The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.

– Marx, Theses on Feuerbach

I decided to look into the history of the workers’ movement, to find out the reasons for the continual mismatching of workers and the intellectuals who came and visited them, either to instruct them or to be instructed by them. It was my good fortune to discover that this relationship wasn’t a matter of knowledge on one side and ignorance on the other, nor was it a matter of knowing versus acting or of individuality versus community.


…Emancipation starts from the principle of equality. It begins when we dismiss the opposition between looking and acting and understand that the distribution of the visible itself is part of the configuration of domination and subjection.

It starts when we realise that looking is also an action that confirms or modifies that distribution, and that “interpreting the world” is already a means of transforming it.

…this is what emancipation means: the blurring of the opposition between those who look and those who act, between those who are individuals and those who are members of a collective body.

⁃ Jacques Rancière, The Emancipated Spectator

The philosopher of the future is the explorer of ancient worlds, of peaks and caves, who creates only inasmuch as he recalls something that has been essentially forgotten. That something, according to Nietzsche, is the unity of life and thought. It is a complex unity: one step for life, one step for thought. Modes of life inspire ways of thinking; modes of thinking create ways of living. Life activates thought, and thought in turn affirms life.

– Gilles Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy

This post is a continuation of my previous one on the usefulness of capitalism as a concept. From the quotes above there are several key themes to be explored. The first being the relationship of theory and practice, thought and action, and the tightly-linked second theme is the role of the intellectual. I want to make it clear from the start that when I will be discussing intellectuals or non-intellectuals I have Rancière’s axiom of the equality of intelligences firmly in mind (more on that later), so I’m not talking about certain classes of people (intellectuals) contra some other class (working class). I’m not implying that there are people more adept at the work of thought, and others more oriented towards practical endeavours, what I am concerned with rather is the relationship of the labour of theory to the labour of practice, which Rancière and Nietzsche assert everyone performs to varying degrees.

When I argue that capitalism is not a useful concept, this begs the question of what are theoretical concepts useful for, and to whom? This question is another angle on the question of the relationship of thought and action, theory and practical life. Deleuze has answered both these questions, the former in his last major book ‘What is Philosophy?‘ (WP) and the latter in one of his earliest books, ‘Nietzsche and Philosophy‘ (NP). 

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