[This is Chapter Four in Murphey's book Liberalism in Contemporary America.]
Phases in American Liberalism: 1953-1985
Four postwar decades: all one period
The analysis I am about to make of the phases of liberalism since the Truman administration is a different analysis than I would have made before I read as extensively as I did in the liberal literature of the period. My impression had been that there were distinct phases -- the 1950s, the tumultuous '60s, and the uncertainties and drift of the 1970s and '80s. I am persuaded now that the entire span (in which we could just as well include the eight years under Truman) has involved a continuous trend. If we do not treat it as the same period, we are likely to lose sight of that continuity. Surprisingly, the 1960s are best thought of as an interlude of frenetic activity in what has otherwise been a steady liberal decline (at least in terms of its original socialist impulse; most recently, the alienation of the intellectual culture that lies at the heart of the modern liberal-Left has found a major long-term strategy in "multiculturalism," and this can pose an even greater challenge to the main society than was posed by the drive toward socialism.
A capsule summary
Variations will appear as we look into the detail, but a summary of the trends within liberalism since World War II will include the following characteristics that have been common to the period as a whole:
. Even though most of the principal liberal authors retained their allegiance to socialism, they did so in a world in which many socialists, especially in Europe, had long been at loose ends. Within both European "social democracy" and American liberalism there has for many years been a more or less constant feeling of drift, of loss of vision, of futility.
. This has been accompanied by a general puncturing, within the public at large and the intellectual culture, of the liberal myths that were powerful for so long. This includes a loss of implicit faith in the ability of government, given an application of reason and enough money, to solve every problem. This deflation was only in small measure a result of conservative efforts. It came more from the Left's own acceptance of the biting attacks upon "interest group liberalism" and "the Establishment" that were made by the New Left in the 1960s. It also came from the seeming intractability of certain realities for a Keynesian-social service society: of inflation; of unemployment even during inflation; of the infinite expandability of social spending without seeming effect; of the decline of productivity; and of the continuance for many years of the Cold War.
. Even into the 2000s, American voters have continued the deadlock between liberals and conservatives, giving neither of them enough power to carry out initiatives. [Note: the reference to the 2000s reflects an editorial updating in 2002.] Although there is some tinkering and much fidgeting, the country has long-since settled into a post-New Deal consensus following what was in effect the consolidation of the New Deal under Eisenhower. Even the Reagan administration had little power to carry out a conservative agenda.
. The New Deal coalition has had some staying power -- or else liberalism would have passed out of existence long ago; but the members of the coalition have also been engaged in a constant process of bickering and division. This has led to a long and thusfar futile search for a "new coalition."
. The Civil Rights movement, on the cutting edge of liberalism during the 1950s and the first half of the '60s, eventually lost much of its moral force. With the stress on compensatory programs, known to the general public as reverse discrimination, much of the moral appeal has shifted to the other side, since the programs smack of special privilege. Pathetically, the Civil Rights movement deteriorated into a collection of narrowly self-interested groups, some of which -- especially radical feminists and militant homosexuals -- are on a politically unappealing fringe of American society.
. New movements have struggled for vision and may (or may not) point the way to the future: neo-conservatism, with its dispelling of illusion, its anti-Communism and its "two cheers for capitalism"; neo-liberalism, thusfar calling uncertainly for a new Mercantilism that will place government activism behind selected forces within the market; and academic Marxism, which for fifteen years has kept an anti-capitalist critique and the emotions of radicalism simmering within an intellectual culture that has otherwise made its peace, more than ever before, with the society at large.
. It is a fact of the greatest significance that I cannot include in this list an emergent neo-classical liberalism. On the Right, Ronald Reagan's popularity should by all reasonable expectation have stimulated a great intellectual resurgence. Nevertheless, his administration did not see the importance of being midwife to a new intellectual culture, and one did not develop spontaneously among the country's young people (or others). This suggests that the Reagan years would only be an interregnum. By this failure, the predominant middle class culture exemplified the flaw that has plagued civilization in virtually all periods of history. This includes the same void that has dominated Western society since the Enlightenment. Such a vacuum, if it continues, will make future ideological neuroses inescapable.
. During all this, both American society and the world have been undergoing changes at an unprecedented rate that will produce existential effects that even the best futurist cannot foretell: American cultural and moral standards have continued their long decline. The "space age" and "cybernetic age" offer hopeful (and at the same time threatening) new worlds. Women have left home for business and the professions. Our society has become increasingly heterogeneous ethnically and racially, for whatever revitalization or division that may produce. Europe after the world wars shrank from its preeminence, although European unification may raise it up again. Its hegemony has been replaced in the "Third World" by a tragic contradiction in which the potential for emergence into modernity is pitted against an insistent tendency on the part of powerful prehistoric forces to pull whole peoples back down into poverty and degradation. Islamic fundamentalism haunts the world with its militant medievalism. We see how fast things are changing: In the 1986 edition of this book, I wrote: "The Soviets hold fast to their totalitarian state, but the Chinese now want more of Athens, less of Sparta." This has become reversed by 1991, and in each country the situation is subject to rapid change.
In all, it is a world "at sea with lots of sail and little anchor."
A socialist intellectual core
We have seen that American liberal intellectuality was an eclectic hodge-podge of leftist fashions prior to 1945. As I describe the "decline" of its socialist vision after World War II, I don't wish to suggest that it was ever very solid or sure of itself. But it did at least know what it liked and what it disliked, and this knowledge kept it consistently identified with the various fashions of the Left.
Since World War II, liberal thought's socialist core has been apparent to virtually anyone who has read the literature extensively. Many of post-World War II liberalism's most prominent writers have been socialists. Michael Harrington and Gunnar Myrdal, both socialists, laid the foundation for the War on Poverty that John F. Kennedy was about to launch when he was assassinated and that became central to Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society." Harrington and Myrdal were, in addition, prolific authors of books and contributors to the liberal journals.
