I want to highlight the similarity in conclusions in Mirowski's recent book and Reed's controversial essay (see references below). Their understanding of the current conjuncture is fairly dispiriting. The right is winning in mass consciousness, despite their ideas being incoherent and vicious from an intellectual perspective. And their ideas extend over the entirety of the political spectrum, at least if one restricts oneself to what is seen to be practical. Arguments over how to make existing markets work better or to address current problems by constructing new markets, for example, accept the inevitability of capitalism.
Both Mirowski and Reed have something to say about what must be done by the left now. What is needed is a collective development of a leftist alternative. Those developing such an alternative need to be part of a group, like the Mont Pelerin Society was for the development of neoliberalism. And those developing this alternative, at least in their role in such a group, should not be overly concerned with the vagaries of this or that election in this or that country. This is a long term project, which, if successful, will spawn other groups over decades more concerned with implementation in specific times and places.
Are these authors correct in arguing the left does not currently have an inspiring vision to put before the public? You can talk about social democracy, but is that a way forward now? Are there powerful institutionalized groups working to improve our societies based on an architectonic view of what is possible? It seems to me more of a rearguard movement in advanced industrialized countries. And what about further left? I am aware of various statements of ideals - for example, Davidson and Davidson (1996), Rorty (1999)- but, without being built upon by a movement, these seem kind of idiosyncratic and quixotic to me.
An aside: If Mirowski is going to read literature produced by well-known writers who taught at Syracuse University, I wish he would mix some Raymond Carver in with the David Foster Wallace he has been reading.References
- Greg Davidson and Paul Davidson (1996). Economics for a Civilized Society, M. E. Sharp. [I HAVEN'T READ THIS]
- Philip Mirowski (2013). Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste: How Neoliberalism Survived the Financial Meltdown, Verso.
- Adolph Reed Jr. (2014). Nothing Left: The Long, Slow Surrender of American Liberals, Harper's (March).
- Richard Rorty (1999). Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America.