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The Past and Future of Social Democracy and the Consequences for Europe


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Speaker(s): Professor Sheri Berman
Chair: Dr Robin Archer

Recorded on 12 June 2012 in Old Theatre, Old Building.

Ralph Miliband believed that socialism should be both revolutionary and practical. This talk will argue that at least one variant of it--social democracy--was and might still be by looking back at the role it played in creating the Europe that is in transition today.

During the 19th and first half of the 20th century Europe was the most turbulent region on earth, convulsed by war, economic crises and social and political conflict. Yet during the second half of the 20th century it was among the most stable, a study in democracy and prosperity. How can we understand this remarkable transformation? The answer lies in the changes that occurred after 1945, among the most important of which was a dramatic shift in the understanding of what it would take to ensure democratic consolidaton in Europe. Across the political spectrum a new understanding of democracy developed in Western Europe one that went beyond what think of today as “electoral” or even “liberal” democracy to what is best understood as “social democracy”—a regime type which entails not merely dramatic changes in political arrangements, but in social and economic ones as well. This talk will explain the background and logic of this "regime type" as well as consider its continuing relevance today.

Sheri Berman is Professor of Political Science at Columbia University. Her research interests include political development, European politics, the history of the left, and comparative political economy. She is the author of The Social Democratic Moment: Ideas and Politics in the Making of Interwar Europe (1998) and The Primacy of Politics. Social Democracy and the Ideological Dynamics of the Twentieth Century (2006).

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