Jacques BIDET

Religion and modernity, A Metastructural Approach, Fudan University, Department of Philosophy,

Shanghai October 2009



As we know, there is no “women issue" nor "immigration issue": the problem is that men dominate women and centers peripheries. May be the problem of religion masks another one, not that of atheism, but that of the problematic social relationship between these two terms.



If we compare China and Europe in the present time, it is reasonable, I think, despite differences in political system, to emphasize the homology between their class structures and the resemblance between the social logics they deploy. But, on cultural issues which refer to millennia of separate history, importing European categories for interpreting the Chinese realities is extremely perilous. Therefore the following remarks are primarily to be read as observations on Western societies.




Anthropology involves a concept of “religion in general” – understood as art, labor or libido in general – under its particular forms. History, considering religious phenomena in their general evolution, is prone to forecast the disappearance of religion with the triumph of modernity. These two disciplines interact. And the problem occurs at the meeting point. Is it possible to imagine the historical end of a supposedly feature of human species?

To this question, two famous answers have been given. That of Marx: religion ends when the social domination which caused it disappears. Then ideology loses its function and society becomes "transparent"[1]. That of Weber: religion disappears through a process of "rationalization", of “disenchantment of the world”.

As a matter of fact, religions stand. They show a great vitality. The “disenchantment” has seized the old Europe, but the dominations Marx was dealing with remain. We are thus led to reconsider these two approaches.

In the first part, I aim to reassess the Marxian perspective with the help of the metastructural theory[2]. I try to show that the dual nature of Christianity, both a "protest" and a "justification", is not proper to this religion as religion. It rather belongs to the modern discourse as such, to the "metastructure" which is the presupposition of the structure of this form of society. It belongs to its constitutive "amphibology". It is for this reason that religion is to be found on both sides of class struggle.

In the second part, I come to Weber. If, as he puts it, religion is the labor by which the human confront the physical and social evil and death, modern atheism too meets this definition: "the disenchantment of world" is not a passive phenomenon, it is carried out only through a huge "social labor", socially articulated to that of religions.

If that is true, modern ideological domination occurs not only through a perverse alliance of the powerful with religions and through social discriminations between those who serve and those who fight them. It happens also specifically in the arrogance of the "elites" who display a post-religious discourse of progress and emancipation against the religious subversion of the poor.




1. Historicity: religion in the modern form of society


A politico-religious text: The Liber Paradisum

I will start from a medieval political text significant of the emergence of the modern form of society. I do not mean the emergence of “capitalism” understood in the narrow economic sense of this term, i.e. that of the competition on a free market for profit, as Robert Brenner and Meiksins Ellen Wood and other researchers do, placing (rightly) its beginning around London in the sixteenth / seventeenth century. I mean the emergence of the “form of society” in which this “mode of production” will develop. In this sense, I am following a long tradition of historians who situate such a phenomenon around the twelfth and thirteenth centuries within a feudal Europe in the movement of the “Communes”, and particularly in Italy where the process ended up with the formation of some “protomodern” cities-states. However, I interpret this tradition in a metastructural Marxist sense.

This text is a statement of the City of Bologna motivating the liberation of the serfs throughout its territory. It dates back to the year 1257. It is significant of the ideological presuppositions of a new society, which breaks with the old feudal order. 

"In the beginning the Lord God Almighty fashioned a garden of happiness, in which he placed the man he molded (...). But this wretched creature, forgetful of his dignity and of the divine present, ate the forbidden fruit, transgressing the divine command (...), and poisoned (...) the human race by chaining it, miserable, in the knots of the diabolical servitude (... ). But God, seeing that the world was in a desperate state, (...) sent his son (...) to return the ancient liberty. That is why it is highly advisable to return to the freedom in which they were born those men that nature originally created free, but that the custom of the people submitted to servitude. In view of this, the noble city of Bologna, that always fought for freedom, remembering the past and considering the future, "(...) bought with money all who were identified as related to the servile status in the city and diocese of Bologna, and decreed that they would be free".[3]

The modern reader is surprised to find already here the famous Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s formulation, "Man was born free and is everywhere in chains", repeated redundantly: "to return to the freedom in which they were born men that nature originally created free”. The creation of the free man is equivalently described as an act of God or "nature". In short, freedom belongs to human nature. The “original sin” is interpreted as "the custom of the people" (that is to say, as the existing “diabolical” social order), which submit human to "servitude". And liberation is a collective "struggle", in the social context of the "city", and which takes place within a history oriented towards "future".

