Ref. :  000001935
Date :  2001-10-13
Language :  English
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Monetary Code (Interiorization of the …)

Monetary Code

Author :  Wolfgang Kaempfer

« Can liberalism (« des structures collectives », P. Bourdieu), in its destructive course, be believed to leave the individual/subject unaltered ? » asks Dany-Robert Dufour (1). The answer, of course, is negative. According to the author, a real « dismissal of the subject » has occurred, and, as many others, Dufour is trying to account for this dismissal by referring to the lack of a « collective voice » due to the disappearance of the big Other (in the Lacanian sense). "For me to be here, I need the Other to be there" he says, assuring that "the market cannot stand as a new Other".

Yet, this very market seems nowadays to represent a sort of platform that virtually comprehends all of Humanity on this planet. Obedient only to one general code, the monetary code, which is necessary for all those who seek access to the goods of this world (and who could or even would want to do without them?), the market, now a global one, seems in the whole to work exactly like the Other of men, and, moreover, like the only Other with an objective value. There are several "Others" in a world that, despite important contemporary agitation, is continually narrowing down to a unique Universe. Compared to the only code that is accepted as objective --and which, for this reason, is the origin of the contemporary unification of the world-- any other code, that is to say ancient or new divinities (that either come from tradition, from different cultures, or from recent or historical ideologies), can only be subjective. Given the strength and the unavoidable aspect of the present global monetary code, other regimes take on a relative aspect, and, in the last analysis, it is the global monetary code itself that has made them relative.

But where does this extraordinary strength, this ability to make any other "collective voice" relative come from ? What does its mysterious aspect conceal ? This strength consists, it seems, of the power of addressing people in a paradoxical and contradictory manner. It calls for two different things that both neutralize and consolidate each other. The call for socialization --a distant socialization, but one that is efficient and acknowledged, that is to say socialization thanks to money-- goes together with a claim that opposes it directly, that is to say the call for each individual's natural selfishness for normal instincts of self preservation --and consequently, for desocialization.
It is too soon forgotten that men, the zoon politikon itself, never really and permanently transcend their fundamental ambitions : the desire to be recognized and admired by fellow men, by others, is just as important as more basic or selfish desires. In the German language, some phrases that express a sort of social recognition or consideration for wealth or comfortable lifestyles that result from this seem in this context a little more obvious than in the French language: words like Geld (money) and gelten (the fact of being considered), for instance, are used almost as synonyms.

Along with what was called the "bourgeois" era, starting from the seventeenth century in Europe, a surprising shift in attitudes and behaviors towards money took place. The famous "code" then became a true key : the only way of access to worldly goods was starting to loose its sinister aspect, its dubious and fiendish reputation inherited from the Middle-Ages but which was still to be found within the enlightened spirits of the time such as Erasmus, Thomas More or Shakespeare. Under the powerful influence of the Reformation, and especially of Calvinism, the idea was imposed that any form of wealth, any richness was much more likely to be a sign of divine benevolence than the result of fiendish deeds. And the new attention that was paid to this socializing and desocializing code began to spread to the very agents of the new pursuit of an abstract (intangible) good that was to be stored and accumulated, and even more so since the benevolent God, the Reformist God, had forbidden any useless cost and any form of luxury.

But once it was considered sacred, once it was made holy by God himself, money, the new "fetish" as Karl Marx was to name it a few decades later, would to head its own way after having freed itself from its supreme master, the benevolent Lord. Just as modern man himself, money was to obtain the signs of its own glory step by step. Reaching the rank of a divinity, as it is by the way underlined in Marx's analysis, it had blatantly shifted from the outside to the inside, from a three-dimensional setting that allowed confrontation, location, combat (again as in Erasmus, Thomas More and Shakespeare) to the non-geographical and imaginary location of the mind (of the soul) that Descartes does not call res cogitans for no reason. From that precise moment on, money could secretly infiltrate the most subtle and the purest thoughts, including those of the highest Philosophy (as that of Immanuel Kant - I here refer to some research led by A. Sohn-Rethel, J. Hörisch, E. Bockelmann, and to the following conclusion).

In fact, the enigma of the relative character of any other "collective voice" is simple : the "monetary code" has the same power everywhere, that is to say the power to make mediations between what is particular and what is general, between the object and the concept, the singular and the plural (merchandise and money). The new experience provided by the continual handling of the money "generalizing-mediator" seems to be the origin of very different modes and methods of generalization and mediation, whether they are scientific, philosophical, sociological…

The regime of the monetary code, of the new third party or of the new Other of man seems to have established itself in a rather unnoticed and instinctive way. Its traces and its residue are everywhere to be found, but they are generally coded themselves, that is to say translated in different particular codes that are valid within the different concerned subjects. Thus may we for instance decode what hides behind the a priori power of the well-known synthetic judgements of reason in Kant's philosophy. This power, the power of reason, is in fact not so different from a more material power which is called the purchasing power --a type of power that can also be a mediation between what is general and anything that is particular.


(1) Le Monde Diplomatique, February 2001, p.16-17.

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