Sunday, October 02, 2005

Brian Barry

There exists today widespread propaganda which asserts that socialism is dead. But if to be a socialist is to be a person convinced that the words 'the common good' and 'social justice' actually mean something; if to be a socialist is to be outraged at the contempt in which millions and millions of people are held by those in power, by 'market forces', by international financial institutions; if to be a socialist is to be a person determined to do everything in his or her power to alleviate these unforgivably degraded lives, then socialism can never be dead because these aspirations will never die.

Harold Pinter

I found this (rather good) quotation at the start of Brian Barry's newbook - Why Social Justice Matters. The original article from which the passage has been taken, incidentally, can be found here on the Red Pepper site.

I mean to give Barry's book some proper attention as soon as I have time - I have seen nothing but very complimentary reviews of it. Barry is very much an Old Labour kind of socialist and a very robustly universalist and anti-relativist political philosopher. I like him. Rumours on the academic grapevine suggest that he's deliberately given up on 'pure' political philosophy - the academic arena in which Barry has battled against certain types of Rawlsian and multiculturalist wafflings for the past several years - and has suggested that anglophone liberal dominated analytical philosophy is really now a complete waste of time for anyone with the slightest interest in real political engagement (I don't imagine he has very much time for continental postmodernism either, to be honest). I really like him.

I saw him present a paper about a year ago now and I have to say, I wasn't impressed. He seemed to be offering a warmed-over version of radical Keynesianism (1970s Bennism I suppose) as the way forward for the Left. There are all sorts of problems with this approach of course, and I didn't get the sense that he'd grasped them during the discussion (eg - what would a radical Keynesian government do when faced with the inevitable backlash of the markets - look at what happened to Mitterrand, Wilson etc). Still, it's not fair to judge a theory on the basis of one short paper. I look forward to reading the book.

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