Socialism and Liberalism

The first two papers reproduced here argue that socialism should be understood not as rejecting liberalism but as transcending it, in the sense of going beyond it but preserving its valuable features. They partly explain why, in my more recent work on ethics and markets, I have tried to argue against the neutralist-liberal exclusion of ethics from political philosophy in a way that remains consistent with important liberal principles.

In that more recent work, I also argue that the ethical evaluation of economic institutions involves both normative judgments and empirical claims about the ethical character of different institutions. In doing so I draw partly on the co-authored paper on socialism, reproduced below, which argues that this is best understood as involving both normative and institutional elements, which need to be addressed independently in assessing socialist critiques of capitalism.

Click to view / download PDF files

Individualism and Community in Socialist Thought 1981
Having noted how, in the nineteenth century, both socialists and conservatives criticised ‘individualism’ in the name of ‘community’, this paper argues that the two critiques, along with their respective conceptions of community, differ in important respects. Socialist community, it is suggested, must preserve what is valuable about individualism, including especially the separate identity and autonomy of individuals. In developing this argument, considerable attention is given to the three-stage model of historical development in Marx’s Grundrisse.

Liberal Rights and Socialism 1982
This paper rejects the view that liberal rights have no place in socialist societies, a view often held by both friends and enemies of socialism. The argument is presented through a critical response to Leszek Kolakowski’s claim that Marx’s critique of such rights in his essay ‘On the Jewish Question’ has inherently illiberal implications. An alternative reading of this text is proposed, according to which liberalism is to be seen as incomplete rather than mistaken. The argument is then used to criticise Rawls’s liberal theory of justice as insufficiently concerned with economic inequalities.

Socialism (with John O’Neill) 1998
This co-authored paper examines some of the main arguments for socialism and the critical responses often made to these, focusing in turn on debates about economic efficiency, human wellbeing, democracy and power, and distributive justice. In doing so it addresses both normative and institutional elements in the socialist critique of capitalism, according to which capitalist economic institutions have inherently objectionable features that can reasonably be expected to be absent in some specifiable alternative form of economic organization.