Beyond satisfaction: Desire, consumption, and the future of socialism

Topoi 15 (2):189-210 (1996)
Anti-capitalist thinkers in the West have long argued that the expansion of markets creates new wants faster than it can satisfy them, and that consumption under capitalism is a form of addictive behavior. Recently, however, the relentless expansion of desire has come to be seen as a strength rather than a weakness of capitalist regimes. To understand this change socialists must consider whether there is a point to consumer spending that goes beyond satisfaction with what one gets. Freud's notion of instinctual ambivalence illuminates the ways in which spending itself is a fusion of the desires to lose and to gain. This helps to explain how the socialist distinction between satisfying and addictive consumption misses the mark. Broadening this insight, we can see that Western thought about justice, originating in Judeo-Christian theology, conceals a fundamental ambivalence about both domination and gain by suggesting that inequality (beginning with that between God and man) is justified when the dominating party loses and the gainer submits. Ironically, however, the new post-utilitarian rationale for capitalism undermines this putative justification of social inequality in consumer-oriented capitalist societies by bringing our internal ambivalence about gain and dominance to the surface. This development creates an opportunity for a new beginning in Marxian social theory. The final sections of the essay suggest that social theory has been trapped in a debate over whether predators (and their human counterparts) kill in order to eat or eat in order to kill (Marx vs. Nietzsche). To break this trap we must shift the basis of social criticism from the metaphor of predation to the metaphor of parasitism. This changes the focus of critical analysis from unmasking the predator in every situation to identifying in every social structure the mechanisms of incorporation, mutual subversion, asymmetrical exchange, and surplus-creation (as distinct from equilibrium). If neither the desire for gain nor the desire for dominance are self-explanatory, then the Marxian critique of Nietzsche and the Nietzschean critique of Marxism both have valid points. The essay concludes with reflections about the importance of addressing the post-utilitarian rationale of capitalism with the same depth and comprehensiveness that we find in Marx's critique of its utilitarian rationale.
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1007/BF00135389
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history Request removal from index
Download options
PhilPapers Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy on self-archival     Papers currently archived: 24,479
External links
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library
References found in this work BETA
John Rawls (2009). A Theory of Justice. In Steven M. Cahn (ed.), Philosophy and Rhetoric. Oxford University Press. pp. 133-135.

View all 25 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

No citations found.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Monthly downloads

Added to index


Total downloads

58 ( #84,288 of 1,925,765 )

Recent downloads (6 months)

20 ( #26,403 of 1,925,765 )

How can I increase my downloads?

My notes
Sign in to use this feature

Start a new thread
There  are no threads in this forum
Nothing in this forum yet.