Francesco Boldizzoni


On his book Foretelling the End of Capitalism: Intellectual Misadventures since Karl Marx

Cover Interview of September 16, 2020

The wide angle

Foretelling the End of Capitalism looks back into the past to answer key questions for our time. But this has nothing to do with the uses of the past one often finds in American newspapers these days, namely the search for historical precedents for current problems. This craze for continually comparing situations of the present with situations of the past, which are always the product of unrepeatable circumstances, is good for writing likable op-eds but has little scientific basis.

The way the book uses history is different and this certainly has to do with my biography. I come from an intellectual tradition, that of continental thought, where history is considered to be a social science. The study of the past serves to identify regularities in human behavior but also the principles that govern social change. It helps to explain why human institutions are time- and place-specific, but at the same time why they change only very slowly and resist attempts to destabilize them.

If I were to think of the authors and currents that have influenced me the most over the years, these would definitely include classics of social theory such as Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim, and Max Weber. They created categories that are still indispensable for understanding the world we live in. Equally important would be the later French and German historical scholarship, with its emphasis on structures rather than events, and cultural anthropology, which offers the tools for decoding the grammar of societies. Finally, I drew important methodological lessons from hermeneutics, a non-naïve approach to “truth,” and from Frankfurt’s critical theory, a powerful antidote against irrational faith in progress.

While my book unquestionably bears the signs of all these influences, it’s also the result of more practical concerns. In fact, during the past decade my research and teaching interests have increasingly focused on the relationship between politics and the economy, and on how the former intervenes in human societies to regulate the latter. Capitalism is the terrain on which this relationship is most conflictual and where more extensive forms of regulation are needed.