Of course, liberating the rural workers from the feudal constraints, the city put itself in position to submit the contado (the rural territory under its sovereignty) to a tax burden by which they become linked to the new urban order. The procedure is rather common in the Italian cities at this time. It means actually that a new mode of domination is looming, a domination in the name of freedom, typical of the new social structure emerging in the political construction of the Italian Commune. At the same time, this text cannot be understood just as cynical. In religious terms a new actor, "emancipated”, is “interpelled” (addressed/challenged) [4].

The young Marx, in the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, defines religion both as "universal consolation and justification", as "an expression of real distress" and as a "protest" against it. The text we just read clearly resists such an interpretation. The religious statement refers to human suffering, but not from the perspective of supernatural consolation. It demonstrates instead a full historical positivity, an injunction of worldly "liberation."

This document seems more readable from a further indication of Marx, Capital, chapter 1, § IV (MEW 23, S. 93): capitalist society, based on market relations, finds in Modern Christianity, "with its cult of abstract man, “the most religious convenient complement”. More precisely, Marx, at § III (MEW 23, S. 74) defines our time – by contrast with that of Aristotle, marked by slavery - as one in which "human equality has already acquired the tenacity of a popular prejudice, die Festigkeit eines Volksvorurteils. Abstract man is equal, and as such he is free.

Note that this text, which expresses the official view of the city-state, does not date from the nineteenth century nor the seventeenth, but from the thirteenth. This raises two interconnected questions. What is the nature of the society in which such a discourse appears? What is the nature of religion which appears in this form of society?

The historical thesis I argue is that religion in modern times must be analyzed according to the three geopolitical dimensions constitutive of modernity: the class structure (within the nation-State) and the world system, and, in addition to this in the present days, the world-State in gestation. These three dimensions must be identified and distinguished if we are to understand their concrete dialectical interrelations.


Religion in modern class structure

It is difficult to resist the unhistorical essentialist self-definition that religions provide for themselves. But I will support the thesis that there is schematically two successive “Christianities” corresponding to two distinct forms of "Western society".

There is in Christianity, in its founding or at least canonical documents, various elements significant of the period in which they arose. The New Testament reflects the cosmopolitan culture of the urban population of the Roman Empire and millennia of human experience earlier. Many features of ancient society and sociality persist in modern societies. We are the same humanity through time. But it is a pre-modern document. Men are not supposed to be by nature free and equal. The moral message is sublime. But the maxim is to obey the civil authority - because "all power comes from God" - except in the area of religion and its ethical requirements. And that is what will make trouble in the new time. Actually a new discourse, significant of the new class structure, everywhere suppressed but always returning, is specifically intended to demonstrate that legitimate power belongs universally to citizens (or at least those defined as such…). More generally freedom and equality are stated in religious, along with legal and philosophical statements.

