The idea of socialism has given normative grounding and orientation to the outrage over capitalism for more than 150 years, and yet today it seems to have lost much of its appeal. Despite growing discontent, many would hesitate to invoke socialism when it comes to envisioning life beyond capitalism. How can we explain the rapid decline of this once powerful idea? And what must we do to renew it for the twenty-first century?
In this lucid, political-philosophical essay, Axel Honneth argues that the idea of socialism has lost its luster because its theoretical assumptions stem from the industrial era and are no longer convincing in our contemporary post-industrial societies. Only if we manage to replace these assumptions with a concept of history and society that corresponds to our current experiences will we be able to restore confidence in a project whose fundamental idea remains as relevant today as it was a century ago the idea of an economy that realizes freedom in solidarity.
The Idea of Socialism was awarded the Bruno Kreisky Prize for the Political Book of 2015.
Joshua Cohen, Stanford University
Axel Honneth makes a lucid and compelling case for renewing the utopian impulse of the early Marx in the context of the present. In this quite remarkable book, Honneth asks why various contemporary forms of discontent do not easily transform into a vision of the future. He returns to the early documents of socialism in order to mark their limits and to formulate a more substantial account of social freedom. The great ambition of this small book is to show that a more robust understanding of social freedom, cooperative life, and ideals of solidarity, can be derived from a reformulated account of the social sphere. In his view, freedom only makes sense on the basis of cooperative orientations. This early ideal can, and must, be renewed in light of the contemporary differentiation of needs, and the contemporary political demands on communication and recognition. Mindful of what remains vibrant in the past and imperative for the future, Honneth deftly shows how the ideal of socialism can orient our thought and action in the contemporary political world.
Judith Butler, University of California, Berkeley