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Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Seeking the Utopian: a Lecture on Erik Olin Wright's Envisioning Real Utopias

[Cross-posted to Political Context]

I gave this lecture, more or less, on the Friends University campus last Thursday, February 23rd. It was a small crowd, mostly my fellow Democratic Socialists of America activists, but a few curious others showed up as well. I was happy to be able to talk about Wright's book; Crooked Timber has been planning a symposium on it for a while, and doing so is much deserved. Whatever the faults of the book, I think it's the most philosophically interesting and politically insightful work on socialism that I've read in years, and the more attention it gets, the better.


It may be strange to be talking this evening about something like “realistic utopias,” if that even makes sense, in the context of searching for alternatives to capitalism, when at this very moment an intensely real, intensely immediate battle over the capitalist marketplace is taking place in Wisconsin. Like many of you, I’ve been following the protests closely; one thing that I’ve been doing that you probably haven’t, however, is looking for names of University of Wisconsin faculty that I’m familiar with. The University of Wisconsin in Madison, WI, has long been an intellectual incubator of some of the most progressive, free-thinking, and radical of all approaches to political and social thought--and not coincidentally therefore, the sort of place where you can find professors that a socialist (or at least social democratic) academic like myself likes to hear about and learn from. Erik Olin Wright, the author of Envisioning Real Utopias, is a Wisconsin professor of sociology, and while I haven’t seen his face on any of the videos of protests making the rounds, he has strongly expressed his support for the public union employees, and their friends and families, who have been camped out in the capitol building. (See this letter here, for example.) I also know, though not terribly well, another UW-Madison academic--Harry Brighouse, a philosophy professor and fellow blogger. He’s been posting videos which his students have made of the protests. Before we get all intellectual and continue with the rest of this discussion of “utopian” thinking, let’s check this out:

The final shot of that video might make a good launching point: “Can You Hear Us Now?” The supposed “realist” response to that is, “yes, we can...and so what?” So what if thousands gather to express themselves, so what if they insist that certain principles cannot be sacrificed in the name of enabling certain economic actors and activities to go forward? That doesn’t change who has authority over such economic decisions, or the circumstances that they’re responding too. As things stand today I am unwilling to make any predictions about the developments in Wisconsin--those protests are persuasive, but ultimately Governor Walker may be able to quite honestly insist that budget needs and fiscal realities justify his every action, and that kind of talk is persuasive to a lot of people too. Anything else just seems...utopian.

Here is where Wright’s book comes in: it confronts head-on the mindset which, when it hears protesters cry out, either sadly or condescendingly turns away unmoved--because, as Wright puts it, “Most people in the world today, especially in its economically developed regions, no longer believe...that a fundamental alternative to capitalism is possible” (p. 1). The capitalist marketplace, with it’s fiscal demands and priorities, simply appears to be “the natural order of things,” and the passion for alternatives, either as an immediately graspable possibility (as people on the left like me and many of you have thought or hoped), or as an immediately threatening monstrosity to be fought (as people on the right felt, and often, confusingly, still feel), has dissipated. Of course, we have the ranting about how President Obama or the Democratic party in the U.S. is promoting “socialism,” and therefore the oppression of what many accept as our basic political and economic liberties, which comes from the ignorant or paranoid or both, and of course we also have those parties and interests who consciously cultivate that ignorance and paranoia for their own political purposes. But as for a serious intellectual engagement with socialism, as a really and truly present alternative way of organizing the marketplace and our material life, whether as something to be immediately defeated it or anxiously promoted? You don’t see much of it, because what is the point of fighting for, or fighting against, something which has been passed over and dismissed, something which arguably never did and maybe never will exist?

Wright’s book is a long (perhaps over-long and belabored; that criticism of the book is probably fair, though others, I think, are not) argument insisting that “socialism” means something much different, and much more intellectually encompassing, than that which many people, including those of us on the left and our respectable opponents on the right, have perhaps long assumes. Socialism has been associated with the label “utopian” for as long as that word has existed in English--Sir Thomas More, in writing his book Utopia, which features an island society where there was no private property and all lived in a state of communalistic equality, borrowed the word from the Greek language, creating a pun: a “u-topia” is “no-place,” while a “eu-topia” is a “good-place.” As the marketplaces which had existed throughout all of human history were transformed by the end of feudalism and emergence of basic capitalist structures in the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries (including the division of labor, vocational specialization, enclosure acts and the resulting commoditization of land, and then the collaterization of those commodities) into something much different, many people accepted these historical transformations as often harmful, even tragic for many, but basically unavoidable. Only a fictitious world, a “utopian” one, could be truly free of them.

