In talking about rabble, Hegel latently draws a key distinction (in the guise of the opposition between the two excesses of poverty and wealth) elaborated by Frank Ruda: members of rabble (i.e., those excluded from the sphere of rights and freedoms) “can be structurally differentiated into two types: there are the poor and there are the gamblers. Anyone can non-arbitrarily become poor, but only the one that arbitrarily decides not to satisfy his egoist needs and desires by working can become a gambler. He relies fully on the contingent movement of bourgeois economy and hopes to secure his own subsistence in an equally contingent manner – for example by contingently gaining money on the stock-market.” The excessively wealthy are thus also a species of rabble in the sense that they violate the rules of (or exclude themselves from) the sphere of duties and freedoms: they not only demand from society to provide for their subsistence without work, they are de facto provided for such a life. Consequently, while Hegel criticizes the position of the rabble as being the position of an irrational particularity that egoistically opposes its mere particular interests against the existing and rationally organized universality, this differentiation between the two distinct rabbles demonstrates that only the rich rabble falls under Hegel’s verdict: “While the rich rabble is, as Hegel judges correctly, a mere particular rabble, the poor rabble contains, against Hegel’s judgment, a latent universal dimension that is not even inferior to the universality of the Hegelian conception of ethics.”
One can thus demonstrate that, in the case of rabble, Hegel was inconsistent with regard to his own matrix of the dialectical process, de facto regressing from the properly dialectical notion of totality to a corporate model of the social Whole. But does this mean that all we have to do here is to enact the passage from Hegel to Marx? Is the inconsistency resolved when we replace rabble with proletariat as the “universal class”? One can argue that, on the contrary, the position of “universal rabble” perfectly renders the plight of today’s new proletarians. The classic working class is exploited through their very participation in the sphere of rights and freedoms, i.e., their de facto enslavement is realized through the very form of their autonomy and freedom, through working in order to provide for their subsistence. Today’s rabble is denied even the right to be exploited through work, its status oscillating between that of a victim provided for by charitable humanitarian help and that of a terrorist to be contained or crushed; and, exactly as described by Hegel, they sometimes formulate their demand as the demand for subsistence without work (like the Somalia pirates).
Slavoj Žižek’s new book Living in the End Times is available from http://zizek.us/books/