[Cross-posted to In Media Res]

Back in February, Rod Dreher shared with his readers an idea for a new book: to introduce conservative Christians in America to “the warnings that people who grew up under socialism are sounding now to Americans about where our country is going….[this] is not primarily about economics, but rather about how the overall mentality of our culture, especially in our leading institutions, is preparing the way for socialism.” This, predictably, led to a lot of argument in his comments section. What exactly, some of us asked Rod (and each other), was the “socialism” that existed under the old Union of Soviet Socialist Republics which he was referring to, and how is that related to what he sees happening in the Democratic party and corporate America and large educational institutions today–especially given that his concern, as he said, wasn’t with economics? In subsequent posts Rod brought up multiple different possible interpretations of what “social conservatism” or “social justice” mean, and how they are or are not compatible with “socialism”–with none of it, on my reading, being especially coherent. Ultimately he recognized that using the word “socialism,” when what he really wanted to get at was what conservative religious believers needed to know when confronted with an ideologically secular conformity–a conformity that many who experienced the tyranny of various communist parties in Russia and eastern Europe have analyzed thoughtfully and well–“obscures more than it illuminates.” Rod didn’t cite Alan Jacobs when he came to this conclusion, but he should have–because Alan, I think, had it right: Rod wasn’t concerned about socialism; he was concerned about the individualistic, ideological premises of liberal capitalism itself being even further entrenched in our society. As Alan put it:

What [traditional Christians] are battling against isn’t a form of socialism, cultural or otherwise. I would argue rather that it’s the ultimate extension of the free market–a kind of metaphysical capitalism. The gospel of the present moment is, as I have frequently commented, “I am my own.” I am a commodity owned solely by myself; I may do with this property whatever I want and call it whatever I want; any suggestion that my rights over myself are limited in any way I regard as an intolerable tyranny. That some kind of redistribution of access/prestige/attention and even economic resources might be needed to bring this gospel to those who have not previously been able to enjoy its benefits should not obscure for us what the core proclamation really is.

The fact that Rod saw the things he fears about ideological conformity as tied up with “socialism” is, unfortunately, a common mistake in America. Socialism is the bogeyman that conservatives of all stripes find easy to associate with all that distorts or corrupts those things they, in theory at least, hold most dear–namely, civil society, and the goods which social interactions in and through one’s community, church, and family make possible. Given the rise of actually electable, self-identifying, democratic socialist politicians to national prominence in the Democratic party, it becomes doubly easy for Republican voters of all stripes (including many conservatives, however defined) to simply associate “socialism” which whatever cultural concerns they have with the Democratic party’s platform, or the statements they hear from various Democrats or presumably Democratic-sympathizing interest groups and movements. Sometimes those associations are accurate–but usually they are not. It would be unfortunate if some of the genuinely interesting struggles taking place among conservative writers today, whether it be Daniel McCarthy’s “new conservative agenda” or Rod’s own call to eschew any revival of “zombie Reaganism,” simply continued to fail to take socialism –meaning, very fundamentally, putting social equality and collective empowerment before individual interests and private property– seriously. To do so is to leave the right side of the rhetorical battlefield empty, and thus available for our idiot president to fill.

Timothy Carney’s mostly excellent new book, Alienated America: Why Some Places Thrive While Others Collapse is a good example here. Carney is a talented writer, and he is clearly trying to set a higher bar for himself than the sort of conservative hackery he was content with in his earlier books. This book has a real thesis, and in exploring that thesis–the question of the “localized erosion of civil society in our country,” which he forthrightly admits in the acknowledgments isn’t at all new, but rather hews closely to the ground which important sociologists and thinkers like Robert Putnam, William Julius Wilson, and many others have already plowed (p. 301)–Carney brings out many solid and thoughtful arguments. Starting with the data which shows it wasn’t necessarily the most economically distressed white voters who decisively supported Donald Trump in 2016, but rather was the white voters who lived in the towns and cities where the social dysfunction which regularly attends the lives of the economically distressed (pp. 58, 62), Carney wants to explore why some places in America, and not simply certain groups of people, suffer. By comparing data sets specific to particular places, supplemented with some on the ground reporting, Carney smartly connects the collapse of certain sorts of economic opportunities–“low-skilled but reliable jobs….[which were] one of the many training grounds for life”–with the emergence of large numbers of people (mostly white men) who, failing to make America’s supposed meritocracy work for them, find themselves flailing:

For college-educated men, high-skilled jobs still exist in today’s economy, and those jobs often demand and cultivate the same virtues. For the man who was or would have been a factory worker, though, there aren’t the salaried jobs of the elites or the reliable factory jobs of the past. There is instead irregular and even unreliable work–contractor jobs, occasional gigs. These are the sorts of jobs that don’t reward or cultivate reliability or commitment, in a large part because they don’t offer reliability or commitment in return. they reflect more an on-again, off-again relationship of convenience…and perhaps they cultivate other habits: detachment, the default stance of constantly looking for a better deal, and a survival instinct that elevates self-preservation over loyalty (p. 82-83).

Leftist that I am, it is hard for me to understand how someone can notice the common denominator present in these places–the collapse of community, leaving in its wake far fewer examples of responsible citizenship and decent families and self-denying individuals; as Carney puts it explicitly, “the factory closing in Monessen destroyed Monessen as a community….[wiping] out the institutions of civil society”(p. 86)–and not come to the logical conclusion that the bulk of the problem is with what Jacobs rightly called “metaphysical capitalism”: the acceptance of the supposedly overriding imperative to let individuals and corporations specialize and sort and relocate and maximize and all the other things which homo economicus does so well. Carney poignantly describes how this cult of meritocracy and profit hollows out the human relationships that used to attend many once-stable communities (pp. 40-41), how it breaks apart those institutions–the church congregation, the local diner–which provided the places and contexts where mutual support and the goods of civil society could be experienced (pp. 102-103), how it deprives work of dignity and turns us all into interchangeable cogs in the Gig Economy (pp. 182-183). Yet when he visited Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011, or activists working on the Sanders campaign in 2016, and saw the degree to which their actions in opposition to all of the above involved “building a mini-society” or “participating in community” or “making grass-roots connections”–in other words, when he himself acknowledged that the egalitarian aims of their work involved the strengthening of civil bonds, exactly the sort of thing that all good conservatives presumably cared about–he still couldn’t help but basically discount them. “As progressives and socialists…[they] believed the solution to this real problem was centralizing power” (pp. 209-213). Is that really all that conservatives can see?

There are a couple of points in the book where Carney digs deep, and comes up with something perceptive about his own understanding of the world; maybe that understanding connects with why the socialism right in front of his face–at one point his own analysis leads him to praise the union-run unemployment insurance system of countries like Sweden and Denmark, and says the U.S. ought to do the same, putting labor unions in charge of distributing roughly $100 billion in welfare dollars every year! (p. 286)–can’t be accepted in its own terms. In talking about Arlie Hochschild’s Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the America Right, he quotes her statement that “the right can’t understand the deep pride liberals take in their creatively designed, hard-won public sphere as a powerful integrative force in American life.” He responds:

Hochschild…and others on the left perhaps can’t understand that the folks of Trinity Baptist, Salt Lake City, and Oostburg see the church schools and the church slide as part of the public sphere and an integrative force. There’s no admission charged on Sundays. The slides and coffee shops and concerts and sports teams at these churches tend to be open to all comers, and not merely believers. Even those who are exclusive when it comes to worship (see the Mormon temples) are inclusive when it comes to other events. The “gentiles” I met around Salt Lake City spoke fondly of bringing their kids to the monthly potlucks the local Latter-day Saints church would throw. The recovery aid programs that Hochschild described and that most churches have are open to all needy people. Homeless atheists or Catholics aren’t turned away from Trinity Baptist. A mind-set that won’t count these institutions as “public” is a mind-set that diminishes community and civil society (pp. 153-154).

Now as it happens, as a Mormon who lived in Utah for five years, I and friends of mine could relate numerous situations which would suggest that Carney’s cheery portrait of Salt Lake City is hardly the whole story. No doubt similar stories could be told about any exclusive community attempting to balance its desire to maintain its identity while simultaneously being a good, civil society-contributing neighbor. This is one way in which Carney’s writing and analysis, fine as it is, fails to grapple with the real difficulties of community-maintenance in the way which, say, Alan Ehrenhalt’s The Lost City did–or, for that matter, Rod Dreher’s own The Benedict Option. In both these works, as different as they are, the authors understand that the binding power which church institutions can contribute to civil society is unavoidably also an exclusionary one: that some doctrine, or standard, or authority, is going to have to be acknowledged, in one way or another, however “public” the church coffee shops or baseball leagues or recovery programs may appear to be.

Now, to the extent that such pluralism–that is, the various bodies, some of them being more open than others, all contributing in their own distinct ways to a healthy civil society–is experienced as a problem, it is arguably one which just takes us back to “metaphysical capitalism” again: the idea that “any suggestion that my rights over myself are limited in any way I regard as an intolerable tyranny.” Of course, the liberal foundation of rights in this country, whatever its abuses, can’t be cavalierly dismissed. But it is equally important to recognize where that doctrine leads, and to recognize that socialist principles can, and do, provide an alternative to it. Socialism (or democratic egalitarianism if you must) ought to be fruitfully pluralistic–and it usually is, as anyone who has spent any time in societies that embraced egalitarian principles, and made use of socialist policies to adhere to those principles, can probably tell you. But it is admittedly true that many types of socialism–particularly, but not only, the state socialist and communist parties which dominated much of the world for much of the 20th century–were unfriendly, to say the least, to any component of that pluralism which excluded, as of course churches often do, despite (or perhaps one could say “in connection with”) their manifest role in providing for the development and the strengthening of social goods.

This isn’t an argument that such civil bodies, once socially empowered, would or should never be changed by being more thoroughly economically integrated with the rest of society. Of course such bodies, churches included, can’t do what they do alone; even Carney recognizes that without an economic foundation which protects good work–that is, without strong limits on the marketplace–communities will fail, and families and individuals will follow, with churches and other particularist, voluntary organizations usually being mostly powerless to slow that decline. (As John Médaille wonderfully put it, while conservatives insist that politics in downstream from culture, culture itself is “downstream from breakfast.”) But perhaps if those who hope for the overthrow (or at least the significant modification) of capitalism wouldn’t so often fail to understand the place of what could be, and historically often was, one of their key allies in preserving anti-capitalist, genuinely social and familial and egalitarian values in a community, conservatives–or at least those conservatives who are able to break away from the always-trust-the-market-first mentality of Cold War fusion conservatism–might realize that what they’re looking for is something we socialists (or some of us, anyway) have been talking about all along.

Back in January, Erik Olin Wright, a brilliant and profoundly original socialist thinker, writer, and organizer passed away. His book Envisioning Real Utopias had an enormous impact upon me; when I first read it, I found myself explaining and re-explaining its ideas to myself and everyone I met for months. The most important thing it–and so many other of Wright’s writings–did, I think, was explain how the Marxist shadow over socialist, anarchist, egalitarian, and all other utopian thinking has too often blinded thinkers on the left from recognizing something pretty obvious: that what we are looking to do is empower civil society, to make the mutual support communities provide stronger, to make our social and economic worlds more democratic. Hence we leftists need to be guided, first and foremost, by a “socialist compass,” and we need to recognize everything that falls within that compass, including what he called “interstitial” entities and strategies–or in other words, what a non-sociologist might call the dozens, hundreds, thousands of initiatives and organizations (neighborhood co-ops, women’s shelters, intentional communities, environmental groups, and many more) which provide spaces wherein civil society, and not capital, rules. He acknowledged that the more doctrinaire Marxist thinkers would see these as a distraction from the longed-for revolution, but insisted that their emancipatory potential is real (Envisioning Real Utopias, pp. 322-327). And as for those civil associations which strengthen community and provide shelter from the hyper-individualism of liberal capitalism through particularist, sometimes exclusionary, even religious means? Should they be crushed by the secularizing Red Guards of some new socialist movement? Well…no. As Wright explained:

A vibrant civil society is precisely one with a multitude of heterogeneous associations, networks, and communities, built around different goals, with different kinds of members based on different sorts of solidarities….It is tempting to deal with this…by somehow defining civil society as only consisting of benign associations that are consistent with socialist ideals of democratic egalitarianism….I think this is an undesirable response….There is no guarantee that a society within which real power rooted in civil society predominates would be one that always upholds democratic egalitarian ideals. This, however, is not some unique problem for socialism; it is a characteristic of democratic institutions in general. As conservatives often point out, inherent in democracy is the potential for the tyranny of the majority, and yet in practice liberal democracies have been fairly successful at creating institutions that protect both individual rights and the interests of minorities. A socialist democracy rooted in social empowerment through associations in civil society would face similar challenges…My assumption here is not that a socialism of social empowerment will inevitably successfully meet this challenge, but that moving along the pathways of social empowerment will provide a more favorable terrain on which to struggle for these ideals than does either capitalism or statism (pp. 145-148).

