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Why Not Socialism?

3.45  ·  Rating details ·  674 ratings  ·  83 reviews
Is socialism desirable? Is it even possible? In this concise book, one of the world's leading political philosophers presents with clarity and wit a compelling moral case for socialism and argues that the obstacles in its way are exaggerated.

There are times, G. A. Cohen notes, when we all behave like socialists. On a camping trip, for example, campers wouldn't dream of ch
Hardcover, 83 pages
Published September 13th 2009 by Princeton University Press (first published 2009)
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Oct 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy-read
Very short, but very nice. Cohen identifies socialism with two principles, the Socialist Equality of Opportunity Principle and the Principle of Community. The first is equality of opportunity that eliminates not just legal disadvantage (serfdom, racist laws), not just the effects of social disadvantage generally (poverty, lack of schools), but all kinds of disadvantage for which people are not responsible themselves (i.e. both of the above, but also differences in endowments of strength, intelli ...more
Why Not Socialism? by Gerald A. Cohen, is an essay discussing Socialism in a basic and conceptual form. Cohen begins by describing a camping trip, and juxtaposing two different scenarios: one in which a group of campers share food and supplies on the trip, and gather resources equitably (ie. in a socialistic fashion) and one in which each camper tries to benefit through predatory market-style exchanges (market capitalism fashion). Which one would be a better trip?

This is a simplistic argument to
Micah Musser
Aug 02, 2018 rated it it was ok
I'm a socialist and I gave this book to my Republican friend and it convinced him to become a socialist too, which just shows how STUPID republicans are, because this was a TERRIBLE book that NO reasonable person would ever be convinced by

2 stars
Aug 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
I was not aware when I ordered this book, that it was in fact not a book. Sure it has a hardback cover, but it's really a journal article or essay, with book binding. It can be read in one sitting. This has an upside and a downside.

The upside is, in few words, and clear writing, Cohen gives a stellar defense of socialist values over capitalist values and practice. He does this by opening with an example of a camping trip. In general campers experience a sense of community and equality, and work
Apr 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Starting from a thought experiment, Cohen makes a tentative definition of the core of Socialism as the principles of radical equality of opportunities -- not only neutralizing social sources of inequality, but also natural ones -- and community. He then tries to make a case for the desirability of applying such ideals to society as a whole, before addressing some of the obstacles that might affect such an implementation. After this exploration, the author concludes that, even if the feasibility ...more
James Foster
Feb 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Clearly a short synoptic on whether or not socialism is desirable or feasible, in which Mr. Cohen concisely and decisively argues that while a form of socialism is desirable to us, it's unsure if it's feasible, especially at this point in our socio-cultural development. It is not meant to be an exhaustive discussion, but it does establish well that socialism is desirable. In the fourth chapter he briefly introduces some forms of socialism and touches on reasons why they fail to fully realize the ...more
Jan 16, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

سوسیالیسم عبارت است از کوشش بشر برای غلبه کردن بر این مرحله تعرض آمیز تحول انسانی و فراتر رفتن از آن
آلبرت انیشتین

برای آن دسته از دوستانی که با آثار و تفکرات کوهن آشنا نیستند باید گفت که عنوان کتاب،یک سوال استفهامی ست و نه انکاری.آنگونه که کوهن اشاره کرده است،این سوالی نیست که در این کتاب جواب داده شده باشد.نویسنده در این کتاب نسبتا کوتاه استدلالی را در دفاع از سوسیالیسم بیان می کند و سپس در فصل های بعدی کتاب،جوانب گوناگون،نقاط قوت و ضعف استدلالش را می سنجد تا آنچه در مقدمه کتاب نیز گفته محقق شود
Feb 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Janet Bufton
May 03, 2015 rated it it was ok
I almost want to give this ambitious little book an extra star for pluck for all it tries to do in so few pages. Alas, it does not accomplish what it sets out to do.

Cohen's biggest problem in this book strawmans his opponents--he simply doesn't seem to understand them well enough to make what I can imagine being a persuasive case rather than simply talking past them. This undercuts his argument for socialism as an ideal. If, when he says, "We oughtn't rely on fear and greed to run our society",
Aug 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
An excellent little book, short enough to be read in a single sitting. It's almost a manifesto really, on how socialist values are really humanist values---egalitarian values---and how socialism is not easy to do, but is still worth trying.

It emphasizes that capitalism is founded upon our two most base emotions: Greed, and fear. (Gordon Gekko even said: "Greed is good." Milton Friedman agreed with him.) While acknowledging that these emotions are not going to disappear any time soon, Cohen focu
Mar 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
Cool little booklet about socialism, he demonstrates his ideas with an analogy to a camping trip that works really well. I'll probably find myself repeating the argument he puts forth here to people that I know because it is just so good.

