Please, take socialism seriously

I don’t find 21st-century socialism any more appealing than the 20th-century variety. Both cut off the great creative force of human freedom. What gives me hope, though, is seeing the academy awaken from the slumber into which it fell in the early 1990s. Serious people declared the “end of history” and capitalism, in the form we knew it, the winner. To me that felt like acquiescence to a deeply flawed status quo—crony capitalism.

With increased frequency I hear of serious academics engaging students and the public on how best to foster human flourishing. Case in point: The University of San Diego’s Center for Ethics, Economics and Public Policy recently hosted a debate featuring sociologist Vivek Chibber and political economist Michael Munger over questions like “Would a socialist America be a more socially just America?” and “Is socialism a viable form of economic organization for a complex and dynamic society?”

Having such conversations is exactly what scholars, students and the broader public should be doing. I say this not because I think that socialism is a good idea or that such discussions will lead to a compromise that would heal our angry politics. I don’t and they won’t. But seriously debating socialism gets us talking about what a good society really is and the philosophical, economic and political foundations that underlie it.