Social Movements and Election Campaigns

Source: Michael Walzer, Dissent, Vol. 59 no. 3, Summer 2012
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Social movements can be very grand. Years ago, Richard Rorty wrote an article in Dissent describing Christianity and Marxism as prototypical social movements (“Movements and Campaigns,” Winter 1995)–they aimed to transform the world and to create “new” men and women. Rorty set himself against this kind of grandiosity. He urged us to enlist instead in what he called “campaigns,” which avoided totalizing ambition and the radical coercion that so often follows. But his campaigns were strangely like the more familiar social movements of our time. I want to continue his argument, defending those movements and asking how their militants should relate to what most of us mean when we talk about campaigns: the efforts of political parties to win elections.

The social movements I mean to focus on are driven by moral or ideological passion but also by collective self-interest. They have a purpose, often narrowly conceived–votes for women, unions for workers, civil rights for black…

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