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Liberalism for a New Century

Liberalism for a New Century

Neil Jumonville
Kevin Mattson
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: 1
Pages: 270
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  • Book Info
    Liberalism for a New Century
    Book Description:

    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 Centuryrestores 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.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94056-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-xviii)
    E. J. Dionne Jr.

    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...

  4. INTRODUCTION: Liberalism, Past and Future Tense
    (pp. 1-10)

    Liberalism.Use the word in common conversation and people might look at you askance. The word, if it has any popular meaning today, has a largely negative one.Liberalismis still the “L word,” as it became known in the 1988 presidential election when George H. W. Bush towered over Michael Dukakis at the podium and in voting returns. During that election, the word seemed to describe, in the words of one writer, “a minority creed of rapist-coddlers and flag burners and pornography purveyors and other elitists who were out of touch with ‘mainstream American values.’”¹ This book argues that...


    • 1 The Liberal Spirit in America and Its Paradoxes
      (pp. 13-32)

      Notwithstanding the challenges of the post–September 11 world, never has a people enjoyed a greater range of individual rights, or been more jealous of its freedoms, or been more convinced that the liberty it prizes is good not only for itself but for other peoples than do we in the United States today. This nation, in most respects the freest one the world has ever seen, has produced the world’s most diverse society; the world’s best army; the world’s most organized, industrious, and productive economy; and a political order that to a remarkable degree contains the factions and divisions...

    • 2 The Contemporary Critique of the Enlightenment: Its Irrelevance to America and Liberalism
      (pp. 33-57)

      Who would have thought that today, in the first years of the twenty-first century, America would still be ravaged by intellectual wars that were supposed to have been resolved in the eighteenth century? During the Enlightenment, the Frenchphilosophesassumed that reason had triumphed over faith, and in Philadelphia in 1787, the framers of the Constitution were so confident about “the new science of politics” that they saw no need to invoke God in the document. The antagonism between the advent of science and older institutions of religion seemed to have been settled by allowing each to go its own...

    • 3 Liberalism and the Conservative Imagination
      (pp. 58-72)

      Over half a century ago, liberals and conservatives skirmished on the pages of the nation’s leading opinion magazines about the definition of the wordconservative.More than mere semantics, the argument centered on what it meant to be conservative and who would determine the parameters of conservative identity. Now, revisiting that mid-twentieth-century debate promises to illuminate what it means to be liberal, for the conflict highlights core liberal values in the storied time of liberal dominance. In the 1950s, liberals welcomed conservative social values but frowned on the accompanying economic ideas. In place of the conservative emphasis on laissez-faire and...


    • 4 Liberalism and Belief
      (pp. 75-89)

      We live in an age of belief. In the United States, as in much of the rest of the world, passionate faiths compete for the allegiance of citizens, inviting them to form deep and unshakable convictions. Banishing doubt, men and women of faith conduct their lives with the certainty that those who disagree with their religious, moral, economic, or political beliefs are profoundly misguided, if not evil.

      In this rush to certainty, liberalism quakes and at times collapses, its adherents unable and unwilling to embrace fundamental dogmas of their own and incapable of effectively challenging those who do. Liberals in...

    • 5 Liberal Tolerance at Middle Age
      (pp. 90-102)

      Since World War II, liberals have been justifiably proud that toleration has grown in the United States under the direction of liberal presidents, clergy, social-service directors, novelists, college-admissions committees, and filmmakers. But this tolerance has two distinct parts. The first is tolerance of other racial, ethnic, and religious groups.¹ The second is tolerance of individual and cultural attitudes, principles, and actions. I address the second in this essay. The toleration and acceptance of others so evident in contemporary America, the first category, is one of the lasting benefits of the 1960s cultural revolution. Yet with this great success has also...

    • 6 Liberalism and Democracy: A Troubled Marriage
      (pp. 103-118)

      For several years after the Supreme Court had decided unanimously that American schools must be desegregated in the famousBrown v. Board of Educationdecision of 1954, no one was clear, certainly not the Supreme Court itself, just how black and white students would start going to school together. In 1955, the Supreme Court justices spoke, in a decision that came to be known asBrown v. Board of Education II,of “all deliberate speed” in the process of desegregation, whatever that meant. Then, three years after the originalBrowndecision, a southern politician made a fateful decision and did...

