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Peter Berger

Richard Reinsch recommends this review of Peter Berger’s intellectual autobiography, which I also recommend.  Berger is an interesting thinker.  One bit from the review illustrates one of the major vices of intellectual endeavor — confirmation bias — which is clearly part of the problem that prevents the progress that the Enlightenment envisioned from occurring:

One of [Berger’s] female friends was very supportive of the Soviet Union during the Cold War. He decided to introduce her to a Latvian couple capable of describing the persecution they had endured at the hands of Communist enforcers. After a certain point in the conversation, the young woman put her hands over her ears and said she did not want to hear any more. Afterwards, she told Berger that she believed the Latvians, but was sure that there was some additional information that would change everything they said. She told Berger she would check it out. He never saw her again. The point is clear. People maintain all kinds of beliefs against disconfirmation.

The review notes that Berger changed his mind about the relative merits of capitalism and socialism:

His early work was basically agnostic between socialism and capitalism, but over time he found his estimate of the relative merits of the two systems had changed. He found himself repelled by Marxism and increasingly convinced that the fundamental claim of capitalism to lift great masses of people out of abject poverty and into a decent standard of living is “empirically valid.” Interestingly, Berger saw his embrace of capitalism as primarily a matter of pragmatism. In other words, he moved away from socialism and toward capitalism because he felt the former does not work, whereas the latter does.

While the review does not say so, I assume it is referring to Berger’s much underappreciated classic “The Capitalist Revolution: 50 Propositions about Prosperity, Equality and Liberty.”  I strongly recommend the book, although it is a bit out of date (having been published in 1986).  The book attempts to evaluate the theoretical claims made about capitalism and socialism from a empirical perspective.  While Berger is clearly a fan of capitalism, he attempts to look at the evidence in an impartial way and departs from the capitalist viewpoint in various ways.  It is the work of an empirically oriented sociologist who is favorable to capitalism and is therefore unusual.

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