[This is Chap. 1 of Murphey's book Liberalism in Contemporary America.]
Use of the term "liberal"
American conservatives have often objected to the way the word "liberal" has been used in the twentieth century. Those who are today called conservatives have placed quotation marks around "liberal" to indicate their belief that the word has in effect been misappropriated from the liberalism of the nineteenth century, which supported a very different set of values.
Even though I agree with these concerns, since I am a "conservative" myself by holding basically to the tenets of nineteenth century "classical liberalism," I will choose not to use the quotation marks. They would detract from the objective spirit that is important in a book that hopes to make a serious discussion of one of the competing social philosophies.
My agreement with the point that my fellow conservatives make stems from my assessment of the differences between liberalism in its classical sense and the ideology that in twentieth century America has been known as liberalism. As this essay will make apparent, I do not hold to the view that contemporary liberalism arose out of classical liberalism and merely added new dimensions to it. Rather, I see the two as having been enemies from the beginning. The new liberalism was instantly an adversary of the old.
Classical liberalism has been the philosophy of limited government and a free market, has championed middle-class values, and has been adamantly anti-socialist and anti-Communist. Its intellectual content comes largely from the writings of the classical and neo-classical economists, such thinkers as Adam Smith, Frederic Bastiat, Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek. This sort of liberalism is today a part of what Americans call conservatism, which includes classical liberals, Burkean conservatives, and millions of people who identify with capitalism and traditional American values without perhaps having a distinctly formulated philosophical rationale. (This is the sense in which I will use the word "conservative" in this book unless I explain a temporary deviation from it.)
The body of thought that during my lifetime has been called liberal, however, has been a mixture of diverse tendencies. Perhaps more than anything else, however, it has represented the thinking of the world Left to the extent that American intellectuals who have wanted to stay on speaking terms with the American mainstream have been able to embrace it. It has been the American socialism that has not seen its way clear to call itself socialist.
Most of the time its thinking has coincided with democratic socialists'. At one point this led me to consider defining it as "'social democracy' applied in a politic way to the American context." But on at least two occasions America's liberal-Left has revealed a darker side: in the early 1930s and the late 1960s its thinking has embraced, or has come very close to embracing, totalitarian socialism. This necessarily gives us second thoughts about how precisely to classify it. At other times it has amounted to little more than the watered-down welfare statism and social-market thinking that has been forced upon European socialism by the failures (which many on the Left perceived so acutely several years before the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe) of the various attempts at socialism.
Readers will understand, then, why I agree with conservatives that the word "liberal," which is the same word that was applied in the nineteenth century to advocates of the free market, is suspect in its twentieth century usage. It is a label taken from one philosophy and applied to another that is fundamentally antagonistic to it. Nevertheless, I shall use it in its currently accepted sense, although frequently adding the adjective "modern" to call to mind the difference from classical liberalism. In this 1991 edition I have also begun to refer to it as "the liberal-Left," which I think is a helpful characterization.
Relationship to socialism
It is necessary for me to ask modern liberal readers to hear me out. I realize that what I have just said about the socialist content of this liberalism is anathema to them. While modern liberals have often admitted the relationship to socialism in the writing they have addressed to each other, it has been usual for this liberalism to obscure the connection so far as the American public is concerned. One of the defining characteristics of a liberal in this sense, as distinguished from those on the Left who have declared themselves socialists per se, has been that he has been sensitive to the fact that most Americans have not been willing to accept anything directly labeled "socialist."
What I have just said is also anathema to members of the far Left, who in their own frame of reference see this accommodationist-style state activism in either of three ways: as too much of a cop-out to merit the socialist label; as a reformism that runs counter to the things-must-get-worse-before-they-can-get-better school of revolutionary thinking; or as a shoring-up of capitalism by those members of the bourgeoisie who are, from the far Left's point of view, smart enough to see that cooptation is the best defense against a full on-rush of socialism. From the purity of their own position, they are not prepared to acknowledge how much socialist thinking really exists in modern liberal thought.
We are reminded of how most, if not all, anthologies of socialist thought omit the German Historical School, apparently because the anthologists' attention is drawn to the late-nineteenth century argument between the followers of Marx and Lassalle for supremacy in the German Social Democratic party.
When I suggest that modern American liberalism has been a product of the socialist worldview, I realize that this is true only in major part. I do not wish to obscure the other dimensions of modern liberalism. A more complete definition will have to reflect the ideology's relation to the main culture, which it has both detested and sought to exist within and to lead. Several factors that are not themselves socialist will be considered in the final part of this essay. Some that we should now note at least briefly are:
. That there has at all times, even in the absence of socialist influence, been a movement within American history that has wanted a more active federal government. Much of what we think of as liberal measures would probably have come about, although perhaps in a somewhat more market-oriented form, even if no socialist movement had developed in Europe.
. That a number of long-term tendencies within American life, which have themselves had nothing to do with socialist ideas, have created a demand for a more politicized and centralized life. Local loyalties, once quite strong, have, for example, given way in most people's thinking to a national identification because of mobility and communication.
. That classical liberal thinking, under pressure since the early nineteenth century to defend the main society from unremitting attack, lost its critical and reformist posture. This has long made it deficient in its formulation of the theory of a market economy and, more broadly, of a free society. This weakness has included ignoring the problem of imperfect markets and giving too little attention to the institutional framework that a well-functioning market requires. Some of the concerns voiced by modern liberalism have spoken to issues that a more complete classical liberalism would have addressed.
. That most of the measures that are labeled "liberal" are only a shadow of what liberal thought has called for. They are more the product of interest-group pressures and of the efforts of liberal politicians. (Virtually none of the politicians ever admit to a socialist rationale and, for that reason, almost all of them have been attacked as unworthy by liberal intellectuals.) These interest groups and politicians act within the concrete reality of the American political scene, although they are clearly influenced by liberal ideology.
Modern liberalism has accordingly been a mixture that has existed, often in varying forms, within a specific and changing historical setting. I doubt whether any ideology (except perhaps Mussolini's) has ever been rooted more relativistically in its own time and place. Few ideologies have been less candid about their aspirations or quite so opportunistic in their quest for approval by blocs that often have not fully sensed or shared those aspirations. Because of this, it would be a mistake to say that everyone who has called himself a modern liberal has been either consciously or subconsciously a socialist. Many have unquestionably been socialists; but others have come to the ideology by routes that have had little to do with a socialist worldview. This acknowledges a fact that will become important later when we try to explain the fragmentation and loss of elan that have plagued modern liberalism since the beginning and especially since World War II.
It is worth considering whether I have not overstressed the role of socialist thinking by ignoring the possibility that modern liberalism is a "middle way" between capitalism and socialism, influenced by both, but actually amounting to a separate form.
