Post-Modernism Has Not Smashed to Pieces the Meta-Narrative of Bourgeois-Capitalism

Western high-tech civilization can never fully enter the post-modern era without eradicating civilization of bourgeois-state-capitalism, namely, the meta-narrative of bourgeois-capitalism, that encrusted jewel, dead center, within the crown of the Enlightenment, which continues to infect and poison high-tech society with a most horrible sickness, insatiable avarice, an avarice for unlimited power and money. The post-modern era cannot achieve full maturity under current bourgeois-capitalism conditions as the grand-narrative of bourgeois-capitalism continually impedes the overwhelming diversity and plurality that post-modernity champions and inherently demands. In effect, post-modernism has not smashed to pieces all the grand-narratives of the Enlightenment, specifically bourgeois-capitalism which, itself, continues to stalk the bright and the dark corners of western civilization, weaving and grafting incommensurable global and local narratives into a massive totalitarian meta-narrative, namely, the logic of capitalism.

Contrary to Jean-Francois Lyotard, “the principle of a plurality of [linguistic] systems”, ((Jean-Francois Lyotard. The Post-Modern Condition, Trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massimo (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984) p. 43.)) existing side by side in incommensurable independence, without any overarching meta-narrative terrorizing over the others in the name of homogeneity and totalitarian unity, is false and nonsense. It is false and nonsense because bourgeois-capitalism encroaches upon every aspect of everyday life, stitching any sort of incommensurable narrative into a functionalist-capitalist dominion. That is, a dominion whose fundamental imperative is the profit-imperative; i.e., the logic of capitalism, which commands, “the maximization of profit, by any means necessary, at the lowest financial cost, as soon as possible” ((Michel Luc Bellemare. The Structural-Anarchism Manifesto: (The Logic of Structural Anarchism Versus The Logic of Capitalism), (Montréal: Blacksatin Publications Inc., 2016).)) for all narratives; i.e., language-games, big or small, regardless of genre and/or expediency.

The primary characteristic of the post-modern age; i.e., the post-modern condition, is that “grand narrative[s] [have] lost…credibility” ((Jean-Francois Lyotard. The Post-Modern Condition, Trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massimo (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984) p. 37.)) and that “the decline of [meta-narratives] can be seen as an effect of the development of techniques and technologies, since the Second World War”, ((Ibid, p. 37.)) which have vanquished the Enlightenment and its meta-narratives to the social periphery and reduced society to a matter of money, profit and “the logic of maximum performance”. ((Ibid, p. xxxiv.)) That is, maximum performance in achieving maximum power and maximum capitalist profitability across everyday life and across socio-economic existence, pertaining to a select few who are so lucky to exemplify the logic of capitalism in all its opulent splendor.

According to Jean Francois Lyotard, the dissolution and de-legitimization of grand narratives, due to technological progress, which is constantly moving in “the direction [of]…the computerization of society”, ((Ibid, p. 7.)) has meant “a loss of meaning” ((Ibid, p. 26.)) across high-tech western civilization. In effect, the ever-increasing accumulation of techno-scientific knowledge and autonomous technologies has increasingly undermined age old certainties, wherefore, according to Marx, “all fast-frozen relations…are swept away [and] all that is solid melts into air…[whereupon] man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life”, ((Karl Marx. Manifesto of the Communist Party,” in The Marx-Engels Reader, Ed. Robert C. Tucker (New York, New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc., 1978) p. 476.)) bourgeois-money and bourgeois-power, ad infinitum.

In this regard, the capitalist techno-scientific process of creative-destruction; i.e., “the essential fact about capitalism”, ((Joseph A. Schumpeter. Can Capitalism Survive? (Creative Destruction and The Future of The Global Economy), (New York, New York: Harper & Row, 1950) p. 43.)) according to Joseph Schumpeter, has brought with it a sense of demoralization and skepticism, pertaining to all great social and communal aims as everything, everyone, and every technological process increasingly boils down to “optimizing the [capitalist] system’s performance”. ((Jean-Francois Lyotard. The Post-Modern Condition, Trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massimo (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984) p. xxiv.)) The fact is that the optimization of capitalist performance, invariably, always revolves around maximizing capitalist profit and capitalist power at the expense of other possible performance objectives, which are brutally cast aside. The result is that bourgeois-capitalism incessantly produces an “atmosphere of almost universal hostility to its own social order”. ((Joseph A. Schumpeter, p. 155.)) In effect, capitalism, through its constant mechanism of creative-destruction manufactures “an atmosphere of hostility [that] decomposes the… forces of capitalism from within”, ((Ibid, p. 191.)) undermining the very mode of production that capitalism relies upon, namely, the capitalist mode of production, which is the capital/labor relation fused to certain forces of production.

