G.A. Cohen's vision of socialism
The Journal of Ethics
This essay is an attempt to piece together the elements of G. A. Cohen’s thought on the theory of socialism during his long intellectual voyage from Marxism to political philosophy. It begins from his theory of the maldistribution of freedom under capitalism, moves onto his critique of libertarian property rights, to his diagnosis of the ‘‘deep inegalitarian’’ structure of John Rawls’ theory and concludes with his rejection of the ‘‘cheap’’ fraternity promulgated by liberal egalitarianism. The paper’s exegetical contention is that Cohen’s work in political philosophy is best understood in the background of lifelong commitment to a form of democratic, non-market, socialism realizing the values of freedom, equality and community, as he conceived them. The first part of the essay is therefore an attempt to retrieve core socialism-related arguments by chronologically examining the development of Cohen’s views, using his books as thematic signposts. The second part brings these arguments together with an eye to reconstructing his vision of socialism. It turns out that Cohen’s political philosophy offers a rich conception of objective and subjective freedom, an original understanding of justice as satisfaction of genuine need, and a substantive ideal of fraternity as justificatory community with others. If properly united, these values can suggest a full-bloodied account of the just polity, and give us a glimpse into what it means, for Cohen, to treat people as equals.