I can easily imagine many conservatives–and socialists too–seeing the forgoing as a lot of murky meanderings, neither promising of real social empowerment nor conserving genuine community stability. My guess is that Carney wouldn’t touch it, despite it, on my reading, allowing for exactly the kind of economic support and community respect that his own analysis seems to point directly towards. For my part, I find it beautiful; it reads as a perhaps unintended, but nonetheless carefully thought out and genuinely expressed, olive leaf to everyone who wants civil bonds to flourish, equal respect to increase, and communities to be stabilized–in other words, to promote economic and cultural goods that most people need to lead fulfilling lives. Here’s the truth, conservatives: socialists (at least those who haven’t unintentionally absorbed a metaphysics which is more capitalist and individualistic than anything else) want those things, too. So as the threat of Trump leads some American conservatives to rethink what they believe and where they’re going on, here’s hoping that they’ll realize that the socialism (or the “left conservatism“) which keeps on haunting their own arguments is more a helpful ghost, than a specter to flee.

59 COMMENTS

  1. I was reading with an open mind until you you lost me with this one: “…while conservatives insist that politics in downstream from culture, culture itself is “downstream from breakfast.””

    There’s another, even better phrasing of the principle being advocated here. That would be Dostoevskii’s Grand Inquisitor’s statement “first give us bread, then talk to us about righteousness.” If that’s the company you want to keep, fine, but count me out. The 800 lb gorilla in the room is always amount to asking which philosopher king will be granted the Power to make this happen. Sure, capitalism commodifies people, if we let it. So does socialism, by the inexorable logic of the base and the superstructure.

  2. So does socialism, by the inexorable logic of the base and the superstructure.

    That I do not deny, Aaron. In fact, I think Wright’s concluding comment underlines that–that if we want to maintain democratic freedoms, we have to recognize the ways in which any socio-economic can reduce our capacity as persons to act decently. The quote that set you off was from John Medaille, who I can’t imagine anyone mistaking for a Grand Inquisitor, but yes, it’s true: we’re willing to admit (as Carney’s own book makes clear!) that if we can’t collectively take control of our own material structure, as opposed to leaving it in hands of the marketplace (talk about Power with a capital P!), then we don’t think community stands a chance, not in the long run.

    • I doubt that community stands a chance either way. The only way to convince people who don’t want to be convinced with with Power, at which point, the same human foibles that make market capitalism what it is with work their own havoc on a more socially oriented power structure. We can learn something from Russian serfs, I think (Russian and Soviet History being my doctoral degree): The power of the little guy consists in thinking small, not thinking big. We always win, probably not even most of the time, but then again, who has?

      Aaron

    • The Grand Inquisitor is saying something different, dealing with a different subject: he is speaking to ideologues who give all the answers but never anything people can use. But culture being “downstream from breakfast” deals with a different topic, and I don’t it’s too Marxist or too much of a stretch to note that all cultures are affected–and effected–by their material supports. A culture of agriculture is different from an urban, mechanized culture, just as a culture built on the family farm is different from one built on the factory farm.

      One is free to prefer one or the other, but I think one would have to be blind to say that culture is not affected by the way we get our breakfast.

  3. In the Demon in Democracy, Ryszard Legutko makes a strong connection between the “socialism” he grew up with in Poland, and the “liberal, democratic, capitalism” that now rules his nation (and ours.) Far from socialism being “a bogeyman” to hide the flaws of liberal capitalism, Legutko, who lived under both, sees many similarities.
    I suspect that Vaclev Havel would also agree. While he might laugh at the angst level conservatives (particularly Christians) display at what is, compared to Havel’s life, an insignificant level of persecution in America, I don’t think he would be so sanguine about the future. To use Havel’s green-grocer terminology the rainbow flag is the new “workers of the world unite” sign. Non-display will not send you to a gulag (sensitivity training is not comparable to a re-education camp), but such thought-crime can cost you your job, your business partners, your customers. Just ask James Damoore or Brendan Eich. Today’s liberal-democratic totalitarians have learned well the lessons from yesterday’s socialist totalitarians: economic ostracism is as effective than gulags and torture, but cheaper.
    Regardless of Rod’s choice to ditch the term “socialism” for his book, the line between Soviet “socialism” and Western “liberal democratic capitalism” is nearly a cut and dry as you would have it be.

    • James Damore and Brenden Eich were fired from private companies. Nothing that happened to them was novel, as large numbers of gays, lesbians, and feminists who lost their jobs for their personal lives back in the 1950’s will be happy to explain to you. (Also, Damore was just flat wrong and offensive in his assertion that women are too stupid for computer jobs.) Private entities like Facebook and Twitter can do whatever they like. That they happen to like liberals a bit more than conservatives should tell you something about the tech market, as well as providing liberals quite a bit of schadenfreude in watching you all scream in pain because people are being mean to you. Conservatives have spent the last 30 years, since Rush Limbaugh became a thing, calling liberals the worst names on Earth. (Example: Limbaugh, a notably ugly male, said feminism only exists to make life easier for ugly women. I don’t recall a lot of dissent from that opinion on the right.). After decades of insulting us, now does poor little Brian need a safe space away from the scary women and gay people?

    • Brian, the connection collectivist socialism and collectivist capitalism is collectivism. Capitalism has collectivized production to an extent that would astound a Stalinist bureaucrat, and most of the goods we buy are made by a few cartels dominating each and (nearly) every market. When you go into the grocery store, you see dozens of “competing” products in each category, only to find that the brands are all owned by two or three companies. And this is true is nearly major market segment, from banking to beer, from airlines (hub domination) to eyeglasses and eye care.

      It both cases, it is not owners but bureaucrats who run the collectives, nominally on behalf of the people (either citizens or shareholders) but actually in behalf of their own interests. Despite claims that “private property” forms the dividing line between the two systems of collectivism, such property has little economic importance in the United States; the heights of the economy, and most of the depths, are owned and operated by collectivist bureaucrats. One might have said, at one time, that the Soviet Union was different because the economic and political bureaucracies were the same, but they distinction is rapidly disappearing, or has disappeared, as the corporations increasing dominate the government.

  4. As a Kansas farm boy in the 1950’s and early 1960’s, I saw a lot of informal, voluntary community spirit keep farmers alive, finding fair ways to share labor and equipment to get their harvests accomplished in a timely manner. That began to change in the 1960’s as some of the farmers spent their weekdays at airplane plants in Wichita earning the money to afford their weekend farming habit, and the forms of cooperation had to shift accordingly, but community spirit was still present.

    Was it at any point socialism? Not in any formal or ideological or bureaucratic sense, but it was based in valuing of community ties and with working toward equal justice by fair sharing of labor, equipment, and capital. Let’s call it “voluntary communitarian values.”

