Read The Primacy of Politics: Social Democracy and the Making of Europe's Twentieth Century by Sheri Berman Online


Political history in the industrial world has indeed ended, argues this pioneering study, but the winner has been social democracy - an ideology and political movement that has been as influential as it has been misunderstood. Berman looks at the history of social democracy from its origins in the late nineteenth century to today and shows how it beat out competitors suchPolitical history in the industrial world has indeed ended, argues this pioneering study, but the winner has been social democracy - an ideology and political movement that has been as influential as it has been misunderstood. Berman looks at the history of social democracy from its origins in the late nineteenth century to today and shows how it beat out competitors such as classical liberalism, orthodox Marxism, and its cousins, Fascism and National Socialism by solving the central challenge of modern politics - reconciling the competing needs of capitalism and democracy. Bursting on to the scene in the interwar years, the social democratic model spread across Europe after the Second World War and formed the basis of the postwar settlement. This is a study of European social democracy that rewrites the intellectual and political history of the modern era while putting contemporary debates about globalization in their proper intellectual and historical context....

Title : The Primacy of Politics: Social Democracy and the Making of Europe's Twentieth Century
Author :
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ISBN : 9780521521109
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 228 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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The Primacy of Politics: Social Democracy and the Making of Europe's Twentieth Century Reviews

  • Adam Gurri
    2019-02-21 00:30

    To begin with, let me just say: this is a fantastic book that packs a lot of underexamined but pivotal history into just a little more than 200 pages. I cannot recommend it enough for anyone who wishes to better understand the 20th century and the political legacy that lives on to this day.Berman wants to argue that only social democracy can thread the needle between the economic determinists and the retrograde forms of communitarianism offered by ethno-nationalists. To make this argument, she carefully traces the history of its development.The history goes as follows: capitalism caused unprecedented enrichment but also unprecedented social dislocation. Liberals became early advocates of it because of the former. Marxists rose to prominence by offering an optimistic vision for those craving it after experiencing the dislocation. But both liberals and Marxists believed in the primacy of economics; politics is impotent against economic laws indifferent to human intention.As this determinism left Marxists with little to offer in terms of practical plans of action, critics within the socialist movement arose. These critics, known as socialist revisionists, converged on two broad elements: communitarianism, specifically of the nationalist sort, and the notion that capitalism could be tamed without eliminating it, in order to take advantage of its engine of enrichment while moderating its disruption. In short, the revisionists shared a belief in the primacy of politics, of intentional political actors to mitigate the effects of economic forces.What made social democrats social _democrats_ was their specific emphasis on, you guessed it, democracy and democratization. In Sweden, Berman's one case where social democrats triumphed early and carried the day well into the post-war era, establishing democracy was a plank in the social democrats' platform early, and defending and expanding it became a plank once it was established. Eduard Bernstein, the top socialist revisionist of the era, likewise emphasized a reformist party platform pursued through democratic means.However, in Germany, France, and Italy, the social democrats were largely a minority force within Marxist parties. And the internal struggles with the orthodox Marxists divided the left, leaving room for fascists and national socialists to step in.The treatment of fascism and national socialism's rise, and its relation to socialist revisionism, is fascinating. The key thinkers and actors of these movements were socialist revisionists of the "revolutionary revisionism" sort; these also believed in communitarianism and the primacy of politics, but believed that society needed to be transformed, with violence if necessary. And yet, in spite of the undemocratic nature of these movements, the line between their history and social democracy's is quite muddy. Several key contributors to the theory of social democracy went in for national socialism or fascism in a big way once they were ascendant. Others, like Georges Sorel, were influential on the communist left and the fascist right in equal measure. And many reformists within the big Marxists parties jumped ship; Mussolini being the most famous example.Nearly all of the book is spent building up to World War II. All of that part is deeply compelling. However, the book suffers from last-chapter syndrome, except in this case it is the last two chapters. The next to last chapter describes the ascendance of social democracy in Europe after the war, and the last chapter attempts to chart a forward course.The chapter on post-war social democracy, in my view, undermines Berman's claim that social democracy, and not liberalism, was what stood triumphant at the end of the 20th century. By Berman's own telling, the social democrats put on almost as mediocre a political performance after the war as they did before it. Other groups, like the Christian Democrats and various forms of high liberals, pursued similar reformist platforms, but more successfully. Moreover, social democrats came to be associated with a set of specific welfare policies that have had trouble weathering the globalized economy. Berman's suggestions for the future are vague and often feel overdetermined by the specific controversies of the 20s and 30s.What is more, Berman did not convince me of a key point of her core premise, that there is a cohesive framework one can call social democracy. There are many varieties of communitarianism, welfarism, of democratism, and each has been combined with one or more of the others in various ways. She makes a powerful case that the political situation of Europe was very favorable to the first two of those three ingredients; hence the appeal of fascism and national socialism. She deserves credit for her intellectual integrity in refusing to shrink from the commonality of these two horrors with social democracy, but there were points in the book where I began to wonder if social democracy was merely an unmurderous and more democratic fascism. I doubt that was the impression she intended to leave me with. Say what you will about Marxism, it was a very distinct and cohesive framework - to a fault, as Berman rightly emphasizes. But if "distinct" and "cohesive" are terms that could be applied to social democracy, Berman certainly does not make it appear so.I don't want to leave on a critical note, however. This book is a masterpiece; it is remarkable the ground she is able to cover in so little space. I cannot recommend it highly enough, as a work of history, even if I do not think she ends up making the case she sought to.

  • David
    2019-03-23 03:52

    very insightful. How the social democratic parties in Europe created the highest form of civilization (yet).

  • Andrew
    2019-02-28 05:37

    Read for its general review of European Social Democracy, but not for its analysis or revisionist history.