Some early European socialists, looking at the long history of Christian experiments with devotional, egalitarian, even communalistic communities, more or less explicitly embraced the utopian label; the question was how to bring about this utopian condition. Some, like Robert Owen and his New Lanark community, believed that what was necessary was to build a “partial community” around the “whole faith”; once the equality and simple beauty of such small, cooperative, communitarian experiments because known, their appeal would spread. Others, such as the Fabian Society of Sidney and Beatrice Webb, dismissed such thinking, insisting that what was necessary was to use the existing state and economy to get the “whole community” to embrace socialism one part at a time. (See the discussion of this distinction in David Leopold, “Socialism and (the Rejection of) Utopia,” Journal of Political Ideologies, October 2007, pp. 224-225.) The arrival and impact of Karl Marx’s thinking upon European socialism starkly divided the Christian reformers and other utopians from “scientific socialism”; while Marx himself at different times over the decades expressed different opinions about various efforts to institute one or another aspect of the socialist alternative to capitalism, whether through unions or political parties or some other means, overall he was decidedly committed to the idea that the achievement of socialism depended strictly upon preparing the working class for the inevitable, historically and materially determined collapse of capitalism. Given that, over a 150 years after Marx made his mark, capitalism has, as yet, not collapsed, or at least not in the way Marx predicted--and also given that those societies which attempted to hurry Marx’s logic along through revolution ended up being for the most part horrifically murderous regimes--provides perhaps more than enough proof than most people need to see those of us who long for something other than capitalism as dreamers, nothing more and nothing less. They have no need to listen to us.

Well, Wright wants us to dream again, and he wants us, in thinking about utopian alternatives to the present system that really work, to dream broadly. So let’s doing some dreaming right here, right now.

Since we’re in a university setting here, let’s imagine a utopian socialist university. First of all, let’s stipulate that it’s free--no one pays any tuition or fees, and who desires to be admitted is, without question. The costs of keeping up the infrastructure and maintenance of the university is entirely covered by free-will donations, and they constitute more than enough wealth to cover everything that needs to be taken care of. Second, there are no restrictions on what you can study; you create your own agenda of research, and whatever that agenda is, it is treated with perfect respect, equal to every other student’s agenda. Moreover, every research agenda is a participatory affair; students are encouraged to bring their work and ideas into the development of each and every course of study, and those students are treated as perfect equals by those responsible for establishing the courses in the first place which all these participants are drawn to. And speaking of those in a position of responsibility, here’s the third point: they aren’t paid. Every single teacher or researcher who contributes to whatever it is that any other person wishes to study at this university does so on a purely volunteer basis: their only reward is the knowledge that they are part of grand educational project, one which contributes to the common good of humanity and the enlightenment of the human race.

What is this utopian socialist university? Any guesses? One hint: it really exists, and it turned 10 years old on January 15th, 2011. That’s right: it’s Wikipedia.

The obvious objection is that Wikipedia isn’t a university; it’s an encyclopedia, and one that exists solely on the internet for that matter. As such, it has no “real world” presence, and so presumably can’t count as evidence of a “real utopia.” Some of these objections could be countered, or at least played with, but for my purposes here I will grant all of them. It’s not a real utopia; it’s a marvelous bit of evolving web-design and collaborative programming, one that depends upon what is called “crowdsourcing,” or turning the goal of a project--in this case, the constant compiling, updating, editing, revising, critiquing, and promoting of any and all information that any given participant my think it valuable to share--over to whomever responds to the opportunity to be part of said project, whatever their level (or lack thereof) of accountability and expertise. All in all, it is something which academics like myself can’t possibly avoid and yet also find ourselves tearing our hair out over, especially when we get a paper handed in to us which is nothing but Wikipedia citations (that’s not counting the papers which are just cut-and-pasted Wikipedia entries themselves). As an open-ended internet resource, it provides no credentials, which are the life-blood of any modern university’s bottom-line, and no direction, meaning that anything one wishes to do with it counts equally as a “course of study.” So no, Wikipedia is not a utopian solution to the many struggles which face universities today. (And of course, all of these arguably virtuous characteristics which I associate with Wikipedia can be disputed; the accusations about its biases, inaccuracies, and other problems are legion.)