    Were those ties sealed in any social structures apart from the shared equipment and labor? One point of social solidarity was the neighborhood 4-H club and women’s home demonstration unit that both met in an abandoned country school house that set on the corner of our farm; the building was actually owned by another neighbor who allowed it to be used for the community meetings. A few of the neighbors attended the same village church about five miles away, while others who attended church did so in one or another of the usually larger churches in the county seat and public school town about nine miles away. Still, there was a sense of common Christian faith among most neighbors.

    By the 1960’s the women’s home demonstration unit dissolved because most of the women were working outside the home and the 4-H club had moved its meetings to town, because it had expanded its base to include some town members, and meeting in town allowed members to come to the meeting from their after-school activities.

    Many of the residences in the old farm neighborhood are no longer there.

    • John,

      Let’s call it “voluntary communitarian values.”

      I like it. As Wright put it at another point in his book, “transcending capitalism imagines a world in which the voluntarily coordinated collection action of people in civil society can spontaneously achieve sufficient coherence as to provide for social order and social reproduction without the necessity of the state” (p. 146). That’s not the whole story, obviously, just as your anecdote surely isn’t the whole story either. But they’re both talking about the same thing, I think.

  5. If I could manage to think that today’s so called “conservatives” are any less totalitarian than todays so-called “liberals” in the U.S.A., I might get more exercised about people crying “socialist” in a crowded theater. But, I recently overheard a Brit guffaw when he heard a couple of yanks talking about America becoming socialist. The Brit maintained the workaholic American wouldn’t know the first thing about being a proper socialist, they would miss the indoctrination session too often working late or mountain biking or pursuing competition shopping..

    As to Utah, one of my favorite Stegner quotes is “if I’m ever in a disaster, I hope its within a days drive of Utah”. I think he said this a bit after the Teton Dam broke and there were traffic jams in southern Idaho of supplies and citizen volunteers from Utah going to help by nightfall the day of the disaster. Having grown up there, I love it too much to inflict myself upon it. The fact remains however that the Mormons, as much as I may have antagonized them for sport in my youth seem to intrinsically know how to operate socialistically within a capitalistic system while maintaining conservative republican cred and a profoundly distinctive community culture. Though I loudly chafed at them while there, I was never at hazard of being shipped off to the gulag. I don’t think I ever heard a Utahn complain about living in “flyover country” either. The current Republican party does not deserve their general loyalty.

    The yammering republicans or their talking heads who cry “socialist” about American Democrats might just as well substitute any of a hundred descriptive words to satisfy their aims…..and vice versa. The national discourse is reduced to “us” vs. “them” which is, to be precise, the perfect totalitarian atmosphere for the real danger of authoritarianism. Just as Gandhi replied “Its a nice idea, somebody should try it” when queried about his opinion of “western civilization”, somebody, by all rights could say the same thing about the Soviets and their Socialism. Industrial Totalitarianism is the real problem and either political party in this country now is easily seduced by its blandishments.

    Best to you , you commie pinko Mr. Fox

    • “Industrial Totalitarianism is the real problem and either political party in this country now is easily seduced by its blandishments.”

      I agree, but I’m not so sure I’d describe it as “industrial,” as it also includes post-industrial Big Tech as a major, perhaps THE major player. I’m currently reading Shoshana Zuboff’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism and it’s pretty darn scary. I tend to come down with Del Noce here: the “technocratic Right” has co-opted the “cultural Left,” resulting in something like the old “socially liberal but fiscally conservative” mentality on steroids.

      • From my own perspective, the development of Information Technology is just another phase of the much longer Industrial Totalitarian Era. Though not without benefits, the slavish devotion to the cult of “efficiency” that does not factor in so called “external costs” is the get out of jail free card for the Industrial Totalcrats.

        • True, but Zuboff argues that the IT universe has pushed capitalism into not just a new phase but a new form, in which it’s not our labor or our “stuff” that ties us to the system, but our actual behaviors and their predictability. The tangibles have become secondary.

    • You’re much too kind, D.W. I wish I could wear the commie pinko label fully, but alas, that remains more an aspiration than a reality for me, but I genuinely appreciate the compliment nonetheless. Our aims must stand beyond our grasp, or what’s a heaven for, and all that, right?

  6. I generally enjoy Fox’s work, however any time I read anything advocating community preservation I get very, very nervous. I’m a feminist, and I strongly believe that the best society encourages women to be educated, marry later, and own our own property and income. Patriarchy is tyranny, always and in every single instance. How do you preserve communities without allowing domestic tyrants?

    • How do you preserve communities without allowing domestic tyrants?

      It’s a hard question, Karen; I don’t have, and I’m fairly confident no one has, a definitive, one-size-fits all answer. Which, of course, goes both ways: if the way to prevent domestic tyrants is to stop preserving communities, then obviously we should also end all domesticity in the first place, break up all families, and every child should be raised in a commune which is fully supervised in order to maintain complete egalitarianism. Since, of course, no egalitarian person really imagines that such a Harrison Bergeron/Brave New World solution would ever be desirable, I think we simply admit, as egalitarians, “Damn, families are hard.” And then we do our best to teach and model egalitarianism and police for possible sociopathy and violence as much as we can in light of basic democratic freedoms. Same thing goes for communities, I suppose. The references I make in the post to Wright are really on point here; he directly addresses the simple fact that lots and lots of civil society will always be inegalitarian, resulting in, if not wholly tyrannical communities, then at least the continual possibility of tyrannical and abusive relationships. In his view, if you believe that existence of these conditions and possibilities are so intolerable as to necessitate that all social empowerment and egalitarianism be provided only and entirely through a revolutionary state, and never through voluntarily chosen or inherited communities, then you’ve just left the “social” out of “socialism” entirely. And I agree with that. I’m a liberal communitarian, to be sure, but I am a communitarian, and so the fact that their are, and always have been, and always will be, bad and oppressive communities, while terrible, does not make me think that civil society should therefore never be part of our thinking as we seek to build just and democratic localities.

      • You could start by making sure that very few hierarchies exist anywhere, and that those that have to exist are weak, focused on very specific functions, and strictly limited in time. For families, make sure fathers don’t have special rights — no family wages, no more wives taking their husbands’ surnames, kids will always get hypenated surnames, all propery acquired during marriage is titled to both spouses and both spouses have to agree to any sale or mortgage. Encourage late marriage, never before 18, rarely before 25. If women are already adults with some years of independent living before marriage, they will be harder to reduce to domestic slaves. If you weaken the role of fathers, I’ll accept your communities.

        • “You could start by making sure that very few hierarchies exist anywhere, and that those that have to exist are weak, focused on very specific functions, and strictly limited in time.”

