From the monthly archives:

October 2006

Clifford Geertz

by Henry Farrell on October 31, 2006

Via David Greenberg at “Open University”:, I see that Clifford Geertz, whom I admired greatly, has died. Obituary “here”:

Seminar: The Primacy of Politics

by Henry Farrell on October 31, 2006

Update: All six posts and Berman’s response are now up. I hope to have the PDF version finished by the late afternoon.

As “promised”: earlier, we’ve put together a seminar on Sheri Berman’s new book, _The Primacy of Politics: Social Democracy and the Making of Europe’s Twentieth Century_ (“Powells”:, “Amazon”: ). This is a really interesting and enjoyable book, both as an intellectual and political history of the origins of social democracy, and as a set of arguments about social democracy’s crucial role in in post-World War II Europe and in the future. If you want to link to the seminar, you should link to


The first three contributions are below; the second three, as well as Sheri’s response, will be posted tomorrow. In order of publication, the contributors are

Henry Farrell provides a summary of the book’s arguments. He suggests that the book is a major contribution to a new, neo-Polanyian school of political economy, but thinks that Berman gives too little credit to Keynes and Christian Democrats for their role in creating the post-WW II European order, and is a little worried at the future possibility of a version of European social democracy with a fascistic tinge.

“Tyler Cowen”: is a Professor of Economics at George Mason University; he blogs at “Marginal Revolution”: and has a monthly column on economics for the _New York Times._ He claims that for all the brilliance of Berman’s arguments, the future prospects for European social democracy are bleak, given demographics and economic facts.

“Mark Blyth”: is Associate Professor of Political Science at Johns Hopkins University, editor of the Review of International Political Economy, and sometime blogger at the excellent 3 Quarks Daily. He investigates the ways in which Berman contributes to a constructivist political economy, and ends up arguing that Fascism may have lost less because of its internal contradictions than because of an accident of history.

Jim McNeill does communications work for the Service Employees International Union and writes occasionally for magazines including _The American Prospect_ (see “here”: for his recent piece on Sherrod Brown), _Dissent_ and the _Baffler._ He laments the lack of a strong basis for social democracy in the US, and asks, in the absence of a powerful union movement, what forces might help promote it.

Matthew Yglesias has an “eponymous blog”:, and is a Staff Writer at The American Prospect. He’s currently on leave, writing an as-yet-untitled book about the Democrats and US foreign policy. He argues that Berman underestimates the key contribution of liberalism to taming the market.

John Quiggin writes about how social democracy in English speaking countries didn’t have the hang ups about Marxist orthodoxy that its continental variants experienced. He also notes that there is conceptual slippage in contemporary neo-liberal arguments between the experience of capitalism as it exists (i.e. with a fair dollop of social democracy mixed in) and the abstract neo-liberal model of capitalism.

Tomorrow, we’ll link to a PDF of the complete seminar for those who prefer to read it on paper.

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Politics and the Kenosha Kid

by jmcneill on October 31, 2006

I come to Berman’s book as an American labor bureaucrat—envious of the social democratic world she reveals to us, embarrassed by our failure to sustain anything like it on these shores. I read of the just wage established under Sweden’s Rehn-Meidner centralized bargaining system and weep. [click to continue…]

Can Social Democracy Explain Its Own Success?

by Matthew Yglesias on October 31, 2006

With The Primacy of Politics Sherri Berman has given us a magnificent intellectual history of the debates within the left in the first half of the twentieth century that led to the rise of ideologies — social democracy and fascism — that rejected the economic determinism of Marx and Engels in favor of political activism aimed at curtailing, rather than eliminating, free markets. What she hasn’t given us, I’m afraid, is an especially convincing causal story that the unfolding of these debates really was the key to the establishment of the distinctive post-war social, political, and economic settlement in Europe. [click to continue…]

Social Democracy in the English-speaking world

by John Q on October 31, 2006

I’ll leave it to others more expert on the history of European Marxism to discuss the main arguments in Sheri Berman’s book. I’ll focus on a couple of peripheral points. [click to continue…]

Sheri Berman: Response

by Sheri Berman on October 31, 2006

Thanks so much for all the interesting and insightful comments, which have given me a lot to think about. Serious exchanges like this are truly an author’s dream. Although I would love to discuss each and every point, in the interests of sparing less-obsessed readers let me focus on some broad themes. [click to continue…]

Climate change goes mainstream

by Maria on October 31, 2006

US newspaper headlines are understandably focused on the upcoming election, but another development that will have as much, if not more, effect on us all is headline news in the UK. The Stern report on climate change, commissioned by Gordon Brown, was launched yesterday by Brown and Blair. Stern spells out the economic basis for action on climate change. He warns that if we do nothing, climate change could cost anything between 5% and 20% of global output. If we start now, it will cost about 1% of global output to stabilise carbom emissions. The 700 page report shows that failing to act will cost our economies more than limiting carbon emissions – and not in 2100, but beginning in the next 20 years. The UK is calling for a treaty to limit carbon emissions by taxing or trading to be in place by 2008. To succeed, the UK must convince the US, China and India to join the club.