Such a view seems plausible and has been seriously asserted. But it is contradicted by the facts of liberal history. We need to distinguish between liberal thought and the popular version of liberalism that has been preoccupied with the agenda of specific measures that liberal politicians have kept before the country at any given time. The halfway measures that have composed the agenda have made it difficult for conservatives to convince others that there is a socialist content to the liberal program. It has only been in the intellectual dimension that the socialist content has appeared consistently and clearly.
We will review the extent of the liberal intellectual identification with socialist models. This identification includes the enthusiasm for worker-controlled "industrial democracy" during and immediately after World War I; the infatuation with Soviet Russia's centralized planning during the 1920's, '30's and '40's; the great number of openly socialist authors within liberalism prior to World War II; and the fact that even since that war the main liberal thinkers have been men who, sometimes after the fact, have declared themselves socialists. I am thinking especially of Michael Harrington, Gunnar Myrdal, John Kenneth Galbraith, Christopher Jencks, Irving Howe and John Rawls, but secondarily of a great many others.
Liberal thought has never identified itself wholeheartedly with the "mixed society" model. The mixed society has been forced upon its intellectual community by circumstances.
An historical review:
The condition of conservatism and liberalism in early America
Later chapters will examine the detail about many of the points I am about to make, but it is important in an overview to understand these points in their historical development and in the relationship that they bear to one another.
The generation of the Founding Fathers in the late eighteenth century was influenced by both of the main streams of social and political thought that struggled for supremacy in that era. One of these was the vibrant classical liberalism that championed the Enlightenment and that was finding its best expression in the writings of Adam Smith and Jeremy Bentham.
The other was Burkean conservatism. This conservatism gave philosophical form to the value-system of tradition, faith and hierarchy that had held sway in various forms in Europe during the Middle Ages and even during the Roman Republic. In The Conservative Mind, Russell Kirk told of the extent to which that sort of conservative ethos informed early American thinking. Its influence was extensive. That is why it is a mistake to say, as Louis Hartz has, that the United States has been clearly liberal from the beginning. New England in particular, and eventually the South as it felt the pressure to defend slavery, kept a tie with this conservatism.
Nevertheless, the main spirit of the late eighteenth century was formed by the Enlightenment, which for quite a long time had been the onrushing opponent of that conservatism. Tolerant and deistic in religion, republican and constitutionalist in politics, free-market in its economic thinking under the influence of the Physiocrats and (when he became known) of Adam Smith, rationalist and increasingly empiricist in intellect, supportive of the individualism of the rising bourgeoisie, this spirit was liberal in the classical sense.
This liberal conception has formed an underlay that has constituted the American ideal for the two centuries that have followed. Despite the attack it has undergone from so many sides intellectually, this individualistic liberalism has been at the heart of the predominant commercial and middle class culture. The tremendous staying power and force of its view of the world is one of the main facts of American history. It has been against this underlay of ideas and aspirations that all other forces have had to contend, usually with considerable frustration.
Without diminishing that fact, it is important to appreciate that the intellectual foundations of this liberalism had only partly taken form in the eighteenth century. Even though its worldview had been developing for several centuries, it enjoyed no comprehensive philosophical statement. John Locke had expressed some of its elements, the Physiocrats others. Then in 1776 Adam Smith stated a rationale for the market system. He argued that a market system does in fact work. In this, he opposed the Mercantilists, who insisted it does not. The work of the later classical and neo-classical economists, however, remained to be done in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. But even an economic rationale such as they supplied was not fully adequate, since there are spiritual, ethical, aesthetic, jurisprudential and other dimensions that a complete philosophical system must address.
One of the most damaging intellectual short-comings, at least as we look back on classical liberalism from the twentieth century, was that the eighteenth century's preoccupation with Natural Rights was intellectually related more to a deductive and somewhat fanciful rationalism than to empiricism. This means that it was not fully appropriate to the later development of the social sciences. To say this is not to blame the thinkers of the eighteenth century, but merely to point to something that explains why they have become increasingly irrelevant to modern intellectual culture.
Another problem was that this early liberalism lacked self-consciousness as an ideology. Classical economics was coming into its own in Europe, but liberals seemed to feel no need to formulate a complete and systematic theory of society and to see it as an integrated philosophy. They were practical men dealing with the specific problems of their day. It is a shame that Franklin, Madison or Jefferson did not lay this sort of intellectual foundation in a form that future generations could look back to as a guiding text for the premises of a liberal society. (This is not surprising for a social system. The medieval value-system was not rationalized by the Burkean intellectual statement until it had existed for many centuries and was so heavily under attack that it was about to expire.)
This remained true even while classical economics did its immensely productive work in the nineteenth century. When classical economics got into full swing with Ricardo, Senior, Say, James Mill and the others, its thinkers did not see themselves as stating a complete theory of society that included a good many value preferences and the reasons for them, but as laying a foundation for a deductive science of economics, which in fact was a much more limited project. I will postpone commenting about John Stuart Mill, since he occupied the stage somewhat later and is important to the next phase of the history I am tracing.
Nor did classical liberalism occupy the stage alone even in its unelaborated and un-self-conscious condition. In the late eighteenth century an articulate cadre of intellectuals rose to support hierarchy, faith, tradition and a hostile critique of the Industrial Revolution and of the rising individualism. Edmund Burke and Samuel Johnson come most immediately to mind. They supplied an intellectual defense of values that had long been implicit in medievalism.
Revulsion Against the Enlightenment
What happened next was one of the more significant occurrences to affect the intellectual development of the modern world. It occurred in Europe but was quickly reflected in the United States, which for most of its history has been an intellectual colony of Europe, as has most of the rest of the world. I am referring to the revulsion against the Enlightenment that occurred when the French Revolution and the ensuing Napoleonic episode turned sour. The revulsion skewered the Enlightenment on the lance of the Romantic reaction. A major part of European thought turned sharply against rationalism, empiricism, tolerance, individualism, the bourgeoisie, and classical liberalism. In Germany this gave rise to the thinking of such men as Novalis, Schlegel, Schleiermacher, de Maistre -- and, mostly importantly, Hegel. In England, Carlyle, Coleridge, Arnold, Ruskin and Southey led a somewhat tamer version. These men nonetheless expressed an intense alienation from the burgeoning bourgeois culture.
This revulsion both manifested and stimulated the "alienation of the intellectual," a force that has been among the most powerful causal agents during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Almost immediately Europe saw the rise of socialist ideology as intellectuals repudiated the bourgeoisie and commercial civilization and sought to gain numerical strength by an ideological alliance with whatever unassimilated and disaffected groups would form common cause with it at any given point in time. By the 1830s and 1840s, socialist thought was coming into its own in Europe.
Outwardly it has seemed that these years were the high point of classical liberalism, which in a sense they were; but there is enormous significance in the fact that the classical liberal economist Frederic Bastiat felt almost totally isolated in France, and hungered for contact with the Manchester School of Cobden and Bright in England for at least some intellectual kinship.
