Imprint        VITA       LINKS       THE INSTITUTE        CONTACT   

The Structure of Global Capitalism Volume 1+2

Chapter 4.3

4.3 Anti-Semitism and Anti-Americanism

One might ask what these two thematic complexes are doing in a finance-oriented sociological investigation. Such a question is born of the kind of naivety that only admits economic interrelations to the province of rationalizing thought and thus sacrifices a consideration of interrelations to a reductionist approach.
If one is prepared to not entirely eliminate the thought that goes beyond rationality from economics, but rather in the spirit of Adorno 'penetrate its inner core and attempt to unlock it' , then one cannot avoid a discussion of anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism in the framework of economic considerations. They should be understood as warning signs that every academic wayfarer should heed. Wherever they appear, they proclaim that an intellectualist mindset dominates these topics and problems. One could call it supernatural, but this designation would be incorrect, because the spirits in this case are altogether incarnate. One could also compare both phenomena to the devil of the Middle Ages, if such a comparison had not long since been banned from the language of scientific investigation. In the Middle Ages, an understanding existed of how to employ the manifold expressional possibilities that the concept of the devil leaves open. The devil was not simply an ugly creature with horns or a gigantic penis, he was able to assume a limitless number of different guises, thus also appearing as an angel.
If we encounter the phenomena of anti-Semitism or anti-Americanism from an economic point of view, we should recall that a scapegoat strategy is actually an attempt at sidetracking and is not a solution to the problem. The mindset that feeds such a stance exists on a cunning intention to blind. Blind economic structuring can only ever target the hopeless and less assertive interest groups of the powerful, whatsoever they are called, and in whatever form they have put together their 'racket'.(28)
Whoever acts today, for example, against the Americans, will tomorrow identify new targets that he deems worthy of fighting. This 'anti' is a magic formula with which the one-sided intellect (intellectualism) always tries to eliminate what appears as its consequence, namely irrationalism. It is the mouthpiece of the anonymous power that is the greatest enemy of individuation. The transformation of the particular is an indispensable prerequisite for the process, which I have termed individuation. (See chapter 3.4: 'Does the End of the Subject Represent the Beginning of the Individual?)

"The yellow patch that was pinned on to the Jews in Germany to make them distinguishable, in truth served to make them equal; what shall appertain to each individual as his specific, will disappear behind what he shares with the many [...]" (29)

If one sacrifices this particular to the general and abandons it to egalitarianism, then individuation is condemned to failure. Let us adhere to R. Tiedemann: 'For Adorno, Auschwitz did not represent a Jasperian 'borderline situation', nor a coincidental and therefore reparable catastrophe of world history [...]'(30) It is the self-destructive revelation of the anonymous power, which has by no means since disappeared, but instead, in a similar way to the devil of the Middle Ages, will always be on the search for new victims, until it is overcome by individual force of will. The potential 'savior' from this anonymous power is not some kind of collective power, but rather the power of will of the individual, transformed into deed, and unfolded in the process of individuation. (See section on digital capitalism in this chapter).
4.3.1 The Holocaust and McDonaldization - a Derailment of Reason?
Above I discussed sacrificing the particular for the general. This is a characteristic of individualism, which has also left traces in the literature of sociology.
We can find an example of this in the sociological textbook of a well-known American professor, George Ritzer.
In his book Modern Sociological Theory, we discover the contribution 'Modernity and The Holocaust', and a sub-chapter bearing the title 'The Holocaust and McDonaldization'.(Ritzer 2000: 440) Regrettably this is no misunderstanding. G. Ritzer in all seriousness endeavors to draw a comparison between the Holocaust and the working methods of the popular fast food chain.
In a previous publication the author compared modern society with the company organization of McDonalds (ibid: 136):

"McDonaldisation (Hervorhebung i. O.) is defined as the process by which the principles of the fast-food restaurant are coming to dominate more and more sectors of American society, as well as the rest of the world." (Ibid.: 138)

Diese Betrachtungsweise können wir mittragen. Sie erinnert uns an J. Habermas zentrale Sorge, dass die Lebenswelt vom "System" zunehmend bedroht wird.(31) Ritzer proceeds to propose five 'basic dimensions', with whose help he intends to analyze the typical elements of rationalism, which are to be found in both the company organization of McDonalds and in contemporary society.
These chief characteristics are specified and defined by Ritzer in the following way:
  1. Efficiency: the effort to discover the best possible means to whatever end is desired.
  2. Calculability: The emphasis on quantity, often to the detriment of quality.
  3. Predictability: The idea that goods or services will be essentially the same from one time or place to another.
  4. Control: Domination by technologies over employees and customers
  5. Irrationality of rationality: Various unreasonable things associated with rationality (and McDonaldization), especially dehumanization in which employees are forced to work in dehumanizing jobs and customers are forced to eat in dehumanizing settings and circumstances." (Ritzer 2003: 138ff)
In the aforementioned essay 'Modernity and the Holocaust', he then undertakes to discuss these five characteristics in relation to the Holocaust. In doing so, the author refers to Zygmunt Bauman, who discusses the Holocaust from the viewpoint of modernity.(32)
Ritzer specifies the following central theme in his comparison:

"While to me the modern paradigm of formal rationality is the fast-food restaurant, to Zygmunt Baumann (1989, 1991) it is the Holocaust, the systematic destruction of the Jews by Nazis. (...) Yet, there is a clear line in sociological thinking about modern rationality from the bureaucracy to the Holocaust and then to the fast-food restaurant." (Ritzer 2000: 440)

And then a little further on, the author once again stresses: "The Holocaust had all the characteristics of 'McDonaldization'." (Ibid: 442) The following section shows the main problem with Ritzer's comparative method:

"One of Baumann's most interesting points is that the rational system put in place by the Nazis came to encompass the victims, the Jews. The ghetto was transformed into 'an extension of the murdering machine'" (Ritzer 2000: 443)(33)

Immediately after this statement, Ritzer quotes a section from Bauman:

"Thus, the leaders of the doomed communities performed most of the preliminary bureaucratic work the operation required (supplying the Nazis with the records and keeping the files on their prospective victims), supervised the productive and distributive activities needed to keep the victims alive until the time when the gas chambers were ready to receive them, policed the captive population so that law-and- order tasks did not stretch the ingenuity or resources of the captors, secured the smooth flow of the annihilation process by appointing the objects of its successive stages, delivered the selected objects to the sites from which they could be collected with minimum of fuss, and mobilized the financial resources needed to pay for the last journey."(34)

This is all that Ritzer quotes from Bauman's book Modernity and the Holocaust at this point. Subsequently, without any form of transition, Ritzer adds the following comment in parentheses:

"(This is similar to the idea that in a McDonaldized world, the customers become unpaid workers in the system, making their own salads, cleaning up after themselves, and so on.)" (Ritzer 2000: 443)

Immediately after this parenthesized comment, which we shall return to in a minute, having given the reader a few seconds to recover from the sudden shift in Ritzer's argumentation, Ritzer continues his commentary, now without parentheses.

"In 'ordinary genocide', the murderers and the murdered are separated from one another. The murderers are planning to do something terrible to their victims, with the result that the resistance of potential victims is likely. However, such resistance is far less likely when the victims are an integral part of a 'system' created by the perpetrators.
In their actions, the Jews who cooperated with the Nazis were behaving rationally. They were doing what was necessary to, for example, keep themselves alive for another day or be selected as people deserving of special, more favorable treatment. They were even using rational tools, such as calculating that the sacrifice of a few would save the many, or that if they didn't cooperate many more would die. However, in the end, such actions were irrational in that they helped expedite the process of genocide and they reduced the likelihood of resistance to it." (Ibid.: 444)