Climate change denialists should note that Paul Wolfowitz says the report “provides a much needed critical economic analysis of the issues associated with climate change”. Countries like the UK will still struggle with the politics of economic self-restraint when it comes to convincing voters that, for example, one pound flights to Carcassonne were a historical blip. But this report – and the united Blair/Brown staging and messaging behind it – could be the turning point in making climate change a mainstream political issue. If Tony Blair ever wanted to call payback time on his supine special relationship with the US, the moment has come.

The Irish Times reports that the UK government has actually hired Al Gore to raise US public awareness of climate change. The Guardian reports that the Treasury is sending Sir Nicholas on a tour of China, India, the US and Australia to sell the message and urge rapid action. The FT reports that the Germans, who will head both the G8 and the EU next year, are making supportive noises. (In-depth FT analysis of the report here.) Let’s hope the stars are moving into alignment.

Moral Views of Market Society

by Kieran Healy on October 30, 2006

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to participate in the “discussion on Sheri Berman’s book”:, perhaps out of residual guilt at not completing her Comparative Politics seminar back when I was a graduate student. But here’s a somewhat related new paper by “Marion Fourcade”: and myself on “Moral Views of Market Society”: [pdf] which touches on some of the Polanyian themes in the discussion, particularly debates about the relationship between the market and the moral order, broadly conceived.

Social Democracy and Fascism as Cousins-German

by Henry Farrell on October 30, 2006

Sheri Berman’s book on the past and future of European social democracy makes (at least) two big contributions. First, it takes up Karl Polanyi’s claims about the origins of socialism and fascism and makes something new of them. Berman is explicitly writing in a Polanyian tradition, but she isn’t a disciple or an epigone of Polanyi. Like the social democrats who are the heroes of this book, she takes a classic set of arguments and interrogates and updates them, making claims about what works and what doesn’t, what’s relevant to our contemporary situation, and what isn’t. Second, in so doing she decisively demonstrates the importance of ideas to politics. Her story is one where ideas have dramatic consequences for history. The failure of some socialists to escape from the straitjacket of economistic Marxist thought doomed them to failure and political irrelevancy. The willingness of others to challenge conventional nostrums, and to become actively involved in politics had an enormous historical impact, whether they went to the left (social democrats) or to the right (various strains of fascists and national socialists). [click to continue…]

Sheri Berman’s The Primacy of Politics is one of the best books I have read in a long time. While much contemporary political science devolves into ever less relevant formalisms and ‘econo-aping,’ Berman’s book reminds us of the power of narrative; in two senses. First, in the sense that says, ‘nothing gets you going like a good narrative.’ Second, in the sense that it demonstrates how social facts such as narrative, argument, rhetoric, and claim-making about the political world are essentially constitutive of it. In both of these senses its is a excellent piece of scholarship. [click to continue…]

“Political history in the advanced industrial world has indeed ended, argues this pioneering study, but the winner has been social democracy…”

So runs the opening blurb on Sheri Berman’s The Primary of Politics: Social Democracy and the Making of Europe’s Twentieth Century. Most of the book is a well-researched account of the history and subtlety of social democratic thought, but I wish to consider the broader framing of the argument. In the last chapter the author returns to her apparent view that social democracy is fundamentally a solution to the problem of politics and it will remain relevant, indeed dominant, throughout the twenty-first century. [click to continue…]

Paintings to see before you die

by Maria on October 30, 2006

The Guardian has a lovely new arts blog that leads off with a piece about the 20 paintings to see in the flesh before you die:
“van Eyck, The Madonna of Chancellor Rolin, c.1435, Musée du Louvre, Paris
Caravaggio, The Burial of St. Lucy (1608), Museo di Palazzo Bellomo, Syracuse, Sicily
Rembrandt, Aristotle with a Bust of Homer (1654), Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
San Rock Art, South African National Museum, Cape Town
Paul Cézanne, Mont Sainte-Victoire from Les Lauves (1904 – 6), Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow
Michelangelo, Moses (installed 1545), Church of San Pietro in Vincoli, Rome
Leonardo da Vinci, The Adoration of the Magi, (c. 1481), Uffizi Gallery, Florence
Mark Rothko, The Rothko Chapel (paintings 1965-66; chapel opened 1971), Houston, Texas
Vermeer, View of Delft (c.1660-61), Mauritshuis, The Hague
Matthias Grünewald, The Isenheim Altarpiece (c.1509-15), Musée Unterlinden, Colmar, France
Hans Holbein, The Dead Christ, (1521-2), Kunstmuseum, Basel
Velázquez, Las Meninas (1656), Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid
Funerary Mask of Tutankhamun (1333-1323BC), Egyptian Museum, Cairo
Jackson Pollock, One: Number 31, 1950, Museum of Modern Art, New York
Masaccio, The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise (c.1427), Brancacci Chapel, Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence.
Pablo Picasso, Guernica (1937), Reina Sofia Museum, Madrid
Titian, Danaë (c. 1544-6), Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples
Raphael, The School of Athens (1510-11), Stanza della Signatura, Vatican Palace, Rome
Parthenon Sculptures (“Elgin Marbles”), c. 444 BC, British Museum, London
Henri Matisse, The Dance (1910), Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia.”