John Kenneth Galbraith, after many years as a leading liberal spokesman, finally declared himself a socialist -- and added that he had been one for many years. This revelation was, of course, no particular surprise; what was surprising was his willingness to breach the usual dissimulation on the subject. Readers of his books had known their actual content for years. It is significant that similar content appeared in the writings of many others who did not discover such candor.1
Others who wrote prominently within post-World War II liberalism and who at the same time identified themselves with socialism included Christopher Jencks, John Rawls, Robert Heilbroner, Robert Lekachman, Irving Howe, Sidney Hook and Christopher Lasch. Irving Kristol was among them until he moved into neo-conservatism. In 1991, under the impact of the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe and its apparently impending demise in the Soviet Union, Heilbroner wrote a grudging admission that the supporters of a market economy had been right all along.
There were other authors, of course, who did not make the identification with socialism, or who even denied that liberalism had such a connection.
One of the more prominent of these was Eric Goldman, whose book Rendezvous With Destiny is an immensely readable history of "modern American reform." Goldman argues that liberalism is quite distinct from socialism, even though it has been influenced by it and has adopted some of its measures. But to me his argument is puzzling unless we limit it to liberal politics and exclude liberal thought. During my reading of The New Republic, the first article I noticed by Eric Goldman was in November 1944. Thus, he began writing for that journal just shortly after it participated so effulgently in the excesses of the Red Decade. In 1944 the editors were still actively justifying the Soviet system, and had launched a major campaign in favor of the
Communists in China.
Goldman presented his interpretation of liberalism in a New Republic article co-authored with Mary Paull in July 1946. I remember how incongruous it seemed among the other articles. (As if deliberately to defrock Goldman's argument, for example, the next week's issue contained a book review by Heinz Eulau entitled "Liberal Manifesto" about a book by a "liberal socialist" that contained "a good deal of Marxist thinking.") Goldman's thesis would seem more plausible today, but made no sense at the time.2
Liberalism's loss of vision
Despite the continuation of a generalized socialist faith, liberal intellectuals since World War II have had a problem that didn't exist during the preceding half-century. No longer has it been so easy for them to root their enthusiasms in up-and-coming European movements. The role models have dissolved in the disrepute of the Soviet Union, in the quandary of European social democracy, and most recently in the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe.
As early as 1948 George Mayberry was writing in The New Republic that "the hope for international socialism seems more remote today than in many generations." During the 1950s reports repeatedly came in of disillusionment with British socialism. By 1958, Carl Kaysen wrote that "we are all Jeffersonians, now that belief in socialism is dead." In 1960, Daniel Friedenberg wrote that the "failure of American Fabianism" was due to the watering down of German and English socialism. Friedenberg himself was critical of that dilution, concluding that "whores cannot be Fabians." As part of the soul-searching after Walter Mondale's defeat in 1984, The New Republic ran an article speculating on "the death of social democracy" in Europe. Clearly, European socialism since World War II has not seemed the wave of the future. Without a model to go by, only vague aspirations remained.3
During the entire span since 1945, subject to less of a respite in the 1960s than may be imagined, liberal writing bemoaned the loss of clear vision, of a long-term aspiration.
In 1946, The New Republic's editors wrote that "there is no clear way beyond the New Deal." Two years later, the Americans for Democratic Action tried to draft Eisenhower to run for president. Since they had no hint of his philosophy or positions on issues, they were as opportunistic and ideologically bankrupt in that attempt as Eisenhower's pre-convention Republican supporters were four years later.4
In 1953, John Kenneth Galbraith wrote that "it would be hard at the moment to say what the Democratic Party is for...We are still trading on the imagination and intellectual vigor of the Roosevelt era and that capital is running thin." The columnist TRB in 1956 saw no improvement: "The Democrats' chief obstacle is... their own bankruptcy. [They lack] any clear-cut issue of principle...." In a book in 1960, James Wechsler said that "liberalism admittedly seems defensive, sluggish, apologetic...."5
It would be reasonable to think that this ennui was soon replaced by excitement during the Kennedy years and the feverish first two years under Johnson. But to think so is again to confuse the liberal intellectual culture with the effusions of liberal pop and media culture. In the issue of The New Republic that was written immediately before John F. Kennedy's assassination, Victor Lange spoke of the prevailing sense of futility. He wrote of "the dilemma in which the contemporary intellectual finds himself: unable to accept the reality of his time but being far from any prospect of changing it by a social revolution, he has made up his mind that he must acquiesce in it."6
This emptiness at a time when the liberal media were enthusiastically mythologizing the Camelot-like qualities of the Kennedy presidency shows us something that we have not previously had occasion to notice -- that Lange's "contemporary intellectual" was someone quite different from the popular image of a liberal. The great orthodoxy of the liberal media, which had by that time become such an aggressive national institution, has actively projected what we might appropriately call a "pop liberalism." This is a simplistic liberalism that is fashioned at almost a comic-book level. Emotional and non-introspective, it reflects the media's manipulation of the general public's extreme shallowness. Accordingly, the public sees very little of the self-doubt and fragmentation that has been so characteristic of the liberal intellectual culture.
As Richard Nixon's fortunes went to smash in mid-1974, The New Republic observed that "the Democratic party is rich in possible presidential candidates," but that rank-and-file Democrats "are not sure where they wish to be led." In 1975, at a time when the prospects for electing a Democratic president the next year were excellent because of the Watergate scandal, Kalman Silver wrote that "ideas about how to achieve social change and the good society are in disarray almost everywhere." Curtis Gans at the same time reported that "when 125 liberal Democrats gathered...to plot 1976 presidential campaign strategy...they departed without a candidate, a program or a strategy." He surmised that "perhaps underlying the lack of
agreement was the feeling that the people gathered here shared in common only the past but not a common vision of the future… [One participant said] 'Some of us are populists; others of us are socialists.'"7
A month after Jimmy Carter was inaugurated in 1977, Alan Tonelson wrote that "there is no constituency for reform in this country" and that "Jimmy Carter has stepped into the moral vacuum left by Democratic liberals." In late 1982, a year and a half after Carter left office, a New Republic book review said that Robert Lekachman was observing that "New Deal and Great Society liberalism" had "run out not only of policy ideas, but of inspiring symbols." Lekachman was said to be calling for "a new and more comprehensive 'agenda for the left,' which would fill the intellectual void." Then after Walter Mondale's landslide loss to Ronald Reagan in 1984, The New Republic editorialized that "American liberalism is in crisis... The old liberal confidences... now lie shattered...."8
This review since 1945 shows that the loss of vision, the shattering of confidence, has been a continuing theme within American liberalism since World War II, not just a reaction to a particular electoral defeat. Its roots lie in the diminished vitality of the world Left.
