From beginner-friendly introductions to classic books on socialism, this page features books to suit any learning style. It’s worth noting that there is no single best philosophy book on socialism. The best book for you will depend heavily on your preferred learning style and the amount of time/energy you’re willing to spend reading. For example, if you tend to find classic works of philosophy difficult to understand, you might want to start with a short, beginner-friendly introduction. If you prefer more depth, you can choose a more comprehensive introduction or pick up one of the classics.
It’s also worth noting that it is not a list of personal recommendations. Personal book recommendations tend to be highly subjective, idiosyncratic, and unreliable. This list is part of a collection of over 100 philosophy reading lists which aim to provide a central resource for philosophy book recommendations. These lists were created by searching through hundreds of university course syllabi, internet encyclopedia bibliographies, and community recommendations. Links to the syllabi and other sources used to create this list are at the end of the post. Following these links will help you quickly find a broader range of options if the listed books do not fit what you are looking for.
Here are the best philosophy books on socialism in no particular order.
Socialism: Past and Future – Michael Harrington
Publisher description: On learning his cancer was inoperable, renowned intellectual Michael Harrington simply asked the doctors to keep him alive long enough “to complete a summary statement of the themes I had thought of throughout an activist life.” And they did.
Socialism: Past and Future is prominent thinker Michael Harrington’s final contribution: a thoughtful, intelligent, and compassionate treatise on the role of socialism both past and present in modern society. He is convincing in his application of classic socialist theory to current economic situations and modern political systems, and he examines the validity of the idea of “visionary gradualism” in bringing about a socialist agenda. He believes that if freedom and justice are to survive into the next century, the socialist movement will be a critical factor. …
Why Not Socialism? – G. A. Cohen
Publisher description: Is socialism desirable? Is it even possible? In this concise book, one of the world’s leading political philosophers presents with clarity and wit a compelling moral case for socialism and argues that the obstacles in its way are exaggerated.
There are times, G. A. Cohen notes, when we all behave like socialists. On a camping trip, for example, campers wouldn’t dream of charging each other to use a soccer ball or for fish that they happened to catch. Campers do not give merely to get, but relate to each other in a spirit of equality and community. Would such socialist norms be desirable across society as a whole? Why not? Whole societies may differ from camping trips, but it is still attractive when people treat each other with the equal regard that such trips exhibit.
Selected Writings – Karl Marx
Publisher description: Featuring the most important and enduring works from Marx’s enormous corpus, this collection ranges from the Hegelian idealism of his youth to the mature socialism of his later works. Organized both topically and in rough chronological order, the selections (many of them in the translations of Loyd D. Easton and Kurt H. Guddat) include writings on historical materialism, excerpts from Capital, and political works.
Socialism: Utopian and Scientific – Friedrich Engels
Publisher description: Socialism, Utopian and Scientific is a political science classic that needs no preface. It ranks with the Communist Manifesto as one of the indispensable books for any one desiring to understand the modern socialist movement. It has been translated into every language where capitalism prevails, and its circulation is more rapid than ever before. The book explains the differences between utopian socialism and scientific socialism, which Marxism considers itself to embody. The book explains that whereas utopian socialism is idealist, reflects the personal opinions of the authors and claims that society can be adapted based on these opinions, scientific socialism derives itself from reality. It focuses on the materialist conception of history, which is based on an analysis over history, and concludes that communism naturally follows capitalism. Engels begins the book by chronicaling the thought of utopian socialists, starting with Saint-Simon. He then proceeds to Fourier and Robert Owen. In Chapter Two, he summarizes dialectics, and then chronicles the thought from the ancient Greeks to Hegel. Chapter Three summarizes dialectics in relation to economic and social struggles, essentially echoing the words of Marx.
The Fatal Conceit – Friedrich Hayek
Publisher description: Hayek gives the main arguments for the free-market case and presents his manifesto on the “errors of socialism.” Hayek argues that socialism has, from its origins, been mistaken on factual, and even on logical, grounds and that its repeated failures in the many different practical applications of socialist ideas that this century has witnessed were the direct outcome of these errors. He labels as the “fatal conceit” the idea that “man is able to shape the world around him according to his wishes.”
