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Home Opinion Ideas & Debate The Classics of Social Democracy

The classics of social democratic thought

The landmarks of conservative thought, ranging from Friedriech Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom to Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom, have served as powerful narratives for the politicians and thinktanks of the right in the US and Europe. This ability to harness the work of prominent intellectuals and to draw on a liberal tradition has offered some consistency to the political discourse of the right.

This consistency remains unmatched by the centre-left which finds it more difficult to lean on a coherent body of discourse. As the centre-left wrestles with the tough questions of today, familiarity with both the classics of social democratic thought and influential political tracts can play a significant role in kicking-off a sustained period of revisionism and revival.

In this series prominent thinkers and policymakers will revisit key texts and essays which have been seminal to progressive thinking. From the early architects of Swedish social democracy to Karl Polanyi’s analysis of the commodification of human relations brought about by capitalism or Tony Crosland’s critique of social democrat's attachment to statism and public spending, high-level commentators will revisit these works to stress their relevance in our collective attempt to close the current ideological vacuum and renew social democratic thinking.



Selections from the Prison Notebooks (Antonio Gramsci)
Gramsci’s notion of hegemony offers an indispensable way of thinking about creating the conditions for political change.
By Sally Davison


The importance of individuality (John Stuart Mill)
Dissatisfied with both socialism and capitalism, John Stuart Mill envisaged a hybrid system in order to specifically promote the individuality of workers
By Patti Lenard


On Liberty (John Stuart Mill)
150 years after its publication J.S Mill’s On Liberty retains the radicalism with which it spoke to Victorian Britain. What can it contribute to rethinking social democracy today?
By John Skorupski


The Future of Socialism (Anthony Crosland)
The enduring legacy of this classic text lies in the rich revisionist creed which drove Crosland to bring social democracy up to date for his time.
By Giles Radice


The Great Transformation  (Karl Polanyi)
In rejecting both market liberalism and state socialism, Polanyi’s blend of political idealism and economic realism offers some telling insights for the modern centre-left.
By Adrian Pabst


The Third Way: The Renewal of Social Democracy (Anthony Giddens)
The title was regrettable, misunderstood and misinterpreted yet the issues raised in the book still have relevance for the renewal of social democracy today.
By Anthony Giddens


The early architects of Swedish social democracy: Ernst Wigforss, Nils Karleby and Per Albin Hansson
The insights championed by these great thinkers are as relevant today as they were in the past: capitalism is not a zero-sum game and it is the left’s role to develop programmes that promote growth and social solidarity together.
By Sheri Berman

John Maynard Keynes and social democracy today
The battle lines may have changed from the means of production to big finance but the state remains the ultimate protector of the public good.
By Robert Skidelsky

Franklin Delano Roosevelt
In contrast to social democrats today, FDR’s style of leadership empathised with the anxieties and frustrations of the people and boldly seized the opportunity of a crisis for progressive ends.
By Patrick Diamond

Citizenship and Social Class(T.H Marshall)

In speaking of the development of civil, political, and social citizenship as an evolutionary sequence, Marhshall's elegant classic points to a vigorous concern for both liberty and equality.
By Mitchell Cohen

The Blair Revolution: Can New Labour Deliver? (Roger Liddle & Peter Mandelson)
Setting out to build on the past, rather than destroy what previous governments did, this political tract highlights both New Labour’s accomplishments and its systematic shortcomings.
By Roger Liddle

For all Mankind (À l'échelle Humaine) (Léon Blum)
At a time when the parties of the left in Europe are re-examining their identity, it is useful to draw on Blum’s writings to remind us that socialism is first and foremost a humanist political culture.
By Alain Bergounioux

The Gift Relationship (Richard M. Titmuss)
The implications of Titmuss’ study on human blood and social policy should not be forgotten as we reconsider the core principles of our economy.
By Iain McLean

James Meade
Efficiency, Equality and the Ownership of Property is a brilliant exploration of what a more egalitarian society might look like
By Martin O'Neill