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."
"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
"[A] 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
"No doubt the best forms of socialist organization will emerge, like everything else, after much trial and error. But a vast quantity of preliminary spadework is necessary to excavate the assumptions that keep us from even trying. With Why Not Socialism?, Cohen has turned over a few shovelfuls, bringing us a little nearer the end of the immemorial--but surely not everlasting--epoch of greed and fear."--George Scialabba, Commonweal
Table of Contents:
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
This book has been translated into:
Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by Gerald Allen Cohen: