Why Not Socialism?

Why Not Socialism?

G. A. Cohen
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: STU - Student edition
Pages: 92
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7sk94
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Why Not Socialism?
    Book Description:

    Is socialism desirable? Is it even possible? In this concise book, one of the world's leading political philosophers presents with clarity and wit a compelling moral case for socialism and argues that the obstacles in its way are exaggerated.

    There are times, G. A. Cohen notes, when we all behave like socialists. On a camping trip, for example, campers wouldn't dream of charging each other to use a soccer ball or for fish that they happened to catch. Campers do not give merely to get, but relate to each other in a spirit of equality and community. Would such socialist norms be desirable across society as a whole? Why not? Whole societies may differ from camping trips, but it is still attractive when people treat each other with the equal regard that such trips exhibit.

    But, however desirable it may be, many claim that socialism is impossible. Cohen writes that the biggest obstacle to socialism isn't, as often argued, intractable human selfishness--it's rather the lack of obvious means to harness the human generosity that is there. Lacking those means, we rely on the market. But there are many ways of confining the sway of the market: there are desirable changes that can move us toward a socialist society in which, to quote Albert Einstein, humanity has "overcome and advanced beyond the predatory stage of human development."

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3063-3
    Subjects: Philosophy, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-2)
  3. I THE CAMPING TRIP
    (pp. 3-11)

    You and I and a whole bunch of other people go on a camping trip. There is no hierarchy among us; our common aim is that each of us should have a good time, doing, so far as possible, the things that he or she likes best (some of those things we do together; others we do separately). We have facilities with which to carry out our enterprise: we have, for example, pots and pans, oil, coffee, fishing rods, canoes, a soccer ball, decks of cards, and so forth. And, as is usual on camping trips, we avail ourselves of...

  4. II THE PRINCIPLES REALIZED ON THE CAMPING TRIP
    (pp. 12-45)

    Two principles are realized on the camping trip, an egalitarian principle, and a principle of community. The community principle constrains the operation of the egalitarian principle by forbidding certain inequalities that the egalitarian principle permits. (The egalitarian principle in question is, as I shall explain, one of radical equality of opportunity: it is therefore consistent with certain inequalities of outcome.)

    There are, in fact, a number of potentially competing egalitarian principles with which the camping trip, as I have described it, complies, because the simple circumstances of the trip, unlike more complex ones, do not force a choice among them....

  5. III IS THE IDEAL DESIRABLE?
    (pp. 46-52)

    It is the aspiration of socialists to realize the principles that structure life on the camping trip on a national, or even on an international, scale. Socialists therefore face two distinct questions, which are often not treated as distinctly as they should be. The first is: would socialism, if feasible, be desirable? The second is: is socialism feasible?

    Some might say that the camping trip is itself unattractive, that, as a matter of principle, there should bescopefor much greater inequality and instrumental treatment of other people, even in small-scale interaction, than the ethos of the camping trip permits....

  6. IV IS THE IDEAL FEASIBLE? ARE THE OBSTACLES TO IT HUMAN SELFISHNESS, OR POOR SOCIAL TECHNOLOGY?
    (pp. 53-79)

    Whether or not the socialist relations of the camping trip are attractive, and whether or not it would also be desirable for such relations to spread across society as a whole, many people who have thought about the matter have judged socialism to beinfeasiblefor society as a whole. “Socialism in one short camping trip, maybe. But socialism across society, all the time? You gotta be kidding! The camping trip is a happy recreational context, in which people are removed from the complexity of everyday life and willing to suspend their normal operating principles. It is almostby definition...

  7. V CODA
    (pp. 80-82)

    Any attempt to realize the socialist ideal runs up against entrenched capitalist power and individual human selfishness. Politically serious people must take those obstacles seriously. But they are not reasons to disparage the ideal itself. Disparaging the ideal because it faces those obstacles leads to confusion, and confusion generates disoriented practice: there are contexts where the idealcanbe advanced, but is pushed forward less resolutely than it might be, because of a lack of clarity about what the ideal is.

    The socialist aspiration is to extend community and justice to the whole of our economic life. As I have...

  8. ACKNOWLEDGMENT
    (pp. 83-83)