Of Power and Freedom

Of Power and Freedom

Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis, both professors of economics at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, are scholars writing from the perspective of what might be called “liberated Marxism,” a perspective that begins from Marx’s penetrating analysis of capitalism, but that discards many elements of that analysis formerly regarded as sacrosanct, such as the labor theory of value or the base-superstructure conception of the architecture of historical formations. Their new book, Democracy and Capitalism, is a critique of conventional political and economic ideology—not ideology in the sense of a tissue of ideas deliberately designed to deceive the public, but ideas to which the dominant class itself repairs in search of the truth. Central to this ideology are such deeply held beliefs as the natural complementarity of democracy and capitalism, the necessary and salutary separation of “economics” and “politics,” and the exercise of “choice” as the decisive contribution of the individual within democratic capitalism. The purpose of Bowles and Gintis’s work is to educate us with respect to the frail premises on which this conventional defense of contemporary democratic capitalist society is based. This purpose should be of special interest to readers of Dissent who will not need to be convinced by the moral thrust of the authors’ critique, but who, like myself, will benefit from a brilliant clarification of ideas in whose thrall all of us find ourselves to some degree.

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