    • 7 What Liberals Owe to Radicals
      (pp. 119-130)

      Many contemporary tales about the decline of liberalism start by blaming the Far Left. Often, the narrative begins in the 1930s: Alger Hiss and other Communists worm their way into the higher echelons of the New Deal, setting up Democrats for the charge of “twenty years of treason” that gradually undermines the patriotic image liberals triumphantly claimed during World War II.

      More frequently, the culprits in such narratives are the new radicals of the 1960s, black and white and, occasionally, Latino. They tear up the campuses and the ghettos, attacking authorities for betraying their own reformist ideals in the service...

    • 8 Liberalism, Science, and the Future of Evolution
      (pp. 131-144)

      In the fall of 2005, the American Civil Liberties Union joined in a court case over the issue of what should be taught in biology classes in Pennsylvania. Should the class material on the origins of organisms, including humans, focus only on content that is generally accepted by the scientific community in America today—including evolution—or should teachers be allowed (if not forced) to acknowledge alternative accounts of organic origins, especially intelligent-design theory, a position that supposes that the Creator has intervened in the course of nature. I believe that this case is less about resolving disagreement about the...

    • 9 Liberalism and Family Values
      (pp. 145-159)

      Early in the twenty-first century, liberals are facing deep trouble in the country’s social order, complicated problems that they themselves, without recognizing the full significance of their actions, generated and nurtured through the previous century. At the core of the new trouble is radical change in the status of American women. Driven both by economic need and by renewed claims to equality, unprecedented numbers of women began a migration in the 1960s out of the home and into the paid workplace. And liberals were champions of this change—champions of equality and champions of the right of individuals to choose...

    • 10 Liberalism and Religion
      (pp. 160-173)

      On the morning of November 1, 2004—the day before a highly competitive presidential election—the National Council of Churches (NCC) issued a press statement. As the umbrella organization for most mainline denominations in the United States, the NCC had been a moral force to be reckoned with, in both the cultural and the political spheres, for a good part of the twentieth century. But it has been overshadowed during the past few decades by its counterparts on the right. In the 2004 election season, various conservative Christian organizations mobilized to root out an extra four million evangelical voters to...

    • 11 Liberalism, Environmentalism, and the Promise of National Greatness
      (pp. 174-190)

      In the age of Bush, Americans are less likely to identify themselves as liberals than ever. Such seems the clear conclusion from the presidential campaign of 2004. Liberals, conservatives charged during the campaign, are flip-floppers, inconsistent, woolly-headed idealists whose dreams for a better society are wildly out of touch with Americans’ need to protect themselves from the evil of terrorism. The charges, to much liberal dismay, stuck. Despite advocating policies such as tax cutting, which has remarkably little public support, and despite his determination to further reward the already rewarded, President Bush was reelected, in no small part because he...


    • 12 Liberalism, Internationalism, and Iran Today
      (pp. 193-208)

      In her 2003 memoir,Reading Lolita in Tehran,the Iranian literary scholar Azar Nafisi tells the story of a group of her female students who surreptitiously gathered in her living room once a week to discuss works of Western literature deemed unfit for classroom instruction by the Islamic Republic’s censors. Every Thursday morning for almost two years in the mid-1990s, the women snuck into their teacher’s home, removed the veils they are legally required to wear in public, and mixed it up over Nabokov, Fitzgerald, Flaubert, Jane Austen, Henry James, and Saul Bellow.¹

      Reading Lolitais about how these women...

    • 13 Beyond Iraq: Toward a New Liberal Internationalism
      (pp. 209-220)

      It is often observed that the Iraq War has created a crisis for conservatism, particularly for conservatism’s more aggressive striation, neoconservatism. It is obvious now—or should be—that the neoconservatives’ fan-tastical notion that the United States could invade a country and completely remake its government and society at little cost to Americans and the invaded country (even winning the world’s gratitude at no cost!) was madness and that the cocksure manner in which the neoconservatives insisted on this notion was delusional. One recalls the photographs of young communists rolling a model of Vladimir Tatlin’s Monument to the Third International...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 221-240)
  9. List of Contributors
    (pp. 241-244)
  10. Index
    (pp. 245-252)