European medieval Christianity is in this sense a new religion. The concepts and practices, status and functions of actors, their relations to other social activities are radically redefined. Novelties are expressed through ancient signifiers, endowed with their ancient authority but rich of new connotations. In Bologna’s Declaration, the sin of Adam resulted in feudal "servitude". Jesus is a worldly and social redeemer. The actual redemption involves a social "fight". It concerns the "future", obviously that of mankind. And it is the civic authority which says that ... The city has stripped the bishop of its political and cultural powers and appropriated not a religious power but the power of religion. It built the cathedral and created – in parallel for its own requirements – the "Palace of Reason" (Palazzo della Ragione, see Padua and elsewhere). A civic religion expresses itself in urban religious festivals, including celebrating the saint patron of the city. And so on…

The "main contradiction" in this transition period opposes feudalism (which continues in the vastness of the rural space the ancient domination) and the emerging society (in the narrow context of the city). But as the latter grows, this contradiction will more and more concern the two classes that constitute it. I take up here a view which is fairly traditional in Marxism, in its analysis of the clashes around heresies and the emergence of new religious orders. But I turn it in a more definite metastructural thesis.

The two opposing classes are taken in the same metastructural discursive complex, and this occurs similarly in religious and in juridico-political discourse. I emphasized the "ideological" content of the Bologna Declaration, which both proclaims freedom for the serfs in the name of religion and submits them to a “protomodern” urban taxation. But the term "ideology" appears immediately to be unilaterally negative, because it is in the same formulation that similarly a utopian perspective and a utopian injunction are given. The "freedom of God’s children”, proclaimed in juridico-political terms, is also potentially that of citizens thereby rendered capable of fighting for a more effective freedom… just as they are included in a new configuration of domination. Now – and I arrive at the very heart of my demonstration – it must be emphasized that this amphibology is not specifically to be put to the account of religion. It is constitutive of the modern statement of equality and freedom (of the metastructural presupposition of the modern structural order), the content of which is contradictorily ideological and utopian. As modern, we cannot escape this discourse, which is that of the most reactionary leaders as well as of the most revolutionary militants. This is the quintessentially modern "différend" (in Lyotard’s sense). "Liberty and equality! ": this is proclaimed in two opposite directions. From above: our society is actually a society of freedom. From below:  that is what we demand. One can be dominated, exploited only in the name of liberty and equality. This official discourse that both puts to sleep and provokes, the modern declaration of rights in its everyday repetition, is, as that of religion, a discourse of both “justification” and “protest”. The opposing classes march in the street under the same flag (that bears implicitly such a slogan) as in churches under the same banner.

Religion is therefore inherently neither ahead nor behind its time. It rather establishes an "other-stage" of the same. But all sorts of shifts are possible, depending on by which social force religious and civil discourses are appropriated. And all kinds of games of hide and seek between civil and religious messages. When the dominant ideological version of civil discourse prevails, the poor are prone to turn to the other, religious, discourse and rework it in utopia (Michael Löwy and Enrique Dussel enlighten us on such issues). But the dominant in turn hastened to return it in their favor, as they returned the modern democratic statement into its opposite as well.

It goes without saying that other religions (Islam ...) are nowadays taken in the same amphibological process of modernity. What this reveals is less, as the vulgate puts it, a natural affinity between the “great” world religions, than their common destiny to be redefined in the (conflicting) terms of modernity.


Religion in world system

As Christianity (the second Christianity) responds to the “modern form of society” which emerged in Europe during the Middle Ages, within class structured nation-State matrix that developed up to now, it expands in parallel according to the second dimension of modernity, that of the world-system in which those entities emerged.

Religious consciousness is both self-consciousness and consciousness of others. But the modern topology of this identity is geopolitically specific. From the age of Enlightenment, with the advent of "Science”, Western thought held its world view from a hierarchy of races. Today, after the "race" has been disqualified and power relations within the world have changed, a hierarchy of supposed cultures plays (in a euphemistic way) the same role. But, in the Western worldview, before race it is religion that provided the "systemic marker”. By this term I mean what makes the difference between the “similar other” (that of another country of the center, whose religion, race or culture are just a variant of ours) and the “different other” (who is, to varying degrees, depending on the balance of power, unequal to the “Occidental”), as one can "see" in his religion, race or culture[5]


Background :          Nation :                             Center                            Peripheries          

Marker :                   the other                           the similar other             the different other                 TIME

