Social and Political Philosophy: Contemporary Perspectives

By James P. Sterba | Go to book overview

10

SOCIALISM AND EGALITARIAN JUSTICE

Kai Nielsen

I

I shall first set out what socialism is and what it hopes to achieve. I shall then weave this account in with a critical examination of James P. Sterba’s Justice for Here and Now. My central effort there will be to show—its genuine insights, generosity of spirit and well-meaning initiatives notwithstanding—what Sterba’s account leaves out in saying what a decent and just world would be and, independently of Sterba, to articulate the conditions necessary for its realization or approximation. I will end by arguing what must be done if we are to have such a world. The prospects for it are pretty dim and seem at least to be growing dimmer. But let us remind ourselves of Antonio Gramsci’s slogan about the pessimism of the intellect and the optimism of the will.


II

First, for socialism and its discontents. Socialism and leftism generally have come on bad days. From being a powerful social force feared and hated by the right and by centrist liberals alike, it has, particularly in North America, become something of a joke. It has no militant mass nor even a broadly sympathetic mass attuned to it. There is little by way of a socialist egalitarian ethos in the rich capitalist democracies. In North America there are no leftish parties, not even social democratic parties, with any standing (the NDP in Canada, dwindling away as it is, is a weak exception). And in the United States the “left wing” of the Democratic Party has practically disappeared. It is true that social democratic parties have recently (1998-2000) won victories in Western Europe. France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Denmark, the United Kingdom and Greece have governments so formed. But with the major players at least—France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom—we have social democratic governments that, once in power, a bit of rhetoric and some band-aid policies aside, look pretty much like their

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