Hegel's Logic of Essence and the Ontology of Power in Capitalism

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Johns Hopkins University
In this dissertation, I develop a critical theory of society in capitalism on the basis of Hegel’s Science of Logic. I pursue two parallel aims: Firstly, I demonstrate that the ontology that Hegel develops in the logic of essence is the ontology of power. This means that power is not external to the structure of individuals, but constitutes them. Secondly, I demonstrate that Hegel’s ontology of power is historically specific; namely, it captures the structure of social domination in capitalism. In order to do this, I substantially use Marx’s mature critique of political economy in Capital and the Grundrisse, as well as Adorno’s later social theory. I reconstruct the logic of essence on the basis of three major concepts: “illusion” [Schein], “opposition” [Gegensatz], and “totality” [Totalität]. These three concepts cohere with each other, and together, constitute a system of domination. In this system of domination, which is specific to capitalism, individuals seem to be equal with each other. Yet, the seeming equality is an illusion that conceals the essential relations of domination. However, the illusion of equality is not simply a cognitive failure that can be rooted out through enlightened reasoning. Rather, the illusion of equality is constitutive of the structure of domination. Furthermore, I argue that individuals are essentially the product of the relation of opposition that obtains between them, and that opposition is a relation of domination. I demonstrate that essence for Hegel is tantamount to totality, and that opposition and illusion function as necessary moments of it. The totality of essence is solely constituted through the interrelation of individuals, yet it has contradictorily a life of its own that obtains independently of individuals. I argue that the totality exerts absolute power over individuals, and forces them, on pain of perishing, to follow its logic. Individuals have an illusion that they have power over each other, yet it is the power of totality that works through them, renders one powerful and the other powerless. I argue that the power of totality over individuals has a non-volitional, and impersonal character, and thus functions as a blind spell from which nobody can flee. Under the spell of total domination, individuals have the illusion that they are self-determining. What seems to them to be their own freedom, however, is merely the product of contingency.
Hegel, Science of Logic, Logic of Essence, Power, Ontology, Marx, Adorno, Capitalism, Social Domination