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Why Not Socialism?

3.45  ·  Rating details ·  921 ratings  ·  113 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
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Hardcover, 83 pages
Published September 13th 2009 by Princeton University Press (first published August 24th 2009)
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Micah
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
Simon
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
Andrew
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
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C
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
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Marco
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
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",
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Dan
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
...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
Jon 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.
Felicity
Feb 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Patrick
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
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Matej
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
Andrew
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?"
Colette
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.
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
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Nativeabuse
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
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Amy
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.
Bookshark
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.
Martyn
A slight book the principle purpose of which seems to be a pick me up for those who believe in some kind of socialist solution to our predicament. It works on that level and certainly contains a couple of ideas that would be worth teasing out in a longer format, such as the differentiation between the ways that outwardly similar groups on the left (bourgeois liberals, left liberals and socialists) define and work toward solutions for inequality - in my experience many on "the left" have little t ...more
Shawn
It's shocking that any thinker takes this famous book at all seriously. While I didn't expect to agree with Cohen or find his arguments ultimately persuasive, I did expect at least to find an argument. But this is how I would summarize the book: "Let’s assume markets produce unjust results. Let’s assume socialist equality is ideal. Therefore, socialism--even though I admit it is not feasible. " The camping trip thought experiment is utterly unconvincing and not realistic. It baldy confuses coope ...more
Zahra
Jul 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
I can't say I didn't enjoy the book or didn't find it enlightening but from a book titled "Why Not Socialism" you'd probably expect a wrought, delineated book on the subject not an introduction on the primary level, oblivious of the title. In addition, I encountered many claims and assumptions, lacking enough proof or illustrations.
If you don't have any familiarity with socialism this can be a rather beneficial book to start with but for sure it can't be a comprehensive book on the defense of S
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Jeffrey Myers
A very short book that doesn't reach any earth-shaking conclusions. Not particularly engaging. An example of why novels are so much better than philosophy with its little thought experiments--in this case a camping trip. At least Plato had dialogue to engage readers. Novels are sloppier but more complex psychologically, which is what is needed with this topic. Professor Cohen should write a novel on this theme (or have someone write one for him). Of course, I'm being unfair by asking of this wor ...more
Stephen Rhodes
Jan 25, 2019 rated it it was ok
Honestly, the author of this short book tries to explain socialism using familiar and simple metaphors, but his writing style is far from simple. It ultimately fails to do what it set out to do which is to explain socialism in a plain and understandable way. Needless to say, I found it disappointing.
Daniel Hickman
Dec 30, 2019 rated it did not like it
It's short, so that's nice. It was hard to pin down the author's reasoning sometimes, probably because the argument depth was lacking. But the book did help me see from his perspective. I wish he'd actually define "socialism" (or any terms for that matter)... it appears he's treating "socialism" as primarily a value-system and simultaneously as an economic-system, yet never gives any explanation as to why the two must be joined-together. It's a problem when during the whole book I'm trying to fi ...more
Lewis
Apr 04, 2020 rated it liked it
Short and easy reading. Cohen briefly describes normative socialist principles and considers the sorts of inequality that they permit (E.g. inequality resultant from option luck). Moreover, he ponders whether socialism is feasible generally, but also in light of some criticisms often raised by those who live like capitalists every day.
Gy
Jul 17, 2020 rated it did not like it
Shelves: junk
Luckily, just 83 pages of socialist marxist camping trip.
Luckily, I didn't buy Mr. Cohen's book, just borrowed it. The guy is a socialist who would rather be a communist, so he should share his knowledge for free. I like socialists who live as capitalists, as I like the priests preaching about water, but always drinking wine.

Nathan Courtright
Feb 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Lucas Chance
Apr 01, 2019 rated it liked it
The "camping trip" is a good analogy, but nothing really new or eye opening here
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Gerald Allan Cohen FBA (/ˈkoʊən/; 1941–2009), known as G. A. Cohen or Jerry Cohen, was a Canadian Marxist political philosopher who held the positions of Quain Professor of Jurisprudence, University College London and Chichele Professor of Social and Political Theory, All Souls College, Oxford.

Born into a communist Jewish family in Montreal, Quebec, on 14 April 1941, Cohen was educated at McGill U
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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.” 2 likes
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