Roberto Unger on ‘the future of the left’

A breathtaking interview with Roberto Unger, “The Future of the Left,” The European (October 24, 2011) about the need to think differently. My curating below.

(If you grant Unger’s conclusions, then you’ll have to also grant how truly “paradigm-shifting” his ideas are.)

Rethinking Modern Institutions

“My view is that all the fundamental problems of the European societies, and the world as a whole, require the reinvention of the conventional institutional arrangements for the organization of democracies, market economies, and civil societies.”

Rethinking Leftist Principles

Equality is not the first principle. A good life is! Hence, the question of social justice follows from the more basic question of human flourishing. This thought represents a fundamental reorientation of leftism. Unger states that the true leftist is “[s]omeone who understands that the goal of greater equality is subordinate to the goal of raising the ordinary man and woman up to a greater life.”

Reconceptualizing Labor

We need to make “a fundamental change in the nature of work and production. All the liberal and socialist thinkers of the 19th century understood that wage labor is a compromise, and retains many of the aspects of slavery and serfdom. There are two other forms of labor, self-employment and cooperation, and combined in some way they could help solve the problems of scale and wage labor could become the residual rather than the dominant form of free labor.”

If you really get this point, then you can regard union talk and so on as secondary and take  first principles about the nature of good work as primary.

Revaluing Jeffersonian Small Businesses

“The truth is that there are more petit-bourgeois in the world and certainly in Europe than there are industrial proletarians, and if the criteria is subjective rather than object, that is, the aspiration towards economic independence, it is the majority of the population, and what they fail to do is to meet that aspiration on its own terms and provide it with instruments so that it doesn’t have isolated independent family business as its only form of expression.”

This line of thought is Jeffersonian in spirit. The small business owner exercises virtues of autonomy, industry, frugality, self-control, etc. By virtue of her financial independence, she is able to participate actively in community life and to cooperate with others in the spirit of giving.

Waking Up: Philosophical Thought and Social Change

“The way that politics and culture are organized, you have to wait for a crisis. The crisis is like the meteor visiting the world and suddenly life becomes alert, then it goes away and you go to sleep again.”

Agreed. I argue in parallel fashion about the “life need” of philosophy.