The dilemmas of social democracy

Paul Kennedy, Robert Manwaring

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Any serious political movement faces a range of strategic, tactical and ideational dilemmas. These pressures range from electoral concerns to wider issues of existential identity. In these respects, social democracy is no different. Indeed, there is a strong strain throughout the social democracy literature that highlights the range of dilemmas facing the movement. These include Przeworski and Sprague’s (1986) seminal work on the dilemma of electoral support – what happens to social democratic parties as they build alliances between the working and middle classes. In the wider sweep of the history of socialism, there was a long-standing dilemma about how to reconcile (or not) with Marxism (for example, Bernstein’s revisionism), and how to respond to the social changes and emergence of identity politics in the 1960s (Sassoon, 2013). Perhaps the most recent set of dilemmas was posed by Giddens (1998) in his synthesis of the ‘Third Way’ (for a critique, see Przeworski, 2001). In this concluding chapter, we summarise some of the key issues that arise from the case chapters. Rather than offer a static comparison of the individual cases, we reframe the wider issues through a series of ongoing dilemmas for the centre-left, which straddle the ideational, institutional and individual frameworkset out in this book. Here, we suggest that a renewal of the centre-left might well rely on a more sustained effort to address the following issues: re-balancing principles and pragmatism• responding to the changing electoral sociology• meeting the populist challenge.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationWhy the left loses
Subtitle of host publicationThe decline of the centre-left in comparative perspective
EditorsRob Manwaring, Paul Kennedy
Place of PublicationBristol, UK
PublisherPolicy Press
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9781447332701, 9781447332688
ISBN (Print)9781447332695
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Social democracy
  • electoral impact
  • socialism
  • Marxism
  • centre-left
  • electoral sociology


Dive into the research topics of 'The dilemmas of social democracy'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this