[Reference] Review (Socialism: Berki) – Kahn

Review: [untitled]
Author(s): Mark E. Kann
Reviewed work(s): Socialism by R. N. Berki
Source: The American Political Science Review, Vol. 72, No. 2 (Jun., 1978), pp. 633-634
Published by: American Political Science Association
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1954117

1978 Political Theory and Methodology 633

Socialism. By R. N. Berki. (New York: St. Martin’s, 1975. Pp. 155. $10.95.)
A number of good books are easily condemned on a chapter-by-chapter basis but nevertheless contain a holistic integrity and ingenuity of thesis. If Louis Hartz’s The Liberal Tradition in America had been published in serial form, it is likely we would have missed the overall brilliance of the work. On a less grand scale, R. N. Berki’s Socialism is a book of this type.

After aptly criticizing current characterizations of modern “socialism,” Berki presents his main thesis: “Socialism is not a single thing, but a range, an area, an open texture, a self-contradiction” (p. 16). The rest of the work explains the nature of that range, area, texture and self-contradiction. Involved in the explanation is the intellectual, social and political history of at least three centuries and five continents, tersely presented in 150 pages. Given this approach, it is obvious why Berki is easily open to criticisms of shallowness, oversimplification, reductionism, and ambiguity. But were one to stop here, the true worth of this book would be lost.

Berki contributes to our understanding of modern socialism in two ways. First, he provides an analytical framework which convincingly differentiates four normative tendencies in socialist thought and their historical representatives. Socialist “egalitarianism” is associated with the underdeveloped world; socialist “moralism” is linked to Western social democracy; socialist “rationalism” is tied to Eastern European/Soviet communism; and socialist “libertarianism” is connected to the New Left.  His point is not that one value defines the essence of each variant; rather, Berki demonstrates that the primacy of one value is always in historical tension with (if it does not contradict) the other three. As a whole, this framework helps us understand the relationships between representatives of the different socialisms.

Marxist humanism becomes a “moralistic” critique of Soviet bureaucratism; Soviet “rationalism” is antagonistic to Chinese “egalitarianism”; Cuban “egalitarianism” constitutes a critique of New Left “libertarianism” and so on. Berki’s scheme helps us sort out and understand the intellectual bases for shifting socialist alliances and antagonisms, just as Hartz’s scheme does for American liberalism.

Berki’s second contribution to our understanding of modern socialism is to provide an overall sense of how socialism fits into a twentieth-century world. He skillfully demonstrates that socialist thought and practice are rooted in the complexities and contradictions of the Enlightenment which heretofore has been considered a liberal realm. He looks to those unclassifiable but influential thinkers who have done much to shape modern understanding for socialists and non-socialists alike: Rousseau (egalitarianism), St. Simon (rationalism), Owen (moralism) and Fourier (libertarianism). Furthermore, he devotes a (sometimes inadequate) chapter to Marx as a post-Enlightenment figure who affected the thought

634 The American Political Science Review Vol. 72

of socialists and liberals alike. The inference he draws from this analysis is that the Enlightenment essentially defined the problems of the modern world and that modern socialists (rather than liberals) capture the awareness of ambiguity and contradiction characteristic of the Enlightenment.

Enlightenment thought provoked the need to reconcile individualism and collectivism, compromise and revolution, scientific progress with human growth. While modem liberals generally shy away from facing (let alone reconciling) these antagonisms, Berki shows us that the range of modern socialism represents diverse attempts to face these questions, the questions of modernity. He has no illusion that socialists have discovered the answers-indeed, he is a good critic of each variant of socialism- but he argues that socialist heterogeneity, inspired by the Enlightenment, is healthy: “The contradictions of socialism are the contradictions of the age” (p. 20). His conclusion is that no one socialism adequately answers modem questions but the range of modem socialism constitutes a needed dialogue concerning these questions, a dialogue not characteristic of modern liberalism.

Unfortunately, Berki’s book lacks a conclu- sion. Let me suggest a few inferences an American might draw from his analysis: (1) The “hyper-liberalism (rationalism, libertarianism) of some socialists and the “anti-liberalism” (egalitarianism, moralism) of other socialists is a useful framework for understanding the history of the American left, particularly the New Left. (2) That all socialists (and some left-liberals) share a concern with the same questions points to the existence of a normative ground for a leftist dialogue which goes beyond the sectarianism endemic in reformist/revolutionary movements. Berki demonstrates that socialism is neither a paradigm antagonistic to “liberalism” nor a number of discrete paradigms antagonistic to one another. Rather, it is an area of theory and practice which confronts the major values and dilemmas of our era. Berki’s Socialism is an excellent source for understanding what may be the primary political perspective of the twentieth century and the justification for governance of more than half the world’s people.

University of Southern California


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