1. Religion :                Catholic/Protestant…        Christian (V Jew)           infidel/pagan…                     XIII-XVII°

2. Race :                     Scandinavian/Mediteran…                                      white (Aryan V Jew)            black, yellow…                      XVIII-XX°

3. Culture :                 Germanic/French…           Occidental                     Islamic, Oriental...               XX°- XXI°


Christianity in this sense was a formidable weapon, justifying the subjugation of peoples and the destruction of cultures. The system, however, never develops without being haunted by something belonging to the metastructural injunction. It is in the context of nation-State that the universal declaration of human rights is made. Human rights are guaranteed only to citizens: "human rights" exist only as "civil rights" (Hannah Arendt). At the same time, they are contradictorily promised to "all" by the prophetic constraint of a universalistic discourse. An amphibological, ominous announce indeed. Conquerors of course free the Indians from their “false gods”: that was their very raison d’être! But it is not surprising that this ambiguous prophecy could haunt the guilty consciousness of the conqueror himself and that a priest named Bartolomé de Las Casas (see Nestor Capdevila) could find religious words for expressing it. But neither the merits nor the fault of all these facts belongs properly to religion, which just carries an amphibology which is properly that of modernity.

On world-system space, Christianity is one religion among others in the process of modernity which is both the domination of the civil class structure within the nation-state and the domination of the barbarous systemic central states. The contemporary religious discourse is worldwide to understand in this double dimension. In this context Islam appears to be today the self-consciousness of the most dominated within the world system. It constitutes, as other religions, both a disguise for class domination and a critical reference for social mobilization. But it is within and against Islam that the violence of world system is manifested at the highest point.


Ultimodernity: world-system plus world-State

Ultimodernity is the time when, due to historical trends of modern structure (versus system, which has no tendency), a world “staticity” emerges, embedded in the logic of the imperial system. In the third context, there are phenomena of several kinds.

There is a trend towards the establishment of a universal religiousness, a version of that humanism that asserts itself as humanity begins to meet the challenge of forming a political community, i.e. a world State. It comes under the identity of the world citizen.  This trend-setting ecumenism is requested in different directions by the powerful media that put it on stage, those of the systemic center,.

The emergence of a global staticity also promotes a distancing from the old national or ethnic cultural identities. Religions tend to come under the individual choices of an alternative or hybrid identity. Not only for those that migration and diversity of familial inheritance predispose to choose between different faiths. And it is not only a matter of "spiritual path": beyond religious choice, there is a social choice. When a blond football star chooses to become a Muslim, he makes on the world systemic stage quite a different choice than the bohemian bourgeois who adopts the clothes of Buddhism. They make different choices of "class" and "race".

Presumably, the mass conversions to faiths from abroad, such as "evangelical" religions in Asia or Latin America or Islam in Central Africa must be understood as social positions at those three levels: first, in the immediate (conflicting) national space, that is to say in a class relation crowned by a national State, second, in the antagonisms of world-system, and finally in relation to some global staticity. These three spaces of identity are dialectically linked among each other.

But does the disenchantment of the world, perceptible at least in Europe (and certainly also elsewhere), escape this triple constraint? This question leads us from religion to irreligion.



2. Religion and irreligion, social and ideological domination


After the historian perspective of Marx, I turn to the anthropological approach of Weber, which is also that of sociologists and anthropologists. They have in common to consider religion as a permanent feature of human societies. So far at least. For they cannot ignore the historical question of how it is today, at the age of modern science. Is religion expected to bow to irreligion? Or are there "religions after religions', such as money, body, capitalism, progress, art? Is traditional religion going to surpass itself in a civic religion? Will religion step aside in favor of universal morality?

