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Capitalism and Socialism: Two Sides of the Same Coin?

Despoina Potari
University of Oxford
Milos Martinov
University of Oxford
Despoina Potari
University of Oxford
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Abstract

Capitalism and socialism are portrayed in popular and academic discourse as polar opposites, dueling ideologies that provide radically different conceptions of the good life. While there have been genuine attempts to combine the two (e.g. – under the mantle of “social democracy,” “mixed economies,” or the “Third Way”), they have nevertheless been overshadowed by an underlying consensus which views capitalism and socialism as irreconcilable: despite efforts to fuse the best elements of both, one will eventually have to surpass the other. This article questions the commonplace portrayal of capitalism and socialism as opposites. In fact, it turns the popular and academic discourse about these ideologies on its head by inquiring into the ways in which capitalism and socialism are more alike than their respective proponents like to admit. In order to exemplify the ways in which those seemingly opposing theories are in effect conceptually and ideologically homologous, our analysis employs Michael Freeden’s morphological method, which treats ideologies as patterned relationships between sets of politically meaningful concepts. Setting the problematic at the level of ideological analysis, the paper addresses the following questions: What are the respective conceptual cores of socialism and capitalism? Which key concepts can be found as common in all the various manifestations of each ideology and how do these concepts relate to each other? Is the conceptual content of socialism and capitalism the same? And if so, how similar are the interrelations between these concepts within each ideological system? We hypothesize that while there are differences in the particular relationships that each ideology assigns among its key concepts, capitalism and socialism are still composed of the same core concepts. From a morphological analysis of capitalism and socialism qua ideologies, the two are shown to be defined by the same conceptual constitution. They are revealed to be two different morphological variations of essentially the same bundle of core, adjacent and peripheral concepts, differing only in the arrangement and pattern of association between them. Overall, this article will provide a useful contribution to the academic literature. Firstly, it will extend an ideological analysis to economics, an area that is all-too- often viewed as scientific and value-neutral. Secondly, it will lay the groundwork for a normative critique of materialism. Constructivist and poststructuralist theories have criticized the empirical explanatory power of materialism, but they have failed to conceptualize it as an ideological viewpoint, making it difficult to formulate ethical critiques of materialism. Finally, our article intervenes in activist debates about social justice and provides a cautionary tale: in using socialism to fight capitalism, we may simply be replacing one form of materialism with another.