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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Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.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
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ALSO AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ONE THROUGH TEN ON IDEOLOGICAL CRITIQUE



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Friday, January 22, 2016

JUST A THOUGHT

Pollsters have discovered that 36% of Americans under thirty have a favorable view of socialism, which is cited as an explanation of Bernie Sanders' current success in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.  Can this be?  My old heart beats faster and I think I catch a scent of revolution in the air.

But Bernie never actually says the magic seven words that are graven in my heart:  collective ownership of the means of production.  Instead, he talks about free higher education, or single payer health care, or higher taxes on billionaires -- all admirable short-term goals but not what I have in mind when the word "socialism" passes my lips.

What's up?  Why isn't "socialism" a killer for Bernie?

And then it dawned on me.  The American educational system being what it is, young people haven't a clue what the word "socialism" means, and the media do not enlighten them.  TV bloviators talk endlessly about the fact  that Bernie self-identifies as a "Democratic Socialist ," more or less as though he had acknowledged being a Rastafarian [wrong hair, though].  My guess is that they also don't know those magic seven words either.  As a consequence, the young learn the meaning of "socialism" they way we all learn the meaning of a word in a foreign language -- by observing the contexts in which it is used and inferring the meaning from that.

So Bernie says he is a socialist, and Bernie says he is for single payer and taxing the rich, and the young conclude, "Oh, that is what the word 'socialism' means.  Well, I am for those things, so I guess socialism is all right."

The truth is that operationally, Bernie is an FDR New Deal Liberal, which is to say he is far, far to the left of everyone else in politics today.  That's OK with me.  I was born the year FDR first took office.  I liked FDR, with all his faults.  We could do worse.

1 comment:

Chris said...

Just about every semester the word socialism comes up, often because I have the students read your book In Defense of Anarchism, and give them a short 1 minute bio on your other work, or because I make them read Marx's essays on alienation after reading Aristotle. Either way it invariably comes up. When it does I always ask the students "what does socialism mean" (knowing I intend to say 'co-operative ownership of the means of production'), and I always get in response:

"uh isn't it bad like USSR stuff"

or more commonly,

"uhm, isn't it like social security/medicaid/medicare/etc".

The signifier socialism now seems to signifie social program, or welfare programs. Which is silly, since all those rely on the surplus produced in a capitalist way to be taxed and spent, i.e., capitalism is the necessary condition of those social programs.

Anyway, my very small, southern style student polling, consistently returns the same results.