Like Schumpeter, for Lyotard, “capitalism…cannot exist without a [constant] shattering of belief and without…the lack of [firm] reality”, ((Jean-Francois Lyotard, p. 77.)) due to the fact that bourgeois-capitalism requires a certain amount of vacuity, both mental and physical, in order to establish its own capitalist realities. These capitalist realities are artificially constructed in order to maximize capitalist profits, capitalist power, and establish capitalism as best and most legitimate socio-economic system in the eyes of the general-population. The point, for bourgeois-capitalism, is to encourage nihilism in and across everyday life; i.e., “the conviction of the [unattainability] of… [universal] values [which seeds]…the idea of valueless-ness [and] meaninglessness…[across] existence”, ((Friedrich Nietzsche. The Will To Power, Ed. Walter Kaufmann (New York, New York: Vintage Books, 1967) pp. 9-11.)) resulting in an opportunity for capitalist commodities to fill the void manifested by this nihilism. However, this manufactured nihilism, according to Schumpeter, simultaneously manifests a universal hostility towards capitalism in the sense that “after having destroyed the moral authority of so many other [non-capitalist] institutions, [capitalism] … turns against its own [institutions]” ((Joseph A. Schumpeter, p. 155-156.)) which erode the meta-narratives of the Enlightenment; i.e., the very faith in the supremacy of bourgeois-state-capitalism.

Consequently, according to Lyotard, capitalist-techno-science reduces, and continuously reduces, human existence to a series of power “moves” founded on the accumulation of wealth, influence, and increased performativity, all of which destroy grand-narratives and produce nihilism as an after-effect. In fact, for Lyotard, nihilism results from this breaking up of the grand narratives [which leads to] the dissolution of the social bond and the disintegration of social aggregates into a mass of individual atoms thrown into [constant]…motion. [Whereupon], each [individualist atom now] exists in a fabric of relations that is now more complex and mobile than ever before. [In fact,] young or old, man or woman, rich or poor, …is [now] always located at nodal points of specific communication circuits, however tiny these may be. [The point is,]…to improve…[systemic, capitalist] performance. ((Jean-Francois Lyotard, p. 15.))

With every technological intrusion and amelioration across everyday life, the sum of socio-economic existence is atomized to its smallest units possible. Wherefore, belief in anything transcendent is shattered and “the goal is no longer truth, but performativity”, ((Ibid, p. 46.)) namely, the maximization of profit and power in the hands of a select few, which compose the upper-echelons of the capitalist-system. The only life-line offered by bourgeois-capitalism, after the dissolution of meta-narratives, according to Lyotard, is an empty-transcendence offered through the consumption of commodities, which in the end, exacerbate the prevalent feeling of emptiness pervading the stratums of everyday life. As a result, “the only credible goal [becomes] power”. ((Ibid, p. 46.))

Technology reduces socio-economic existence and everyday life to means/ends rationality; i.e., the functional imperative, which focuses on the maximization of power and capital, where “the question… now asked by…the State, [people,] or institutions…is no longer is it true, but, what use is it?…[and] is it saleable?…[that is] is it efficient?” ((Ibid, p. 51.)) This reductive process brought about via technological progress, means that “we no longer have recourse to grand-narratives. We can resort neither to the dialectic of spirit nor even to the emancipation of humanity as [our] validation [for anything]”. ((Ibid, p. 60.)) Everything, every process, becomes a matter of maximizing power and money, “the social system [is] conceived as a totality in quest of its most performative unity possible”. ((Ibid, p. 63.)) And, like cogs in a machine, humans are utilized to ameliorate the system’s performativity. As Lyotard states, “the [capitalist] system seems to be a vanguard machine dragging humanity after it, dehumanizing it in order to re-humanize it at a different level of [socio-economic] capacity, [via managing] technocrats”, ((Ibid, p. 63.)) which administrate “individuals [to] want what the [capitalist] system needs in order to perform well”. ((Ibid. p. 62))

