After the financial crash and the great recession, the media rediscovered Karl Marx, socialist theory, and the very idea that capitalism can be questioned.
But in spite of the publicity, the main paths of contemporary critical thought have gone unexplored
outside of the academy. Benjamin Kunkel’s Utopia or Bust leads readers – whether politically committed or simply curious – through the most important critical theory today. Written with the wit and verve of Kunkel’s best-selling novel, Indecision, this introduction to contemporary Leftist thinkers engages with the revolutionary philosophy of Slavoj Žižek, the economic analyses of David Graeber and David Harvey, and the cultural diagnoses of Fredric Jameson.
Discussing the ongoing crisis of capitalism in light of ideas of full employment, debt forgiveness, and “fictitious capital,” Utopia or Bust is a tour through the world of Marxist thought and an examination of the basis of Western society today.
Novelist turned public-intellectual Kunkel (Indecision) ventures into the realm of political non-fiction, voicing his dissatisfactions and hopes for the Left in the United States. Recounting his personal intellectual journey from vaguely leftist malcontent to explicitly Marxist thinker, Kunkel laments a lack of coherent critique of the present. In response, he tackles some of the left's most complex scholarship. From Boris Groys to Slavoj Zizek, Kunkel translates tricky questions of economics, culture, and politics into easy-to-understand prose that distil the problems not only with American capitalism, but capitalism in general: the tendency to shift social wealth away from the masses and towards the rich, and to run itself into crisis. While aiming to develop a critique of later-day America to clear the way for a second book dedicated to the question of a truly just society, this book is not without its concrete suggestions. Where the relatively recent obsession with inflation represents the interests of only the financial sector, Kunkel proposes a redefinition of "full employment" that would have significant political implications. Rather than being understood as an acceptable rate of unemployment, he argues for a definition that includes jobs for all who want them, a living wage, a productive role for government, and the understanding that not all inflation is destructive. All told, this book demonstrates Kunkel's command both of the written word and some of our most pressing problems, as well as their possible solutions.