the man of material goods, of commodities, whose function degrades body and soul together. The realm of labor can be only the realm of egotism and the war of all against all. Excluded from leisure and dedicated to the ceaseless fabrication of commodities, the worker is condemned to the shameful privileges of thrift, accumulation, and wealth. He is always a potential capitalist, and, for this reason, the philosopher can stigmatize him while reserving to highborn souls the symbolic currency of honor and power associated with the rulers’ lack of ownership.

In short, to say that the worker cannot be a guardian or warrior is simply to say that he is unworthy of being a communist. His unworthiness derives from the fact that he always possesses some property. Work, in and of itself, is property, and trade is discord. Communist workers of our own nineteenth century, in seeking to realize the city of equal laborers, would experience more or less naively or perversely that communism is a system conceived only for the elite guardians of the city. Work and community are strictly antagonistic. Communism is not the fraternity of the classless society but the discipline of a class domination ideally removed from the logic of work and property. At bottom, the squaring of the philosophical circle can be formulated simply. For the city to be well organized, it is necessary and sufficient that the authority of the dominators over the dominated be the authority of communists over capitalists. The Columbus’s Egg of the just city: the workers, soldiers, and philosophers of communism have not yet departed from it.

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