          Fine idea, except for the rather obvious fact that the ongoing enforcement of the notion itself requires a hierarchy. As I explained to the progressive Catholic nuns who attempted to convert me to feminism as an undergrad, hierarchy is an inescapable condition, being an utterly natural one. Kick it out the door it will come back through the window. Say what you want about “patriarchy,” but trying to defeat it by attacking hierarchy per se is a fool’s game. You might as well attack the food chain for being inegalitarian.

          • Rob G.,

            hierarchy is an inescapable condition, being an utterly natural one. Kick it out the door it will come back through the window….You might as well attack the food chain for being inegalitarian.

            Yeah, I’m going to push back on this at least a little bit–not necessarily because I think you’re wholly wrong (there obviously is a hierarchical component to many relationships that exist throughout the natural world), but because it sounds to me, perhaps wrongly, that you’re slipping something socially normative into your natural description here. Okay, yes, the food chain is inegalitarian. And? Did Jesus, or Plato, or Confucius, or John Locke, or Thomas Jefferson, or Dorothy Day , or Wendell Berry, ever use the fact that hawks eat mice as relevant to the social order? Of course not. (I’m thinking here of C.S. Lewis’s hypothetical response to those who argued that insisting upon limits in one’s sexual behavior is “unnatural”; “so is not murdering your neighbor and stealing his wife” he wrote, or something to that effect.) If your point is simply that Karen’s railing against hierarchies is going to involve an endless, difficult pushing against the natural, fallen human existence we’re all part of, fine. But if you’re suggesting that fact of our natural, fallen human existence is a reason to not attack any particular hierarchy, expose its harms against human equality and thus mutual flourishing, and seek to replace it with or reform it in the direction of a social relation that is more Christian and just, then I’d say your argument is an unpersuasive one.

          • Yes, hiearchies do exist, but how are you sure we have the correct ones now? Electra Waggoner Biggs once defended her exceptional, unearned economic privilege in an interview by saying that if we made everyone equal tomorrow, in a couple of years some people would be rich and others desparate again. Ms. Biggs, and all others who say this, left out the key question: the ones who became rich after the Great Levelling likely wouldn’t be the same people we have in power now.

            I specifically stated that hierarchies can exist provided that the are limited in time and to a specific purpose. That allows for any job or function and excludies hereditary positions of power and the patriarchal family.

  7. Russell, my argument is with that form of feminism which seeks to overturn patriarchy by arguing that all hierarchies are necessarily unjust. My response is that while hierarchy per se is natural, and thus good, not all instances of it are just. Efforts should be made to challenge unjust hierarchies, not in trying to get rid of the concept as a whole, which can’t be done.

  8. “That allows for any job or function and excludies hereditary positions of power and the patriarchal family.”

    I do not accept as fact that patriarchy is a necessarily unjust manifestation of hierarchy.

    • How is a system that puts a person in power over a group of people entirely because that person has a penis NOT unjust? The whole justification for patriarchy is that men will destroy everything if they aren’t in charge of everything, which from my reading is giving in to bullying.

  9. “How is a system that puts a person in power over a group of people entirely because that person has a penis NOT unjust?”

    Not all males are fathers.

    “The whole justification for patriarchy is that men will destroy everything if they aren’t in charge of everything”

    That makes no sense.

  10. Also, ‘not all males are fathers’ is a complete non sequitur from my question: how is it just to award all leadership and power in society based on possession of a penis?

  11. Just to toss in a random number or two — both article and comments are marvelous, BTW — Wikipedia’s definition: Hierarchy (from the Greek hierarkhia, “rule of a high priest”, from hierarkhes, “president of sacred rites”) Which word we have adapted to all forms of organizational ranking.
    But we don’t exactly show respect for any “hierarchy”, including the ecclesial ones. Rather, the opposite.

    Also, nothing has been said about females of the species who become members of a hierarchy. Do they suddenly acquire penises? The former head of the Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori might have a thing or two to say about that.

    In this vein, what of Her Majesty, Elizabeth II?
    She reigns but does not rule. She leads, but does not govern. She remains at once the most “conservative” of Monarchs, and also the most innovative of Sovereigns. She has forged her own path, having had no guide to lay out her course, and withal has been Queen, wife, mother, granny, and the most beloved person in England. She was in Service in WW2. And if England is to survive, it will be due to her. How does she fit into this “Hierarchy” nonsense?

    • Jefferts Schori’s position is exactly the kind of hierarchy that should continue to exist: chosen by the people most affected by it, limited in time, designed for a very specific function.

      So long as monarchs function entirely as marketing ambassadors for their countries and hold no actual power, and so long as their countries accept the expense of maintaining a monarch, I’m okay with it.

      The hierarchy I most want to see destroyed and forgotten is the traditional family. Fathers should have no power whatsoever over anyone over the age of 18 in their household, and whatever power they have over the ones under 18 should be exttremely restricted.

      • A review of your postings in this section shows a certain vehemence which does not appear to come from any theoretical abstraction, but from personal experience. Forgive the presumption, but what you appear to be consistently saying is that all males automatically think with their penises (an obviously very bad thing), and are incapable of thinking vaginally (an obviously very good thing). Therefore all men can and must be silenced or ignored, and certainly forced into submission. If that is indeed your position, you will have already discounted whatever I may have to say. However, as a soi disant “conservative”, however heretical, I cannot agree to a radical theoretical restructuring of society based on whatever pains you may have endured in your life. It is simply not a necessary nor sufficient justification for what you endorse. Misusing concepts of “power” and “patriarchy” do not provide sufficient cover for a declared program of emasculation (get rid of all those nasty penises).

        But then, I am a crude and rude hick from the sticks, not a guilty middle-cl;ass white liberal, whose subservience to identity politics is based on a fear that I am not worthy to possess my life. On the contrary, I was raised by a Mother who provided the main economic stability in my childhood home, as my Daddy was a drunk and sometimes working carpenter. We were far from “middle-class’, and barely qualified for the lower tier of the lower class. Mother did the heavy lifting, and it killed her too young, she never saw her 71st birthday. So when my daughter got into her teenage years, she asked, “Dad, are you some kind of a feminist?” She asked that because I was urging her to tolerate no nonsense from boyfriends or employers. (I need not define “nonsense” do I?) My reply was, no, I want you to stand up for yourself as a human being, and not allow yourself to be put down for being a “girl”. I said that ardent “feminists” seemed to be middle-class women who wanted to be men, with business careers and family dominance, and seemed rather sad when they had achieved the goals which others (the “feminist” thought-leaders)had set for them. I further explained that such were as bad as the “men” who wore their .45 caliber “manhood” in a leather holster on their hip. (Arizona being an Open Carry State.) The point, if there is one, is that ideology is no substitute for thinking, whether it is Marxism, Freudianism, Libertarianism, or Feminism.

