Monday, November 17, 2008

Not everything can be bought off

Towards the end of Culture and Imperialism, Edward Said discusses the different oppositions, intellectual and otherwise, to the systemic evils of capitalism and imperialism, employing along the way the work of Immanuel Wallerstein:
. . . the exilic, the marginal, subjective, migratory energies of modern life, which the liberationist struggles have deployed when these energies are too toughly resilient to disappear, have also emerged in what Immanuel Wallerstein calls "anti-systemic movements." Remember that the main feature of imperialist expansion historically was accumulation, a process that accelerated during the twentieth century. Wallerstein's argument is that at bottom capital accumulation is irrational; its additive, acquisitive gains continue unchecked even though its costs--in maintaining the process, in paying for wars to protect it, in "buying off" and co-opting "intermediate cadres," in living in an atmosphere of permanent crisis--are exorbitant, not worth the gains. Thus, Wallerstein says, "the very superstructure [of state power and the national cultures that support the idea of state power] that was put in place to maximize the free flow of the factors of production in the world-economy is the nursery of national movements that mobilize against the inequalities inherent in the world system." Those people compelled by the system to play subordinate or imprisoning roles within it emerge as conscious antagonists, disrupting it, proposing claims, advancing arguments that dispute the totalitarian compulsions of the world market. Not everything can be bought off. (p.334-5)

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