Socialist Hope in an Age of Catastrophe

Norman Geras


In his last book Ralph Miliband identifies as one of a number of crucial problems socialists need to address - problems putting in question the credibility of the socialist project itself - the massive evidence we have, particularly from the present century, of atrocious human cruelty, murderous division and conflict, the seeming aptitude of our species for large-scale organized blood-letting. The sceptical question as to whether with such 'human material' a radical re-ordering of society toward cooperative harmony and altruism is not merely a utopian illusion has, Miliband suggests, to be confronted seriously. He urges us, nevertheless, against the pessimistic answer to that question, judging it 'a counsel of despair to say...that evil on a huge scale is part of the human condition, that its conquest is impossible'. In this essay, written in tribute to a life's work of unwavering socialist advocacy and consistent, level-headed clarity, I support Miliband's general standpoint, but by way of examining more closely some of the assumptions about human nature that he reviews or himself deploys in articulating it.

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