Has the Left Won? An Exchange Between Tim Barker and James Livingston

Historians in the News

The following is an exchange between Tim Barker, assistant editor at Dissent, and James Livingston, professor of history at Rutgers University and author, most recently, of Against Thrift: Why Consumer Culture is Good for the Economy, the Environment, and Your Soul. In this exchange, Barker and Livingston argue about the thesis of that book as well as a number of recent essays by Livingston on socialism and socialists.

Part I: Tim Barker – Has the Left Won?
Part II: Response by James Livingston
Part III: Reply by Tim Barker
Part IV: Final Response by James Livingston

I’m going to focus in this exchange on a pair of complementary essays you wrote recently: “How the Left Has Won,” published in Jacobin, and “Socialism Without Socialists, or, What’s the Matter With Leftists?” They’re very rich interventions, so we won’t be able to address every point. At the same time, they deal with some of your most important preoccupations, so discussion will likely range beyond the texts themselves.

Interested readers should check out both pieces, but I’ll try to be explicit in explaining your thesis. So far as I can tell, you argue that most leftists hold mistaken beliefs about (a) the dynamics of historical change and historical agency and (b) the meaning of socialism. (These two strains obviously intersect at many points, but I think the analytic distinction is useful.) In this first missive, I’ll focus on your philosophy of history, trying to sum up your position and offer some of my reservations....

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