[OPE-L:1343] Interesting book

From: Alejandro Valle Baeza (valle@servidor.unam.mx)
Date: Fri Sep 24 1999 - 19:45:30 EDT

I found this book review interesting:

Democratic Socialism in Britain: Classic Texts in
Economic and Political Thought, 1825-1952.(Review)

  edited by David Reisman; 10 vols. London: Pickering and Chatto, 1996,
 [pounds]595.00. Distributed in the USA by Ashgate Publishing Company,
 Brookfield, VT, $875.00.

  There are two ways one might review a collection of this magnitude,
 from the perspective of the editor, whose vision of democratic
inevitably informs it, or from the perspective of the reviewer, who
while appreciative of that vision, cannot help but see it in relation
to, and recontextualize it within, a set of problems that the editor
may not have foreseen. While I shall emphasize the editor's intentions,
 as far as I understand them, in reprinting these classic texts of
democratic socialism, I shall interject some perspectives from cultural
theory, in the conviction that these ten volumes are, or should be,
 of broad general interest. As David Reisman's vision of democratic
socialism is organic, one of continuity and wholeness, I shall also
consider the archive as a whole, not stopping with the Victorian Fabian
Essays. In fact, I shall begin with the end.

  The last chapter of the last, tenth, volume is entitled "Democratic
Socialism," the last chapter of Aneurin Bevan's In Place of Fear (1952).

Bevan, the former miner from Wales who established the National Health
Service and a comprehensive system of welfare benefits, begins that
chapter with his compatriot Dylan Thomas's line from "A Refusal to
Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London." (1946): "After the
first death, there is no other." Bevan glosses the line, "The poet
here asserts the uniqueness of the individual personality. If the
imagination can plumb the depths of a personal tragedy, no
of similar incidents can add to the revelation. Numbers can increase
the social consequences of disaster, but the frontiers of understanding
are reached when our spirit fully identifies itself with the awful
loneliness and finality of grief" (X: 199). Bevan regarded the capacity
for empathy with an individual life as "the most significant quality
of a civilised human being" and claimed that it was not achieved '
when limited to people of a certain colour, race, religion, nation,
 or class. Indeed, just to the extent that this or that group commands
our exclusive sympathy, we are capable of the most monstrous cruelty.
. . . There is no test for progress other than its impact on the
 (X: 200). Like many in its history, Bevan made the needs of the
central to Democratic Socialism, knowing fully that this would cause
it to be called "dull" in the rising age of glamour. Given recent
critiques of all talk of "civilization," "progress," and "the
 - clearly key terms, like "socialism," from the nineteenth century
- what might we salvage from the archive? Is the archive itself a
sign of progress, or as irretrievably bound to the Victorian world
as liberalism and free markets? What is the status of such an archive,
 as an inspiration and motive for action, or a recherche du temps
perdu, as bittersweet as a novel by Proust?

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