Following the previous exchange with the scholars of the North-East Universities of Harvard Law School and Brown University, FEPS together with Policy Network reengaged in a new chapter of the transatlantic debate about the future of progressivism. The event, which took place in Nuffield College, Oxford on 2-3 July and gathered 60 outstanding academics, senior politicians and strategic thinkers from both sides of the Atlantic, who during those two exciting days deliberated on issues such as: historical legacy of liberalism social democracy and the perspective for their future; democracy and trust in politics; challenge of market capitalism – between politics, economy and finance; the politics of redistributions – wealth, power and life chances; rhetoric and reality – the crisis as a paradigm shift.
Among the speakers there were: Douglas Alexander, Tony Atkinson, Sheri Berman, Jared Bernstein, Craig Calhoun, Olaf Cramme, Colin Crouch, Paul De Grauwe, Catherine de Vries, Patrick Diamond, Jeffrey Frieden, Andrew Gamble, Alfred Gusenbauer, Jackob Hacker, Peter A. Hall; Anton Hemerijk, Jane Jenson, Lane Kenworthy, Roger Liddle, Will Marshal, David Milliband, Pippa Norris, Claus Offe, Bruno Palier, Rachel Reeves, Leopold Specht, Ania Skrzypek, Ernst Stetter, Frans Timmermans, Shirley Williams.
The American political traditions of progressivism and liberalism have long provided European social democracy with a rich vein of ideas and inspiration: from the progressive-liberal reformism exemplified by Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal and, later, Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society to Bill Clinton and the New Democrat’s centrist fusion of moderate economic conservatism and social liberalism they have served–up restless models for social and economic progress, ideological contestation and political revisionism. The nation’s founding ideals, the civil rights era and the traditions of democratic accountability, civic duty and Republican liberty can all be mentioned in this regard.
Today, however, progressive parties on both sides of the Atlantic appear to be disorientated and rudderless, crucially lacking the ideological and intellectual vitality which underpinned their strength in the post-war political landscape. The US political system is in a state of paralysis and Europe’s centre-left parties have lost 19 out of the 25 elections since the fall of Lehman brothers in 2008. Progressives recognise that neoliberalism proved to be a dead end. But no new variety of capitalism has emerged to fill the void. The crisis has shifted from financial market failure to sovereign debt and on to the practice of politics and democracy: it is the question of the state – its size, its role, its efficiency – and the scale of national debt and deficits that have become the central issues in a period defined by protracted periods of low growth, austerity and squeezed living standards.
1) The next centre-left century
2) Government versus governance?
3) Market capitalism after the crash: politics, economics and finance
4) The new politics of redistribution: wealth, power and life chances
5) Rhetoric and reality: The crisis as a paradigm shift
6) A new centre‐left century: Where next for centre‐left politics?
Follow up of the event:
The political environment for progressive politics on both sides of the Atlantic is being shaped by three key overarching trends: firstly, flaws in the capitalist settlement have created widespread economic insecurity, which now also signifcantly affects the middle-class base of society; secondly, and as a knock-on-effect, solutions to this problem must now be advanced in an economically insecure climate of “sauve qui peut politics” – a politics in which people, worried about clinging on to what they have, become more resistant to measures that redistribute resources to others, both vertically to other groups within the income distribution, and horizontally to other generational cohorts; and thirdly, changing demographics and a more competitive global era seem to necessitate the expansion of some government programmes, which in turn would require public money, but public money is already scarce. This discussion paper makes the case that after a period of idleness the space and common ground for a serious transatlantic agenda is emerging once again in the form of these economic and political dilemmas.
Author – Michael McTernan is editor and senior researcher at Policy Network. He coordinates Policy Network’s research on The Future of Social Democracy and Populism and Electoral Politics. He is editor of the Policy Network Observatory and the thinktank’s monthly “State of the Left” report.
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