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Liberalism's Crooked Circle

Liberalism's Crooked Circle: Letters to Adam Michnik

Copyright Date: 1996
Pages: 212
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  • Book Info
    Liberalism's Crooked Circle
    Book Description:

    This book is a profoundly moving and analytically incisive attempt to shift the terms of discussion in American politics. It speaks to the intellectual and political weaknesses within the liberal tradition that have put the United States at the mercy of libertarian, authoritarian populist, nakedly racist, and traditionalist elitist versions of the right-wing; and it seeks to identify resources that can move the left away from the stunned intellectual incoherence with which it has met the death of Bolshevism. In Ira Katznelson's view, Americans are squandering a tremendous ethical and political opportunity to redefine and reorient the liberal tradition. In an opening essay and two remarkable letters addressed to Adam Michnik, who is arguably East Europe's emblematic democratic intellectual, Katznelson seeks to recover this possibility.

    By examining issues that once occupied Michnik's fellow dissidents in the Warsaw group known as the Crooked Circle, Katznelson brings a fresh realism to old ideals and posits a liberalism that "stares hard" at cruelty, suffering, coercion, and tyrannical abuses of state power. Like the members of Michnik's club, he recognizes that the circumference of liberalism's circle never runs smooth and that tolerance requires extremely difficult judgments. Katznelson's first letter explores how the virtues of socialism, including its moral stand on social justice, can be related to liberalism while overcoming debilitating aspects of the socialist inheritance. The second asks whether liberalism can recognize, appreciate, and manage human difference. Situated in the lineage of efforts by Richard Hofstadter, C. Wright Mills, and Lionel Trilling to "thicken" liberalism, these letters also draw on personal experience in the radical politics of the 1960s and in the dissident culture of East and Central Europe in the years immediately preceding communism's demise.Liberalism's Crooked Circlecould help foster a substantive debate in the American elections of 1996 and determine the contents of that desperately needed discussion.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2186-0
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-2)
    (pp. 3-28)

    The Talmud cautions us to be wary when a witness offers too many reasons. I hope I have not transgressed this rule. For I have written this book in the light and shadow cast by 1989 to make sense of two Prague stories, to respond to a challenge put to me a dozen years ago by Allan Bloom, and to estimate elements of a public philosophy for the democratic left in the exigent spirit of the “Letter to the New Left” C. Wright Mills composed in 1960.¹

    In the opening vignette of Jiri Weil’s last novel,² two SS men in...

  5. One: La lutte continue
    (pp. 29-98)

    Dear Adam,

    I decided to write late last summer after returning to Cambridge across beautiful meadows connecting the city with the adjacent village of Granchester. There, in The Orchard, a century-old tea garden that once was the haunt of Keynes and Wittgenstein, Russell and Virginia Woolf, I read your “Conversation in the Citadel,”¹ thought about the impact of the wreckage of Soviet-style socialism on the left, and considered the two framed items you have seen hanging over the sink of my kitchen in New York: the famous May 1968 Paris placard lettered “la lutte continue” and the front page of...

  6. Two: The Storehouse of Power and Unreason
    (pp. 99-186)

    Dear Adam,

    “In the Balkans,” you began, “reason is asleep while monsters are waking up.” I have been haunted for months by your New School lecture of last fall on former Yugoslavia; not just by its depiction of aggressive nationalism, the absence of just borders, the widening syndrome of organized hatred, or the destruction of dialogue and the spirit of democracy, but by your deep and uncharacteristic pessimism.¹ You saluted Nbojsa Popov, the Belgrade sociologist, for his heroic effort to thwart his government’s murderous designs, yet you are too much of a realist to believe individual valor can effectively obstruct...

  7. INDEX
    (pp. 187-192)