I recently had a discussion with a commissioning editor of an academic publishing house who informed me that any new book proposal to do with New Labour stood little chance of getting published, but that they were very keen on books about the Conservatives. The reason for this is quite obvious: academic publishers are commercial companies that need to be aware of how the market is changing and each wants to be ahead of the game.
The other growth area in the social science literature is books on the credit crunch and financial crisis. Browsing through forthcoming books on Amazon or in publishers’ catalogues shows that many academics on the left are preparing works on the collapse of capitalism and demise of global finance. Indeed, there has been a renewed interest in Marxist ideas and those writers such as David Harvey who have consistently predicted the end of capitalism. Clearly, publishing books against capitalism is a good way of making money at the minute.
But also there is a renewed interest in libertarian writers, particularly Ayn Rand, whose novels are rushing off the shelves. Young Americans in particular seem keen to discover Rand’s particular take on individualism and to find out whether greed really is good.
At first glance this interest in both the collapse of capitalism and its enduring virtues is mysterious. But, I would argue that it is not. Current times are shaped by uncertainty, about the economy, the environment and our continued prosperity. What both Marxists and Randians share is a moral certainty. Marxists are on the side of the downtrodden and the victim and so they automatically have virtue on their side. In Rand’s case she puts forward a case for capitalism that is not based on its effectiveness or utility but on the fact that it is morally superior and that individual freedom is what any rational individual would choose to prioritise. Arguments such as these can offer a sound basis for capitalism without having to resort to a bank’s balance sheet or the value of one’s dwelling.
I believe this shows two things: first, that despite the timidity of our politicians, the battle of ideas is still being joined and from both sides at that; and second, there is clearly money to be made from it.