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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