As already mentioned, I have intentionally quoted the relevant section in its entirety, in order to avoid any misunderstandings.
Let us now discuss the comparison that has undoubtedly stunned the reader and given him occasion to pause for breath. The author is in all seriousness comparing the procedures in a concentration camp with the procedure whereby consumers prepare their own salad in a restaurant. How can the derailment expressed in this comparison possibly be explained?
Ritzer picks out a few terms such as 'efficiency' or 'calculability' to use in drawing comparisons, without taking any of the other circumstances into account. He creates typologies by combining terms, and then fits them like a corset around the situation described, instead of letting the phenomena speak for themselves.
In this way he also probably does injustice to the author he cites, Bauman. S. Bauman is a very keen observer and I would certainly be very surprised if he were to agree with any of Ritzer's interpretations of the aforementioned textual passages. Let me return to the question of what is being said in both situations. First I must ask this question from the perspective of freedom. How do the customers of a fast food restaurant come to prepare their own salads? Certainly of their own free will and without compulsion. Can we say the same of the concentration camp, to which the inmates have been deported and are then murdered? I believe the answer is so indisputable that it is entirely superfluous to formulate a response. I now come to the next question, namely that of suffering. Can the unspeakable suffering of a person in a concentration camp, which was described (and experienced at first hand!) by Bauman (Stark 2002: 291), possibly be compared to the feelings evoked when consuming a salad? The answer is again superfluous, the phenomena speak for themselves.
Therefore in both the circumstances that Ritzer attempts to compare, he makes no allowance at all for either the question of freedom or the question of suffering. The inevitable result is that his work mutates from being what the author supposedly intended as a criticism of rationalism, which we can also call intellectualism, into an unwitting display of the same. I say 'unwitting', as I wish to assume that Ritzer is altogether unconscious of the consequences of his assertions. It is precisely individual freedom and subjective suffering that the cold and calculating world of rationalism wishes to destroy, and Ritzer obviously participates in this destruction with his comparison.
As already indicated, Ritzer has done injustice to Bauman by citing his work in such a context. The inner relation between modernity and totalitarianism runs like a thread through Bauman's writings, and I regret that I cannot enter into a discussion of his observations and analyses in this thesis, which in many respects exhibit a high degree of correspondence with the views of Adorno. In Modernity and the Holocaust, Bauman again stresses unequivocally: 'It was the rationally determined world of modern civilization that made the Holocaust possible.' His observations on rationalism correspond to the tendency of intellect to detach itself from reason, which I call intellectualism.
However, there are different expressive forms of this intellectualism, which cannot be linked together with a 'clear line', as Ritzer imagines in the above quote. McDonaldism, the Holocaust and even shareholderism can be understood as different expressive forms of intellectualism. However. it is crucial to employ an appropriate method in drawing comparisons, precisely in order to avoid the kind of derailment that is evident in the case of Ritzer's work.
Adorno provides a piece of advice at this point, which Rolf Tiedemann views in connection with his materialist philosophy: 'Materialist in the eccentric sense, that the objective owes itself just to the experience of the subjective' [my italics] (Tiedemann 1997: 21).XXIV This is why I have endeavored from the beginning to discuss the object-subject relation in connection with structuration theory.
In connection with Ritzer's refusal to perceive the difference in respect to suffering, let him be once again admonished by the words of Adorno:

"The need to give voice to suffering is the condition of all truth. For suffering is the objectivity which weighs on the subject, what it experiences as most subjective, its expression, is objectively mediated." (Adorno 1997b: 29)XXV

Hence objectivity at the cost of the subject must be avoided. At another point, Adorno once again reminds us of the importance of the subject, and in our context, it almost seems as if his warning is pointed directly at Ritzer: "In sharp contrast to the usual scientific ideal, the objectivity of dialectical cognition needs more subject, not less." (36)
4.3.2 Is there a Shareholderism?
Above, I criticized the intellectualist derailment that displays itself in the comparison of McDonaldism with the Holocaust.
One could just as easily cite Ritzer's five 'basic dimensions' of rationalism in connection with shareholder value. In this context, however, it would also have to be borne in mind that these typical characteristics and their combination alone are hardly suitable for an adequate portrayal of the meaning of shareholder value. In the two proceeding sections, I have pursued the aim of clarifying such misunderstandings from the very beginning in respect to the shareholder value debate. If one sees shareholder value as a measuring stick that is employed in the service of the shareholders and stakeholders for the purpose of financial self-demarcation, then shareholder value not only has something to do with mathematics and intellect, but also with reason. Ultimately, a company must know what it is earning and what it is spending or there would be no sensible basis for discussion between shareholders and stakeholders, since both groups carry direct or indirect responsibility in respect of the financing of the company, even if in differing roles.(37)
Intellectualism is the result of dissociating the intellect from the whole, and the arrogant overbearing of a part that takes on the role of the whole. Shareholder value is certainly not the purpose of economizing, but it can give it a purpose.
Shareholderism, a form of intellectualism, can equally well not really be 'combated'. The battle against an unwanted symptom avails itself of the delusion that the world can be healed by removing the unwanted symptom. Symptoms or phenomena are messages that express the whole, and allow the possibility of interpretation. They must first be understood before a self-demarcation of the whole (enterprises, institutions, society), in which they are structurally presented, can change. We can call this process of change a metamorphosis, a dialectic shift rather than a merely cosmetic correction of symptoms.
This strategy applies to how to handle all 'anti' stances, whose solution has to do with freedom in the above sense, if we understand freedom not as 'possession', but rather as a 'between', in the sense intended by H. Arendt. Let us again recall: 'Politics originates in the between and establishes itself as reference.' (Arendt 2003a: 11) Between what and in reference to whom? In reference to the particular as a part of the whole in respect to the whole. In other words: between individuals in reference to society.

(→ The figures in parenthesis refer to the footnotes given in the book.
These are not on the homepage and are only available in the book.)