1 Unmasking, or Theoretical Exposure Peter Baehr

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Juvenal (= Decimus Iunius Iuuenalis) 2008. The Satires, ed. and trans. Niall Rudd. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Kant, Immanuel. 1970. “The Contest of the ...

Unmasking, or Theoretical Exposure Peter Baehr (Lingnan University, Hong Kong) Abstract: When individuals unmask a person, an idea, or a practice they claim to show that what purports to be authentic or truthful is, on closer scrutiny, fraudulent. The history of unmasking began in the early modern period as an indictment of hypocrisy and insincerity before mutating in the nineteenth into the imputation of false-consciousness and delusion. Unlike other exposure practices (such as satire, informing and whistleblowing), unmasking specifically lends itself to theoretical employment; Marxism and ideology-critique are notable articulations. Sociology is another legatee of the unmasking method. More generally – in assertions of conspiracy, micro-aggression, and in the translation of principled disagreements into the stereotyped language of social phobia – unmasking is ubiquitous today, a symptom and cause of political antagonism and of the clash of values. This entry identifies the basic structure of unmasking and tracks its course along two lines of development: critiques of religion and of society. A section on Marx is followed by an analysis of two sociological unmaskings by, respectively, Pierre Bourdieu and Vilfredo Pareto. Keywords: Exposure, Marx, religion, Rousseau, society, Bourdieu, Pareto ---“Verily, you could wear no better masks, you men of the present, than your own faces. Who could ever recognize you?” (Nietzsche 2005, 103)



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Introduction In “My Own Life” (2007), the Enlightenment philosopher David Hume draws the reader’s attention to a number of facts about him. He tell us that he is a Scot, that his mother, though still “young and handsome” at the time of his father’s early death, devoted herself entirely to the education and upbringing of her children; that writing is the mainspring of his life; that he failed at other endeavors; that he is of an essentially mild yet robust disposition that has enabled him to survive the disappointments of poorly received books such as the Treatise of Human Nature (1738) which “fell dead-born from the press”; that he is a man who has traveled to continental Europe, notably Paris and Vienna and Turin, serving in one case as the ambassadorial secretary to the Earl of Hertford; that he is dying of a bowel condition (cancer), but that he is in little pain, continues to enjoy life, and faces death with peaceful detachment. All this and more is what Hume discloses in words. Equally, we might say that Hume discloses a felicitous style and a preference for provoking controversy to having his work ignored. But in this memoir Hume does not disclose everything. This is not simply because to reveal everything is impossible, and that one must select or go mad. It is also because Hume sought to keep private at least one episode that tested his serenity in the extreme and prompted him to aggressive conduct that conflicted with the amiable picture he drew of himself. The incident was a bitter clash with Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the tempestuous philosophe Hume had kindly sought to help.1 To call Hume’s essay an act of disclosure is to say simply that it is a literary performance in which the author chooses to reveal significant information about himself.2 Unmasking is entirely different. It is a mode of exposure, something done to others. To unmask is to negate a belief, action or statement by showing it to camouflage something unacknowledged: an interest, a desire, an ulterior motive, a role, a function, a 1

On the causes and nature of the quarrel, see Edmonds and Eidinow, 2007 and, more briefly, Edmonds and Eidinow, “Enlightened Enemies,” http://www.theguardian.com/books/2006/apr/29/philosophy 2 Disclosure possesses the additional quality of double revelation: it divulges ourselves to others and ourselves to ourselves, as when we find in the act of contributing to a large gathering for the first time that we happen to be an eloquent public speaker, a skill we had not known we possessed. On disclosure as a mode of appearance in public, see Arendt 1958, 175-181. Associated with the Frankfurt School’s appropriation of Heidegger, a rather different idea of disclosing – as a kind of social critique that “attempts to change our value beliefs by evoking new ways of seeing” – is discussed by Axel Honneth (2000). The German term the translators render as “disclose” is Erschliessen, meaning to open up a horizon or to evoke.



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contradiction. Almost always, unmasking is aimed at overturning a mode of domination, variously construed. A common term in social and cultural theory, unmasking bears a close relationship to ideology yet is nonetheless distinct from it, much as epistemology is distinct from metaphysics, or historiography is distinct from the passage of time that historians study. Moreover, what social and cultural theorists understand by unmasking is quite different from what is normally grasped by that term. In the popular imagination it is not illusions that are unmasked – illusions being the idée fixe of unmasking theorists but spies and hypocrites. Social theorists take little interest in these subjects though, as we shall see, the question of integrity does intrude into the history of unmasking in its early phases. This entry describes the basic ingredients of unmasking, aspects of its cultural history, and a number of its modes; it also advances beyond reconstruction to offer critical observations on the value of the unmasking method. This critical component is appropriate because the idea of unmasking is itself heavily laden with moral, epistemological, and political judgments. Social science has been tempted to unmask since its inception. The position taken in this entry, however, is that unmasking is a method that is both harmful to social science and unnecessary to it. It is harmful by exaggerating the theorist’s powers of comprehension, underestimating the lay actor’s grasp on the world, and, politically, substituting dogma for nuanced understanding of rival positions. Unmasking is unnecessary because social science has many other means of comprehension at its disposal; some are mentioned later. Yet because the principal job of a Handbook is to survey the contours of a body of work, a full appraisal is not attempted here. I begin with a sketch of the general structure of unmasking before proceeding to its two most durable manifestations: the critiques of religion and society. This is followed by a discussion of the Marxian and Marxist contribution to the unmasking method. The entry closes with a brief exploration of unmasking in sociology. Elements of Unmasking In English and other European languages, unmask has several meanings, some of which are now archaic – for instance, a military maneuver that becomes visible to the enemy –



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but most of which are familiar. Unmask may refer to the actual removal of some kind of face covering (a cloak, a hood, a veil as well as a mask), an act performed either by persons hitherto concealed by it or by others to expose them. It may, more rarely, denote a frank admission of a feeling, mood or disposition, previously hidden by the person who now divulges it. Unmask also refers to a metaphorical removal of a disguise performed by one person on another.3 Unmasking concerns social theorists chiefly in the metaphorical sense. To unmask something is to see through and thence to remove a political disguise, decipher a social hieroglyph, dissolve a mystification, or expose a delusion. Unmasking is an action, or set of actions, performed by the theorist. The performance aims to show that what people believe to be true is in reality false or falsely true. In the distillery of social thought, the spirit of unmasking is available in concentrated and diluted forms. Served neat in both politics and in politicized social theory, it consists of three rhetorical ingredients - accusation, reduction, weaponization – and one guiding ambition: emancipation. Underpinning them all is a commitment to transparency, the belief that seeing through, or cognitive penetration, exposes a primal truth about an agent, idea or social practice. Accusation: To unmask persons, moralities, polities and social arrangements is to indict them for fraudulence and domination. It is to claim not simply that the objects unmasked are in error but that they are harmful in their untruthfulness. Reduction: Unmasking as seeing through further suggests a social and political forensic. At its most theoretical this entails an investigatory procedure that infers social and psychological structures from clues that an agent wishes to hide, has an interest in hiding or is unwittingly hiding. This forensic, in turn, depends on a reduction of one kind of reality to another: the reduction of politics to a socio-economic structure, the reduction of morality to a will to power, the reduction of social life to a psyche. Unmasking further denotes a peculiar kind of insight vouchsafed to the unmasker that contradicts, sometimes violently, the self-perception of an individual or a group. Weaponization: unmasking is thus a vehicle of denunciation that uses information to destroy its opponents’ credibility by 3 The

Oxford English Dictionary offers the following etymology: unmask (1562), unmasking (1586) and unmasked (1590).



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overturning their statements.4 In political and theoretical spheres alike, unmasking repeatedly deploys the technique of interpretive inversion by means of which a person’s words are taken as evidence of interests diametrically opposed to those professed in the actor’s utterances. As such, unmasking transforms a statement into a counter-register that displays it (the statement) to be phony or delusional. Transposition is a related technique of the unmasking method. Here the unmasker impatiently leaves the terrain of what an adversary wishes to talk about and takes the remarks to another region entirely. You say that you wish to defend freedom. I say that you are really defending capitalism, an oppressive system. You say that you believe in the compassionate message of Christ. I say that you are really advancing a will to power. You say that you are furnishing reasoned grounds for your opposition to same-sex marriages. I say that you are really homophobic. Emancipation: The objective of unmasking is to transform minds, persons and societies from a condition of subjection to one of freedom by means of rational enlightenment and political action. Unmasking also implies a particular attitude towards discord. In a typical disagreement I may reject the cogency of your reasons and dispute the soundness of the evidence you adduce in their support; I do not normally deny your competence to have reasons or to adduce evidence. Nor do I think it necessary to invoke a theory that will explain your ineptitude. Nor, finally, do I invert your identify-affirmations; to disagree with a Communist about the nature of politics is not to claim that a Communist is really a covert liberal. Unmasking assumes all three postures. Disagreements bounce off the unmasker because of the iron conviction that divergent views are not a tribute to the world’s complexity and the richness of human perspective; they are proof of perversity or ignorance, a sign that subjects have not yet gained access to that level of reality at which real truth is disclosed. Unmasking, then, rests on the presumption that the speaker whom one faces is bereft of a fundamental, penetrative insight into the world that makes opinions worth formulating and discussing. The person beheld is less an interlocutor to 4