Granted, the Enlightenment grand-narratives of social emancipation and spirit; i.e., the quest for absolute knowledge and freedom, have faded and lost credibility, as Lyotard argues, but, nonetheless, the Enlightenment grand-narrative of bourgeois-capitalism persists and, in fact, has filled the void left behind by these other Enlightenment grand-narratives.  According to Lyotard, the “post-modern [is]…the condition of…no regulating [universal] ideal”, ((Jean-Francois Lyotard. The Differend: Phrases in Dispute, Trans. Georges Van Den Abbeele (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988) p. 155.)) yet, this is not the case in the sense that the Enlightenment meta-narrative of bourgeois-capitalism has become the new universal ideal, determining the direction of high-tech western civilization. Indeed, the meta-narrative of bourgeois-capitalism enables the domination of certain capitalist judgments and capitalist criterions, which continue to establish bourgeois social norms and capitalist existential standards across the stratums of everyday life on behalf of the old grand-narratives of the Enlightenment. As Lyotard states, with sleight of hand, “capitalism…disguises its ‘realism’ under the idea of an emancipation from poverty”, ((Jean-Francois Lyotard and Jean-Loup Thebaud. Just Gaming, Trans. Wlad Godzich (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985) p. 16.)) wherefore, once again, the Enlightenment meta-narrative of human emancipation is covertly reintroduced via a new guise, which establishes “the [Enlightenment] economic genre…[as] universal criterion”. ((Ibid, p. 177.)) The result is that the universal “tribunal of capitalism’s…verdict [is] always pronounced in favor of [money and power]”, ((Ibid, p. 178.)) namely, bourgeois-money and capitalist power.

Moreover, the sensus communis; i.e., the sense of community, which Lyotard states has disappeared across high-tech western civilization due to the dissolution of the grand-narratives of social emancipation and Spirit, is reintroduced via the meta-narrative of bourgeois-capitalism, which imposes a new social bond on social relations founded on systemic performativity, bourgeois-money, and capitalist power. This forceful intrusion of bourgeois-capitalism, on behalf of the Enlightenment, annuls Lyotard’s post-modern notion of any federation of infinite, incommensurable micro-narratives, interacting with each other, devoid of overarching logic. Indeed, undermining his own argument, Lyotard readily states:

The economic genre [of bourgeois-capitalism has] hegemony over the others, [it] can …put on the garb of an emancipatory philosophy of history, [imposing the idea of] more wealth. The economic genre of capital in no way requires… [to] admit…heterogeneity.  To the contrary, it requires the suppression of that heterogeneity. ((Ibid, p. 178.))

Lyotard seems to be perpetrating a ruse in the sense that he is arguing for two simultaneous positions, which are, in fact, dialectically opposing positions. That is, Lyotard is simultaneously arguing that the heterogeneity of micro-narratives, devoid of any unifying principles and/or meta-narratives, is the new condition of socio-economic existence, found across western high-tech. civilization, while simultaneously arguing that bourgeois-capitalism holds hegemony over all these incommensurable micro-narratives across western high-tech civilization. In fact, Lyotard readily states that the meta-narrative of bourgeois-capitalism suppresses the sum of heterogeneous narratives, phrases and/or language-games, in favor of maximum performance, maximum power and maximum capital, which directly contradicts his idea of the prevalence of post-modernity, plurality, and the fact that there are no longer universal criterions to base judgments upon.

Although Lyotard states that we need not concern ourselves too much about the encroachment of the meta-narrative of bourgeois-capitalism since bourgeois-capitalist “bureaucratization is [merely an] outer limit”, ((Jean-Francois Lyotard. The Post-Modern Condition, Trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massimo (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984) p. 17.)) there is still  an application of force being applied to corral incommensurable narratives. As he states, despite the fact that “today…the limits [that any bourgeois-capitalist] institution imposes on…language [and language] ‘moves’ are never established once and for all”, ((Ibid, p. 17.)) micro-narratives continue to be subjugated to the Enlightenment meta-narrative of bourgeois-capitalism. Basically, Lyotard, brushes aside, with a gentle sleight of hand, the fact that there is still an Enlightenment meta-narrative at work controlling “the flexible networks of language games”. ((Ibid. 17.)). He argues that, despite the dominance of the meta-narrative of bourgeois-capitalism, its control is soft, pliable, and never truly finalized in the sense that the limits bourgeois-capitalism places onto the strands of micro-narratives are always subject to change, since they are stakes in any confrontation. Nevertheless, by his own admission, Enlightenment meta-narratives continue to influence, control, and impose limits on the plurality, the diversity, and the egalitarianism, inherent within the post-modern condition. Notwithstanding, for Lyotard, the post-modern condition is more or less a condition, exclusively consigned to the upper-echelons of bourgeois-capitalist society; i.e., technocrats and decision-makers, who comprise the most indoctrinated and profit-driven social groupings within bourgeois-capitalist society:

What is a good…utterance, a ‘good’ performance in…technical matters? They are all judged to be ‘good’ because they conform to the relevant [bourgeois-capitalist] criteria (of justice, beauty, truth, and efficiency respectively) accepted in the social circles of [anointed capitalist] knowers. ((Ibid, p. 19.))