        Now, I am sure you might, perhaps, have a rebuttal to my misogynistic screed, it is your prerogative. But, to be perfectly honest, unless is is something marvelously new, be advised I have been monitoring the “feminist” position since somewhere in the mid-Sixties. I do not react like a Pavlovian dog to cliche-laden shibboleths.

        Again, apologies for being so disagreeing.

        • If you loved your mother for her work and raised your daughter to be a competent adult, then you are a feminist whether you want the label or not. (And yes, lots of feminist writing is terrible, jargony, incoherent dreck, rather like most business writing.) I dislike any system that awards privileges for accidents of birth, including the ‘privileges’ given to traditional women of being weak, stupid, cowards who never have to make any decisions. All adults should be expected to be strong, capable, prudent, educated, and polite. Patriarchy allows men to be brutes and women to be idiot weaklings.

          • Thank you for an intelligent response. My (admittedly provocative) earlier post was designed to discover if you were an ideologue or a rational person. I have suffered too often from those who allow their ideology, and jargon, to do their thinking for them, that (all too often), I tend to react badly. If I offended, my grievous apologies.

            And your last sentence speaks volumes. If I am a “feminist”, so be it. Brutes and idiots are not among my social circle. What I see, to employ an analogy from my former employment, is that male and female are two equal and necessary poles of an engine. The engine requires both to operate, and one is not “superior” to the other. In point of fact, if one pole becomes dominant, the engine will rapidly fault and possibly melt down. The engine in this example is, of course, society.

            About my daughter. as noted, she was taught to take nuthin’ from nobody. This led, in her later teenage and early adulthood years, to the expected clash between us. (We both are too stubborn for our own good, presumably. My good wife is more of a conciliatory counselor.) Her “poor attitude” led to some interesting problems at her work, when she was with CPS. Her passion is to protect and defend children even at the cost of bureaucratic distress. She became a supervisor, and within a year was reprimanded for being “pushy”. Her husband (she met a good man) and I both told her, do as you please, we will support you. She did just that, and now has retired to be a grandma herself. (Sometimes, fighting a bureaucracy is futile.) My poor grand-kids (and the great granddaughter). With her after them to “stand up”, and me cheerleading, heaven only knows how they will turn out.

            But I guarantee, they won’t take nuthin’ off of nobody.

  12. This “discussion” reminds me of why I chose not to become part of academia and it’s endless posturing. The feeling tone started ok but then degenerated to discourse about sex lives of sluts and predatory males as respondents responded one to another by including mind reading, or something else, as well as abundantly cited favorite works. If this is an example of how this site and publication engenders community and commonality it is time to re-think this discussion in terms of whether or not positions became polarized beyond redemption to the detriment of civil discussion.. If it had happened on the proverbial front porch of the general store where people who live together have to get along together afterwards perhaps its feeling tone would have been positive in spite of deeply felt opinions. After all, we are all members of the larger community that breathes air and has to eat food and drink water or die, a biological fact often lost in the fray..

  13. So much for pondering community.

    Reading this, I am put in mind of the poor sap standing outside his wife’s Hogan somewhere down in the Four Corner’s region in the early nineteenth century after having spent a bit too much time trading stolen livestock with the Spaniards over there to Santa Fe and not serving the family unit to his mother-in-law’s standards, clutching his Ah-hoohaw amidst his few possessions cast about him and damned put out that he is henceforth rejected by said wife and is now required to return to his own mommy in disgrace while the kids are required to forget dad in favor of ma’s brother. I wonder if said Dineh stand accused of Pudenda Tyranny?

    I’ve always enjoyed that Paul Klee political cartoon illustrating two monstrous looking men with muttonchops circling one another warily with the caption: “Two men approach one another, each presuming the other to be of superior rank”.

    Though I certainly understand the issues and am loathe to make light of them, anybody who has resided in any worthwhile community anywhere will clearly agree that “isms” and “ists” are the death knell of any community because all sense of humor will have long gone, replaced with the usual resentments, justified or not…. that have destroyed community since Gronk hit Grunk over the head with a large shin bone. Patriarchy vs. Matriarchy becomes irrelevant as soon as the Ism and Ist Bus arrives. Best to erect a boxing ring then or maybe a stone casting pit.

    • “Patriarchy vs. Matriarchy becomes irrelevant as soon as the Ism and Ist Bus arrives.”

      Tru dat, as the kids say. And the numerous posts here (and elsewhere) by Karen demonstrate beyond dispute that she has made anti-patriarchy into an “ism” of the first rank.

      “the farther we go to down the comment box trail, the farther off topic and farther from common courtesy we tend to stray.”

      Offensive lunacy occasionally calls for a response in kind, especially when neither civility nor common sense seem to work.

  14. Yes D.W., the farther we go to down the comment box trail, the farther off topic and farther from common courtesy we tend to stray. Nonetheless, kudos to you for writing about the best 104-word sentence that I’ve seen this side of St. Paul’s epistles. (That man was in serious need of a copy editor; perhaps oak gall ink was too expensive to waste on periods?) To your other point, I’m all for “‘ists” and “isms” as long as the people who wear those labels can shelve them long enough to unite around something of common value to a community. A new school, for instance, or a nature preserve open to the public. As to the latter, I’ve found that working with people of all stripes while clearing autumn olive on a spring morning makes political differences recede and our everyday humanity come to the forefront. Similarly, I don’t know anything about Karen, where she lives or what she does for a living. While I disagree with her about 60 percent of the time, I always admire her courage and conviction in the back and forth with her Ah-hoohaw-equipped interlocutors. Per Leroy See, if this front porch was made of tung and groove yellow pine, instead of pixelated fairy dust, I bet we’d have a more congenial discussion with some good beer and wood-fired pizza to close the deal. As hierarchies go, that might make for an enjoyably flat one.

    • In prolix we trust Mr. Springer. I am a Punctuaphobist which, along with an abuse of sentence structure includes a predilection for tardiness that reveals anti-social tendencies. Well, ok , so “tendencies” sugarcoats it.

