Tag Archives: conspiracy theories

Jon Elster

In Marxist writings on education, bureaucracy and indeed on most topics there seems to be an implicit regulative idea that ‘Every institution or behavioural pattern in capitalist society serves the interests of capitalisms and is maintained because it serves those interests.’ Marxists seem to have lost their sense of the ironies of history, whereby societies can generate patterns that lead to their own destruction. In order to substantiate this naïve brand of functionalism Marxists have invented a special gimmick, which is to manipulate the time perspective. If, say, the actions of the State go counter to short-term capitalist interests, this has the function of safeguarding long-term capitalist interests; heads I win, tails you lose. […] Now this is not only an arbitrary procedure, because ‘any argument can be turned to any effect by juggling with the time scale’. It is also a theoretically inconsistent one, because functional analysis cannot invoke indirect strategies […]. To the extent that the state is maintained through the effects of its actions on the capitalist class, the negative short-term effects should make it disappear (or change) before the long-term positive effects come to be felt. Only intentional actors are capable of taking one step backwards in order to take two steps forwards later on, so that the short-term/long-term distinction logically leads to a conspiratorial interpretation of history, given the absence of empirical evidence for such intentions.

Jon Elster, Ulysses and the Sirens: Studies in Rationality and Irrationality, rev. ed., Cambridge, 1984, pp. 34-35.