The Autocatalytic Sprawl of Pseudorational Mastery

The Autocatalytic Sprawl of Pseudorational Mastery
Martin, Ulf. (2019). Review of Capital as Power. Vol. 1. No. 4. May. pp. 1-30. (Article - Journal; English).

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Abstract or Brief Description

* Winner of the 2018 RECASP Essay Prize *

According to Jonathan Nitzan and Shimshon Bichler (2009), capital is not an economic quantity, but a mode of power. Their fundamental thesis could be summarized as follows: capital is power quantified in monetary terms. But what do we do when we quantify? What is the nature of money in a capitalist society? Indeed, what is power? In the following, we try to develop a concept of power as the ability of persons to create particular formations against resistance. The kinds of formations persons can think of depend on the society they live in, which can be identified by what Cornelius Castoriadis called its social imaginary significations (SIS). The core SIS of capitalism is rational mastery operating with computational rationality. Computational rationality in turn rests on a particular understanding of how signification works: it works through operational symbolism, as theorized by Sybille Krämer in analyzing the philosophy of Leibniz. When the concept of the SIS of modern rationality was developed in the 1950s and 1960s, bureaucracy was seen as the main organizational mode of rational mastery. We argue that there are two modes of rational mastery, capitalization and bureaucratization, that interact with each other in capitalist society. The paper concludes with deliberations on the future of rational mastery and possible ways out.


FRONT PICTURE: International Space Station Expedition 26 Crew (24 Dec 2010), Montreal at Night. Astronaut photograph ISS026-E-12474 ( Image courtesy of the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, NASA Johnson Space Center (


BIO: The author studied physics and informatics, along with a lot of philosophy, but is also interested in many other subjects. He came across Bichler and Nitzan’s Capital as Power in the first decade of the twenty-first century when he was politically active in various ways. He rediscovered Castoriadis through one of Bichler and Nitzans’s works. Since then, he has tried to understand what Bichler and Nitzan actually mean by power. As there is no concrete answer to this question, he has been trying to develop one by (con)fusing concepts developed by Castoriadis and other thinkers with some of his own.



Publication Type

Article - Journal


autonomy autocatalytic sprawl bureaucratization capitalization rationality power signification symbolism


BN Methodology
BN Money & Finance
BN Philosophy
BN Power
BN Revolution
BN State & Government
BN Value & Price
BN Capital & Accumulation
BN Civilization & Social Systems
BN Culture
BN Institutions

Depositing User

Jonathan Nitzan

Date Deposited

31 May 2019 11:36

Last Modified

27 Jun 2019 00:25


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