But the reason why I make use of Wikipedia--and it’s not my idea; Wright did it first, in chapter 7 of his book--as an example is not to emphasize its utopian nature, or lack thereof; it is to emphasize, rather, its socialist nature, the fact that it presents an alternative to capitalism. This should, and probably does, strike most of you as strange. Wikipedia doesn’t apparently involve any of the usual forms or structures which are popularly or historically associated with any type of socialism, and moreover, most of those deeply committed to what might be called the “ethos” of Wikipedia--the idea of mass collaboration through open-source software and non-hierarchical competition and initiative--generally describe themselves as anything but socialist. One of the founders of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales, is in fact reputed to be a huge fan of Ayn Rand, an iconic defender of individualism, self-interest, and capitalism. Yet nonetheless, Wright makes the case for seeing Wikipedia as “not simply non-capitalist,” but in fact “thoroughly anti-capitalist” (p. 195). Consider the following elements of Wikipedia’s basic operation:

1. It depends upon non-market relations: voluntary, unpaid contributions and free access.

2. It encourages full, open, egalitarian participation, not distinguishing between providers and consumers.

3. In that participation, there is direct and deliberative interactions among contributors; there are no intermediaries or interest groups or licensing boards which control who gets involved.

4. And finally, the maintenance and administration of the encyclopedia is characterized by democratic governance and adjudication. (These points are made by Wright, pp. 195-197.)

All of these points could be contested, to be sure; nothing ever operates entirely as it is designed to. But still when you go down the list--unpaid voluntarism, open access to resources, equal participation, absence of competitive market relations or economic distinctions, opportunities for democratic deliberation, rule by consensus--it really does sound rather “socialist.” Is it? Wright would have us changing our thinking so that we recognize it as just that. No, it does not involve, or even suggest, many of the aforementioned forms or structures associated with socialism: no state-owned industries, no government-regulated utilities or social services, no controlled wages, no free housing or health care or any of the rest. And certainly, it doesn’t match the hysterical and practically nonsensical fears which depict any and every kind of socialist arrangement as involving murderous actions comparable to the worst communist tyranny. But to limit our thinking about “socialism” to such tropes is to fail respect the fundamental appeal of socialist ideals, an appeal which keeps bringing them back into our collective arrangements, whether we recognize them for what they are or not.

What are those socialist ideals? Wright defines them very simply as “social justice” and “political justice.” (See pp. 12-20.) The former involves making access to the necessary material means of human flourishing as equal and open as possible; the latter involves empowering people as members of their societies to be able to construct that access as they think best within their own collective spheres. If you think about it, this definition of socialist ideals makes Wright very much a democratic socialist; but even more than that, it makes him a socialist who wants us to keep our eye on the “social” ball, and remember that every aspect of socialist thinking ought to be subject to constant critique, so as to better measure just how well it promotes the sort of radical, democratic egalitarianism that he thinks is inseparable from social and political justice.

Wright makes no bones about his belief that socialist thinking has, in the 150 years since Marx, frequently taken its eye off that ball. While he gives great credit to Marx in the ways in which he opened up the eyes of millions of people to the harms of free market capitalism as it took industrial form during the 19th century, he ultimately insists that socialists should disregard Marx’s “brilliant, if ultimately unsatisfactory, solution to the problem of specifying an alternative of capitalism” (p. 89). Marx’s belief in the long-term economic unsustainability of capitalism, of the intensification of the struggle it, and the eventual revolutionary transformation of the marketplace into a socialist (and eventually fully communist) one, had a religious-like appeal; indeed, his philosophy of historical materialism and determinism permeated those beliefs, lending them an almost metaphysical character, whatever Marx’s insistence otherwise. Wright very concisely counters Marx’s theories of capitalist self-destruction, of worker proletarianization, of class solidarity and ruptural transformation--not that there is nothing to be learned from those theories, and not that there is no historical truth to them whatsoever, but simply that we cannot trust in them as providing a clear and reliable direction. What we need, Wright argues, rather than the path which Marx’s socialist arguments provided (a path that, because it seemed philosophically mandated by history, was easily collapsed into convictions about its end-state, and with that the desire to mandate that end through the barrel of a gun), is a “compass”--a set of general orienting guidelines that will help us identify whatever it may be which brings greater social and political justice, meaning greater democracy and equality, into the world. This does not mean that anything which seems to achieve such is automatically “socialism”--but by the same token, it also does not mean that those looking for alternatives to capitalism should automatically discount the socialist potential of any given type of social or economic organization and project. If it is something which has at least some of the social and political implications or consequences which the socialist compass points toward, then it is something to take seriously. Hence, Wikipedia. Obviously, it is not a tool for accomplishing greater economic equality, or local collective governance, or participatory democracy. But then again, it is an arena of action which is open to teaching lessons about those things, and other open-ended alternatives to strictly capitalist marketplace exchanges as well.