I'll stick to the first question, the confrontation between religion and irreligion. For it involves a feedback effect from Weber on Marx. To tackle this point, one must establish a conceptual field that makes it possible to show a relationship between these two terms, religion and irreligion. My assumption is that irreligion is also a social labor aiming to confront the evil in general and especially death. If this is true, it shares some features with religion. Bringing them together, we can better appreciate what distinguishes them. And it is also that way that we can consider their mutual relations not only in a conceptual space, as different representations, but also as social (and therefore also political) labors in the same social space, interfering in the same "modern form of society”, taken in its three dimensions that the metastructural approach defines and considered in the windings and conjunctures of our time.


The labor of religion and that of irreligion

If religion is populated by so many gods, saints and sages, full of so many events and episodes, concepts and figures, if it is so infinitely creative and perpetually new (in the guise of immutable), it is because it concerns the whole of human life. For each place or time, each vice or virtue, every hope or pain, it provides a sign and a surplus of meaning. It is in this sense that Marx, in this same page of the Critique of the Hegelian Right, referred to religion as a "general theory of this world, its encyclopedic sum, its logic in popular form…”

And he adds: “its spiritualist point of honor." "Honor" is what one refers to for challenging somebody to a duel. Honor plays with death. Honor holds all things of life. Honor is life in the mirror of death. Weber – as Marx does – relates religion to suffering. But in the sequence suffering + death there is something strange. Culture – labor, morality, art, law … and religion, and all that tightly intermingled – is defense against suffering. So I take the risk, after many others, to relate religion to “the point of honor”: to death. Religion is life, suffering life, reflected from the always opened doors of death.

Religion does not concern an abstract man, but a being that lives under defined social and cultural conditions. Then, religious figures of are constantly solicited by various forces. This sociological and cultural multiplicity is nevertheless enclosed in the simplicity of overall social relations which revolve around the historically variable social and symbolic conditions of production. Although there is no “war of religion”, but only social and political conflicts, religion, as well as philosophy, is a battlefield. And, as the battle is unequal, religion is generally oppressive.

Also atheism confronts social existence to our mortal condition. Directly, it testifies that everything in our life is measured by the nothingness of death. Indirectly: it arises as a judge of all religious figures of the social, from the Islamic veil to the Christian soul of the fetus. Irreligion criticizes the hold of religion on the common civil space of schools, courts, parliaments, the influence of its precepts and the presence of symbols. It is a social critic which appropriates this social encyclopedia, in order to correct and translate it into another language. And clearly this criticism comes under a socially determined context, – we have still to define.


The sacred and the Disenchantment

The power of religion stems from the fact that religious labor produces one experience: the sacred. The sacred is the feeling that death is overcome ("O death, where is thy victory?" St. Paul). Death is not forgotten, as it is in everyday life, work, fun, pleasure. It is, for a time, abolished by the act, practice, speech, story, or song, by the virtue of the place. Religion opens the way to immediate salvation. Weber insists on enthusiasm, spiritual joy, as being the supreme good provided by any religion. The forbidden and the taboo evidence in everyday life the wholly-other, a world which is not the one mortals live in, but reflects point by point on it. Religion denies death. And it is by this annihilation of the “nihil” (the nothing) that it enlightens and governs existence, birth and ages of life, seasons, days and hours.

In this sense, religion exceeds morality. Religious prescription possesses an authority unrivalled by that of morality. This authority is not a purely external one, such as  the Weberian "domination". For it proceeds from one social experience: that of the sacred, that of the social challenge of denying death. This confronted death radicalizes and sublimates morality and politics: the believer is “interpelled”  (addressed /challenged) as a saint and hero. But he is interpelled in a social space in which the authority of religion thrives on religious powers that recycle it, and on their relations with secular forces.

