In the spotlight is Leftism Reinvented Western Parties from Socialism to Neoliberalism by Stephanie Mudge. Keep reading for three insightful reviews on her 2018 book by Thomas Janoski, Gabriel Chouhy Algorta, and Jeff Stilley.
Is it the Left or the Right that We Should be Focused On or Both? Review of Stephanie Mudge’s Leftism Reinvented
by Thomas Janoski, University of Kentucky
Two major books and a third have come out in the area of comparative political sociology in the last two years. Stephanie Mudge’s Leftism Reinvented: Western Political Parties from Socialism to Neoliberalism (2018, Harvard University Press) and Daniel Ziblatt’s Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy (2017, Cambridge University Press) followed by Sten Levity and Daniel Ziblatt’s How Democracies Die (2018, Crown Publishing of Penguin). Mudge follows social democratic, labor and democratic (US) parties in three periods: socialism (1900 to 1929 but centered on 1920), Keynesian revolution (1930 to 1974 but centered on 1960), and ‘left’ neoliberalism (1975 to 2005 centered around 1995).
She examines these three periods, focusing on economic policy shifts in four countries: the US, the UK, Germany, and Sweden. She focuses on party experts and how they have become economized in the middle period, and then share power with professional campaign experts in the third period. Her main conclusion is that we should pay attention to party experts because they articulate policy downward upon the rest of the party and the public in general. But the sub-text to the book is that left parties are the key to greater democracy and reducing endemic inequality in a capitalist economy. And a sub-sub-text is that Bill and Hillary Clinton sold out the left to neoliberalism.
Daniel Ziblatt examines the role of conservative parties in two of the same countries: the UK and Germany. Conservative parties have a major problem in that they represent rich people who are few, and in a mass party system how in the world are they going to keep their massive amounts of money when the non-rich and poor seemingly have little or no reason to vote for their candidates? Using the method of difference, he shows that conservative parties in the UK were able to extend their reach into the middle and working classes by building institutions that interested these two classes, and then pushed their message on non-income related issues like the empire and the Irish question. One of the main vehicles for doing this was the Primrose Society that operated a combination of fairs and political indoctrination in the Victorian period. German conservative parties mainly represented by the Deutschenationale Volkspartie (DNVP) stayed focused on elites and carried a very small constituency. Ziblatt’s major point is that moderate conservative parties are entirely necessary to protect democracy from the far right like the Nazi Party in Germany. Levity and Ziblatt follow this with How Democracies Die, which is a more popular book implementing their principles and also applying them to Donald Trump. One criticism of Ziblatt’s thesis would be why he did not focus on the Center Party during Weimar which was a larger conservative (or maybe center) party during the Weimar Republic.
Kay, Tamara and R.L. Evans. 2019. Trade Battles: Activism and the Politicization of International Trade Policy. New York: Oxford University Press.
Trade was once an esoteric economic issue with little domestic policy resonance. Activists did not prioritize it, and grassroots political mobilization seemed unlikely to free trade advocates. The passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement in the early 1990s was therefore expected to be a fait accompli. Yet, as Trade Battles shows, activists pushed back: they increased the public consciousness on trade, mobilized new constituencies against it, and demanded that the rules of the global economy protect the collective rights and common good of citizens. Activists also forged a sustained challenge to U.S. trade policies after NAFTA, setting the stage for future trade battles.
Using data from extensive archival materials and over 215 interviews with Mexican, Canadian, and U.S. trade negotiators; labor and environmental activists; and government officials, Tamara Kay and R.L. Evans assess how activists politicized trade policy by leveraging broad divisions across state and non-state arenas. Further, they demonstrate how activists were not only able to politicize trade policy, but also to pressure negotiators to include labor and environmental protections in NAFTA’s side agreements. A timely contribution, Trade Battles seeks to understand the role of civil society in shaping state policy. Order online at www.global.oup.com with promotion code ASFLYQ6 to save 30%
FitzGerald, David Scott. 2019. Refuge Beyond Reach: How Rich Democracies Repel Asylum Seekers. Oxford University Press.
In Refuge beyond Reach, David Scott FitzGerald traces how rich democracies have deliberately and systematically shut down most legal paths to safety. Drawing on official government documents, information obtained via WikiLeaks, and interviews with asylum seekers, he finds that for ninety-nine percent of refugees, the only way to find safety in one of the prosperous democracies of the Global North is to reach its territory and then ask for asylum. FitzGerald shows how the US, Canada, Europe, and Australia comply with the letter of the law while violating the spirit of those laws through a range of deterrence methods – first designed to keep out Jews fleeing the Nazis – that have now evolved into a pervasive global system of “remote control.” While some of the most draconian remote control practices continue in secret, FitzGerald identifies some pressure points and finds that a diffuse humanitarian obligation to help those in need is more difficult for governments to evade than the law alone.
Kallman, Meghan Elizabeth. 2020. The Death of Idealism: Development and Anti-Politics in the Peace Corps. Columbia University Press.
Peace Corps volunteers seem to exemplify the desire to make the world a better place. Yet despite being one of history’s clearest cases of organized idealism, the Peace Corps has, in practice, ended up cultivating very different outcomes among its volunteers. By the time they return from the Peace Corps, volunteers exhibit surprising shifts in their political and professional consciousness. Rather than developing a systemic perspective on development and poverty, they tend instead to focus on individual behavior; they see professions as the only legitimate source of political and social power. They have lost their idealism, and their convictions and beliefs have been reshaped along the way.
The Death of Idealism uses the case of the Peace Corps to explain why and how participation in a bureaucratic organization changes people’s ideals and politics. Meghan Elizabeth Kallman offers an innovative institutional analysis of the role of idealism in development organizations. She details the combination of social forces and organizational pressures that depoliticizes Peace Corps volunteers, channels their idealism toward professionalization, and leads to cynicism or disengagement. Kallman sheds light on the structural reasons for the persistent failure of development organizations and the consequences for the people involved. Based on interviews with over 140 current and returned Peace Corps volunteers, field observations, and a large-scale survey, this deeply researched, theoretically rigorous book offers a novel perspective on how people lose their idealism, and why that matters.