One last note about math and economics and orthodox education. I’ve been reading The Dialectical Imagination, intellectual historian Martin Jay’s impressive history of The Frankfurt School from 1923-1950. The Frankfurt School revitalized Marxism in the early-to-mid 20th century; but for the first six years, before Max Horkheimer took it over, it was an Orthodox Marxist Academic Institute. What did that look like? From the book (my italics):
The tone of the Grunberg years, a tone very different from that set after Horkheimer replaced him as director, was captured in a letter sent by a student at the Institut, Oscar H. Swede, to the American Marxist Max Eastman in 1927. The relative orthodoxy of the Institut’s Marxism was frustrating to the young Swede, who complained of spending
hours of exasperating argument in a Marxist Institute with a younger generation settling down to an orthodox religion and the worship of an iconographic literature, not to mention blackboards full of mathematical juggling with blocks of 1000 k + 400 w of Marx’s divisions of capital’s function, and the like. God! (p.12)
I can’t describe to you how much I enjoy the idea of the early Frankfurt School generation, brilliant minds who are going to bridge the gaps between psychoanalysis, Weber, Kantian negation, aesthetic theory, and Marxism into this massive critique of Modern Society, forced to sit in a classroom and set up lagrangians to find the optimal labor given capital. Forced to do too much math to study society. And bitching that everyone else is just eating it up.
For anyone who studies economics, the phrase “blackboards full of mathematical juggling with blocks of 1000 k + 400 w” summarizes a lot. Just the idea that someone like Adorno had to sit down with a booklet and take a test that said “Given this production function, prove that the surplus value of an object will be removed from labor, and this that will collapse bourgeois society, using [whatever they used for Bellman Equations in the 1920s].” Fantastic.