Book Review: Nathan Robinson's 'Why You Should Be A Socialist'

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The Nation - December 6, 2019

"... socialists believe in a radically different distribution of economic power—it really is an end to class hierarchy. And liberals are people who are mostly okay with the existing class hierarchy. This is why you have liberals in and out of places like Harvard, which is a fundamentally unjust institution in that it’s basically just a machine for creating the ruling class. A socialist looks at that institution and thinks, “This is an institution that should not exist.” A liberal looks at that institution and thinks, “How do we make this institution somewhat more fair? How do we make sure that the people coming into the ruling class are diverse, and how do we make sure that everyone has an equal opportunity to be a part of the ruling class?”

In the last decade or so, there’s been a resurgence in the world of leftist magazines: Younger outfits like Jacobin (now eight years old) and revitalized older presences like Dissent (now 65) show the hunger for more radical diagnoses and commentary in a post–Occupy Wall Street, post–2016 election era. In this arena, a fantastic new publication debuted on the scene a few years ago: Current Affairs. Its editor in chief, Nathan J. Robinson, founded the “freewheelin’, anarchistic,” New Orleans–based magazine in 2015 to bring a little joy to his readership—in between expressions of his barely restrained rage with the world’s deeply unequal status quo.

Robinson is a well-dressed man with a peculiar British accent, who made a name for himself by predicting the outcome of the 2016 election—and writing 10,000-plus word articles tearing apart the philosophies of right-wing dilettantes like Ben Shapiro and Jordan Peterson and 2020 presidential hopefuls like Pete Buttigieg and Joe Biden. He is a prolific writer: On the homepage of the Current Affairs website, his byline often appears on nearly all of the available articles and commentary. In a span of five years, he’s written or cowritten 10 books; the first of two published this year is a 217-page fictional memoir by his 87-year-old self, 56 years after Bernie Sanders wins the 2020 presidential election.

The author of an additional six children’s books and a lawyer by training, Robinson writes thorough and intricately constructed articles that are largely theory-based cases for leftist ideas and causes. And he articulates these cases to a broadly left-leaning audience—liberals included. When I spoke with him by phone to discuss his latest book, Why You Should Be a Socialist, he made one thing clear: “I’m not writing for leftists. The whole book is why you, non-socialist, should be a socialist.”

In his trademark ferocious yet playful, serious yet sarcastic style, Robinson makes his case by presenting socialism in moralistic terms. Between his deconstructions of capitalist logic and his ruminations on freedom and libertarian socialism, a demand persists throughout the pages of his book: to ask ourselves how anyone could not believe in the need for a radically different tomorrow when such grotesque inequality exists all around us right now?

Nathan J. Robinson: There are many, many reasons why. The argument around which I build the book is that, when you look at the world around you—and when you see the facts of the world around you, the condition of the people around you—you are sort of compelled, as a human being with even a shred of moral conscience, to be outraged by the things that you see.

Socialism is born out of this frustration and rage with the class system: having a small number of people who own the stuff and give the orders, and a large number of people who don’t own the stuff and who take the orders and do the work. To me, why you should be a socialist starts with having to be the kind of person who wakes up and looks around at the conditions of the people around you, and who feels a strong sense of solidarity and appreciation for the pain and suffering of others—and a determination to make sure that all people have access to whatever the ingredients we think are necessary for a decent life.

TO: Before you started Current Affairs**, you studied to become a lawyer and also wrote children’s books. How does all that fit together with the work you do now?**

NJR: I originally wanted to be a lawyer—I majored in African American studies and politics, but I did a minor in law. Of course, everyone at law school has the same revelation: Being a lawyer is not becoming Clarence Darrow or Atticus Finch, standing up and giving a big, thundering statement—it isn’t that. It’s a lot of writing memos that no one is really going to read. ...
Read full review at The Nation

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