This general disillusionment has had certain specific counterparts. One of these has been a perception by liberals that their own programs haven't worked. In 1969, Norman S. Care reported "the rethinking of liberalism prompted by the failure of organized political attempts to realize liberal aims." TRB said in 1972 that there was "an undercurrent of disassociation, a feeling almost of despair," consisting of a "terrifying... lack of confidence in the capacity of government to solve problems...." In early 1980 Henry Fairlie wrote that "there seems at last to be an end to the belief in the ability of quick if not deep or penetrating minds -- seducible or purchasable or both -- to identify real problems and their possible political resolution."9
A century ago, Herbert Spencer wrote that in England until the middle of the nineteenth century it was considered progressive to remove governmental interventions into people's lives, but that the tone had then shifted to a clamor for more and more political solutions. The latter mood, reflecting the influence of the Left, lasted in the United States until recently. During most of my lifetime, the call for the politicization of all identifiable problems, followed by the formation of interest-group constituencies around each issue and by programs of governmental expenditure to solve the problems has seemed irresistible. The move away from that fixation, if it proves more than a temporary fashion, will be of the utmost significance.
This has been accompanied by and has reflected a diminished trust in government and the presidency. In October 1967, Hans J. Morgenthau spoke of "this withering away of the public's trust in the government." A year later James MacGregor Burns said that "for the first time in decades the power of the Presidency is undergoing critical reevaluation by American liberals." In 1976, a New Republic review spoke of "the hundreds of books and monographs assessing Great Society undertakings [that are] mostly expressive of a 'new realism' mood -- a perspective sobered by the short-comings of positive government in its encounters with social complexity."10
Liberals also have for many years been becoming more skeptical about governmental regulation. The old Progressive faith in the rationality and objectivity of independent experts has given way to a "realistic" awareness that the agencies become the captives of the very processes they regulate.
This awareness was not a new insight to the period we are discussing, since there were various references to it earlier. In 1934, for example, a New Republic editorial said that "the effort of the speculative community, knowing that it was to be regulated" by the Securities Act of 1933, "has been to control the regulators." But it is a view that has grown within liberalism since World War II. In 1949, the editors referred to the I.C.C., F.T.C., C.A.B., S.E.C., F.C.C. and F.P.C., and said that "the regulatory agencies created during reform waves soon pass into industry's hands." The skepticism gained momentum later when consumer advocate Ralph Nader leveled his criticisms. By the mid-1970s, Irving Kristol was able to say that "everyone
suddenly seems to be in favor of 'deregulation.'" Many liberals and conservatives came to share the view that in a number of areas a return to the market would be preferable to regulation. This "odd coalition," as Kristol called it, ironically came about during an enormous expansion of regulatory activity in the 1970s, in which "vertical agencies" regulating a particular industry were complemented by vast "horizontal agencies" addressing a certain problem wherever it may exist in the country.11
From what I said earlier, it would have been surprising if psychologically the alienated intellectual culture had ceased during this long period of disillusionment to go through the cycle in which yearning-for-action led to energetic activity and then to frustration, fatigue and withdrawal. Such a cycle has, in fact, been an important part of the history of the decades following World War II. In my chapters on the New Left I will discuss in detail how the yearning became apparent in the late 1950s, led into the passions of the '60s, and finally eventuated in withdrawal and religious faddism in the '70s.
Presidents and programs
As a result of the New Deal, there had been a vast shift of Constitutional jurisdiction and of activity to the federal government. The shift seemed meager to those who wanted socialism, but to conservatives it amounted to a revolutionary break from the Constitutional limitations of the past.
The Eisenhower presidency resolved the question of whether the Republican Party, once it regained power, would seek to undo the New Deal. The issue was fought out inside the Republican Party at each national convention. When eventually the conservatives have been able to nominate the presidential candidate, their own initiatives have been blocked, first by the defeat of Barry Goldwater and later by the many constraints under which Ronald Reagan found it necessary to work.
The consolidation of the New Deal under Eisenhower was commented upon by Reinhold Niebuhr in 1956 when he wrote that Eisenhower "reconciled the American business community to the social revolution, initiated by Roosevelt and resisted by the business community until Eisenhower swallowed the whole revolution with a minimum of polemics and no explicit recognition of the volte face." I would add, though, that the consolidation was fought over quite bitterly within the Republican Party. It certainly didn't creep up on the Republicans who chose Eisenhower over Taft in 1952.12
The consolidation continued under Presidents Nixon and Ford. Melville J. Ulmer commented, for example, that Nixon's wage and price controls in 1971 "went farther to the left than the proposals of most Democrats." The Ford administration stayed within the flow. Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society" had expanded the concept of "entitlements," by which all citizens were considered to have a legal right to the benefits provided by a broad substratum of governmental action, and Theodore H. White says that "no succeeding Congresses, from Nixon, through Ford, through Carter, dared deviate from the path of the Great Society." Social spending and horizontal regulation continued their upward spiral until the public's thinking began to shift in the late 1970s.13
This growth of entitlements and regulation had been consistent with the main programmatic thrust of post-World War II liberalism, which was always to have a "liberal agenda" of incremental increases before the country. It was clearly a Fabian program of "blowing air into the balloon." In 1950, J. Roland Pennock wrote in his book Liberal Democracy that "there is not the slightest suggestion of any point beyond which this process may not go if its indefinite continuation proves acceptable to the majority of Americans."14
This process was accelerated from 1961 through 1965 under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. John Kenneth Galbraith's book The Affluent Society was highly popular among liberals in the late 1950s. It argued that the public sector is starved while the private sector is surfeited. (Leon Keyserling soon interjected, however, that growth should be the source of increased public spending, so that a liberal program should emphasize economic growth as well as the usual "change in 'priorities.'") In 1959 TRB reported that "the demand for activist government is arising" and added that "the country [is] waiting for an FDR." Galbraith called for, among other things, a "final attack on poverty," even though he acknowledged that "there has been much progress in the reduction of privation and want." This stress on poverty was something new. It was soon augmented by Michael Harrington's book The Other America. Post World War II liberalism had found a constituency and a cause.15
In the late '50s, there were two types of yearnings within liberalism: one was for governmental activism, a "new New Deal"; the other, composed of those further to the left, was for more "movement-type" activism, as we shall see in the chapters on the New Left.
