Joseph Schumpeter had a refreshing sense of socialism. For him, it had almost no fixed sense at all. 'A society may be fully and truly socialist and yet be led by an absolute ruler or be organised in the most democratic of all possible ways; it may be aristocratic or proletarian; it may be a theocracy and hierarchic or atheist and indifferent to religion; it may be much more strictly disciplined than men are in a modern army or completely lacking in discipline; it may be ascetic or eudemonist in spirit; energetic or slack; thinking only of the future or the day; warlike and nationalist or peaceful and internationalist; equalitarian or the opposite; it may have the ethics of lords or the ethics of slaves; its art may be subjective or objective; its forms of life individualistic or standardised.' Of course, Schumpeter conceded, most who call themselves 'socialist' are in fact committed to one of these things rather than another, to peace rather than war, or to irreligion rather than religion. But if we wish to argue about which if any of these things are necessarily socialist, 'we had better yield the floor to the only truly great performer in that field, Plato.'
LRB 1 March 1984 | PDF Download