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2015 (37) Issue 1-2

The Normative Turn from Marxism


Abstracts | Table of Contents | From the Editors

I. Marx and Ethics: Coherent Company?

Martin Jay
Marx and Mendacity: Can There Be a Politics without Hypocrisy?

Abstract: As demonstrated by Marx’s fierce defence of his integrity when anonymously accused of lying in l872, he was a principled believer in both personal honesty and the value of truth in politics. Whether understood as enabling an accurate, ‘scientific’ depiction of the contradictions of the present society or a normative image of a truly just society to come, truth-telling was privileged by Marx over hypocrisy as a political virtue. Contemporary Marxists like Alain Badiou continue this tradition, arguing that revolutionary politics should be understood as a ‘truth procedure’. Drawing on the alternative position of political theorists such as Hannah Arendt, who distrusted the monologic and absolutist implications of a strong notion of truth in politics, this paper defends the role that hypocrisy and mendacity, understood in terms of lots of little lies rather than one big one, can play in a pluralist politics, in which, pace Marx, rhetoric, opinion and the clash of values resist being subsumed under a singular notion of the truth.

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Brian Leiter
Why Marxism Still Does Not Need Normative Theory

Abstract: Marx did not have a normative theory, that is, a theory that purported to justify, discursively and systematically, his normative opinions, to show them to be rationally obligatory or objectively valid. In this regard, Marx was obviously not alone: almost everyone, including those who lead what are widely regarded as exemplary ‘moral’ lives, decide and act on the basis of normative intuitions and inclinations that fall far short of a theory. Yet self-proclaimed Marxists like G. A. Cohen and Jürgen Habermas have reintroduced a kind of normative theory into the Marxian tradition that Marx himself would have ridiculed. This essay defends Marx’s position and tries to explain the collapse of Western Marxism into bourgeois practical philosophy, i.e., philosophizing about what ought to be done that is unthreatening to capitalist relations of production.

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Raymond Geuss
The Moral Legacy of Marxism

Abstract: Marx would not have anything much to contribute to contemporary discussions of ‘normativity’, because he would reject various of the assumptions on which they rest. Thus, he does not believe it possible to isolate ‘moral normativity’ as a distinct object of decontextualised study so as to derive from it rationally grounded imperative to individual action. This does not mean that Marx can provide no orientation for human action, but this has a different nature and structure. Marx suspicions of ethical theories are well founded, but his own productivist assumptions should be revisited.

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II. G. A. Cohen's Development

Fabien Tarrit
G. A. Cohen and Marxism

Abstract: The philosopher Gerald A. Cohen died on the 5th of August 2009. His contributions were at first based on Marx’s thought. He really appeared on the intellectual stage in 1978 with his Karl Marx’s Theory of History: A Defence. Later on, he gradually departed from Marx’s theory. He discussed the libertarian concept of self-ownership and the possibility of associating it with a Marxist approach, before entering into the normative debate around Rawls’s Theory of Justice, while his Marxism was withering away. Based on Kantian philosophy, his critique of Rawls was that he allowed too little autonomy to individual choices. This paper discusses the consistency of Jerry Cohen’s intellectual journey with regards to his relation with Marx’s work.

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John E. Roemer
Thoughts on G. A. Cohen’s Final Testament

Abstract: I present briefly G. A. Cohen’s theory of distributive justice, discuss the relationship that I think he believed held between human nature and justice, and offer thoughts on the feasibility of Cohenesque justice, or Cohenesque socialism. I introduce the idea of Kantian equilibrium, as a way of explaining how people cooperate. Expanding the domain of activities in which humans cooperate will, I believe, go a long way towards achieving Cohenesque socialism, and the history of human society suggests it is feasible to do so.

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Jason Brennan
Equality, Community, and Diversity in Cohen’s Socialist Ideal

Abstract: The ‘community principle’ is crucial to G. A. Cohen’s argument for socialism, because it is the best independent argument he has adduced for his strongly egalitarian conclusions. Cohen argues that even small differences in wealth ought to be prohibited because they bring us out of community with one another. In this paper, I show that his underlying premises lead to some repugnant conclusions, and thus should be rejected. If Cohen is right that even small differences in wealth can upset community, then, by the very psychological mechanisms he identifies, we should think that other differences, such as differences in religion, conceptions of the good, race, or taste, should also upset community. Cohen is thus caught in a trap: the more strongly egalitarian his community principle is, the more it not only prohibits differences of wealth, but diversity of any kind, including the forms of diversity we should celebrate rather than reject.

