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Michael Harrington

In office
1982 – 1989
Preceded by None

Born February 24, 1928
St. Louis, Missouri
Died July 31, 1989
Birth name Edward Michael Harrington
Nationality American
Political party Socialist Party of America
Spouse(s) Stephanie Gervis
Children Alexander Harrington
Occupation Politican
Religion Atheist

Edward Michael "Mike" Harrington (February 24, 1928 — July 31, 1989) was an American democratic socialist, writer, political activist, professor of political science, radio commentator and founder of the Democratic Socialists of America.



Early life

Michael Harrington was born in St. Louis, Missouri on February 24, 1928. He attended St. Louis University High School, College of the Holy Cross, University of Chicago (MA in English Literature), and Yale Law School. As a young man, he was interested in both leftwing politics and Catholicism. Fittingly, he joined Dorothy Day's Catholic Worker movement, a pacifist group that advocated a radical interpretation of the Gospel. Above all else, Harrington was an intellectual. He loved arguing about culture and politics, preferably over beer, and his Jesuit education made him a fine debater and rhetorician. Harrington was an editor of The Catholic Worker from 1951 to 1953. However, Harrington became disillusioned with religion and, although he would always retain a certain affection for Catholic culture, he ultimately became an atheist.[1]

Becoming a socialist

This estrangement from religion was accompanied by a growing interest in Marxism and a drift toward secular socialism. After leaving The Catholic Worker Harrington became a member of the Independent Socialist League, a small organization associated with the former Trotskyist leader Max Shachtman. Harrington and Shachtman believed that socialism, the promise of a just and fully democratic society, could not be realized under authoritarian Communism and they were both fiercely critical of the "bureaucratic collectivist" states in Eastern Europe and elsewhere.

Harrington became a member of Norman Thomas's Socialist Party when the SP agreed to absorb Shachtman's organization. Harrington backed the Shachtmanite realignment strategy of working within the Democratic Party rather than running candidates on a Socialist ticket.[2]

Socialist leader

During this period Harrington wrote The Other America: Poverty in the United States, a book that had an impact on the Kennedy administration, and on Lyndon B. Johnson's subsequent War on Poverty. Harrington became a widely read intellectual and political writer. He would frequently debate noted conservatives but would also clash with the younger radicals in the New Left movements. He was present at the 1962 SDS conference that led to the creation of the Port Huron Statement, where he argued that the final draft was insufficiently anti-Communist. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr. referred to Harrington as the "only responsible radical" in America, a somewhat dubious distinction among those on the political left. His high profile landed him on the master list of Nixon political opponents.[3]

By early 1970s Shachtman's anti-Communism had become a hawkish Cold War liberalism. Shachtman and the governing faction of the Socialist Party effectively supported the Vietnam War and changed the organization's name to Social Democrats, USA. In protest Harrington led a number of Norman Thomas-era Socialists, younger activists and ex-Shachtmanites into the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee. A smaller faction associated with peace activist David McReynolds formed the Socialist Party USA.

In the early 1980s The Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee merged with the New American Movement, an organization of New Left veterans, forming Democratic Socialists of America. This organization remains the principal U.S. affiliate of the Socialist International, which includes socialist parties as diverse as the Swedish and German Social Democrats, Nicaragua's FSLN, and the British Labour Party.[4]

Academician and public intellectual

Harrington was appointed a professor of political science at Queens College in 1972 and was designated a distinguished professor in 1988. During the 1980s he contributed commentaries to National Public Radio.[5] Harrington died on July 31, 1989 of cancer. He was the most well-known socialist in the United States during his lifetime.[6] In the 1970s he coined the term neoconservatism.[7]

Television appearances

  • Michael Harrington appeared as a guest speaker on the series Free to Choose. He sought to rebut some of Milton Friedman's theories of free market.

Books by Michael Harrington

  • The Other America: Poverty in the United States (New York: Macmillan, 1962). ISBN 0-684-82678-X
  • The Retail Clerks (New York: John Wiley, 1962). ISBN 978-0471352594
  • The Accidental Century (1965; Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1966). ISBN 0-14-020880-1
  • The social-industrial complex(New York: League for Industrial Democracy, 1968). Looking forward #10
  • Toward a Democratic Left: A Radical Program for a New Majority (1968; Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1969). ISBN 0025484508
  • Socialism (1972; New York: Bantam, 1973). "To the memory of Norman Thomas. And the future of his ideals." ISBN 0-8415-0141-6
  • Fragments of the Century (1973; New York: Touchstone, 1977). ISBN 978-0671226534
  • Twilight of Capitalism (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1977). ISBN 978-0671227593
  • The Vast Majority (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1977). ISBN 0-671-22529-4
  • Tax policy and the economy : a debate between Michael Harrington and Representative Jack Kemp, April 25, 1979., (New York, N.Y. : Institute for Democratic Socialism, 1979, no ISBN)
  • Decade of Decision: The Crisis of the American System (New York: Touchstone, 1981). ISBN 978-0671428082
  • The Next America: The Decline and Rise of the United States (New York: Touchstone, 1981). ISBN 978-0030574684
  • The New American Poverty (New York: Henry Holt, 1984). ISBN 978-0030621574
  • The Politics at God's Funeral: The Spiritual Crisis of Western Civilization (Baltimore: Penguin, 1985). ISBN 978-0140076899
  • Taking Sides: The Education of a Militant Mind (New York" Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1985). ISBN 0-03-004429-4
  • The Next Left: The History of a Future (New York: Henry Holt, 1986). ISBN 0-8050-0792-X
  • The Long Distance Runner: An Autobiography (New York: Henry Holt, 1988). ISBN 0-8050-0790-3
  • Socialism: Past & Future (New York: Arcade Publishing, 1989). ISBN 1-55970-000-9

See also


  1. ^ Maurice Isserman, The Other American: The Life of Michael Harrington (New York: Public Affairs, 2000), pp. 1-104.
  2. ^ Isserman, The Other American, pp. 105-174.
  3. ^ Isserman, The Other American, pp. 175-255; Michael Harrington, Fragments of the Century (1973).
  4. ^ Isserman, The Other American, pp. 256-363; Michael Harrington, The Long-Distance Runner (1988).
  5. ^ Scott Sherman, "Good, Gray NPR," The Nation, May 5, 2005.
  6. ^ Herbert Mitgang, "Michael Harrington, Socialist and Author, Is Dead," The New York Times, August 2, 1989, p. B10.
  7. ^

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

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


The Other America (1962)

  • Clothes make the poor invisible.... America has the best-dressed poverty the world has ever known.
    • Ch. 1, sct. 1
  • 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

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