The subtitle of Joel Kovel's The Enemy of Nature (originally published in 2002, revised edition 2007) states his thesis bluntly: The End of Capitalism or the End of the World? Kovel thinks we need a revolution--although he is fully cognizant as to how remote that prospect seems.
“Economic Democracy: A Worthy Socialism that Would Really Work” laid out a model that was to form the basis of my book Against Capitalism, published by Cambridge University Press in 1993. The article, like the book itself, was a theoretical response to the triumphalism of the TINA crowd (There Is No Alternative) that followed the collapse of Soviet Union and the rejection of socialism by its satellite states in Eastern Europe. “A Worthy Socialism” was intended to demonstrate rigorously that there (...) is an alternative, at least in theory: an economically viable form of socialism that would be more democratic than capitalism and at least as efficient. Against Capitalism made the same point, but extended the argument further. Economic Democracy would be not only as efficient as capitalism and more democratic, but also more rational in its growth, more stable, more egalitarian, less prone to high unemployment, more ecologically friendly. I was sick of hearing even progressives say that “we are going to have to stop using the term ‘capitalist economy’ as if we knew what a functioning non-capitalist economy would look like.” (these words from the well-known philosopher and public intellectual Richard Rorty, writing in the widely read liberal magazine.). (shrink)
I T I S S T A R T L I N G T O realize that the concept of economic exploitation, which has been the focus of intense philosophical debate for what seems like decades now, was barely touched on in John Rawls's 1971 masterwork, A Theory o f Justice, the book that ushered in the present era of Anglo - American social and political philosophy. The subject was broached just once by Rawls, and only to be dismissed as (...) being of such secondary importance as to be "out of place here."1 The concept, however, had begun to attract the attention of a generation of students and young faculty who were rediscovering Marx, to the point that it could not much longer be ignored, not even in Harvard Yard. Robert Nozick, in his famous juniorcolleague, neoconservative rebuttal to the liberal Rawls, devoted a full nine pages to attacking "Marxian exploitation," concluding that "Marxian exploitation is the exploitation of people's lack of understanding of economics.". (shrink)
If we look at world history over the course of the past several centuries, it is hard to miss the fact that democracy has been advancing. Not steadily. There have been fits and starts, setbacks as well as gains, but it can scarcely be denied that the world is more democratic now than it was three centuries ago, or two centuries, or one century or fifty years ago or even twenty. There is scarcely a country in the world that does (...) not at least call itself democratic. To be sure, there is a lot of hypocrisy here, but as we know, hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue. The notion that people have the right to rule themselves is an idea of near-universal currency right now, and it shows no signs of weakening. (shrink)
Democratic Socialism -- The relationship between democracy and socialism is a curious one. Both traditions are rooted philosophically in the concept of equality, but different aspects of equality are emphasized. Democracy appeals to political equality, the right of all individuals to participate in setting the rules to which all will be subject. Socialism emphasizes material equality--not strict equality, but an end to the vast disparities of income and wealth traceable to the inequalities of ownership of means of production.
w a y s h a v e b e e n . W e a l l r e m e m b e r M a r x ' s p o l e m i c a g a i n s t P r o u d h o n , t h e Manifesto's critique of "historical action [yielding] to personal inventive action, historically created conditions of emancipation to fantastic ones, and the gradual spontaneous class (...) organizations of the proletariat to an organization of society specially contrived by these inventors" (Marx and Engels, 1986, 64), and the numerous other occasions when the fathers of "scientific socialism" went a f t e r t h e " u t o p i a n s . " I n general this Marxian aversion to drawing up blueprints has been healthy, fueled at least in part by a respect for the concrete specificity of the revolutionary situation and for the agents engaged in revolutionary activity: it is not the business of Marxist intellectuals to tell the agents of revolution how they are to construct their postrevolutionary economy. (shrink)
Growing numbers of people are beginning to realize that capitalism is the uncontrollable force driving our ecological crisis, only to become frozen in their tracks by the awesome implications of this insight.
As we all know, Marx's powerful and compelling critique of capitalism provided no explicit model for a viable alternative to capitalism, no "recipes for cookshops of the future," in his disdainful phrase.1 Marx shouldn’t be faulted for this omission. He was a "scientific" socialist. Although there were sufficient data available to him to ground his critique of capitalism, there was little upon which to draw regarding alternative economic institutions. No "experiments" had been performed. We no longer have that excuse.
