Tag Archives: capitalism

Robert Nozick

When I arrived in the fall of 1969, there was a philosophy course listed in the catalog entitled “Capitalism.” And the course description was “a moral examination of capitalism.” Of course, for most students, then, it would be taken for granted that a moral examination would be a moral condemnation of capitalism. But that’s not what I intended. We were going to read critics of capitalism. But we were also planning to read defenses of capitalism, and I was going to construct some of my own in the lectures. Some of the graduate students in the philosophy department knew what ideas I held, and they weren’t very happy about a course being taught in the department defending those ideas. Now it was true that there was another course in the department on Marxism by someone who was then a member of the Maoist Progressive Labor Party and students did not object to that. But still some students objected to my giving a lecture course on capitalism. I remember early in the fall (I guess I was scheduled to give the course in the spring term), a graduate student came to me at a departmental reception we had, and said, “We don’t know if you’re going to be allowed to give this course.” I said “What do you mean, not allowed to give this course?” He said, “Well, we know what ideas you hold. We just don’t know whether you will be allowed to give the course.” And I said, “If you come and disrupt my course, I’m going to beat the shit out of you!”

Robert Nozick, in Albert Zlabinger, ‘An Interview with Robert Nozick’, Libertarian Review (December, 1977), p. 15

Anna Funder

“How are you treated today, as a former Stasi man?’ I ask. I would like to find out why he is disguised as a westerner.

‘The foe has made a propaganda war against us, a slander and smear campaign. And therefore I don’t often reveal myself to people. But in Potsdam people come up and say’—he puts on a small sorry voice—‘“You were right. Capitalism is even worse than you told us it would be. In the GDR you could go out alone at night as a woman! You could leave your apartment door open!”’

You didn’t need to, I think, they could see inside anyway.

‘This capitalism is, above all, exploitation! It is unfair. It’s brutal. The rich get richer and the masses get steadily poorer. And capitalism makes war! German imperialism in particular! Each industrialist is a criminal at war with the other, each business at war with the next!’ He takes a sip of coffee and holds his hand up to stop me asking any more questions.

‘Capitalism plunders the planet too—this hole in the ozone layer, the exploitation of the forests, pollution—we must get rid of this social system! Otherwise the human race will not last the next fifty years!’

There is an art, a deeply political art, of taking circumstances as they arise and attributing them to your side or the opposition, in a constant tallying of reality towards ends of which it is innocent. And it becomes clear as he speaks that socialism, as an article of faith, can continue to exist in minds and hearts regardless of the miseries of history. This man is disguised as a westerner, the better to fit unnoticed into the world he finds himself in, but the more he talks the clearer it becomes that he is undercover, waiting for the Second Coming of socialism.

Anna Funder, Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall, New York, 2002, p. 86

Scott Alexander

A boot, stamping on a human face – forever!

No! Wait! Sorry! Wrong future for socialism! This is John Roemer’s A Future for Socialism, a book on how to build a kinder, gentler socialist economy. It argues for – and I believe proves – a bold thesis: a socialist economy is entirely compatible with prosperity, innovation, and consumer satisfaction – just as long as by “socialism”, you mean “capitalism”.

Scott Alexander, ‘Book Review: A Future For Socialism’, Slate Star Codex, October 24, 2014

Robert Nozick

The capitalist ideal of free and voluntary exchange, producers competing to serve consumer needs in the market, individuals following their own bent without outside coercive interference, nations relating as cooperating parties in trade, each individual receiving what others who have earned it choose to bestow for service, no sacrifice imposed on some by others, has been coupled with and provided a cover for other things: international predation, companies bribing governments abroad or at home for special privileges which enable them to avoid competition and exploit their specially granted position, the propping up of autocratic regimes—ones often based upon torture—that countenance this delimited private market, wars for the gaining of resources or market territories, the domination of workers by supervisors or employers, companies keeping secret some injurious effects of their products or manufacturing processes, etc.

Robert Nozick, ‘The Ideal and the Actual’, in The Examined Life, New York, 1989, p. 280

Jeffrey Reiman

The invisibility of exploitative force in capitalism results from the fact that, in capitalism, overt force is supplanted by force built into the very structure of the system of ownership and the classes defined by that system.

