“When a new system comes into existence, its intellectual basis, the results of science, is to be found in a new principle of trust, and then the critical epoch is over.”

— August Comte

The positivist philosopher, August Comte, believed European history could be read as a long transition that displaced the military-theological feudal system.[1] The description is very simplistic: there has been an evolution towards high-tech industrial developments powered by science, but the military-theological structures that have always maintained power and control are still there. In fact, they seem to be getting stronger rather than diminishing.

Comte, like most positive thinking in the last two hundred years, based his optimism on science, but he envisaged the power of science to be operating in tandem with industry, and this was his mistake. For science to be a positive, transformative agent on human society it needs to be in control of that transformation: it must control industry rather than being a mere tool for profit-making. Science today is merely a submissive puppet in industry’s rapacious game of accumulation and domination.

In Comte’s defence, he himself was fully aware of how easy it was for feudalism to make a come-back after a progressive revolution, for he had already seen how quickly the retrograde power of Napoleon’s dictatorship was able to install itself after the Revolution. Because of that, he thought very deeply on how a post-revolutionary regression to the military-theological system could be avoided.

Firstly, Comte reasoned, political imagination had to be observant. And what Comte meant by being observant was that it must be conscious of what it needs to look for and what it needs to fear.

Here we find a reason to explain why Comte, despite our need for positive political thinking, has been largely ignored by theorists – for to be observant in Comte’s sense of the word would imply that the political imagination of any revolution would be conscious of any retrograde thinking that could give credence to the military-theological power base embedded within the same revolution. What Comte assumed was that that power base had to have been vanquished by the revolution, but that never happened, and never will happen whenever the success of a revolution is seen as dependent on military force rather than passive surrender. If the force of the system can only be vanquished by a greater force, the force will only be substituted by more force and this creates a snowballing effect that amplifies the basic problem itself. Likewise, an observant revolution can never take place through Parliamentary-political processes. The congressional politics of our current representationally-democratic systems can never really be observant because they can never truly liberate themselves from the kind of power they are supposed to be vigilant of.

Comte’s argument is therefore correct – but unrealistic. After the French Revolution failed a new revolution was needed and came via Marx and the spirit of the proletariat. The communist regimes were vigilant, but half-heartedly. Where communism was largely effective in escaping the theological paradigm, it could do nothing to escape the militaristic, and hence the theological returned in the communist regimes through the dogmatic personality cults of its military dictators.

The Second World War, and the subsequent arms race of the Cold War, gave industry and its faithful tool science, a fertile field for cultivating and accumulating enormous wealth. The Cold War was a conflict between military-theological-industry (and science) and military-antitheological-industry (and science), in which the real winners were Industry and the Military; and science was always their faithful hound.

Likewise, observance became a vigilance of rivals (on the industrial plane) and their theological or antitheological enemies (on the theological plane). Then, with the collapse of the antitheological, the communist threat was very quickly replaced by a new global power: the guerrilla/military-theological feudal power that is Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or Isis.

In Comte’s terms, positive progress has not only been thwarted by not being allowed to move forward at all, it is in danger of collapsing right back into feudalism. The observance of industrial rivals is still a first priority, but the vigilance of the capitalist system has another annoying fight with terrorists to contend with. Terrorists and other militants fighting a guerrilla war to reinstate feudalism as another kind of military-theology. Force breeds more force, and the neo-feudalism we see spreading through central Asia breeds another kind of feudalism in other parts of Asia, America and Europe. What Comte called feudalism, we now call populism.

There is of course nothing positive or forward moving toward human fulfilment in any of our current power-struggle scenarios.

What has failed to take place in order for Comte’s optimistic plan to unravel itself, has been the lack of prevision in science, or the lack of scientific criteria in the development of political programmes that have abused science for military and profit-making purposes.

Comte believed that only advanced “scientific prevision can avert or mitigate violent revolutions.”[2] What he did not mean when he said this, was that the scientific prevision should be invented in military projects and reactionary wars of rivalry.

But if this is what he didn’t mean, what did he mean? How could a scientific prevision have made our world a better place than it is today?

