"Choice" & History (was Re: Rawls)

JKSCHW at aol.com JKSCHW at aol.com
Mon Jan 31 20:20:21 PST 2000

In a message dated 00-01-31 18:35:43 EST, you write:

<< Mill's & Rawl's friendliness to the idea of socialism has to be qualified,

though. There are socialisms, and there are socialisms. For instance,

between left-wing liberals and Fabian socialists, there is little

difference, to be sure. Both are "designers" of institutions & social

arrangements. The rhetoric of abolitionists & civil rights movements of

course contained vital elements of moral suasion in the interest of

creating the enlightened opinion, with which one can expect Rawls to feel

kinship. I'd be surprised, though, if you tell me that Rawls gets inspired

by David Walker, C. L. R. James, Franz Fanon, Malcolm X, Angela Davis, etc.


OK, neither of them are revolutionary socialists. They are not Marxists. They abhor the idea of the subordinate groups changing the social order by force. Rawls is probably more open to coercion enforced against the privileged than Mill, although if I read Mill correctly he rather expects an explosion if the privileged do not give up their advantages peacably. They are, like almost all of us here, nice, well-behaved middle class members of the professional classes, with all the advantages and defects of that social background. I doubt whether any of us could chuck Molotov cocktails or shoot bourgeois hostages either. (Lukacs ordered shootings in Hungary in 1919, but he was from the financial aristocracy.)

That does not mean that Rawls and Mill are limited to a Fabian conception of a better social order as big welfare state no different in basic structure, although with a lot more redistribution, from what we have now, that is, limited to Scandanavian social democracy. Mill as I read him clearly foresees the end of private property in the productive assets and the end of wage labor, with industry being run and woned by associared labor. More, he regards that as change for the better. This is well to left of anything now existing or conceivably on the agenda in real world politics for the foreseeable future. it is not mild liberalim of Fabian reform.

Likewise, Rawls advocates either market socialism basically congruent to Mill's (or mine) or what he calls "property owning democarcy," a private property system about which he is rather vague, but which involves, I take it, democracy with real teeth and based on ownership of private property by all, not by a tiny minority. The "property owning democracy" may be a petty bourgeois utopia, and I think it is, but it's not welfare state corporate capitalism. It would be radical idea to insist that the political order be based on real mass ownership of productive assets. And Rawls, more than Mill, would allow coercion to enforce these changes.

So, it's true. Their hearts do not thrill as the red flag goes by; their heroes are not yours or, perhaps mine. But that does not mean that they are really defenders of the status quo with prettying reforms.

And I think you are buying into the post hoc appropriation of the abolitionists and the civil rights movement if you think they were all nicey-nice kissy-kiss love & sweetness. The abolitionists included John Brown, for one, and "even" the preacher types like William Lloyd Garrison were flaming radicals. Garrison called the US Constitution a pact with Hell. He regularly burned the flag. How do you like them apples? As for the civil rights movement, Malcom X may have talked like a badass, but it was King who was the confrontational, in-your-face kick-butt militant. His conversion into a palster saint has been one of the more interesting ideological transformations of our times.

Be that as it may, I would think that people on the left would prefer to appropriate, if they could, the two great liberal political thinkers of the last two centuries instead of sneering at them for their somewhat different idioms and precoccuptions. You can leave them to the pro-capitalist liberals, they'll be happy to have them. I think that would be a mistake, even if these great left liberals do not give you the frisson of revolutionary definace one gets from Angela Davis or Farnz Fanon. (Or Marx.)

--jks, petty bourgeois as ever (just like you!)

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