Writers across the political spectrum employ unmasking. I shall be considering it mostly as a rhetorical instrument of the left, but see the Politico profile of Charles Johnson, an unmasker of the right: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/12/charles-johnson-a-digital-darth-vader113522_Page2.html, and chapter 10, Volume II (1926) of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf (“Der Föderalismus als Maske”), http://www.hitler.org/writings/Mein_Kampf/



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debate than a vector of social or psychic forces to pity or tutor. “Political discussion is, from the very first, more than theoretical argumentation; it is the tearing off of disguises – the unmasking of those unconscious motives which bind the group existence to its cultural aspirations and its theoretical arguments” (Mannheim 1936, 39). Unmasking can be more or less extreme. The more tightly the three elements and the principal objective (emancipation) are bound together in any one argument, the more militant unmasking is. The converse applies. And indeed variations in the unmasking form are plentiful. Unmasking may operate by means of a simple assertion of, say, lies, hypocrisy or treachery; or by a graduated genealogy of socially formed beliefs. It may be direct or euphemistic. Any particular unmasking will assign different weight to the ingredients previously listed, combine them in different ways, stiffen or soften them, draw on them in toto or only in part. When contemporaries as different as Nietzsche and Frederick Douglass - the first fought nihilism, the other slavery – find employment for unmasking, it is obvious that we are tackling a concept owned by no single constituency. A distinction should also be drawn between writers whose oeuvre pivots on an unmasking approach – Pierre Bourdieu is the sociological exemplar – and authors who employ the unmasking move only in a political fight. Such opportunistic, tu quoque unmasking is practiced by Max Weber (1994) when he attacks defenders of authoritarianism in Germany – officials and capitalists who cloak their material, power and status interests under patriotic verbiage. Yet Weber opposes unmasking in sociology and is in good measure an interpretive pluralist. Marx and Bourdieu are plainly not. The complexity of unmasking means that no simple definition of it is plausible. We will do better to understand it as a series of connected attitudes and, especially, activities.5 Writers who unmask invoke the mask and the veil as favored rhetorical devices; most demand a translucent world. They repeatedly condemn ordinary consciousness and quotidian existence. They insist that agents are blind to their own situation and best interests; and that is because the truly important, shaping things in life are the opposite of what they appear to be – such that American liberalism, for instance, is really a form of totalitarianism.6 A more general rule of thumb is that wherever a writer 5 6



Cf. Swedberg 2005, 96. An inversion from the right is presented in Goldberg 2008. From the left, consider Marcuse’s (1964, 64)

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identifies a belief as an illusion, mystification, fiction, inversion, or misrecognition some variant of the unmasking method is about to be employed. The same is true when a theorist utters the magic word “emancipation,” the abracadabra of radicals everywhere. 7 Not all unmaskers do, if only because prolonged reflection on human debility causes all manner of doubts about human capacity. Repeatedly, misanthropic disdain cuts through the unmasker’s crystal like etched channels in a diamond. One last clarification wraps up this section. Unmasking is often equated with cynicism or a hermeneutic of suspicion, yet such a view is inaccurate.8 Cynics do not speak the language of emancipation. Suspicion suggests a tincture of doubt: “faces are not to be trusted” (Juvenal 2008, 9). By contrast, unmasking theorists are confident. They know what is at fault. And what is at fault is not an insincere individual or vanity or playacting. It is something behind and beyond the individual: social structures and psychic drives. These are what unmasking reveals. Rather than a hermeneutic of suspicion, then, unmasking is envisaged in this entry chiefly as a member – the most important member to social and political theorists - of the family of exposure practices that includes satire, muckraking, debunking, “outing,” and informing.9 This family has complex and often incestuous relationships but, as a broad approximation, can be divided by standpoint: that of the insider and the outsider. Insiderexposure is characteristic of actions performed by knowledgeable participants of a world they decide to make public; informing and whistleblowing fall into this category. These remark: “In the realm of culture, the new totalitarianism manifests itself precisely in a harmonizing pluralism, where the most contradictory works and truths peacefully coexist in indifference.” This gloss is the opposite of totalitarianism in almost all of its formulations since the 1920s. A variation on Marcuse’s critique is Sheldon Wolin’s (2004, 592-5) concept of “inverted totalitarianism.” Wolin argues that America is a liberal society with pronounced totalitarian features: except that these features are the opposite of what totalitarianism is typically considered as being. The argument strains English usage: the inversion of totalitarianism would, logically, be pluralist democracy. 7 On the various meanings of this mercurial term, see Susen 2015. 8 On cynicism, see Turner 2010, 140-65, contrasting the “intellectual styles” of cynicism and skepticism; and Sloterdijk 1987: chapter 3 is entitled “Eight Unmaskings: A Review of Critiques” (these critiques, verbatim, are of revelation, religious illusion, metaphysical illusion, idealistic superstructure, moral illusion, transparency, natural illusion, and the illusion of privacy). On the hermeneutics of suspicion, see Ricoeur1977; Foucault 1988, 269-278; and Voegelin 1994, 257-273, who adds Max Weber to the inventory of unmaskers. 9 I distinguish unmasking from debunking and muckraking in Baehr 2013a. Many great theorists use satire to mock their opponents, but satire itself is intrinsically ill adapted to theorizing of any complexity; its purpose is to denounce through ridiculer rather than to explain systematically a state of affairs. Thorstein Veblen’s satirical theory of the leisure class is the exception that confirms the rule.



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performances are not identical. Informers expose third parties to the authorities, while whistleblowers expose the authorities to third parties. Outsider-exposure, by contrast, is evidenced in satire, debunking, muckraking and, our topic here, unmasking (Bok 1989, 2010-229). It is practiced by intellectual virtuosi, spectators onto ways of life that are not their own.

Unveiling Religion, Unmasking Society Two streams of thought during the eighteenth and nineteenth century are most responsible for introducing the modern unmasking mentality into Western cultures. The first springs from the negation of official religion. The second issues from the assault on social conformity. RELIGION The Enlightenment’s devotion to criticism is nowhere more obvious than in its unsparing appraisal of religion. Thinkers such as Kant, d’Alembert, Voltaire, Diderot, Hume, and Gibbon all offered signature versions of this evaluation, but they were as one body in detesting religious fanaticism, obscurantism, hypocrisy, and priest craft. Together, the philosophes “chased the sacred from its privileged sanctuary” (Gay 1977, 149). No one pursued it more irreverently than the French-German author Baron d’Holbach. A contributor to the multi-volume Encyclopédie (1751-1772), edited principally by Denis Diderot, and a vigorous champion of philosophical materialism, Baron d’Holbach launched his attack on religion in a series of publications, among them Christianity Unveiled, or an examination of the principles and effects of the Christian religion (Le christianisme dévoilé, ou Examen des principes et des effets de la religion chrétienne, 1761). The title of d’Holbach’s tract contains a provocative tease. Monotheistic religions are strongly associated with veils of various kinds. These are the face, hair or head coverings worn by women: for instance, the tichel of Orthodox Jews, the Muslim niqab or burqa, the coif of women who “take the veil” (become nuns) and



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thereby follow St. Paul’s injunction to conceal their hair.10 Or, again in a religious context, veils refer to cloths draped over religious sacraments to protect them from human contamination or to screen the eyes of men and women from their holy mystery. These associations explain why d’Holbach chose “unveil” in preference to “unmask” for the title of his book, 11 though what he calls unveiling is in many respects indistinguishable from unmasking as it later came to be employed. It did not hurt either that veil and mask overlap considerably as metaphors of dissimulation and secrecy, an association that has been a fixture of cultural writing and political polemic from the sixteenth century to our own. If “it is a craven and servile idea to disguise ourselves and hide under a mask, and not to dare to show ourselves as we are,” as Montaigne (1957: 491) complains, it is also an idea that is vulnerable to mockery: masks and veils are recurring motifs of Molière’s comedies.12 People embrace religion, d’Holbach claims, not because they seriously consider its plausibility, but precisely because they do not. It is entrenched habit, as distinct from reason, that explains religion’s prominence in the minds of men, buttressed by an education that inures the mind to “monstrous” opinions. Whereas the lower orders, busied by their labors, and afraid to offend God, thoughtlessly place their confidence in religious creeds, the wealthy conform to religious prejudice for more cynical reasons. Religion serves their interest in an ordered kingdom, without disturbing their licentiousness and dissipation. Deceived from infancy onwards, d’Holbach laments, few “have dared to lift before their eyes the light of truth” and contest the claim of religion to be beneficial to mankind. Yet the God that Christianity inherited from the Jews is a despot, “a cruel, 10

1 Corinthians 11: 4-16. The Virgin Mary is almost always depicted veiled in Christian iconography. More generally, hair-scarves are of various kinds have covered the heads of women in Europe and the Near East since before the Christian era. It is modern women who are the exception to this sartorial code. 11 They also explain why, much later, W.E.B. du Bois (1987) settled on the Veil – almost always capitalized – as the leitmotif of The Souls of Black Folk. Unlike a mask, the Veil enables Du Bois to draw on a range of religious associations to unravel the complexities of Black and White predicaments in postbellum America (Brodwin 1972). 12 As in Tartuffe I:1; I:5; IV:4; V:7. Kant (1970, 187) found sardonic use for this topos when he described the British crown as an absolute monarchy “hiding under a very transparent veil (Schleier) of secrecy.” The semantic affinity between veils and secrecy has persisted to modern times. “Party Congress [of North Korea] Opens Behind Veil of Secrecy” states the banner headline of the South China Morning Post of May 7, 2016. VEIL was the CIA code word, in the last years of the Reagan administration, for the covert action “compartment” - compartmentalization being a means of sequestering sensitive information by special protocols that limited access and handling. See Woodward 1987.



