The Modern Social Conflict
The Politics of Liberty
Revolutions are melancholy moments in history—brief gasps of hope that emerges from misery and disillusionment. This is true for great revolutions, like 1789 in France or 1917 in Russia, but applies to lesser political upheavals as well. Conflict builds into a state of tense confrontation, like a powder keg. When a spark is thrown, an explosion takes place and the old edifice begins to crumble. People are caught up in an initial mood of elation, but it does not last. Normality catches up.
Why do revolutions occur? In this completely revised edition of The Modern Social Conflict, Ralf Dahrendorf explores the basis and substance of social and class conflict. Ultimately, he finds that conflicts are about enhancing life chances; that is, they concern the options people have within a framework of social linkages, the ties that bind a society, which Dahrendorf calls ligatures. The book offers a concise and accessible account of conflict’s contribution to democracies, and how democracies must change if they are to retain their political and social freedom. This new edition takes conflict theory past the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and into the present day.
Upon publication of the original 1988 edition, Stanley Hoffmann stated, “Ralf Dahrendorf is one of the most original and experienced social and political writers of our time. . . . [this book] is both a survey of social and political conflict in Western societies from the eighteenth century to the present and a tract for a new ‘radical liberalism.’” And Saul Friedländer wrote, “Ralf Dahrendorf has written a compelling book . . . the brilliant contribution of a convinced liberal to the study of conflict within contemporary democratic society.”
"Ralf Dahrendorf is one of the most original and experienced social and political writers of our time.... The Modern Social Conflict is both a survey of social and political conflict in Western societies from the eighteenth century to the present and a tract for a new 'radical liberalism.'"
—Comment on the first edition by Stanley Hoffmann in the New York Times
"Ralf Dahrendorf has written a compelling book which, no doubt, will stimulate considerable discussion. It is the brilliant contribution of a convinced liberal to the study of conflict within contemporary democratic society."
—Comment on the first edition by Saul Friedlander, of the University of California, Los Angeles
“Writing from a rich experience in both public service and public philosophy, Ralf Dahrendorf is well placed to describe the road political man has traveled since World War II and to weigh his prospects for the future. Drawing on Max Weber, Raymond Aron and others, and on his own analysis of developments in the Western democracies, he weaves a pattern in which the twin drives for ‘entitlements’ (civil rights and welfare) and ‘provisions’ (economic initiatives and growth) are often, but not necessarily, in conflict. A social democrat, he sees the declining vigor of traditional social democracy and the need for a new liberal agenda, a new ‘social contract’ and a ‘world civil society.’ Not utopian musing, it is uncommon practical wisdom.”