The Poverty of Theory
The modern State cannot be grasped as a reality, substance, objectivity (an inert or organic object). The State is not seen. No more than the Law. They do not pertain to the sensible. You can photograph rulers. Not the State. What does the spectator see, from the outside, or the member, from the inside? He does not see the Law, only the policeman. We only see the theatrical appearance of the State, the ceremonial garments. The State is not seen, it is conceived: this allows Hegel and Hegelians to claim that the State is (nothing but) an idea.
Lefebvre, Henri, De l’État, vol. 1, 1976, pp. 42-3 (via fuckyeahdialectics)
If capitalism cannot do without an orientation towards the common good, whence it derives reasons for commited engagement, its lack of concern for norms means that the spirit of capitalism cannot be generated exclusively out of its own resources. As a result, it needs its enemies, people whom it outrages and who are opposed to it, to find the moral supports it lacks and to incorporate mechanisms of justice whose relevance it would otherwise have no reason to acknowledge. The capitalist system has proved infinitely more robust than its detractors - Marx at their head - thought. But this is also because it has discovered routes to its survival in critiques of it. For example, did not the new capitalist order derived from the Second World War share with fascism and communism the features of assigning great importance to the state, and a certain economic dirigisme? It is probably this surprising capacity for survival by absorbing part of the critique that has helped to disarm anti-capitalist forces. The paradoxical consequence is that in periods when capitalism seems triumphant - as is the case today - it displays a fragility that emerges precisely when real competitors have disappeared.
L Boltanski & E Chiapello (2005) The New Spirit of Capitalism, Verso: London
[Critique] can delegitimate previous spirits and strip them of their effectiveness. Thus, Daniel Bell argues that American capitalism encountered major difficulties at the end of the 1960s, as a result of a growing tension between ways of relating to work derived from the Protestant asceticism it continued to rely on, and the blossoming of a mode of existence, based on immediate consumer pleasure stimulated by credit and mass production, which wage-earners in capitalist firms were encouraged to adopt in their private lives. According to this analysis, the materialistic hedonism of the consumer society clashed head-on with - that is, criticized - the values of toil and saving that were supposed, at least implicitly, to support life at work, and thus undermined modes of engagement associated with the then dominant spirit of capitalism, which consequently found itself partially delegitimated. There ensued a significant demobilization of wage-earners as a result of altered expectations and aspirations.
L Boltanski & E Chiapello (2005) The New Spirit of Capitalism, Verso: London
The subsequent extension of management by objectives in large firms, and the wealth of detail and practical advice given by management authors, indicate that the stylized images and modes of excellence that feature in management literature cannot be reduced to ideology, in the sense of a merely superficial discourse aiming - in order, for example, to satisfy the expectations of a new public - to present a mode of organization and management in a new light, while concealing its reproduction in identical form. The new managerial norm accompanies a set of measures intended to establish new mechanisms in firms. Even though, at the time these texts were written, such mechanisms were not as prevalent as some of their authors claimed, they were nevertheless in place, to varying degrees, in enough enterprises, and represented a sufficient break with old habits, to make this intense effort to explain and justify them necessary. As expressed in this literature, the spirit of capitalism is thus in a dialectical relationship with mechanisms whose implementation it accompanies and faciliatates.
L Boltanski & E Chiapello (2005) The New Spirit of Capitalism, Verso: London

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Oversimplifying, the transition from control to self-control, and the externalization of control costs formerly met by organizations on to wage-earners and customers, may be regarded as the most significant features of the evolution of management in the last thirty years. Why vest control in a hierarchy of cadres, who are all the more costly in that they subordinate their own adhesion to a stable career, if wage-earners can be induced to control themselves? From this viewpoint, hierarchical cadres are simply unproductive workers. Thus it is that the new mechanisms, combined with a reduction in the number of levels of hierarchy, aim to increase the autonomy of people and teams, leading them to take responsibility for some of the supervisory tasks once assumed by higher grades or managerial departments. This development is especially striking in the case of factories, which were more marked than any other enterprise site by a Taylorist form of organisation involving a separation between design, control and execution. This is one of the most important principles undermined by Toyotism, which in the 1980s served as a fulcrum for rejecting Fordism and (in the words of Benjamin Coriat) rethinking production methods ‘from top to bottom’. Workers, henceforth called operatives, gradually found themselves charged with quality control and certain maintenance tasks.
L Boltanski & E Chiapello (2005) The New Spirit of Capitalism, Verso: London
It is not difficult to find an echo here [in the 1990s neo-management literature] of the denunciations and aspirations to autonomy that were insistently expressed at the end of the 1960s and 1970s. Moreover, this filiation is claimed by some of the consultants who contributed to establishing neo-management mechanisms in the 1980s. Hailing from leftism, and especially the self-management movement, they stress the continuity between the commitments of their youth and the activities that they pursued in the firms, following the political turning-point of 1983, with a view to making working conditions appealing, improving productivity, developing quality, and increasing profits. Thus, for example, the qualities that are guarantees of success in this new spirit - autonomy, spontaneity, rhizomorphous capacity, multitasking (in contrast to the narrow specialization of the old division of labour), conviviality, openness to others and novelty, availability, creativity, visionary intuition, sensitivity to differences, listening to lived experience and receptiveness to a whole range of experiences, being attracted to informality and the search for interpersonal contacts - these are taken directly from the repertoire of May 1968. But these themes, which in the texts of the May movement were combined with a radical critique of capitalism (particularly the critique of exploitation), and the proclamation of its imminent end, are often to be found in the neo-management literature autonomized, as it were - represented as objectives that are valid in their own right, and placed in the service of forces whose destruction they were intended to hasten. The critique of the division of labour, of hierarchy and supervision - that is to say, of the way industrial capitalism alienates freedom - is thus detached from the critique of market alienation, of oppression by impersonal market forces, which invariably accompanied it in the oppositional writings of the 1970s.