  • Karl Nordenstorm
    2019-03-14 02:28

    A nuanced history of social democracy and socialism. According to Berman the great difference between on the one hand Social Democracy and Nazism as opposed to laissez-faire and communism is that the former believe that politics really can form society, whereas the latter believe that in the end economic laws are what shape the world.The book describes the history of Social Democracy in Germany, Italy and Sweden at length, describing how the movement initially sprang out of communism, based on a wish to change society by gradual reform. Although conservative in method (even Burkian) the Social Democrats were radical in a way that to day is hard to imagine and supported things like abolishing private companies.It was not only communism but also nationalism that was the basis of social democracy. Nationalists wanted the nations to work like communities, or even as families, united with the goal of reaching silly goals (like honor) and reasonable ones like bringing the "children of the nation" up to honest and healthy citizens. Nationalism and communism had the same paternalist agenda, both wanted to achieve the same basic things for its people. Modern social democracy is a democratic merger of the two political movements, which aims to create a healthy and modern people.By 1912 the SPD (social democrats) were Germanies largest party, and would remain so until Hitler siezed power. Much of what was typical about the Nazi regime was social democrat policies that remained intact after the coup. The people car, the public health initiatives, the state run healthy vacation centers, the Hitler-Jugend and even racial hygene; all these things that we so strongly associate to Hitler, actually were part of Social Democracy. This is well illustrated by taking a look at Sweden, the place that social democrats really got to run.In 1930s Sweden the state did whatever it could to forge strong children. Extensive free healthcare, athletic free summer camps, education et cetera. At the same time the state sterilized the mentally retarded and gypsies, something that would continue into the 1970s (though not for gypsies). To the scientifically minded social democrats racial hygiene was an obvious tool, just as it was to the Nazis. Today racial hygiene has fallen out of fashion, which might be for the best but this has real downsides. Obviously mentally retarded parents tend to get weak children. To allow extremely degenerate parents to procreate (and even subsidize it!) is a drain on society, and clearly creates suffering in that many children grow up with crazy parents. Of course this issue is infected ever since the idiot Hitler used racial hygiene in his own science fiction way.

  • Fred R
    2019-03-12 01:53

    A serious and intelligent corrective to the solipsistic Anglosphere interpretation of the 20th century as a story of liberal democratic capitalism steering, often unsuccessfully, between the Scylla and Charybdis of Communism and Fascism. Where James Gregor traced the origins of Fascism/National Socialism in revisionist Marxism, Berman does the same for Social Democracy, which would eventually triumph throughout Europe. In both cases, the revision involved abandoning orthodox Marxism's emphasis on international class warfare for nationalistic communitarianism, and its paralyzing emphasis on economic laws for 'the primacy of politics.' Berman isn't unaware of the similarities between these intellectual journeys (Georges Sorel, for some reason, looks like the strongest link), and she makes 20th century political-ideological history seem like a race between the two factions to see which can shed its traditional Marxism (which hung like a nightmare on the brains of the living) quickly enough. At times, the Fascists were faster, and took control; at other times, the Social Democrats. Gregor somewhere pointed out how Soviet Communism traced a similar journey, so that it ultimately it seems like the entire political contest of the 20th century in Europe was between competing versions of revisionist Marxism. I'm not sure how to account for this, or why more traditionalist thinkers and classes couldn't muster similar intellectual and political energy. I suppose the neoliberal turn of the 70s that Berman decries could be considered the revenge of Manchester Liberalism, which had seemed dead very early on in the 20th century, but it's pretty clear that Social Democracy has survived some minor liberalizing reforms and belt-tightening, and will continue on virtually unchanged.

  • Adam S. Rust
    2019-03-16 23:35

    Sheri Berman tells of a well-researched and nuanced history about what she considers the winning ideology of the 20th century: social democracy. As Berman tells it social democracy emerged as a response to the failure of liberal laissez faire and Marxist theory. While social democracy emerged from the Marxist left, it rejected Marxism's ideas on class warfare and dialectical materialism for cross-class political alliances and the acceptance of "the primacy of politics", that is, acceptance of parliamentary norms as the best method for accomplishing socialist goals.According to Berman the rise of fascism as a political force can be traced to the inability of Marxist-inspired Leftists to engage in the parliamentary political process in the 1930s. As a result the National Socialists were able to co-opt socialist rhetoric and combine it with a toxic stew of race-hate and contempt for multiculturalism and democratic norms. Under Berman's interpretation, Marxist passivity may have been as substantial a contributor to the moral abyss of World War II as Fascist aggressiveness.Berman's arguments are well supported and thought provoking. The only downside to the book is her occasionally dry writing style. Still, for the reader who invests the time in persevering there is rewarding. The reader will get a greater understanding of the development of social democratic thought in the 20th century as well as some thoughtful, and from this reviewer's perspective hopeful, reflections on social democracy's prospects in an increasingly globalized world.

  • Olethros
    2019-02-25 04:40

    I guess this book says that... I am not sure what it says. It is essentially an account of the socialist movement in the late 19th and early 20th century. It's interesting as it outlines the different ideological factions within the movement, and how they interacted with each other, with other parties and with government, essentially paving the way for social democracy and national socialism.I still don't understand what the title is all about, really.

  • Kostas Avgeropoulos
    2019-02-20 22:40

    It is a great book that serves as a history of Social Democracy. It also asserts interesting similarities between Social Democracy and National Socialism. I disagree with the conclusion, however, that Social Democracy is the "winner" of the 20th century.

  • William
    2019-03-15 00:39

    The Primacy of Politics manages to be both engaging and easily read. I might not agree with Berman's conclusion about the social democratic hegemony, but as an overview of Europe's history of socialism it's great.