These are the Gifford Lectures of 1996. Before I had the opportunity to spend the month in Edinburgh during which I delivered them I had heard and read a great deal about the architectural splendor of that city but having only glimpsed it for a day or two on a couple of hectic occasions I had not experienced the truth of the praise it receives. Edinburgh is glorious partly because of its grand buildings and its monuments its parks and its hills but also—and for me more so—because of the brilliantly conceived and faithfully maintained straight and curved terraces of the eighteenth-century New Town that lies to the north of Prince's Street. On the second evening of my lecturing engagement full of good red wine from the cellar of the Roxburgh Hotel in Charlotte Square where I was fortunate enough to be lodged I treated myself to an after-dinner walk through the New Town's stately terraces and at no other time in my life—not even in Oxford or Cambridge—have I been so enthralled by the eloquence of stone.
There is a certain incongruity between the sumptuous circumstances of the delivery of these lectures—the hotel the wine the lush sojourn in a handsome wealthy (in the latitudes of it where I had occasion to move) city—and their egalitarian content. I am greatly preoccupied with that incongruity. It is a large part of what this book is about and it helps to explain the book's title.
I focus here on Marxism and on Rawlsian liberalism and I draw a connection between each of those thought-systems and the choices that shape the course of a person's life. In the case of Marxism the relevant life is my own. For as I have occasion to recount in Lecture 2 I was raised as a Marxist (and Stalinist communist) the way other people are raised Roman Catholic or Muslim. A strong socialist egalitarian doctrine was the ideological milk of my childhood and my intellectual work has been an attempt to reckon with that inheritance to throw out what should not be kept and to keep what must not be lost. The impact of belief in socialism and equality on my own life is given some prominence in what follows.
In the case of Rawlsian doctrine the relevant life is not mine in particular but people's lives as such. For I argue at some length that egalitarian justice is not only as Rawlsian liberalism teaches a matter of the rules that define the structure of society but also a matter of personal attitude and choice; personal attitude and choice are moreover the stuff of which social structure itself is made. These truths have not informed political philosophy as much as they should inform it and I try to bring them to the fore in Lectures 8–10.
When Rosa Luxemburg wrote that “history … has the fine habit of always producing along with any real social need the means to its satisfaction” along with the task simultaneously the solution” she was expressing a thought descended from Hegel that had lodged itself deeply in Marxist theory and practice. The proposition that as Karl Marx himself put it “mankind sets itself only such tasks as it can solve” comforted and inspired Marxist thinkers and activists but it was I argue in Lectures 3–6 a disastrous mistake one that bore a large responsibility for Marxism's failure in the twentieth century.
Because I shall labor to expose that failure I consider it important to emphasize at the outset of this book two things—one personal and one political. The personal thing is that I remain unambivalently grateful to the people who ensured that my upbringing was Marxist and I have in no measure abandoned the values of socialism and equality that are central to Marxist belief. The political thing is that the task which Marxism set itself which is to liberate humanity from the oppression that the capitalist market visits upon it has not lost its urgency. That goal is not less worth fighting for when we have forsaken the belief that history ensures that it will be accomplished.
Accordingly while I shall oppose the fundamental Marxist conception that Luxemburg expressed with beguiling pungency my opposition to it reflects no weakening of my commitment to socialism Far from urging a reconsideration of socialist equality itself I am engaged in rejecting Marxist (and Rawlsian) postures that seek to reduce the force of equality as a moral norm.
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The last seven of the lectures presented here concern Marxism and liberalism. These are preceded by an opening lecture in which I provide an examination of the problematic issue of why we adhere to commitments which like mine are ones that we know originated in the contingencies of a particular upbringing: in my case of the upbringing that I describe in Lecture 2.
The lectures appear here in a somewhat different form from the one in which they were delivered. The Prospectus here presented separately was originally part of Lecture 1; Lecture 7 (as readers will learn) could not be reproduced in print; and in the reworking of the lectures for publication some have been substantially expanded—particularly so Lecture 10 which is less polished than the rest and which remains openended.
My greatest Edinburgh debt is to Paul McGuire of the Faculty of Arts who discharged a considerable organizational burden with diligence and grace. I also thank Marsha Caplan who prepared handouts for the audience often at short notice and Ross Sibbald who prepared the lecture hall and who ensured that entry into it and exit from it were appropriately uneventful. Finally I am grateful to those who chaired the lectures: John Richardson Ronald Hepburn Carole Hillenbrand Timothy Sprigge Duncan Forrester John O'Neill Russell Keat and Sir Stewart Sutherland.
Most of these lectures have reached their present form following superb criticism by many people. I apologize to those commentators whose names I failed to record for future mention and I am happy to be able to thank Daniel Attas John Baker David Bakhurst Jerry Barnes Brian Barry Paul Boghossian Diemut Bubeck Paula Casal Joshua Cohen Miriam Cohen Christofidis Ronald Dworkin Cécile Fabre Margaret Gilbert Keith Graham Betsy Hodges Susan Hurley John McMurtry Andrew Mason Liam Murphy Thomas Nagel Michael Otsuka Derek Parfit Guido Pincione Thomas Pogge Joseph Raz John Roemer Amélie Rorty Michael Seifert Horacio Spector Gopal Sreenivasan Hillel Steiner Christine Sypnowich Larry Temkin Peter Vallentyne Frank Vandenbroucke Robert Van der Veen Alan Wertheimer Martin Wilkinson Andrew Williams Bernard Williams Erik Wright and two anonymous Harvard referees. Apart from those referees Paul Levy David Miller and Derek Parfit were the only people who read the whole thing; their advice was invaluable. My most indefatigable and productive critic was as always Arnold Zuboff with whom I spent many instructive (for me) hours debating most of the themes of the lectures.
Lindsay Waters has been a dream editor: I do not think anyone could have been more supportive Maria Ascher improved the prose at many junctures. And those who know her will not be surprised by the size of the gratitude that I feel to my wife Michèle.