The ideological thrust of a still-incomplete classical liberalism began to fail as the intellectual culture moved sharply to the left. This is best illustrated in the life of John Stuart Mill, a leading classical economist who became disaffected with the commercial middle class's lack of attention to ideas, took an active interest in the conservative thinking of such a Romantic as Coleridge, and finally moved into the socialist camp at the end of his life.
The drying up of classical liberal intellectuality largely deprived American and European middle class culture of the head and heart that it has so vitally needed. The intellectuals who remained behind within classical liberalism during the ensuing century and three-quarters have done valiant work, but they have been far outnumbered and their tone has often been that of doctrinaire apologists rather than of original thinkers and reformers.
In the United States the victory of the Jeffersonians in the election of 1800 should have paved the way for a long period of classical liberal ascendancy. It did play a major role in establishing the "underlay" of classical liberal values that I have mentioned; and the Jeffersonian-Jacksonian liberalism did hold sway politically until 1861. But beginning in the early nineteenth century, its intellectual base was eroding. This was well before it had received a full philosophical exposition.
In his lecture "The New England Reformers" in 1844, Ralph Waldo Emerson looked back upon a quarter of a century of the strangest sort of intellectual dissatisfaction (in which he had shared). There had been "a fertility of projects for the salvation of the world," all expressing "the soul of the soldiery of dissent." At a time when most Americans were developing their reverence for the Constitution and when classical liberal concepts were guiding the majority political party, the literary culture, influenced profoundly by the thinking that was going on in Europe, declared the society sick.
If today we look back at that time with the expectation that a new republic, founded upon the ideals of the Enlightenment, would have been full of enthusiasm and hope, we are bound to be surprised. The intellectual tone was instead one of despair and alienation.
It was still too early for an ideological consensus to have formed around the alienation. Nor was there yet a homogeneous subculture of alienated intellectuality. During the years immediately preceding the Civil War, there were signs of a growing socialist critique, as became evident in the enthusiasm for Fourier that inspired a good many utopian communities; and yet it was taking at least a brief time for socialist philosophy to germinate in Europe and to bridge the Atlantic.
After the death of Jefferson in 1826, the divisions within American society between the North and the South over tariffs and slavery increasingly turned the South away from its earlier classical liberalism and into a defense, largely on Burkean-type grounds, of slavery.
After the Civil War
The Civil War consolidated the power of the newly-formed Republican Party. This marked the end of the supremacy of the Democratic Party, with its Jeffersonian-Jacksonian commitment to the limitation of the powers of the national government. The Republican Party was heir to the tradition of the Federalists and the Whigs, who had favored a much more active national government.
Classical liberal insights that had once been common ceased to be mentioned in presidential messages to Congress, appearing again only briefly when in the late nineteenth century Grover Cleveland, a Democrat, vetoed aid to drought-stricken Texas farmers. For the most part, the main culture, absorbed in its own expansion and activity, went through a period of lessened philosophical reflection. After the Civil War, classical liberalism found expression mainly in the legal profession, where Constitutional thought was honed into was was seen as a deductive science based on classical liberal desiderata.
In the academic and literary communities, classical liberalism continued to lack a self-conscious ideology. William Graham Sumner was a leading figure, drawing deeply from Herbert Spencer's defense of classical liberalism in England. But the tide was turning. Indeed, there was no movement as such calling itself "liberal" and prepared to fight for even so much as retention of the name. The decades following the Civil War saw the gradual coalescence of the American academic community into an ideologically homogeneous subculture. I say this advisedly, since anyone who has studied intellectual history knows how much real variety exists within any overall pattern. But there was a yearning for coalescence, as is evidenced by the letter that Henry Adams wrote to his brother Charles in 1862 expressing both alienation and a desire for "a national school of our own generation." And there was the continuing development of a socialist critique in place of the earlier "fertility of projects."
Influence of the German Historical School
The development of a homogeneous intellectual community with a common ideology was facilitated enormously by the migration of thousands of American graduate students to German universities, where they studied under the professors of the German Historical School. This migration was heaviest in the final quarter of the nineteenth century. The Historical School repudiated the "scientific pretensions" of classical economics and of the neo-classical Austrian School, and attacked the theoretical foundations of a market economy on relativistic grounds as being no more than an analysis of relationships within a transitory historical period of bourgeois ascendancy. Its opposition to classical economics was part of an overall animus toward a liberalism that was denounced as Philistine by so much of the European intellectual community.
The professors of the Historical School called themselves "socialists of the professorial chair" -- katheder sozialisten. They stood in close relationship to the Junker aristocracy as it installed Otto von Bismarck's program of social welfare legislation. There has been considerable debate over whether theirs was a true socialism as distinct from a conservative cooptation of socialism. This same ambiguity has continued with regard to American liberalism itself.
The ambiguity is perhaps best resolved by the life story of Werner Sombart, who in successive steps moved from being a leading member of the fourth generation of the Historical School to being a Marxist and then an enthusiastic follower of Hitler. The thread that tied all of these enthusiasms together was his alienation against the bourgeoisie and his detestation of classical liberalism. His writing contains some of the more lucid explanations of socialist ideas.
The Historical School did not itself adopt the Marxism that was struggling for ascendancy among German socialists. Thus it did not support revolution or the theory of class struggle. The fact that it did not is important to its impact on the Americans who studied under it. For the most part, these men returned to America as gradualists, not as revolutionaries.
Although it is not directly relevant to the ideological history I am relating, it is worthwhile to point out that the Historical School originated the empirical-statistical methodology, with its emphasis on monographs and the piling of fact upon fact often to the exclusion of theoretical connection among the facts, that has been so powerful a force within the American academic community throughout the twentieth century. This methodological sway has formed a powerful intellectual orthodoxy. When combined with the self-absorbed credentialism that it has insisted upon, it has constituted a modern Scholasticism within American university life. I consider myself a friend to an intelligent empiricism, but during my years as a professor I have been in constant revolt against the trivialization and pseudo-scientific pretension that this orthodoxy has worshipped. Needless to say, it carries within it not only its methodology but also a set of ideological suppositions that are far from scientifically neutral. What we know as the "social sciences" came into existence in their current form during this period and have to a very large extent reflected the Historical School.
What is important for us to grasp for the history of liberalism is that the experience with the Historical School represents the phase in which a common intellectual experience resulted in a shared ideology.
Taking on a style of dissimulation
During this same period, those who came to call themselves "liberal" in the new sense were making a fateful personal decision. Intellectuals who felt the alienation and drank deeply at the well of the European socialist philosophies sometimes chose, at considerable social and professional risk, to declare themselves openly as socialists, and sometimes as revolutionaries. Jack London is a prime example, although he managed to be accepted as one of America's most popular authors. A socialist movement flourished during the opening years of the twentieth century.
