Michael Harrington

Michael Harrington

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Edward Michael "Mike" Harrington (February 24, 1928  — July 31, 1989) was an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 democratic socialist
Democratic socialism
Democratic socialism is a description used by various socialist movements and organizations to emphasize the democratic character of their political orientation...

, writer, political activist, professor of political science, radio commentator and founder of the Democratic Socialists of America
Democratic Socialists of America
Democratic Socialists of America is a social-democratic organization in the United States and the U.S. affiliate of the Socialist International, an international federation of social-democratic,democratic socialist and labor political parties and organizations.DSA was formed in 1982 by a merger of...


Personal life

Michael Harrington was born in St. Louis, Missouri
St. Louis, Missouri
St. Louis is an independent city on the eastern border of Missouri, United States. With a population of 319,294, it was the 58th-largest U.S. city at the 2010 U.S. Census. The Greater St...

, on February 24, 1928. He attended St. Roch Catholic School and Saint Louis University High School
Saint Louis University High School
St. Louis University High School , a Jesuit Catholic high school for boys founded in 1818, is the oldest secondary educational institution in the U.S. west of the Mississippi River, and one of the largest private high schools in Missouri. It is located in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Saint...

, where he was a classmate (class of 1944) of Thomas Anthony Dooley III. He later attended the College of the Holy Cross
College of the Holy Cross
The College of the Holy Cross is an undergraduate Roman Catholic liberal arts college located in Worcester, Massachusetts, USA...

, the University of Chicago
University of Chicago
The University of Chicago is a private research university in Chicago, Illinois, USA. It was founded by the American Baptist Education Society with a donation from oil magnate and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller and incorporated in 1890...

 (MA in English Literature), and Yale Law School
Yale Law School
Yale Law School, or YLS, is the law school of Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, United States. Established in 1824, it offers the J.D., LL.M., J.S.D. and M.S.L. degrees in law. It also hosts visiting scholars, visiting researchers and a number of legal research centers...

. As a young man, he was interested in both leftwing politics and Catholicism. Fittingly, he joined Dorothy Day's
Dorothy Day
Dorothy Day was an American journalist, social activist and devout Catholic convert; she advocated the Catholic economic theory of Distributism. She was also considered to be an anarchist, and did not hesitate to use the term...

 Catholic Worker movement
Catholic Worker Movement
The Catholic Worker Movement is a collection of autonomous communities of Catholics and their associates founded by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in 1933. Its aim is to "live in accordance with the justice and charity of Jesus Christ." One of its guiding principles is hospitality towards those on...

, 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 married Stephanie Gervis, a free lance writer and staff writer for the Village Voice, on May 30, 1963. He died on July 31, 1989 of cancer.

Religious beliefs

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
Atheism is, in a broad sense, the rejection of belief in the existence of deities. In a narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities...


In 1978 the Christian Century quoted him thus: "I am a pious apostate, an atheist shocked by the faithlessness of the believers, a fellow traveler of moderate Catholicism who has been out of the church for 20 years."

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
Trotskyism is the theory of Marxism as advocated by Leon Trotsky. Trotsky considered himself an orthodox Marxist and Bolshevik-Leninist, arguing for the establishment of a vanguard party of the working-class...

 leader Max Shachtman
Max Shachtman
Max Shachtman was an American Marxist theorist. He evolved from being an associate of Leon Trotsky to a social democrat and mentor of senior assistants to AFL-CIO President George Meany.-Beginnings:...

. Harrington and Shachtman believed that socialism, which in their view promised a just and fully democratic society, could not be realized under authoritarian Communism and they were both fiercely critical of the "bureaucratic collectivist
Bureaucratic collectivism
Bureaucratic collectivism is a theory of class society. It is used by some Trotskyists to describe the nature of the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin, and other similar states in Central and Eastern Europe and elsewhere .- Theory :...

" states in Eastern Europe and elsewhere.

Harrington became a member of Norman Thomas
Norman Thomas
Norman Mattoon Thomas was a leading American socialist, pacifist, and six-time presidential candidate for the Socialist Party of America.-Early years:...

