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The Theory of Social Democracy

ISBN: 978-0-7456-4112-6
288 pages
September 2007, Polity
The Theory of Social Democracy (0745641121) cover image
The ascendancy of neo-liberalism in different parts of the world has put social democracy on the defensive. Its adherents lack a clear rationale for their policies. Yet a justification for social democracy is implicit in the United Nations Covenants on Human Rights, ratified by most of the worlds countries. The covenants commit all nations to guarantee that their citizens shall enjoy the traditional formal rights; but they likewise pledge governments to make those rights meaningful in the real world by providing social security and cultural recognition to every person.
This new book provides a systematic defence of social democracy for our contemporary global age. The authors argue that the claims to legitimation implicit in democratic theory can be honored only by social democracy; libertarian democracies are defective in failing to protect their citizens adequately against social, economic, and environmental risks that only collective action can obviate. Ultimately, social democracy provides both a fairer and more stable social order.
But can social democracy survive in a world characterized by pervasive processes of globalization? This book asserts that globalization need not undermine social democracy if it is harnessed by international associations and leavened by principles of cultural respect, toleration, and enlightenment. The structures of social democracy must, in short, be adapted to the exigencies of globalization, as has already occurred in countries with the most successful social-democratic practices.
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Introduction 1

Democratic theory as a framework 1

Social democracy and the social welfare state 4

Part I Political Theory 7

1 Social Rights, Risks, and Obligations 9

1.1 Contradictions in political liberalism 9

1.2 Social citizenship 17

1.3 Universal fundamental rights 20

1.4 Social risks and fundamental rights 26

1.5 Self-reliance and civic duties 38

1.6 Social democracy and sustainability 42

1.7 Justice and political integration 53

2 Regulation, Participation, and Actors 64

2.1 Political duties 64

2.2 Actors, systems, and strategies 68

2.3 Political actors in social democracy 70

2.4 Political steering and social democracy 80

2.5 Democratizing society 89

2.6 Civil society and liberal democracy 92

Part II Political Economy 97

3 The Social Market Economy 99

3.1 Fundamental rights and political economy 99

3.2 Public goods and civil rights 102

3.3 The market–state complex 107

3.4 Imbedding the economy 111

3.5 Varieties of Capitalism 113

3.6 Types of capitalism compared 121

3.7 The social market economy 125

3.8 The social market economy and globalization 127

4 A Rights-Based Welfare State 136

4.1 Social security regimes 136

4.2 Welfare state and welfare society 147

4.3 Labor and human dignity 148

4.4 Education as a crucial resource 152

4.5 Perspectives on sustainability 156

Part III The Politics of Globalization 161

5 Progressive Globalization 163

5.1 Social democracy and globalization 163

5.2 Global citizenship 167

5.3 Global governance 170

5.4 The global imbedding of markets 175

5.5 Globalization and political contingency 180

5.6 Shaping and coping 183

Part IV Cultural Foundations 189

6 The Universalism of Social Democracy 191

7 Cultural Divergence and Social Citizenship 196

7.1 Multiculturalism and political rights 196

7.2 Cultural difference and social citizenship 202

Part V Theory and Practice 207

8 Libertarian and Social Democracies Compared 209

Appendix 214

9 Defective and Consolidated Democracy 221

Conclusion 228

Notes 231

References and Bibliography 247

Index 269

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T.Meyer, Professor of Political Science, University of Dortmund

L.P.Hinchman

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  • A ground breaking new book by Thomas Meyer, a leading theorist of contemporary politics
  • this book is the first attempt to write a theory of social democracy from first principles for a very long time and so could be potentially groundbreaking
  • likely to prove a highly influential book, and a benchmark for future debates in this area
  • an essential book on upper-level courses of social democracy, but also indispensible reading to all scholars and readers interested in the possibility of social democracy and what that might mean in the global age
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“The theory of social democracy developed by Professor Thomas Meyer marks an impressive, thought-provoking advance in the broader theory of democracy.”

Jürgen Habermas



“This is an excellent book to give to students to make them think about the differences between various types of social democracy, also about the difference between liberal and social democracy. It is likely to prove highly influential and to be a benchmark for future debates.”

Andrew Gamble, University of Cambridge

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