Defending socialism is a tall order these days, so it is a bit surprising to see an unabashed attempt. The late G. Cohen was a distinguished political philosopher at All Souls College, Oxford, and an important critic of libertarianism. His book Self-Ownership, Freedom, and Equality , for example, is a challenging and searching Marxist criticism of Nozickean libertarianism.

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Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read. Want to Read saving…. Want to Read Currently Reading Read. Other editions. Enlarge cover. Error rating book. Refresh and try again. Open Preview See a Problem? Details if other :. Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. Preview — Why Not Socialism? Why Not Socialism? 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. Cohen notes, when we all behave like socialists. On a camping trip, for example, campers wouldn't dream of ch Is socialism desirable? 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.

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Start your review of Why Not Socialism? Aug 02, Micah rated it it was ok. Oct 13, Simon rated it really liked it Shelves: philosophy-read. Very short, but very nice. Cohen identifies socialism with two principles, the Socialist Equality of Opportunity Principle and the Principle of Community. The first is equality of opportunity that eliminates not just legal disadvantage serfdom, racist laws , not just the effects of social disadvantage generally poverty, lack of schools , but all kinds of disadvantage for which people are not responsible themselves i.

Community is the principle that people should act for mutual benefit not out of greed but out of a desire to serve others and be served by them. The Socialist Equality of Opportunity Principle will be consistent with large differences in people's resources, namely those generated by choices that have turned out badly for reasons that are no fault of the agents of them.

But too much discrepancy in benefit will be inconsistent with the Principle of Community since it will create certain kinds of divisions. Cohen argues that most people will agree that a society governed by these principles, if it is possible, is highly desirable.

The question remains as to whether such a society is possible. Abstracting from the difficulties of how, given the many entrenched interests that would be opposed to it, we might get there from here, Cohen identifies two potential sources of unfeasibility: human nature and poor social technology. The objection from human nature is that people are simply too selfish to act as they would have to in such a socialist society, and Cohen gives fairly short shrift to this objection by noting that, as things are, people act from both generous and selfish motives and we should not assume that selfish ones predominate.

The more interesting problem, he thinks, is whether we can develop social technologies to harness these motivations towards moderately efficient material production, as capitalism has shown us how to do with selfish motivations. Central state planning has not worked well. Cohen thinks that we simply don't know of a good alternative social technology, but that there are some interesting ideas out there that might come close to the ideal if they can work market socialism and Carens's very interesting ideas in Equality, Moral Incentives, And The Market: An Essay In Utopian Politico Economic Theory.

In the meantime, we should not give up on looking for ways to implement a highly desirable ideal. View 2 comments. Feb 15, Andrew rated it liked it Shelves: politics-and-political-theory. Cohen, is an essay discussing Socialism in a basic and conceptual form. Cohen begins by describing a camping trip, and juxtaposing two different scenarios: one in which a group of campers share food and supplies on the trip, and gather resources equitably ie.

Which one would be a better trip? This is a simplistic argument to Why Not Socialism? This is a simplistic argument to be sure Cohen admits it personally and is certainly not a comprehensive look at the benefits of a socialist society over a market-driven capitalist society. However, it does lead nicely into a more generalized look at socialism as a system. Cohen examines the differences between a bourgeois capitalist society which promotes inherited wealth although discounts the importance of class as a marker of progression, a liberal capitalist system which promotes wealth distribution while also upholding differences in equality as an externality of the market capitalist system, and a market socialist system, which works harder to reduce the role of capital in the system, while maintaining inequalities based on personal choice.

Let's unpack that Market Socialism point. Cohen points out that market socialism is not true socialism, as it does still uphold a market-capital system in some form.

However, it reduces the importance of capital as a wealth generating function, instead prioritizing wealth redistribution through systems of progressive taxation, penalties for inheritance and so on. There is a Utopian side to this system as well; Cohen cites other authors who talk about eliminating capital in some sense by giving each citizen in a country a portfolio of shares from private firms that cannot be sold for cash, but instead can be traded and built on throughout ones life this system, while sounding very interesting, is not elaborated on in much depth in this book.

Cohen also examines the differences in the moral and ethical side of a market capitalist system versus a socialist system. Cohen argues the first is based off of greed gaining as much return from others while paying the smallest amount one can and fear the need to personally provide for oneself, and ones family in a hostile and competitive market environment.

The second system is based off of communal sharing, close connectivity between members of a community hence the camping trip analogy earlier. It is a system where people provide for each other not because they are seeking a return or profit, but just because it is the right thing to do in the circumstance.

These sorts of communities certainly exist at a local level in most places, but are often discounted on a macro-scale. This is because a more socialist system is probably not as efficient as a market-capitalist system, although Cohen argues, so what? Why would a community sacrifice its very core values of helping those in need, looking after ones neighbours, and so on just to tweak the efficiency scale up a notch or two?

All in all, this was a short and compelling read, though obviously a bit shallow. This is a small treatise that posits the big picture of socialism as a system of governance.

It does not get bogged down too much in detail, although it certainly examines some economic and social factors in some depth. This book seemed to me a tad wide-eyed my taste preferences only , but certainly provides an interesting narrative on Socialism. I could easily and especially recommend this book to newcomers on the topic, or those interested in a lighter read on political theory.

It is also not a terrible book for those interested in the topic in more depth, as this book, although big picture in nature, is grounded in terms of its discourse. There are no theoretical market calculations or obtuse social theories here, but a simple analogy and an interesting explanation.

Certainly worth a read for those interested in the topic. Aug 15, C rated it really liked it. I was not aware when I ordered this book, that it was in fact not a book. Sure it has a hardback cover, but it's really a journal article or essay, with book binding. It can be read in one sitting. This has an upside and a downside. The upside is, in few words, and clear writing, Cohen gives a stellar defense of socialist values over capitalist values and practice.

He does this by opening with an example of a camping trip. In general campers experience a sense of community and equality, and work I was not aware when I ordered this book, that it was in fact not a book. In general campers experience a sense of community and equality, and work towards the success of the trip on the old Marxian notion of "from each according to her ability to each according to her need.

At the very least none of us would tolerate one camper privatizing all the gear and equipment, letting us borrow it for work, and hoarding the surplus for himself. But how comes once we leave the camping trip those socialist values of equality and community are seen as nasty, ideological, and not worth consideration?



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G. A. Cohen: Why Not Socialism?

Cohen, Why not Socialism? Gerald A. It was published the same year that its author, the political philosopher, G. Cohen, died. It takes a relatively informal approach to many ideas that Cohen has explored elsewhere in serious and rigorous depth.

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Why Not Socialism?


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