The American Liberals and the Russian Revolution

The American Liberals and the Russian Revolution

The American Liberals and the Russian Revolution

The American Liberals and the Russian Revolution

Excerpt

The term 'liberal" is surely one of the most baffling in political discourse. It can mean almost anything, from a belief in rugged individualism to a belief in the welfare state. It can be used so as to take in almost everybody or so as to take in nobody but a few intellectuals. All Americans are liberals, by virtue of the fact that they have no feudal past against which to rebel; but Americans at the same time are conservative in their liberalism, as Europeans keep reminding us, and as we ourselves have now begun to realize. One finally despairs of investing the term with any meaning at all. But efforts to find a substitute are equally unavailing. "Progressive" is not much better, although it is the term usually applied to the reform movement of the period embraced by this study--applied, indeed, to the period itself. I have stuck to "liberal" because I wanted to emphasize the continuity between the liberalism of 1917 and that of 1962, to show that the difficulties we face in attempting to understand the Soviet Union, to reconcile our uneasiness in the face of the "permanent revolution" with our belief in "self-determination," are by no means new.

Liberalism, then as now, was less a set of attitudes toward specific issues than a set of assumptions about human affairs. The liberal of 1900-1920 was an optimist; he believed in the moral progress of the human spirit; he believed that human reason could ultimately order the world so as to eliminate poverty, disease, discomfort and war. He did not think man had . . .

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