Bell and the PMC

Rafael Candido Alvarado (rca2t@FARADAY.CLAS.VIRGINIA.EDU)
Sun, 12 Dec 1993 19:35:24 -0500

Just a few quick remarks about Seeker1's remarks on Bell and the
postmodern condition.

1. Before Bell there was Schumpeter. The latter argued that capitalism
was moving toward being an economy based on "soft proporty" (such as
stocks and bonds) and away from one based on "hard property" (such as
land). The social consequences of such a transformation have been
discussed by Nisbet, who argued that the evaporation of hard property
entails the dissolution of community bonds and mediating insitutions and
hence allows for the growth of other, larger and more invisible
institutions which exercise power without authority. In this light, we
can see that postmodernism, as a kind of anit-foundationalism, colludes
with the emergence of illegitimate (because invisible) power since it
blurs the distinction betwee power and authority and blocks the attempt
to create a shared discourse of legitimacy with which to perceive and
oppose the growth of powerful institutions. Hence, although we write
"Foucauldian" dissertations about, say, the realtionship between
political power and medical knowledge in nineteenth-century England, we
vote for a federal health-care plan that will effectively ally the
medical gaze with the long arm of the law.

2. The fact that politics has become a spectacle (in the dramatic sense)
is not distinctive of postmodernity. Politics has always operated in
this way, as a Geertzian "theatre-state," except that it has had to hide
this fact in the West and other culture areas where the sacred has been
separated from power within the discourse of its legitimation. That is,
in the West the legitimacy of power has rested precisely on the
separation of the sacred--always allied with the spectacular--and the
secular. Arguably, this is the result of a long evolution
of church and state relations influenced by Christian notions
of power--we owe the concept of the separation of church and state in
its modern form to Calvin. This raises an important dimension of the
PMC not discussed by Bell: the particular configuration of the sacred
that has followed the collapse of orthodox Christian notions (the latter
refering to those notions that held sway within the dominant discourses
f legitimacy of those core country now described as postmodern). Here
Buadrillard is helpful, if limited, as well as thinkers like Mark C.
Taylor. In any case, from the point f view of the sociology of
religion, the postmodern configuration of the sacred must be viewed in
its relation to the emergence of those institutions of power mentioned

R.C. Alvarado rca2t@Virginia.EDU
Department of Anthropology rca2t@Virginia.BITNET
University of Virginia uunet!virginia!rca2t