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dissembling, and dishonest God,” a God “who ordains robbery, persecution, and carnage.” God is a cause of war. Terrible crimes are committed in His name. Division, intolerance, oppression, and fear govern the lives of people wherever the priesthood of this God exercises power to which even Kings are in thrall. A condition so ruinous might suggest that human happiness is an impossible goal. Tyrants oppose the truth about religion because it threatens their titles and legitimacy. Priests oppose the truth about religion because they rule through superstition. Yet nature, of which human reason is part, cannot be entirely silenced by this alliance of coercion and deceit. Reason breaks through the torpor of accustomed ways to reconsider the conditions of man’s happiness. Baron d’Holbach is its vessel: Let us then conclude, that the Christian religion has no right to boast of procuring advantages either to policy or to morality. Let us tear aside the veil with which it envelops itself. Let us penetrate back to its sources. Let us pursue its course; we shall find that, founded on imposture, ignorance, and credulity, it can never be useful but to men who wish to deceive their fellow creatures. We shall find, that it will never cease to generate the greatest evils among mankind, and that instead of producing the felicity it promises, it is formed to cover the earth with outrages, and deluge it in blood; that it will plunge the human race in delirium and vice, and blind their eyes to their truest interests and plainest duties.13 Ever since the eighteenth century made religion a foil of exposure for radical intellectuals, the language of the veil and unveiling has retained its critical resonance. Accordingly, when another materialist and atheist, Ludwig Feuerbach, penned his own interpretation of Christianity, he, like d’Holbach, resorted effortlessly to the unveiling trope. In the 1843 preface to the second edition of The Essence of Christianity (1841), Feuerbach insisted on his scientific bona fides. His study, he insisted, was neither speculative nor polemical. It conformed to the highest standards of textual, empirical and 13

D’Holbach 1819) = http://www.ftarchives.net/holbach/unveiled/cucontents.htm The quote appears at the end of chapter 1. It bears emphasis that d’Holbach does not present unveiling as a general concept; we are not yet in the realm of modern social theory. Unveiled (dévoilé) only appears once in his text, and that is in the title. “Veil” appears twice: in the quotation above and in Chapter VII (“Of the Mysteries of the Christian Religion”).



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philosophical rigor. Based on objective facts, his task was to offer a “correct translation” of Christianity, allowing the religion to speak for itself. “Not to invent, but to discover, ‘to unveil existence,’ has been my sole object; to see correctly, my sole endeavor.”14 Feuerbach’s unveiling of religion as Man’s distorted apotheosis is indistinguishable from unmasking. So is Marx’s critique of religion, as we shall see presently. Yet just as religion could be unveiled or unmasked by its critics, so could the critics be unveiled by theirs; this was exactly the tactic of d’Holbach’s adversary, the Jesuit Abbé Augustin Barruel in Mémoires pour servir à l'Histoire du Jacobinisme (1797), his theory of the Jacobin anti-Christian conspiracy.15 That move is an early indication of a rhetorical vulnerability of unveiling and unmasking as critical concepts; a figure employed by one group against another can be just as easily employed against it in turn. Where explanation is secondary to, or conflated with, social or political indictment, the denouncer can in turn be denounced. Equally, where “the unending game of mutual unmasking” turns on the charge of hypocrisy, “the general level of sham rises” (Shklar 1984, 67).16 An overlapping weakness of unmasking as a polemical form is that it is subject to the law of diminishing returns. The more intensely and repetitively an opponent is unmasked, the less credible the unmasking becomes either because it appears more hysterical than veracious or because it reinforces a narrative, among the victim’s supporters, of unfair treatment. Another permutation is to unmask religion yet be wary of the unmasking motif in general, the stance professed in Beyond Good and Evil. On the one hand, Nietzsche (2008, 43) espouses much that is now familiar about the so-called hermeneutics of suspicion, painting himself as a “born psychologist and lover of the ‘great hunt’”, one of those historically rare “fine-nosed bloodhounds” schooled to “chase into the history of 14

“To unveil existence” is Marian Evans’s (George Eliot’s) plausible translation of “Dasein zu enthüllen.” Enthüllen might also be translated as reveal, expose and uncover. See Ludwig Feuerbach, “Preface to the Second Edition,” Feuerbach 1881, x. Arguing that the doctrine of predestination was simply a spiritualization of the forces of chance, he adds: “Doubtless, this unveiling of the mystery of predestination will be pronounced atrocious, impious, diabolical. I have nothing to allege against this; I would rather be a devil in alliance with truth, than an angel in alliance with falsehood,” 188. 15 See https://archive.org/details/mmoirespourserv08barrgoog A word search in the texts assembled by the Project for American and French Research on the Treasury of the French Language (ARTFL), shows that no writer of the eighteenth century surpasses Barruel in invoking dévoiler (to unveil); https://artflproject.uchicago.edu. For access to these data, and help in navigating them, I am grateful to Daniel Gordon. 16 And for the classic analysis of sincerity as a politically destructive force, see Arendt 1963, 59-114.



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the human soul.” He attacks “the moral hypocrisy of the commanders” – the conceit of those who claim to be executors of higher forces such as Progress (or, in a contemporary idiom, Human Rights), but who nimbly insert themselves into the crevices of power and luxuriate in their own self-righteousness (2008, 85).17 Nietzsche’s theory of Christianity is also explosive. A civilization-shaping force, Christianity is at root a “neurosis,” an “infection” that subverts the will to power in its most virile form. The slave morality of Judaic-Christian civilization is “an ongoing suicide of reason” that entails the “sacrifice of freedom, pride, spiritual self-confidence.” Inverting Christianity’s own conception of being a religion of compassion, Nietzsche (2008, 47-8) depicts it as a ressentimentfuelled veneration of weakness over strength, a sickly will to power. “Let us articulate this new demand: we stand in need of a critique of moral values, the value of these values itself should first of all be called into question. This requires a knowledge of the conditions and circumstances of their growth, development, and displacement (morality as consequence, symptom, mask, Tartufferie, illness, misunderstanding: but also morality as cause, cure, stimulant, inhibition, poison); knowledge the like of which has never before existed nor even been desired (Nietzsche 1996, 8).18 So far, Nietzsche looks like an unequivocal unmasker. On the other hand, his explicit reflections on the mask and masking reveal a subtler attitude. People need masks for protection, Nietzsche avers; indeed the “deeper” the person, and the more they have suffered, the more masks they will choose or be compelled to wear. Instead of condemning the mask, we should “revere” it and not “pursue psychology or curiosity in the wrong place.” Nietzsche (2008, 35) further rejects the contrast between the real and the apparent, a favored distinction among theoretical unmaskers to whom we turn presently. “Isn’t it enough,” he asks, “to assume that there are degrees of apparency and, so to speak, lighter and darker shadows and hues of appearance – different valeurs to use 17

“In Nietzsche, words, justice, binary classifications of Good and Evil, and consequently signs, are masks.” That approach contrasts with the notion that the sign is something “benevolent” separated from the signifier by only a “transparent veil,” Foucault 1988, 277. 18 And 1996, 31: “Would anyone care to take a look into the secret depths of how ideals are fabricated on earth? … Here you can have an unobstructed view into this dark workshop.”



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the language of painters? Why should the world that is relevant to us not be a fiction?”19 Two points follows: first, that one can expect transparency only from the most banal individuals; second that masking suggests depth not inauthenticity in the human character. Evasion, as well as integrity, requires that aristocrats of courage don multiple masks. SOCIETY Belief in divine powers, and in an otherworldly order, strikes at the heart of the theorist’s claim on ultimate reality. God is thus the first obstacle that unmaskers from Baron d’Holbach to Richard Dawkins must topple - through ridicule, parody, dialectical inversion, and the panjandrum of science - before their own vision of enlightenment can prevail.20 If to millions, and for millennia, a faith in God is the most profound dimension of existence, to radical atheists god is a lamentable record of man’s suffering and credulity. The negation of religion already suggests that the age of human happiness and dignity will dawn only when human beings free themselves from accustomed ways. But one did not have to be a materialist and atheist to attack social conformity. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, to whom we now turn, was neither. Something of an Enlightenment outsider, Rousseau is central to our topic not because he was the first to bring insincerity, dissimulation and hypocrisy under a forensic lens. Those vices are the stuff of satire and moral thinking since antiquity: Aesop, Aristophanes, Horace, Augustine of Hippo, Erasmus, Rabelais, Cervantes, Molière, Pascal, Swift, Pope, Montaigne, La Rochefoucauld are among Rousseau’s great, if contrastive, precursors. Rousseau is fundamental for our purposes because his attack on personal falsity was joined to a thoroughgoing critique of the society that induced it.21 Lionel Trilling (1972, 21-26) observes that the concept of society, unlike that of kingdom and perhaps even of commonwealth, uniquely enable those whom we now call 19

Nietzsche (2008) explicitly addresses the mask metaphor and the practice of masking on 38-39, 117, 122, and 167. On the mask and veil metaphors, see Zarathustra, Nietzsche 2005, 86, 94, 104, 107, 118, 260-2, 273. 20 “And so the theorist said to the benighted: ‘Do you still cling to your innocence? Curse God, listen to me and live’”. Job 2:9-10 (modified). 21 On the emergence of “the social” and “society” in France before the Revolution, see Gordon 1994, 43126; and also the panoramic though succinct account by Terrier 2015.



