I finally started reading Gar Alperovitz’s America beyond Capitalism: Reclaiming Our Wealth, Our Liberty, & Our Democracy. I’m only a little ways into it, and so maybe my opinion will change, but right now I have to say that I am not impressed at all. For being written by someone who calls himself a historian, the history is thin and discussed in extremely vague terms. The most glaringly absurd thing about it is his glorification of a mythical period in the U.S. where the “American” values of liberty, equality, and democracy reigned supreme. “The long trends are ominous: the beginning point of the following study is the painful truth that there is now massive evidence that for decades Americans have been steadily becoming less equal, less free, and less the masters of their own fate.” How he says this and within a few pages also talks about being involved in the civil rights movements in the early 1960s is unbelievable. Nevermind the history of slavery, class struggle, women, etc. It’s at least sloppy, but I think its something beyond that – you get the sense of someone who drank the Founding Fathers Kool-Aid and thinks that it’s only recently that things have gone astray. “If the critical values [equality, liberty, and democracy] lose meaning, politics obviously must also ultimately lose moral integrity.” Give me a break. Capitalism is functioning as intended. Those things were only meant for wealthy white men.
His rhetoric is melodramatic and his discussion of change is simplistic (yes, we know it can happen). He sounds like he could have been one of the many other advocates of cooperatives that has cropped up numerous times in U.S. history. I’m curious how much of a discussion there will be of prior attempts like the ones he’ll outline. I’m sure he’d find some evangelist who also thought “the appeal of many of these ideas, moreover, reaches across traditional left-right political divisions.” He talks a lot about structural change but I don’t think he recognizes how deeply entrenched capitalist power is, nor do I think he’ll give adequate focus to the importance of class struggle.
Oh, and he says “paradoxical” entirely too many times. We get it. You’re profound.
I have the second edition, which came out in 2011, and the intro to it is rather generous with how important, timely, and clairvoyant it says the book was when it first came out in 2005.
We’ll see, maybe I’ll end up liking it more than I do now. I’m sure I’ll agree with large portions of what he wants to see – I do know the basic Alperovitz stance so that won’t be surprising. But so far all I can say is that it feels ahistorical, naive, and utopian.
UPDATE, May 12, 2015: Nope, fuck this book.