Those few of you who may be somewhat familiar with the many arguments out there over the political and social theory of socialism may think that a lot of this is old news: if you do a couple of Google searches, it’s not hard to find plenty of information about libertarian socialism, market socialism, anarcho-syndicalism, individualist anarchism, and many other approaches to thinking about alternatives to capitalism for which Wikipedia may make a good fit. But the fact that there are very likely only a few people here who fit that description is partly evidence for Wright’s point; the left has gotten locked into a much too narrow range of ways to advance “utopian” possibilities, meaning radical, emancipatory, democratic and egalitarian possibilities. We need a different set of frames to appreciate what really is “realistic,” and what we on the left can and should be working with to achieve the social and political justice that we desire.

Being a good academic, Wright provides a plethora of alternative frames--perhaps too many, and perhaps they overlap each other a tad much, but by and large he defines them well, and I find them clarifying. Beginning with Marx’s essential observation that, under the capitalist system, the possession of capital gives one not just personal power, but social power as well, he tracks and delineates the many different forms that power can take at the present time. He defines “statism” as those forms of social organization where “the means of production are owned by the state and the allocation and use of resources for different social purposes is accomplished through the exercise of state power.” Capitalism, by contrast, becomes a form of social organization “within which the means of production are privately owned and the allocation and use of resources for different social purposes is accomplished through the exercise of economic power.” That leaves socialism, where “the means of production are socially owned and the allocation and use of resources for different social purposes is accomplished through what can be termed ‘social power’” (see pp. 120-121). This means that socialism is anything which seeks to empower democracy and civil society, anything that moves economic decision-making and influence out of private hands and into the public realm, into the commons to be used and expanded upon as communities articulate and make use of it. He recognizes that no form of social organization is ever going to be purely one or another; as anyone familiar with the collusion between corporations and governments can recognize, there is no pure capitalism, and no pure statism, and there will probably never be a pure socialism either: we are all, always, going to be dealing with “hybrids” (pp 123-124). So within our chosen frame–-socialism–-we are going to have to think carefully, and always be rethinking, the strategies we pursue.

Wright's focus on the social (which permeates the whole book; the original subtitle he wanted for it was "Putting the Social Back in Socialism"), is likely to seem worrisome to the philosophically liberal among us. Would a democratically empowered civil society actually be a force for egalitarian emancipation? Obviously, not always; as Wright himself admits, many actually existing civil society institutions and associations around the globe do not (pp. 146-147). The anarchistically inclined response might be that such is the wrong way of looking at things--a civil society that can "achieve sufficient coherence as to provide for social order and social reproduction" is all that one needs hope for when it comes to exploring socialist possibilities. But a proper socialist response, a radical democratic egalitarian one, would have to be different, Wright thinks; it would "require a state...with real power to institute and enforce the rules of the game," to construct or at least preserve that which is democratic and egalitarian in the midst of "pluralistic heterogeneity" of the "public square." Wright continues:

There is no guarantee that a society within which power rooted in civil society predominates would be one that 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: how to devise institutional rules for the game of democratic deepening and associational empowerment which would foster the radical egalitarian conception of emancipation. (p. 147)

