I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

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Back to Basics

Tom Wall
What’s Left Now? The History and Future of Social Democracy, by Andrew Hindmoor, Oxford University Press, 285 pp, ISBN 978 – 0198805991 Counter Revolution: Liberal Europe in Retreat, by Jan Zielonka, Oxford University Press, 164 pp, ISBN 978-0198806561 Xenophobia is on the rise. Illiberal parties, capitalising on disquiet about immigration, are in positions of power in a number of EU countries. The democratic left is in retreat almost everywhere. Is it time to start worrying? Mark Twain once remarked that a man who is a pessimist before the age of forty-eight knows too much, while one who is an optimist beyond that age knows too little. Age and experience may to some degree account for the contrasting views held by the authors of two recent books published by Oxford University Press. Andrew Hindmoor, the younger man, remains optimistic in What’s Left Now? about the prospects for social democracy, notwithstanding much evidence to the contrary. Jan Zielonka in Counter Revolution is decidedly downbeat about the prospects for European liberal democracy in general. Both are political scientists, but with different backgrounds and political orientations. Hindmoor, a native of what was once described as the “People’s Republic of South Yorkshire”, is a social democrat, while Zielonka, a Polish émigré now resident in Britain, is a social liberal who decries the advances of neo-liberalism almost as much as he despises the populist and autocratic leaders he labels “counter revolutionaries”, including those in his homeland. Although definitions are in scarce supply in both books, it is safe to assume that the standards of democracy against which both measure progress, or the lack of it, is that embodied in the Western European postwar consensus. The three decades after the Second World War are known in France as Les Trente Glorieuses (the thirty wonderful years). For the Germans it was the period of their Wirtschaftswunder (economic miracle). During that time the economies of the Western democracies experienced sustained economic growth. As early as 1957, British prime minister Harold Macmillan was moved to declare in that “most of our people had never had it so good”. It wasn’t just full employment and rising incomes that created a feeling of wellbeing and security, for it was during this time that the foundations of the welfare state were laid. The postwar Labour government in Britain legislated for “cradle to grave” supports in the form of maternity, sickness, unemployment and pension cover, all paid for by a mandatory national…

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