What are we to make of the "Parecon" phenomenon? Michael Albert's book made it to number thirteen on Amazon.com a few days after some on-line promotion.1 Eight of the twelve Amazon.com reviewers (when I last checked) had given the book five stars. It has been, or is being, translated into Arabic, Bengali, Telagu, Croatian, Czech, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, Swedish and Turkish.2 The book has been endorsed by Noam Chomsky, who says it "merits close attention, (...) debate and action," by Arundhati Roy, who calls it "a brave argument for a much needed alternative economic vision," by Ben Bagdikian, who finds it "a compelling book for our times," and by Howard Zinn, who sees it as "a thoughtful, profound meditation on what a good society can be like."3 Yet it is a terrible book. (shrink)
There is no more intriguing or provocative argument in the Marxian corpus; it is the theoretical and rhetorical heart of Capital; not surprisingly, it is the locus of endless controversy: capitalist profit is possible, Marx argues, only because the capitalist is able to find on the market a unique commodity that possesses 'the specific use-value ... of..
There are many things in this book that I like. I like Gould's basic philosophical framework--her "social ontology" of human beings conceived of as individuals-in-relation-- which was developed in her earlier works, Marx's Social Ontology and Rethinking Democracy. I like her use of a feminist "ethic of care" throughout, even to ground human rights. This latter move is surprising in light of Carol Gilligan's provocative (and in my view insightful) contrast between an ethic of rights (characteristic of conventional male moral (...) reasoning in our culture) and an ethic of care (more characteristic of the moral deliberation of women).1 But if human rights are conceived of as positive claims on others--as Gould argues, convincingly, they should be--then these claims have force only if we care for others and can related to them empathetically. I like the diversity of topics this book addresses: racism and democracy, cultural identity and group rights, women's human rights, the global "democratic deficit,” implications for democracy of the internet, and more. Rather than sketch an overview of the book, or comment superficially on its many significant issues, I will concentrate here on just two essays. (shrink)
My interest in China was rekindled several years ago by an invitation to a conference, "Modernization, Globalization and China's Path to Economic Development," to he held in Hangzhou, July, 2002. The conference was organized by Cao Tian Yu, a philosopher of science at Boston University and his wife Lin Chun of the London School of Economics--both deeply concerned about the future of China. It was attended by a number of Western Leftists (Samir Amin, Perry Anderson, Robin Blackburn and myself), by (...) China specialist Joseph Fewsmith, by representatives from Singapore, Taiwan and India, by representatives from China's developing "New Left," (among them Wang Hui, whose book China's New Order was recently published by Harvard University Press1), by the president of Hangzhou College of Commerce (where the event was held) and by three retired, once prominent government officials, among them Du Runsheng, a principal architect of China's agricultural reform of the late 70s, early 80s. (shrink)
The remarks that follow are not the work of a China specialist. I am a philosopher who has spent most of his scholarly life--from my days as a graduate student in the early 1970s to the present--grappling with one of the great lacunas in Marx=s work. As everyone knows, Marx thought that capitalism will eventually be replaced by a higher form of society that will resolve humanity's economic problem. He characterized this ultimate Acommunism@ in various ways: rather whimsically as a (...) socio-economic order that allows us to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, criticize after dinner, without ever becoming hunters, fishermen or a critical critics; more seriously, in accordance with the need for a compelling political slogan, as one that allows us to work according to our abilities and consume according to our needs; more philosophically, as one that reduces the realm of necessity to a minimum so as to maximize the realm of freedom. But Marx was no utopian dreamer. He knew that we would have to pass through a transitional stage to get from capitalism to this truly human society. This would be a stage marked by its origins, hence imperfect, even in theory, and yet capable of surmounting the fundamental contradictions of capitalism. (shrink)
Schweickart argues that Gould in her most recent book seems to have shifted away from the notion of economic democracy as “one person, one vote” to a less radical modified stakeholder view in which the various constituents of the economic enterprise, including employees, stockholders, and managers, share in decision-making power. Noting that Gould does not explain why she holds that workplace democracy is a too stringent participatory demand, Schweickart brings up a variety of arguments that might be offered in support (...) of her claim and finds them all clearly wanting. More briefly, he addresses Gould’s normative analysis of terrorism, concluding that it raises, but does not address, the difficult question, “Should we empathize with the [suicide] terrorists?” [Abstract prepared by the Editors.]. (shrink)
Abstract David Ramsay Steele's From Marx to Mises argues correctly that the standard account of the economic calculation debate is a misrepresentation. Mises and Hayek were not bested by Lange and Taylor. However, it is not true, as Steele claims, that socialists have yet to face the Misesian challenge, nor that the debate over socialist calculation sheds much light on the recent collapse of communism. Steele's critiques of market socialism and worker self?management and his treatment of Marx are, moreover, deficient, (...) as a consequence of his ?Libertarian Panglossism.? Tout est an mieux . . . dans ce meilleur des mondes possibles. (shrink)