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intellectuals to attack it. In a kingdom, criticism must be tempered lest it stray into lèsemajesté. Society has no such protection. Unlike commonwealths, societies do not have founders, mythological heroes such as Lycurgus, Solon, Theseus, and Romulus to which the state owes its existence and to which piety is due. Society appears to be malleable, a human-all-too-human contrivance, a matter of choice rather than destiny or inheritance, a contingent and voluntary association, a contract rather than a status; this is broadly what is meant today when it is said that social reality is “constructed.”22 And such an impression can only gain plausibility when established ties are quickly eroding, when orders and estates are losing their authority, when people are on the move from countryside to city, when urbanization is creating new relationships, when the old patronclient relationships are in decay. In such a world, evermore mobile and fluid, the modern individual begins to speak through the new personalized genre of autobiography even where couched as the older genre of confession. Rousseau, the connective thread to the unmasking ferocity of the Jacobin movement in the French revolution, is among the great innovators of social critique. He offers a genealogy of contemporary society in a counter-intuitive story of decline: from nature to civilization. Beyond that, his attack on social inequality is a template of revolutionary criticism – and of social criticism more generally. Our modern epoch, having succumbed to what Rebecca West (2003, xiv) called “the age of the snigger,” no longer finds much use for the language of virtue that Rousseau uttered with such ardor. But the preoccupation of Western intellectuals with equality as the preeminent social value, and inequality as the worst social ill, has an audible Rousseauian echo. Rousseau objected that the manners of the eighteenth century salon and court, their manicured modes of politeness and entertainment, and their characteristic human type – the homme du monde - were a disgrace to human existence.23 Where his contemporary, David Hume (1993a, 52) embraced the French salonnières as the acme of “l’arte de vivre, the art of society and conversation,” demonstrating the compatibility of absolutist government with refined taste and cultivation, Rousseau saw nothing but 22

This was not the view of Durkheim for whom society is a sacralized space, nor was it the view, though for different reasons, of most Enlightenment thinkers. 23 On the homme du monde, see Grant 1997, 70, 76, 84, 92-4, 98-9, 117, 120, 170.



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degradation and unmanliness.24 The inclination to render oneself “agreeable” to others by “wit, complaisance, or civility;” to practice politeness as “mutual deference or civility,” as Hume (1993c, 69-70) put it, was for Rousseau a travesty of virtue.25 It showed that modern people are ruled by the opinions of others, are thereby obsessed with comparing themselves against them, subordinating what is right to what is approved by society, a human arrangement of unequal persons (Manent 1995, 65-66). Emile’s tutor explains: “The man of the world almost always wears a mask. He is scarcely ever himself and is almost a stranger to himself; he is ill at ease when he is forced into his own company. Not what he is, but what he seems, is all he cares for” (Rousseau 1921). Sincerity is essential for Rousseau because it stands for a self that is united; persons are as true to others as they are to themselves. Duplicity, on the other hand, is evidence of a divided self; the cost of social conformity is being at odds with one’s own soul. To mask oneself suggests falsity, imposture, deception; 26 it suggests a social order in which appearances and a flatterer’s honeyed tongue matter more than integrity, dignity, honesty and patriotism, where it is more important to shine in public than to discover or tell the truth (Rousseau 2000, 642; Rousseau 2011, 40). And if people are not what they seem to be, pretend to be, if notions of right are actually based on force and lies, the cause of such imposture is the development of civilization and society itself, a term that Rousseau was one of the first to substantivize and to impugn for being the source of damaging conformity. “Society,” he says (1997a, 8) in the First Discourse is a “herd ” of people that “will, when placed in similar circumstances, all act in similar ways unless more powerful motives incline them differently. One will thus never really know with whom one is dealing.” Society poisons the honesty of even those most committed to its advancement. “No more sincere friendships; no more real esteem; no more wellfounded trust. Suspicions, offenses, fears, coolness, reserve, hatred, betrayal, will 24

In the empire of sociability, says Hume (1993b), women have a special place, especially in France where they adjudicate “the learned world”. 25 The idea of the “frank sociability” of the French, commended by John Stuart Mill (1989, 63) over a century later, would have struck Rousseau as a contradictio in adjecto. For Mill, English high society was a wasteland for distinguished minds (1989, 173). 26 On the veil (and the mask) as the “primary symbol” of society, see Berman 2009, 83-4. Berman quotes Rousseau in Julie, ou la Nouvelle Héloïse: “I have seen many masks [in Paris]; when am I going to see the faces of men?”



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constantly hide beneath this even and deceitful veil of politeness, beneath this so much vaunted urbanity which we owe to the enlightenment of our century.” Society is ruinous for honest people because, in its “fumes of vainglory” (2000, 392, 626) the self-esteem that everyone rightfully demands to affirm their worth as unique human beings degenerates in society into self-love (amour-propre), that shallow vanity which is hostage of other people’s ephemeral, self-interested appraisals. Society is also the source of “the extreme inequality in ways of life,” notably, inequalities of leisure, health, nourishment and mental development, the cause of “innumerable sorrows and pains” that Natural Man avoided (1997b, 139). No wonder that in such a civilized world, where inequality is taken for granted by the privileged, where mocking disdain is applauded as witty repartee and where people “disguise their animosity under a sneering and treacherous mask,” morality finds no firm foothold (2011, 102-104). Whereas the “Savage lives within himself, sociable man, always outside himself, is capable of living only in the opinion of others and, so to speak, derives the sentiment of his own existence solely from their judgment.” Immersed in that “spirit of Society,” together with “the inequality society engenders,” where claims to decorum and humanity cloak “factitiousness and play-acting,” we “have nothing more than a deceiving and frivolous exterior, honor without virtue, reason without wisdom, and pleasure without happiness” (1997b, 187). Rousseau’s cri de coeur echoes down the ages wherever critics press the case for singularity against uniformity, freedom against convention, integrity against imposture. So does it also where hypocrisy is the major theme of attack. Examples are ubiquitous in the nineteenth century. Let us simply recall the contrast drawn by the escaped slave, abolitionist, and publicist Frederick Douglass to indict the official Christianity of slaveholders.27 Distinguishing between “true” Christianity or the Christianity of Christ from the pseudo-Christianity of those who claim to uphold Christian morality while actually negating it, Douglass thundered: “We have men-stealers for ministers, womenwhippers for missionaries, and cradle-plunderers for church members.” As for the 4th of July commemoration of National Independence, the “blessings” are those of the whites 27

See the distinction between “the Christianity of Christ” (“good, pure, and holy”) and the “slaveholding Christianity of this land” (“bad, corrupt, and wicked”), Douglass 1845, unpaginated.



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and the free alone. Just as the Jews sat down by the rivers of Babylon and wept, so today “I hear the mournful wail of millions.” What, then, “to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour (Douglass 1852, unpaginated). A few years’ earlier, speaking in London, Douglass promised: “I am going back, determined to be honest with America. I am going to the United States in a few days, but I go there to do, as I have done here, to unmask her pretensions to republicanism, and expose her hypocritical professions of Christianity; to denounce her high claims to civilization, and proclaim in her ears the wrongs of those who cry day and night to Heaven, ‘How long! how long! O Lord God of Sabaoth!’ (Loud cheers.)” 28 Still, in the transition from the French Revolution to nineteenth century social theory, a major shift occurs in the meaning and uses of unmasking. The idea becomes more sublimated, more theoretical, more “scientific,” and in particular more psychological and sociological. A preoccupation with hypocrisy, conspiracy, and treason gives way to extreme historicism and psychological determinism; both suggest a view of Man as a creature of social vicissitude, economic determinants or, alternatively, as an unhistorical prisoner of human drives. A structural rather than a voluntarist or individualist view of causality is the signature characteristic of the later unmasking template. Mechanisms replace machinations. Sociology replicates this perspective to the degree that its theories envisage persons abstractly as residues, nodes, vectors, bearers or 28 “Farewell

Speech to the British People, at London Tavern, London, England, March 30, 1847,” http://www.yale.edu/glc/archive/1086.htm, para. 15. See also para. 36 on the abolitionist and social reformer, William Lloyd Garrison. He is hated, says Douglass, for the good he does on both sides of the Atlantic. Because Garrison “fearlessly unmasked hypocrisy, and branded impiety in language in which impiety deserves to be characterized, he has thereby brought down upon himself the fierce execrations of a religious party in this land.”



