The Challenge of Democratic Socialism in America

Andrew Kahn
Politics / Current Events

Course Description

There has been a great deal of discussion recently about the nature of socialism in the United States, and whether policies such as those advocated by U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, and U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, would amount to socialism. It is widely believed that the costs of free tuition at public universities and Medicare for all would require substantially higher taxes, and a considerable expansion of the Federal government at the expense of the private sector. Does that meet the test for "socialism?" To be clear, "Democratic Socialism" is not a new phenomenon in American politics. It has long incorporated ideas from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, which, while supporting regulated market capitalism and labor unions, has, for decades, favored a comprehensive social welfare system. Unemployment insurance, rent-control, low-cost public housing, and the entitlements of Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, and Veterans' benefits, are key elements. Eugene V. Debs, Norman Thomas, and Robert Lafollette were American progressives who helped bring about greater equality and security within the American Capitalist system. FDR's "Four Freedoms" and LBJ's "Great Society" created programs that extended the boundaries of public social responsibility. Today's Democratic Socialists appear unwilling to rely on a loosely regulated market and "trickle down economics" as means to broaden the base of domestic prosperity and security. Instead, Social Democrats want to create more immediate change because they believe economic elitism has resulted in societal inequality on a grand scale. Will the progressive impulse in our politics win out? Can America afford the cost of programs advocated by the democratic left?

About the Instructor

  • Andrew Kahn has studied political and social science at Johns Hopkins University, the Universities of Pittsburgh and Maryland, and the New School University in New York. He has taught at St. Cloud University in Minnesota and Western Connecticut University in Danbury. Mr. Kahn helped found AEGIS, the Association for Education in Global-International Studies at Stanford University. He is a world traveler.