We will try and answer those questions when we continue in Science versus Industry: Part Two.

[1] See Mike Gane, AUGUST COMTE, Routledge, p.31

[2] Ibid, p.33



  1. .

    what is the problem an this planet ?
    why do they need any military ?
    any police ?

    because they can not have a dialog with any sapient
    because all these billions are criminal in their intention !
    or voting in their ignorance for such …

    these do not want to talk about a solution > but to pushing their problem
    if need be with force onto as many as they can

    to proving this point > why are there not billions here ?
    to seeking any insights ?
    any inspiration ?

    any real dialog ?


    • A theological state is based on dogma and, like feudalism, it does not favor humanity because it’s dogmas do not favor human creativity and inventive productivity.
      An ideal state would be a global one that worked for the well-being and advancement of all human beings (those that are here now and those who will come after us) without destroying the environment in the process. My which I mean our planet, that is needed to ensure any well-being.

      • I suppose my question is: where is the advancement of human beings going?

        To Mars? To another solar system? To another plane of existence?

        If that’s where we’re going are we going to do it in the next 30 years before I’m dead?

        But I guess another dynamic of the question is regardless of these various terms that we use to describe the power relations in the world , isn’t there always a segment of society that is taking advantage of another segment of society that is being abused or oppressed?

        Or are we thinking in terms of that which helps the most is better?

        Or are we thinking in terms of one day we will all live in peace and harmony and be like this perfect machine of human production where all… i’m just having trouble picturing what is different fundamentally for me as a human being in feudalism or in theolocracy Or in the military industrial complex or in Rome or in Egypt or ….

        I’m not a nihilist.

        I am a very caring person and I’m concerned for other people and I try to help people.

        But when we start talking about these historical over arcing political structures in factor is an elements and power moves and stuff like that, I am just asking specifically what is better? Or what system is going to be the best?

        Why is it inherently better that there is this large democratic state where we elect our rulers (supposedly, of course we could argue all sorts about whether this is actually true anymore) Than and authoritarian regimes say?

        Just in my processing right now I’m leaving this comment: Perhaps it is the numbers and a probability game . I mean when you think of feudalism say if I was the king or night or Duke or something like that I wouldn’t really have a problem with the system. If I was a thief or a butcher Nino are just some regular small one in the small town chips of some sort a trade I probably wouldn’t have too much of an issue. It probably be only the peasants that would really have an issue. So maybe it’s the in balance of the numbers of people that benefit from the system is what we’re really talking about.

        But still I don’t believe there’s ever going to be a time when all human beings are doing really well I think there’s always going to be a class that benefits from the misery of others.

        So maybe what you’re talking about the pros and cons of all the systems and states really comes down to the probability that I would be a peasant or part of the class thats benefiting.

        I mean unless you believe in “God’s kingdom” And that one day we will reach this great utopian harmonious society where everyone sings Kumbaya and the wheat growers abundantly and there’s plenty of clean water for everyone we won’t need money anymore robots will not have any chance of dominating us etc.


        Plenty to think about.

      • To get to the better world we’ve got to imagine it first. In our present Zeitgeist most people believe that what we’ve got is the best of all the worst possible worlds and that a better world is Utopia, which by definition means No-place, and is therefore impossible. Of course a better world is possible, but only if we can imagine what it would be like first, and what we need to change second. What we have now is abysmal, the absurd idea of continual growth is literally driving us toward the abyss of non-Existence. Because of this, the better world is not a fantastical dream, it is a logical necessity.

      • Every world is abysmal. The logical better world necessity comes out of every world being abyssal .

        I’m just asking what this better world looks like to you; I don’t know, I’m just guessing. But then also. If this better world is actually possible as an end world, the world that is better?

        What is better? More people having more movie channels? Having a colony on Mars? Everyone living with robot companions that serve their every need?


