We’ll be hosting one of our book events on Erik Olin Wright’s new book, Envisioning Real Utopias (UK) in the Fall (probably late September), so I thought I’d let people know that the book is out (and excellent) so you can get hold of it and read it in time, if you want to.

Erik has spent a long time working on the book, and even longer on the ideas (I remember a meeting in 1994, in which he announced his decision to name the broader project of which this is a part the “Real Utopias Project” — predating, I think, Rawls’s use of the phrase “realistic utopianism”). At the core of the RUP (more details here), and of the book, is a recognition that the anti-capitalist left has been strong on critique of capitalism, but weak on the presentation of feasible alternatives, and in particular on providing the kind of detail about those alternatives that demonstrates both how they would realize egalitarian values and makes them open to scrutiny and critique. Envisioning Real Utopias is both a manifesto and a guidebook, if you like: an argument for taking institutional design seriously, and a guide to how to do that. Its a book that sociologists will want to read, but also, frankly, that everyone in political theory and philosophy should be reading too (even if they do not think of themselves as egalitarians). To be honest, I’ve been living close to the book so long that it I realize my endorsement may not be unbiased. Here, then, is what Swift says about it on the back cover:

Hugely rich and stimulating, Envisioning Real Utopias is may books in one: an incisive diagnosis of the harms done by capitalism; a masterful synthesis of the best work in political sociology and political economy over the past thirty years; and innovative theoretical framework for conceptualizing both the goals of progressive change and the strategies for their achievement; and inspiring story of actually existing challenges to capitalism that have arisen within capitalism itself; and a compelling essay on the relation between the desirable, the viable and the achievable. Anyone interested in the future of leftist politics has to read this book.

I agree.

And here is Erik introducing the book:

Envisioning Real Utopias from West Coast Poverty Center on Vimeo.

Familiarity with the canon

by Chris Bertram on June 16, 2010

David Williams writes at The Daily Texan:

bq. On May 22, the State Board of Education voted 9-5 to reform its secondary-school social studies curriculum, emphasizing that the content of these guidelines serves to enable students to “appreciate the basic democratic values of our state and nation.” While these reforms have been broadly condemned by liberals across the country, it is important that both liberals and conservatives together become more broadly familiar with the texts now firmly in the curriculum. Specifically, we should take a closer look at Charles de Montesquieu, Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Aquinas. …

Read the whole thing, as they say.

Money for old rope?

by Maria on June 16, 2010

BoingBoing has an interview with John Robb, a security consultant whose book, ‘Brave New War; the Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization’, is about the idea of open-source warfare. Robb comes across as a classic, Washington idea-salesman, tarting up what may still be sharp insights into the kind of gee-whizz, tech-determinist hyperbole that might result from a drunken gene-merge of Wired and Jane’s:

“Back in 2004, the US military was getting trounced in guerrillas in Iraq. Worse, the US military establishment didn’t know why. Didn’t have a clue. To correct this, I began to write about how 21st Century warfare actually worked on my blog, Global Guerrillas. Essentially, I concluded that guerrilla groups could use open source organizational models (drawn from the software industry), networked super-empowerment (freely available high tech tools, network information access, connections to a globalized economy), and systems disruption (the targeting of critical points on infrastructure networks that cause cascading failures) to defeat even the most powerful of opponents, even a global superpower.”

Call me parochial, but isn’t this just the sort of thing Michael Collins was doing 90 years ago?

Apart from lower coordination and communication costs and bigger, juicier systems to disrupt, is there a substantive difference between the ability of a small, clever and determined group of people to humble a global super-power today as compared to 1919? Or, as we might say in the language of my current employer, are the modern and forward-looking insurgents of today “utilizing south-south networks to share best practice and enable technology transfer and empowerment at the grassroots to forge alternative development pathways”? [click to continue…]