(De Leporibus et Ranis)
no copyright infringement intended
I've read in today's NY Times an op-ed questioning Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Somehow paradoxically it called in my mind Anti-Dühring, the famous (some would say infamous, it's up 2 u) book of Engels. Should I call the op-ed of Ross Douthat as Anti-Piketty? Making such an association would make my leftist friends get insane (or make them consider me insane, whichever comes first). Of course, Anti-Dühring is a very solid book covering philosophy, political economy and socialism (you could read it onLine by clicking here), while the op-ed of Ross Douthat is just an op-ed. Toutes proportions gardées.
The title of the op-ed is Marx Rises Again (which sounds kind of polemic, to put it mildly). For Mr. Douthat, the recent book of Piketty offers no more no less than the narrative for the 21th century Marxian revival, its point being that the so-called free markets, by their nature, tend to enrich the owners of capital at the expense of people who own less of it: the enrichment of the one percent on the expense of the ninety-none percent.
Mr. Douthat, disagrees with Piketty's theory. For him, even as the rich have gotten much, much richer, the 99 percent have shared in growing prosperity in real, measurable ways. And also, even if what happens today might prove the Marxian idea of everything solid melting into air, actually what’s felt to be evaporating could turn out to be cultural identity — family and faith, sovereignty and community — much more than economic security.
And Mr. Douthat concludes, somewhere in this pattern, perhaps, lies the beginnings of a more ideologically complicated critique of modern capitalism — one that draws on cultural critics like Daniel Bell and Christopher Lasch rather than just looking to material concerns, and considers the possibility that our system’s greatest problem might not be the fact that it lets the rich claim more money than everyone else. Rather, it might be that both capitalism and the welfare state tend to weaken forms of solidarity that give meaning to life for many people, while offering nothing but money in their place.
It smells like social conservatism, you'd say, and you could be right. Anyway Ross Douthat doesn't make a secret of his conservative convictions. However, the importance of the cultural dimension is not the monopoly of the rightist thinkers. Think at Gramsci.
I will come back to the book of Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century. For now, I invite you to read the article of Mr Douthat: