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Matthew Yglesias on Sheri Berman's "The Primacy of Politics"

He writes:

Matthew Yglesias: O]ne has to see the postwar era as less a triumph of social democracy per se than a coming together of diverse brands of political thought. In particular, Berman seems to badly neglect the existence of divisions within the liberal camp that proved crucial as well.... [W]hich parties would a socialist be tempted to collaborate with? Well, with the more left-wing of the liberals, it would seem, and, indeed, most of the examples Berman discusses bear that prediction out. But then who were these progressive liberals? Why did they disagree with their classical brethren? And what distinguished them from socialist reformers? Why were they interested in collaborating with the right-wing of the socialist movement?

To complain that Berman wrote a book about right-wing socialists when she should have written one about left-wing liberals would be churlish. Rather than do that, let me simply suggest that the timing of the post-war settlement (after the war, obviously) suggests that movement within the liberal camp may have been more causally decisive.... [L]ittle... happened during the fifteen years before the end of the war... to make the left more confident about the possibilities of free markets or democracy....

What the Depression, the war, and the dawning of the Cold War did bolster was the left-hand side of the argument within liberalism. Unmitigated capitalism seemed to risk not only a large dose of human suffering, but the total collapse of the liberal political order and, potentially, the triumph of Soviet Communism. Under the circumstances, a rapprochement with moderate elements within socialism starts to look rather more appealing... a growing sense... that capitalism needed to be compromised... to be saved... la[id] the groundwork for rapid... social reform.... [C]ountries that had never had a strong Marxist presence--England, the United States, Canada--also moved... much more elaborate welfare and regulatory states.... In the American case... entirely by liberals shifting to the left... even without the presence of social democracy on the ground.

This way of looking at things also casts some doubt on the view that a revival of social democracy requires merely a higher level of confidence, creativity, and elan on the part of social democrats.... [S]ocial democracy simply suffers from being redefined as the left pole of the political spectrum rather than as a "third way" in a dynamic where Communism or orthodox Marxism anchors the left.... Pre-war social democracy is an interesting intellectual movement with a story worth telling, but its moment in the sun came not because its arguments became suddenly more persuasive, but because the situation changed to one that was much more favorable to its success. With the passage of time, the situation has changed again and social democracy's position is substantially weakened...