Liberal intellectuals began to express disappointment, however, almost immediately after John F. Kennedy took office. In September 1961, TRB complained that "Kennedy has been a disappointment as a teacher... No rousing 'cause' has forced Kennedy to appeal to the nation over the heads of Congress." Kennedy moved to the center as Congress balked at his proposals. As it turned out, Kennedy did not fully accept Galbraith's position; with his tax cut proposal, Kennedy sought to bolster private purchasing power rather than to increase government spending. The long-standing liberal-conservative deadlock was continued, too, when the 1962 Congressional elections again left Kennedy without a majority that would enact his
After Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963, Lyndon Johnson took massive advantage of one of the rare occasions when a liberal president has had full Congressional support. He benefited from the national mood following the assassination. He was also able to capitalize on his landslide victory in the 1964 election for at least a year. Then, under pressure from a number of factors, things began to fall apart.
Johnson declared his "War on Poverty," in which the poor were engaged in the planning process within "Community Action" programs. He put through the tax cut and came forward with a rent subsidy program that TRB called "one of the boldest ever sent to Congress." When he secured passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he signed into law one of the most comprehensive enactments in our history. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 laid the foundation for greatly expanded Negro participation in Southern politics in the years to come. In July 1965, TRB exulted that "Johnson's...domestic record in this Congress will be historic."17
It is valuable to understand the relationship of all this to liberal theory. I have already commented on the influence of the Galbraith and Harrington books. Galbraith's The Affluent Society had stressed essentially the same theme that had been raised early in the century by Simon Patten and Walter Weyl (a socialist and one of the three founding editors of The New Republic) when they talked about a "social surplus." Charles Forcey says that "by social surplus Weyl meant the increment of wealth the United States had produced over basic human needs. The surplus was social because it was the product of all society and not of particular individuals. Being surplus...it could easily be directed toward social ends." He points out that "Weyl borrowed his notion of the social surplus largely from Simon Patten."18
Gunnar Myrdal contributed what Leon Keyserling called "a great book," Challenge to Affluence, in 1962, in which he argued that growth and social priorities must be bound together.19
The War on Poverty's stress on decentralization and on "maximum feasible participation" by the poor themselves on Community Action boards is discussed in the literature as having arisen more or less accidentally. It has a long history, though, in leftist thought. During the same period, the New Left talked about "participatory democracy," which was much the same. Nathan Glazer has written that "participatory democracy...is a concept derived from the Paris Commune [of 1870] in which, according to Marx's account, the people, permanently politicized, permanently in arms, met every day to settle their fate."20
Despite the rush of activity in 1964 and 1965, all was not well. The Civil Rights movement became more fragmented; in its militancy it took on an "anti-white-liberal" tone. The movement opposing the war in Vietnam was heating up, and led to a bitter split among liberals and to Johnson's eventual withdrawal from the presidential race in 1968. The New Left was damning liberalism as the voice of an "establishment" that combined the military, big business, and politics. Inflation became rampant as the administration sought simultaneously to sustain the war and social spending. The congressional elections in 1966, in which
the Democrats lost 47 seats, again gave conservatives a veto. And the War on Poverty programs were soon perceived by many liberals to be failures, eaten alive by the tussle of interest groups, the poor's own lack of interest, and the beginning of some realistic thinking about the poor.
The dissatisfaction with the War on Poverty was apparent as early as December 1965 when James G. Patton, the President of the National Farmers Union, wrote that "sleazy politicians and self-serving private groups conduct a tug-of-war for poverty money." He said that "it appears that the poor are not to be served but to be perpetuated." Two months later, Andrew Kopkind wrote that "the War on Poverty...is more attentive to the politicians, the businessmen and the social workers than it is to the poor." Paul Marx reported in 1968 that "everyone is dissatisfied" with the Community Action programs.21
Heresy sprang up within liberalism questioning the whole theory of the civil rights movement. Ronald Berman has written that "the great event of the Sixties was, I think, the publication of the Moynihan Report [on the Negro family]." Daniel Moynihan, Nathan Glazer, Edward Banfield and others began to question whether the condition of the Negro was entirely the fault of white society and to suggest that such things as the matriarchal family structure and the lack of an adequate time-perspective were contributing factors. "The Negro Family, with its description of social pathology," Berman said, "was particularly demoralizing to those who gave their faith to political action."22
Even Keynesianism, which not long before had seemed to offer the ultimate solution to the trade cycle, was in trouble. As early as 1958, Leon Keyserling had recognized what later became known as "stagflation." This was the problem that unemployment and a sluggish economy, instead of disappearing in the face of inflation, would often co-exist with it. Prices were rising despite the 1958 recession. By the late 1970s and early '80s, experience had caused a major reevaluation of Keynesianism. In 1977, The New York Times complained of "the bankruptcy of modern theory." In 1980, Gar Alperovitz and Jeff Fox were speaking in The New Republic of "the bankruptcy of the basic assumption of American Keynesianism: that the upward trends of the immediate postwar period could be maintained by the simple manipulation of fiscal and monetary policy,
and that the resulting economic growth would allow the nation to avoid politically sticky questions of income and wealth distribution."23
The poor performance of Keynesianism was attributed to rigidities in the economy. Thomas Balogh voiced a common theme in 1980 when he faulted the increased concentration of business and labor. He said that "the combination of oligopoly in the goods markets and bilateral monopoly in the labor market destroyed the basis of conventional economic analysis." What this translates to, in part, is an admission that various deviations that liberalism itself has encouraged from a competitive market were the cause of the economic dilemma. Keynesianism had sought to use inflation to out-strip the structural unemployment caused by collective bargaining, minimum wage laws and a fixation against downward adjustments in wages. But even that
wasn't working. In addition, the inflation, which became rampant in the late 1970s, was among the factors destroying the basis for liberal social policy. Theodore H. White summed it up in 1982 when he wrote that "inflation is the...leukemia of planning and hope."24
Important, but Tangential, Issues
The absence of an overriding liberal mission was compensated for during the 1970s by other issues. In long-term perspective these must be understood as at best only tangential to liberalism's socialist aspiration.
