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“Capitalism’s Agents”: Seeing the World Straight

K-punk in his review of Democracy and other Neoliberal Fantasies has an interesting sentence that perhaps characterizes the way that people of a certain project think about the happenings and organizational properties of the world. He wants us to realize ourselves as “agents” of something, some kind of resistant mission, and that as such agents we should draw our lessons from the agents of other missions, like those of the dread neoliberalism, and those of Capitalism itself:

Capitalism’s agents were a revolutionary class which had to dismantle feudalism, undermine the authority of the Church, and challenge practically every vested interest before they could succeed.

Perhaps it is just this kind of “agents” think – could it be, drawn out from James Bond films where covert, organized action occurs beneath appearances – that gives oppositional thinkers such an essentializing view of others. Are you an agent for the other side? Are you a double-agent? Who are you working for?

But really, I would like to know just who “Capitalism’s agents” were? Having not read the reviewed book I just have to let the phrase stand at large, for it surely is operating as a generalized category. Thinking of 17th century Dutch Republic, was Descartes one of Capitalism’s agents? Were the merchant Jews in the Amsterdam Ghetto in which Spinoza lived? Was Spinoza “Capitalism’s Agent”? Was Johannes Hudde (a father of actuarial mathematics, reactionary against the Koerbaghs, burgomaster of Amsterdam)? Was Newton? Was Van den Enden? Was Grotius? Just who made up this “revolutionary class”? There was a flowering of both Capitalism and Republican ideas during this century, a redistribution of wealth and social power in great contest with the Church and Royalty, but to project back onto this time and speak of a “revolutionary class” seems almost mindless of the interwoven allegiances and cross-investments that seldom if ever broke into a polarity wherein one class of persons found themselves united in anything at all. When the mob/multitude tore the forward thinking Dewitt brothers to pieces, were they Captialism’s agents even though they were ushering stadtholder William III of Orange back into power? By what order is one qualified as an “agent” of Capitalism?

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