U.S. Intellectual History Blog

The Problem Of American Liberalism: Post-Christmas Redux

I’m sorry to be persistent, but can we continue this discussion?

Perhaps, as a starting point, we might construct a bibliography of the best books to tackle each of the questions I posed in relation to the history of American Liberalism. To catalyze your memories, here is the question list from my prior post (somewhat modified):

– When did American liberalism begin? The Progressive Era?
– What was the apex of American liberalism? The early 1960s?
– Is the “liberal project” in America dead? As of when? Perhaps it’s still in its death throes?
– What is peculiar about American liberalism in terms of what Max Lerner called the “battlefields of liberalism”?
– Why is liberalism both loved and loathed?
– What is liberalism’s relationship to the academy?
– What is liberalism’s relationship with American modernity? Are they chronologically the same? Are they two sides of the same coin?
– What is philosophy’s relationship with liberalism?
– Who are the most articulate proponents of liberalism in philosophy? Rawls? Dewey? Habermas? Walzer?
– Why is liberalism—in a very weird turn of events—sometimes confused with socialism/communism?
– What is liberalism’s relationship with the Left? When are they not the same?
– What is liberalism’s relationship with the Arts?
– Who are exemplars of U.S. political liberalism? Franklin Delano Roosevelt? LBJ?
– How does liberalism cross party lines? Or rather, is there such a category as “Republican Liberalism”?
– What is liberalism’s relationship to the common terms of liberal and conservative?
– Could Ronald Reagan be classified as an exemplar of Republican liberalism? Eisenhower?
– What is liberalism in American economic terms?
– What is the relationship between class (economic) and liberalism?
– If liberalism has been instrumental in the construction of something of a “welfare state” in America, why is liberalism reviled by those on the far Left?
– Why is religion’s relationship—whether Christian or otherwise—with liberalism troubled?
– Are secularism and liberalism basically synonymous?
– What is liberalism’s relationship with multiculturalism? What of pluralism?
– What is postmodernism’s relationship with liberalism?
– Why is liberalism prone to the anarchy of license, “absolute liberty,” and laissez-faire?
– Can equality exist without liberalism?
– With all this potential confusion about the term, who are “liberals”?

3 Thoughts on this Post

  1. Why not think that maybe 20th century liberalism has been wildly successful. That even the most staunch conservative has embraced some aspect of it. Is it the new consensus?

  2. Anon 4:37,

    I believe that you’re right in terms of political success. That is part of my point. That’s also why many political actors have defined themselves against liberalism, as a kind of worthy, powerful adversary. To generate change, the old paradigm must be met and overcome.

    But its success is also why defining liberalism is, I think, one of the stickiest problems for historians of the U.S. twentieth century.

    – TL

  3. True, it’s easier to narrate defeat than victory. What would be of interest to me is how liberalism is defined among different groups. It is the welfare state, economic justice, pluralism, fairness, equal opportunity, or simply laissez-faire? Group interest are crucial, I think.

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