[This post is the first in a series and draws on a recent paper of mine, 'Staying Home: G.A. Cohen and the Motivational Basis of Socialism'.]
In this series I consider the motivational supports that might be thought necessary and also possible for socialism. I do so by way of a discussion of G.A. Cohen's Why Not Socialism?1 Because this is the objective that he – Cohen – is interested in, and because it is one I agree with him in regarding as desirable, the questions I pose will be posed with reference to socialism. However, even for those who disagree about the desirability of the objective, they are questions which may be thought interesting. For I believe that the general structure of the motivational problem to which I shall be drawing attention would be similar if what we had in view was, not socialism, but some other form of putatively just social and economic order in which a balance had to be struck between individual self-interest and a degree of cooperative reciprocity.
To anticipate the conclusion of my argument: it will be that in conceiving socialism we must think of just moral principles of equality of opportunity that, embodied in a set of social arrangements, are backed by a suitable political framework of law and sanctions; with the commitment to those principles, and their enforcement by authoritative power, doing the main work of sustaining socialism. We should bypass strenuous assumptions about wide-ranging fellow-feeling or community. On the basis of what we presently know, assumptions of this kind are not secure.
I arrive at this conclusion via an internal critique – or, for those who like the Hegelian resonance of it, an immanent one – of Why Not Socialism? I set out to show a tension in Cohen's argument which, when it is explored, points in a direction opposite to the one he urges upon us. But there are also independent reasons for scepticism about his preferred direction, and I shall have something to say about these as well.
Before getting down to business I should first like to register that I hold Jerry Cohen's work in the highest regard, and have been reading it with admiration and pleasure throughout my professional career. One notable milestone on this road was Karl Marx's Theory of History: A Defence2 – for a generation of students of Marx's thought a tour de force of careful exegesis and analytical precision that could not be ignored. There was much else along the way, however, and I was always keen to know what Jerry thought in areas where my interests overlapped with his. A formidable, if sometimes acerbic, interlocutor, he could also be most generous with his time, advice and support, and I was among those who benefited from this generosity. Like many others I felt Jerry's early death as a great loss. So, if what follows engages with him critically – as it does – I would like to hope that it may be seen, also, as a tribute to his own demanding standards of philosophical advocacy.
 G.A. Cohen, Why Not Socialism?, Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford 2009. Referred to in the footnotes that follow as WNS.
 G.A. Cohen, Karl Marx's Theory of History: A Defence, Oxford University Press, Oxford 1978.
(Part 2 is here.)