Michael Harrington

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Edward Michael Harrington (February 24, 1928July 31, 1989) was an American democratic socialist, writer, and political activist.


  • Clothes make the poor invisible.... America has the best-dressed poverty the world has ever known.
    • Ch. 1, sct. 1
  • To be sure, the other America is not impoverished in the same sense as those poor nations where millions cling to hunger as a defense against starvation. This country has escaped such extremes. That does not change the fact that tens of millions of Americans are, at this very moment, maimed in body and spirit, existing at levels beneath those necessary for human decency. If these people are not starving, they are hungry, and sometimes far with hunger, for that is what cheap foods do. They are without adequate housing and education and medical care.
    • Ch. 1, sct. 1
  • In attitude towards poverty, there is a considerable double standard. America more or less expects the Negro to be poor (and is convinced that things are getting better, a point to be dealt with in a later chapter). There is no emotional shock when people hear of the experience of these human beings in Chicago. The mind and the feelings, even of good-willed individuals, are so suffused with an unconscious racism that misery is overlooked.
    • Ch. 2
  • Negro poverty is unique is every way. It grows out of a long American history, and it expresses itself in a subculture that is buit up on an interlocking base of economic and racial injustice. It is a fact imposed from without, from white America.
    • Ch. 2
  • Beauty can be mask for ugliness.
    • Ch. 2
  • Life is lived in common, but not in community.
    • Ch. 7, sct. 4
  • If there is technological advance without social advance, there is, almost automatically, an increase in human misery, in impoverishment.
    • Appendix, sct. 1
  • Our affluent society contains those of talent and insight who are driven to prefer poverty, to choose it, rather than to submit to the desolation of an empty abundance. It is a strange part of the other America that one finds in the intellectual slums.
    • Ch. 5, sct. 1
  • The laws against color can be removed, but that will leave the poverty that is the historic and institutionalized consequence of color. As long as this is the case, being born Negro will continue to be the most profound disability that the United States imposes upon a citizen.
    • p. 71
  • If, as is quite possible, America refuses to deal with the social evils that persist in the sixties, it will at the same time have turned its back on the racial minorities. There will be speeches on equality; there will be gains as the nation moves toward a constitutional definition of itself as egalitarian. The Negro will watch all this from a world of double poverty. He will continue to know himself as a member of a race-class condemned by heredity to be poor.
    • p.81
  • All the forces of conservatism in this society are ranged against the needs of the other America. The ideologues are opposed to helping the poor because this can be accomplished only through an expansion of the welfare state. The small businessmen have an immediate self-interest in maintain the economic underworld. The powerful agencies of the corporate farms want a continuation of an agricultural program that aids the rich and does nothing for the poor.
    • p. 168
  • The means are at hand to fulfill the age-old dream: poverty can now be abolished. How long shall we ignore this underdeveloped nation in our midst? How long shall we look the other way while our fellow human beings suffer? How long?
    • p. 170

Toward a Democratic Left: A Radical Program for a New Majority (1968)

  • The American system doesn't seem to work anymore. The nation's statesmen proclaim that they seek only to abolish war, hunger and ignorance in the world and then follow policies which make the rich richer, the poor poorer and incite the globe to violence. The Government says that it will conduct an unconditional war on poverty and three years later announces that life in the slums has become worse. And supposedly practical people propose that the country make a social revolution but without the inconvenience of changing any basic institution.
    • Ch. 1, opening paragraph
  • Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal has become a conservative force in American life. In saying this, I do not intent for a moment to dismiss the enduring significance of the social and political struggles of the Thirties. The old lassez-faire myths were decisively shattered, government recognized its duty to promote full employment, Social Security was accepted as a national principle, the mass-production workers created the CIO - and this is only the beginning of a list of accomplishments of those times. The welfare state which was begun then is manifestly imperfect and often unjust. Yet it took the United States a giant stride beyond the decade of Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover. Still, the Rooseveltian program did not solve the central problem of the Depression: mass unemployment.
    • Ch. 2, "Adam Smith's John Maynard Keynes"
  • The New Deal, for all its achievements and the popular idealism which inspired it, has become status quo. Its genuine gains, such as Social Security, must be defended and extended, of course. But the real task, for the democratic Left and for the nation, is now to go beyond the New Deal. Far beyond it.
    • Ch. 2, "Adam Smith's John Maynard Keynes"
  • America needs a majority party of the democratic Left. This is not a proposal for a tightly disciplined party on the old European model (I see no reason to add to the amusement of the politcal scientists who have been setting up, and shredding, that straw man for a generation). It is simply a recognition of the fact that, to solve problems which the Government passively records, there must be radical departures and a political movement capable of initiating them. The real ideologues in this period are those utopian pragmatists who believe that the society can bumble its way through a revolution. They are fanatics of moderation.
    • Chapter 10, "For a New Party"

Socialism: Past and Future (1989)

It is an intolerable irony that societies that are anything but socialist should thus define what socialism is in the eyes of so many. It is an irony that has to be undone.
  • Socialism, I want to propose, is the hope for human freedom and justice under the unprecedented conditions of life that humanity will face in the twenty-first century.
    • p. 1
  • The rise of Communist states - dictatorship with centrally planned, nationalized economies - did more to distort and confuse the meaning of socialism than any other event in history.
    • p. 67
  • It is an intolerable irony that societies that are anything but socialist should thus define what socialism is in the eyes of so many. It is an irony that has to be undone.
    • p.67

See also

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