's Socialist Party
Socialist Party of America
The Socialist Party of America was a multi-tendency democratic-socialist political party in the United States, formed in 1901 by a merger between the three-year-old Social Democratic Party of America and disaffected elements of the Socialist Labor Party which had split from the main organization...

 when the SP agreed to absorb Shachtman's organization. Harrington backed the Shachtmanite realignment strategy of working within the Democratic Party
Democratic Party (United States)
The Democratic Party is one of two major contemporary political parties in the United States, along with the Republican Party. The party's socially liberal and progressive platform is largely considered center-left in the U.S. political spectrum. The party has the lengthiest record of continuous...

 rather than running candidates on a Socialist ticket.

Socialist leader

Harrington served as the first editor of New America
New America (newspaper)
New America was the weekly newspaper of Socialist Party of America .The initial "prepublication issue" was dated Labor Day 5 September 1960. New America remained the official journal of the Socialist Party after when it changed its name to Social Democrats, USA in December 1972...

the official weekly newspaper of the Socialist Party-Social Democratic Federation launched in October 1960.

During this period Harrington wrote The Other America: Poverty in the United States
The Other America
Michael Harrington’s book The Other America was an influential study of poverty in the United States, published in 1962 by Macmillan. A widely read review, "Our Invisible Poor," in The New Yorker by Dwight Macdonald brought the book to the attention of President John F. Kennedy.The Other America...

, a book that had an impact on the Kennedy
John F. Kennedy
John Fitzgerald "Jack" Kennedy , often referred to by his initials JFK, was the 35th President of the United States, serving from 1961 until his assassination in 1963....

 administration, and on Lyndon B. Johnson
Lyndon B. Johnson
Lyndon Baines Johnson , often referred to as LBJ, was the 36th President of the United States after his service as the 37th Vice President of the United States...

's subsequent War on Poverty
War on Poverty
The War on Poverty is the unofficial name for legislation first introduced by United States President Lyndon B. Johnson during his State of the Union address on January 8, 1964. This legislation was proposed by Johnson in response to a national poverty rate of around nineteen percent...

. 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
New Left
The New Left was a term used mainly in the United Kingdom and United States in reference to activists, educators, agitators and others in the 1960s and 1970s who sought to implement a broad range of reforms, in contrast to earlier leftist or Marxist movements that had taken a more vanguardist...

 movements. He was present at the 1962 SDS conference that led to the creation of the Port Huron Statement
Port Huron Statement
The Port Huron Statement is the manifesto of the American student activist movement Students for a Democratic Society , written primarily by Tom Hayden, then the Field Secretary of SDS, and completed on June 15, 1962 at an SDS convention at what is now a state park in Lakeport, Michigan, a...

, where he argued that the final draft was insufficiently anti-Communist. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr.
Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr.
Arthur Meier Schlesinger, Sr. was an American historian. His son, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. was also a noted historian.-Life and career:...

 referred to Harrington as the "only responsible radical" in America. His high profile landed him on the master list of Nixon political opponents
Master list of Nixon political opponents
A master list of Nixon political opponents was compiled to supplement the original Nixon's Enemies List of 20 key people considered opponents of President Richard Nixon. The master list was compiled by Charles Colson's office and sent in memorandum form to John Dean. Dean later provided this...


By early 1970s, the governing faction of the Socialist Party continued to support a negotiated peace to end the Vietnam War, a position that Harrington increasingly viewed as no longer viable. The majority changed the organization's name to Social Democrats, USA. After losing at the convention, Harrington resigned and led his former caucus to form the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee
Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee
The Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee was founded in 1973 by Michael Harrington, who led a minority caucus in the Socialist Party. Harrington's caucus supported George McGovern's his call for a cease-fire and immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Vietnam...

