Race and the Making of American Liberalism

Race and the Making of American Liberalism

Race and the Making of American Liberalism

Race and the Making of American Liberalism

Synopsis

Race and the Making of American Liberalism traces the roots of the contemporary crisis of progressive liberalism deep into the nation's racial past. Horton argues that the contemporary conservative claim that the American liberal tradition has been rooted in a "color blind" conception of individual rights is innaccurate and misleading. In contrast, American liberalism has alternatively served both to support and oppose racial hierarchy, as well as socioeconomic inequality more broadly. Racial politics in the United States have repeatedly made it exceedingly difficult to establish powerful constituencies that understand socioeconomic equity as vital to American democracy and aspire to limit gross disparities of wealth, power, and status. Revitalizing such equalitarian conceptions of American liberalism, Horton suggests, will require developing new forms of racial and class identity that support, rather than sabotage this fundamental political commitment.

Excerpt

What is the best way to understand the relationship between race and liberalism in American political development? Has the historical experience of racial inequality been a troubling exception to a generally liberal rule of equal rights and opportunities? Or, has racial oppression constituted a basic component of American liberalism—albeit one that has been imperfectly masked by cultural pieties of individualism and equality? Has liberalism, in other words, functioned primarily as a progressive engine for racial equity or as an oppressive tool of racial injustice?

The American experience would be much easier to comprehend if such questions could be given simple answers. If liberalism could be neatly categorized as either a positive or negative force with regard to the nation’s racial history, it would be easy to judge. This would be ethically and politically comforting, as we could rest secure in our estimation of the nation’s primary political creed. The historical record, however, has been vexingly variable and complex. Viewed dispassionately, it cannot affirm that liberalism has played a consistently positive or negative role in whatever movement the nation has made toward the realization of racial justice.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.