Left-leaning political parties play an important role as representatives of the poor and disempowered. They once did so by promising protections from the forces of capital and the market’s tendencies to produce inequality. But in the 1990s they gave up on protection, asking voters to adapt to a market-driven world. Meanwhile, new, extreme parties began to promise economic protections of their own—albeit in an angry, anti-immigrant tone.
To better understand today’s strange new political world, Stephanie L. Mudge’s Leftism Reinvented analyzes the history of the Swedish and German Social Democrats, the British Labour Party, and the American Democratic Party. Breaking with an assumption that parties simply respond to forces beyond their control, Mudge argues that left parties’ changing promises expressed the worldviews of different kinds of experts. To understand how left parties speak, we have to understand the people who speak for them.
Leftism Reinvented shows how Keynesian economists came to speak for left parties by the early 1960s. These economists saw their task in terms of discretionary, politically-sensitive economic management. But in the 1980s a new kind of economist, who viewed the advancement of markets as left parties’ main task, came to the fore. Meanwhile, as voters’ loyalties to left parties waned, professional strategists were called upon to “spin” party messages. Ultimately, left parties undermined themselves, leaving a representative vacuum in their wake. Leftism Reinvented raises new questions about the roles and responsibilities of left parties—and their experts—in politics today.
How were the parties of the center-left converted from Keynesian technocracy to third-way neoliberalism? Stephanie Mudge presents a highly original account featuring changes in the economics profession leading to the displacement of economic experts in government policy and party politics by political consultants and spin doctors. Covering the United States and four European countries, the book adds importantly to our understanding of recent political history, the transformation of left-wing political parties, and today’s crisis of democratic politics.
Why is the Left failing everywhere? Because back in the 1990s, left-wing parties gave up on growing their core constituencies, turning instead to a cadre of technicians. Mudge argues that success of center-left parties rested upon their ability to ‘win, represent, and shape how people think.’ This latter goal used to be the province of ‘economist theoreticians’ who embraced a ‘Keynesian ethic.’ But as economics changed, so did the visions of the economists who guided left parties. Why the Left is dying owes much to their interventions.
Stephanie L. Mudge has written a magisterial account explaining how neoliberalism came to be a dominant way of thinking among the European and American Left. Through a detailed and rich sociological account, she explains that leftist parties changed their way of seeing and wanting to shape the social world because of their shifting relationship to economic knowledge. Economic experts, far from the original organic intellectuals of labor movements, became the mediators of ideological transformation, shaping party positions and confirming neoliberalism as the current version of progressive politics. This is a necessary book for everyone with an interest in progressive politics.
Leftism Reinvented provides a wealth of information, and very few scholars exhibit Mudge’s mastery of the economic policies across so many parties over such a stretch of time…It is necessary reading for anyone seeking to understand our current political predicament.
- 2019, Joint winner of the Barrington Moore Book Award
- 2019, Winner of the Distinguished Contribution to Scholarship Book Award in Political Sociology
- 560 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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