The moral imperative of equality, in the sense of everyone's participating without differentiation, provided the most burning issue, which was feminism. But while the more radical feminists drew upon a century-and-a-half of socialist denunciations of marriage to give feminism a socialist meaning, the movement has hardly meant that for the great majority of American women. To this majority, it has meant the meeting of the practical needs posed by their assumption of careers.
A career orientation for women within a market economy is no doubt damaging to certain important social values that classical liberalism considers important to a free society, but the career orientation does not itself move the society closer to socialism. The movement into careers mainly results from a number of underlying economic and social causes that are not essentially ideological. Rather than causing those factors, the feminist movement has reflected them, at least so far as its mass support has been concerned.
The homosexual-rights movement has not had nearly the drawing-power for public acceptance, but has occupied much the same role. It, too, has been related to the thrust toward equality in the participative sense, and has thus been tangential to what liberals before World War II would have considered their main aspiration. This is not to say that certain aspects of leftist ideology do not play a part; it is no doubt much easier for the liberal-Left to support the homosexual-rights movement than for conservatism to do so: liberal ideology, in common with the Left in general, has long been alienated from many middle-class values, has stressed relativism as a cutting tool, and has depended upon alliances with unassimilated groups.
Consumer protection was another issue identified with liberalism in the 1970s. This issue reflected a combination of factors. One of these was the continuing imperfections within the market system and its legal framework. These are imperfections that a vigorous classical liberalism would be just as inclined to root out. Another factor was the tendency of modern liberalism to fall back upon Muckraking exposes at times when liberalism is not occupied with a more systematic program. (I don't mean to suggest that the exposes, to the extent they are not exaggerated, are off the mark in pointing to abuses. But it is significant that liberals themselves have denigrated the Muckraking tendency when they have felt that they have had better things to do.) The criticism of abuses within the market system may reflect alienation, but is itself peripheral to a socialist program unless it can be made part of a general assault on capitalism.
An issue of the 1970s that received less public awareness was the call for "the social responsibility of business." This phrase is so ambiguous that it could mean almost anything, and indeed it has been used by most ideologies, including the Nazis'; but to liberals it has meant making the large corporation a vehicle for a wide range of social policies, largely through exhortation and without systematic governmental oversight.
It should be apparent, in light of all that we have covered, how desperately this is a "fall-back" position for the liberal-Left. Although it is in the tradition of New Nationalism, it is a pale substitute for what liberals have traditionally wanted. To most earlier liberals it would have seemed ludicrous to make an unsupervised corporate capitalism the executor of liberal policies.
The closest that contemporary liberals have been able to come to an ideological justification for the "social responsibility" emphasis has been the argument, which has time-honored origins in Marx and Bellamy and several others, that large corporations are composed of the members of a new technocratic professional class that is has become more and more divorced from the traditional values of capitalism. Galbraith's next generation of writings after The Affluent Society was based on this theme. But at a time when liberal confidence is as low as it is, such a rationale, once a powerful tool in the effort to pull corporate capitalism into a collectivist orbit, seems too much like wishful thinking.
Still another peripheral issue was the post-Watergate call for "openness in government." This is reminiscent of the Progressive movement's early twentieth century drive for "good government." In part it reflected the generalized distrust for all institutions that was fostered by the New Left.
There was a time when "environmentalism" was an incendiary issue. The New Left made it a vehicle for alienation in the late 1960s, giving it an hysterical revolutionary quality. But the issue was soon "coopted," as the Left would say, when federal and state legislation was enacted to deal with it. It has remained an issue on two levels: as a practical concern for the solution of remaining problems; and, on a very different plane, as part of the anti-industrial Romanticism of some groups that continue on the left.
The main product of domestic liberalism during these years was the vast increase in social spending. In 1980, Morton Kondracke spoke of "what actually has been accomplished in the United States in the past 20 years: a total reversal of federal priorities from defense spending to domestic concerns. In 1958 the U.S. budget allocated $43.7 billion to defense and $38.9 billion to non-defense programs. In 1980, non-defense outlays were more than three times the Pentagon budget." His comparison, of course, includes the '60s, but the process remained underway in the '70s. The shift provided the background for the Reagan administration's push in the '80s to hold the line on social spending and revitalize military forces that had been allowed to deteriorate badly while the Soviet Union had been engaged in a rapid build-up.25
The Carter presidency
The end of the 1970s witnessed, of course, the presidency of Jimmy Carter. For liberalism, this meant another opportunity under a Democratic president; but above all it was a telling sign of liberalism's fragmentation and weakness. After one term as governor of Georgia, Carter was able to win the Democratic nomination by defeating the established Democratic leaders. The liberal intellectual component wasn't able to secure the victory of one of its own; and neither was organized labor able to make up its mind and impose its will. A New Republic editorial pointed out that Carter was able to win the presidency "without establishing any strong base within his own party and often without committing himself on the party's main issues."26
The Carter presidency then proved a debacle from nearly everyone's perspective. Its story from a liberal point of view can be traced through the reports in The New Republic: In the issue that appeared two days after Carter's inauguration on January 20, 1977, Doris Kearns Goodwin reported "the widespread disappointment with the establishment nature of the Cabinet he has chosen." Michael Harrington said that "Mr. Carter rushed to the center ground as he prepared to assume power. It has turned into a swamp. Unless he finds some new place to stand, he will be sunk before 1980." A month later E. N. Luttwak asked whether the administration had a foreign policy. "All we have heard from it so far has been an unsorted collection of single-issue declarations, often contradictory." In October, an editorial said that "at just about the time a new administration should begin hitting its stride, Jimmy Carter's is slumping badly." It complained that "the Carter legislative programs amount to unrestrained activism, grounded in no ideology beyond the 111-page loose-leaf book of campaign promises...."27
In July 1978, the editors spoke of Carter's "stern words... followed by weak deeds." The next month, they reported that his legislative program had bogged down; "the list of wrecks is impressive." In March of the next year they said that "Carter's poll rankings are nearly new lows, cartoonists are making him a laughing stock."