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representatives of classes and ethnicities, occupants of a habitus or field. To Rousseau, the Jacobin pamphleteers, and Douglass a mask symbolized infamy. To Nietzsche (2008, 38-39) – for whom, as we saw, “every deep spirit needs a mask” - it symbolized the protection of the great against the mediocre. To the social scientist, it means no more than a role or a status. The older Karl Marx anticipated this change and helped shape it. Telegraphing his approach in Capital, Marx (1992, 178) says: “As we proceed to develop our investigation we shall find, in general, that persons’ economic character masks (Charaktermasken der Personen) are mere personifications of economic relations; it is as carriers of these economic relations that they confront each other.”29 In sum, unmasking cedes its place as the foremost means of revealing imposture and plots and correcting manners to an optic focused on systemically induced misrecognition. 30 While hypocritical behavior remains a perennial target in journalism and other popular media, and while attributions of conspiracy continue to find scores of believers, serious theorists take little interest in either. Increasingly it is not calculated or casual dissimulation that unmasking writers wish to expose but sincere delusion. Today, the polemical writings of the evolutionary biologist and atheist, Richard Dawkins, epitomize this contention. It can be no coincidence that one of his more colorful illustrations of “the God delusion” is a plastic mask of Einstein which both from the front and the hollowed back appears as a solid face, and which seems to move as the viewer moves round it. Analogues of this mental trickery, “the stunning illusion” that the brain is capable of creating with its “simulation software,” are the real cause of religious visions, Dawkins (2008, 112-114) avers.31

29

I have adapted the translation. A digital search shows that Charaktermasken is employed five times in the first volume of Kapital but Ben Fowkes does not translate it as such, preferring other designations; for instance, as in the present case, “characters who appear on the economic stage.” On Charaktermasken in Marx’s work, see Matzner 1964 and, more generally, the informative Wikipedia entry, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Character_mask#Masking. 30 “The art of reductive unmasking today has come to depend on a sociological and psychological vocabulary, rather than that of traditional morality,” Shklarm1972, 148. She adds: “Reductionism remains the most powerful of all methods of political abuse. To destroy the prestige of convention, nothing will do as well as to show that it really is not what it appears and pretends to be. If its beginnings were sordid, surely its essence cannot be worthy. To unmask is to display an ambiguous parentage at best” (148). This explains the close relationship of reductionism to unmasking and genealogical explanations. Nietzsche and Freud’s accounts of religion are obvious cases. Foucault’s account of sexuality is a more recent example. 31 The classic discussion of religion as an illusion is Freud 1989; see also Freud 2004.



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The Marxian Contribution Whether by direct influence or by osmosis, no tradition in social theory has given more to the unmasking method than Marxism. The method (sometimes merely a reflex or a slogan) is the counterpart to the claim that most people live in a state of false consciousness, a term that Marx himself did not use – he preferred the image of inversion - but still serves to abbreviate a broadly Marxian approach to understanding. Aware that false consciousness appears patronizing to a modern audience, neo-Marxist authors are inclined to suggest more palatable synonyms; these include hegemony, misinterpretation, misrecognition, confused categorization, cognitive error, motivated mistakes, communicative distortion, and ideological incorporation. Whatever the term preferred to render false consciousness, neo-Marxist authors unite in subjecting something approaching that condition to unmasking. In the Marxist tradition, unmasking is a sonogram of human injury. It is a radical epistemology that works on another mode of consciousness that is itself a state of being: alienation. The confusions populating the minds of men and women are construed by Marxists not as simple mistakes, idiosyncratic bad faith or lapses in authenticity;32 they are states of mind that are caused, despite all individual mediations, by a mode of production that integrally harms human beings, depriving them of powers, including powers of insight, that enable their free development. Lukács, adapting Lenin’s condemnation of “trade union consciousness” and argument for a revolutionary vanguard in What is to be Done? (1902), famously finessed this argument by distinguishing between the limited, spontaneous class-consciousness that arises in the minds of class members in their day-to-day activity, and real class-consciousness that Marxist theory is able counterfactually to infer from its superior understanding of the totality of social arrangements. This understanding allows the Marxist theorist to deduce “the thoughts and feelings which men would have in a particular situation if they were able to assess” that situation and its determinants objectively: that is, guided by Marxist theory.33

32

Sartre is somewhat of an exception but as his work became more Marxist it also became more structural. See, in particular, the role played by the “practico-inert” in Sartre 1976 . 33 Lukács 1971, 50-51; cf. 54, 58, 65-66, 69-70, 72-73. On Lukács as an “unveiler,” see Muller 2003, 273.



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Strictly speaking, the Marxist notion of false consciousness or its cognates has two faces.34 The first, and most important, belongs to the workers or subordinate class who, failing to see their true human interests in a post-capitalist society, acquiesce in or actively support an oppressive system. That system oppresses through brutality – long hours, repetitive work, poor pay and conditions - but more often through moral corrosion; commodity production creates “unnatural and imaginary appetites” that translate genuine “human need” into “fantasy, caprice and infatuation.” A system of private property produces “artificial” needs, a “crude barbarism” that eventuates in the “self-stupefaction” of the worker (Marx 1975a, 359 and 363). The second aspect of false consciousness is that of the bourgeois or ruling class. This class believes that a market society is the best and only system compatible with a modern society; its members are not lying when they say as much. Instead, they are sincerely mistaken though it is “a useful mistake: in legitimating their activities it consolidates the economic arrangements from which they profit” (Meyerson 1991, 36). False consciousness is that mode of “domination [that] occurs where the power of some affects the interests of others by restricting their capabilities for truly human functioning” (Lukes 2005, 118; also Lukes 2011).35 It is the existence of false consciousness that makes unmasking necessary. Marx offers various renditions of unmasking, each of which fits a different phase of his work and is oriented to a somewhat different purpose.36 These modalities cannot be reviewed here in any detail but one is especially formative of Marx’s legacy. It occurs in A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. Introduction (1844). Here Marx’s objective is to push beyond Feuerbach’s critique of religion to develop a new, radical idea of “criticism” – a worldly philosophy of society and the state. It was no mean achievement to show, as Feuerbach did, that “Man makes religion, religion does not make man.” The question for Marx, however, is: what is Man? Man is “no abstract being 34

I draw on Meyerson 1991. A critique of the concept of false consciousness is advanced, inter alia, by Scott (1990, 70-107), who identifies two versions of it: a thick version that claims that agents consent to their dominated status; a thin version that claims that agents are merely resigned to it. Rosen (1996, 31 and passim), another critic of the concept, identifies three versions: cognitive, practical and identity-oriented. 36 Masks, masquerades, and unmasking are, for instance, pervasive in “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte” (1852), Marx 1977a. Fine studies of Marx’s unmasking approach to French politics are Furet 1988, and Chaouli 1989. On Louis Bonaparte’s coup and subsequent imperial dynasty, Chaouli says that the explanation Marx offers provides a “stack of masks” without actually finding the true face beneath them – unless this is the material conditions of the French peasantry. 35



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squatting outside the world” but rather a creation of “state, society.” And it is this state and society that must henceforth be the object of criticism because it, not religion, is the root source of human alienation. Moreover, if religion is “an inverted consciousness of the world” this is only because it inhabits an “inverted world.” To divest humans of their religious “illusions” is thus simply the preface to divesting humans of illusion more generally, so that Man “will revolve around himself as his own true sun” (Marx 1975b, 244).37 The role of criticism, in the form of a reinvigorated post-Hegelian philosophy, is to assume social responsibilities. Such criticism “in the service of history” is committed

to unmask self-estrangement in its unholy forms once the holy form of human self-estrangement has been unmasked. Thus the criticism of heaven turns into the criticism of earth, the criticism of religion into the criticism of law and the criticism of theology into the criticism of politics (Marx 1975b, 244).38 The text that I am summarizing is notable not only for its extensive use of terms such as “illusion” and “illusionary” that seem naturally to call for the unmasking method. (Similar terms such as fantasy, phantasm, mysticism and fetishism proliferate throughout Marx’s work more generally.) It is also contains a nicely abbreviated reference to Marx’s idea of inversion.39 Fundamental to his oeuvre, it first appears in Marx’s early critique of 37

