MODERATOR: A bit more action, a bit less theory?

Justin Schwartz jschwart at
Thu Nov 3 09:30:20 MST 1994

On Wed, 2 Nov 1994, Nathan Newman wrote:

> Hi all,
> Not to stomp on various discussions, but it does seem that a lot of the
> present discussions are verging on the Talmudic in their debates on the
> fine points of a socialist future.  Not that those aren't worthwhile, but
> given the fragmentation of the left and the right-wing tide at the
> moment, it would seem a bit more tactical discussion is called for with a
> bit less abstract theory.
> Since we are hearing all the mass media election analysis, maybe it would
> be good to hear reports on what's happening in everyone's state elections
> (or country's politics), with a focus on local elections.

I cannot object to concrete tactical discussion and sharing information
about practical politics, although I would caution against excessive focus
on electoral politics. (I don't regard the anti-SOS and pro-universal
health coverage campaigns in California as excessive focus!)

But I wanted to call folk's attention to a beautiful, clear, and SHORT
piece in the current New Left Review (No. 207, Sept.-Oct. 1994) by G.A.
Cohen on the role of basic theory in our movement. Cohen argues that some
of the right wing's confidence and success is due to the ability of right
wing thinkers like Hayek, Friedman, and Nozick to put forward clear and
powerful statements of fundamental principles without worrying too much
about practicalities. He thinks we need the same--not just the same, but
also the same. He notes that we shouldn't try to come up with "big new
ideas"; new ideas emerge from wrestling with old unsolved problems and
whether they are big, only time will tell.  He agrees with many people
that our rhetoric is stale and dates, but suggests that a fresh new
rhetoric cannot be concocted but emerges from an invigorated grip on the
content of our ideals. He criticizes Labour politicians (and by
implication American "progressives") for not taking on the right in terms
of our basic principles instead of on their own terrain (WE can be tougher
on crime, lower in taxes, etc.,, than you). Anti-market folks will find
some comfort in Cohen's insistence that the left aspiration to extend to
community to the whole of society, so that it is governed by a principle
of sharing rather than profit, has to be maintained and defended both
theoretically and practically. (I agree.)  But enough. Read this lovely piece.

--Justin Schwartz


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