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27 October 1988
... With an American friend I recently spent two weeks travelling in China at the invitation of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Besides lecturing, our main purpose was to understand the economic reforms in Chinese industry. The three cities we visited, Changzhou, Shanghai and Wenzhou, offer three different models of reform. The first two are experimenting with more independence for state and collective ...
24 January 1991
The Cement of Society: A Study of Social Order 
by Jon Elster.
Cambridge, 311 pp., £30, October 1989, 0 521 37456 1
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Solomonic Judgments: Studies in the Limitations of Rationality 
by Jon Elster.
Cambridge, 232 pp., £25, October 1989, 9780521374576
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Nuts and Bolts for the Social Sciences 
by Jon Elster.
Cambridge, 184 pp., £22.50, October 1989, 0 521 37455 3
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... theory of rational bargaining takes over. The implications for our view of organisations, public policies and ethics are fascinating. With Logic and Society (1978) and Ulysses and the Sirens (1979), JonElster sprang to the fore as an exciting exponent. His gifts for simplifying technicalities, for novel applications and for scholarly connections have helped to spread the word across many ...
1 May 1980
Logic and Society 
by Jon Elster.
Wiley, 244 pp., £12.65, March 1978, 0 471 99549 5
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Ulysses and the Sirens 
by Jon Elster.
Cambridge/Editions de la Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, 240 pp., £9.75, May 1979, 0 521 22388 1
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... which are necessarily irreconcilable. Thus, in Hegel’s most famous and influential example, the master wants from the slave something he necessarily cannot have – ‘unilateral recognition’, as Elster puts it in Logic and Society, a recognition freely accorded to him by someone who is a chattel, who cannot freely recognise anyone. This state of consciousness is essential to the master, and ...

Proverbs

William Ian Miller: Jon Elster

10 August 2000
Alchemies of the Mind: Rationality and the Emotions 
by Jon Elster.
Cambridge, 450 pp., £14.95, March 1999, 0 521 64487 9
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... to twist Harold Bloom, your early self now played an insurmountably glorious Milton to your later romantic phases? Did Shakespeare say to himself: ‘No way I can beat Hamlet, so why write again?’ JonElster wrote two gems in the 1970s and 1980s, Ulysses and the Sirens and Sour Grapes. Not that they have deterred him from publishing at a stupendous rate since, though he has never recaptured that ...
20 October 1983
Explaining Technical Change: A Case-Study in the Philosophy of Science 
by Jon Elster.
Cambridge, 273 pp., £22.50, June 1983, 0 521 27072 3
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Sour Grapes: Studies in the Subversion of Rationality 
by Jon Elster.
Cambridge, 177 pp., £17.50, June 1983, 9780521252300
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... JonElster needs, as they say, no introduction to regular readers of the London Review, who will be familiar not only with his name but also with the cast of his mind and the breadth of his interests. What ...

Socialism

Jon Elster

15 November 1984
The Politics of Socialism: An Essay in Political Theory 
by John Dunn.
Cambridge, 107 pp., £15, October 1984, 0 521 26736 6
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... Optimism and wishful thinking have been features of socialist thought from its inception. In Marx, for instance, two main premises appear to be that whatever is desirable is possible, and that whatever is desirable and possible is inevitable. John Dunn’s short book is much concerned with the disastrous consequences of this Utopian strand in socialism. He argues that socialists, if they want to be ...
5 February 1981
Political Obligation in its Historical Context 
by John Dunn.
Cambridge, 355 pp., £14.50, October 1980, 0 521 22890 5
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... How did the notion arise that political obligation is something more than the unconditional duty of subjects to obey their ruler? And what, in a given situation, are the historically-shaped constraints that set limits to the rational political duty of citizens? Or, in other terms, what are the arguments – historical and contemporary – for seeing political obligation as going beyond blind obedience ...
17 September 1987
An Introduction to Karl Marx 
by Jon Elster.
Cambridge, 220 pp., £5.95, October 1986, 0 521 32922 1
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Making sense of Marx 
by Jon Elster.
Cambridge, 556 pp., £32.50, May 1985, 0 521 22896 4
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Analytical Marxism 
edited by John Roemer.
Cambridge, 321 pp., £27.50, March 1986, 0 521 30025 8
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... time for Parisian high fashion or Frankfurtian obscurity. What is worth learning from Marx can be stated clearly, and defended in the plainest prose. Lest that give the impression that Jerry Cohen, JonElster and John Roemer see themselves as Marxists first and philosophers second, it must at once be said that their work is remarkable for the unflinching way in which they throw out whatever won’t ...