But what typified the modern liberal as such, and has been his defining characteristic as distinct from these socialists, was his unwillingness to make so open a break with the main society. For this liberal there was a circumspection born out of a number of ingredients, which almost certainly included a less daring personal psychology and a sharper appreciation for both the individual and ideological benefits of not putting oneself too openly in jeopardy.
The individual who perhaps best exemplified the circumspection was Herbert Croly, the leading founder of The New Republic. Croly's book The Promise of American Life, published in 1909, is one of the monuments of American liberalism. This is so not so much for its content as for the fact that it is a masterpiece of dissimulation. He spoke of the book as "socialistic," but nowhere in it was there a direct endorsement of socialism. Croly continued this circumspection in his book Progressive Democracy, published in 1915, even though its content was clearly in line with the "industrial democracy" that was so much in vogue among British socialists at the time.
In late 1914 Croly was the leader among the group that founded The New Republic. Even though the other founders, Walter Weyl and Walter Lippmann, considered themselves socialists at the time, The New Republic was careful not to call itself socialist. This did not change until the early 1930s, when under the influence of the exuberant socialism of the time its editors were moved to throw caution to the winds.
Liberal orientation in Teens and Twenties
This refusal to make a clear ideological commitment led into the phases that followed. During the late teens and early 1920s, liberal thought centered around "industrial democracy." This represented an infatuation with what was popular at the time among British socialists during the heyday of the Guild Socialist movement. The emphasis was on decentralization, which was consistent with the direction of much of nineteenth century socialist thought. Workers were ultimately to control industry from the bottom up. There was at the same time considerable enthusiasm for cooperatives -- either of producers or consumers andd, with some thinkers, of both types. The profit-seeking entrepreneur and individual consumer were to be replaced by a grass-roots collectivism.
This, of course, was one of the clearly socialist phases of modern liberal thought, even though The New Republic avoided the socialist label.
The decentralist approach of the Guild Socialist movement lost favor among liberal intellectuals in the early 1920s when it was overtaken by enthusiasm for the Bolshevik Revolution and for Soviet Russia's centralized model. The great light that seemed to shine during the 1920s was from Soviet Russia, which was portrayed in idealistic hues by the many liberals who made the pilgrimage.
Apparently, though, Soviet Russia's example was too removed from what seemed possible here to offer much real hope. Liberal thought slipped into a funk. The 1920s was the decade of the "Lost Generation" of literary expatriates and of a counter-culture of Beatnik-like alienates in Greenwich Village. Liberal thought lost focus on social and political issues. Politically, the Progressive movement made a final effort in the 1924 presidential election and then died out.
As editor the The New Republic, Herbert Croly continued to personify the liberal mood, this time by turning inward during the 1920s. The journal called upon liberals to devote themselves to inner self-examination. In contrast to the earlier period, its editors and writers saw little value in theorizing about how to reform the existing society, which they considered steeped in Mammon.
This illustrates an important dynamic that has been at work from the beginning as part of the psychology of the liberal-Left and of its associated radicalisms: a cycle passing from a period of despair, fatigue and withdrawal to one of yearning for activity and from that to one of marked militancy and social action, all followed eventually by another period of exhaustion and withdrawal. This alternation reflects the psychology of the alienated intellectual. In Emerson's lecture "The New England Reformers" he spoke of the withdrawal of the "man of tender conscience," followed by that man's reentry into the world with "a ferment of activity 'for the salvation of the world.'"
After the Depression began in 1929 the mood changed again. The liberal-Left no long felt the dissimulation that had masked the socialist worldview necessary. Overt socialism and enthusiasm toward the "Soviet experiment" filled the liberal journals.
By March 1932 The New Republic went so far as to editorialize that "we are not liberals," and added that "the planning we have recommended is not designed to preserve the capitalist system." It will surprise American conservatives to know that liberal intellectuals had little enthusiasm for Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the 1932 campaign. In fact, The New Republic urged its readers to vote for Norman Thomas, the Socialist candidate. Under a committee of editors from 1933 to 1936, The Nation, the other major liberal journal, was avowedly socialist.
And yet the liberal intellectual community did manage, consistently with its long-standing preference for doing so, to keep at least one foot in the American political context. It warmed to Franklin Roosevelt during his first months in office. Those who favored the "New Nationalist" approach, which involved fashioning corporate capitalism into a wing of government, held out great hopes for the National Recovery Administration; but it wasn't long before the liberal-Left was turned off of the N.R.A.: its industry-wide codes came to be seen as not reflecting liberal social policy so much as the interests of the corporations themselves.
The Nation expressed sympathy for the New Deal, but also was able to say in 1934 that the New Deal amounted to "a half-baked capitalism with so-called liberal trimmings."
The main fact about the intellectual history of the 1930s is that the liberal intellectual culture was far to the left of the New Deal, heavily preoccupied with the Soviet Union's 5-year plan and collectivization of agriculture. It necessarily defended the New Deal against attacks from the Right, but at the same time excoriated the administration bitterly. The New Deal was declared "sadly deficient" so far as a "thorough renovation of our society" was concerned.
This mood continued for The New Republic until September 1937. The Soviet Union had by that time stopped denouncing democratic socialists and liberals as "social fascists" and had called for a "United Front" against Hitler. The Communists lavished praise upon Roosevelt and the New Deal in direct opposition to their earlier denunciations. Whether consciously or unconsciously, the American liberal intellectual community, deeply absorbed in the color and texture of the Communist movement and its many front organizations, went along. In a sharp about-face, The New Republic praised the New Deal, saying that "we have made more progress toward a socialized economy in the past four and a half years than in the two previous decades."
It is ironic that the New Deal was finally accepted by the intellectual community just shortly before it began to lose whatever impetus Roosevelt's many inconsistencies had allowed it. The New Republic had supported F.D.R. in his "court packing plan" in 1937 while still essentially sour toward him, and backed him in 1938 in his effort to purge certain conservative Democratic senators. But this was all quite late, since Republican gains in the congressional elections in 1938 made possible the coalition of conservative Democrats and Republicans that long thereafter possessed a veto in Congress. (Only briefly after the election of 1964 did liberalism again enjoy the combination of a liberal Congress and a liberal president.) In addition, the late 1930s saw the on-rushing international crisis further deflect Roosevelt from domestic reform.
Events in the Soviet Union were at the same time providing major shocks to American liberalism's love affair with Communism.
The liberal intellectual community had been willing to accept the enormities of Soviet brutality so long as whatever was done was in pursuit of "a good cause." It had turned a blind eye during Stalin's death-by-starvation holocaust against the kulaks in 1932-33. A variously estimated three to seven million peasants were deliberately starved to overcome their resistance to the collectivization of their land. Fifty years later, in December 1984, The New Republic's editors looked back and admitted that "the scandal in the history of this journal is that in the '30's and '40's it accommodated to the zeitgeist (with occasional and important dissents) by downplaying at best and justifying at worst the crimes of Stalinism."