And so Wright acknowledges that, as we commit ourselves to experimenting upon different paths and testing different theories in pursuit of greater community and equality, as the socialist compass directs, certain kinds of institutional brakes or controls need to be kept in mind as we seek to place power in the hands of civil society institutions. Some of these brakes and controls should probably be liberal ones, thus pointing towards the well-understood controls provided by the language of state-enforced rights and constitutional balances. But not too many of them. Part of the power of the protests in Wisconsin is that what we are seeing is a political fight in which the interests of the collective, or the public, is being pitted against private and corporate one. Of course, as always, the story isn't that simple (unions, to be sure, can be corrupt and corporate as much as businesses can be!); but that is part of the story. In fact, it is at the crux of the current story--we have unions talking freely about surrendering a great deal of what their marketplace negotiations, conducted between the political representatives of various groups and interests, had secured them...just so long as they don't have to surrender the power to demand and organize collective negotiations in the first place. This is democratic, social power, and beside it, the liberal and redistributive and protective egalitarian accommodations in the marketplace that most of us treasure (weekends, health insurance, cost-of-living wage increases, civil rights protection on the job, labor standards and safety regulations, etc.), as vital as they all are, are nonetheless secondary. Keeping unions as one of the tools of "social empowerment...[and a] radical egalitarian conception of emancipation" is the reason why socialists should care about this fight, and only secondarily because of what rules about lay-offs the use of those tools have resulted in. For Wright, socialists should look at unions the same way we look at Wikipedia--what power can they move into the realm of the social? We should be wary of how that power can be abused, and liberal protections and guarantees are a valuable part of protecting against such. But we should not allow ourselves to become sufficiently fearful of the radical and democratic potential of civil society institutions or other participatory organizations--even if they are not, on first glance, properly "socialist"--that we look fail to back them when they appear.

Of course, most of the examples Wright proposes (and unions, it should be noted, are not one of them--not that he speaks against, only that they are quite the sort of "utopian" tools he has in mind) naturally do reflect elements and tropes of typical socialist thinking; he is not claiming that every previous socialist had gotten everything wrong! Still, he makes some interesting choices, pointing his readers toward the participatory budgeting process in the city of Porto Alegre in Brazil (pp. 155-160), the social organization of the childcare and eldercare economy as well as investment capital in Quebec (pp. 204-212, 225-230), and the worker-owned cooperative firms of Mondragón in the Basque region of Spain (pp. 240-246). An important shared element amongst these various utopian practices is that they all emerge from and contribute to a specifically and culturally embedded form of community feeling. Sometimes Wright acknowledges this is a positive way (he notes that Quebec has a "highly favorable social environment" for associational economies to take root, due to the province's extensive history of "social movements, cooperatives, and civic associations" by which the province has worked to maintain the "strong sense of solidarity" which goes along with being a minority linguistic community--pp.211-212), sometimes more as an obstacle (he also notes that the Mondragón Cooperative Corporation, in expanding beyond the Basque territory and purchasing firms elsewhere in Spain and around the world, faces a "global melding of capitalist and cooperativist principles," a melding complicated by the fear many in MCC have about the "dilution of solidarity [which could result] from the inclusion of so many worker-members from outside the region"--p. 245). That community feeling, and how our socialist compass ought to incorporate it, is worth dwelling upon.

Marx, in line with his overall philosophical project, saw socialist transformation as necessarily a cosmopolitan one--"workers of the world unite!" and all that. But what if the ability to articulate and pursue an alternative to capitalism, a route towards economic democracy and radical empowerment, sometimes requires a prior dependence upon a civil society constructed from highly specific and local historical experiences?

Consider the case of the Mondragón Cooperative Corporation again. By most measures, these worker-owned firms, and consequently the effects they have had on the distribution of social and economic power throughout their home region in Spain, represent among the most successful examples of a communitarian, "socialist" market economy anywhere in the world. Yet it is not difficult to find criticism of MCC from the left. Part of it is the legacy of a doctrinaire Marxism which rejects the idea that worker cooperatives can ultimately contribute a socialization of power relations within a country, part of it simple cultural and historical suspicions (Mondragón's founder was a Catholic priest who eschewed any talk of "class struggle" and was at one point honored by General Franco), and part of it derives from specific, arguably anti-democratic actions which MCC itself has taken. Wright's own analysis of these latter actions suggest they have their roots in the tensions and expectations which have come to the corporation as the success of its firms and egalitarian pay distribution have obliged it--or tempted it--to expand beyond those conceptual (meaning, local and cultural) boundaries within which the participatory ethos of its founder was first promulgated and embraced:

