cut benefits and undertook a painful overhaul of the labor market from 2003 to 2005 in a bid to bring down a jobless toll that had surpassed five million. Mr. Scholz, then the party’s general secretary, became the public face of the changes.

Unemployment did gradually fall, but the program also helped create a sprawling low-wage sector and prompted many working-class voters to defect from the Social Democrats.

Professor Sandel argues that it was around this time that center-left parties, including the Democrats of President Bill Clinton, embraced the market triumphalism of the right, became more closely identified with the values and interests of the well-educated and began losing touch with working-class voters.

Mr. Scholz, once a fiery young socialist who joined his party as a teenager, defended workers as a labor lawyer in the 1970s before gradually mellowing into a post-ideological centrist. Today he is considered to be to the right of much of the party’s base, not unlike Mr. Biden, with whom he is sometimes compared, even though, like Mr. Biden, he has demonstrated some liberal reflexes.

a three-party government with the progressive Greens and the libertarian Free Democrats. Their governing treaty calls for raising the minimum wage to 12 euros, or about $13.50, an hour, from €9.60 today — an instant pay rise for about 10 million people. Mr. Scholz has also promised to build 400,000 homes a year, 100,000 more than was previously planned, and to guarantee stable pension levels.

More abstract, but equally important, is his promise of another “industrial revolution” that will aim to make Germany a manufacturing power for the carbon-neutral age and provide the economic bedrock for the welfare state of the future.

“We need to tell people two things,” Mr. Scholz said during the campaign. “First, that we need respect, we need good pay and proper recognition for work. And second, we have to ensure that there are good jobs in the future.”

the Socialist mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, who recently announced her own long-shot presidential bid, has evoked the “respect” theme.

But slogans go only so far. The Social Democrats came in first in the splintered September vote in Germany but mustered only 26 percent of the total, a far cry from the 40 percent they recorded at the start of Mr. Schröder’s first term. Mr. Kühnert, the party’s general secretary, said that Mr. Scholz’s challenge was to show that the Social Democratic model is the right approach for the country and beyond.

“We hope that our election victory in Germany will send a signal for the revival of social democracy internationally,” Mr. Kühnert said. “We’re looking above all to the rest of Europe, because we need to strengthen the E.U. in the next years if we want to have anything to say in the world in coming years.”

Christopher F. Schuetze contributed reporting.

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