Culture and Consensus in European Varieties of Capitalism: A 'Common Sense' Analysis
IPalgrave, 2008, 195 pp.
ISBN: 978-0-230-54932-6 (hbk) 50 [pounds sterling]
I would like to begin this review by making two general comments. One is that doctoral theses rarely make good books--mine included. The other is that the original dynamism of the 'varieties of capitalism' (VOC) literature seems lately to have stalled. I begin by stating these things because Ian Bruff's Culture and Consensus in European Varieties of Capitalism gives the lie to them both. The fact that this book is a splendidly reworked version of a carefully argued doctoral thesis is actually its strength. You can see exactly where Bruff wants to take the argument, and why he thinks it should go that way. In the process, he makes a pitch at the 'new institutionalist' core of the VoC literature, urging its advocates to move intellectually to their left.
Bruff offers a neo-Gramscian take on both the VoC literature and the trajectory of two key European capitalist models: the Dutch and the German. Of the new institutionalist scholarship on post-Second World War advanced capitalism, he writes that their focus on institutionalist determinants of economic behaviour has left little room for the systemic study of the role of ideas in the stories that are told; that there has been a 'turn' to culture in the new institutionalist literature; but that in much of that work, ideas have been more often described than explained and indeed, on occasion, consciously not explained, in order to keep the analytical focus on such things as institutional complementarity and competitive institutional advantage. This is a pity, in his view, because the differential performances of key economies are in part a product of their differential capacities for the construction of consensus. Finally, he makes the point that the analysis of cultures, ideational systems and patterns of common sense needs to be brought into the centre of the analysis of contemporary capitalism, and that the best way to do that is to deploy neo-Gramscian ways of understanding the world.
All this seems to me to be entirely right. Gramscian understandings of the way capitalism works begin with the recognition that its basic class relationships are endemically contradictory, and that in consequence social order, economic cooperation and the sharing of common goals is something that has to be constructed. It is not natural. On the contrary,...