Simmel, Marx and the Radical Concept of Life: A Hegelian Approach
Canonical interpretations of Simmel’s work correctly place his sociology and philosophy under the neo-Kantian epistemological paradigm. Yet, it is often assumed that Simmel’s work operates solely at some unbridgeable distance from Marx and the latter’s Hegelian heritage. Simmel’s ‘Hegelianism’ is all too often held to repel synthesis in favor of ‘tragedy’. At best, Simmel’s metaphysics is seen as a skeptical opening of the Spirit to individuated forms of authentic ethical valuations. In this essay I shall argue instead that Simmel’s prolific, and often contradictory, writings invite affinities to the “Hegel-Marx” constellation of normativity. I will thus: a) briefly discuss Simmel’s relationism through a normative lens, with emphasis on the notion of ‘reciprocity’ (e.g. Papilloud) in modernity; b) consider Simmel’s category of Life from a Hegelian lens. Aided by Marcuse’s reading of Hegel I shall argue that Simmel’s critique of normativity is not as an outright rejection of ‘universality’ but, rather, as a claim to differentiate ‘universality’, mediating it with ‘individuality’, a project tied to modern life's disjunctive logic; c) argue that reclaiming the Marxian project of an emancipated ‘life’ as an anthropological and normative nexus, requires a reconsideration of a relational process of life, which, at the same time, recovers the ‘undifferentiated’ a priori of a life free of (surplus) alienation, a concept that sustains the normative force of Marx’s ‘universality’. Thus, Simmel’s ‘practical idealism’ (Leck) can potentially inform Marx’s emancipatory vision. So whilst it may still be premature to identify a systematic “Simmelian Marxism”, the roots of such a program lie not in debunking Simmel’s metaphysics of life but in critically recuperating the ‘regulative ideal’ of life’s movement, ‘free’ of coercion, alienation and moral fundamentalists of sorts.