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07/29/2011

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Steven Shiffrin

Patrick, thanks for this. I recently read (I think inspired by an earlier post of yours) Michael Harrington's last book. I was struck by the lack of distance between democratic socialism and perfectionist liberalism (depending upon what is being encouraged). As you know, Harrington argued that democratic socialists should not hesitate in allying with liberals and argued that this claim was consistent with Marx's views. He argued that the division between these two groups is not currently important and regrettably for some time. Nonetheless, I think it is theoretically significant and side for the most part with the democratic socialists (though I do not think it will ever be a publicly useful political term).
I would be grateful if you could point me to your favorite two or three titles on the differences between and rhetoric surrounding the differences between the two groups.

Patrick S. O'Donnell

Steve,

I don't know of a book that systematically takes on "perfectionist liberalism" from a democratic socialist perspective although I think G.A. Cohen's works address many of the most important arguments across the spectrum of Liberalism: "libertarian" at one end and "perfectionist" at the other. Raz, Sher, Dworkin (at least on some construals of his latest work), Galston, and, on occasion and to a limited degree, Rawls as well are, I think, fairly described as "perfectionist," although in differing ways. To address this topic, as you know, one needs to consider the nature of markets, capitalism, corporate power, workplace democracy, the division of labor, the role of morality and a "socialist ethos," private property, the role of the State vis-a-vis civil society, socialism, etc., in addition to tackling such fundamental concepts as freedom, equality, community, justice (and these as they relate to democratic constitutionalism)....

Patrick S. O'Donnell

Steve,

I might have mentioned that I largely argree with Harrington about the need for strategic alliance with some Liberals insofar as, for example, "market socialism" of a kind may be acceptable as second best and considerably less than ideal in the short- and medium-term by way of working toward something else like Marx and the utopian socialists for that matter, had in mind. In any case, one inevitable by-product of any alliance, strategic cooperation, what have you is that differences will probably rise to the surface and have to be confronted both practically and theoretically.

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