Since the mid 1990s, the MCC has adopted an aggressive strategy of expansion beyond its historical home in the Basque country. This has, above all, taken the form of buying up capitalist firms and turning them into subsidiaries of the cooperatives within the corporation....[For example] Fagor Elian, a cooperative that manufactures various kinds of auto-parts, created a new wholly owned subsidiary in Brazil, to manufacture parts for the Brazilian arm of Volkswagen. The director of the MCC explained...that although the Fagor Brazilian plant loses money, the Volkswagen Corporation insisted the Fagor Elian provide parts to its Brazilian operation if it wanted to continue to supply parts to Volkswagen in the EU....[Hence, the] MCC believes that, given market pressures linked to globalization, this strategy of national and global expansion is necessary for the survival of the Mondragón cooperatives in the twenty-first century. Whether or not this diagnosis is correct is a matter of considerable controversy, but in any case the result of this expansion has been to intensify the capitalist dimension of the Mondragón economic hybrid. (pp. 243-244)

There are, to be sure, many ways in which we might contemplate and develop responses to the pressure which exist in the global marketplace--and some undoubtedly, ought to involve more "vertical," comprehensive, or "cosmopolitan" parameters. But there remains the fact that a reliance upon those parameters moves one away from the diverse forms of real solidarity and social power which the hope for radical egalitarian and democratic transformation in part depends upon. So why would it not be equally viable--why would it be any less "utopian"--to approach the compass of socialist empowerment and look for ways to preserve the local and cultural environments that provide spaces for emancipation in the first place? This is not a question which Wright directly asks, but it is one which his analysis, I believe, presents us with nonetheless. The struggles of Mondragón mainly have to do with maintaining a reliable cooperative ethos while simultaneously handling an enormous increase in workers pressing for membership, whether that be through a) developing procedures for encouraging "spin-off" cooperatives to be formed, or b) abandoning the "unitary organizational form" which have guided the cooperatives from the beginning, and accepting that the push for democratic and egalitarian reforms will have to come through unionization in the subsidiaries, rather than full participatory membership. Would any of these struggles have arrived in a global marketplace more resistant to globalization, and where national economies--and the firms that operated within them--enjoyed greater self-sufficiency (which, yes, would also mean the national markets they supplied would also "enjoy" greater restrictions on the range of pricing and goods available)? Perhaps they would have anyway--but then again, in a global economic environment less hostage to the neoliberal terms of the IMF and the EU, perhaps the Mondragón cooperatives would have developed as an even stronger example of the socialist ethos, one less implicated in the tensions that could pull a civil association away from radical democratic egalitarianism, because the sources of that tension would be, in a sense, literally "foreign" to the local, cultural site wherein this particular association was able to plant its socialist seed.

Wright's masterful book plants numerous seeds all its own, most of which give rise to ideas that, on my reading, support each other in development towards both known and as-yet speculative radical democratic and egalitarian futures. I suspect one of those futures--one which I hope our socialist compasses will be attuned to--will need to make a space for local instantiations of socialism, and that defending and promoting such will require those on the left to make peace with more than just liberals, whom have long been their allies in many respects anyway. There will also need to be some peace, at least some of the time, between different types of culturally communitarian movements and institutions, because those locally embedded expressions of social power cannot help but be a significant component of any proposal to involve the wide range of civil associations and groups in countering the power of corporations and the state.

Ultimately, in an environment where Marx's doctrines have passed into history (though they continue to teach us), and where all alternatives to capitalism sometimes seem equally utopian, we who which to be part of a movement towards something better must recognized that radical democratic and egalitarian possibilities will, and should, involve multiple hybrid forms, moving on many distinct fronts--some confrontational, some liberal, and some, quite importantly, being local and cultural--indeed, it may sometimes be the case that the latter will require action on the part of the former to long survive. If Wright's book has made that point well--if it helps convince those of us on the left that the communitarian component of social empowerment, when properly recognized and tended, needn't be either something singular and forced, or something which necessarily undermines egalitarianism from within--then his book has done something important indeed.

Now, let's hear it once more for the protesters in Wisconsin!

Update, 3/3/11, 8:50am, CST: for the truly obsessive amongst you, here is a video of the lecture as delivered. Hat tip: my fine fellow DSAer, Stuart Elliot.]

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