Berman’s The Primacy of Politics

In the TLS, Vernon Bogdanor reviews Sheri Berman’s remarkable study The Primacy of Politics:

Sheri Berman begins by asking why it is that the history of Europe since 1914 falls so neatly into two contrasting periods. Between the wars, the continent was marked by turbulence and crisis, but, for nearly sixty years, its western half has known political stability and high rates of economic growth. What caused this transformation? To this question, two answers have been given. The first suggests that it was a result of the triumph of democracy over its enemies, Stalinism, Fascism and National Socialism; the second claims that it was the philosophy of the market which had triumphed over socialism and communism. Historically, however, democracy and the market have been regarded as in conflict with each other. Liberals from Tocqueville to Hayek feared that the market could not survive the coming of democracy, for universal suffrage would give power to the unpropertied and ill-educated; Marxists in a sense confirmed their fears by predicting that the majority in a bourgeois democracy, the working class, would not tolerate capitalism but would overthrow it, by peaceful means if possible, by violent means if not. Yet, both liberals and Marxists came to be confounded when, in the post-war era, capitalism and the market came to be reconciled. How did this come about? That is what Sheri Berman seeks to explain in The Primacy of Politics.

Her answer is that it was an undervalued ideology, social democracy, which formed the ideological basis of the post-war settlement and resolved “the central challenge of modern politics: reconciling the competing needs of capitalism and democracy”. Social democracy, Berman argues, offers, a genuine “third way” that preserves both. Historians, she believes, have not noticed this because they have overemphasized “the role of the middle classes and liberal parties” in achieving this synthesis; yet the key role was played, not by liberals, but by parties of the moderate “revisionist” Left and by the institutions of the Labour movement.

Over at Crooked Timber, Henry Farrell has some comments on the review.