This acceptance of Communist atrocities started to erode when in 1934 Stalin began his purges of the other leaders among the Bolsheviks -- many of them people American liberals knew personally. One thing followed another over a six year span. The two main liberal journals vacillated between justifying the purges and pleading agnosticism about them, but liberals were beginning to see the horror, slowly at first and then in larger numbers, as one atrocity was laid on top of another.
The crowning blow, after years of the United Front against Nazism, was the Hitler-Stalin Pact in August 1939, especially when it was followed so quickly by the invasion of Poland, first by the Nazis and then by the Soviets. The Soviet Union received the larger share of Poland's territory and by the end of 1939 had invaded Finland. In 1940 it attacked Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, absorbing them into the Soviet Union.
Nor was this all. Bitter divisions were spawned within America's liberal intellectual community by Stalin's purge of Leon Trotsky, who had been second only to Lenin as a leader of the Bolshevik Revolution. Trotsky was sent into exile after Lenin's death and was later charged with crimes against the Soviet Union. The preeminent American liberal philosopher John Dewey headed the American subcommission of an international body that inquired, over the objections of the Stalinists, into the facts concerning Trotsky. This was all capped by Stalin's having Trotsky murdered in Mexico in 1940. Each step of the way, liberals (and radicals of all shades on the Left) chose sides, bitterly attacking those on the other.
In the midst of this fragmentation, a cause that seemed to unite them was the Spanish Civil War. Socialists, anarchists and Communists fought together against the forces of General Franco. But this turned out to be a mirage when the Communists became the totalitarian bully on the block, seeking control by executing the others. John Dos Passos left the fold, gravitating eventually into conservatism, after he lost a friend to Communist executioners.
There is reason to expect that these events would have seared an abiding hatred toward Communism into the thinking of American liberals. With some, they did. But the scene shifted again in June 1941 when Hitler broke his Pact with Stalin by invading the Soviet Union. With some exceptions, the mood shifted back to enthusiastic acceptance of the Soviet Union. And when the United States became an ally of the Soviet Union after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the long-standing inclination of so many American liberals to favor the Soviet Union even became respectable and patriotic from the general American society's point of view.
It is important for us today to realize how much our perceptions are warped by the legacy of this bias. It continues to affect our view of the world. An example is that we continue to hear so many reminders about the Nazi's Holocaust, which (to the extent it is confirmed once the facts are determined accurately) is something the world should never forget, but almost none about the Gulags of the Soviets or the mass executions under Mao.
After World War II
After the war, the divisions that had come into being led to the formation of the Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) by liberals who did not want to collaborate with Communists. Those further to the left formed the Progressive Citizens of America (PCA) and in 1948 supported Henry Wallace in his third-party bid for the presidency.
An intensely alienated radicalism remained on the leftward fringe and laid the foundation for the later New Left and for the counter-culture of the 1960s and 1970s. Under the stimulus of the militancy of the civil rights, anti-poverty and anti-Vietnam War movements in the 1960's, much of American liberal intellectuality again flirted with the extremes of the Left and, as in the early 1930's, denounced liberalism per se. It is ironic that this undercutting of liberalism has been one of the more important causes of the success of American conservatism in the 1980s.
Since World War II, the principal fact about American liberalism has been its loss of thrust toward a comprehensive socialist vision, despite most of its leading thinkers' considering themselves socialists. The coalition of conservative Democrats and Republicans in Congress, combined with the success of the Republican Party in electing a president much of the time, has made it seem remote and naive, as in the 1920s, to propose an overall program for the restructuring of American society. For the most part, liberal intellectuals have given up the attempt, although it would be a mistake to think that their attitudes have not been constantly at work in countless smaller ways within the bureaucracy, the media and academia.
Liberal presidents, when there has been one, have continued to offer the marginal, foot-in-the-door programs that have had to pass for liberal activism in the absence of a constituency for a thorough-going transformation of society. But even here they have mostly been stymied, as Truman was in his domestic program following the outbreak of the Korean War and as Kennedy and Carter were by the lack of a homogeneous and fully supportive liberal foundation. (We know how tenuous Carter's support was; Kennedy's weakness only becomes apparent to an outsider by a week-to-week reading of the liberal journals.)
After the 1964 election, Lyndon Johnson came closest to making a quantum leap, but it wasn't long before his Great Society lost its impetus. This resulted from a combination of factors: the sheer cost of the Vietnam War, along with the absorption of attention that the war entailed; the political and ideological cost of the anti-war movement, with the splitting of his base; and the quickly perceived failure, especially within liberalism, of his War on Poverty programs.
Although for liberalism the 1950s, 1970s and 1980s must be counted as periods of frustration and drift, the second half of the 1950s was typical of that phase of the liberal cycle that consists of an increased yearning for activity. Thus the late 1950s constituted a threshold period that was followed by the feverish activity of the 1960s.
During the 1970s, despite the political windfall that the Watergate scandal provided, the frustration, withdrawal and drift were again present. The Carter presidency was no exception to this. Carter combined qualities of a liberal technocrat with those of a Bible-belt fundamentalist that would have made the literati of the Harold Stearns generation early in the century blanch with horror. His nomination was a demonstration of the impotence of the intellectual elite.
This is an impotence that has always been present, since at no time in the history of liberalism have the literati been able to dictate the Democratic candidate. An awareness of this impotence has been a recurrent theme in liberal thought. But, of course, there are relative degrees of it, and the selection of Carter in the Democratic primaries of 1976 was one of its more evident manifestations.
Finally, after the defeat of Walter Mondale by President Reagan in 1984, there was much talk among liberals themselves about the death of liberalism and even of Europe's "social democracy." Whether the obituary notices are premature can only be known with time. The collapse of Communism is bound to be a contributing factor is whatever results.
Much of this is bound to be surprising to the average American conservative, to whom liberalism has often seemed, at least until the mid-1970s, an irresistible juggernaut. Conservatives in general have not been aware of the fragmentation and self-conscious impotence that have so long been part of both liberal thought and the liberal political movement.
If the inherent weaknesses within liberalism result ultimately in its demise, this will only in small measure have been a result of the strengths of American conservatism. This is so because conservatism, when seen apart from the weight of an overwhelmingly non-reflective general society, has been almost as impotent and fragmented as liberalism itself.
In Chapter 18 I will discuss the intellectual culture's recent emphasis on "multiculturalism." An attempt, supported by long-term demographic trends, to "swamp out" the predominant culture, eventually rendering it a minority itself, offers the alienated intelligentsia a new and potent field of action.