But also irreligion, since Epicurus and Spinoza, materialists and libertines (see Jean Salem), provides such an assurance before death. Irreligion itself makes of our being-towards-death the ultimate reference. It also has its “spiritualist point of honor”, which does not come under the sacred, but from disenchantment itself. It is precisely this “tenebrae” (darkness) that it requires to illuminate our life. But does this tenebrae differ from the one mentioned by the mystics, except that the latter also illuminates religion? Anyway this experience is no less paradoxical, searching in death, which is nothing, the secret for a good life. But it is not that of an abstract man. At stake is always our mortal social life. And the authority of irreligion does not escape more than any other the games of social powers. Also atheism requires its rituals, collective practices, traditions and blessed figures. It involves community, sociability, proper power, charismatic masters. The atheistic silence before death is only established at the cost of an immense collective effort to imagine an honorable life. The modern individual tries to appropriate this authority in forming its own ritual (which may include the freely chosen death, a practice that has undoubtedly a great future). But it still falls in an entire social fabric. And also irreligious powers intertwine with other powers.


The other-stage, belief and unbelief

Veyne’s book, Did the Greeks they believed in their gods?, begins with a reference to an observation of an anthropologist, Dan Sperber, on the Nuers. They worship the tiger, a very religious being that sleeps on Friday according to its religion. That day, however, the Nuers keep watching their herds as well.

Humans make the distinction between the two stages, as well as two years old children make the distinction between fairy tales and reality, as psychologists say today. This is true of Christianity, despite the radical realism of its assertions about the "existence" of God. By its stated contrast with "philosophical knowledge", modern theology is explicitly in the register of the famous "credo quia absurdum”. "I believe because it is absurd". More precisely, but in the same sense, the radical theology of the twentieth century is based on the idea that faith is not a simple "belief"[6]. Such self-critical faith carries presumably a social critique.

Sometimes atheistic intellectuals demonstrate against believers a particular violence, an anti-religious belligerence, as if God existed. They claim thereby so to speak a priestly position within atheism, forgetting the ambiguity of its fights. By contrast, it also happens, especially in contemporary Marxism (but since Ernst Bloch and others), an asymptotic meeting between atheism and faith as social criticism. Thus in the way Badiou, a philosopher who defines himself as an "atheist", reads St. Paul’s writings. Symptomatic is his praise of the Paulinian "hope", which concerns not the future but the present. Not the future of humanity, but the always already present "event". Such a hope is the faith of atheists. Such a distancing of irreligion from itself also has a social significance.




In modern times, religion is to be analyzed according to its three geopolitical dimensions: (class) structure within nation-State, world system and global staticity. Structurally, the double side of modern Christianity (justification / protest) is not its own property, it does not define its supposed "essence": this duality reflects the amphibology (ideology / utopia) which is that of the metastructure of modern society. That is why it takes part in all the battles, without a absolutely predetermined place in a particular camp. At the systemic level, Christianity supported the great destruction, the Western overall systemic enclosure, but also by contrast a positive potential due to the fact that the structure haunts the system: human rights, actually reserved for citizens, are nevertheless promised to all, being by definition universal. They cannot be proclaimed if not universally. Such a constraint of universality is not specifically Christian, nor specifically Western. It is the metastructural presupposition of the modern form of society. As a matter of fact, Christianity happened to become modern before other religions, but it was so just because modernity begun in Europe. Since the world-system has expanded outside the European space, Christianity has become one among others within the complex of hybrid entities that religions and irreligions constitute together. At the world-State level, the contradictions of the world system do not lessen; and ecumenical humanism flirts with the designation of the enemy as the Power of Evil. All this, I confess, is said in very general and abstract terms.

If we want to examine more precisely the relationship between religion and modern atheism, we must conduct a more precise structural (class) analysis. According to the metastructural analysis, the modern form of society includes two classes:  the "fundamental class", or the "people", faces the “dominant class”, or the “bourgeoisie”.  The latter comprises the property (or "Finance") pole and the competence (or “Elite”) pole. The revolutions understood as popular movements occurred in two successive waves. The first one, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, was conducted under the auspices of the bourgeoisie as a whole, and the second (and more world-systemic) one, in the twentieth, was the result of the alliance between the fundamental class and the elite. A universal rational deism was the common religion of the bourgeoisie as a whole in its revolutionary period. Modern atheism which has a close affinity with the challenges of scientific knowledge (from Galileo to Darwin) was specifically the fact of the competence pole. As for the "proletariat", it was structurally prone to ally with "elite" against “finance” and to adopt such a culture. Assuming, as I suggest, that the "labor movement" was the alliance of the fundamental class and elite, one can see in Marxism an exemplary expression of modern irreligion.

