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Why Not Socialism? Hardcover – September 13, 2009

ISBN-13: 978-0691143613 ISBN-10: 0691143617 Edition: 0th

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 96 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (September 13, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691143617
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691143613
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 4 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #87,654 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"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

"[Here] we have a renowned scholar producing an accessible, concise work addressing a vital topic from a committed, progressive standpoint: would that more of today's academic star scholars would follow this example."--Frank Cunningham, Socialist Studies

"Why Not Socialism? is a lucid and accessible statement of some of Cohen's deepest preoccupations."--Alex Callinicos, Radical Philosophy

"However small the package . . . the problems that Cohen addresses in this slim volume are of enormous importance, and can be taken seriously by readers ranging from those with only a tangential interest in the field, to serious scholars of egalitarian and socialist thought."--Robert C. Robinson, Political Studies Review

From the Inside Flap

"Why Not Socialism? very elegantly advances philosophical arguments that Cohen has famously developed over the past twenty years, and it does so in a manner that is completely accessible to nonphilosophers. The book brilliantly captures the essence of the socialist ethical complaint against market society. Why Not Socialism? is a very timely book."--Hillel Steiner, University of Manchester

"Cohen makes out the case for the moral attractiveness of socialism based on the rather homely example of a camping trip. The positive argument of his book is impressive, and there is a rather disarming combination of simplicity of presentation and example with a deep intellectual engagement with the issues. It is very clear that there is an analytically powerful mind at work here."--Jonathan Wolff, author of Why Read Marx Today?

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Customer Reviews

I found it to be an extremely quick and enjoyable read.
Uptown Philosopher
My main problem is the author doesn't seem to be as energetic in his arguments and debate... and this shows in the title of the book itself: Why not socialism?
Joshua Purcell
It's a logical fallacy because just because it didn't work in Russia 40 years ago doesn't necessarily mean it won't work now.
Kyosuke Hanakara

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

41 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Jay C. Smith on September 2, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Why Not Socialism?
If you are considering buying this book be sure to read the "Product Description" so that you know the size of what you are getting for your money: it is not just "concise," it is tiny, no more than about 10,000 words. As an alternative, you may want to check your library for an earlier version, which appeared in Democratic Equality: What Went Wrong?, edited by Edward Broadbent (2001).

If you are not already familiar with Cohen (or even if you are) you may want to view the obituary that appeared in the Guardian (August 10, 2009), which provides an excellent overview of his life and thought: [...]

In this little essay Cohen pursues a helpful allegory, that of a group on a camping trip, to probe reciprocity and exchange motivations and principles. He illustrates how three forms of the principle of equality plus the principle of community might apply to the campers' behavior. He advocates "communal reciprocity," a principle that involves giving or sharing not because of what one can get in return, but because the recipient needs what is given. Think of it as a counter-balance to the role of selfishness in the classic allegorical work on economic motivations, Mandeville's The Fable of the Bees.

Further details of Cohen's argument are ably summarized in the Gintis review, so I will not repeat them. I will say, though, that Gintis seems too harsh on Cohen on a couple of points.
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159 of 198 people found the following review helpful By Herbert Gintis on August 31, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Gerald Allan Cohen was a Marxist political philosopher at All Souls College, Oxford. He was a curious combination of rigorous analytical thinker and yet supporter of virtually unsupportable Marxian doctrines, including an economically determinist version of historical materialism, and a view of human nature according to which Marx's 1875 Critique of the Gotha Program doctrine "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need." I never met Jerry (as he was called), although he had close intellectual exchanges with several of my closest colleagues, including John Roemer, Jon Elster, and Samuel Bowles. At the cost of being uncharitable to a keen intellect, I suspect that his studied ignorance of standard social and psychological theory, common among philosophers of the mid-Twentieth century, who did not want their judgments to depend on empirical facts, accounts for his ability to spout socially bizarre theories in a perfectly logical and reasonable manner.

This little book---and I do mean little, being about 3% to 10% as long as your usual academic offering---is Cohen's last word on the subject of socialism published before his death. Cohen shows no trace of the historical materialism he formerly, and brilliantly, espoused, and he does not believe that the modern economy is conducive to a socialist alternative. Rather, Cohen argues that markets are morally offensive institutions that most people would be happy to get rid of if they could figure out some alternative compatible with the standard of living we are accustomed to in advanced market societies. "The market" says Cohen, "is intrinsically repugnant...Every market, even a socialist market, is a system of predation." (pp.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Dubarnik on February 25, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Why Not Socialism?" presents a short, utopian argument that contains many interesting nuggets of truth. I agree with Cohen that greed and predation are the two critical attributes of a market economy, but I think Cohen generalizes too much. Globalization has given the world a capitalism that is beyond juridical checks and balances; reform and regulation are desperately needed. But I am not willing to say that the operation of small-town or regional capitalism, and the markets they respond to, is necessarily antithetical to the values of community and equality. Those of us who consider ourselves leftists must recognized that Socialism, national or international, is a pipe-dream. It's never going to happen and it shouldn't. But if I might expropriate Cohen's last sentence in the book, "I do not think the right conclusion is to give up" on moving certain key industries (health care and energy production/distribution are two that immediately come to mind) out of market-place capitalism and into non-market socialism. It is here that Cohen's arguments based on community and equality ring most true. It is this socialism that can happen and should. It is this that we socialists need to work towards.
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By Sha'Allah Shabazz on April 20, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Idealistic but still a very good and concise read. The problem with Socialism is that people aren't generally that unselfish. It is a very good principle however.
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8 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Commisioned on February 8, 2014
Format: Hardcover
When I read these sorts of books I am always baffled. This author takes a subject he is clearly in favor of and strips away all of its negative and tragic history, and basically espouses the utopian aspects of it. Yet he points out greed and predation that can be associated with capitalism, and uses that to vilify it. The simple fact about a socialist or communist society is that it has to be forced, period. It cannot work voluntarily. Sure it works for peiods n small scales, such as, within a family or small group of like minded people. People are born with a free spirit and that's a hard thing to break. This idea that everyone solitary soul (except for a few at central planning) should have the same life experience and exist on the same level regardless of what they have to offer is ridiculous. People are individuals and there is no way to change that. Socialism is asking the human spirit to become robotic for the "greater good". Socialism has always, and will always swallow itself by design. The push to doing less is the main flaw of socialism. Why do more in life if your station in life can never change? Why invent? Why innovate? Why work harder? Why start a business? Why wake up in the morning? If none of those things will ever amount to anything for you, why strive for anything? There is just no way to get a city full, or a country full of people to live the exact same existence. If your lazy ass next door neighbor has exactly the same luxuries as you, and you are a productive person.... How is that fair?
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