But as was already said, the decomposition of society may be seen especially in the disappearance of significations, the almost complete evanescence of values. And the latter is, in the end, threatening to the very survival of the system. When, as is the case in all Western societies, it is openly proclaimed (and in France the glory goes to the Socialists for having done what the Right dared not do) that the sole value is money, profit, that the sublime ideal of social life is to enrich yourself, is it conceivable that a society can continue to function and reproduce itself on this basis alone? If that is the case, public servants ought to ask for and accept baksheeshes for doing their work, judges ought to put their decisions up for auction, teachers ought to grant good grades to the children whose parents slip them a check, and the rest accordingly. I wrote almost fifteen years ago about this, that the only thing stopping people today is fear of penal sanctions. But why would those who administrate these sanctions themselves be incorruptible? Who will guard the guardians? The generalized corruption one can observe today in the contemporary politico- economic system is not peripheral or anecdotal; it has become a structural, a systemic trait of the society in which we live.
In truth, we are touching here upon a fundamental factor, one that the great political thinkers of the past knew and that the alleged “political philosophers” of today, bad sociologists and poor theoreticians, splendidly ignore: the intimate solidarity between a social regime and the anthropological type (or the spectrum of such types) needed to make it function. For the most part, capitalism has inherited these anthropological types from previous historical periods: the incorruptible judge, the Weberian civil servant, the teacher devoted to his task, the worker whose work was, in spite of everything, a source of pride. Such personalities are becoming inconceivable in the contemporary age: it is not clear why today they would be reproduced, who would reproduce them, and in the name of what they would function.
Even the anthropological type that is a specific and proper creation of capitalism, the Schumpeterian entrepreneur (who combines technical inventiveness with an ability to round up capital, organize a business firm, explore, penetrate, and create markets), is in the process of disappearing. That type is being replaced by managerial bureaucracies and speculators. Here again, all these factors are conspiring with one another. Why struggle so hard to produce and to sell at a time when a successful killing in the exchange rate markets on Wall Street in New York or elsewhere can bring you 500 million dollars in a few minutes? The amounts at stake each week in speculation are on the order of the GNP of the United States for a year. The result is to put a drain on the most “entrepreneurial” elements, drawing them toward these kinds of activity which are completely parasitic from the point of view of the capitalist system itself.
If one puts all these factors together and takes into account, moreover, the irreversible destruction of the terrestrial environment which capitalist “expansion” (itself a necessary condition for “social peace”) necessary entails, one can and one should ask oneself how much longer the system will be able to function.
Excerpt from Cornelius Castoriadis' “The Rising Tide of Insignificance (The Big Sleep)" (pp. 136-8 from the online edition of the book, which was translated from the French and edited anonymously as a public service).