Raymond Aron’s (2002) claim that Marxism is a “secular religion” is his way of turning Marxism’s unmasking method back on itself. But one can identify a relationship between Marxism and religion without thereby unmasking the former. A recent example is Terry Eagleton’s (2014, 90-91) remark that while Marxism is a secular form of politics, Marx’s “vision of history” has “clear affinities” with Judaism and Christianity. “Justice, emancipation, the day of reckoning, the struggle against oppression, the coming to power of the dispossessed, the future reign of peace and plenty [are evidence of such affinities]… Marx also learnt something from the Judaeo-Christian rejection of fetishism and idolatry, as well as from its tragic insistence that dissolution is the prelude to new life.” Marxists can hardly be unmasked for something they do not deny. 38 The German verb Marx employs here is entlarven, which encompasses the meanings of expose, uncover and unmask. Some other translations of this passage prefer “discover” to “unmask” but that seems to me questionable. Marx’s point is not that illusions have been discovered but, more forcefully, that ideas have been exposed as illusions. 39 The inversion of philosophy, received wisdom and cliché is a fundamental Marxian trait. Hegel’s dialectic is stood on its feet. Society is not founded on law but law on society. The worker becomes poorer the richer his production. And so forth. It is probable, if not obvious, that Marx drew on Hegel’s analysis of the “inverted world” in the Phenomenology of Spirit ¶¶157-160. But Hegel’s analysis is far more subtle than Marx’s and explicitly denies that inversion posits one world “as it is for an other, whereas the other is the world as it is for itself,” Hegel 1977, 97. Fittingly, Hegelian phenomenology is the opposite of unmasking. Phenomenology states that consciousness educates itself by studying its own experience of



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Hegel and then spirals outwards to encompass Marx critique of ideological consciousness and, later, commodity production - “the personification of the thing and the materialization of the person,” in one crisp formula.40 Inversion suggests that when people view the world spontaneously and unreflectively they do so in a topsy-turvy manner; but that way of viewing things is itself “a social product” and thereby subject to all the distortions of society itself.41 After all, Consciousness can never be anything else than conscience existence, and the existence of men in their actual life-process. If in all ideology men and their circumstances appear upside-down as in a camera obscura, this phenomenon arises just as much for their historical life-process as the inversion of objects of the retina does from their physical life-process (Marx 1977b, 164). Marx used the same image in the “fetishism of commodities” section in Capital (1867), while clarifying that whereas the imprint on the eye is a function of a physical relationship, the perceptibility/imperceptibility of commodities is conditioned by a social one. It is the social, exploitative relationship between workers and capitalists, and commodity production that underpins it, that creates the mistaken impression that economic exchange is essentially an intercourse of things and economic value a creation of things. Characteristically, Marx falls back on religion-as-inversion to make his point or, as he puts it, to find the right analogy: commodity production is redolent of the “mistenveloped regions of the religious world [in which] the productions of the human brain appear as independent beings endowed with life” (Marx 1977c, 436). 42 sense-certainty, perception, “force” and understanding; skepticism is “self-actualizing” (¶78). For Hegel, then, the phenomenologist is the assistant of natural consciousness in coming to self-consciousness. For the unmasker, by contrast, theory is the instructor of natural consciousness telling it how and what to think. 40 Theories of Surplus Value, Addenda to Part I, Section 12 (a), para. 3, https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1863/theories-surplus-value/add1.htm#s12. Marx’s notes repeatedly invoke the idea of a world seen upside down, reversed, or inverted (verkehrt), which he calls “the capitalist standpoint;” “in competition everything appears in a false form, upside down,” and so on. My Kindle e-Reader (unpaginated) records seven usages of this image. 41 “Consciousness is … from the very beginning a social product,” Marx 1977b, 167. 42 An unrivalled brief analysis of Marx’s idea of inversion is Larrain 1991. “From the very early critique of religion to the unmasking of mystified economic appearances … there is a remarkable consistency in Marx’s understanding of ideology. The idea of a double inversion, in consciousness and reality, is retained throughout, although in the end it is made more complex by distinguishing a double aspect of reality



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Enter the unmasking theorist. The legitimacy of this role rests on Marx’s view that the most important things in life – that is, the things that shape humans most profoundly - are those that are most removed from everyday consciousness, generated invisibly from “below”. Throughout Marx’s work the architectonic or stratified imagery of base and superstructure, core and surface, reality and appearance cries out for the dispeller of mystification.43 Because everyday consciousness is produced by something real – by social relationships - our experiences cannot be entirely false or imaginary; they must register something that is true. But they are true in only a superficial and distorted sense. One must dig deeper to uncover the economic forces that control our lives and that produce the camouflage of ideology. Moreover, because our thoughts are conditioned by our social location it is an idealist mistake – the error, Marx claimed, of the Young Hegelians - to think that our relationship to reality can be transformed by thinking about it in a more enlightened way. On the contrary, we will only really think about reality differently when we have changed it. A sound theory of the world requires a sound world, a world without contradictions. “Communism does away with falseconsciousness, not by substituting a correct image of the world for an incorrect one, but by dispelling the illusion that thought is or can be anything other than the expression of a state of life” (Kołakowski 2005, 144). While Marx is the theoretical prophet on whom we are invited to rely for guidance, it is the proletariat on which we must rely for emancipatory deliverance. Two additional aspects of the Introduction are what I described, in this entry’s opening remarks, as weaponization and emancipation, those oft-deployed missiles in the unmasker’s arsenal. Because few people today read Marx’s early work, with the exception of the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, its violent rhetoric and “‘critical’ rage” (Furet 2008, 31) are easy to miss. The exterminatory language, prefiguring Leninist and Stalinist polemics, is worth recalling. Although the Introduction [phenomenal forms evidenced in market exchange and competition; productive relationships that cause these] in the capitalist mode of production.” 43 In a departure from his usual argument that capitalism mystifies human relationships, the Communist Manifesto (1848) claims that bourgeois society is itself a great debunker. Its domination is blatant: in the place of the patriarchal “exploitation, cloaked [verhüllten] by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct brutal exploitation”. Similarly, the “bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil [Schleier], and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation,” Marx 1977d, 223; transl. modified.



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begins with comments on post-religious criticism, most of the article is devoted to an attack on Germany, a country Marx depicts as so backward and oppressive that it can only be remade through total destruction. Its rulers, estates, and all who support the status quo are not worthy of the treatment afforded to adversaries that share a common world. Instead, Marx is frank that they are worthy only of “denunciation”, what Marx calls “the essential force” of criticism. Similarly, the appropriate attitude towards German life is not reform but “war”. German conditions – which include German people – are so degraded they are “beneath the level of humanity.” They are comparable to a criminal who awaits the “executioner”. Under these conditions, Marx emphasizes, criticism is “not a scalpel but a weapon. Its object is its enemy, which it aims not to refute but to destroy.” The goal of this destruction is to enlighten the only class that can truly remake society into a just community, a universal class whose liberation coincides with, and is the instrument of, the freedom of all non-exploiters. “Just as philosophy finds its material weapons in the proletariat, so the proletariat finds its intellectual weapons in philosophy; and once the lightning of thought has struck deeply into this virgin soil of the people, emancipation will transform Germans into men”. Marx leaves the reader in no doubt of his ambitions for philosophy or what he also regularly calls theory. Its centrality accords the theorist a remarkable role in defining human freedom; philosophy or theory is “the head of this emancipation” steering “the heart” that comprises the proletariat. Both require each other for “the proletariat cannot transcend itself without the realization of philosophy” (Marx 1975b, 257). While social theorists, since Marx’s time, have found his accounts bracing and illuminating, a sterner view of the unmasking disposition was offered by a contemporary. The poet and cultural commentator Heinrich Heine confessed late in life that he had become fatigued by radical atheistic fusillades against religion. “Rational criticism that has annihilated the proofs of God’s existence,” (2006, 201-2) declared, has not “put an end to God’s existence.” Nor have the taunts of Heine’s “obstinate friend, Marx, not to mention Messrs. Feuerbach, Daumer, Bruno Bauer, Hengstenberg” and other similar “godless self-gods.” Their rationalistic assaults have rather shown that the “cobwebbed dialectic of Berlin cannot tempt a dog from behind the stove; it cannot kill a cat, far less a God. I know from my own experience how little dangerous its destructive powers are.”



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Unmasking and Sociology Social theory is a much larger domain than sociology; yet so deeply embedded is unmasking in the latter, and not only among Marxists, that one could write a whole history of the discipline from that angle. Some sociologists even argue that unmasking is integral to sociology as such. Peter Berger once did in Invitation to Sociology (1963), a book that has sold over a million copies in English and been translated into twenty one languages. He observes: The sociologist will be driven time and again, by the very logic of his discipline, to debunk the social systems he is studying. This unmasking tendency need not necessarily be due to the sociologist’s temperament or inclination…. [He] is compelled by what he is doing to fly in the face of what those around him take for granted. In other words, we would contend that the roots of the debunking motif in sociology are not psychological but methodological. The sociological frame of reference, with its built-in procedure of looking for levels of reality other than those given in the official interpretations, carries with it a logical imperative to unmask the pretensions and the propaganda by which men cloak their actions with each other. The unmasking imperative is one of the characteristics of sociology particularly at home in the temper of the modern era.44 Berger himself restricted sociology to the unmasking of official interpretations of reality; he did not proclaim sociology’s job to unmask consciousness in general or lead the charge of social transformation. That distances him from Marxism and others kinds of radical social and cultural theory. Berger exaggerated sociology’s unmasking predilection. Notably, where a social theorist takes seriously the insider’s point of view, the unmasking temptation is unlikely to prevail. Max Weber’s interpretive sociology (though not his political advocacy) is the textbook case; it is developed in W.G. Runciman’s (1983, 223-240) concept of “tertiary

44

Berger 1963, 51. On sociology as a discipline devoted to unmasking social “facades,” and “seeing through” official “versions of reality” and “publicly approved interpretations,” see also pp. 34-5.