L Boltanski & E Chiapello (2005) The New Spirit of Capitalism, Verso: London
In taking the effects of the justification of capitalism by reference to a common good seriously, we distance ourselves both from critical approaches for which only capitalism’s tendency to unlimited accumulation at any price is real, and the sole function of ideologies is to conceal the reality of all-powerful economic relations of force; and from apologetic approaches which, confusing normative supports and reality, ignore the imperatives of profit and accumulation, and place the demands for justice faced by capitalism at its heart.
These two positions are not unrelated to the ambiguity of the term ‘legitimate’, with its two derivatives: legitimation and legitimacy. In the first case, legitimation is turned into a mere operation of retrospective concealment which must be unmasked in order to arrive at the reality. In the second, the communicative relevance of arguments and the legal rigour of procedures are latched on to, but without questioning the conditions of performance of the reality tests to which great men - that is, in a capitalist world, primarily the rich - owe their status, when such status is deemed legitimate. As we define it, the notion of the spirit of capitalism makes it possible to surmount an opposition that has dominated a considerable amount of the sociology and philosophy of the last thirty years, at least when it comes to works at the intersection of the social and the political: the opposition between theories, often Nietzscheo-Marxist in inspiration, which see in society only violence, relations of force, exploitation, domination and conflicts of interest; and theories, inspired instead by contractualist political philosophies, which have emphasized forms of democratic debate and the conditions of social justice. In works deriving from the first current, the description of the world seems too grim to be true: such a world would not be habitable for very long. But in works related to the second, the social world is, it must be confessed, a little too rosy to be credible. The first theoretical orientation frequently deals with capitalism, but without acknowledging any normative dimension to it. The second takes account of the moral requirements that stem from a legitimate order, yet, underestimating the importance of interests and relations of force, tends to ignore the specificity of capitalism, whose contours are blurred by virtue of the fact that they are grounded in the intricate conventions of which social order always rests.
L Boltanski & E Chiapello (2005) The New Spirit of Capitalism, Verso: London
If it is to be taken seriously in the light of the numerous critiques directed at capitalism, justification of the forms in which capitalism has operated historically must equally be subject to reality tests. To withstand such tests, the justification of capitalism must be able to lean upon various mechanisms - collections of objects, rules and conventions - of which law might be an expression at the national level, and which, not being limited to framing the pursuit of profit, are orientated towards justice. Thus, the second spirit of capitalism was inseparably bound up with mechanisms of career management in large firms, the establishment of contributory pension schemes, and the extension to an ever greater number of situations of the legal form of the wage-labour contract, so that workers enjoyed the benefits of accruing to this condition. In the absence of these mechanisms, no one could genuinely have believed in the promises of the second spirit.
L Boltanski & E Chiapello (2005) The New Spirit of Capitalism, Verso: London
In particular, the view that the pursuit of individual interests serves the general interest has been the object of an enormous, incessant labour, which has been taken up and extended throughout the history of classical economics. This separation between morality and economics, and the incorporation into economics in the same gesture of a consequentialist ethics, based upon the calculation of utilities, made it possible to supply a moral sanction for economic activities solely by dint of the fact that they are profitable. If we may be allowed a rapid summary, for the purposes of explaining the development of the history of economic theory which interests us here more clearly, it can be said that the incorporation of utilitarianism into economics made it possible to regard it as self-evident that ‘whatever served the individual served society. By logical analogy, whatever created a profit (and thereby served the individual capitalist) also served society’. In this perspective, regardless of the beneficiary, increased wealth is the sole criterion of the common good. In its everyday usage, and the public pronouncements of the agents mainly responsible for explaining economic activities - heads of firms, politicians, journalists, and so on - this vulgate makes it possible to combine individual (or local) profit and overall benefit, in a way that is at once sufficiently tight and sufficiently vague to circumvent demands for justification of the activities that contribute to accumulation. It regards it as self-evident that the specific - but not readily calculable- moral cost (a cost that still preoccupied Adam Smith) is amply offset by the quantifiable benefits of accumulation (material goods, health, etc.). It also allows it to be argued that the overall increase in wealth, regardless of the beneficiary, is a criterion of the common good, as is attested on a daily basis by the presentation of the health of a country’s firms, measured by their profit rate, their level of activity and growth, as a criterion for measuring social well-being. This enormous social labour, performed in order to establish individual material advancement as a -if not the - criterion of social well-being, has allowed capitalism to wrest unprecedented legitimacy, for its designs and mainspring were thus legitimated simultaneously.
L Boltanski & E Chiapello (2005) The New Spirit of Capitalism, Verso: London