      While planning this coming year’s Autumn Olive Fatwa, make sure to remove the plants later in the season so you can harvest the fruits as they are nicely sweet and tart , great in pancakes or on vanilla ice cream or maybe stewing for a while in a glass of frozen Stoly. Not that I would know much about Frozen Stoly . It was never around long enough to quite reach the frozen state. There is nothing quite so pathetic as a wretch standing outside his freezer trying to will the vodka to a properly syrupy state but giving up in favor of the Moloch efficiency. Drunks are many things but one thing above all else, they are efficiently drunk. However, back to the point….the Autumn Olive fruits are nothing like their Russian cohort and you have to beat the birds to them, revealing why thy are so widespread from the days our beloved Connecticut Department of Transportation specified them for Highway r.o.w. plantings. I discovered how tasty the things were a few years ago after having been introduced to the delights of Persian Barberry fruits by an Iranian couple in a Halifax Farmers Market. They taste like dried cranberries. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the fruits of the noxious thug Korean Barberry that is spread everywhere. I tried them after the Persian ones proved out well and discovered that the plant from the Korean branch of the Axis of Evil produced odious little wads of pulp that possess the taste of Turpentine with hints of WD-40. The White Tail refuse to touch them and so the only thing that takes them out are Goats who seem to like them with Poison Ivy. Nonetheless I am Cosmopolitan in my fruits.

      Regardless of my runonandon comment, I support the right of Karen to say whatever she damned well pleases anytime she cares to. You are right that pacific agreement gets old fast. Kind of like packaged disagreement in that regard, the Great Noise of our Fake News yammering away about nothing at all but doing it with enflamed conviction. Fauxvda, CNN and MSNBC throwing bricks at one another as they describe a burning dirty underwear dump of extra large jockey shorts in apocalyptic terms is turning the nation into a bunch of dyspeptic rubes joined in mutual disagreeability. In fact, “Fake” is an entirely insufficient descriptive, like our food, it should be called “Junk News”, like a Twinkie, best taken with a dessert wine like Italian Swiss Colony in the big green jug.

  15. On the factory closing and moving somewhere else . . .
    Leftists are great about throwing out a nice tragedy that happens in markets but they never seem to be able to think it through the rest of the way. First off, do factories never close in socialist paradises?
    But secondly, I honestly don’t understand what you want to happen. You sort of throw it out there and leave it hanging. We can all agree its tragic. But what is the alternative?
    Ultimately what a market does for you is tell you about real material scarcity. Are you suggesting you know how better to use the resources involved that factory? Are you suggesting the factory stay open and lose business ( charging a higher price than the other folks)? Or are you saying the firm should stay open and charge less for their product but still pay the same money to the workers? Or what?
    This is the problem with the left mindset in general. They “problemitize” but follow up with rest of the issue. Yes, the factory closing is tragic. But there is no such thing as perfect security this side of death. It’s not like we haven’t ever seen a factory close. You have freedom. If you fear the factory closing, then do something to help yourself. Be more productive. Get an online business. Learn a new trade. Offer the firm new ways to be productive. Leftists also never recognize the problem in a comparative setting.
    It’s really only in the last hundred years or so that we’ve even been able to stop and take a breath as a species. The vast majority of humans in history have lived in fear of starvation or other terrible death.
    But now because folks have a chance to breath – due largely to free markets – all of a sudden we are supposed to solve a problem – community disruption – that has plagued us for a million years or so.
    Please folks let’s stop carrying on about the problems of “metaphysical capitalism” and look at least a bit to the fact that all of your children will actually grow up due to material prosperity provided by markets. Let’s have a little more gratitude that if the damn factory does close, I can move somewhere else and survive rather than be stuck due to social or political structures preventing it.
    I get that this massive explosion in wealth has created problems for community. I do. But this notion that the golden goose called free markets is the cause of our problems and we should therefore give over our economic life to some economic planner is plainly stupid. These planners have no crystal ball. They cannot see how to allocate resources to their most highly valued use like a million individual transactions can. The market collects all those transactions and boils them down to price so resource need can be compared. There is no better way to account for scarcity – a fundamental physical fact. Go read I-Pencil again. The way is forward with free markets and a can do approach to solving problems of community.

    • Tim,

      Go read I-Pencil again. The way is forward with free markets and a can do approach to solving problems of community.

      I teach “I, Pencil” regularly; it’s a great essay. Also a radically limited one, for exactly the reason you mention: it boils everything down to price. Coordination and productivity can happen when price is taken out of the picture, whereas other goods like community attachment, environmental sustainability, and social welfare too often disappear entirely when the rule of price is unchalleneged. So, on the balance, I say give me the “inefficiency” and other flaws of a market subject–probably not entirely, but not minimally either–to community standards, democratic regulations, and place-defending economic coordination. Reject any or all of that, and you’re a liberal individualist, or so it seems to me–someone not fundamentally concerned about conserving anything.

      • The problem with boiling everything down to price is that it ignores the externalities, and all products without exception have externalities because all production depends on a social system that is prior to the market, and on physical infrastructures which the market cannot provide, but which must be supported by the market. Products that do not “pay their fair share” of the necessary civil and physical infrastructure as in fact receiving a subsidy from them not reflected in the price.

        And this is prior to the problem of externalities such as pollution, social dislocation, subsidies, cartels, etc.

  16. The succinct statement of the problem: to provide “spaces wherein civil society, and not capital, rules.” If that’s socialism, we all need to become socialists.

    It’s the conservative thing to do.

  17. As long as one can exit with one’s feet from your civil society, call it anything you want I guess. I’m all for culture that promotes good ends chosen by consumers in markets. You can exhort. You can argue. You can even holler or joke. As long as its voluntary.

    • “Please folks let’s stop carrying on about the problems of ‘metaphysical capitalism’ and look at least a bit to the fact that all of your children will actually grow up due to material prosperity provided by markets.”

      There is a difference between “markets” and capitalism understood as a system. Very few critics of the latter reject the idea of markets in general.

      “I’m all for culture that promotes good ends chosen by consumers in markets….As long as its voluntary.”

      If the only way one can truly opt out is to get off the grid and move to a cabin in the woods, how voluntary is it, really? And what do you do when the ends “chosen by consumers in markets” move the culture in a direction that undercuts the very freedoms that allow us to choose the good in the first place?

      I know of very few critics of contemporary capitalism that view state action as some sort of cure-all. Yet mainstream conservatism is full of people who think the “free market” can fix everything. Note that conservatives such as Richard Weaver and Russell Kirk were pointing out the problems with this view as far back as the 40’s.

    • ISTM that there are two mistakes here. The first is confounding “capitalism” and “the market.” The terms are not synonymous, but contraries. Wherever capitalism advances, the market retreats as production is gathered into collectives that displace markets, here just as in the Soviet Union of old. And the second is that “coercion” is insufficiently specified. When one group owns all the means of production, everyone else must work for them or starve.

      That’s coercion.

      • “That’s coercion.”

        Yep. People make bad, often harmful decisions when under undue economic duress. I’ve found Albino Barrera’s work on “economic compulsion” to be very helpful here.