The comments unfairly criticise Jonathan Jones’ selection as too European, but he says himself it’s a subjective list of paintings so serious or affecting as to be worth travelling to see. And he invites readers to suggest their own. It’s an interesting take in the age of mechanical reproduction. The suggestions so far lean heavily on the 20th century, with the odd old master thrown in. I hope the Guardian’s commenters take up Jones’ challenge to broaden the field.

I’ve seen maybe a quarter of Jones’ list (if we allow ‘seen’ to include works I have shuffled past in the Louvre). But I’d still add to it Chagall’s stained glass windows in the Hadassah Hospital in Israel. They are deeply moving and can only be properly experienced by going there. You haven’t experienced Chagall till you’ve experienced him with light coming through (although the Chagall gallery in Nice comes close). Secondly, I’d add Monet’s Nymphéas which have been specially hung in curved rooms at the Orangerie in Paris. A recently attempted visit confirms the Orangerie is still impossible to get into, so this addition to the list is really wishful thinking.

The Guardian’s arts blog also reminds me to post a link to a wonderful stage interview of Gael Garcia Bernal at the NFT a couple of weeks back. The character GGB most identifies with is the sweet but irresponsible Julio from Y Tu Mamá También, but his thoughtful comments about politics and inequality in Mexico show this actor has more to say for himself than your average horny teenager.

Support Cory Mason in Racine

by Harry on October 30, 2006

We don’t usually do political endorsements at CT, in fact we don’t even have a line on anything (with one possible exception). So I should say that any endorsements we do are entirely the responsibility of the individual poster (in this case, me). But I did want to alert Wisconsin residents, and especially Racine residents, to a candidate who really deserves your support. Cory Mason is running for the state legislature in Racine, on the Democratic ticket. He should win, but there is no certainty in these matters, and his opponent, a local retired cop, is running a strong campaign, and is, absurdly, trying to portray Cory as a carpetbagger (absurdly because Cory grew up in Racine, and told me when I first got to know him that he intended to work in Madison for a while until he could figure out a way to move back to Racine).

I should say three things. I have never supported a Democrat in a partisan race before, and I think Cory was not sure I’d say yes when he initially asked for my support. Second, Cory is a friend and former student of mine, who I know very well, and that is what makes me so confident in him. He is very firmly committed to a progressive vision of social justice and at the same time understands, from working for many years in the legislature as an aide and a lobbyist (for the teacher’s union) that politics involves pragmatic compromise. His principles and character, though, ensure that where there are compromises they will not be shoddy, but borne from careful judgment about the best that can be done in the circumstances. Third, he is deeply thoughtful about what are the best means to achieve the end of social justice. I know this because when he first encountered my unorthodox views about school choice and vouchers, instead of being straightforwardly appalled, as most would be, he was appalled and intrigued, prompting a set of arguments and debates on education policy we’ve had over the past several years. There’s no-one I’d rather see win a race this Fall. If you are in Racine you should vote for him, but even if not he needs and thoroughly deserves your support (contributions welcome here).

Stern report previewed

by John Q on October 29, 2006

With the major issues in the scientific debate over climate change having been resolved, attention has now turned to the economics of stabilising the climate and to the costs of doing nothing. Following the House of Lords economic committee inquiry last year, which spent most of its time promoting denialist attacks on climate science, and had little of value to say on the economic issues, the UK government commissioned Sir Nicholas Stern, former chief economist of the World Bank to look at the issue properly.

[click to continue…]

Changing High Horses Midstream

by John Holbo on October 29, 2006

Glenn Greenwald is complaining about Peggy Noonan and, by extension, a considerable swathe of the punditocracy. I’ve been meaning to write that post myself, give or take. The problem is: it’s a bit hard to complain effectively about such things because you end up just sounding extra bothered about minor stuff from years ago. It seems like there should be some snappy way to make this charge stick and sting a little. Thus do I toss my post title – humble message in a bottle – onto the sea of talking points. Perhaps it can be used by someone to embarrass someone who deserves it.