These anointed capitalist knowers are chosen by the best proponents of the Enlightenment meta-narrative of bourgeois-capitalism. These anointed capitalist knowers are the embodiments of the meta-narrative of bourgeois-capitalism, meant to spread the gospel of bourgeois-capitalism and befuddle any opposing criterions of judgment that may run contrary to the meta-narrative of bourgeois-capitalism. For Lyotard, the play, the flexibility, and the diversity, expressed in the plurality of micro-narratives, devoid of all meta-narratives, is exclusively consigned to and safeguarded for the upper-echelons of bourgeois-state-capitalism, where the system’s imperative for maximum systemic performance, does not apply. In a similar fashion, Marx always argued that the best exemplars of bourgeois-capitalism never applied the same criteria to themselves which they applied to the workforce/population, in general. As he states “the non-worker does everything against the worker which the worker does against him/herself, but he [or she] does not do against him/herself what he [or she] does against the worker”. ((Karl Marx. “Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844”, The Marx-Engels Reader,Robert C. Tucker (New York, New York: W.W. Norton & Company Inc., 1978) p. 81.)) Meaning, that the best exemplars of the meta-narrative of bourgeois-capitalism hold themselves to a different standard and criteria than the general-population. They solely apply the rigors of the logic of capitalism and optimum performance to the workforce/population, while, excusing themselves from such a criteria and imperative.

Consequently, the bourgeois imperative of optimum capitalist performance is an imperative imposed upon the lower stratums of the capitalist-system, both forcefully and softly, wherefore, the general-population continually has to perform and conform to what “the principle of optimal [capitalist] performance” ((Jean-Francois Lyotard, The Post-Modern Condition, Trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massimo (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984) p. 44.)) demands and/or commands, without exception. The upper-echelons of bourgeois-capitalism are absolved of this imperative. Their task is to manage western high-tech civilization along the lines of this performance criterion. Specifically, they are exempt from the rigors of this maximum performance imperative. The lot is merely to enjoy the fruits and the luxuries that this performance criterion; i.e., profit-imperative, provides them.

In this regard, the Enlightenment endures through the empty utopian promises of universal bourgeois-capitalism, which as Lyotard states, celebrate a post-modern eclecticism, with an increasing sense of liberty and infinite choice, when in fact, this is not truly the case. It is not the case in the sense that this so-called post-modern eclecticism is without real socio-economic diversity, equality, and linguistic heterogeneity. As always, money talks and money is all that matters, such is the essential imperative lodged inside the grand-narrative of bourgeois-capitalism. In actuality, bourgeois-capitalist-post-modernity is a superficial diversity, equality, and heterogeneity localized primarily in capitalist commodities, which demands that for anyone to participate in this eclectic bourgeois façade and capitalist pageantry, they must possess a certain level of monetary-power. Indeed, Lyotard is correct, when he states:

Postmodern…eclecticism is the degree zero of contemporary general culture: [where] one listens to reggae, watches a western, eats McDonald’s food for lunch and local cuisine for dinner, wears Paris perfume in Tokyo and “retro” clothes in Hong Kong…[and] “anything goes”. The epoch is one of slackening…but this realism of “anything goes” is in fact that of money [where the] criteria…to assess…value [is based on] profits and…purchasing power. ((Ibid, p. 76.))

Insofar, as the meta-narrative of bourgeois-capitalism promises to satisfy all human needs via an incessant celebratory monologue that champions the capitalist marketplace, the catch, or ruse, is the fact that these human needs must first have a certain level of power and money in order to be acknowledged as valid needs, by the meta-narrative of bourgeois-capitalism.