Now the inclusion of religious discourse in the major contemporary social conflicts is complex and fluid, always caught in a dialectical relationship with civil and irreligious discourse, at the interference of systemic and structural contexts. Beyond the struggle against the pre-modern powers, the social forces of the “property pole” most often made their game on the side of traditional religions – those of the national or foreign populations to be subjected to the market logic – proceeding via various transactions, according to the balance of social and cultural powers: repression, assimilation or tolerance. The social forces of “competence pole”, those of economic, administrative and cultural organization (versus market), were naturally prone to mobilize science as a political force in its hegemonic struggle against the other dominant pole, and therefore to adopt a civil discourse which is more open to irreligion. But this pole was, and remains, specifically representative of the structural logic of nation-state (the ultimate “organization”), then of nationalism, and for that reason the direct, immediate agent of imperialism. It is inclined to display an abstract religious or post-religious superiority, against the traditions of peoples to subjugate. Nevertheless in the systemic context the two structurally antagonistic dominant social forces, “finance and “elite”, happen most of time to connect and connive with each other. And above all nowadays, as postcolonial cultural studies show, the essential religious issue lies elsewhere: in the crossed religious (and irreligious) “hybrids” (see Bhabha) of the partners of the ex-colonization[7].

Among the multitude of problems to consider, I will mention just one: the fact that modern atheism was often the privilege of the "Elite". This does not mean that we can regard it as being inherently socially better than religion. Its content depends on the social historical conditions of its emergence, its position in the structural-systemic conflict of religions. Atheism could collude with oppression, as it was sometimes the case of Westernized elites of the Third World. It could fraternize with liberation religions. Often it is particularly arrogant towards the religion of the poor, especially if they are foreigners. If it enjoys a real superiority, this does not derive directly from its relationship with science (which would presumably help it exceed "belief"), but from the fact that the structural position of competence (versus property) or organization (versus market) is specifically oriented towards the universal and the argumentative discourse. Because of its social position, the “elite” represents for the people a better opportunity than “finance”. But considered in its relationship to traditional religions, it is not certain that this social force can be credited with the political privilege granted to it by the philosophical tradition, strongly marked by this elite (and that is also true of Marxism). The elite played a decisive role in the first and even more in the second wave of the modern revolutions. But it shares eventually the benefits of this with the other pole of the bourgeoisie, the one based on property. In this context, the elite is spontaneously inclined to devalue the religious language and practices by which some parts of the people voices its social criticism. Beyond terms borrowed from religious tradition the matters at issue are perfectly concrete and novel. And this criticism generally bears a true knowledge, revealing truths that domination does not want to hear. Beware of the Elite!





The main concepts of the metastructural theory


I define the "modern form of society” in the terms of a metastructural theory. This is as an attempt to recast the Marxian approach by assuming the idea that the modern class relation is constituted by two "class factors”, market and organization, which are our common resources of rational coordination at social scale, but turned into their opposites. These two "mediations" present a bipolarity that is not only economical but also juridical and political: that of “each to each” and that of “everyone-among-all”. The metastructural conceptuality articulates dialectically three registers: metastructure / structure / practices. (Class) structure includes a dominant class (or “bourgeoisie”) with two "poles": that of the capital owners (“Finance”), masters of the market, that of the “managers and competent” (“Elite”), masters of the organization, and a fundamental class (split in different sections according to what dominates is market, for example among the peasants, or organization, such among public servants, – private sector employees occupying an intermediate position). This structure can be understood only from a metastructure which is its "presupposition" in the sense that Marx defines the market as the logical presupposition of capital. Metastructure is the modern fiction linking these two mediations (market and organization) to the discursive immediacy through which we are “interpelled” (addressed/challenged) as free, equal and rational. The metastructure is not the base of the structure, for it is the structure that “poses” (german: setzt) the metastructure as its “presupposition” (german: vorausgesetztes) in terms always amphibologically determined by class relations. More precisely, antagonistic practices, those permitted by this class relations, “pose” this metastructure, constantly transforming its contents in a context of ever-changing circumstances.

