Realizing Hope: Life Beyond Capitalism by Michael Albert
Zed, London, 2006
Pages: 198. £14.99
||Political Studies Review
|Date accepted online:
|Published in print:
||Volume 05, Issue 03, Pages 395-474
Book Reviews: Political Theory
Realizing Hope is written by and for the political activist rather than the academic. This is evident from the lack of explicit reference to the literature of political philosophy or political science. Nevertheless, it is a book rich in political ideas which reflect new thinking among those who have, over the past decade, protested against neoliberal globalisation and war. In doing so some have developed significant and grounded critiques of the capitalist economy and its attendant social institutions. This book ought, therefore, to be of interest to political and social theorists and to social movement scholars considering the politics of contemporary left activism.
While Albert's earlier work Parecon: Life After Capitalism (London: Verso, 2003) focused almost exclusively on economics, his latest book reaches out into every sphere of life. In less than 200 pages he covers a remarkable breadth of institutions: from polity to art and from science to crime, while leaving space to consider the relevance of Marxism and anarchism as well. He begins by recalling Parecon as a vision for new economic structures in a participatory economy (hence the name) that aim to fulfil core values found within the gamut of social movements which have collectively become known as 'anti-globalisation' or 'global justice'. Centrally, Realizing Hope applies the values of solidarity, diversity, equity and self-management to investigate the intersection of Parecon's institutions with multiple social structures; it seeks a coherent and positive vision for social change.
The consistency of Albert's arguments, applied to so many domains, is the triumph of this book. Rather than repeatedly applying the same logic he carefully avoids conflating different social systems, arguing, for instance, that 'There is nothing in the defining institutions of capitalism ...that even notices, much less differentiates and hierarchically arrays men and women ...[But] if a society's sex-gender system hierarchically differentiates men and women, capitalist economy will not ignore that reality but will aggressively exploit it' (pp. 38-9). However, the very breadth of focus - in combination with the principled necessity to leave many choices open to future participatory decisions - leaves much of the book's vision unsatisfactorily vague. Within movements that have typically valorised diversity and participation Albert may well come under fire even for those concrete proposals that he does describe. But as a political vision subject to analysis, the reader is left with far more questions than Albert has answers for.