Kritikastri “na pamet”

Arthur Goldhammer je stopil v bran Pikettyjeve knjige Capital in the Twenty-First Century, ki jo je prevedel iz francoščine v angleščino, pred rokohitrskimi komentatorji, ki knjige sploh niso prebrali:

Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century has been an immense success. As the book’s translator, I’m not surprised it has found an audience. Having spent many months with the text, I know the depth of the research it embodies and the importance of its argument for our current political debate about inequality. Since publication, I have followed the reviews with great interest. Some, like Robert Solow’s, have engaged with the deep structure of the argument, performing a real service to readers who may not be fully prepared to digest the sheer volume of material that Piketty presents in 655 pages replete with graphs, tables, and the necessary minimum of mathematical formulas. Other commentators have preferred to ride their own personal hobby horses rather than engage with the challenge of Piketty. An article that falls into the latter category, by James Poulos, appeared here on The Daily Beast.

When I read Poulos’s piece, I was startled to come upon the following passage: “Even an undergraduate level of engagement with Democracy in America would reveal, in virtually every chapter, that Piketty is not only wrong but glibly and perilously so.” This quite took my breath away, since I am the translator not only of Piketty but also of Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. Somehow it had escaped my notice that Tocqueville refuted Piketty, even though I think it is safe to say that my engagement with Tocqueville is a bit beyond the undergraduate level. In addition to translating his book about America, I have also translated The Ancien Régime and the Revolution as well as a hefty volume of letters, diaries, and other material from Tocqueville’s travels in the United States. Next year I will translate his Souvenirs. And I have published a number of papers on Tocqueville, lectured on his work, attended conferences of Tocqueville scholars, and studied his writings for nearly 40 years. So what did Poulos see that I didn’t?

Actually, it’s difficult to say. His column is such a mishmash of assertion and non-sequitur that it’s hard to fasten on an argument. He turns first to the chapter entitled “How Industry Could Give Rise to an Aristocracy” (I prefer to cite my own translation rather than the one Poulos uses). Exactly why Poulos thinks this chapter constitutes a devastating riposte to Piketty (or to the political scientists Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, whose review comparing Piketty to Tocqueville is the immediate provocation for his diatribe) is not clear. Piketty is well aware that there are ways in which the top 1 percent of today’s income and wealth hierarchies might be compared to the aristocracy of Ancien Régime France. He says, for example, that “in France in 1789, it is generally estimated that the aristocracy represented 1 to 2 percent of the population, the clergy less than 1 percent, and the ‘Third Estate,’ meaning (under the political system of the Ancien Régime) all the rest, from peasantry to bourgeoisie, more than 97 percent.”

Of course, Poulos has a different Tocquevillean “aristocracy” in mind—not the hereditary aristocracy of the Ancien Régime but “the manufacturing aristocracy,” which, “having impoverished and brutalized the men it uses, abandons them in times of crisis and turns them over to public assistance to be fed … [a] manufacturing aristocracy that … is one of the cruelest that has ever existed on earth.” Poulos seems unafraid of this “cruelty,” however, perhaps because he accepts Tocqueville’s benign view that this industrial aristocracy “is also one of the most limited and least dangerous.”

Vir: Arthur Goldhammer (Center for European Studies at Harvard University)

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