Friday, 7 January 2011

Why Not Socialism?

is the title of the last book by the late political philosopher G. A. Cohen. Adam Smith scholar James R. Otteson offers a review of the book in the Independent Review. He writes
Defending socialism is a tall order these days, so it is a bit surprising to see an unabashed attempt. The late G. A. Cohen was a distinguished political philosopher at All Souls College, Oxford, and an important critic of libertarianism. His 1995 book Self-Ownership, Freedom, and Equality, for example, is a challenging and searching Marxist criticism of Nozickean libertarianism. Distinguished philosophers such as Hillel Steiner and Jonathan Wolff have offered high praise for Why Not Socialism? Thus, if anyone can defend socialism successfully, perhaps Cohen can in this book.

The book’s brevity—only ninety-two very small pages—and its largely jargonfree writing suggest that it is meant for nonspecialist readers. One presumes that it is intended for classroom use, and for that purpose I suppose it can be useful. But Cohen’s argument in this book is so weak that the book’s main effect, I fear, would be to show that socialism has no plausible defense.
While I can't see an economic defense of socialism; Mises, Hayek, Robbins et al put paid to that, I am surprised/disappointed that Cohen can not offer a wider philosophic/moral/ethical defense. If only because of the standard of Cohen's past works.

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