The twentieth century witnessed a profound shift in both socialism and social reform. In the early 1900s, social reform seemed to offer a veritable religion of redemption, but by the century's end, while socialism remained a vibrant force in European society, a culture of extreme individualism and consumption all but squeezed the welfare state out of existence. Documenting this historic change, After Progress: European Socialism and American Social Reform in the 20th Century is the first truly comprehensive look at the course of social reform and Western politics after Communism, brilliantly explained by a major social thinker of our time. Norman Birnbaum traces in fascinating detail the forces that have shifted social concern over the course of a century, from the devastation of two world wars, to the post-war golden age of economic growth and democracy, to the ever-increasing dominance of the market. He makes sense of the historical trends that have created a climate in which politicians proclaim the arrival of a new historical epoch but rarely offer solutions to social problems that get beyond cost-benefit analyses.
Birnbaum goes one step further and proposes a strategy for bringing the market back into balance with the social needs of the people. He advocates a reconsideration of the notion of work, urges that market forces be brought under political control, and stresses the need for education that teaches the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. Both a sweeping historical survey and a sharp-edged commentary on current political posturing, After Progress examines the state of social reform past, present and future.