social democracy


: a political movement advocating a gradual and peaceful transition from capitalism to socialism by democratic means
: a democratic welfare state that incorporates both capitalist and socialist practices
social democrat noun
social democratic adjective
Socialism vs. Social Democracy: Usage Guide

In the many years since socialism entered English around 1830, it has acquired several different meanings. It refers to a system of social organization in which private property and the distribution of income are subject to social control, but the conception of that control has varied, and the term has been interpreted in widely diverging ways, ranging from statist to libertarian, from Marxist to liberal. In the modern era, "pure" socialism has been seen only rarely and usually briefly in a few Communist regimes. Far more common are systems of social democracy, now often referred to as democratic socialism, in which extensive state regulation, with limited state ownership, has been employed by democratically elected governments (as in Sweden and Denmark) in the belief that it produces a fair distribution of income without impairing economic growth.

Example Sentences

Recent Examples on the Web Bernie Sanders has reinvigorated Americans’ interest in social democracy. Daniel Bessner, The New Republic, 6 Mar. 2023 But of the two, only Sanders, with his appeals to universal values, patriotic social democracy, and cross-racial solidarity, has any appeal to the liberals and left-wingers likely to read Oluo’s book. Park Macdougald, Washington Examiner, 10 Dec. 2020 The response staged by the state’s civil society—politicians, movie stars, common citizens, and others—exemplified the state’s participatory social democracy. Harish Pullanoor, Quartz, 6 Feb. 2023 At the time, Uruguay was prosperous but embattled, the fledgling social democracy growing so unequal that a Marxist-Leninist group called the Tupamaros had begun robbing banks to distribute money to the poor. Noah Gallagher Shannon, New York Times, 5 Oct. 2022 That is a project for which socialism, not social democracy, may be better suited. Thomas Geoghegan, The New Republic, 31 Aug. 2022 To some extent, social democracy foundered on an outbreak of bad luck. Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times, 4 Oct. 2022 Lomborg was vegetarian, had belonged to Greenpeace, and came from a country known for sanity and social democracy, all of which gave him credibility as a truth-teller going against the grain of the radical left. Jake Bittle, The New Republic, 8 Oct. 2021 Much later, Ronald Reagan (appropriately, a cheerleader in college) found in the rhetoric of buoyant national optimism a handy way to defang social democracy while boosting the neoliberal project. Ian Beacock, The Atlantic, 2 Aug. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'social democracy.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History

First Known Use

1848, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of social democracy was in 1848

Dictionary Entries Near social democracy

Cite this Entry

“Social democracy.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 26 Mar. 2023.

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