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SITL, Part 2: Socialism After Hayek

As I explained in my recent post, "SITL, Part 1: Marx, Reason, and the Art of Freedom," in the coming months, I will be turning some of my attention to discussions of my work on "dialectics and liberty," which appear in the scholarly literature (SITL stands for: "Sciabarra In The Literature"). Part 1 of this series discussed Kevin M. Brien's brief examination of my work on Marx and Hayek in the second edition of his superb book, Marx, Reason, and the Art of Freedom. In Part 2, I turn my attention to another book that highlights my comparative studies of Marx and Hayek: Socialism After Hayek, by Theodore A. Burczak, which is part of a series, "Advances in Heterodox Economics" (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2006).

Burczak synthesizes the insights of Hayek, Marx, and even Aristotle, in developing a humanistic framework that hopes to advance arguments on the viability of socialism. Burczak is deeply critical of the classical soclialist project and attempts its reconstruction in the light of Hayek's work on the "knowledge problem," that is, Hayek's efforts "to understand the limited and socially constituted nature of human knowledge..." Or as Don Lavoie put it: the problem of "how best to coordinate the actions of scatterd individuals, each of whom is in possession of unique, partial, tacit, and potentially erroneous knowledge" (pp. 1-2). Burczak writes:

Karl Marx, the father of modern socialism, also recognized the dispersion of human knowledge in a market economy. But, as Chris Sciabarra argues in his fascinating Marx, Hayek, and Utopia (1995), Marx viewed the dispersal of knowledge as a result of workers' alienation from the means of production, a transitory side effect of the property relations of capitalism. This stands in contrast to Hayek, who views the strictures on human knoweldge as "existentially limiting," that is, as natural and transhistorical properties of human existence (Sciabarra 1995, 119). Sciabarra understands Marx to accept epistemic fragmentation as only a temporary feature of social development, to be overcome in a socialist or communist society. For Marx, development of the forces of production and cooperative work relations would allow tacit and dispersed knowledge to be articulated and integrated in consciously directed economic activity, thereby solving Hayek's supposedly permanent knowledge problems. Sciabarra calls this Marx's "synoptic delusion" (ibid. 46)---the idea that one can consciously design a new society to achieve social justice. Many interpreters of Marx have embraced and extended this premise to argue that a Marxian vision of communism or socialism could only be realized by a centrally planned economy. Sciabarra claims that Hayek's thought ultimately triumphs over Marx's---and free market capitalism over centrally planned socialism---because Hayek resisted the synoptic delusion while Marx and his followers did not.
For contemporary socialists, this raises fundamental questions. Is there any meaningful notion of socialism that can answer Hayek's epistemological critique? Can the goals of classical socialism be achieved without central planning and the abolition of private property? Can there be socialism after Hayek? (p. 3)

Burczak answers these questions affirmatively and seeks to develop a "libertarian Marxist" conception of socialism. He integrates "three heterodox traditions" in formulating his answer---Hayekian-Austrian, Marxian, and Aristotelian---wherein each "absorb[s] certain concepts and criticisms from the others to maximize its own contribution to human betterment" (p. 4). He wishes to preserve the Hayekian-Austrian appreciation of market process, the Marxian theory of class, and the Aristotelian capability theory of justice (extended by writers such as Nussbaum and Sen).

Burczak characterizes Hayek's work as postmodern insofar as it "eschews reductionist" methods, while embracing a "more dialectical ... understanding of social phenomena" (p. 5). He also examines the "Amherst school" of postmodern Marxism (arising from the work of Stephen Resnick and Richard Wolff), which sees class exploitation persisting "in the presence of centralized planning and socialized property." He wonders if "these postmodern Marxists really escape the synoptic delusion that Sciabarra sees in Marx." He believes that "[i]n principle, they do," and that much is to be applauded in their critique of planning (p. 7). But he criticizes the "old Marxist faith in a utopian future ... [of] material abundance" transcending "material scarcities" (p. 8). He applauds the work of G. A. Cohen, which highlights the importance of so-called "bourgeois" concerns such as freedom and justice, and Stephen Cullenberg, who rejects the utopian dimensions of socialist thought, while accepting "Hayekian knowledge problems, albeit implicitly..." (p. 8).

There is much more to recommend in Burczak's book, especially his grappling with the hermeneutical turn in Austrian theory (the work of Lavoie, Boettke, Horwitz, Prychitko, Ebeling, Koppl and Whitman, Lachmann, and others). Throughout the book, his goal is a "post-Hayekian socialism," one that "speaks to the need for economics to return to the traditions of Hayek and Marx and to read them in a spirt of productive creativity elicited by the tensions between these two traditions" (p. 16).

I will leave it to readers to decide whether Burczak succeeds in this goal. My own evaluation of his effectiveness would take me far beyond the scope of this current series, because it would require an assessment of various concrete proposals for institutional reform. Nevertheless, I am deeply impressed with Burczak's willingness to engage diverse traditions, and with his embrace of the dialectical aspects of Hayek's brand of social theorizing. His evaluation of policy proposals is always made in the context of those "intractable Hayekian knowledge problems." Ultimately, he seeks new "sets of institutions [that] might make a system of labor cooperatives function well in a market economy" (p. 139), while staying clear of "Hayek's 'road to serfdom'" (p. 146).

In my next installment of SITL, I will be shifting gears to explore the remarkable work of John F. Welsh, whose new book, After Multiculturalism: The Politics of Race and the Dialectics of Liberty, genuinely advances the dialectical-libertarian approach in a critical examination of racism.

Noted at L&P.

Comments

Hegel raised this problem, the problem of the limitation of knowledge by the fact that we are part of nature and can't have a comprehensive view of reality so that the result of our actions might correspond with our intentions. We are forced to act by our consciousness but the result of the action is marred by all the contingencies that form reality. At the end in order to justify our actions we use language, that is spin. All empirical knowledge proves him right, actually I have come to suspect that Hegel observes reality and tries to deduce its reason, making the world a manifestation of logic.

Chris,

You continue to challenge my mind! And I can't wait to read the next post on racism.

I don't think I am a multi-culturalist, if it means that you believe all cultures are of equal value.

Natasha, I'm glad you're interested in this subject in particular; the part dealing with the Welsh book is next up, and hopefully soon. Stay tuned.