What can one say about a book that leans on Eric Hoffer for intellectual support? Erasmus, an anthropologist, utilizes a...

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IN SEARCH OF THE COMMON GOOD: Utopian Experiments Past and Future

What can one say about a book that leans on Eric Hoffer for intellectual support? Erasmus, an anthropologist, utilizes a behavioral approach to explore the incentives for collective activity. He does not attempt to develop a conception of the common good, in the manner of a political philosopher, but contents himself with a model of ""reciprocal altruism"" in human behavior, buttressed by game theory. He then takes this contentless--not to say meaningless--model and applies it to a selective assortment of anthropological and historical material, including so-called ""utopian experiments"" such as the Huttite and other religious communities and the Israeli kibbutzim. Not surprisingly, he discovers that such communities cannot survive within the hostile environment of the larger world community, and that material incentives come to dominate individual and group behavior. Similarly, but more ludicrously, Erasmus compares the behavior patterns that he deems necessary to support utopian communities as encountered in literature with Soviet and Chinese social patterns. Here Erasmus observes that size is the principal barrier which inevitably leads to dystopian results. From these results he concludes that material and personal incentives form the basis of all human behavior, which is a constant. Fearing that utopians (read ""intellectuals"") will attempt to impose their visions on the rest of us, Erasmus comes out opting for the market as the best judge of the common good, here understood as nothing more than consumer preference. The author's impenetrable jargon (""To trust to phylogenic altruism resulting from reciprocal and kin-selective adaptations is biomystical phylogeny in my view"") makes this intellectually impoverished book even worse.

Pub Date: Aug. 15, 1977

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Free Press/Macmillan

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1977