We Are All Social Democrats Now

I know there’s some unhappy history behind the American use of “social democrat” as a political description, but those feuds happened more than a half a century ago and maybe it’s time to let them die. Why? Because life would sure be a lot easier if we could all learn to accept social democrat as the most accurate description of most modern progressives.

I’m perfectly happy with the label, myself. For those of you who are hazy about what social democracy is, here’s a quickie bullet list. Assuming I didn’t bungle anything, it basically follows the work of Sheri Berman, one of today’s foremost scholars of social democracy and author of The Primacy of Politics: Social Democracy and the Making of Europe’s Twentieth Century:

  • Non-revolutionary; accepts democracy as its political foundation
  • Seeks to reform and reshape capitalism, not destroy it
  • Market based, but harnessed to the common good by a regulatory state
  • High progressive taxes to support a generous welfare state
  • Fundamentally communitarian, originally designed to counter the appeal of nationalism
  • Undergirded by belief in both social and economic equality

It’s worth adding that like most political movements, social democracy is both flexible and limited. It doesn’t insist on any particular view of gun rights or abortion, for example, nor will it tell you if recessions are best handled by monetary or fiscal policy. Likewise, although it would certainly point strongly in the direction of universal health care, it easily subsumes everything from the British model to the Swiss. (Or, in American terms, everything from the VA system to Obamacare.)

For more, check out Berman’s “Understanding Social Democracy,” a short paper that mirrors the history and exposition of her book.

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