A Future for Socialism – John Roemer
Publisher description: Many people point to recent events―the collapse of the Soviet Union, the electoral defeat of the Sandinistas―as proof that capitalism has triumphed over socialism once and for all. In A Future for Socialism, a noted economist argues that socialism is not dead but merely in need of modernizing. John Roemer believes that the hallmark of socialism is egalitarianism―equality of opportunity for self-realization and welfare, for political influence, and for social status―and he reminds us that capitalist societies face increasingly difficult problems of poverty and social inequality. Reenergizing a debate that began with Oskar Lange and Friedrich Hayek in the late 1930s, he brings to important questions of political economy a new level of sophistication in line with contemporary theories of justice and equality.
Roemer sees the solution of the principal-agent problem as the key to developing a decentralized market-socialist economy. This would be capable of maintaining efficiency and technological innovation while supporting a substantively more equal distribution of income than is achieved in capitalist economies. Roemer defends his views against skeptics on the right, who believe that efficiency and innovation are incompatible with egalitarianism, and skeptics on the left, who believe that socialism is incompatible with markets. …
Envisioning Real Utopias – Erik Olin Wright
Publisher description: Rising inequality of income and power, along with the recent convulsions in the finance sector, have made the search for alternatives to unbridled capitalism more urgent than ever. Yet there has been a global retreat by the Left: on the assumption that liberal capitalism is the only game in town, political theorists tend to dismiss as utopian any attempt to rethink our social and economic relations. As Fredric Jameson first argued, it is now easier for us to imagine the end of the world than an alternative to capitalism.
Erik Olin Wright’s Envisioning Real Utopias is a comprehensive assault on the quietism of contemporary social theory. Building on a lifetime’s work analyzing the class system in the developed world, as well as exploring the problem of the transition to a socialist alternative, Wright has now completed a systematic reconstruction of the core values and feasible goals for Left theorists and political actors. Envisioning Real Utopias aims to put the social back into socialism, laying the foundations for a set of concrete, emancipatory alternatives to the capitalist system. Characteristically rigorous and engaging, this will become a landmark of social thought for the twenty-first century.
How to Be an Anti-capitalist in the 21st Century – Erik Olin Wright
Publisher description: What is wrong with capitalism, and how can we change it?
Capitalism has transformed the world and increased our productivity, but at the cost of enormous human suffering. Our shared values—equality and fairness, democracy and freedom, community and solidarity—can provide both the basis for a critique of capitalism and help to guide us toward a socialist and democratic society.
Erik Olin Wright has distilled decades of work into this concise and tightly argued manifesto: analyzing the varieties of anticapitalism, assessing different strategic approaches, and laying the foundations for a society dedicated to human flourishing. How to Be an Anticapitalist in the Twenty-First Century is an urgent and powerful argument for socialism, and an unparalleled guide to help us get there. Another world is possible. Included is an afterword by the author’s close friend and collaborator Michael Burawoy.
The following sources were used to build this list:
University Course Syllabi:
- Socialism, Marxism, Communism – California State University, Sacramento
- Bibliography for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Socialism
- Bibliography for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Socialism
You might also be interested in the following reading lists:
- The Best Introductory Philosophy Books
- The Best Books on Political Philosophy
- The Best Books on or by Karl Marx
- The Best Books on Marxism
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A History of Western Philosophy in 500 Essential Quotations – Lennox Johnson
Category: Reference | Length: 145 pages | Published: 2019
Publisher’s Description: A History of Western Philosophy in 500 Essential Quotations is a collection of the greatest thoughts from history’s greatest thinkers. Featuring classic quotations by Aristotle, Epicurus, David Hume, Friedrich Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell, Michel Foucault, and many more, A History of Western Philosophy in 500 Essential Quotations is ideal for anyone looking to quickly understand the fundamental ideas that have shaped the modern world.