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The Left Alternative Paperback – October 19, 2009

ISBN-13: 978-1844673704 ISBN-10: 1844673707 Edition: Second Edition

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A moribund Left gets zapped with a cattle prod in this stimulating visionary manifesto. Brazilian social theorist Unger (Democracy Realized: The Progressive Alternative) paints leftists as hidebound and backward-looking, clinging to a vestigial social democracy that ameliorates the ills of a market economy instead of trying to transform it. Rather than resist economic and social change, he argues, the Left should drive "the permanent creation of the new" by championing New Economy managerial techniques of cooperative innovation, promoting state support for small entrepreneurship and venture capital formation and exploring "experimental" forms of markets, property and contract. Properly guided by "high-energy" politics, he insists, such initiatives can enhance equality, security, social solidarity and returns to labor, broaden opportunity, usher in "the divinization of humanity" and bestow on the individual "a more god-like self." Some readers will no doubt find his sweeping indictment of social democracy unfair, his co-optation of avant-garde management theory naive, and his celebration of change and upheaval utopian. Many of his proposals, like privatizating social services or making everyone hold a second job in the "caring economy" tending to the old, the young, the sick, the poor or the desperate (no, family members don't count), are ill thought-out. Still, he offers an incisive critique of social and economic discontents, one that turns traditional Marxist formulations on their heads ("we... are, in large numbers, petty-bourgeois now.") The result is a provocative challenge to left orthodoxies that should spur plenty of controversy-and fresh thinking.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


“A good book to stir up leftists.”—Tyler Cowen, Bloomberg Business Week

“Roberto Mangabeira Unger’s book may someday make possible a new national romance ... a hitherto undreamt-of national future.”—Richard Rorty

“A restless visionary.”—New York Times

“A philosophical mind out of the Third World turning tables, to become a synoptist and seer of the First.”—Perry Anderson

“Brazil’s answer to John Stuart Mill ... a political philosopher extraordinaire.”—Chronicle of Higher Education

“This book has influenced how I think and what I do. It sets out the principles for a future Left and crucially challenges us to think not just about how we spend revenues but how we might create them.”—Neal Lawson, Chair of Compass

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 197 pages
  • Publisher: Verso; Second Edition edition (October 19, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1844673707
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844673704
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,030,434 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Diziet on May 20, 2013
Format: Paperback
I only recently came across Roberto Unger - thanks to a BBC Radio 4 Analysis documentary entitled 'Vulgar Keynsianism' (3rd March 2013). It appears that he is having quite an impact on thinkers of the 'left of centre' which, of course, includes the Labour Party.

The book was first published in 2005, but this edition has been updated and revised; in part to take account of the current crisis of global capitalism. The original hope was to present left alternatives in the face of an all-conquering neoliberalism without the need for one of these regular crises. However, since 2008, the left seems determined to let this crisis go to waste, so to speak, and so Unger's ideas take on rather more urgency as neoliberalism seems still to hold sway, as Colin Crouch, amongst many others, has pointed out.

Unger suggests that, in Europe, the Left:

'...has retreated to the last ditch defence of a high level of social entitlements giving up one by one many of its most distinctive traits, both good and bad. The ideologists of this retreat have tried to disguise it as a synthesis between European-style social protection and American-style economic flexibility.' (P172)

The growing split between high- and low- or no-skill jobs has resulted in the Left relying on compensatory measures to soften the economic polarisation of society. And as we have seen, this 'compensatory culture', for want of a better term, is increasingly under severe attack, even as the gap between rich and poor continues to widen. We have what Unger refers to as 'the dictatorship of no alternatives' (P1), or, as Thatcher put it 'There Is No Alternative'.
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13 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Reckless Reader on November 4, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This is a good magazine article disguised as a book by stating each argument and insight 4 times over.

Too bad it keeps saying the same thing over and over, because this tends to encourage brain death by the 50th page.

The ideas buried within are pretty simple and not completely unworthy of consideration --- the so-called Left, if there still is one, should spend its energies expanding small and varied ways of experimenting in the marketplace, should encourage more democratic participation and activity, should develope a caring economy to parallel the market economy, and so on.

Perhaps someone will have the energy to take this from the repeated abstractions of this dreamy thinker, and concretize with some real specifics.
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4 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Shayn Mccallum on October 31, 2010
Format: Paperback
This book is quite disappointing on a number of levels. Carefully sifted, it reveals a few good ideas although none of them are particularly original. Beyond a lot of rhetoric about 'energy' and 'innovation' it's hard to find much substance here or to see what, if anything, is particularly 'Left' or 'alternative' in the ideas under consideration.
Criticisms of modern social-democracy as conservative and left behind by events are valid to a large extent, yet nonsensical arguments that we are all now 'middle-class', a horribly mutable, non-specific and questionable category in itself (moreover,this gentleman is Brazilian, mind!), and vague, half-baked assumptions about the nature of modern capitalism mute the force of the critique. Indeed it is true that, in order to regain relevance, socialists and social-democrats have to find a way to extend the, historically national, struggles for social-justice that achieved so much between 1945 and the late 1970's and adopt pro-active, democratic approaches to global governance, which are becoming increasingly urgent, not just for the Left, but for the meaningful survival of democracy as a whole. Little of what Mangabeira-Unger offers however carries much more than rhetorical weight with regard to practical, programmatic steps on how to proceed.
The Left is the Left because it actually stands for something and that 'something', crudely reduced, is bridging the gap between 'what is and what ought to be'. It's not easy and not many politicians on the Left seem totally up for the job it's true, but this book seems a rather poor overall contribution to the debate. Indeed, it seems more than a little infected by the neo-liberalism the 'conservative' Left is struggling to resist. For certain, it is not sufficient to merely resist an illness without seeking a cure but it makes even less sense to sneer at the resistance and embrace the disease, however much you seek to cause its mutation in the process.
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