Liberalism for a New Century

Liberalism for a New Century

Liberalism for a New Century

Liberalism for a New Century


American liberalism today is in a state of confusion and disarray, with the "L word" widely considered a term of derision. By examining both the historical past and the fractious present, Liberalism for a New Century restores a proud political tradition and carves out a formidable defense of its philosophical tenets. This manifesto for a New Liberalism issues an urgent and cogent call for the most important rethinking of its values since the late 1960s, when conservatives reenergized themselves after Barry Goldwater's infamous loss.

The essays in this volume, most of them never before published, are written by a leading group of historians, journalists, and public intellectuals. Some of the nation's most highly respected liberal minds explore such topics as the classical liberal tradition, postmodernism's challenge to the American "Enlightenment," the civil rights era, the influence of twentieth-century radicals on American liberalism, the 1950s, tolerance, the cold war, and whether liberalism should have a large and aggressive vision. One essay considers liberalism in Iran and what American liberals might learn from this movement. Fast-paced and encompassing such hot-button issues as the family and religion, here are ringside-seat arguments between people who don't often get to engage with one another: right-leaning liberals like Peter Berkowitz and John Patrick Diggins, and leftier liberals like Michael Tomasky and Mona Harrington. The result is a lively and stimulating collection that articulates a clear-minded alternative to the conservative ascendancy in American history and offers a timely and essential contribution to the growing national debate.


In the fall of 1960, John F. Kennedy spoke before the New York State Liberal Party and offered one of the most robust defenses of political liberalism heard in the second half of the twentieth century. His remarks were intriguing for many reasons, not the least of which was that many liberals did not regard Kennedy as one of their own, despite the best efforts of Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and John Kenneth Galbraith to persuade them otherwise. The Liberal Party itself reflected both liberalism’s heyday—it grew out of the New Deal and the labor movement—and the sectarian divisions that seem always to have bedeviled the Left. The liberals were a breakaway from another uniquely New York assemblage, the American Labor Party, which anticommunist liberals saw as having come too heavily under Communist Party influence.

But even at this moment when liberalism seemed near its high tide, Kennedy felt a political need to separate himself from those aspects of liberalism—or, more precisely, from those aspects of the popular parody of liberalism—that neither he nor anyone else would identify with.

“What do our opponents mean when they apply to us the label ‘liberal’?” Kennedy asked. “If by ‘liberal’ they mean, as they want people to believe, someone who is soft in his policies abroad, who is against local government, and who is unconcerned with the taxpayer’s dollar, then the . . .

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