A year later, they declared the administration "incompetent and reckless in the conduct of foreign policy." Later that year they saw fit to endorse John Anderson, an independent, for president over Carter. Mark Green has written that after "beginning with enormous good will and popularity, Jimmy Carter managed to leave office with no close associates on Capitol Hill and no Democratic constituency he could call his own -- for by November 1980, Jewish, Catholic, and labor voters were unhappy with him." If I were quoting conservative commentaries, that would be one thing; but these were observations by liberals about the only Democratic president between 1969 and the updating of this book in 1991.28
Liberal thought's disdain for all of liberalism's political leaders
The Carter presidency deserved much of the opprobrium it received, but it is significant to the history of liberalism that the intellectual culture has been to the left of working liberal politicians generally and has been unenthused about virtually all of them. Certainly that was true of Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman.
Adlai Stevenson was an urbane, articulate standard-bearer for the Democratic Party in two presidential campaigns in the 1950s. He would seem to have been, in the language of the day, an "egghead's delight." But in fact the enthusiasm for him was mitigated by considerable reservations within the liberal journals. Edwin A. Lahey said that Stevenson's nomination meant a defeat for the left wing of the Democratic Party and a victory for organized labor. Stevenson, he wrote, was "a middle-of-the-road candidate who is probably the most conservative man to head the ticket since John W. Davis." For its part, The Nation endorsed Stevenson, since it considered Eisenhower "a captive of big business," but its editors criticized Stevenson as "exaggerating both the dangers of Communism and the measures required to deal with it."29
There was little enthusiasm in 1956. Michael Straight complained in late 1955 of Stevenson's vagueness on issues, and in March 1956 TRB spoke of the Democrats' overall "bankruptcy," which he said made a victory that fall unlikely. The New Republic took little interest in the fall campaign.
The most withering denigration of Stevenson occurred later. According to Gilbert Harrison, Stevenson was an object of ridicule within the Kennedy group. In 1968, reflecting the atmosphere of the late '60s, Anthony Howard in The New Republic called Stevenson "a puzzling pouchy little figure who brought out the throngs of students and the middle-aged hosts." Howard spoke of Stevenson's "servile performance" as ambassador to the United Nations under Kennedy.31
For his part, John F. Kennedy received faint praise in The Nation in 1960 in an editorial entitled "Two Cheers for Kennedy." The New Republic greeted his candidacy more favorably. Right before his Kennedy's in 1960, James MacGregor Burns wrote that "I believe that Kennedy in his campaign has deliberately prepared the way for the most consistently and comprehensively liberal Administration in the history of the country." A year later, though, TRB was complaining, as we saw earlier, that "Kennedy has been a disappointment as a teacher." And in early 1962 TRB complained again to the effect that "the electrifying 'let's get going' slogan is almost forgotten." Later that year he reported "considerable irritation toward Kennedy from a lot of liberals."32
In 1971, Gerald Clarke wrote in The New Republic that "only lately have I put it all together and realized that the Administration of John F. Kennedy was a failure, by his standard as well as mine." He asked, "how could we have been thrilled by that pompous Inaugural Address?" 33
This perspective has survived the New Left period. In 1978, the mood was summed up by Henry Fairlie when he said that "the disaster wrought by the Kennedy's is that they did so little but in a way that we cannot forget them." A New Republic editorial referred to the Kennedy's as "that cohort of monomaniacal ideologues and whiz-kid technocrats" and spoke of "the haughty style...often mistaken for ability." In 1980, Wilfrid Sheed wrote in a book review that "by the time they're through digging and peering under skirts, it may turn out that none of the Kennedy's was fit for the presidency." All of this contrasts starkly with the adulation the liberal press gave Kennedy. Inside the intellectual culture, there have been few, if any, heroes.34
Hubert Humphrey was a favorite until his association with the Johnson administration and the Vietnam War tainted him in liberals' eyes. In August 1964, TRB said "Mr. Humphrey is about our favorite man in Washington." This is to be compared with a New Republic editorial's observation in early 1968 that "Humphrey can count on the backing of George Meany and his allies in the labor movement," but that Humphrey had been "fatally compromised by his dutiful performance as number-one salesman for Johnson's Asian policy."35
Lyndon Johnson was looked upon with suspicion while he was Senate majority leader and then Vice President under Kennedy. There was enthusiasm for him in 1964 and early 1965 during the rush of Great Society legislation. But his period as a liberal hero was brief. In May 1965, James Deakin wrote that "Mr. Johnson's alienation from the academic and intellectual communities over Vietnam and the Dominican Republic is now almost complete." His support having evaporated, Johnson took himself out of the race for reelection in 1968.36
Neither Eugene McCarthy nor Robert Kennedy, the two competing leaders of the stop-Johnson movement in 1968, have gone unscathed in liberal literature. Each comes across as flawed.