      • paul … as you know > I agree with your aim at getting humanity out of this trap it is in >
        meaning this animalistic competitiveness ….

        but you keep forgetting that theology and religion do not have to be dogmatic
        or repressive > on the contrary > the only free society possible > exist under the
        galactic religion > where the only dogma is this requirement of preserving our
        universe and preserving humanity > meaning no force what so ever !
        no destruction it all …

        so why do you keep repeating this false impression about religion ?
        there is no way to having a society > not believing in preserving our > and any world
        and having no military > no police > no prisons > no need for any such

        because there is all this possibility of creating trust and all creativeness
        only this believe by all its citizen > can make this possible
        not this freedom to destroy competitively

      • I could write a book about why religion is not a good idea, but I’ll try and be brief.
        All religions are ultimately based on faith, and there is no herd easier to manipulate than the herd of the faithful. Through faith it’s easy to create self-interested dogmas, because faith in the religious context always boils down to interpretation of someone else’s revelation.
        Having said this though, I think Hegel was probably right when he said that if we wanted a revolution we had to create a religion. But, a true revolution has to change the bedrock of civilization and religion is embedded in that bedrock. Therefore, the revolutionary religion cannot be religious. If one can work out how this is possible, how we can create a revolutionary religion that is not religious, then the revolution may very well come about.
        In order to change things we must unravel the impossible seeming paradoxes, otherwise you get Lampedusa’s paradox (in order for things to remain the same, everything has to change) through which civilization has always maintained itself, and change only perpetuates the status quo.

    • Is there something wrong with war? Is mutual destruction an undesirable thing? If you’ve answered yes to either one of these questions then you can probably see why a military-industry is undesirable.

      • Personally. I might not like war. But I surely would defend my family and home, and be extension homeland. There will always be intra-human killing, just as there will be un-civil disagreements. This doesn’t mean I don’t try to, but it also means that the division of labor, there are people who will, by extension, kill others. Whether it be through policy or guns, or drugs, as mistakes.

        I not sure there is a better, so those kinda of analysis I think are idealistic in nature, a justifying move of the problem it is invested in to be able to even talk about ‘better’.

        I just want to know specifically what ‘better’ is from you. Maybe I’ll agree. I just can think of it myself.

      • We won’t ever get to a better place until we dismantle the current paradigm that prevents humanity from advancing. A better world would be a purposeful one; our present life lies is a profoundly nihilistic civilization, so that nihilism has to be dismantled in order for human purpose to substitute those nihilists. A purposeful motor would create a deeper humanity. At the moment we are pushed forward by superficial material nihilisms or fantastical spiritual ones. What will the result of a deeper more purposeful society be?Most of our future visions are influenced by science fiction, and nearly all sci-fi portrays either dystopias or dystopian visions of Utopia. There’s only one sci-if scenario I can think of where the future is actually an ideal place: that is Star Trek. In Star Trek we have a united humanity that is motivated by the deep purpose of exploring and protecting the universe. Star Trek is also interesting because there is no money in the series. In fact, the series is inconceivable if you put economics into the plot. The result would be a comedy. Another element of the present that has to be dismantled therefore is our total dependence on money and our inability to imagine a moneyless society. Such a moneyless society, like Star Trek’s world, is a better place.
        I find the idea of the Star Trek Universe useful when trying to envisage a better place. If someone can imagine a humanity evolved into such a society, then such a society is possible. But I can’t see it simply evolving, we have to work hard in convincing ourselves that a much better and more purposeful reality is possible if humanity is ever to get there. Part of that challenge is believing in humanity itself, that humanity is something exceptional and important in the universe and something worth developing because it could do amazing things, even though the most amazing things it can do lie in the distant future. We need to believe that humanity has a great future, because if we can’t believe that it won’t have any future.

      • I forgot about Star Trek. Yes that is a good vision of the future over all I think.

        But I am still skeptical that All of humanity will be included. I think at best Some will be. I am not sure that there is a “common” humanity to speak of. There are always those who really don’t give a crap, and I don’t think it is because of any system that is in place .

