The Achievement of American Liberalism: The New Deal and Its Legacies

The Achievement of American Liberalism: The New Deal and Its Legacies

The Achievement of American Liberalism: The New Deal and Its Legacies

The Achievement of American Liberalism: The New Deal and Its Legacies

Synopsis

The New Deal established the contours and character of modern American democracy. It created an anchor and a reference point for American liberal politics through the struggles for racial, gender, and economic equality in the five decades that followed it. Indeed, the ways that liberalism has changed in meaning since the New Deal provide a critical prism through which to understand twentieth-century politics. From the consensus liberalism of the war years to the strident liberalism of the sixties to the besieged liberalism of the eighties and through the more recent national debates about welfare reform and Social Security privatization, the prominent historians gathered here explore the convoluted history of the complex legacy of the New Deal and its continuing effect on the present. In its scope and variety of subjects, this book reflects the protean quality of American liberalism. Alan Brinkley focuses on the range of choices New Dealers faced. Alonzo Hamby traces the Democratic Party's evolving effort to incorporate New Deal traditions in the Cold War era. Richard Fried offers a fresh look at the impact of McCarthyism. Richard Polenberg situates Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb, in a tradition of liberal thought. And Melvin Urosfsky shows how the Roosevelt Court set the legal dimensions within which the debate about the meaning of liberalism would be conducted for decades. Other subjects include the effect of the Holocaust on relations between American Jews and African Americans; the limiting effects of racial and gender attitudes on the potential for meaningful reform; and the lasting repercussions of the tumultuous 1960s. Provocative, illuminating and sure to raise questions for future study, The Achievement of American Liberalism testifies to a vibrant and vital field of inquiry.

Excerpt

In the late 1960s, the British journalist and historian Godfrey Hodgson described the “liberal consensus” that had emerged after World War II in America as the paradigm that framed American politics in the decades that followed. The consensus, as Hodgson outlined it, consisted of a series of in/ tersecting axioms: (1) capitalism, not socialism, provided the best economic system in the world; (2) capitalism and democracy worked together hand in hand, each indispensable to the other; (3) there was nothing organically or structurally wrong with American society as it currently existed (hence, in/ cremental reform rather than radical change offered the most effective modus operandi for political action); (4) the best way to bring about reform and greater equality of opportunity was through growing further an already vibrant economy, thereby providing a larger pie to be divided up; and (5) what united Americans in support of the liberal consensus was implacable opposition to communism, the worldwide system that represented totalitar/ ianism, sterility, and economic stagnation.

Hodgson's interpretive assessment crystallized the changes that had oc/ curred in definitions of liberalism during the New Deal and World War II, and it suggested the degree to which these definitional changes shaped the politics of an era. Significantly, each axiom of the liberal consensus that Hodgson described had far-reaching import for what could or could not be considered an option within American political discourse; moreover, each axiom so thoroughly informed the others that none could be isolated or con/ sidered separately from the others. The anchor for everything was anticom/

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