  18. Whenever I hear a so-called conservative mention the so-called free market, I get an urge to reach for my knife because as Mr. Medaille points out, “coercion” is never very far from said so-called free market. The proximity of coercion is, in fact altogether too frequently inversely proportional to the distance of external costs from any accurate accounting going into the published statistics of said so called free market.

  19. Very enjoyable essay. I had no idea that socialists could be so conservative! I learned that anarchist can be very conservative too from James Scott’s Seeing Like a State. He convincingly argues that the more power a state has (like control over the means of production) the more it devastates civil society. Socialists and conservatives have similar goals, but I’m not sure we would want the same policies. I agree that institutional responsibility should be more broadly distributed to smaller groups so that families, neighborhoods, schools, and religious groups may be reincorporated into community. It is the scale and not the ownership of large institutions (especially governmental ones) that is the problem. Sometimes scale is unavoidable, but public policy should favor small and local so long as the country can compete effectively. I an essay for the Front Porch earlier this year, I wrote: “Engaging and successful institutions require the meaningful participation of their members, and the alienation that so many across the political spectrum have written about is, at its core, the failure of institutions to connect with the people they serve.” Do you agree, and what is the first step you would take to empower communities?

  20. I would vote for a socialist platform that called for universal healthcare, vouchers for education (including higher ed and preschool), and more neighborhood control of criminal justice.

  21. Prof. Fox:

    You wrote in part that “Back in January, Erik Olin Wright, a brilliant and profoundly original socialist thinker, writer, and organizer passed away. His book Envisioning Real Utopias had an enormous impact upon me; when I first read it, I found myself explaining and re-explaining its ideas to myself and everyone I met for months. The most important thing it–and so many other of Wright’s writings–did, I think, was explain how the Marxist shadow over socialist, anarchist, egalitarian, and all other utopian thinking has too often blinded thinkers on the left from recognizing something pretty obvious: that what we are looking to do is empower civil society, to make the mutual support communities provide stronger, to make our social and economic worlds more democratic. Hence we leftists need to be guided, first and foremost, by a “socialist compass,” and we need to recognize everything that falls within that compass, including what he called “interstitial” entities and strategies–or in other words, what a non-sociologist might call the dozens, hundreds, thousands of initiatives and organizations (neighborhood co-ops, women’s shelters, intentional communities, environmental groups, and many more) which provide spaces wherein civil society, and not capital, rules. He acknowledged that the more doctrinaire Marxist thinkers would see these as a distraction from the longed-for revolution, but insisted that their emancipatory potential is real (Envisioning Real Utopias, pp. 322-327). And as for those civil associations which strengthen community and provide shelter from the hyper-individualism of liberal capitalism through particularist, sometimes exclusionary, even religious means? Should they be crushed by the secularizing Red Guards of some new socialist movement? Well…no. As Wright explained:

    A vibrant civil society is precisely one with a multitude of heterogeneous associations, networks, and communities, built around different goals, with different kinds of members based on different sorts of solidarities….It is tempting to deal with this…by somehow defining civil society as only consisting of benign associations that are consistent with socialist ideals of democratic egalitarianism….I think this is an undesirable response….There is no guarantee that a society within which real power rooted in civil society predominates would be one that always upholds democratic egalitarian ideals. This, however, is not some unique problem for socialism; it is a characteristic of democratic institutions in general. As conservatives often point out, inherent in democracy is the potential for the tyranny of the majority, and yet in practice liberal democracies have been fairly successful at creating institutions that protect both individual rights and the interests of minorities. A socialist democracy rooted in social empowerment through associations in civil society would face similar challenges…My assumption here is not that a socialism of social empowerment will inevitably successfully meet this challenge, but that moving along the pathways of social empowerment will provide a more favorable terrain on which to struggle for these ideals than does either capitalism or statism (pp. 145-148).”

    Your essay was a paean to Prof. Wright and his dreadful book “Envisioning Real Utopias”. Unfortunately, you failed to mention that Dr. Wright’s tome was entirely too long and was rambling in its organization. Nor did you address Wright’s arrogant tone, incomprehensible jargon, as well as, as the fact that he discusses only Karl Marx, himself and his wife’s ideas. Indeed you did not mention that what Erik Olin Wright “… wanted to achieve (in his book) was a clear elaboration of workable institutional principles that could inform emancipatory alternatives to the existing world” and that he failed completely in this mission.

    Worst of all you did not cite Prof. Russell Jacoby’s 2011 review of “Envisioning Real Utopias” in the winter edition of Dissent Magazine. Perhaps you failed to mention Jacoby’s evaluation of Wright’s book because according to Dr. Jacoby “With (Erik Olin) Wright that sociological tradition, alas, is dead.” Jacoby later continued “The book is startling and depressing evidence of what has happened to American academic Marxism, at least its sociological variant, over the last 30 years. It has become turgid, vapid, and self-referential.” Not finished, Jacoby insisted that “Wright has to be given credit for parading his anti-capitalist sensibilities, but his critique reads like a lecture at the hootenanny weekend of the Socialist Hiking Club, Berkeley chapter.” Apparently, Prof. Russell Jacoby considered Erik Olin Wright to be a pettifogger and jackass.

    How did you miss all of this?

    Richard W. Burcik

  22. Richard,

    Thanks for the e-mail!

    Your essay was a paean to Prof. Wright and his dreadful book “Envisioning Real Utopias”

    1) No it wasn’t. I brought up Wright and his book in the final two paragraphs as a way to bring my much more extensive engagement with Timothy Carney’s “Alienated America” to what I thought was a good conclusion. I do have paean’s to Wright’s book elsewhere on my blog, but you’d have to follow the links I included to find them.
    2) “Envisioning Real Utopias” isn’t dreadful. You may think so–as well as think it is “long,” “rambling,” “arrogant,” and “incomprehensible”–but I don’t. (Well, long and jargon, yes, undisputedly. But the rest? Strong disagreement from me.)

    you did not cite Prof. Russell Jacoby’s 2011 review of “Envisioning Real Utopias” in the winter edition of Dissent Magazine

    1) I didn’t mention it because, again, I wasn’t really engaging Wright; I was engaging Carney and the general phenomenon, as I see it, of various conservative writers failing to appreciate what I have called the “left conservative” possibilities within socialist thought, broadly construed.
    2) I didn’t mention it because I am, in fact, familiar with that review, and I found it, at the time that I read it, churlish, defensive, and weirdly judgmental. (Indeed, it seemed to me the sort of review that a “pettifogger and a jackass” would write, interestingly enough.) I suppose I might reconsider that judgment if I read it again today, but that is the reaction I remember having at the time. In fact, I’m pretty certain I said as much, and may have explained why I felt so, in those aforementioned blog posts which actually were primarily about Wright, and not something else.

    Russell

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