Apr 24, 2019

Geoff Nunberg: ‘Socialism’ Isn’t The Scare Word It Once Was

From Fresh Air, on National Public Radio

‘Socialism’ Isn’t The Scare Word It Once Was

By Geoff Nunberg

Time was when the word socialism had a firm footing in the American political lexicon, with all the meanings it has collected in the other nations where it's taken root. It could be mixed or pure, planned or market, a dogma or simply an aspiration - the name of our desire, as the critic Irving Howe famously defined it. But after the American socialist movement crumbled in the 1920s, the right compacted the word into a single term of abuse. It became "The S Word," which is the title that John Nichols of The Nation magazine gave to his recent history of socialism in America...

But the S-word isn't quite as spine-chilling now, particularly to millennials. They have no memory of the Cold War. They can't tell you what the second S in USSR was for. And the fall of the Berlin Wall is just one of a mash of '80s film clips, along with the Exxon Valdez, Pac-Man and Boy George...


Geoffrey Nunberg is a linguist, researcher, and adjunct professor at the UC Berkeley School of Information.

Last updated:

September 27, 2019