Jeffrey Reiman, ‘Exploitation, Force, and the Moral Assessment of Capitalism’, Philosophy & Public Affairs, vol. 16, no. 1 (Winter, 1987), p. 12

David Schweickart

If one looks at the works of the major apologists for capitalism, Milton Friedman, for example, or F. A. Hayek, one finds the focus of the apology always on the virtues of the market and on the vices of central planning. Rhetorically this is an effective strategy, for it is much easier to defend the market than to defend the other two defining institutions of capitalism. Proponents of capitalism know well that it is better to keep attention directed toward the market and away from wage labor or private ownership of the means of production.

David Schweickart, ‘Market Socialism: A Defense’, in Bertell Ollman (ed.), Market Socialism: the Debate Among Socialists, New York, 1998, p. 11

Alan Carter

[W]hen defenders of capitalism frequently compare socialist East with the industrialized West, they choose the richest and most liberal capitalist countries for the comparison. This is analogous to defending feudalism by drawing attention to the happy condition of the nobility, while forgetting that their wealth and leisure are the obverse of the poverty of their serfs. So, similarly, the rich capitalist countries are paraded as exemplars of a wholesome social order. However, when the West is acknowledged to be far from self-sufficient and is seen to be part of an international economic system which includes the exploitation of the Third World as a basis for the high standard of living experienced in the developed nations, or at the very least is seen to induce underdevelopment in other parts of the, then it is this internationally exploitative system as a whole which must be compared with the socialist countries. And in this comparison capitalism (which must include Third World misery) dose not fare so well.

Alan Carter, Marx: A Radical Critique, Brighton, 1988, p. 4

Noam Chomsky

One of the issues which has devastated a substantial portion of the left in recent years, and caused enormous triumphalism elsewhere, is the alleged fact that there’s been this great battle between socialism and capitalism in the twentieth century, and in the end capitalism won and socialism lost—and the reason we know that socialism lost is because the Soviet Union disintegrated. So you have big cover stories in The Nation about “The End of Socialism,” and you have socialists who all their lives considered themselves anti-Stalinist saying, “Yes, it’s true, socialism has lost because Russia failed.” I mean, even to raise questions about this is something you’re not supposed to do in our culture, but let’s try it. Suppose you ask a simple question: namely, why do people like the editors at The Nation say that “socialism” failed, why don’t they say that “democracy” failed?—and the proof that “democracy” failed is, look what happened to Eastern Europe. After all, those countries also called themselves “democratic”—in fact, they called themselves “People’s Democracies,” real advanced forms of democracy. So why don’t we conclude that “democracy” failed, not just that “socialism” failed? Well, I haven’t seen any articles anywhere saying, “Look, democracy failed, let’s forget about democracy.” And it’s obvious why: the fact that they called themselves democratic doesn’t mean that they were democratic. Pretty obvious, right?

Noam Chomsky, Understanding Power, New York, 2002, p. 145

MTD de Solano y Colectivo Situaciones

[Y]o no sé si el fenómeno comunista ruso fue alguna vez comunista, sino más bien la reproducción del capitalismo. Porque de última terminó siendo tan gorila y tan hijo de puta como el propio capitalismo. Porque cuando hay alguien que piensa por vos, se está reproduciendo el capitalismo. Es un verso más, aunque le pongas el título que le pongas. Porque estás cambiando el nombre de “capitalismo”, nada más.

MTD de Solano y Colectivo Situaciones, La hipótesis 891: más allá de los piquetes, Buenos Aires, 2002, p. 76

Noam Chomsky

I’m in favor of democracy, which means that the central institutions in the society have to be under popular control. Now, under capitalism we can’t have democracy by definition. Capitalism is a system in which the central institutions of society are in principle under autocratic control. Thus, a corporation or an industry is, if we were to think of it in political terms, fascist; that is, it has tight control at the top and strict obedience has to be established at every level—there’s a little bargaining, a little give and take, but the line of authority is perfectly straightforward. Just as I’m opposed to political fascism, I’m opposed to economic fascism. I think that until major institutions of society are under the popular control of participants and communities, it’s pointless to talk about democracy. In this sense, I would describe myself as a libertarian socialist—I’d love to see centralized power eliminated, whether it’s the state or the economy, and have it diffused and ultimately under direct control of the participants. Moreover, I think that’s entirely realistic. Every bit of evidence that exists (there isn’t much) seems to show, for example, that workers’ control increases efficiency. Nevertheless, capitalists don’t want it, naturally; what they’re worried about is control, not the loss of productivity or efficiency.

Noam Chomsky, ‘One man’s view: Noam Chomsky. Are universities too conservative? Do they collude with corporations to obscure the way power works in our society? Noam Chomsky thinks so and explains why’, Business Today, May, 1973