Is The Left in Crisis?


I was at a dinner last night with a few dignitaries from abroad, and a generally international group of people. A lot of the discussion centered around a kind of presumption that progressive politics (or the center-left or social democracy or pick your term) is in some kind of global crisis. Thinking about it in the cold light of day, however, I don’t really think this is true except in the (important!) sense that the left is always in crisis and always will be.

After all, you have center-left or social democratic parties governing India, the United States, Brazil, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Japan—six of the ten most populous countries in the world. Then there’s undemocratic Russia and China, Indonesia whose politics don’t seem to map left-right, and Nigeria as the only really big democracy currently governed by an avowedly center-right political party.

Mainstream social democratic parties really do seem to be having major problems in Europe (a couple of my colleagues had some smart things to say on that last fall) but this is also the region of the world where progressive politics has had the most substantive impact on public policy. The mainstream European right doesn’t seriously contest the welfare state, the secular order, or anti-militarist internationalism in foreign policy so this has naturally created problems for social democratic parties, but it’s hardly a failure of the underlying values.