Bernie Sanders and the Boundaries of Reform

Socialism in Burlington

W. J. Conroy
Book Cover

PB: $19.95
EAN: 978-1-4399-1480-9
Publication: Feb 17

Ebook: $12.95
EAN: 978-1-4399-1481-6
Publication: Aug 16

278 pages
6 x 9

A reissued edition of a significant case study of the achievements and failures of Bernard Sanders’ radical administration in 1980s Burlington, VT


Today, Bernie Sanders is a household name, a wildly popular presidential candidate and an icon for progressive Democrats in the United States. But back in the 1980s, this “democratic socialist”—though some folks would prefer the term “social democrat”—was mayor of Burlington, Vermont, where his administration attempted radical reforms. Some efforts were successful, but when a waterfront deal failed, it was not due to Sanders' efforts; he would rather compromise and have a net gain than be an ideological purist.

In his preface to this reissue of the 1990 book, Challenging the Boundaries of Reform, W. J. Conroy reflects on the recent legacy of Sanders, his Agenda for America, and his appeal to young voters. His book then looks back to identify Sanders’ experience in Burlington by examining several case studies that unfolded amidst a conservative trend nationally, an unsympathetic state government, and a hostile city council.

Ultimately, Conroy asks what lessons can be drawn from the case of Burlington that would aid the American left in its struggle to capture both government and civil society?


Praise for Challenging the Boundaries of Reform "Challenging the Boundaries of Reform is important reading for anyone interested not only in socialism, but in the future potential of radical democratic reforms, whatever the label."
Contemporary Sociology

" Conroy leads us through an impressive roster of reform efforts that include municipalization of cable television, progressive taxation, anti-imperialist resolutions and actions, comparable worth policies, public day care and more. With considerable expertise, he assesses the barriers to radical change with a special emphasis on America’s federalist politics as a key source of structural inertia. Conroy's carefully honed message….is that the semi-autonomous political forces arrayed against progressive change may be greater obstacles than a local growth machine and allied capitalist interests…. Conroy has made a significant contribution to the literature on progressive city governments, the ongoing debate over left social science, and current interest in post-Enlightenment utopianism."
The Journal of Politics

Table of Contents

Preface to the 2016 Edition

1. Burlington’s Vibrant Politics
2. Theory and Method
3. Burlington and Capitalism
4. Burlington Within the Federalist System
5. Economic Development
6. The Search for a Progressive Tax
7. Foreign Policy
8. Sexual Politics
9. On the Question of Reform and Local Autonomy
10. Prescription: A State-Based Strategy for the Left


About the Author(s)

W. J. Conroy is Professor of Political Science and History at Kentucky Wesleyan College.


In the Series

  • Conflicts in Urban and Regional Development edited by John R. Logan and Todd Swanstrom

    Conflicts in Urban and Regional Development, edited by John R. Logan and Todd Swanstrom, includes books on urban policy and issues of city and regional planning, accounts of the political economy of individual cities, and books that compare policies across cities and countries.