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Socialism and Progressivism

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Bernie Sanders’s Democratic Socialism
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This chapter opens on the fact that utopias are, almost by definition, fictions, one of their most frequent forms being the novel, and that utopian social theory seeks to expose social evils and suggests alternative models. The focus here is on the continuing commitment to remaking American democracy through a strengthening of the public sphere. This chapter envisions the progressive tradition as a continuing frontier in American history, notably rooted in the belief conveyed by William James’s pragmatism that the world could indeed be changed. A distinctively American philosophy, pragmatism lies at the core of the progressives’ optimism and also forms the matrix that made it possible for an activist like Bernie Sanders to blend the intellectual roots of his own thinking, some of them European and Marxist-related, into the American reform movement in a very idiosyncratic way.

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  1. 1.

    Sanders, Where We Go from Here, pp. 21–22.

  2. 2.

    U.S. Constitution, Preamble, signed in convention September 17, 1787, ratified June 21, 1788, Constitution Center,

  3. 3.

    Robert Fogarty, ed., American Utopianism, Itasca, Ill., E. F. Peacock, 1972, p. ix. Quoted in Shor, p. xiv.

  4. 4.

    U.S. Constitution, op. cit., p. 61.

  5. 5.

    Robert H. Walker, Reform in America: The Continuing Frontier, Lexington, University of Kentucky Press, 1985.

  6. 6.

    Mark Twain, Charles Dudley Warner, The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today, Hartford, CT, American Publishing Company, 1874.

  7. 7.

    Jacob A. Riis, a Danish-American social reformer and social documentary photographer, notably published How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York, New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1890.

  8. 8.

    Henry George (1839–1897) published Progress and Poverty An Inquiry into the Cause of Industrial Depressions and of Increase of Want with Increase of Wealth: The Remedy, New York, Appleton and Co., 1879, in which he advocated for the single tax.

  9. 9.

    Walker, p. 167.

  10. 10.

    Ibid., p. 168.

  11. 11.

    Eric Foner, “Why Is There No Socialism in the United States?” History Workshop, n° 17, Spring 1984, p. 76.

  12. 12.

    Walker, p. 167.

  13. 13.

    Shelton Stromquist argues that “a Progressive movement constituted itself in response to the mounting social crisis of the late nineteenth century that was most clearly revealed in the battles between labor and capital and in the campaigns to save the wasted lives produced by industrial growth. Through diverse and overlapping networks intellectuals, social gospel reformers, young educated women, labor activists, and insurgent politicians developed over time a sense of participating in what they came to call a ‘movement.’” Stromquist, Reinventing ‘The People’: The Progressive Movement, the Class Problem, and the Origins of Modern Liberalism, Chicago, University of Illinois Press, 2006, p. 3.

  14. 14.

    Alan Dawley, Struggles for Justice. Social Responsibility and the Liberal State, Cambridge, MA, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1991, p. 136. Quoted in Shor, p. 187.

  15. 15.

    Walker, op. cit., p. 62.

  16. 16.

    Ted Rall, “The The Left Is Lukewarm on Elizabeth Warren,” Wall Street Journal, November 6, 2018.

  17. 17.

    George Zornick, “Elizabeth Warren’s ‘Big Fight’ Against Monopolies,” Nation, February 15, 2018,

  18. 18.


  19. 19.

    Theodore Roosevelt, “The New Nationalism,” August 31, 1910, Theodore Roosevelt Association,

  20. 20.

    Quoted in Zornick, op. cit., p. 64.

  21. 21.

    Joseph R. Corlin, “The IWW and the Question of Violence,” The Wisconsin Magazine of History, vol. 51, n° 4, Summer 1968, pp. 316–326.

  22. 22.

    Sanders, “Sanders Calls For 21st Century Bill of Rights,” Speech at the George Washington University, June 10, 2019, Not me. Us (2020 campaign website),

  23. 23.

    Devon Douglas-Bowers, Colin Jenkins, “Socialism and Electoral Politics in the US: An Interview with Mimi Soltysik,” June 30, 2015, The Hampton Institute,

  24. 24.

    Obama, Sanders, quoted in Medina, Lerer, op. cit.

  25. 25.

    Jaffe, p. xi.

  26. 26.

    Dawley, op. cit., p. 63.

  27. 27.

    Shor, p. 188.

  28. 28.


  29. 29.

    The Espionage Act of 1917, op. cit., p. 31.

  30. 30.

    Shor, p. 188.

  31. 31.

    See supra, pp. 46, 50.

  32. 32.

    Steffens, Letter to Marie Howe, op. cit., p. 52.

  33. 33.

    William James, Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking, New York, Longmans, Green & Co., 1907. Rpt. 1922, p. 285.

  34. 34.

    Ibid., p. 53.

  35. 35.

    Id., “September 1884,” in The Will to Believe an Other Essays in Popular Philosophy, New York, Longmans, Green & Co., 1897. Rpt. The Will to Believe, Human Immortality, and Other Essays, New York, Dover Publications, 1956, pp. 161–162.

  36. 36.

    Id., Pragmatism, p. 200.

  37. 37.

    Steffens, Letter to Marie Howe, op. cit., p. 52.

  38. 38.

    James, Pragmatism, op. cit., p. 67.

  39. 39.

    Rorty, p. 9.

  40. 40.

    James, “The Social Value of the College-Bred,” quoted in ibid.

  41. 41.

    James, Manuscript Essays and Notes, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 1988, pp. 228–229.

  42. 42.

    Jaffe, p. 180.

  43. 43.

    Obama, quoted in Medina, Lerer, op. cit., p. 8.

  44. 44.


  45. 45.

    James, Pragmatism, op. cit., p. 67.

  46. 46.

    Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time, Boston, MA, 1944. Rpt. 2001.

  47. 47.

    Franklin D. Roosevelt, State of the Union Address, January 11, 1944, Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum,

  48. 48.

    Polanyi, p. 176.

  49. 49.

    Obama, quoted in Medina, Lerer, op. cit., p. 10.

  50. 50.

    Sanders, Our Revolution, op. cit., p. 20

  51. 51.

    Polanyi, p. 147.

  52. 52.


  53. 53.

    Ibid., p. 136.

  54. 54.

    Ibid., pp. 76–77.

  55. 55.

    Patrick Iber, Mark Konczal, “Karl Polanyi for President,” Dissent, May 23, 2016,

  56. 56.

    Franklin D. Roosevelt, op. cit., p. 70.

  57. 57.

    Sanders, Our Revolution, op. cit., p. 19.

  58. 58.

    “The Meaning of ‘Socialism’ to Americans Today,” Gallup, October 4, 2018,

  59. 59.

    Louis Hartz, The Liberal Tradition in America: An Interpretation of American Political Thought Since the Revolution, New York, Harcourt, Brace, 1955, p. 5.

  60. 60.

    Ibid., p. 3.

  61. 61.

    Ibid., p. 6.


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Gachon, N. (2021). Socialism and Progressivism. In: Bernie Sanders’s Democratic Socialism. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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