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PATHS IN UTOPIA: a book review by Michael Harrington - Catholic Worker odds & ends
July 17th, 2008
07:50 am


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PATHS IN UTOPIA: a book review by Michael Harrington
Paths In Utopia by Martin Buber, Macmillan & Co. 1950. Reviewed by Michael Harrington.

To put it simply: anyone interested in a social order based on both political and economic freedom should read this book.

Martin Buber is Professor of Social Philosophy at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He uses the term Utopian, but he restores it, gives it a proper meaning. The visionary societies of history are a concrete image which arouse " the whole might of faith, ordain purpose and plan." Yet they call upon us here and now to work with the means at hand in the creation of a new society. It was valuable for Jonathan Swift to make men nine inches and nine feet tall in Gulliver's Travels---the exaggeration emphasized the fact of their actual nature. It was valuable for Thomas More to indicate that Utopia should include lectures before breakfast, not as a matter of practical worth but as a vivid emphasis on the place of learning in community life. The result of action will always be an approximation---the policeless, stateless, coercionless society will probably never come into being. But this radical statement of principle clarifies the direction our efforts should take.

We begin now. Our philosophy is redemptive. Salvation depends on the individual Christian and his immediate choice, the future of society, heaven or hell, depends of the individual citizen and his immediate choice. We cannot, like Marx (and, tragically like Lenin and Stalin), call for political revolution, a mere change in government or law. If revolution is to be successful, it must occur within society before a sudden moment of political upheaval gives it legal recognition.

The Kibbutz in the Holy Land was a reality before the State of Israel, the American labor union was a reality before the Wagner Act or the NRA. These revolutions succeeded. But in Russia, political means are called upon to achieve social revolution, terror to achieve freedom, centralism to wither the state away. The Stalinist seeks, not redemption through the free creation of a new form within society, but apocalypse, the mystic, single and inevitable moment when humanity emerges from a welter of contradiction and humanity "leaps out of the realm of necessity into the realm of freedom."

Thus Buber demands that the Utopian be hardheaded---more so than the Stalinist. He must realize that a society is a voluntary association of men around some natural function which binds them together. The state is society's organ for achieving through coercion and law that which it cannot achieve freely. Society then cannot be created by a state, by political means---it depends upon free will. If the "utopian" calls for production consonant with human dignity, for for worker ownership of the means of production, he must accept the consequences of that vision. He cannot rely on the ballot box, or the barricades, or a general strike. He must begin, here and now, to set up cooperative groups, to aid the communal spirit wherever it manifests itself, even in capitalist societies. To give that communal spirit a revolutionary purpose.

Buber's ideas (which he derives from a brilliant critical analysis of Saint-Simon, Owen, Fourier, Prudhon, Kropotkin, Landauer, Marx and Lenin) are close to, if not identical with, the concept of the Christian "leaven" in society on which Maritain has written. And in the light of clear Papal pronouncements on the social and non-political character of Catholic Action, they deserve to be considered as an important contribution to the philosophy of the lay apostolate. (from the July-August, 1951 issue of THE CATHOLIC WORKER)

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Date:July 18th, 2008 09:44 am (UTC)
Date:September 17th, 2008 04:09 pm (UTC)

Europe’s Permanent Revolution

Europe’s Permanent Revolution

From the desk of John Laughland, Brussels Journal, on Wed, 2008-01-23 16:47

The introduction of the Lisbon treaty this week for ratification by the House of Commons reminds us that the European Union has been in a state of permanent revolution now for more than two decades.

Ever since the Single European Act was passed in 1986, there has been a new treaty every three or four years: Maastricht (1992), Amsterdam (1997), Nice (2000), the European Constitution (2004) and now Lisbon. In addition to this, three new member states joined in 1995, ten more in 2004, fifteen national currencies were abolished in 1999, and the Schengen agreement abolishing border controls was signed in 1985, amended in 1990, and extended to nine new states at Christmas.

Pro-Europeans have often compared the EU to a bicycle, saying that it must always move forward or else fall over. They evidently do not know how to ride a bicycle, since when a bicycle stops, it is usually placed carefully against a wall until it is needed again. One assumes, though, that their choice of the bicycle metaphor was inadvertent, since it was originally used by Che Guevara to describe the revolution which also had to keep moving forward permanently or risk collapse.

Or was it inadvertent? Just as Valéry Giscard d’Estaing more or less admitted in Le Monde on 26 October 2007 that the Lisbon treaty had been written in an impenetrably style (as a series of amendments to existing treaties) in order to obviate the need for a simple Yes or No answer in a referendum (indeed, the government of all EU states have collaborated with one another to ensure that there will be no popular vote), so there are several commentators on Europe who specifically say that they like it because it is a post-modern political construction, i.e. a construction in which nothing is clear and everything is in a permanent state of flux.

One of these commentators is Ulrich Beck, a German who teaches at the London School of Economics. This historically unique form of international community,” Beck wrote recently in The Guardian, “cannot be explained in terms of the traditional concepts of politics and the state.” Europe was neither a federation of states nor a federal super-state but instead something which guarantees “the coexistence of different ethnic, religious and political forms of life across national borders based on the principle of cosmopolitian tolerance.”

Like the ideas in which he claims to believe, Beck’s writing is not clear. What is clear is that he thinks that “Europeanisation means creating new politics” – a new politics in which nation and state are henceforth separate. More clear is the writing of the Italian philosopher and MEP, Gianni Vattimo. Like Beck, Vattimo clearly believes that “Europe” has replaced socialism as a political utopia: Beck calls Europe “Europe’s last remaining realistic political utopia” – “last remaining”, one assumes, because socialism has vanished – while Vattimo writes more explicitly, “The European ideal is a valid, perhaps the only valid, substitute for the Marxist project for the construction of a disalienated society.” [L’Unita, 24 January 2002]

Vattimo goes on, “Europe, as a project of political construction which is founded solely on free adhesion – of citizens and of states with equal rights – is today the most visible manifestation of an anti-naturalist policy.” By anti-naturalist, he means that it is not based on any form of heredity or nationhood – no “blood” or “soil”. As such, he writes, it is a Marxist concept. (Vattimo also calls it Christian and socialist too, but that it because he promotes a deliberately self-contradictory personal philosophy, according to which he thanks God for the fact that he is an atheist.)

There is no doubt that the cosmopolitanism which so excites Beck, Vattimo and others has Marxist antecedents. Cosmopolitanism was one of Marxism’s most important tenets, encapsulated by the slogan, “The worker has no country”. Marx and Engels wrote excitedly in The Communist Manifesto of how world capitalism would destroy family and nation and thereby usher in world socialism. They wrote...

(Cont.) http://www.brusselsjournal.com/node/2893 (http://www.brusselsjournal.com/node/2893)
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