Causes of the failure
The factors that have been most important to the failure of American liberalism's socialist aspiration have been:
. The constant fact of blockage, imposed by an electorate that has been basically content with the society as it is in the post-New Deal era, giving neither liberal nor conservative an unobstructed mandate. When many years ago Werner Sombart observed that socialism in America would founder on shoals of apple pie and ice cream, he understood the essentially middle class aspirations of the average American.
. The crumbling of the socialist faith in Europe in light of the enormities committed by the Communist regimes, the evident failure of those regimes, and the disillusionment that experience has caused socialists to feel toward their own earlier visions.
. The loss of self-confidence within liberalism as a result of the bitter denunciation of it by the New Left. This criticism in effect amounted to a repudiation of the dissimulation and gradualism that typified liberalism from the beginning. Further, the New Left marked a revival of the decentralist ethos of nineteenth century socialist thought, an ethos that saw little worthwhile in the gigantic structure of bureaucratic "state capitalism" and interest-group welfarism that liberalism had been so instrumental in creating.
. The perceived failure of liberal programs in light of the intractability of many of the problems they sought to address. When the zeitgeist no longer accepted the premise that had been at the heart of the liberal political agenda for so long that "all problems can be politicized and then solved by spending government money on them," there seemed nowhere for liberalism to go.
. The inability of a coalition-based ideology and politics to maintain their cohesion. We see how difficult it has been to hold the coalition together when we think of the components of "the Roosevelt coalition": the intellectuals (to the extent they chose to be affiliated), the South, the racial and ethnic minorities, organized labor, farm laborites and the big-city political machines. It is no wonder that there has been a constant call since the late 1960s for "a new coalition." Through most of the post-World War II era the constituent groups have been at odds with one another, coming together mostly on election day, and not always then.
. The movement of several prominent liberals into "neo-conservatism" during the 1970s and 1980s. The New Left brought the alienation to a head, causing many to decide just where their loyalties lay. Some of those who were not primarily motivated by alienation moved to the right and, with Irving Kristol, began to speak in terms of, at least, "two cheers for capitalism." This is potentially one of the most important ideological shifts of our time. If an intellectual base that is both critically intelligent and yet lacking in alienation can come into being, it will tend to reorient the entire direction of modern intellectual culture.
At first a major diversion: Civil Rights; and then a potent new direction: the "multicultural" attack on the American mainstream
Despite all I have said about the condition of liberalism since World War II, a single egalitarian issue has provided it enormous sustenance during those years. At times this issue has swept all else before it on behalf of what the American public has regarded as an unquestionable moral principle. I am referring, of course, to the issue of racial, ethnic and sexual equality.
Liberalism's relation to this form of equality is different than is commonly supposed. The relationship did not arise out of a spontaneous moral conviction in favor of such equality on the part of the liberal-Left. On the world scene, socialists generally have been neither more nor less given to such equality than people holding other ideologies. In fact, Proudhon, one of the leading socialists of the nineteenth century, called for the extermination of the Jews. Collectivists of several types have been rabid in their intolerance. Liberals in the United States did not provide conspicuous leadership to a movement for racial and ethnic equality until the issue came to life during and after World War II. Most Americans will be amazed to hear that it was the Progressives who were most instrumental in establishing the Jim Crow system in the South; they did so after the Populist movement created a fear of the potentially corrupting effects of a movement that would combine blacks and poor whites. Theodore Roosevelt is reputed to have made an embarrassingly bigoted comment about Negroes at the time of the Brownsville Affair. Woodrow Wilson originally wanted to include blacks in his administration, but backed off when this led to criticism from his Southern supporters. Franklin Roosevelt did not make civil rights legislation for blacks a significant part of the New Deal.
During all those years the many liberals connected with the liberal journals as editors and writers, while favorable to Negroes and horrified by lynchings, made no move to make "civil rights" a priority issue. As we look back from the ethos of the 1980s and '90s, we tend to think that racial, ethnic and sexual equality have held a place in the pantheon of liberal philosophy from the beginning. But that is just not so.
The migration of Negroes to northern cities and their improving economic condition, among other factors, led blacks to a much-increased activism at the time of World War II. Liberals tagged along. Their ideas did not lead the events; rather, the Negro agitation slowly awakened liberalism to the issue. Among the intellectuals, only the Communists had been active in significant numbers for very long.
Certain of the elements that make liberalism what it is lend themselves strongly to this issue. Accordingly, modern liberalism, emerging from World War II and searching for a post-war program, had several reasons to consider it appealing. After a slow start, it became the central moral focus.
One reason for this has been that the Left in general, and liberalism as a form of the Left, has been involved from the beginning in a search for coalitions. For a century and a half in Europe the alienated intellectual subculture has sought an alliance successively with every unassimilated or disaffected group. Political success has depended upon what coalitions have been possible and how well they have been able to stay together. Ideologically, the rationale for any coalition has been readily supplied.
Ideally, of course, all such groups would be brought together in one grand coalition. But selective coalition-making has been forced upon the Left and liberalism by the fact that the groups have often been at odds with one another and with the intellectual subculture. This is why the experience of liberalism with the various civil rights movements -- of blacks, of Chicanos, of women, of homosexuals -- has proved so checkered.
Another reason liberalism has been the natural champion of this sort of equality has been that liberalism has been willing to use "direct action" methods that the groups themselves have supported, but that have been unacceptable to conservatives.
To the classical liberal philosophy of individualism that lies at the heart of American conservatism, nothing is more abhorrent than for people to judge each other by the color of their skin rather than by their merits or what they produce. But the classical liberal also (1) wants the police power of the state to remain limited, (2) identifies with the main society without alienation toward it, and (3) sees the processes of change within an open society to be sufficient without techniques of confrontation. The result is that the classical liberal believes that the growth of racial tolerance must be accomplished primarily through ethics and education.
The idea of using the police power to command an absence of discrimination among hundreds of millions of people in their daily relationships has, to conservatives, seemed preposterous. Such a state-sponsored assimilation has subordinated the values of freedom of association, freedom of contract and property rights. It has threatened an unprecedented expansion of the police function. That this expansion has not come about has been due to the willingness of contemporary Americans to match their moral sanctimony with an hypocrisy that has kept enforcement to a minimum.
The method of social change through direct-actionist confrontation, even as used by the proponents of "non-violence," seemed offensive and inappropriate to conservatives, who saw a society in which the condition of blacks had been rapidly improving. From the point of view of someone who was not alienated against the main society, it made no sense to engage in a rhetoric of condemnation that could only be consistent with abandoning historical perspective, forgetting all the good and remembering only the bad.
Such concerns did not weigh heavily with the groups themselves or with liberal spokesmen. In fact, they dismissed them as excuses for inaction.