Consequently, the post-modern epoch may be defined as an infinite series of incommensurable language-games and discourses etc., by Lyotard. However, these incommensurable language-games and discourses are, nonetheless, continuously unified and tied together via the meta-narrative of bourgeois-capitalism, which through “the exercise of terror…says ‘adapt your aspiration to our [capitalist] ends –or else”. ((Ibid, p. 64.)) The exercise of terror by the Enlightenment meta-narrative of bourgeois-capitalism, imposes a unifying principle, or profit-imperative, upon the plurality of language-games, discourses and narratives, ultimately, impeding the development, the maturation, and the realization of a post-modernity via the exercise of a certain type of bourgeois-capitalist terrorism. That is, a very real fear, threatening the multiplicity of language-games, narratives, and discourses with imprisonment, unemployment, repression, hunger or worst etc., if there is too much deviation between them and/or between them and bourgeois-capitalism.

In consequence, the despotism imposed by the meta-narrative of bourgeois-capitalism “does not respect the plurality of language-games”, ((Jean-Francois Lyotard and Jean-Loup Thebaud. Just Gaming, Trans. Wlad Godzich (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985) p. 98.)) but instead, imposes a totalitarian regime upon post-modernity, which distorts, falsifies, and misrepresents its fundamental goal and imperative: pragmatic egalitarianism. That is, a pragmatic egalitarianism, in all shapes and forms, which commands plurality, diversity, and socio-economic parity, in relative equal measure, across all stratums of everyday life for all micro-narratives, language-games, and discourses, regardless of race, gender, class, age or background etc. As a result, the actualization of post-modernity is stifled under the meta-narrative of bourgeois-capitalism. It is cut short. It is asphyxiated in the name of bourgeois-power and bourgeois-money, namely, the last standing grand narrative of the Enlightenment, bourgeois-state-capitalism, which favors those select few that best embody, represent, and exemplify, the meta-narrative of bourgeois-capitalism; i.e., bourgeois-capitalist money and bourgeois-capitalist power.

In fact, Lyotard readily admits in his version of post-modernity, outlined in The Post-modern Condition, that the bourgeois-capitalist “ruling class is and will continue to be the class of decision makers. [Namely] …[that the] composite layer of corporate leaders, high-level administrators and the heads of the major professional, labor, political and religious organizations”, ((Jean-Francois Lyotard. The Post-Modern Condition, Trans. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massimo (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984) p. 14.))  will continue to enact judgments and influence in service of the Enlightenment meta-narrative of bourgeois-capitalism. In this regard, Lyotard puts forward a false-view of post-modernism, that is, a view of post-modernism, which champions plurality, diversity, and egalitarianism while simultaneously still being ruled by a cadre of bourgeois-capitalist aristocrats and technocrats; i.e., a state-finance-corporate aristocracy.

Ultimately, what Lyotard fails to mention is that post-modernity has not fully bloomed; i.e., that it has not gone far enough, insofar as it has yet to realize its raison d’être, egalitarianism, in its full capacity. Post-modernism has not gone far enough due to the fact that the seeming plurality of language-games, discourses, phrases, and micro-narratives pervading everyday life continues to be suppressed under a lingering meta-narrative of the Enlightenment; i.e., bourgeois-capitalism. As Lyotard states, “the price to pay for such…illusions [i.e., meta-narrative] is terror”. ((Ibid, p. 81,)) That is, the forceful application of a set of bourgeois-capitalism criterions, which impede the diversity, the plurality and the equality shared between narratives.  In effect, the meta-narrative of bourgeois-capitalism has filled the void left over by those other obsolete Enlightenment meta-narratives described by Lyotard as the grand-narrative of absolute knowledge and/or the grand-narrative of total human emancipation etc., like them, the meta-narrative of bourgeois-capitalism perpetuates the universal ideals of the Enlightenment.

As a result, despite the “nation-states, parties, professions, institutions, and historical traditions…losing their attraction”, ((Ibid, p. 14.)) like a zombie, the Enlightenment meta-narrative of bourgeois-capitalism lingers-on and persists in imposing its despotism over all narratives. That is, it persists to fashion “society [into] a unified totality, a unicity …[a] perfectly sealed circle of facts…[that is, a] social whole [programmed] for the optimization of… performance”. ((Ibid, p. 12.)).  Therefore, if post-modernism is to achieve full maturity, it is imperative that all small micro-narratives “wage war on totality [and seek to] activate [and multiply] differences”, ((Ibid, p. 82.)) in every shape and form, so that the meta-narrative of bourgeois-capitalism can finally be utterly nullified.

Michel Luc Bellemare's latest book, Techno-Capitalist-Feudalism, was published in September 2020. He is also the author of The Structural-Anarchism Manifesto: (The Logic of Structural-Anarchism Versus The Logic of Capitalism). Michel Luc is a member of the Metis Algonquin Nation of Ontario, Canada. Read other articles by Michel Luc.