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understanding.”45 Ethnographic fieldwork of many, but not all, descriptions is similarly averse to the unmasking approach, particularly the more it is centered on its subjects’ experiences and “life-world,” the more it records human variation to avoid caricature, and the more it renders subjects as fully human beings.46 General theorists in sociology today such as Andrew Abbott, Randall Collins, Liah Greenfeld and Margaret Archer similarly avoid unmasking. Their theories seek to illuminate human existence in a new or modified way. They seek to help us understand aspects of the world better than we did before. But theirs is not a discourse of enlightened souls and emancipation. Nor is it one that inverts or destroys what actors believe. That unmasking is not integral to sociology is nowhere more evident than in the work of the discipline’s greatest student of dissimulation. Erving Goffman (1967) had no interest in unmasking or moralizing about it. His work identifies the masks we don to show ourselves in the best light and to protect ourselves against other people’s devaluations. But, for Goffman, questions of sincerity, hypocrisy and delusion are not sociologically pertinent; in fact they are none of sociology’s business. He implies that “one’s mask, held in place long enough and convincingly enough, at last becomes one’s face … We become ourselves by pretending to be ourselves in the affirming presence of others” (Rigney 2001, 152). Accordingly, the equation of sociology tout court with unmasking is false. Even so, the number of sociologists who have dabbled in unmasking, purposely developed its logic, or been undone by its consequences is extraordinarily large. A full inventory of unmasking practices is not possible here. Its masters in recent French sociology are Pierre Bourdieu and Luc Boltanski, though the latter has sought recently to soften and in part reconfigure his mentor’s approach. German critical theory from Theodor Adorno to Axel Honneth is synonymous with the unmasking method. Both of these traditions have 45

For a discussion of Weber and Durkheim as anti-unmaskers in sociology, see Baehr and Gordon 2012. This is what Jack Katz 2004 describes as the “worker” genre of ethnography (associated with such authors as William Whyte, Herbert Gans, Elijah Anderson, Mitchell Duneier), to be distinguished from two other modes of ethnography: aristocratic and bourgeois-professional. Katz describes Burawoy’s “extended case method” as proceeding from “presumptive superiority;” its posture is essentially aristocratic in its “assertion of false consciousness”: the assertion that the subjects’ definition of reality “is a product of [capitalist] powers they fail to appreciate.” Everyday experience is flattened by sociological categories or simply made illustrative of them. Katz’s own writings are closely keyed to the “worker” genre; see, inter alia, his (1988) account of non-predatory homicide. 46



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thousands of acolytes. Let it suffice to mention two major unmasking thinkers: Bourdieu (1930-2002) and the Italian polymath, Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923). The reasons for this choice are threefold: first, it shows that unmasking is not a monopoly of the left; second, it juxtaposes a thinker of immense contemporary popularity with one who is largely forgotten in social theory; third, it contrasts an unmasker of limited scope, and whose unmasking is highly conventional, with one whose ambitions are truly panoramic. BOURDIEU: FOOLS FOOLED The problem announced throughout Bourdieu’s work is that agents do not know what they are doing. Stated like that, the contention is a banality. No one can know all the determinants of their action, let alone its consequences. Bourdieu means something more. He mobilizes terms such as “uncloaking,” “uncovering,” “delusion,” “collective selfdenial, “dissimulation” to argue that subjects are ignorant about what they are really doing, despite their best intentions (Bourdieu and Passeron 1988, 65, 159, 195, 199, 219). The theorist does know. In a famous passage on pedagogic judgment and deliberation, Bourdieu (1996, 39) remarks: Agents entrusted with acts of classification can fulfill their social function as social classifiers only because it is carried out in the guise of acts of academic classification. They only do well what they have to do (objectively) because they think they are doing something other than what they are doing, because they are doing something other than what they think they are doing, and because they believe in what they think they are doing. As fools fooled, they are the primary victims of their own actions. It is because they think they are using a strictly academic classification ... that the system is able to effect a veritable deviation of the meaning of their practice, thereby getting them to do what they would not otherwise do for all the money in the world. (emphases in the original) In the foregoing quote, believers are depicted as sincere, not hypocrites; fools fooled, they perform a task they consider to be just. They are casualties and reproducers of



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domination, of a system in which their honest beliefs form the unwitting boosters.47 However, Bourdieu asserts elsewhere that we need further to reconsider the very concept of disinterestedness. When we do, we see at least two things: first, that it is a mode of “dissimulation” or “legitimacy-giving redistribution;” the disavowal of “economic interest” in spheres as ostensibly remote as art and theology, says Bourdieu, is at root “an imaginary anthropology obtained by denial of all the negations really brought about by the economy” (Bourdieu 1977, 196). Second, disinterestedness is itself a structural phenomenon whose existence depends on “a habitus predisposed to disinterestedness and the universes in which disinterestedness is rewarded.” Such universes comprise literary, artistic and scientific fields where economic imperatives are devalued. Presumably, however, without some reward, disinterestedness would be impossible so the very concept of disinterestedness has been inverted - redefined as a modality of interest - in the process of subjecting it to sociological analysis. Moreover, to say that literary, artistic and scientific fields are those that enable disinterestedness, even in this redefined sense, is by no means to deny they are bereft of peculiar interests as well. Hence “the sociology of art or literature” is that body of work that “unveils (or unmasks) and analyzes the specific interests which are constituted by the field’s functioning (which led Breton to break the arm of a rival in a poetic dispute), and for which one is ready to die” (Bourdieu 1998, 87-88). Many aspects of Bourdieu’s persona commend him to sociology. A leftist political stance is well attuned to progressive academic attitudes. The elevation of sociology above philosophy is professionally gratifying to sociologists. Enfolding individual action into social practices and locating social practices in social positions adds heft to structural theory, a sociological mainstay. Bourdieu’s work is contemporary in assigning a major place to culture while remaining reassuringly Marxist in depicting culture as a kind of capital or “credit” that, despite numerous mediations, is in the last instance a function of economic domination or, as he puts it, “the conversion of economic into symbolic capital” (Bourdieu 1977, 197). He is, despite all protestations to the contrary, a mediated reductionist. When human action, for instance, is reduced to social 47

The similarities between Bourdieu’s critical sociology and the Frankfurt School’s critical theory, especially in regard to the unmasking method, are outlined in Boltanski 2011, 1-49.



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position or considered “a somatization of the relation of domination,” the action invoked is merely figurative (Bourdieu 2001, 56). Habitus, field, cultural capital, and symbolic violence are meat grinders of human plenitude. They suppose agents not actors. And in the Bourdieusian cosmos, everything truly important is other than it seems to its actors, often the reverse of what it seems because of the all-pervasive influence of domination, the deep state of power; that is, again, why unmasking is needed. Education may appear naively to be concerned with the cultivation of knowledge. It is really about the reproduction of class and status through official classifications. Aesthetics may appear to study beauty and the sublime. It really records the determination of taste, a form of cultural domination and class-fraction reproduction. Philosophy may appear to be about metaphysics. Its “problematic” is really a product of a philosophical field, “a space of objectively realized possibilities” which “functions as a possible market, exercising effects of repression, or licensing and encouragement, on the expressive drive” (Bourdieu 1991, 70). The concept of symbolic violence, a precursor of micro-aggression, is also problematic; a “rhetorical pseudo-explanation,” Randall Collins (2008, 24-25) calls it. Bourdieu describes symbolic violence as the euphemistic, “gentle, hidden form which violence takes when overt violence is impossible.” Bourdieusian theory unmasks this concealment. Collins demurs. The expression symbolic violence is wordplay; the expression is as coherent as immobile locomotion. Symbols are never violent; only behavior is. Violence is never gentle; it is ferocious – that is what violence means. Bourdieu’s concept, in contrast, is “smooth, tension-free, non-confrontational, highly repetitive, and without situational contingencies.” Raymond Aron (1990, 482) anticipated the problem: “Whoever sees only a difference in degree between the ideology of the state in Moscow and ‘symbolic violence’ in Paris, blinded by ‘sociologism’, finally obscures the fundamental questions of the century.” Yet while Aron deplored unmasking, he conceded its centrality to sociology. In his 1970 inaugural lecture to the Collège de France, Aron (1978, 76) declared: To our customs and beliefs, the very ones we hold sacred, sociology ruthlessly attaches the adjective “arbitrary”. For our lived experiences, in their unique richness and indescribable depth, it substitutes indicators. It is concerned only