So far as ordinary Americans have been concerned, they have been preoccupied, as they normally are, with the day-to-day concerns of their lives. They have not thought deeply about classical liberal values or historical perspective. This lack of interest in ideas makes Americans incredibly receptive to fashionable ideology, at least so long as it does not inconvenience them too severely and seems consistent with their good-hearted natures. Because of this, nothing has seemed more irresistible than the egalitarian moral thrust of the post-World War II era.
Even a near-total intellectual and moral dominance, however, has not been enough to make the egalitarian issue sufficient to assure the political success of liberalism, as events since the mid-1960s have shown. In one national election after another, liberals have sought a "new coalition," each time revealing the extent to which they have been unable to keep the old one together. The process has pushed the Democratic Party to embrace the fringes. But radical feminism, homosexual rights and compensatory preferences for minorities do not constitute a program calculated to engage the majority of the American electorate.
It is especially important to understand that the entire minority-rights emphasis since World War II, regardless of its merits, was a deflection of liberalism from its original impulses, which were heavily socialist. Seen from the point of view of liberalism's intellectual spokesmen, their "creeping socialism" has hardly seemed to creep at all. Their literature has been one of frustration and ennui.
This does not mean, of course, that a program of state activism, perhaps of socialism, may not be revived in America. Nor can the possibility be ruled out that the Left may emerge again in the form of social disintegration and heightened alienation, such as during the 1960s and early '70s. Most recently, it is apparent that the liberal-Left has embraced a multicultural swamping of mainstream society as its long-term weapon. The experiences with the New Left and with multiculturalism must certainly teach us that the Left does not act, as many conservatives think, solely through a growth of governmental functions. Those who make "the growth of government" the sole focus of their concerns will have learned little since the early 1960s.
One of the important facts in the early 1990s is that the predominant culture has not capitalized on the Reagan presidency. Despite Reagan's strongly conservative philosophy, neither presidential election in which he was elected was made a vehicle for a philosophical articulation of conservatism. During his presidency there was no widespread intellectual ferment marking a revival of classical liberalism. The middle class simply kept on doing what it has always done, which is to pursue the daily round without having a strong interest in intellect or aesthetics and without seeing the need to create an intellectual subculture that is appropriate to a free society.
This means not only that "capitalism" continues to lack an ingredient essential to its own sufficiency, but that an ideological void is present that leaves us in a condition of almost total existential indeterminacy. We are in a period of profound drift.
Despite Reagan's personification of conservative values, America to a large extent has lost its memory, which is to say, its meaning. Both the liberal-Left (in terms of its initial socialist impulse) and classical liberalism lie exhausted within a culture that, at least for the present, operates upon the underlay that each has provided.
During the past few years, the liberal-Left has taken what was originally a major diversion from its socialist goal, the Civil Rights issue, and fashioned a new long-term weapon in its century-and-three-quarter struggle against the mainstream American culture. Liberalism has become ever more strident in its assertion of "multiculturalism." The pluralism of unassimilated cultures, not a "melting pot," has become its ideal. One way that this is manifested is that, with totalitarian ferocity, those who feel safely and exclusively ensconced in academia insist on a "politically correct" "sensitivity" to the "feelings" of all minorities. Although the insistence on such "political correctness" has received a great deal of attention, the movement is much broader and all-pervasive than this single issue suggests. The intellectual establishment has been reworking the content of our curricula, our vocabulary, our publishing and our art with a thoroughness that would have seemed familiar to the Soviet cultural commissars of the Stalin era. The elevation of non-Western cultures, and the simultaneous attack upon and diminution of what is now called "white, male-dominated, Eurocentric culture," are rapidly being carried out in all nooks and crannies of our national life. This is not being done by "conspiracy," but by common impulse among the vast majority of those--from school teachers to journalists to high-brow theoreticians--who intuitively identify with the "new class" of the intellectual culture.
Although this is a far cry from the old liberal-Left program of socializing America, it continues to carry out the primary motive-force of the alienated intellectual culture. The alienation persists in seeking allies against the mainstream culture. To this new form of the ideology, the old labor-capital dichotomy has given way, in effect, to "the Third World against Europe," and the main tool in the new struggle is cultural, intellectual and demographic swamping. The press has recently reported that by the year 2050 caucasians will have become a minority in the United States. The intellectual culture is sponsoring a massive, bloodless demographic invasion that over time will remold the society in a new image.
As with all alliances of the intellectual with erstwhile unassimilated groups, there is no assurance that the alienated intellectual culture will like the results. Who is to say that in the end a non-white America will give the intellectuals the social role they crave? Or that the new immigrants will not value precisely the "bourgeois materialism" that the intellectuals have found so distasteful in American culture for almost two centuries. Most of the intelligentsia's alliances (as with organized labor, say) have gone sour, running afoul of the desire of people just to be people. Indeed, considerable resentment usually arises among the members of any "disaffected group" against the intellectuals themselves. Ultimately, few people like to be led by those who feel superior to them.
Indigenous factors in American history that have reenforced liberalism while adding other dimensions to it.
This overview of modern liberalism would be incomplete if I did not give attention to several other factors in American history. These factors have mostly augmented the call for a more powerful federal government, but without emanating from a radical alienation. Their presence has given liberalism a diversity that makes it unsound to define liberalism in terms of any one component. Liberalism has been historically complex.
When the United States was founded in the late eighteenth century, the situation was ideal from the classical liberal point of view. (An enormous exception was the presence of slavery within an otherwise liberal republic.) Free institutions had been established on the principles of the Enlightenment, and the thirteen states were so heterogeneous that they had little inclination to surrender their power to the central government.
By the beginning of the twentieth century, however, many tendencies existed that would have lent themselves to state activism and centralization even if the intellectual community had not veered sharply to the left.
1. There was a steady erosion of the intense loyalty that had originally been given to state and local units. A more national perspective came into being.
In part this was due to the transciency created by the frontier's movement westward. It was also caused by the constant improvements in transportation and communication. The victory of the national government first in the Nullification Crisis and much more significantly in the Civil War put an end to centripetal tendencies. Thereafter, it was clear both politically and psychologically that the states were simply parts of a whole.
2. A Hamiltonian neo-Mercantilism inspired first the Federalists and then the Whigs. At all times, at least one of the major parties favored a federal government that would play an active role in the economy. The Republican Party continued this tradition after the Civil War with the high protective tariff, which was seen throughout the nineteenth century as the primary form of governmental intervention. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, The Nation, at that time still strongly classical liberal, commented that the tariff had accustomed people to look to the government for economic intervention on their behalf.
3. The Jeffersonian tradition, even though it was articulately classical liberal, contributed two ingredients to the mix that was to be important at the end of the century. They were:
. Support for participation by more and more people in a broader democratic base.
. An opposition to corruption and governmental favoritism.
These were both compatible with classical liberalism, but they were also important to the Populist and Progressive movements, which had other ingredients that were incompatible with it.