In summary he takes a camping trip ran on the principles of capitalism and contrasts it with a camping trip ran on the principles of socialism. Then argues that clearly socialism is the nature way of life, and this analogy proves that the idea that free market c
The methodical techniques of analytical philosophy applied to the principles of socialism. It's about as honest a text as you can find, and its thought experiments are more bluff and straightforward than provocative and daring. For someone like me who pretty much considers himself a straight-up socialist, it's not going to change my mind, it's just going to give me a little more debate ammo. But for a sort of American progressive type that is intrigued by socialist ideas if not totally won over, ...more
Shane Wagoner
Nov 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
A well-written, systematic analysis of Cohen's socialist vision and its ethical justifications. Remarkably modest in its approach and clearly requesting a thoughtful reply, "Why Not Socialism?" does not scream its convictions from the hills, but rather asks, "Why not?"
Jon(athan) Nakapalau
A very good book that dissects Socialism to expose the muscle (practice) around the skeleton (theory) - the 'camping' example is excellent and is one of the best examinations I have ever read on this much discussed (but little understood) form of government.
Mar 10, 2016 rated it it was ok
Love the smallness of this book and the large and easy to read text. Part 1 enticed me, but the rest of the book fell off my interest scale. Overall 2/5 stars; read for a school conference.
Jan 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
A solid introductory, analytic defense of socialism - although not really groundbreaking if you are already in the Marxist camp. I'm looking forward to discussing this book with my students.
Justin Evans
Jan 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy
How many analytic philosophical journal articles deserve to be sold on their own as a book? None, not even this one. On the other hand, it's a beautiful little object, and Cohen was such a wonderful human being, and so smart, that I'm happy to have contributed something to whoever he decided to leave his copy rights to. This won't convince anyone that socialism is plausible, or even that it's preferable, at least in the short term. But perhaps some college kid somewhere will read it, and it will ...more
Betule Sairafi
My dad always bought us 3 of each toy, so I never had to share anything and now I’m so possessive over my shit that that first paragraph made me sick. I’m not saying I'm a capitalist; I don’t know enough about life except to assume that there’s no way to make it fair or good.

0 stars because it’s short and simple, mostly easy to understand for dummies like me, but I’m not sure what I got out of it except that socialism seems like a nightmare for introverts. Why is this high school essay available
Nov 03, 2016 rated it did not like it
If there is economic inequality how do you fix it?
Force. At gunpoint.
By what method do privately owned business become community owned (public) business?
Force. At gunpoint.

Socialism relies on forceful coercion and this is not mentioned and it is even presented as an ideal prospect. Although socialism, camping trip analogy can be useful as an introduction it skirts the issue of personal freedom.

Cohen states that people should be in a community because that serves their fellow man (and in neces
Amy Rose
Apr 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
This book was the perfect size; so little and cute and easy to hold. A mere 82 pages it was a nice light read and a perfect little explanation of modern day socialism.
Aug 12, 2017 rated it liked it
We need more of this type of book. A simple read for at most a couple of hours, focusing on key principles and laying them out in an accessible fashion. A strong point of the book is that it pries away objections that are often run together, so that they can be met individually. Another good point is that Cohen recognizes that we do not have an answer to the problem of large-scale resource distribution in a socialist society at the moment (though he points to some attempts). The weakest point is ...more
Nathan Courtright
Feb 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sam Strickland
Sep 02, 2018 rated it liked it
Came for the hypothetical camping trip, stayed for the socialism. Still not convinced to get with the program.
José Borges
Mar 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Um bom exercício para nos ajudar a pensar que o socialismo não é uma utopia, mas um caminho que se constrói. Não depende é de lugares comuns e portanto a maior parte das pessoas não quererá reflectir o necessário para o aceitar ou, mais difícil mas tão importante, negar os preconceitos ao pensamento.
Scout Collins
May 23, 2018 rated it it was ok
Why Not Socialism? has been on my to-reads list for a long time, since I saw a friend reading it a while ago. Unfortunately, it disappointed!

I was expecting an organized argument for socialism, and instead I got the author's unpredictable thought pattern which jumped from one thing to the next without warning (except for the chapter titles, but those didn't do much). I honestly did not really understand the book and my mind started wandering off when reading it because it wasn't holding my atten
Ali Amiri
جالبترین نکتهی این کتاب برای من نگاهِ واقعبینانهاش به نظام بازار و اساساً نامطلوب دانستنشه.
تو فصل آخر هم سوسیالیسم استوار بر بازار رو نقد میکنه و یه جا میگه: "...برخی از سوسیالیستهای معاصر به قدری شیفتهی سوسیالیسم استوار بر بازارند که فراموش میکنند بازار ذاتاً چیز نفرتانگیزی است، زیرا کشف دیرهنگامشان در مورد ارزش ابزاری بازار چشمهایشان را به روی این حقیقت بسته است."
شخصاً این اعتقاد رو درست میدونم و دست نکشیدن کوهن ازش رو قابل ستایش میدونم.
Hákun Djurhuus  Højgaard
Jul 09, 2017 rated it did not like it
The entire premise of the argument presented in the book is essentially based upon a logical fallacy, which is comparing the ideal version of socialism to the realistic version of capitalism and thereby drawing the conclusion: the ideal version of socialism is better than the realistic version of capitalism - therefore socialism is morally superior to capitalism.
I would recommend reading this book followed by reading "why not capitalism?" by Jason Brennan.
مختصر و مفید
Sharad Pandian
Sep 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This really is a fantastic book in how much it does in such little space.

I. Two socialist principles

Drawing on an imagined camping trip, Cohen argues that the kind of values we would support to organize ourselves and our fellow travelers would be socialist. Under this there would be a principle of equality of opportunity, according to which people can pursue what they want as long as they don't violate:

1. Bourgeois equality that opposes "socially constructed status restrictions, both formal and
Otto Lehto
Jan 18, 2017 rated it liked it
Cohen's concise classic has generated a whirlwind of commentary. The author's lucid prose is a joy to read. It appeals to some of our intuitions about justice and community in its attempt to justify socialism. But there is a general vagueness about the kind of socialism that Cohen is arguing for.

This is a problem, because without a working model, and without agreement on methods... well, then what? He mentions market socialism, the welfare state, basic income and state planning as possible alte
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“Of course, not everybody likes camping trips. I do not myself enjoy them much, because I'm not outdoorsy, or at any rate, I'm not outdoorsy overnight-without-a-matress-wise. There's a limit to the outdoorsiness to which some academics can be expected to submit.” 9 likes
“[T]he history of the twentieth century encourages the thought that the easiest way to generate productivity in a modern society is by nourishing the motives of which I spoke earlier, namely, those of greed and fear. But we should never forget that greed and fear are repugnant motives.” 1 likes
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