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with acts that repeat themselves, with manifest or latent classes; each act becomes one among many, anonymous and uninteresting it if remains alone in its peculiarities, marginal or atypical if it insists on combining features that are normally separate. In the wake of Nietzsche, sociology forces social actors to the light of day and uncovers their hypocrisy. As a millenarian vision, Marxism goes back to those mythologies by which men have wanted to assure themselves of winning in a just war. Insofar as it unmasks the false consciousness of all and the good conscience of the powerful, Marxism, like psychoanalysis, belongs more than ever to our time. In a way, all sociologists are akin to Marxists because of their inclination to settle everyone’s accounts but their own.48 PARETO: THE LOGICAL MASK OF THEORY Still respected as a founder of microeconomics, Pareto is little read today by sociologists. His unmasking strategy is supercharged: it surveys all theoretical modes without exception, Marxism included. Pareto called his method logico-experimental and defended it as the most scientifically rigorous and honest available. Many have disagreed: “Logical it may have been,” says one critic, “but not experimental” because Pareto gathered none of his own data, conducted no surveys, nor dirtied his hands in fieldwork (Hughes 2008, 260). He is less intent on explaining social phenomena, than cataloguing them. Be that as it may, Pareto’s approach is sufficiently catholic, he recognizes, to invite readers to unmask it as well, together with his general theory of residues and derivations and his special theory of equilibrium. Marxism’s claim to be scientific, says Pareto, is not entirely mistaken. If science entails the advance of knowledge, Marxism does just that with historical materialism. It shows that politics and morals are relative to social and economic conditions. By stressing historical contingency, it destroys the illusion of permanence. It falls into error, however, when instead of seeing society as an inter-dependent system of economic and other social factors, historical materialism settles on a cause-effect explanation. There is simply no basis other than metaphysics to claim that economic forces cause everything 48



I explore Aron’s ambivalence towards unmasking in Baehr 2013b.

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that is truly important about social life. Equally problematic is historical materialism’s understanding of history as class struggle. An economic interpretation of society did not require this move; it could have stopped by simply affirming that relations and forces of production must be factored into any general social theory henceforth. But once class struggle became creedal, historical materialism was doomed to dogmatism, and sociology became “a very easy science”. “Whatever history reveals – any fact recorded, any institution described, any political, moral or religious system” is reduced to, because caused by, forces of economic domination. To the degree, then, that an economic interpretation of history became Marxism – a political creed – it degenerated into mystification, making society look more rational, more determined, more predictable that it is or can be. An approach that had began as a critique of ideology, became one (Pareto 1966, 213). Thus Pareto’s approach to the unmasking science of historical materialism is to unmask it. Marxism is just one theory that Pareto exposes in the massive Treatise on General Sociology (1916); nationalism, Social Darwinism, contract theory, the rights of man, economic protectionism (his bête noire) are among many others. Ancient, medieval and modern philosophy, theology, and jurisprudence are similarly probed. In doing so, Pareto draws a distinction between interests, residues, and derivations. Interests are material desires and wants that prompt methodical, instrumental behavior for their satisfaction; theories about interests tend to be of a logical kind, couched in mathematical formulae that lend precision to means-ends calculations. Residues are evidence of non-logical (or non-rational) behavior in social affairs, the outcome of deeply engrained impulses, motives, propensities, habits, sentiments and emotions of which humans are often unconscious or semi-conscious. Expressions of a durable and largely uniform substrate, residues make themselves known in certain constant features of the human imagination, especially in the theories that humans create to makes sense of their environment and of themselves. Pareto lists no less than fifty-two varieties of residue, reducible to six basic classes; these encompass such propensities as innovation, conservation, sociality, and the individual striving for social esteem. Seeking to make sense of the world, humans reason, converse, argue, and build theories, imposing forms of rationality that are, on closer inspection, questionable.



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Theories that purport to harness data are, for Pareto, thus sociological data in themselves. They show what people value most; and when people value things they generally wish to clothe them in rational propositions to justify them as obvious and compelling, a rationalization in both senses of that term. Pareto dubs such moves derivations because they have their roots in residues (which in turn have their roots in the nature of human beings). The tendency to interpret the non-rational aspects of life through the lens of logic is a pronounced feature of human thought in general. Over-rationalization is a particular danger, however, for professional theorists. This is not only because they gravitate by temperament to rational explanations, or because, as thinkers by vocation, they tend to believe that “man ought to be moved by reason alone.” It is also because rational explanations are much easier to theorize than non-rational ones; the latter require fastidious and exhausting empirical observation, whereas logic proceeds through deduction; that is why political economy, which addresses standardized means-ends behavior, is more advanced scientifically than sociology which, if is to make any contribution of worth, must find its variegated material of enquiry outside its own reasoning. It takes considerable effort to avoid the “methods of eliminating non-logical behavior” (Pareto 1966, 202). Repeatedly, theorists treat non-logical attitudes as prejudices, superstitions, and ruses that a properly scientific approach must disregard. Or where an objective reality to non-logical beliefs and practices is grudgingly granted, it is simultaneously derogated to legend, myth or metaphysics. Accordingly, if “non-logical actions are usually seen and assessed from the logical standpoint by those who perform them and by those who study them with a view to formulating a theory about them,” then it follows that Paretian sociology is tasked with an “all important” undertaking: Our study aims at removing these ‘logical’ masks to reveal the things which are hidden beneath them. In this respect also our work differs from that of many theorists who halt before these masks without going further. Indeed, they do not consider themselves to be masks at all but believe them to be the substantial element in human behavior. We must closely examine such theories for, if we were to find them true – if, that is to say, they are in agreement with experience – we should have to adopt a quite different method from that which is entailed by

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the recognition that it is the things under the masks which, in fact, constitute the substantial element (Pareto 1966, 194). Something else makes Pareto’s version of unmasking extreme: its scornful, misanthropic tone. When sociology maps out the residues and derivations it does nothing less than expose the folly of humanity as a whole. Unmasking in the Paretian register is not, then, a means of rational liberation; it is a statement about its impossibility. Unmasking documents the integral human limits on rationality, a limit that is made more severe by the fact that humans rationalize even the limitations of their rationality (Hughes 2008, 265-266). Conclusion Unmasking began life in social theory as a critical meditation on individual responsibility, choice and integrity. French seventeenth and eighteenth century moralists took it for granted that individual will and conscience shapes human events. After Marx, the majority of unmasking writers no longer see persons as authors of their most significant acts (Ferry and Renaut 1990, xii, 172-175). They are particles acted upon by social and psychological forces divined by the theorist. On such an account, persons do not even understand what they are doing – which is to say they do not understand what they are really doing as distinct from what they are trivially doing. History, society and psyche work through them, determine them, sculpt them. These forces also produce people’s views. Accordingly, as Karl Mannheim (1936, 250) recognized, we “do not hold up to the adversary that he is worshipping false gods; rather we destroy the intensity of his idea by showing that it is historically and socially determined.” It was precisely to avoid unmasking, and to uphold the validity of different points of view, that Mannheim developed the sociology of knowledge (Baehr 2013c). This entry has confined itself principally to social theory. But unmasking also has a bloody political history. Both the Jacobins and the Bolsheviks explicitly employed the term, concept and practice to purge their enemies (Clark 1991; Johnson 2001; Fitzpatrick 2005; Goldman 2011). And today unmasking is flourishing as never before in our newspapers, twitter accounts, blogs and other digital media, albeit in forms that are neither particularly theoretical nor sanguinary. Predictably, like its more recondite

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cousins, everyday unmasking comes in sundry shapes; allegations of conspiracy are only the most obvious. Spot them in stories that expose President Barack Hussein Obama to be a Kenyan-born Muslim; or that prove, following extensive reconstruction of the events, that the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were an inside job of the CIA; or that demonstrate how governments connive with multinational corporations, in atmospheric aerosol geo-engineering, to manipulate weather patterns to harmful effect. Such claims flood the Internet as “birthers” and “truthers” find plots where others see only events (Kay 2011).49 Conspiracy theories, as disbelievers call them, are par excellence a matter of seeing through – in this case, of penetrating the smokescreen of intrigue and subterfuge. But they are only part of a still broader tendency to “out” - or manufacture - covert identities. A politician, we are told, has secretly benefited from a Panamanian offshore tax haven while affecting to care about financial probity. A leader of an NGO who proudly affirms her feminist credentials is accused of being nasty to female office staff. A professor who congratulates a student for exceeding academic expectations is charged with “micro-aggression.” The accused persons loudly protest their innocence. They are misunderstood and have committed no crime; life is more complicated than the unmasker’s malicious caricatures of it; the accusers who cry “hypocrisy” are the real aggressors. Unmaskers scoff. They continue in their denunciation, convinced that camouflaged conduct can be rendered transparent by a simple fact of revelation. During the French Revolution, unmasking (démasquant) was an explicit topic of political debate; radical intellectuals defined it, promoted it and parsed it, potential victims feared it, critics attacked it. In the polemics of our own era, by contrast, unmasking proceeds largely through presumption and insinuation. A song by the country singer, Jerry Reed, compares love to a wind that “covers our land.” Unmasking is part of the air we choke on, an atmospheric condition in the climate of the times that settles on Everyman and social theorists alike, each to their own.50 49

Still indispensable is Cohn 2006.

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Much of the research on which this entry is based was generously supported by a Fellowship in the Humanities and Social Sciences funded by the Hong Kong Research Grants Committee. Fund Code: LU301-HSS-13. I am grateful to Joshua Derman for his helpful comments on an earlier version of this entry.



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