4. During the nineteenth century the standard of living rose in the most successful economic expansion, democratically distributed, the world has ever known. It is ironic that this relates to the later welfare liberalism, but the connection becomes clear when we consider that the average person had always been so close to poverty that he had never been able to think seriously about insurance, about doing away with child labor, and about a steadily assured income. Only affluence made all of that possible.
The twentieth century's "safety net" could have been attained with less anti-capitalist rhetoric and more reliance upon market mechanisms within a classical liberal context. The fact that it was not, and that it came in upon the wave of a very different ideology, should not keep us from realizing that the essential preconditions were laid by science, the Industrial Revolution, abundant resources and a remarkably productive capitalism. Marxism has long been aware of this when it has held that capitalism is a precondition to socialism.
5. Despite this affluence, the continuing existence of poverty has brought about a number of governmental measures.
This poverty has largely been the result of a world-wide phenomenon that I call "peasant pressure." In England during the early Industrial Revolution the factory towns teemed with the poor who came from the countryside and from Ireland seeking the wages that the factories could pay. In Russia at the end of the nineteenth century, the textile mills of the beginning industrialization were flooded with serfs who swarmed into the cities.
One of the very real perversities of socialist thought has been to blame the squalor of the factory towns on the factories themselves and on their owners. In fact the presence of rural millions, mired in poverty but eager to move to jobs in the cities, has been both the creator and the constant replenisher of urban slums.
In the United States, the rural population has steadily declined, with migration to the cities; immigrants from all over the world have come first to hardship and then to a more complete enjoyment of our higher standard of living; Negroes have migrated from the rural South into the cities of the north and the west, and then partially back again. The sociologist Edward Banfield has pointed out that successive waves of poverty have been overcome, with new poverty taking their place.
The "peasant pressure" continues to this day. It comes in part from our still-shrinking agricultural population, but mostly from the immigration of the poor from Mexico, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East. (We also obtain many of their best minds.) Our affluence and freedom have continued to call into existence the very "problem" that has in turn provided the discontent and the votes to serve as the base for anti-capitalistic rhetoric and remedial governmental programs.
6. War and the need to remain prepared for war have played an important role in the long decline of classical liberal values.
Jacksonian classical liberalism understood the dangers, and therefore opposed a standing army. But the Civil War brought centralization and a shattering of the Jacksonian ideology. The great wars and threat of totalitarian expansionism in the twentieth century have made governmental powers necessary that would otherwise have stayed dormant. Just as significantly, they have contributed to the erosion of the social, moral and aesthetic base of middle-class culture, an erosion that has led to some of the most visible characteristics of our national life in the late twentieth century.
Ronald Reagan, the president with the most articulately classical liberal values in our history, was handicapped from the beginning of his administration by the need for vast defense expenditures to match the Soviet build-up. It was largely because to this that he was unable to implement his desire simultaneously to reduce taxation, the federal deficit, and the size of the federal government.
At the same time, this factor has produced a counter-effect. War and the heavy cost of national defense have done much to frustrate the goals of modern liberal presidents. The New Deal effectively ended when Franklin Roosevelt turned his attention to international issues. The North Korean attack on June 25, 1950, put an end to President Harry Truman's domestic program. And the Vietnam War overshadowed Lyndon Johnson's Great Society program.
7. Immigration has been a factor. It has played a major role in the "peasant pressure." It has also contributed to the shift in the country's ideological orientation. We have undergone successive waves of immigration since the middle of the nineteenth century from parts of the world that have known little about classical liberalism. An example of this appears in Nathan Glazer's account of the all-absorbing socialist presuppositions of the Jews who immigrated to this country from eastern Europe.
Much of the liberalism since World War II has been an "interest-group liberalism." The teeming multiplicity of the new ethnic culture has no doubt been a major contributor. The groups have come with ideologically conditioned expectations about the role of government. They have constituted voting blocs, and this voting power has lent itself to the coalition-seeking imperative within liberal politics and ideology.
8. The booms and busts of the trade cycle have several times undermined important preconditions of a market system.
Classical liberalism calls upon individuals and families to rely upon their own active role within a market system. This presupposes an adequately functioning market.
As we have seen, however, classical liberalism has long been on the defensive and drained of intellectual manpower. This has caused it to give too little attention to the institutional framework essential to a market. Its thinking has, of course, been relegated to the sidelines in any case. While technically the solutions making possible an acceptably stable market system have been known, there has been no coordinated thrust toward their implementation. An example is provided by the policies followed after the Crash in 1929, when the money supply was allowed to deflate by a third and the Smoot-Hawley Tariff and other protectionist measures throughout the world strangled the revival of international trade.
9. There is a less tangible but still quite real factor that has long seemed to me to be essential to an understanding of contemporary life. It is a fact that I discussed at length in Understanding the Modern Predicament: the fundamental immaturity of mankind, even in advanced civilization, at our current level of development. Emerson was on the mark when he said that humanity is only at the cockcrowing and the morning star.
As a classical liberal, I see the Enlightenment as having been humanity's most significant advance toward a liberal and humane civilization. It is impossible, however, for someone with my values to look back upon the past two centuries without profound regret. Even in Europe and America people have been mentally and spiritually unable and unwilling to grasp and then to meet those aspirations. The important exceptions have reflected the extent to which the cultural capital of the Enlightenment, which we are still consuming, has remained present.
All of the factors I have discussed have been important, but the failure has also been due to the nature of people themselves. If we ask why we are plagued by mediocrity in personal and ethical relations, why performance is often so shoddy, why our public is the vehicle for so many thoughtless ideological fancies, why the aesthetic atmosphere is so poor and often so shrill, why so few genuinely well-founded ideas are brought forward, why the participation in our political process is so meagre, why massive educational facilities accomplish so little by way of true literacy and learning, why our families cannot stay together, why there is even a loss of the ethic of family obligation, we can see many parts of the answer in the intellectual and social factors I am analyzing. But ultimate responsibility lies with the average person. It remains true, as it has from the beginning of history, that the ordinary person is too preoccupied, as Thoreau said, with "the factitious cares and superfluously coarse labors of life" to be very much concerned about qualitative issues.
The disappointment that this engenders in idealists has shaken socialists since the mid-1930s and has sapped the elan of modern liberalism. But it is also true that many of the characteristics of this weakness form the substance of what is considered liberalism in contemporary America. The average person's intellectual and spiritual mediocrity complements the intellectual culture's long-standing attack upon personal responsibility, the "bourgeois ethic," and the institutions and acculturations of a classical liberal society.
This opening chapter has had both the advantages and disadvantages of an interpretive overview. The reader is aware, of course, that in this chapter I have not sought to footnote anything I have said. The remaining chapters will examine the specifics in much greater detail and will, I think, provide ample documentation. They will also examine a number of additional aspects of liberalism which, though important, I have not been able to include here.