    • In terms of the progress of humanity as a species, feudalism is a primitive concept that divides the human and retards the creative and technological capacities inherent in humanity. Exchanging ones wealth for military protection is basically the same as a Mafia-controlled society. Democracy, even our flawed system of representative democracy, is a much better system than feudalism for favouring human potential, but this is diminished by other Mafia style corruptions practiced by large corporations and the creation of profit-motivated plutocracies in most so-called democratic states.
      If you work for the Mafia, our modern feudalism is a good thing, but it’s disastrous for those who don’t.

  2. I’m thinking more here of the political macrocosm, i.e. revolution related to the progress of humanity. Yes, the Liberal revolutions in France and the U.SA., and the Communist revolutions did produce positive changes, but they did not fundamentally alter the militaristic-theological base of power that Comte talks about. Events like the Portuguese revolution or the collapse of communism were more transitions than revolutions as they were movements bringing those dictatorial countries out of isolation and into the status quo of the capitalist world. Scandinavia have been a vanguard of social-democratic progressiveness without dismantling its militaristic-theological base, but there are strong feudalist reactionary forces emerging there as well and the trend seems to be running backward at the moment rather than forward. Iceland is an exception, but Iceland often seems to be on another planet than this one, despite their presence in the World Cup.

    • Maybe it would be helpful to think about what created the military-theological worldview in the first place. A major component are standing armies, as opposed to citizen militias. I wonder how it changes the dynamic for a country like Switzerland to have professionally armed citizens, which would not only keep external enemies at bay but keep internal enemies on their toes.

      I’m also thinking back to tribal societies and Bronze Age (along with some early Axial Age) civilizations that lacked standing armies. Besides that, there is James C. Scott’s ideas on legibility and control, and I could add the thinking of another anarchist scholar, David Graeber. Some of the thoughts about decentralized early feudalism (also lacking standing armies) might be relevant, as discussed by Barbara Ehrenreich in Dancing in the Streets.

      I haven’t read Comte. So, I don’t entirely understand what is meant by the military-theological stuff. But I know from the anthropological record there has been diverse societies. I’d be curious to know which contemporary societies, especially nation-states, that don’t fit the military-theological model or that challenge the paradigm in various ways.

      • Modern countries without armies are Costa Rica and Iceland, as well as some Pacific and Caribbean island states and tiny countries like Andorra or Monaco. I think Costa Rica is the only sizeable continental state without an army.

      • In terms of empires and revolutions, there is another good example. The border people at the edge or between empires are always fascinating, a major focus for James C. Scott. The example of this that comes to mind that of the Basque.

        The Basque had fought off many imperial attempts at conquest. John Adams visited Basque country. It was an inspiration for American ideas of republicanism during the revolutionary era. The Basque sided with the French revolutionaries and then found themselves targeted by the new French regime.

        The Basque lost their independence. Still, they maintained it for a long time because of the geography of the region. Like other border people (e.g., Scots-Irish), the Basque had developed a strong independence and autonomy.

        Sometimes border people end up psychologically co-opted into empires, as if and when conquered they can be made into a warrior class or simply cannon fodder. I’m not sure to what degree the Basque maintained. their original culture, but reading indicates they have to some degree such as seen with the Mondragon corporation.

      • EUROPE is a complex jigsaw of ethnic groups like the Basques. Thinking small is a tempting possibility when contemplating the problems of globalization, but while it seems revolutionary I don’t think more human segregation would be any solution to our present global crises. Also, the inhabitants of tiny Easter Island made the same mistakes that the Mayans did, which were probably many of the same mistakes that the Romans did when their Empire collapsed.

      • “Thinking small is a tempting possibility when contemplating the problems of globalization, but while it seems revolutionary I don’t think more human segregation would be any solution to our present global crises.”

        Yeah, I agree. That wasn’t where my thought was heading. I can’t really say what fundamental point there is to my comments, other than to consider various examples and possibilities.

        Part of me would like to return to a simpler society. On principle, I find myself in agreement with the American Anti-Federalists, since they turned out to have been right in so many of their warnings and predictions. But we are too far down this road at this point. I don’t see any way of walking back globalization now that we are at the point of looming climate change catastrophe, even if we could magically end the neocon stranglehold.

        It is what it is. We are where we are. Time to move onto something new while taking what lessons we can from the past. It is in that light that I find myself wondering about other perspectives.