There was then a time when it seemed that Teddy Kennedy would be the natural heir to liberal leadership, but this was one of the casualties at Chappaquiddick in 1969. He made a bid for the presidency in late 1979, but was cut up unmercifully by liberals themselves. Theodore White says that when Kennedy was interviewed by Roger Mudd on television on November 4, "Mudd dissected Kennedy on the tube and left him shredded, as a man without any real purpose in his pursuit of the presidency." A New Republic editorial in 1980 said Kennedy's "elevated talk about national purpose masks a peculiarly impoverished and fragmented vision...He sees the country primarily as a patchwork of interests...."37
Splits in the coalition
This negative critique of all of their leaders has been symptomatic, of course, of liberalism's own fragmentation and loss of vision. The fragmentation has been most evident, however, in the splits within the "coalition" -- and in the inability of liberals, despite constant effort since 1968, to put together a "new coalition."
We have already seen that Southern congressmen began in 1937 to combine with conservative Republicans in a coalition that held a veto during much of the ensuing half century. The Solid South's participation in the liberal coalition so far as presidential politics was concerned also began to crumble immediately after World War II. Indications of Republican presidential vitality in the South were already apparent in 1924 when Calvin Coolidge garnered a large vote. The 1948 Dixiecrat split from the Democratic Party marked a significant break. Frances Fox Piven and Richard A. Cloward have said that "the first overt signs that the North-South partnership was in danger of dissolving appeared during the presidential campaign of 1948." They added that "the South has not been 'solid' since."38
These authors foresaw an eventual liberal resurgence in the South through a coalition of the newly-enfranchised Negroes with white liberals. Although black voting has increased enormously in the South since the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and a large number of Negroes have been elected to office, Republican presidential candidates have continued to receive the bulk of the electoral votes, with the exception of 1976 when the South went for Carter as a native son.
The labor movement would in most countries have been considered the traditional rock upon which the politics of the Left would be based. But to the American intellectual culture, the labor movement has long been a disappointment. Until 1906, Samuel Gompers, distrusting the state, kept labor out of electoral politics. It entered politics only sporadically until 1933. Since then, of course, organized labor has given enormous support to Democratic and liberal candidates. But the main body of the labor movement has always been to the right of the intellectual culture. (We remember how The New Republic in 1928 considered it "stupid" for the A.F. of L. to expunge a tribute to John Dewey because of his articles praising Soviet Russia.) After World War II, liberal literature showed a growing split between organized labor, which has itself often been divided, and the intellectual culture.
Despite the merger of the A.F. of L. and the C.I.O., Tom Brooks reported in 1959 that "lethargy and constant bickering within the federation has paralyzed the will to act." In 1965, TRB complained that "the American labor movement is a disappointment to a lot of us. Its membership seems stuck on dead center. So far from being radical, it is to the right of the Chamber of Commerce in international affairs." Then in the bitterness of 1968, a New Republic editorial spoke of "the ossified trade union executives -- men like George Meany, who have transformed the labor movement from an inspiring force for social justice into a baronial club."39
In 1972, George McGovern won the Democratic nomination despite the opposition of most unions. Labor's impotence in 1976 was apparent when it formed a coalition that supported almost all Democratic candidates successively, hoping for no more than to "back a winner." The declining numerical strength of unions was commented upon in 1980 by James Ring Adams: "American unionism peaked in the 1950's, when it included some 35 percent of the country's non-farm work force. But...its share has fallen steadily to under 25 percent." Municipal unions had "grown explosively," but the change in the economy toward high-tech industry has continued to erode the basis for unionism.40
Big-city political machines were once a powerful part of the coalition. We have seen how Huthmacher and Buenker emphasize the role they played in the Progressive movement. The intellectual culture has from the beginning, however, felt liberalism's hands soiled by their presence. A New Republic editorial in 1930 praised Franklin Roosevelt as governor of New York, but said that "he can hold office only with the approval of Tammany Hall, an organization which...stands for corruption." In 1932, TRB criticized F.D.R. severely for not repudiating his Tammany support. In 1938, an editorial said Mayor Frank Hague of Jersey City had "one of the most brazenly corrupt political machines ever brought into existence."41
The machine system began to crumble after World War II. In 1948, The New Republic reported that "the basic supports of the machine system are rotting away," in part because the welfare state had done away with the machines' role in giving "doles and baskets." Despite this erosion, however, an editorial in early 1952 was able to say that the machine leaders had been "the powers in the last four Democratic conventions." Amid a bitter chorus of ridicule from the New Left, the liberal media and the intellectual culture, Mayor Daley of Chicago was a leading figure in securing the nomination for Hubert Humphrey at the 1968 Democratic convention.42
Religious and ethnic minorities were important parts of the New Deal coalition, and have continued to give major support since World War II. Bloc voting, little commented upon in the media, has been a prominent feature. In 1964, the vote of Southern Negroes was more than 95 percent Democratic; in 1976, "Carter received over 90 percent of the black vote nationwide, and blacks provided his margin in at least 13 states," according to the The New Republic. Catholic participation in the coalition stemmed in part from Al Smith's candidacy in 1928. Smith was not only the first Catholic candidate; he also gave impetus to the process of bringing the heavily Catholic "immigrant" vote into the coalition. The Jewish vote, consisting largely of
immigrants from eastern Europe, was related to this. The socialist orientation of these eastern European Jews is described in detail by Nathan Glazer in Remembering the Answers, where he concludes that "the Jews are people of the left." In 1980, Morton Kondracke said that "normally, Jews vote heavily Democratic... In 1968, Hubert Humphrey received close to 80 percent...."43
Although they remain important, the religious and ethnic components of the coalition have been eroding. Many blacks demonstrated their independence of the Democratic party in 1984 when they supported Jesse Jackson's third-party candidacy. Over the years there has been, for a number of reasons, considerable friction between blacks and organized labor, the Jews and liberal intellectuals: with labor over the discrimination it has so often perpetuated; with Jews over "affirmative action" quotas, which many Jews have considered a threat to the rationale for an achievement-oriented equality within American life; and with intellectuals because of the widespread denunciation of "white liberals" within militant black groups starting in the early 1960s.