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Julian Culp
G. A. Cohen, Constructivism, and the Fact of Reasonable Pluralism

Abstract: In this article I argue that G.A. Cohen is mistaken in his belief that the concept of justice needs to be rescued from constructivist theorists of justice. In doing so, I rely on insights of John Rawls’ later work Political Liberalism and Rainer Forst’s discourse theory of justice. Such critical engagement with Cohen’s critique of constructivism is needed, because Cohen bases his critique of constructivism almost exclusively on Rawls’s arguments and positions in A Theory of Justice. He thus neglects—at least by and large—that Rawls had further developed his constructivist method of justification in his later work Political Liberalism, as well as that Forst’s discourse-theoretical works offer elaborate versions of constructivism. These refined versions of constructivism recognize a plurality of reasonable conceptions of ideal justice and draw an important distinction between moral and political constructivism. Because of these features these advanced constructivist theories are not in need of Cohen’s rescue.

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III. Marx and Liberalism

Jeffrey Reiman
The Theory of Marxian Liberalism

Abstract: Marxian Liberalism is a theory of justice that results from combining the liberal belief that people have a natural right to be free from unwanted coercion, with the Marxian belief that property is coercive. This combination implies that property must be consented to by all people who do or will exist—and thus such consent must be theoretical. Theoretical consent occurs in a Marxian-liberal original position among parties whose knowledge includes Marxian and liberal beliefs. The parties find it rational to consent to a state that protects liberty, and to a system of property governed by the difference principle interpreted according to a moral version of the labor theory of value.

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John Christman
Freedom in Times of Struggle: Positive Liberty, Again

Abstract: Many of those critical of traditional liberalism have focused on the notion of freedom at the center of that approach, namely the (negative) idea of liberty as the absence of interferences with action. Building a plausible and normatively acceptable positive alternative, however, has faced numerous criticisms and challenges. In this paper I discuss what such critics of liberalism see as the limitations of the traditional negative notion and sketch the core components of a positive alternative. Specifically I suggest that the dimensions of liberty should contain the positive elements of capabilities and agent authenticity. After laying out the core of these ideas I briefly defend them against standard objections. In doing so, I argue that such a positive notion is necessary to capture the dominance of the language of freedom in contexts of resistance and struggle in the actual, non-ideal, world.

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James P. Sterba
Libertarianism on the Brink

Abstract: I argue that recent developments in my on-going debate with Jan Narveson have brought libertarianism to the brink where it is now able to cross over and join forces with welfare liberalism and even socialism. I summarize my debate with Narveson and then argue that a public concession Narveson made at recent meeting along with a new argument he advanced in response to that public concession have now brought libertarianism to this momentous brink where it can now be seen to cross over into the welcoming arms of welfare liberals and socialists.

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Jan Narveson
Sterba on Liberty and Welfarism

Abstract: James Sterba advances several arguments designed to show that libertarianism, contrary to what this author and other libertarians think, actually implies support for welfarism and even egalitarianism. This discussion shows why his arguments do not work. There is preliminary discussion of our parameters: how much is Sterba claiming we have a minimum right to in the way of welfare? It is argued that if this is set very low, a libertarian society would easily eliminate the poverty he is concerned about, and if it is set very high, then the standard could be unmeetable and certainly could not have been met until very recently at the least. More abstractly, it is argue that Sterba is in error about the normative assumptions required for libertarianism’s strong distinction between nonharm and outright help. Once these are cleared up, it is seen that his case depends on equivocation. The duty not to harm simply does not imply a duty to help. In the closing pages, a contractarian framework is advanced to explain the libertarian’s disaffection for the kind of ‘strong’ rights Sterba wants to uphold.

