Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 October 2013
This book started from a puzzle. Given the failings of neo-liberalism revealed by the economic crisis starting in 2008, why was social democracy not triumphant? After all, its political success over much of the post-war period was bolstered by a particular representation of the inter-war years and a belief that governments had put the old economics behind them, while some social democrats had given early warnings about the follies being committed from the 1990s. Despite the caricature about social democratic governments being free spenders, they have tended in office to be rather fiscally responsible. Nor was there reason to believe that electors had rejected social democratic ideas about public services, although they may in some cases have become less tolerant of welfare dependants.
There is no simple answer to this puzzle but the contributors to this collection agree that social democracy's problems do not stem from a fundamental flaw in the core idea, nor that social and economic change have rendered it redundant. Social democracy is in good health in some places, while elsewhere it is struggling to find its voice. One problem lies in the realm of ideas, where neo-liberalism has gained the ideological hegemony, to the extent that social democratic parties internalise it and seek to modify it only at the margins. Another is the inability to adapt to a more complex but still socially stratified and unequal society.