In defense of public spheres and public goods
Reflecting the social dynamics of American and social capitalism
This article examines the arguments offered by Will Hutton (2002) in drawing out a whole set of crucial differences between American and European capitalism, and why we should prefer the European version. The essential difference, as he sees it, is that while there is an ultimate preference for liberty and individualism in America, there are still in Europe a whole set of interlinked, positive attitudes towards equality, social solidarity, and the importance of public discourse. Hutton argues for the importance of these differences because, as he sees it, under the influence of the individualist values implicit in American capitalism, “the idea of the public realm is in eclipse, and with it a conception of civilization.” Hutton hinges his argument around a contrast between with the ideas of two American social theorists: the conservativism of Robert Nozick (1974) with its fixation on individual freedom as a single, political value that trumps all others, and the liberalism of John Rawls (1972) and his arguments for egalitarianism. However, as I see it, more than a contest of ideas is at stake. An issue of a much deeper kind is involved, one that goes right to the very heart of how we should conduct our reasoning in social affairs from now on. Rather than arguments over ideas, the devising and implementing of new, dialogically-structured, participatory practices is required, practices which are constitutive of “public spheres in private places” (Pålshaugen 2002). Here is where we can find important new European leads.
Published online: 18 July 2003
Cited by 1 other publications
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