Wednesday, November 16, 2011


The other week, while trying to write a fair and unbiased review of an article for the journal Organization & Environment, I felt a need to let off some steam. Unfortunately, I chose to do so here on Rawls & Me rather than over a beer with my colleagues.

Little did I expect the strong reactions that my blog post would provoke. On one hand, this is of course a good thing since it is shows that people are actually interested in these important topics. On the other hand, I am afraid that my quick and sloppy way of writing may have led to some unnecessary misunderstandings.

First, I should clarify that the references to Gramscians had nothing to do with this particular paper but more with the kind of general anti-capitalist rhetoric which seems to permeate much scholarship these days. It is rhetoric which spares no ammunition when it comes to describing the failings of global capitalism, yet offers very little in terms of what an alternative global order could look like.

One of the great ideas of social democracy was that it allowed for pluralism, that it offered a future that could inspire many different sorts of people rather than requiring homogenization around a single monolithic vision of society in the way communism or fascism did. I still believe that the future must be built on a similar compromise, that it must take seriously the possibility that not everyone who believes in capitalism suffers from “false consciousness”, but still make sure that we keep society moving in a progressive direction towards greater emancipation. It is about using markets for what they are good for (decentralized decision-making and the accumulation of wealth) while not using them for providing basic social functions such as healthcare or education (which should rather be based on duty or scientific curiosity).

Because of our fallibility as humans we need effective limits on authority and check-and-balances. I am scared by those who think that “science should trump politics” and who think that everyone must submit to their own worldview or die. At the same time, we urgently need to make progress towards sustainability and this is why I wish more scholars would dare to make the move from simply “deconstruction” of existing power relations to plausible ideas about how we can transform these relations in a progressive direction.

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