a curious Yankee in Europe's court

blog about living in Europe, and Italy

Can the gloomy left ever clarify its message?

Posted on the May 27th, 2010

I really like the article yesterday –“The left is trying to take back centre ground in Europe” — in the Netherlands newspaper nrchandelsblad International.  Reporter Marc Leijendekker nails down some of the meatier issues at the center of the accelerating conversation about social democracy versus free market capitalism.

To begin with he addresses the paradox of a voting public in Western democracies that often enough has drifted to the right in recent elections even after the worldwide financial crisis

…laid bare the faults in an economic model in which free market thinking takes centre stage and the state plays a supporting role.

Leijendekker explores some of the reasons for voters’ choices, a well-known and most unpleasant one being that in many cases it was the political leaders of the left who pushed the hardest for freer markets (See Tony Blair’s Third way and Bill Clinton’s Triangulation).

Division of wealth is a focus of the second half of the article, plus a glance at the upcoming June parliamentary elections in the Netherlands where “opinion polls show things are going well for social democracy…”

Reader Comments (0) Comments Off on Can the gloomy left ever clarify its message?

Tony Judt: asking questions about state

Posted on the January 11th, 2010

Speaking of the idea of social democracy. For several weeks now on my computer desktop I’ve kept a link to a recent essay by Tony Judt (“What Is Living and What Is Dead in Social Democracy” The New York Review of Books, Dec 17, 2009).

I give sixteen thumbs up to this essay. It brings attention to what I think is one of the thorniest problems facing political progressives – how do you persuade people to think with an open mind about what kind of government serves them best?

Judt’s essay helps answer this question. He traces the historical influences that are shaping — and misshaping —  our public conversation about government, and he sketches a roadmap out of the ideological swamp this conversation often sinks into.


“…Margaret Thatcher reportedly asserted that “there is no such thing as society. There are only individual men and women and families.” But if there is no such thing as society, merely individuals and the “night watchman” state—overseeing from afar activities in which it plays no part—then what will bind us together? We already accept the existence of private police forces, private mail services, private agencies provisioning the state in war, and much else besides. We have “privatized” precisely those responsibilities that the modern state laboriously took upon itself in the course of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

What, then, will serve as a buffer between citizens and the state? Surely not “society,” hard pressed to survive the evisceration of the public domain. For the state is not about to wither away. Even if we strip it of all its service attributes, it will still be with us—if only as a force for control and repression. Between state and individuals there would then be no intermediate institutions or allegiances: nothing would remain of the spider’s web of reciprocal services and obligations that bind citizens to one another via the public space they collectively occupy. All that would be left is private persons and corporations seeking competitively to hijack the state for their own advantage.”

Reader Comments (1) - Post a Comment

Stagnant old Europe? Not true.

Posted on the January 11th, 2010

I’ve now been living  in Europe for almost a decade. I know what Paul Krugman says today in his column is true (“Learning From Europe” New York Times, Jan 10, 2010):

The real lesson from Europe is actually the opposite of what conservatives claim: Europe is an economic success, and that success shows that social democracy works.

Reader Comments (0) Comments Off on Stagnant old Europe? Not true.