        In more global terms, there is a thought that just occurred to me. I recall a small book I read in the 1990s. It was about food and civilization or something like that. One chapter was about colonial imperialism and the sugar trade. The author was making a more interesting point than that the sugar trade helped to fund the new economic and political power structures, as it motivated the need to control vast territories.

        The main point made was about how sugar fueled new ways of thinking. The increased availability of cane sugar (along with tea and coffee) allowed Europeans to sit around thinking for long hours, as they were buzzing on these new drugs (and sugar definitely is a highly addictive substance).

        There is a reason that the Renaissance, Reformation, and Revolutionary era happened as large-scale trade began to more fully take hold, and not just the trade of ideas. Monks could stay up late into the night copying texts. And revolutionaries, of course, loved to gather in the popular coffee houses. Sugar and caffeine revved up the entire Western world. And we’ve been buzzing on this high ever since, to the point that our entire society is severely sick from the horrible diet that has resulted.

        I was reminded of this because of watching the documentary The Magic Pill. It is about how nutrition effects us, not just in terms of the more obvious aspects of physical health but also neurocognitive health. A large number of health conditions are related to sugar and carbs, specifically in their refined forms (also the hydrogenated oils that allow for long-term storage for the purposes of a global trade network), in terms of metabolism, gut-brain connection, inflammation, etc.

        There is also the whole issue of the microbiome that directly influences our neurocognitive functioning and mood. The food we eat, not to mention the antibiotics we take, completely alter our microbiome and we are coming to learn there are numerous results. It gets me thinking. Our diet supports our mentality, predisposes us to behavioral patterns, and traps us in a worldview. This is even more true with the added power of pharmaceuticals, especially as they are increasingly prescribed to young children. Capitalist realism is even more compelling in our drug-addled state.

        That touches on the point of view that Johann Hari presents. Addiction isn’t only about substances and biology. It involves the entire social order. People are only prone to addiction under specific conditions of isolation and stress. This goes a long way to explain the whole WEIRD phenomenon with the US being the weirdest of the WEIRD. And to my mind this has everything to do with military-industrial-theological power structure of the twin ideologies of neoliberalism and neoconservatism. It’s not just how the system operates but the products that flow through the system and how we are impacted.

        But this is going far afield of Comte.

      • The system is all its parts, and everything that flows through it. If the system is rotten then the oil that flows through it is probably noxious. We need now to dismantle the system, clean all its parts and change the motors so that it can run on clean energy rather than corruption.

  3. What about peaceful transitions of power?

    The Pennsylvania colony was governed by a Quaker ruling elite. Then they willingly gave up power because they no longer wanted that role. Also, consider Portugal. It was a violent and oppressive police state not that long ago, until the military chose to protest by standing down and a social democracy was formed.

    I’m sure there are many other examples. But I’m not sure how any of them might apply to your inquiry here. It just seemed like another tangential thought to throw out.

    I would note that, in the case of Portugal, it lead to highly effective drug reform that ended the criminalization of drug addicts. Such reform is in line with the scientific research over these past decades. And offhand, it seems to have been science applied through government and no involvement of industry.

    I don’t know where that leaves us, specifically here in the US. It’s admittedly hard to envision a future that is going to avoid violent conflict and struggles of power, almost certainly involving “military-theological structures” and the military-industrial complex. It’s hard to argue that we are on a path of progress.

    Ye even when revolutionary eras lead to mixed results, one thing that stands out is that none of the democratic reforms would have happened without them. The American Revolution forced the British Empire to enforce internal reforms for fear of further revolutions, which ironically caused them to end slavery before the US. And the French Revolution, in its aftermath, permanently demolished the monarchical and feudal order across Europe. What resulted were numerous social democracies.

    Countries like Finland managed to maintain their democracies, including protecting their minority populations (e.g., Jews), during the world war era. Scandinavia in general shows how strong those social democracies have become in disallowing industry to take too much power. Iceland is a good example of that in how they’ve managed their natural resources to invest in the public good and create a massive surplus.

    Just some thoughts.

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