Modernity, however, requires a second set of concepts. For this metastructural configuration is that which is given only in the nation-state. But modern world as a whole (and thus the “modern form of society” as a whole) is a not-metastructural "world system", centers/peripheries. Modernity is understood as the articulation of the (relative) civility of the class structure within the nation state and the barbarity of the imperialist world system. The real world is the perverse immanence of these two geopolitical dimensions. As the productive (-destructive) forces develop, national entities grow in size and a "world State" is emerging on the far horizon of history, as a third dimension, but presumably for a long time in the hold of the world-system.


A brief bibliography of the Metastructural Theory.

- Théorie générale (A General Theory, Theory of Law, Economics and Politics), PUF, 1999, 504 p. To appear in Chinese (Remnin Press, Beijing, 2010).

- Explication et Reconstruction du Capital, PUF, Paris, 2004, 320 p. To appear in Chinese (Social Sciences Academic Press, Beijing, 2010).

- Altermarxisme, un autre marxisme pour un autre monde, with Gérard Duménil, PUF, 2007. To appear in Chinese, People’s Publishing House (Beijing),

- Dictionnaire Marx Contemporain, edited in coll. with Eustache Kouvelakis, PUF, 2001, 600 p. To appear in Chinese, Social Sciences Academic Press (Beijing).

- Recent articles in Actuel Marx (PUF, Paris) : « Court Traité des Idéologies » (N°44, 2008), « Classes, Partis, Mouvements » (N°46, 2009).



[1] “The religious reflex of the real world can, in any case, only then finally vanish when the practical relations of every-day life offer to man none but perfectly intelligible and reasonable relations with regard to his fellowmen and to Nature. The life-process of society, which is based on the process of material production, does not strip off its mystical veil until it is treated as production by freely associated men, and is consciously regulated by them in accordance with a settled plan. This, however, demands for society a certain material ground-work or set of conditions of existence which in their turn are the spontaneous product of a long and painful process of development.”, Das Kapital, MEW, 23, S. 94

[2] See the Annex.

[3] See Il "Liber Paradisus" e le liberazioni collettive nel XIII secolo: cento anni di studi (1906-2008), a cura di Armando Antonelli e Massimo Giansante, Venice, 2008

[4] Compare with B. Traven, in Der  Karren, Rowohlt, 1983 (1931), S. 30, who portrays a young Mexican peon discussing the freedom that his master declares to him.

[5] For further details, see « La ‘métastructure’ : concept de la reconnaissance / méconnaissance », La Reconnaissance aujourd’hui, sous la direction d’Alain Caillé et Christian Lazzeri, Editions du CNRS, Paris, 2009. The systemic location of the Jews is considered. Note that as an effect of the current balance of power the (distinguish) Asiatic researcher in the Parisian metro will perhaps encounter xenophobia, but no more racism.

[6] As for philosophers, they have two possible ways for treating the other-stage. Either, with Kant, they aim to connect religious believes to the first one as “regulative ideas” of reason by making the existence of God and the immortality of the soul its presupposed perspective. Or they attempt to express an absolute separation in the form of a negative theology. As for the kamikaze, we cannot judge whether he is manipulated by terror or driven by pride. He takes care to escape us. His gesture is both political and religious. He plays the other-stage on the stage of this world. This does not mean he does not make the difference. By the way, that is the reason why he is a hero, not a madman.

[7] See Homi K. Bhabha, The location of Culture, 1993.