Rethinking Capitalism (ReCap) Webinar Series

Reconciling Democracy and Capitalism: The Return of the Great Challenge

by Sheri Berman (Barnard College)

Event Summary

The goal of this seminar is stimulating debate about how to reform capitalism to make it compatible with other social and political goals.  Such debates are not new.  It is only because of the relative prosperity and stability of the decades after World War II that Americans and Europeans have forgotten how disruptive capitalism can be. Indeed, during the 19th and early 20th centuries many liberals, conservatives and socialists believed that capitalism and democracy could not be reconciled. The class conflict, extremism and failed democratic experiments that plagued Europe up through the Second World War seemed to confirm such beliefs. Yet during the 1930s and especially after 1945, a so-called great transformation occurred across the West, enabling democracy and capitalism to be reconciled. One critical reason for this was the triumph of a social democratic understanding of the relationship between the two.  This talk will review the intellectual and political development of this social democratic understanding in order to provide perspective on the challenges and potential solutions facing western societies today.