The Achievement of American Liberalism

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

Edited by William H. Chafe
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 350
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/chaf11212
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    The Achievement of American Liberalism
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53389-8
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. CONTRIBUTORS
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. xi-xx)
    William H. Chafe

    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 intersecting 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, incremental reform rather than radical change offered the most...

  5. 1 THE NEW DEAL EXPERIMENTS
    (pp. 1-20)
    Alan Brinkley

    Historians have expressed impatience with Franklin Roosevelt at times. He was, they have complained, a man without an ideological core and thus unable to exercise genuine leadership. He was a compromiser, a trimmer. He “was content in large measure to follow public opinion,” Richard Hofstadter once wrote, and thus charted no clear path. He allowed the existing political landscape to dictate his course, James MacGregor Burns lamented, instead of reshaping the Democratic Party to serve his own purposes. Such complaints were common among Roosevelt’s contemporaries as well, most of all among those who had invested the greatest hopes in him....

  6. 2 HIGH TIDE: ROOSEVELT, TRUMAN, AND THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY, 1932–1952
    (pp. 21-62)
    Alonzo L. Hamby

    The modern Democratic Party, observers agree with near unanimity, emerged from the trauma of the Great Depression. For a twenty-year moment in history, beginning with Franklin Roosevelt’s landslide victory over Herbert Hoover in 1932, it dominated American politics and served as a vehicle for an enormous social transformation that was abetted by an unprecedented growth in the functions and institutional structure of the national government. What with the Depression, World War II, the onset of the Cold War, and the social restructuring that accompanied these phenomena, it seems natural enough to call these two decades a watershed in American history.¹...

  7. 3 THE ROOSEVELT COURT
    (pp. 63-98)
    Melvin I. Urofsky

    On August 12, 1937, after nearly four and a half years in office, Franklin D. Roosevelt finally named his first appointee to the U.S. Supreme Court. In a move that shocked supporters and opponents alike, the president sent to the Senate the name of Hugo LaFayette Black, the senator from Alabama who had been a vociferous proponent of the New Deal and of Roosevelt’s controversial court-packing plan. After Black came one opening after another, and, in the end, Roosevelt made nine appointments to the nation’s high court, more than any other chief executive save George Washington.

    Contemporaries saw the long...

  8. 4 VOTING AGAINST THE HAMMER AND SICKLE: COMMUNISM AS AN ISSUE IN AMERICAN POLITICS
    (pp. 99-128)
    Richard M. Fried

    Since the Bolshevik Revolution, there has seldom been a time when some American politician has not accused another of loyalty to or softness on communism. Yet while the specter of communism has haunted U.S. politics since 1917 (and even before), it never prowled full-time. The issue of communist influence in American life became a core political issue only when a perceived threat of communism from abroad converged with a conservative reaction against liberal initiatives at home. These conditions existed most palpably through stretches of the period 1938–1954.

    Red-baiting has produced casualties aplenty in state and national politics, as well...

  9. 5 THE ETHICAL RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE SCIENTIST: THE CASE OF J. ROBERT OPPENHEIMER
    (pp. 129-160)
    Richard Polenberg

    In the spring of 1946, J. Robert Oppenheimer delivered a series of six lectures on atomic energy at Cornell University. He was a guest of the physics department, among whose members he counted several friends, veterans of the wartime Manhattan Project he had directed. For his efforts in developing the atomic bomb, Oppenheimer had recently been awarded the United States Medal for Merit, the highest honor the government can bestow on a civilian. Within the year he would accept a prestigious position as director of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. When he visited Cornell, Oppenheimer was at the...

  10. 6 RACE IN AMERICA: THE ULTIMATE TEST OF LIBERALISM
    (pp. 161-180)
    William H. Chafe

    No issue has more severely challenged the liberal tradition in America than that of race. Whatever else liberalism has meant at different points in time—more or less equitable distribution of wealth, larger or smaller programs of social welfare, a stronger or weaker role for the federal government—there has always been at the heart of liberalism a belief in the goal of equal opportunity, a conviction that individuals, whatever their background or starting point in life, should be able to compete with each other and maximize their individual talents. Within such a framework, group identity ultimately does not count....

  11. 7 AFRICAN AMERICANS, AMERICAN JEWS, AND THE HOLOCAUST
    (pp. 181-204)
    Harvard Sitkoff

    African Americans and Jewish Americans have together journeyed a long, twisted path of enmities and empathies. Jews who currently oppose black goals as well as those who bemoan the dissolution of the civil rights alliance each have their antecedents to emulate, much as anti-Semitic African Americans and blacks who decry such prejudice each have their precedents to employ. Their joint, disjointed history points in no single direction. Today the media trumpet the views of African Americans praising Adolf Hitler or those claiming for themselves a greater victimization than that suffered by Jews during what we now call the Holocaust.¹ Today...

  12. 8 RACE, ROCK AND ROLL, AND THE RIGGED SOCIETY: THE PAYOLA SCANDAL AND THE POLITICAL CULTURE OF THE 1950S
    (pp. 205-242)
    Steven F. Lawson

    On February 1, 1960, students in Greensboro, North Carolina, held a sit-in at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in a demonstration much heralded in the annals of civil rights history. This momentous confrontation with racial segregation invigorated the African American freedom struggle and would substantially change the lives of blacks and whites throughout the South and the United States. A week later, on February 8, a seemingly unrelated event occurred in Washington, D.C. On that day, a committee of the House of Representatives convened public hearings on the subject of payola in the broadcasting industry, a practice that involved illicit payments...

  13. 9 “A REVOLUTION BUT HALF ACCOMPLISHED”: THE TWENTIETH CENTURY’S ENGAGEMENT WITH CHILD-RAISING, WOMEN’S WORK, AND FEMINISM
    (pp. 243-274)
    Cynthia Harrison

    In 1966, a group of politically active women gathered around a table at a government luncheon and created the National Organization for Women, the first avowedly feminist organization of the twentieth century’s “second wave” of women’s-rights activism. The new movement responded to an expansion in wage work for women, a phenomenon driven not by ideology but by economic circumstance. Within the decade, the women’s movement had crafted a comprehensive package of reforms that, if adopted, would have modernized workplace practice as well as family roles to fit the changed wage-earning roles of women and ensure the proper care of children....

  14. 10 RACE, CLASS, AND GENDER IN SOUTHERN HISTORY: FORCES THAT UNITE, FORCES THAT DIVIDE
    (pp. 275-292)
    William H. Chafe

    Many years ago, at a meeting of the Southern Historical Association in Dallas, I had the opportunity to comment on a session dealing with various women’s movements that had grown out of southern soil. Presenting papers that day were Jacquelyn Dowd Hall and Sara Evans. The gist of the dialogue that ensued was how important it was to complicate our analysis of gender by considering how gender intersected with and was shaped by issues of race and class. That was the first occasion on which I recall such a discussion. Since then, of course, these issues have been at the...

  15. 11 LIBERALISM AFTER THE SIXTIES: A RECONNAISSANCE
    (pp. 293-326)
    Otis L. Graham Jr.

    “One of the rudest things you can call an American politician nowadays is a liberal,” editorialized The Economist in 1996, recalling (among other examples) how George Bush had drawn blood by associating opponent Michael Dukakis with the “L-word” in the 1988 presidential race.¹ “Liberals—usually the good guys of my visceral political calculus—are losing the battle of ideas,” wrote columnist William Raspberry a year later. “They haven’t had a bright new idea in ages.”²

    It was not always so—in particular, the year I entered graduate school in 1960, which was by chance an election year. Liberalism was a...

  16. INDEX
    (pp. 327-346)