Following up from the last post

Part of Jodi Dean‘s response to her critics was this paragraph:

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of communism is its capacity to return, throughout history, as an aspiration, even in the face of counter revolution, active hostility, defeat, war, etc. Communism is irreducible to the conflicts of the 20th century. I think the reason is that “from each according to ability to each according to need” is an axiom of working and living together with undeniable power.

I like this very much. If every creed or faith has its core statement of principles, and if this is communism’s (which I think it is), then it’s a very appealing one. Whether it’s realistic is another matter, but as a vision I agree it’s worth preserving.

If our students graduated with a string of appealing visions — communism’s (from each according to their ability, to each according to their need), Christianity’s (love your neighbor as yourself), Buddhism’s (suffering is what unites us, but it can be reduced and ended by cutting the threads of illusion that produce it), Adam Smithian capitalism (do what you’re best at, let others do the same, trade fairly among yourselves, and everything will work itself out), Darwinism (from the struggle to survive arises the whole universe of wondrous living things), etc. — then our universities would be doing a very good job.

To do a great job, we have to also teach the ability to compare ideals with realities. Universities have actually been better at this critical task, and less good at the visionary task. So I would go along with visionary communism: upholding that vision is good and useful, and probably necessary. But the vision shouldn’t substitute for the historical record. We need to know and acknowledge both.

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