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Return to Sanity?

P.V. Pillai

By Peter L. Berger
Allen Lane, 1976, Price Not Stated

VOLUME I NUMBER 4 October - December 1976

At a time when sociology has come to be domi­nated either by convoluted ways of stating the obvious or tortuous and pseudo-mathematical elabora­tions of dubious methodologies—often, indeed, by excruciating combinations of the two—Peter Ber­ger’s book is to be lauded as an attempted return to sanity. His basic theme is with developmental approa­ches to the Third World, not because this is the arena of his major interest but because it offers the best field—and one of the greatest current import­ance—to analyse the presuppositions underlying the capitalist and socialist rubrics under one or other of which most, if not all, developmental strategies can be subsumed. It thus provides an invaluable and dramatic instance of the interactions between social change and political ethics—the focus of his con­cern. Berger is self-avowedly not, bless him! an en­gage academic, nor is he so obsessed with increasing the admittedly tenuous rigour of social science that internal theoretical considerations prevail over the glaring social truths which ought to be a sociolo­gist’s primary concern. Thus the great virtue of his work is in a sense its ordinariness, its perception of those pedestrian but vital truths all too often lost in a welter of methodological casuistry, whether that of the Left or the Right. Thus, while accepting many of the Left’s critiques of capitalist-inspired developmental modalities in the Third World as conducive to political dependence on the ‘metropolies’, to in­creasing unemployment and accentuation of income gaps and to the general ‘development of under­development’, he denies that these perceptions, sound in themselves, derive from the theoretical matrix of Marxism. To argue that capitalism stems from imperialistic penetration rather than from complex configurations specific to certain West European countries is to avoid such pertinent issues as to why the empires of the Iberian Peninsula, Spain and Portugal, despite vast colonial exploita­tion, did not develop into capitalist societies. Conversely, capitalist critiques of socialism, while probably rightly pointing to relatively weak economic performance find top-heavy bureaucracies, nevertheless cannot deny that the doctrine of eco­nomic growth per se is a dangerous fallacy and that capitalist models in the Third World invariably display an accentuation of economic tensions and an exacerbation of the problems of development. As Berger rightly points out to say that these are short-term problems is no more consoling or satis­factory than ...

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