Symposium

Symposium

Midway through Norman Rush’s award- winning novel Mating, a renowned leftist sociologist named Nelson Denoon rails against those who turn socialism into “an orientation or aesthetic or feeling.” For Denoon socialism is about “concrete institutional propositions that could be shown to work or not work.” Obsessing to his lover over dinner one evening, Denoon remembers an offending magazine:

There was a socialist magazine whose charter issue had the epigraph Socialism is the name of my desire, from Tolstoy, over its manifesto. They had no idea what they were revealing about themselves, Denoon said. Socialism was becoming a bibelot. . . . He shuddered to think of how few socialists there were who could define marginal utility. And so on.

Denoon’s socialist magazine is, of course, Dissent. In reality, Dissent had no epigraph, no manifesto, but it did run an article in 1954 called “Images of Socialism” in which Irving Howe and Lewis Coser wrote: “‘God,’ said Tolstoy, ‘is the name of my desire.’ . . . we should like to twist Tolstoy’s remark to our own ends: socialism is the name of our desire.”

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