Back to the “rough ground” for a minute (although more properly speaking said ground is soggy, soggy and cold). There’s been a lot of enthusiasm recently for Quentin Meillasoux’s theory of the “ancestral”, the material aspects of the world which are epistemically inaccessible to us and thusly fall outside a Kantian “correlationist” view of the relation between the mental and the physical. Without speculating on Meillasoux’s theory before I’ve gotten around to carefully reviewing it (twenty dollars is a lot to spend on an afternoon’s reading), I’d like to generalize the thought as it is stated and apply it to other dimensions of time and to consider the relationship of Marx to his German forebears in that light.

For the sake of the argument, consider a thumbnail sketch of Platonism: Plato was the inventor, not only of the “truth as correctness” much bemoaned by the later Heidegger, but of the ideal: the Socratic dialogues are the first place in Western literature where the question of establishing what is really the case, what is really good, what is truly true gets raised. The Ionian ‘physicists’ do not ask these questions; the various religious prophets of the Near East, including the interpreters of Greek civic gods, had no time for them. The same cannot be said for Leibniz, Kant and Hegel. The reintroduction of Plato’s works into the Western intellectual milieu helped give form to Leibniz’ early attempts at “logistic”, and Kant’s self-professed crypto-Wolffianism surely takes the form of an attention to rationalistic surety about the purchase of concepts of totality on the realm of “appearances”.

Hegel maintains all of this Platonism, but within the more precisely established bonds of intersubjectivity, or Geist. For Hegel all ideals, including the ideals of religion, realize themselves in community standards and practices. We can cheer this as a ‘precursor’ of pragmatism (although why exactly equalibertarians were ever supposed to be enthusiastic about Metaphysical Club member and Peirce’s good bud Oliver Wendell Holmes is mysterious to me); that’s not, however, the only thing it is. Rather, Hegelian intersubjectivity is a form of actualist presentism about norms and the non-normative powers that underwrite them: he probably would not even go so far as to say “the truth is what is fated to be agreed upon by all”, holding that philosophy only “comprehended its time in thought” and failure to make peace with the signposts of the age was indicative of a lack of conceptual acuity.

Perhaps we could say that Marx had something like Meillasoux’s idea of epistemically inaccesible reality in mind when conceptualizing the proletariat, although in the direction of the non-espied future rather than an ancestral past. The proletariat is fated to rule the world, according to Marx, because they simply are the forces of the future at work today: the elements of practice and revolt we do not understand today, working an effect on contemporary society at a non-conceptual level, will determine the normative concepts of tomorrow — not an “originalist” fidelity to an ‘originary’ source of insight. So perhaps we should think of Marx’s favored name for his project, “historical materialism”, in some such robustly metaphysical way.