The year 2018 marks the 200th anniversary of Karl Marx’s birth and the 100th anniversary of Georg Simmel’s death. This course wants to take the occasion to reflect on the relation between their works and diagnosis of modern society and culture.
The relevance of Marx’s writings to Simmel’s oeuvre is out of question: in the premise of his major work, Philosophy of Money (1900), Simmel declares his intention “to construct a new storey beneath historical materialism” (from the Preface). The continuities between Simmel’s work and Karl Marx’s Capital are most striking at the level of the diagnosis of modern society: the analysis of alienation, commodity fetishism, and capital’s quantifying and accelerating tendencies are not only critically discussed but also expanded in Simmel’s investigations of the paradoxes of modern culture, to the point that David Frisby once said, The Philosophy of Money is a Capital written in dialogue with Kant’s Transcendental Aesthetic instead of Hegel’s Logic. These analysis, however, have very different philosophical and political foundations: whereas Marx relied on the tradition of Left Hegelianism, English political economy, and French socialism, Simmel dialogued mainly with neo-Kantianism, neoclassical economics, and vitalism. To what extent, then, do Simmel’s investigations on money supplement, widen or contradict Marx’s analysis of capital? Do their different philosophical and methodological starting points prevent a productive dialogue between their arguments? How to reconcile Marxian analyses of class and exploitation with Simmel’s focus on pathologies affecting the totality of modern individuals? In what way can the confrontation
between their perspectives become relevant for current sociology and social philosophy?
This course will try to reflect on these aspects of the relation between Marx and Simmel.