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Why Not Socialism?

by G A Cohen Princeton University Press
Pub Date:
09/2009
ISBN:
9780691143613
Format:
Hbk 96 pages
Price:
AU$19.99 NZ$20.86
Product Status: In Stock Now
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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.'

''Why Not Socialism? very elegantly advances philosophical arguments that Cohen has famously developed over the past twenty years, and it does so in a manner that is completely accessible to nonphilosophers. The book brilliantly captures the essence of the socialist ethical complaint against market society. Why Not Socialism? is a very timely book.''--Hillel Steiner, University of Manchester

''Cohen makes out the case for the moral attractiveness of socialism based on the rather homely example of a camping trip. The positive argument of his book is impressive, and there is a rather disarming combination of simplicity of presentation and example with a deep intellectual engagement with the issues. It is very clear that there is an analytically powerful mind at work here.''--Jonathan Wolff, author of Why Read Marx Today?


CHAPTER I: The Camping Trip

CHAPTER II: The Principles Realized on the Camping Trip

CHAPTER III: Is the Ideal Desirable?

CHAPTER IV: Is the Ideal Feasible? Are the Obstacles to It Human Selfishness, or Poor Social Technology?

CHAPTER V: Coda

Acknowledgment

Why Not Socialism? very elegantly advances philosophical arguments that Cohen has famously developed over the past twenty years, and it does so in a manner that is completely accessible to nonphilosophers. The book brilliantly captures the essence of the socialist ethical complaint against market society. Why Not Socialism? is a very timely book. Hillel Steiner, University of Manchester Cohen makes out the case for the moral attractiveness of socialism based on the rather homely example of a camping trip. The positive argument of his book is impressive, and there is a rather disarming combination of simplicity of presentation and example with a deep intellectual engagement with the issues. It is very clear that there is an analytically powerful mind at work here. Jonathan Wolff, author of 'Why Read Marx Today?' Characteristically lucid, engaging and gently humorous. . . . Cohen says things that need to be said, often better than anyone else; and his last book is especially effective as an argument against the obstacles to socialism typically ascribed to human selfishness. His style of argument is very accessible, and it is certainly a more attractive mode of persuasion than dreary analyses of how capitalism actually works. Ellen Meiksins Wood London Review of Books Is socialism really such an alien way of organizing human society? In this stimulating essay titled Why Not Socialism? (just 92 pages long), the late Oxford philosopher G. A. Cohen invites us to think seriously about what socialism has to offer in comparison with capitalism. Sanford G. Thatcher Centre Daily Times Beautifully written. . . . In sublimely lucid fashion, Cohen draws up taxonomies of equality, offers ethical objection to capitalism . . . and distinguishes between two questions: is socialism desirable?; and, if desirable, is it feasible? . . . Tiny books are all the rage in publishing nowadays; this is one of the few that punches well above its weight. Steven Poole The Guardian stimulating and thoughtfully argued advocacy of the better world that we need to fight for. Andrew Stone Socialist Review A quietly urgent book. Owen Hatherley Philosophers' Magazine Cohen brings his characteristic clarity to his final defence of socialism. Tim Soutphommasane The Australian
G. A. Cohen is emeritus fellow of All Souls College, University of Oxford. His books include Karl Marx's Theory of History: A Defence (Princeton), If You're an Egalitarian, How Come You're So Rich?, and Rescuing Justice and Equality.