The Jews have declined in numbers and in devotion to the Democratic cause. Theodore White says that "they are a diminishing population group in the United States," and that "politically, they are still Democratic property, but much less so than formerly." The neo-conservative movement that began in the late 1960s has been primarily Jewish.44
1. Irving Kristol, Two Cheers for Capitalism (New York: Mentor Books, 1978), p. 11.
2. New Republic, July 22, 1946, p. 70; New Republic, July 29, 1946, p. 106.
3. New Republic, November 1, 1948, p. 24; New Republic, March 17, 1958, p. 20; New Republic, February 29, 1960, pp. 17, 18.
4. New Republic, October 21, 1946, p. 500.
5. Mr. Galbraith is quoted in Mark Green, Winning Back America (Toronto: Bantam Books, 1982), p. 7; New Republic, March 12, 1956, p. 2; James A. Wechsler, Reflections of an Angry Middle-Aged Editor (New York: Random House, 1960), p. 33.
6. New Republic, November 23, 1963, p. 23.
7. New Republic, June 29, 1974, p. 5; New Republic, March 22, 1975, p. 19; New Republic, April 5, 1975, p. 9.
8. New Republic, February 26, 1977, pp. 18, 19; New Republic, September 20, 1982, p. 32; New Republic, December 10, 1984, pp. 9, 12.
9. New Republic, November 11, 1969, p. 26; New Republic, January 1, 1972, p. 6; New Republic, May 31, 1980, p. 19.
10. New Republic, October 28, 1967, p. 20; New Republic, March 16, 1968, p. 25; New Republic, August 7, 1976, p. 29
11. New Republic, June 6, 1934, p. 84; New Republic, October 17.1949, p. 5; Kristol, Two Cheers, p. 100; for a discussion of the expansion of regulatory activity in the 1970s, see Theodore H. White, America in Search of Itself (New York: Harper & Row, 1982), pp. 128, 129.
12. New Republic, October 29, 1956, p. 11.
13. New Republic, December 11, 1971, p. 19; White, America in Search, p. 126.
14. J. Roland Pennock, Liberal Democracy (New York: Rinehart & Company, Inc., 1950), p. 267.
15. New Republic, October 27, 1958, p. 15; New Republic, January 5, 1959, p. 2; New Republic, February 9, 1959, p. 7.
16. New Republic, September 11, 1961, p. 2.
17. New Republic, July 3, 1965, p. 4; New Republic, July 10, 1965, p. 4.
18. Charles Forcey, The Crossroads of Liberalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1961), pp. 80, 81.
19. New Republic, April 4, 1970, p. 35.
20. Nathan Glazer, Remembering the Answers: Essays on the American Student Revolt (New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1970), p. 182.
21. New Republic, December 11, 1965, p. 38; New Republic, February 5, 1966, p. 15; New Republic, July 6, 1968, p. 31.
22. Ronald Berman, America in the Sixties: An Intellectual History (New York: The Free Press, 1968), p. 73.
23. New Republic, October 27, 1958, p. 17; the New York Times is quoted in Green, Winning Back America, p. 38; New Republic, May 10, 1980, p. 28.
24. New Republic, June 7, 1980, p. 16; White, America in Search, p. 137.
25. New Republic, July 19, 1980, p. 11.
26. New Republic, January 29, 1977, p. 8.
27. New Republic, January 22, 1977, p. 34; New Republic, January 22, 1977, p. 60; New Republic, February 26, 1977, p. 13; New Republic, October 22, 1977, p. 5.
28. New Republic, July 29, 1978, p. 5; New Republic, August 5, 1978, p. 5; New Republic, March 3, 1979, p. 5; New Republic, March 15, 1980, p. 5; Green, Winning Back America, p. 4.
29. New Republic, August 25, 1952, p. 8; The Nation, Vol. 175, p. 341.
30. New Republic, November 21, 1955, p. 12; New Republic, March 12, 1956, p. 2.
31. New Republic, December 15, 1962, p. 8; New Republic, December 21, 1968, p. 35.
32. The Nation, Vol. 191, p. 237; New Republic, October 31, 1960, p. 14; New Republic, September 11, 1961, p. 2; New Republic, January 8, 1962, p. 2; New Republic, September 10, 1962, p. 2.
33. New Republic, January 15, 1971, p. 13.
34. New Republic, September 9, 1978, p. 34; New Republic, September 23, 1978, p. 5; New Republic, June 7, 1980, p. 28.
35. New Republic, September 5, 1964, p. 2; New Republic, April 13, 1968, p. 5.
36. New Republic, May 29, 1965, p. 11.
37. White, America in Search, p. 13; New Republic, January 19, 1980, p. 7.
38. New Republic, April 20, 1968, pp. 20, 22.
39. New Republic, September 7, 1959, p. 19; New Republic, May 15, 1965, p. 4; New Republic, July 27, 1968, p. 5.
40. New Republic, May 10, 1980, p. 19.
41. New Republic, October 15, 1930, p. 220; New Republic, May 4, 1932, p. 324; New Republic, February 2, 1938, p. 352.
42. New Republic, July 12, 1948, p. 15; New Republic, May 19, 1959, p. 5.
43. New Republic, November 28, 1964, p. 7; New Republic, September 17, 1977, p. 5; Glazer, Remembering the Answers, pp. 222, 231, 236, 242; New Republic, September 6, 1980, p. 10.
44. White, America in Search, p. 371.
45. White, America in Search, p. 129.
46. New Republic, September 16, 1967, pp. 9, 10.
47. New Republic, September 7, 1968, p. 8; New Republic, December 14, 1968, p. 21; New Republic, February 28, 1970, p. 12.
48. New Republic, October 24, 1970, p. 26; New Republic, September 18, 1971, p. 17.
49. New Republic, November 13, 1976, p. 7; New Republic, July 25, 1981, p. 14.
50. The Nation, October 6, 1984, p. 315; The Nation, November 17, 1984, p. 501; New Republic, November 26, 1984, p. 8.
51. New Republic, November 25, 1981, pp. 29, 30.
52. New Republic, December 3, 1984, p. 6; New Republic, November 26, 1984, p. 8; New Republic, December 31, 1984, p. 9.
53. The Nation, November 17, 1984, p. 301; The Nation, January 12, 1985, p. 15; The Nation, February 9, 1985.