Ahmed Afzaal

The Nature and Logic of Capitalism (4)

In chapter 5 of The Nature and Logic of Capitalism (titled “The Ideology of Capital”), Heilbroner discusses the role of ideology under capitalism, as seen in three different areas of social life: economic, political, and cultural.

Heilbroner defines ideology as a system of “thought and belief by which dominant classes explain to themselves how their social system operates and what principles it exemplifies” (p. 108). He emphasizes that an ideology is not the same thing as propaganda, which is consciously designed to manipulate people; ideology, in contrast, is not intended to deceive but to enlighten. In other words, “the purpose of an ideology is not to mystify but to clarify; not to mislead the lower classes but to enlighten all classes, in particular the ruling class” (p. 117). Ideology is an explanation that the dominant class uses to rationalize its own behavior, explaining to itself how its actions are morally righteous as well as utterly necessary for the greater good of society. Ideology is the lens “through which the ruling class observes its own actions” (p. 117) and finds them to be justified, meaningful, important, and praiseworthy.

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The Nature and Logic of Capitalism (3)

Chapter 4 of The Nature and Logic of Capitalism is titled “The Role of the State.” The issue here is the nature of the relationship between two kinds of power, political and economic.

Heilbroner begins by noting that a social formation is a complex totality consisting of many different elements; some of these elements function harmoniously while others may be in conflict with each other. Obviously, it would be a mistake to describe any given social formation by paying attention only to its most obvious or most active element. At the same time, all of the various elements of a social formation should not receive the same amount of attention, for some of them play a more central role than others in determining its nature and logic. Indeed, every social formation is characterized by a “central organizing principle,” i.e., a key element that exerts a disproportional influence over all other aspects of society. In the case of capitalist social formation, that principle is “capital with its self-expanding attributes” (p. 79). While we don’t want to reduce everything that happens in a capitalist social formation to the sole influence of capital, we cannot afford to ignore its pervasive influence either. Heilbroner summarizes his point as follows:

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The Nature and Logic of Capitalism (2)

Heilbroner begins chapter 3 (“The Regime of Capital”) by reiterating the main points from the first two chapters. He describes capitalism as a “stratified society in which the accumulation of wealth fulfills two functions: the realization of prestige . . . and the expression of power.” The accumulation of capital is driven partly because it is the means for acquiring “preeminence and distinction” in society, and partly because it is the way in which “the dominant class expresses and renews its social control” (p. 53).

For Heilbroner, the “sublimation of the drive for power into the drive for capital” is not only what defines the nature of capitalism but it is also what shapes its logic. The logic of capitalism, its historical trajectory, displays a number of distinctive features that I shall summarize below.

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