. A smaller faction associated with peace activist David McReynolds
David McReynolds
David McReynolds is an American democratic socialist and pacifist activist who described himself as "a peace movement bureaucrat" during his 40-year career with Liberation magazine and the War Resisters League...

 formed the Socialist Party USA
Socialist Party USA
The Socialist Party USA is a multi-tendency democratic-socialist party in the United States. The party states that it is the rightful continuation and successor to the tradition of the Socialist Party of America, which had lasted from 1901 to 1972.The party is officially committed to left-wing...


In the early 1980s The Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee merged with the New American Movement
New American Movement
The New American Movement was founded in 1971 by a group of leaders of opposition to the Vietnam War to serve as a forum for discussing where and how to redirect their activities. The call to convene was issued by Michael Lerner...

, an organization of New Left activists, forming Democratic Socialists of America
Democratic Socialists of America
Democratic Socialists of America is a social-democratic organization in the United States and the U.S. affiliate of the Socialist International, an international federation of social-democratic,democratic socialist and labor political parties and organizations.DSA was formed in 1982 by a merger of...

. This organization remains the principal U.S. affiliate of the Socialist International
Socialist International
The Socialist International is a worldwide organization of democratic socialist, social democratic and labour political parties. It was formed in 1951.- History :...

, which includes socialist parties as diverse as the Swedish and German Social Democrats, Nicaragua's FSLN, and the British Labour Party.

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. He was the most well-known socialist in the United States during his lifetime. In the 1970s he coined the term neoconservatism
Neoconservatism in the United States is a branch of American conservatism. Since 2001, neoconservatism has been associated with democracy promotion, that is with assisting movements for democracy, in some cases by economic sanctions or military action....



The City University of New York
City University of New York
The City University of New York is the public university system of New York City, with its administrative offices in Yorkville in Manhattan. It is the largest urban university in the United States, consisting of 23 institutions: 11 senior colleges, six community colleges, the William E...

 has established "The Michael Harrington Center for Democratic Values and Social Change".

Media appearances

  • Michael Harrington was an occasional writer for The New York Review of Books
    The New York Review of Books
    The New York Review of Books is a fortnightly magazine with articles on literature, culture and current affairs. Published in New York City, it takes as its point of departure that the discussion of important books is itself an indispensable literary activity...

  • He appeared as a guest speaker on the series Free to Choose
    Free to Choose
    Free to Choose is a book and a ten-part television series broadcast on public television by economists Milton and Rose D...

    . He sought to rebut some of Milton Friedman
    Milton Friedman
    Milton Friedman was an American economist, statistician, academic, and author who taught at the University of Chicago for more than three decades...

    's theories of free market.
  • In 1966 he appeared on William Frank Buckley, Jr.'s Firing Line
    Firing Line
    Firing Line was an American public affairs show founded and hosted by conservative William F. Buckley, Jr. Its 1,504 episodes over 33 years made Firing Line the longest-running public affairs show in television history with a single host...

    , where he explained his views on poverty, while also engaging Buckley in debate regarding government attempts to address poverty and its consequences.

Books about Michael Harrington

  • Isserman, Maurice (2001) The Other American: The Life of Michael Harrington. New York: Perseus Books.

See also

  • Bernt Carlsson
    Bernt Carlsson
    Bernt Wilmar Carlsson was Assistant-Secretary-General of the United Nations and United Nations Commissioner for Namibia from July 1987 until he died on Pan Am Flight 103, which was blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland on 21 December 1988.-Social democrat:A native of Stockholm, Carlsson joined the...

  • Democratic Socialists of America
    Democratic Socialists of America
    Democratic Socialists of America is a social-democratic organization in the United States and the U.S. affiliate of the Socialist International, an international federation of social-democratic,democratic socialist and labor political parties and organizations.DSA was formed in 1982 by a merger of...

  • Socialist Youth League
    Socialist Youth League (US)
    The Socialist Youth League was the youth group affiliated with the Workers Party, a splinter Trotskyist party led by Max Shachtman. The parent group changed its name to the Independent Socialist League in 1950. In February 1954, the Socialist Youth League merged with the a faction of the Young...

External links