From the category archives:

Sheri Berman seminar

The death of social democracy: greatly exaggerated

by Henry Farrell on July 19, 2007

Vernon Bogdanor has a “review”:,,25346-2647303,00.html of Sheri Berman’s _The Primacy of Politics_ (which we ran a “seminar”: on last year) in the TLS, Large parts of the article are good and perceptive, but Bogdanor also seems to be using the book to make his own, rather odd claims.
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Sheri Berman seminar PDF

by Henry Farrell on November 1, 2006

I’ve put together a PDF of the Sheri Berman seminar, for those who prefer to read it as a paper document. I’ve also corrected some minor spelling errors etc along the way, so it’s a slightly better text than the blogposts themselves. Those who want to download it will find it “here”: . Please let me know about any remaining errors or glitches …

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…]

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…]