Harrington, Edward Michael

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Michael Harrington (19281989) was one of the few writers who could claim to have affected business and economic history. Born at the beginning of the Great Depression, Harrington retained youthful memories of that difficult period, and by the time he was 33, he had written one of his more important works, The Other America (1962). His book spoke about the "invisible poor" living in America at a time when most Americans were busy celebrating the country's wealth. In speaking out on behalf of the poor, industrial rejects, migrant workers, minorities, and the aged, Harrington drew the attention of at least two presidents to focus on the legislative issues of poverty in America: President John F. Kennedy (19611963), and President Lyndon Johnson (19631969).

Harrington was born in St. Louis, Missouri, and grew up in a middle-class Irish-Catholic family whose political affiliations were with the Democratic Party. He was heavily influenced by his Jesuit teachers, who maintained that all people can become successful if they are only given a chance. In college Harrington was drawn to the political left and he became a socialist. Over the 30 years that followed he was one of the most eloquent voices of socialism in America.

Harrington lived his adult life as a self-described agitator and organizer. He worked as a political and social activist who tried to achieve the greatest benefits for the poorest Americans. His goal was to create greater economic justice for those who lived in poverty in America, the richest country in the world. In his first autobiography, Fragments of the Century, he expressed this view of socialism in capitalist America: "To be a socialist . . . is to make an act of faith, of love even, toward this land. It is to sense the seed beneath the snow; to see, beneath the veneer of corruption and meanness and the commercialization of human relationships, men and women capable of controlling their own destinies. To be a radical is, in the best and only decent sense of the word, patriotic."

Harrington spoke directly to American business, asking for the creation of a truly "good" society. He was a writer of books, a lecturer, and the co-chairman of the largest socialist organization in America, the Democratic Socialists. Harrington advocated working with the Democratic Party to achieve liberal economic and business reform. He felt gradual, liberal reform would bring about social justice in a capitalist economy, which he feared would become susceptible to revolutionary overthrow if economic justice for all was not a part of the American way. As a principled anti-Communist, Harrington sought to help create ongoing reform in the existing system that would lead to full employment, the abolition of poverty, and a national health care system.

A scholar, a man of religious principle, a political and economic socialist, Harrington helped forward the principles of progressivism and equality in the twentieth century. He was an idealist who fought throughout his life for social justice in America, who fought for socialist reforms, but who, in the end, died of cancer in 1989 in the midst of a conservative turn in American politics.

See also: Great Depression, Socialism


Contemporary Authors. Farmington Hills, MI: The Gale Group, 1999, s.v. "Harrington (Edward) Michael."

Fermain, Louis A. and Joyce Kornbluh, eds. Poverty in America: A Book of Readings. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1965.

Harrington, Michael. Fragments of the Century: A Social Autobiography. New York: MacMillan, 1973.

Harrington, Michael. The Other America: Poverty in the United States. New York: MacMillan, 1965.

Howe, Irving and Michael Harrington. The Seventies: Problems and Proposals. New York: Harper & Rowe, 1972.

to be a socialist . . . is to sense the seed beneath the snow; to see, beneath the veneer of corruption and meanness and the commercialization of human relationships, men and women capable of controlling their own destinies.

edward harrington, fragments of the century, 1973

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