Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

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Monday, July 20, 2015

WHAT MAY WE EXPECT FROM SOCIALISM?


Max Weber [1864-1920] is, arguably, the greatest sociologist who has ever lived [yes, I include Marx in that ranking.]  He was one of the last of the great Gelehrten, scholars [usually German for some reason] who seemed to know everything there was to be known.  He made major contributions across the entire spectrum of the Sozialwissenschaften -- what today we call the Social Sciences -- but the centerpiece of his work was a deep analysis of the structure and logic of bureaucracy, which during his lifetime was coming to define and dominate social organization worldwide. 

One of Weber's most provocative [and pessimistic] ideas is the inevitable transformation of the personal authority possessed by unusually pious or strong or brilliant or courageous or daring individuals into the routine, rule-governed, quotidian authority of hereditary rulers or uniformed functionaries or caparisoned priests or elected representatives, a process that Weber called the routinization of charisma.  Men and women [and even children] follow Ghenghis Khan or Gandhi or Joan of Arc or Roland or Martin Luther King or King Arthur [assuming that he existed] because of their personal qualities, what Weber, following a long tradition, called their charisma.  These personal qualities bestow on the person, in the eyes of the followers, an immediate authority that binds them to the leader and will elicit from them heroic acts even unto death.

Usually, when the charismatic leader dies, the followers are loath simply to call it quits and drift away.   A sizeable empire may have been assembled, or lands and wealth may have been accumulated by the band of followers personally bound to the leader by his or her charisma.  A struggle breaks out over who will inherit leadership.  As time passes, and the generation of the original followers gives way to their successors, and then to theirs, customs, even laws, regulating the succession take the place of the immediate ecstatic personal appeal that elicited the loyalty of the original band of followers.  The charisma has been routinized.

Today I shall make a stab at bringing this insight of Weber to bear on the question that has been discussed or alluded to repeatedly on this blog, viz. What may we expect from a socialist society?  Bear with me.  It will take me a little time to connect it up, as trial lawyers are wont to say.

First things first.  What defines capitalism is private ownership or control of the means of production, ownership or control that excludes the vast majority of men and women from any substantive role in the decisions about what to do with those means of production and from an adequate share of what is produced.  In the earliest stages of capitalism, control derives directly from legal ownership, and the two are so intimately intertwined as to be virtually indistinguishable.  But eventually, companies are transformed into limited liability joint stock corporations, ownership of shares in which may become very widely distributed, without however a concomitant distribution of effective control.  In very few large modern corporations is legal ownership of the shares of stock concentrated in a few hands, and few major corporations are in any sense owned by those who run them. 

Collective ownership of the means of production is indeed the necessary condition for the existence of socialism, but by itself, it does not guarantee the elimination of the exploitation that is the raison d'ȇtre of capitalism.  Not even formally democratic control of the collectively owned means of production guarantees that desirable result, for -- and it is here that Weber's insight proves so valuable -- once the original revolutionary fervor has subsided and ordinary day-to-day oversight of the collectively owned means of production replaces the spontaneous, exciting creativity of those early days, the management of the people's patrimony will ineluctably become bureaucratic.  Individuals selected to occupy management positions, even at wages no better than those of ordinary workers, will find ways to feather their nests, to line their pockets, to appropriate to themselves privileges and perquisites, and to ensure that they continue in those positions.

This is not to say that nothing will have changed, not at all!  The income pyramid will have been substantially flattened, and great inherited wealth will be a thing of the past.  But that eternal vigilance which, we were told, is the price of liberty, will now be the price of socialist justice.  The struggle to penetrate the mystifications of power and wealth, to combat the routinization of effective control, will be endless.  And we shall even have to struggle to overcome the routinization and consequent emasculation of the very notion of demystification!  As now there are distinguished Professors of Economics whose considerable intelligence is devoted to concealing the truth that capitalism rests upon exploitation, then there will be distinguished Professors of Demystification Studies whose equally considerable intelligence is devoted to obfuscating the real nature of the privileges appropriated by the few in the name of socialism.

There are deep reasons why this is so, some of which I explored in my 2010 tutorial "How to Study Society."  But that it is so, I am sure.

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