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The Primacy of Politics: Social Democracy and the Making of Europe's Twentieth Century Paperback – August 7, 2006

ISBN-13: 978-0521521109 ISBN-10: 0521521106 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (August 7, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521521106
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521521109
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.2 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #142,211 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"In this fascinating book, Sheri Berman rewrites the ideological balance sheet of the twentieth century, making a powerful case that history ended with the triumph not of free market liberalism but social democracy. In emphasizing the variety of capitalisms and diverse paths that societies take, she makes us think differently about the past and the future. As countries struggle to find their way in a new age of globalization, Berman's work offers essential insights. It is likely to become a classic in the field."
Fareed Zakaria, author of The Future of Freedom

"Sheri Berman has written a wonderfully lucid account of the origin of social democratic ideas, which she uses to make a passionate argument for their continued relevance as a way of preserving democracy in the world of globalization."
Harold James, Princeton University

"Sheri Berman's book is a real tour de force, a real land-mark study of ideology, social democracy and European political history. It is an outstanding analysis of the importance of ideas and ideology in politics. Berman argues convincingly that social democracy should neither be understood as a watered down version of Marxism, nor as capitalism with a human face. Instead, Berman shows that social democracy is a distinct political ideology in its own right that should be understood as a political meta-ideology about how to connect everyday social and economic realities with abstract theory in real-world politics. As such, the book is not only an excellent study of the past, but also has important lessons for the present discussion about the possibility of politics in the new globalized economy."
Bo Rothstein, Göteborg University

"Sheri Berman writes with great lucidity, analytic skill, and political sympathy about the undervalued social democrats of Europe. Everyone knows the story of fascist and Stalinist brutality in 20th century Europe; Berman tells another story, less known and often denied, of social democratic solidarity and compassion."
Michael Walzer, Institute for Advanced Study

"[A]mbitious and provocative... this is a strong, useful defense of a political ideology and a political movement that have done much good and fought evil with courage and lucidity."
Foreign Affairs

"...The Primacy of Politics is one of the most thought-provoking books on twentieth-century ideologies to appear for many years."
Vernon Bogdanor, Times Literary Supplement

"...this book is an excellent overview of the several strands of political thinking that began with the criticism of Marxist economic determinism and ended with the dominant role of social democracy, especially in the last half of the twentieth century in Europe." -Dietrich Orlow, H-German

Book Description

Examines the history of social democracy from the late nineteenth century to today. It argues that social democracy has become the most successful ideology of the modern era by figuring out how to reap the benefits of free markets while protecting society from their most corrosive and destabilizing effects.

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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By a reader on September 6, 2006
Format: Paperback
Berman argues that most of what we think about twentieth century politics is just wrong. Instead of seeing the chief ideological battle as one between democrats and totalitarians, or between capitalists and communists, she argues that the real struggle--or, better put, a crucial yet forgotten struggle--was about how to make capitalism and democracy mutually compatible.

Free markets don't only bring growth, she points out, but also bring instability, social dislocation, and other problems--problems that mass publics demand be solved. Older ideologies like classical liberalism or orthodox Marxism were unwilling to interfere with market operations, and so they got discredited when capitalism generated crises like the Great Depression. This paved the way for a battle between newer, more activist ideologies like fascism and social democracy, which were prepared to intervene in free markets as necessary to protect what they saw as society's interests. When fascism was defeated in WWII, social democracy was left standing as the only healthy and politically viable response to the problems of modern political economy.

Her argument is basically that "we're all social democrats now," even if we don't know it or acknowledge it, because pretty much everybody accepts the idea of combining some form of market-based economy with substantial government intervention to head off problems (the welfare state, countercyclical policies, etc. etc.). Yet only social democracy, she claims, has such an approach at its theoretical core, and so only social democrats really understand what they're doing and have a consistent approach to political economy.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By simon matthew on December 14, 2011
Format: Paperback
In the Primacy of Politics, Sheri Berman provides a historical overview of the development of three "third way" political systems in Europe in the early 20th century: Social Democracy, Fascism, and National Socialism (Nazism). She shows that all three systems shared something in common: an emphasis on what she terms "the primacy of politics" and the importance of communitarianism in the face of tumultuous social and economic changes. Each system appealed to all classes of society, and used nationalism to promote unity amongst the public and central economic planning to dull the rough edges of creative destruction. All were remarkably popular, yet only Social Democracy was able to maintain a commitment to human rights and universal suffrage, and avoided the irrationality and barbarity of the Fascist and Nazi regimes. With Europe once again facing troubling times, suffering from the ravages of neoliberalism and an unassimilated immigrant (see Immigrant Nations) population, Berman's suggestion to turn once again to Social Democracy could not be more timely.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Shayn Mccallum on October 31, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This was one of those books which 'fell out of the sky' at a precise time my own thought was taking a parallel turn. As a result, I personally found this a remarkable confirmation of the validity of certain ideas I was then pursuing.
This is ostensibly a book of history, pursuing the intellectual and social roots of the social-democratic and fascist approaches to 'embedding' capitalism. In this respect, the may be seen as a companion of sorts to the brilliant magnum opus of Karl Polanyi "The Great Transformation". Like Polanyi's exceptional work, upon which, as Sheri Berman clearly acknowledges, "The Primacy of Politics" is firmly based, the work transcends history to present us with valuable insights into our own times. In the current neo-liberal era of "disembedded" markets, against which Polanyi so clearly warned us in the 1940's, politics are disparaged. As Thomas Friedman puts it, we are expected to 'don the golden straightjacket' and trade off politics (i.e. democratic control of the economy) for greater economic 'opportunity'. Like Polanyi before her, who argued that free market capitalism was a dangerous, impractical utopia that could work only on paper but never in practice, Sheri Berman makes an excellent case for the importance of politics, specifically defending the social-democratic tradition.
Although I feel, she is too quick to write off the revisionist socialist position, seeing it as a necessary step towards non-socialist social-democracy, her vision is admirable and her case persuasive.
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Format: Kindle Edition
If repetition and gerunds are convincing, this book is profound; if they are not, then this book falls short. Perhaps the early chapters on the development of a social democratic ideology out of late 19tyh, early 20 th century Marxist revisionism are worth reading, but the discussion goes south after 1914 and gets worse in the post-1945 period. There is something simply simplistic about the level analysis and about the scholarship. If it is about ideology, social democracy has strong roots in the romantic Enlightenment and utopian socialists of the early 19th century, if it is about party, program and practice, there is plenty to recommend Louis Blanc. Somewhere the problems of imperialism, peace and international balance of power have to be taken into account, and Berman simply does not do it. Social democracy is almost a purely European notion; indeed, it is almost solely pertinent to Western, Continental Europe; African, Asian or American social democracy seem.stillborn and the Anglo-Saxons have done to the idea is disappointing. Sweden became the social democratic model, but Sweden is such a special case in history as a cohesive community, a neutral, progressive monarchy and aristocracy and a strong exporting economy of natural resources and skilled industrial productivity. Much of that is now history.
A key problem for the social democratic notion is that politics are not the end all of the concept. One should reflect that Bernstein always saw himself as a Marxist, as a scientific socialist, a democrat and an heir to the traditions of 1789 and 1848. One.
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