Radicalism v. Utopianism

Tue Aug 2 09:21:20 MDT 1994

     Paul writes that, in my most recent posting, I have
presented a viewpoint "consistent with the Hayekian attitude
that the scientific method is not applicable to society.  The
Austrians have to say that since their theories do not meet
up with the normal scientific criteria of testability."

     I don't think that Hayek opposed a scientific method
applied to social theory.  What Hayek opposed was
the same "scientism" and "instrumentalism" that was opposed
by the Frankfurt school.

     As for criteria of testability, I think there are a wide
variety of criteria that one might use in testing social
theory, which do not involve the illegitimate employment of
scientistic presuppositions.  The Austrians have indeed, been
traditionally opposed to the quasi-positivist approach of
such Chicago-school economists as Milton Friedman.  And they
have been somewhat disdainful of statistical approaches and
econometrics, though not necessarily in the context of
economic history.  But this does not mean that they reject a
scientific method.  I would hope that on a list devoted to a
discussion of Marxism that there would be SOME sympathy for
non-quantitative approaches to the social sciences!

     I certainly agree with Paul that the LTV and calculation
debates are crucial.  I'm not so sure that the calculation
debate is ENTIRELY dependent on the outcome of the LTV
debate.  Though certain epistemic themes are repeated, there
are many other issues which are involved in the calculation
debate.  I also believe that there are plenty of political
alternatives (on both the socialist left and libertarian
right) which recognize the difficulty, and inherent
authoritarian implications, of a completely centrally planned
social economy, even as they retain a progressive character.
On the libertarian right, the list of opponents of central
planning are well-known; but there are MANY on the socialist
left who are equally opposed to central planning.  See Hilary
Wainwright's recent book, ARGUMENTS FOR A NEW LEFT:
entirely persuaded by Wainwright's arguments, but I think
that she is among the first theorists on the left to show a
genuine appreciation of Hayek's contributions in an attempt
to reconstitute a radical politics.

     While I agree with Paul that "the issues at stake are
central to the struggle between socialism and capitalism," I
don't think that one's rejection of the LTV or one's
acceptance of certain Misesian-Hayekian arguments with regard
to central planning, constitute the denouement of radicalism.
I'll agree at least partially with Lukacs here:  As long as
we retain a dialectical sensibility, even the rejection of
certain substantive aspects of Marx's approach will not
condemn the radical project.

     It has been a long-standing conviction of mine, that
radical theory has, in many cases, internalized certain
epistemic utopian premises.  The acceptance of such epistemic
utopianism invariably leads to theoretical distortions and,
when used as a guiding principle for `public' policy, social
distortions as well.  If genuinely radical theorists learn
NOTHING from the collapse of the Eastern bloc, then they will
be doomed to repeat the same mistakes.  Hegel suggested that
this was the "irony of history."  I do not believe that the
radical project will be well-served if progressive thinkers
continue to subsume the same intellectual hubris that led to
the twentieth century crack-up in socialism.

                               - Chris

Dr. Chris M. Sciabarra
Visiting Scholar, N.Y.U. Department of Politics
INTERNET:  sciabrrc at acfcluster.nyu.edu
BITNET:    sciabrrc at nyuacf


More information about the Marxism mailing list