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James P. Sterba
A Response to Jan Narveson: Why Libertarians Are and Are Not Like Turnips

Abstract: I show how Jan Narveson’s critique fails to unseat my central argument that harm cuts both ways in our assumed idealized conflict situations, such that sometimes the poor harm the rich and sometimes the rich harm the poor. I further show how this supports my overall argument that libertarianism has gone over the brink into the waiting arms of welfare liberals and socialists. I also reject the other reasons that Narveson provides for not recognizing the welfare rights of distant peoples and future generations which are independent of my argument about harm.

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IV. Repercussions

Karl Widerquist / Grant McCall
Myths about the State of Nature and the Reality of Stateless Societies

Abstract: This article argues the following points. The Hobbesian hypothesis, which we define as the claim that all people are better off under state authority than they would be outside of it, is an empirical claim about all stateless societies. It is an essential premise in most contractarian justifications of government sovereignty. Many small-scale societies are stateless. Anthropological evidence from them provides sufficient reason to doubt the truth of the hypothesis, if not to reject it entirely. Therefore, contractarian theory has not done what it claims to do: it has not justified state sovereignty to each person subject to it by demonstrating that they benefit from that authority. To be justified in contractarian terms, states have to do something to improve the living standards of disadvantaged people under their rule.

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Christopher Craig Brittain
Horkheimer, Religion, and the Normative Grounds of Critical Theology

Abstract: This essay examines how the legacy of Marx’s emancipatory commitments continues to be intertwined with his critique of religion. This is illustrated with reference to Raymond Geuss’s claim that Marxism’s political failure is related its lack of an adequate moral theory, a view that leads him to suggest that Marxism needs to function more like a ‘pseudo-religion’. These issues are analysed by drawing from Max Horkheimer’s writing on Christianity, which imply that materialist critical theory will be resourced by attention to particular historical expressions of religion. The paper argues that such an approach requires a distinction between two strands of Marx’s critique of religion—an ‘eliminationist’ and a ‘descriptive functionalist’ perspective—and involves privileging the second strand over the first. The implication is not that religion resolves the question of the ground of Marxism’s normative critique; rather, what is advanced is view that the critical theory can be supported and resourced by a critique of the ‘religion of everyday life’.

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Michael W. Howard
Exploitation, Labor, and Basic Income

Abstract: Proposals for a universal basic income have reemerged in public discourse for a variety of reasons. Marx’s critique of exploitation suggests two apparently opposed positions on a basic income. On the one hand, a basic income funded from taxes on labor would appear to be exploitative of workers. On the other hand, a basic income liberates everyone from the vulnerable condition in which one is forced to sell one’s labor in order to survive, and so seems to be one way of abolishing exploitation at its root. This paper will develop a conception of exploitation that resolves the conflict in favor of basic income. The conception of exploitation is grounded in a liberal egalitarian conception of justice rather than in Marx’s labor theory of value or an exclusive focus on the worker-capitalist relation. This position is not premised on an acceptance of the basic institutions of capitalism, but rather is a standpoint from which to evaluate them. It is not necessary to downsize our ideas of freedom and equality. But it is less obvious than it appeared in classic Marxist formulations that socialism is necessary for social justice. To quote the title of a famous article, there could be a ‘capitalist road to communism’, if a substantial basic income is feasible in a capitalist society.

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Gijs van Donselaar
In Company of the Funny Sunny Surfer off Malibu: A Response to Michael Howard (and Some Others)

Abstract: In ‘Exploitation, Labor, and Basic Income’ Michael Howard undertakes to defend an Unconditional Basic Income (UBI) as non-exploitative, and on a revised conception of what Marx called ‘exploitation’. Without taking issue with the revision itself, I point out that Howard, like many others, fails to defend UBI as non-exploitative. All his arguments fail to establish that the so-called ‘Surfer off Malibu’, a figure who is full-time dedicated to leisure, is not an exploiter in receiving UBI. The strategies to include him as a rightful recipient of a labor-free income rely on the (sometimes far-fetched) attribution of certain contingent features to him that would entitle him to compensation or reward, but that he might also not have. I argue that the best strategy for UBI-advocates is to admit that ‘slackers’ should be merely tolerated as non-deserving recipients, because the UBI-policy will otherwise have good effects. Finally, I raise some questions about these good effects, as they are conceived by UBI-advocates such as Howard.

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