Chinese Leaps

Jon Elster

25 April 1991
The Search for Modern China 
by Jonathan Spence.
Hutchinson, 876 pp., £19.95, May 1990, 0 09 174472 5
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Rebellions and Revolutions: China from the 1880s to the 1980s 
by Jack Gray.
Oxford, 456 pp., £35, April 1990, 0 19 913076 0
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... Nobody really knows what’s happening in China. Analysis must proceed from triangulation, relying on a few uncontroversial facts, specific knowledge about the Chinese past and general knowledge about the dilemmas and solutions that emerge in countries in similar predicaments. History matters for a number of reasons. One is that similar causes tend to produce similar effects. China’s topography ...

Rules of the Game

Jon Elster

22 December 1983
Mémoires 
by Raymond Aron.
Julliard, 778 pp., frs 120, September 1983, 9782260003328
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Clausewitz: Philosopher of War 
by Raymond Aron, translated by Norman Stone and Christine Booker.
Routledge, 418 pp., £15.95, October 1983, 0 7100 9009 9
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Clausewitz 
by Michael Howard.
Oxford, 79 pp., £7.95, March 1983, 0 19 287608 2
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... Raymond Aron died of a heart attack on 17 October, a few weeks after the publication of his memoirs. He died on the steps of the Paris courthouse where he had been testifying on behalf of his friend Bertrand de Jouvenel, who had been violently attacked in a book on French Fascism. The case was not a simple one, as de Jouvenel had said and done some imprudent things in the Thirties. Yet Aron, painting ...
3 June 1982
Ancient Slavery and Modern Ideology 
by M.I. Finley.
Chatto, 202 pp., £10, June 1980, 0 7011 2510 1
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Economy and Society in Ancient Greece 
by M.I. Finley.
Chatto, 326 pp., £15, April 1981, 0 7011 2549 7
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The Legacy of Greece: A New Appraisal 
edited by M.I. Finley.
Oxford, 479 pp., £8.95, August 1981, 0 19 821915 6
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... Some fifteen years ago, in the course of reading up the history of technology, I came across an article by M.I. Finley, of whom I then knew nothing, on ‘Technical Innovation and Economic Progress in the Ancient World’, reprinted in his essays on Economy and Society in Ancient Greece. Looking up my notes, and rereading the article today, I now see that I missed most of the points. Yet the overall ...
23 May 1985
The Thread of Life 
by Richard Wollheim.
Harvard, 288 pp., £20, January 1985, 0 06 748875 7
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... Reading Richard Wollheim’s study of what it is to live the life of a person was a frustrating, painful experience. Perhaps it can best be summarised by saying that while the book goes to great lengths to ensure precision in the second decimal, it leaves us in the dark about the first. Wollheim has a marvellously knowledgeable and intelligent mind. Of the numerous topics discussed here, many are brilliantly ...

Nobody at Home

Jon Elster

2 June 1983
Selfless Persons: Imagery and Thought in Theravada Buddhism 
by Steven Collins.
Cambridge, 323 pp., £22.50, June 1982, 0 521 24081 6
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Le Bonheur-Liberté: Bouddhisme Profond et Modernité 
by Serge-Christophe Kolm.
Presses Universitaires de France, 637 pp., £150, January 1983, 9782130373162
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... A few years ago I was flying from Paris to Copenhagen on a day of calm and perfect weather. The flight took me over the sea beyond the coast of Holland, and looking down I was able to see in full detail the landscape below sea level, with its hills and valleys and – astonishingly – a lake: an accumulation of dark-blue water at the bottom of a valley, sharply separated from its lighter surroundings ...
16 June 1983
... There might appear to be something inherently unscientific in the designation ‘Marxist social science’. Following Whitehead’s dictum that ‘a science which hesitates to forget its founders is lost,’ one could argue that Marxism – the valuable parts of Marxism – should simply merge with the mainstream of social science and lose its identity as a separate current. Indeed, there is much to ...
21 August 1980
... Anglo-American political science is dominated by the image of rational man. Politics is the maximising of something or other: material benefits for the voter, votes for the politician. Politicians competing for the voters’ favour have to think strategically and rationally. They cannot waste effort on lost causes, nor afford to take up positions too far from the centre. Indeed, a famous theorem, which ...

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