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.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 License.

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.