* The End of Socialism
By James R. Otteson
New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014.
Pp. xiv, 224. $28.99 paperback.
James Otteson pronounces the "end of socialism," but do we really need another obituary for that superannuated theory? Idiosyncratic Vermont senators aside, those who self-identify as socialists are a vanishing breed. Not even the economic misadventures surrounding 2008 led thoughtful people to conclude that any serious alternative to market-based production is available.
Forgetting the music of the 1960s would be tragic; forgetting its ideologies, not so much.
One venue in which socialism continues to thrive, however, is academic political theory and philosophy programs. There it resurfaces as both a historical predecessor and a respected contemporary critic of welfare-state liberalism. In the latter mode, the text that outshines all others, enjoying a favored spot in the backpacks of college freshmen across America, is G. A. Cohen's Why Not Socialism? (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2009). To be sure, the presence of that volume doesn't unduly burden them. The microbook boasts the dimensions of my Samsung Galaxy 5 cell phone and can be read front to back easily in less than an hour. Nor is it weighty in the other sense by which academic tomes are customarily measured; its theoretic heft is minimal. The remarkable popularity of Why Not Socialism? is attributable to the story it tells in the opening pages. Imagine, directs Cohen, going on a camping trip with a bunch of other people who bring along different talents, interests, and implements. The goal is recreation, but there also are chores to be done--berrying, fishing, cooking, and cleaning up. The campers divide their labor and their play in keeping with their individual tastes, but they do not affirm their own exclusive property rights, nor do they require payment for services rendered to others. Rather, the trip operates in the absence of hierarchy and flourishing by some at the expense of others. People are not identical, but they are equal; they may or may not be friends (in the pre-Facebook meaning of the term), but they art fraternal in their interactions. Cohen asks: Would you prefer a trip organized along these lines or one in which campers insist on a quid for every quo? If the former, you have acknowledged the attraction of a socialist order. This isn't, to be sure, your grandfather's socialism (especially if your grandfather was a doctrinaire...