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Theological liberalism

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Theological liberalism, a form of religious thought that establishes religious inquiry on the basis of a norm other than the authority of tradition. It was an important influence in Protestantism from about the mid-17th century through the 1920s.

The defining trait of this liberalism is a will to be liberated from the coercion of external controls and a consequent concern with inner motivation. Although some earlier indications of the liberal temper of mind existed, it became overtly evident during the Renaissance, when curiosity about natural man and appreciation for the human spirit developed, and during the Reformation.

The modern historical period of theological liberalism began, however, with the 17th-century French philosopher and mathematician René Descartes. This first phase, called Rationalism or the Enlightenment, lasted until about the mid-18th century. In designating the thinking self as the primary substance from which the existence of other realities was to be deduced (except that of God), Descartes initiated a mode of thinking that remained in force through the 19th century and laid the ground for the presuppositions of this modern consciousness: (1) confidence in human reason, (2) primacy of the person, (3) immanence of God, and (4) meliorism (the belief that human nature is improvable and is improving). The many persons influencing religious thought in this period included the philosophers Benedict de Spinoza (Dutch), Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz and Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (both German), and John Locke and Samuel Clarke (both English), and the English writers and philosophers known as the Cambridge Platonists and the Deists.

The second stage of theological liberalism, Romanticism, lasted from the late 18th century to the end of the 19th. Marked by the discovery of the uniqueness of the individual and the consequent significance of individual experience as a distinctive source of infinite meaning, this premium upon personality and upon individual creativity exceeded every other value. The American and French revolutions provided the symbol of this spirit of independence and dramatically exemplified it in political action.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Immanuel Kant were the architects of Romantic liberalism. In theology, the German Friedrich Schleiermacher, called the father of modern Protestant theology, was outstanding. Unlike Kant, who saw in moral will the clue to man’s higher nature, Schleiermacher seized upon the feeling of absolute dependence as being simultaneously that which “signifies God for us” and that which is distinctive in the religious response. Thus, self-consciousness in this deep religious sense becomes God-consciousness. According to Schleiermacher, the Christian is brought to this deeper vein of self-consciousness through the man Jesus, in whom the God-consciousness had been perfected. The nurture of God-consciousness in relation to Jesus Christ, Schleiermacher believed, led to the creation of the church as a fellowship of believers.

The German Albrecht Ritschl dominated liberal Protestant theology after Schleiermacher, and two other German theologians, Wilhelm Herrmann and Adolf von Harnack, were Ritschl’s most prominent followers. In the United States, Horace Bushnell was the most significant liberal theologian. Another important liberal was Walter Rauschenbusch, leader of the Social Gospel movement.

The third period of theological liberalism, Modernism, from the mid-19th century through the 1920s, was marked by the discovery of the significance of historical time and an emphasis upon the notion of progress. The decisive events stimulating these interests were the Industrial Revolution and the publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859). A determined course emerged among Modernists to bring religious thought into accord with modern knowledge and to solve issues raised by modern culture. The study of Christian doctrine was transformed into the psychological study of religious experience and into the sociological study of religious institutions and customs and the philosophical inquiry into religious knowledge and values. Among important figures during this period were Thomas Huxley and Herbert Spencer in England, William James, John Dewey, Shailer Mathews, and Harry Emerson Fosdick in the United States, and Ernst Troeltsch in Germany.

After the 1920s many theologically liberal ideas were challenged by Neo-orthodoxy, a theological movement in Europe and the United States that used the traditional language of Protestant orthodoxy and advocated a return to biblical faith centred in Christ, although it accepted modern critical methods of biblical interpretation.


In the book, Losurdo characterises the dominant narrative regarding liberalism as hagiography, representing a gradual process of the expansion of liberty to all people. Rather, Losurdo investigates not only "the conceptual developments, but also and primarily the political and social relations it found expression in" which made itself known through various contradictions. [1] Not only is the process contradictory, but it is also marked by episodes where a group that is given rights can have those rights taken away. One such example is when black Americans lost many of their newfound rights as the end of the Reconstruction Era gave way to the rise of Jim Crow laws.

According to Losurdo, liberalism lent itself to the foundation of Herrenvolk democracy, where one ethnic group had rights over other disenfranchised and exploited groups. Losurdo finds the early United States, a racial state with a clear difference in the rights afforded between whites and even free blacks, to have been one such master-race democracy. [2] Additionally, influential liberal conservative Edmund Burke is credited with penning "the first organic theory of revolution as a Jewish conspiracy", an antisemitic conspiracy theory that was essential in fueling the genocidal aspects of Nazi ideology. [3]

According to Losurdo, the white supremacy that was typical of liberal thinkers of the time had a formative influence on fascism while also taking the dehumanization of those it considered inferior to extremes. For instance, Losurdo observes that the one-drop rule found in the American South was more stringent than the Nuremberg Laws (citizenship is not given if found 3⁄4 Jewish) implemented by Nazi Germany. [4]

Liberalism: A Counter-History has received a number of positive reviews from critics. Peter Clarke wrote in the Financial Times that Liberalism: A Counter-History is "a brilliant exercise in unmasking liberal pretensions, surveying over three centuries with magisterial command of the sources." [5] Essayist Pankaj Mishra wrote in The Guardian that Liberalism: A Counter-History "stimulatingly uncovers the contradictions of an ideology that is much too self-righteously invoked." [6]

Liberalism: A Counter-History was also well-received by Stefano G. Azzarà in Historical Materialism, [7] Geoff Mann in Antipode [8] and Iain McKay in Capital & Class. [9]


18th and 19th century Edit

The origins of American liberalism are in the political ideals of the Age of Enlightenment. [8] The Constitution of the United States of 1787 established the first modern republic, with sovereignty in the people (not in a monarch) and no hereditary ruling aristocracy. However, the Constitution limited liberty, in particular by accepting slavery. The Founding Fathers recognized the contradiction, but they believed they needed a nation unified enough to survive in the world. [9]

During the late 18th and 19th centuries, the United States extended liberty to ever broader classes of people. The states abolished many restrictions on voting for white males during the early 19th century. The Constitution was amended in 1865 to abolish slavery and in 1870 to extend the vote to black men. [10]

Progressive Era Edit

As the United States economy began shifting to manufacturing and services during the 19th century, liberals started to consider corruption and concentrations of economic power (called trusts at the time) as threats to liberty. [11] [12] During the Progressive Era of the early 20th century, laws were passed restricting monopolies and regulating railroad rates. [13] [14]

According to James Reichley, the term liberalism took on its current meaning in the United States during the 1920s. In the 19th century and the early 20th century, the term had usually described classical liberalism, which emphasizes limited government, religious freedom, and support for the free market. The term progressivism, meanwhile, had been used to describe individuals like Theodore Roosevelt, who favored a limited amount of government activism. During the 1920s, the term progressive became associated with politicians such as Robert M. La Follette, who called for government ownership of railroads and utilities in his 1924 third-party presidential bid. Progressivism thus gained an association with radicalism that advocates of more moderate reforms sought to avoid. The term was also unattractive to certain groups because of its longstanding association with the Republican Party and the Social Gospel movement. In the late 1920s and 1930s, political figures such as Franklin D. Roosevelt increasingly adopted the term liberal to describe an individual who favored some government activism, but was opposed to more radical reforms. [15]

20th century Edit

New Deal Edit

In the 1930s, liberalism came to describe a pragmatic ideology that called for a moderate amount of government regulation of the economy, progressive taxation, and increased exercise of federal government power in relation to the states. It also came to signify support for organized labor and a degree of hostility, or at least suspicion, of big business. Liberalism did retain some aspects of the term's usage prior to the 1930s, including support for civil liberties and secularism. These positions were contrasted with those to their political left, who favored greater changes, and with conservatives, who opposed these changes. [16]

President Franklin D. Roosevelt came to office in 1933, amid the economic calamity of the Great Depression, offering the nation a New Deal intended to alleviate economic want and unemployment, provide greater opportunities and restore prosperity. The presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933–1945), the longest in the United States history, was marked by an increased role for the federal government in addressing the nation's economic and other problems. [17] Work relief programs provided jobs, ambitious projects such as the Tennessee Valley Authority promoted economic development and a social-security system laid the groundwork for the nation's modern welfare system. The Great Depression dragged on through the 1930s despite the New Deal programs, which were met with mixed success in solving the nation's economic problems. [18] Economic progress for minorities was hindered by discrimination, about which the Roosevelt administration did less than subsequent administrations, but more than had been done before. [ opinion ] The New Deal provided direct relief for minorities in the 1930s through the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), Public Works Administration (PWA), the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and other agencies and during World War II executive orders and the Fair Employment Practices Commission opened millions of new jobs to minorities and forbade discrimination in companies with government contracts. The 1.5 million black veterans in 1945 were fully entitled to generous veteran benefits from the GI Bill on the same basis as everyone else. [19]

The New Deal consisted of three types of programs designed to produce "Relief, Recovery and Reform". [20] Relief was the immediate effort to help the one-third of the population that was hardest hit by the depression. Roosevelt expanded Herbert Hoover's Emergency Relief and Construction program (ERCA) and added the CCC, the PWA and the WPA, the latter replacing in 1935 the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA). Also in 1935, the Social Security Act and unemployment insurance programs were added. The Social Security Act provided retirement and disability income for Americans unable to work or unable to find jobs. [21] Separate programs were set up for relief in rural areas such as the Resettlement Administration and Farm Security Administration. Recovery programs sought to restore the economy to pre-depression levels. It involved deficit spending, dropping the gold standard, efforts to re-inflate farm prices that were too low and efforts to increase foreign trade. New Deal efforts to help the United States recuperate were in part through a much expanded Hoover program, the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC). [22]

Reform was based on the assumption that the depression was caused by the inherent market instability and that government intervention was necessary to rationalize and stabilize the economy and to balance the interests of farmers, business and labor. Reform measures included the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), regulation of Wall Street by the Securities Exchange Act (SEA), the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) for farm programs, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) insurance for bank deposits enacted through the Glass–Steagall Act of 1933 and the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), also known as the Wagner Act, dealing with labor-management relations. Despite some New Dealers's urgings, there was no major antitrust program. Roosevelt opposed socialism (in the sense of state ownership of the means of production) and only one major program, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), involved government ownership of the means of production. [23]

World War II Edit

Roosevelt was president through most of World War II and, anticipating the post-war period, strongly supported proposals to create a United Nations organization as a means of encouraging mutual cooperation to solve problems on the international stage. His commitment to internationalist ideals was in the tradition of Woodrow Wilson, architect of the failed League of Nations. [24] His support led to the eventual establishment of the United Nations, with the proviso that the United States would have a veto power. [25] [26]

Cold War Edit

American liberalism in the Cold War-era was the immediate heir to Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal and the slightly more distant heir to the progressives of the early 20th century. [27] Sol Stern wrote that "Cold War liberalism deserves credit for the greatest American achievement since World War II—winning the Cold War". [28]

The essential tenets of Cold War liberalism can be found in Roosevelt's Four Freedoms (1941). Of these, freedom of speech and of religion were classic liberal freedoms as was freedom from fear (freedom from tyrannical government), but freedom from want was another matter. Roosevelt proposed a notion of freedom that went beyond government non-interference in private lives. [ original research? ] Freedom from want could justify positive government action to meet economic needs, an idea more associated with the concepts of Abraham Lincoln's Republican Party, Henry Clay's Whig Party and Alexander Hamilton's economic principles of government intervention and subsidy than the more radical socialism and social democracy of European thinkers, or with prior versions of classical liberalism as represented by Thomas Jefferson's Democratic-Republican Party and Andrew Jackson's Democratic Party. [ citation needed ]

In the 1950s and 1960s, both major American political parties included liberal and conservative factions. The Democratic Party had on one hand Northern and Western liberals and on the other generally conservative Southern whites. [ original research? ] Difficult to classify were the Northern urban Democratic political machines. The urban machines had supported New Deal economic policies, but they slowly came apart over racial issues. Some historians have divided the Republican Party into liberal Wall Street and conservative Main Street factions while others have noted that the Republican Party's conservatives came from landlocked states (Robert Taft Jr. of Ohio and Barry Goldwater of Arizona) and the liberals tended to come from California (Earl Warren and Pete McCloskey), New York (Nelson Rockefeller) and other coastal states. [ citation needed ]

Opposing both Communism and conservatism, Cold War liberalism resembled earlier liberalisms in its views on many social issues and personal liberty, but its economic views were not those of free-market Jeffersonian liberalism nor those of European social democrats. They never endorsed state socialism, but they did call for spending on education, science and infrastructure, notably the expansion of NASA and the construction of the Interstate Highway System. Their progressive ideas continued the legacy of Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Most prominent and constant among the positions of Cold War liberalism included the following: [ citation needed ]

  • Support for a domestic economy built on a balance of power between labor (in the form of organized unions) and management (with a tendency to be more interested in large corporations than in small business).
  • A foreign policy focused on containing Communism based in the Soviet Union and China. Liberals opposed isolationism, détente and rollback.
  • The continuation of New Deal social welfare programs, especially Social Security).
  • An embrace of Keynesian economics with deficit spending in times of recession. They supported high spending on the military, a policy known as military Keynesianism.

At first, liberals generally did not see Franklin D. Roosevelt's successor Harry S. Truman as one of their own, viewing him as a Democratic Party hack. However, liberal politicians and liberal organizations such as the Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) sided with Truman in opposing Communism both at home and abroad, sometimes at the sacrifice of civil liberties. [29] For example, Hubert Humphrey put before the Senate in 1950 a bill to establish detention centers where those declared subversive by the President could be held without trial, but it did not pass.

Liberals were united in their opposition to McCarthyism. [30] [ vague ]

Decline of Southern liberals Edit

Southern liberals were an essential part of the New Deal coalition as without them Roosevelt lacked majorities in Congress. Typical leaders were Lyndon B. Johnson in Texas, Jim Folsom and John Sparkman in Alabama, Claude Pepper in Florida, Earl Long in Louisiana, Luther H. Hodges in North Carolina and Estes Kefauver in Tennessee. They promoted subsidies for small farmers and supported the nascent labor union movement. An essential condition for this North–South coalition was for Northern liberals to ignore Southern racism. After 1945, Northern liberals, led especially by young Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota, increasingly made civil rights a central issue. They convinced Truman to join them in 1948. The conservative Southern Democrats, best known as the Dixiecrats, took control of the state parties there and ran Strom Thurmond for president in 1948. Thurmond carried only the Deep South, but that threat was enough to guarantee the national Democratic Party in 1952 and 1956 would not make civil rights a major issue. In 1956, 101 of the 128 Southern Representatives and Senators signed the Southern Manifesto denouncing forced desegregation in 1956. [31] The labor movement in the South was divided and lost its political influence. Southern liberals were in a quandary as most of them kept quiet or moderated their liberalism whilst others switched sides and the minority remnant continued on the liberal path. One by one, the last group was defeated. According to historian Numan V. Bartley, "the very word 'liberal' gradually disappeared from the southern political lexicon, except as a term of opprobrium". [32]

Liberal consensus Edit

By 1950, the liberal ideology was so intellectually dominant that the literary critic Lionel Trilling wrote that "liberalism is not only the dominant but even the sole intellectual tradition, [. ] there are no conservative or reactionary ideas in circulation". [33]

For almost two decades, Cold War liberalism remained the dominant paradigm in American politics, peaking with the landslide victory of Lyndon B. Johnson over Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election. [ citation needed ]

The postwar liberal consensus included acceptance of a modest welfare state and anti-communism domestic and foreign policies. [34] [35] Some of its elements were shared with embedded liberalism, [36] that aimed to combine benefits of free markets with some interventionist domestic policies.

Civil rights laws Edit

Cold War liberalism emerged at a time when most African-Americans were politically and economically disenfranchised. Beginning with To Secure These Rights, an official report issued by the Truman White House in 1947, self-proclaimed liberals increasingly embraced the civil rights movement. In 1948, President Truman desegregated the armed forces and the Democrats inserted a strong civil-rights plank in the party platform even though delegates from the Deep South walked out and nominated a third-party ticket, the Dixiecrats, headed by Strom Thurmond. Truman abolished discrimination in the armed forces, leading to the integration of military units in the early 1950s. However, no civil rights legislation was passed until a weak bill in 1957. [37]

During the 1960s, relations between white liberals and the civil rights movement became increasingly strained as civil-rights leaders accused liberal politicians of temporizing and procrastinating, although they realized they needed the support of liberal Northern Democrats and Republicans for the votes to pass any legislation over Southern obstructionism. Many white liberals believed the grassroots movement for civil rights would only anger many Southern whites and make it even more difficult to pass civil rights laws through Congress. In response to that concern, civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. agreed to tone down the March on Washington in 1963. President John F. Kennedy finally endorsed the March on Washington and proposed what would become the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but he could not get it passed during his lifetime. Lyndon B. Johnson had been a New Deal Democrat in the 1930s and by the 1950s had decided that the Democratic Party had to break from its segregationist past and endorse racial liberalism as well as economic liberalism. [38] Johnson rode the enormous wave of sympathy for the assassinated predecessor. With help from conservative Republicans led by Everett Dirksen, the Southern filibuster was broken. Johnson enacted a mass of Great Society legislation, headed by the powerful Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed segregation, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which reversed state efforts to stop blacks from voting and facilitated their mobilization as millions of new liberal Democratic voters. [39] The result was an immediate end to segregation in most public places (except schools) and an end to restrictions on black voting. [40] Unexpectedly, passage was quickly followed by a wave of black riots in the inner cities which made for the "long hot summers" in every major city from 1964 through 1970. The riots alienated much of the white working-class that had been the base of the labor-union element in the civil-rights coalition. [41]

The civil-rights movement itself was becoming fractured. On March 8, 1964, Malcolm X stated he was going to organize a black-nationalist organization that would try to "heighten the political consciousness" of African-Americans. [42] By 1966, a Black Power movement had emerged. Black Power advocates accused white liberals of trying to control the civil-rights agenda. Proponents of Black Power wanted African-Americans to follow an "ethnic model" for obtaining power, not unlike that of Democratic political machines in large cities. [ citation needed ] This put them on a collision course with urban machine politicians and on its edges the Black Power movement contained racial separatists who wanted to give up on integration altogether—a program that could not be endorsed by American liberals of any race. [ citation needed ] The mere existence of such individuals (who always got more media attention than their actual numbers might have warranted) contributed to "white backlash" against liberals and civil rights activists. [43]

Clashes with the New Left on Vietnam Edit

While the civil rights movement isolated liberals from the white working class and Southern Democrats, the Vietnam War threw another wedge into the liberal ranks, dividing pro-war "hawks" such as Senator Henry M. Jackson from "doves" such as Senator and 1972 presidential candidate George McGovern. As the war became the leading political issue of the day, agreement on domestic matters was not enough to hold the liberal consensus together. [44] Vietnam was part of the strategy of containment of Soviet Communism which began in earnest in 1947 to counter the Soviet threat. In the 1960 presidential campaign, Kennedy was more "hawkish" on Southeast Asia than Richard Nixon. Although the war expanded from 16,000 Americans in Vietnam under Kennedy to 500,000 under Johnson, there was much continuity of their policies, until Nixon arrived in 1969. The deep division between liberals and the New Left, especially on foreign policy, troubled the Democratic Party for decades. [45]

A large portion of the growing opposition to the war came from younger activists, with a strong base on elite university campuses. They had become alienated from the establishment and formed the New Left. After Johnson did poorly in the 1968 primaries and decided to focus on peacemaking and not run for reelection, tensions rapidly escalated inside the Democratic Party. Assassinations struck down the two top liberals, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. Vice President Hubert Humphrey, by now a cautious moderate who meekly followed Lyndon Johnson in domestic and foreign policy, was the last man standing at the disastrously violent 1968 Democratic National Convention. Much of the party's right-wing, from the South and ethnic white districts in the North, veered off to vote for Alabama Governor George Wallace. The result was a narrow victory for Republican Richard Nixon in a three-way race. Although touted as a conservative, President Nixon, with a Democratic Congress, enacted many liberal policies, including the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency, normalizing relations with Communist China, and starting the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks to reduce the availability of ballistic missiles. [46]

Liberals vehemently disliked Nixon and he reciprocated in kind with an enemies list. Yet as president, Nixon took many policy positions that can only be described as liberal. Before Nixon was elected, the liberal wing of his own party favored politicians such as Nelson Rockefeller and William Scranton. In 1968 Nixon won the nomination by an appeal to a "silent majority" of conservatives, disgusted and frightened by soaring crime rates and widespread race riots. [47] Using executive orders, he single-handedly created the main environmental agency (the Environmental Protection Agency), something that was achieved without a vote in Congress. He expanded funding for liberal favorites like the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. [48] One of his top advisers was liberal Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who said that "Nixon mostly opted for liberal policies, merely clothing them [. ] in conservative rhetoric". [49] In addition to support for such liberal causes as the arts and the environment, he supported liberalization of laws against recreational drugs. To the astonishment of conservatives, he imposed wage and price controls to counteract inflation. Noam Chomsky, who often attacks liberalism from the left, has called Nixon "in many respects the last liberal president". [50] Historians increasingly emphasize the liberalism of his administration's policies while not attributing them to Nixon personally. [51]

The 1965–1974 period was a major liberal activist era in congress, with the Democratic-led congress during the presidency of Richard Nixon continuing to produce liberal domestic policies. They organized themselves internally to round up votes, track legislation, mobilize interests, and produce bills without direct assistance from the White House. A wide range of progressive measures were carried out, such as increases in social security (a 20% benefit increase and linkage to automatic cost-of-living increases in 1972), public welfare (with expansion of unemployment compensation, food stamps and supplemental security income additions to social security), workplace rules (with the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act in 1970), urban aid (with the addition of mass transit subsidies to highway construction enactments), environmentalism (with the passage of the National Environmental Protection Act of 1969 and the Clean Air Act of 1970), aid to education (including Title IX in 1972), civil rights (with the extension of the Voting Rights Act in 1970) [52] and nutrition (with the establishment of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children in 1972). [53]

The political dominance of the liberal consensus even into the Nixon years can best be seen in policies by, for example, the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency and also in Nixon's failed proposal to replace the welfare system with a guaranteed annual income by way of a negative income tax. Affirmative action in its most quota-oriented form was a Nixon administration policy. Even the Nixon War on Drugs allocated two-thirds of its funds for treatment, a far higher ratio than was to be the case under any subsequent President, Republican or Democrat. Additionally, Nixon's normalization of diplomatic relations with Communist China and his policy of détente with the Soviet Union were likely more popular with liberals than with his conservative base. Nixon also successfully supported a cost-of-living adjustment for Social Security recipients.

An opposing view was offered by Cass R. Sunstein in The Second Bill of Rights. [54] He argues that through his Supreme Court appointments, Nixon effectively ended a decades-long expansion under United States law of economic rights along the lines of those put forward in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948 by the United Nations General Assembly.

Since the 1970s Edit

During the Nixon years and through the 1970s, the liberal consensus began to come apart. The alliance with white Southern Democrats had been lost in the Civil Rights era. While the steady enfranchisement of African Americans expanded the electorate to include many new voters sympathetic to liberal views, it was not quite enough to make up for the loss of some Southern Democrats. Organized labor, long a bulwark of the liberal consensus, was past the peak of its power in the United States and many unions had remained in favor of the Vietnam War even as liberal politicians increasingly turned against it. Within the Democratic Party leadership, there was a turn toward moderation on racial themes after the defeat of liberal George McGovern in 1972. [55]

Meanwhile, in the Republican ranks, a new wing of the party emerged. The anti-establishment conservatives who had been aroused by Barry Goldwater in 1964 challenged the more liberal leadership in 1976 and took control of the party under Ronald Reagan in 1980. Liberal Republicans faded away even in their Northeastern strongholds. [56] Reagan successfully lowered marginal tax rates, most notably for those at the top of the income distribution while his Social Security reforms raised taxes on the middle and bottom of the income distribution, leaving their total tax burden unchanged. [57] [58]

More centrist groups, like the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), supported Bill Clinton and challenged liberals for control of the Democratic Party. [59] Clinton portrayed himself as a centrist New Democrat. Thus, he distanced himself from New Deal Democrats. With help from the Southern-dominated DLC, Clinton claimed the center of national politics. [60] Clinton worked with conservatives and against strong liberal opposition to end some of the main welfare programs and to implement NAFTA, linking the economies of the United States, Canada and Mexico. [ relevant? ] Clinton pushed to extend liberal ideals in the areas of health care (where he failed) and environmental protection (where he had more success). On the whole, he came under fierce attack from the left and from many liberals who charged that he betrayed the New Deal traditions of activist government, especially regarding welfare and his collaboration with business. [61]

On January 1, 2013, President Barack Obama succeeded in raising taxes on the rich while keeping them steady on the middle class. On January 21, 2013, Obama delivered his second inaugural address that championed numerous liberal causes. [62]

Early liberalism Edit

The United States was the first country to be founded on the liberal ideas of John Locke and other philosophers of the Enlightenment, with no monarchy and no hereditary aristocracy, and while individual states had established religions, the federal government was kept from establishing religion by the First Amendment. The United States Bill of Rights guarantees every citizen the freedoms advocated by the liberal philosophers, namely equality under the law, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to gather in peaceful assembly, the right to petition the government for redress of grievances and the right to bear arms, among other freedoms and rights. In this sense, virtually all Americans are liberals. [63]

However, both before and after the country was founded legal questions concerning the scope of these rights and freedoms arose. In the Dred Scott decision of 1856–1857, the Supreme Court ruled that these rights only applied to white men and that blacks had no rights whatsoever that any white man was obliged to respect. Several constitutional amendments after the Dred Scott decision extended the guarantees of the Bill of Rights to larger classes of citizens, to all citizens in 1868, then specifically to blacks in 1870, to women in 1919 and to people unable to afford a poll tax in 1964. [64]

Classical liberalism Edit

In the United States, classical liberalism, also called laissez-faire liberalism, [65] is the belief that a free-market economy is the most productive and government interference favors a few and hurts the many—or as Henry David Thoreau stated, "that government is best which governs least". Classical liberalism is a philosophy of individualism and self-responsibility with little concern for groups or sub-communities. Classical liberals in the United States believe that if the economy is left to the natural forces of supply and demand, free of government intervention, the result is the most abundant satisfaction of human wants. Modern classical liberals oppose the concepts of social democracy and the welfare state. [66]

Modern liberalism Edit

In 1883, Lester Frank Ward (1841–1913) published Dynamic Sociology: Or Applied Social Science, as Based Upon Statical Sociology and the Less Complex Sciences and laid out the basic tenets of modern American liberalism while at the same time attacking the laissez-faire policies advocated by Herbert Spencer and William Graham Sumner. [67] Ward was a passionate advocate for a sociology that would intelligently and scientifically direct the development of society. [68]

Another influential thinker in the Progressive Era was Herbert Croly (1869–1930). He effectively combined classical liberal theory with progressive philosophy and founded the periodical The New Republic to present his ideas. Croly presented the case for a mixed economy, increased spending on education and the creation of a society based on the "brotherhood of mankind". In 1909, Croly published The Promise of American Life in which he proposed raising the general standard of living by means of economic planning, though he opposed aggressive unionization. [69] In The Techniques of Democracy (1915), Croly argued against both dogmatic individualism and dogmatic socialism. As editor of The New Republic, he had the forum to reach the intellectual community. [70]

According to Paul Starr, sociologist at Princeton University:

Liberalism wagers that a state [. ] can be strong but constrained—strong because constrained. [. ] Rights to education and other requirements for human development and security aim to advance the opportunity and personal dignity of minorities and to promote a creative and productive society. To guarantee those rights, liberals have supported a wider social and economic role for the state, counterbalanced by more robust guarantees of civil liberties and a wider social system of checks and balances anchored in an independent press and pluralistic society.

A Liberal History

Liberalism became the dominant ideology of the West when it was adopted by Britain and the United States. But its roots lie elsewhere.

Long considered the dominant ideology of the West, liberalism is in crisis. Its principles are in retreat around the world. Populism, authoritarianism and nationalism are on the rise. The Economist recently sounded the alarm: ‘Liberalism made the modern world, but the modern world is turning against it.’ The Economist’s index categorises the United States as a ‘flawed democracy’.

It is not just that liberalism is under attack from its traditional enemies. Voters in the West have begun to doubt that the system works for them. Some say that liberal elites have become complacent. ‘Liberalism’s central problem’, says the Economist, is that it has ‘lost sight of its essential values’. Another problem, however, is rarely discussed: What does ‘liberalism’ actually stand for?

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Introducing Liberalism in International Relations Theory

Liberalism is a defining feature of modern democracy, illustrated by the prevalence of the term ‘liberal democracy’ as a way to describe countries with free and fair elections, rule of law and protected civil liberties. However, liberalism – when discussed within the realm of IR theory – has evolved into a distinct entity of its own. Liberalism contains a variety of concepts and arguments about how institutions, behaviours and economic connections contain and mitigate the violent power of states. When compared to realism, it adds more factors into our field of view – especially a consideration of citizens and international organisations. Most notably, liberalism has been the traditional foil of realism in IR theory as it offers a more optimistic world view, grounded in a different reading of history to that found in realist scholarship.

The basics of liberalism

Liberalism is based on the moral argument that ensuring the right of an individual person to life, liberty and property is the highest goal of government. Consequently, liberals emphasise the wellbeing of the individual as the fundamental building block of a just political system. A political system characterised by unchecked power, such as a monarchy or a dictatorship, cannot protect the life and liberty of its citizens. Therefore, the main concern of liberalism is to construct institutions that protect individual freedom by limiting and checking political power. While these are issues of domestic politics, the realm of IR is also important to liberals because a state’s activities abroad can have a strong influence on liberty at home. Liberals are particularly troubled by militaristic foreign policies. The primary concern is that war requires states to build up military power. This power can be used for fighting foreign states, but it can also be used to oppress its own citizens. For this reason, political systems rooted in liberalism often limit military power by such means as ensuring civilian control over the military.

Wars of territorial expansion, or imperialism – when states seek to build empires by taking territory overseas – are especially disturbing for liberals. Not only do expansionist wars strengthen the state at the expense of the people, these wars also require long-term commitments to the military occupation and political control of foreign territory and peoples. Occupation and control require large bureaucracies that have an interest in maintaining or expanding the occupation of foreign territory. For liberals, therefore, the core problem is how to develop a political system that can allow states to protect themselves from foreign threats without subverting the individual liberty of its citizenry. The primary institutional check on power in liberal states is free and fair elections via which the people can remove their rulers from power, providing a fundamental check on the behaviour of the government. A second important limitation on political power is the division of political power among different branches and levels of government – such as a parliament/congress, an executive and a legal system. This allows for checks and balances in the use of power.

Democratic peace theory is perhaps the strongest contribution liberalism makes to IR theory. It asserts that democratic states are highly unlikely to go to war with one another. There is a two-part explanation for this phenomenon. First, democratic states are characterised by internal restraints on power, as described above. Second, democracies tend to see each other as legitimate and unthreatening and therefore have a higher capacity for cooperation with each other than they do with non-democracies. Statistical analysis and historical case studies provide strong support for democratic peace theory, but several issues continue to be debated. First, democracy is a relatively recent development in human history. This means there are few cases of democracies having the opportunity to fight one another. Second, we cannot be sure whether it is truly a ‘democratic’ peace or whether some other factors correlated with democracy are the source of peace – such as power, alliances, culture, economics and so on. A third point is that while democracies are unlikely to go to war with one another, some scholarship suggests that they are likely to be aggressive toward non-democracies – such as when the United States went to war with Iraq in 2003. Despite the debate, the possibility of a democratic peace gradually replacing a world of constant war – as described by realists – is an enduring and important facet of liberalism.

We currently live in an international system structured by the liberal world order built after the Second World War (1939–1945). The international institutions, organisations and norms (expected behaviours) of this world order are built on the same foundations as domestic liberal institutions and norms the desire to restrain the violent power of states. Yet, power is more diluted and dispersed internationally than it is within states. For example, under international law, wars of aggression are prohibited. There is no international police force to enforce this law, but an aggressor knows that when breaking this law it risks considerable international backlash. For example, states – either individually or as part of a collective body like the United Nations – can impose economic sanctions or intervene militarily against the offending state. Furthermore, an aggressive state also risks missing out on the benefits of peace, such as the gains from international trade, foreign aid and diplomatic recognition.

The fullest account of the liberal world order is found in the work of Daniel Deudney and G. John Ikenberry (1999), who describe three interlocking factors:

First, international law and agreements are accompanied by international organisations to create an international system that goes significantly beyond one of just states. The archetypal example of such an organisation is the United Nations, which pools resources for common goals (such as ameliorating climate change), provides for near constant diplomacy between enemies and friends alike and gives all member states a voice in the international community.

Second, the spread of free trade and capitalism through the efforts of powerful liberal states and international organisations like the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank creates an open, market-based, international economic system. This situation is mutually beneficial as a high level of trade between states decreases conflict and makes war less likely, since war would disrupt or cancel the benefits (profits) of trade. States with extensive trade ties are therefore strongly incentivised to maintain peaceful relations. By this calculation, war is not profitable, but detrimental to the state.

The third element of the liberal international order is international norms. Liberal norms favour international cooperation, human rights, democracy and rule of law. When a state takes actions contrary to these norms, they are subject to various types of costs. However, international norms are often contested because of the wide variation in values around the globe. Nevertheless, there are costs for violating liberal norms. The costs can be direct and immediate. For example, the European Union placed an arms sale embargo on China following its violent suppression of pro-democracy protesters in 1989. The embargo continues to this day. The costs can also be less direct, but equally as significant. For example, favourable views of the United States decreased significantly around the world following the 2003 invasion of Iraq because the invasion was undertaken unilaterally (outside established United Nations rules) in a move that was widely deemed illegitimate.

Most liberal scholarship today focuses on how international organisations foster cooperation by helping states overcome the incentive to escape from international agreements. This type of scholarship is commonly referred to as ‘neoliberal institutionalism’ – often shortened to just ‘neoliberalism’. This often causes confusion as neoliberalism is also a term used outside IR theory to describe a widespread economic ideology of deregulation, privatisation, low taxes, austerity (public spending cuts) and free trade. The essence of neoliberalism, when applied within IR, is that states can benefit significantly from cooperation if they trust one another to live up to their agreements. In situations where a state can gain from cheating and escape punishment, defection is likely. However, when a third party (such as an impartial international organisation) is able to monitor the behaviour of signatories to an agreement and provide information to both sides, the incentive to defect decreases and both sides can commit to cooperate. In these cases, all signatories to the agreement can benefit from absolute gains. Absolute gains refer to a general increase in welfare for all parties concerned – everyone benefits to some degree, though not necessarily equally. Liberal theorists argue that states care more about absolute gains than relative gains. Relative gains, which relate closely to realist accounts, describe a situation where a state measures its increase in welfare relative to other states and may shy away from any agreements that make a competitor stronger. By focusing on the more optimistic viewpoint of absolute gains and providing evidence of its existence via international organisations, liberals see a world where states will likely cooperate in any agreement where any increase in prosperity is probable.

Liberal theory and American imperialism

One of the more interesting illustrations of liberalism comes from the foreign policy of the United States during the early twentieth century. During this period, the United States was liberal, but according to the dominant historical narrative, also imperialistic (see Meiser 2015). So, there appears to be a contradiction. If we take a closer look we see that the United States was more restrained than commonly believed, particularly relative to other great powers of that era. One simple measure is the level of colonial territory it accrued compared to other great powers. By 1913, the United States claimed 310,000 square kilometres of colonial territory, compared to 2,360,000 for Belgium, 2,940,000 for Germany and 32,860,000 for the United Kingdom (Bairoch 1993, 83). In fact, the bulk of American colonial holdings was due to the annexation of the Philippines and Puerto Rico, which it inherited after defeating Spain in the Spanish-American War of 1898. The United States exhibited such restraint because, as suggested by liberal theory, its political structure limited expansionism. Examining US–Mexico relations during the early twentieth century helps illustrate the causes of this American restraint.

In the spring of 1914, the United States invaded the Mexican city of Veracruz because of a dispute over the detention of several American sailors in Mexico. However, US–Mexican relations were already troubled because of President Woodrow Wilson’s liberal belief that it was the duty of the United States to bring democracy to Mexico, which was a dictatorship. The initial objectives of the American war plan were to occupy Veracruz and neighbouring Tampico and then blockade the east coast of Mexico until American honour was vindicated – or a regime change occurred in Mexico. After American forces landed in Veracruz, senior military leaders and Wilson’s top diplomatic advisor in Mexico advocated an escalation of the political objectives to include occupation of Mexico City – there were also vocal proponents who advocated the full occupation of Mexico. Wilson did not actually follow any of the advice he received. Instead, he reduced his war aims, halted his forces at Veracruz and withdrew US forces within a few months. Wilson exercised restraint because of American public opposition, his own personal values, unified Mexican hostility and the military losses incurred in the fighting. International opinion also appears to have influenced Wilson’s thinking as anti-Americanism began to sweep through Latin America. As Arthur Link points out, ‘Altogether, it was an unhappy time for a President and a people who claimed the moral leadership of the world’ (Link 1956, 405).

By 1919, a pro-interventionist coalition developed in the United States built on frustration with President Wilson’s prior restraint and new fears over the Mexican Constitution of 1917, which gave the Mexican people ownership of all subsoil resources. This potentially endangered foreign ownership of mines and oilfields in Mexico. Interventionists wanted to turn Mexico into an American protectorate – or at least seize the Mexican oil fields. This coalition moved the country toward intervention while Wilson was distracted by peace negotiations in Europe and then bedridden by a stroke. The path to intervention was blocked only after Wilson recovered sufficiently to regain command of the policy agenda and sever the ties between the interventionists. Wilson had two main reasons for avoiding the more belligerent policy path. First, he saw the Houses of Congress (with the support of some members of the executive branch) attempting to determine the foreign policy of the United States, which Wilson viewed as uncon- stitutional. In the American system, the president has the authority to conduct foreign policy. His assertion of authority over foreign policy with Mexico was therefore a clear attempt to check the power of Congress in policymaking. Second, Wilson was determined to maintain a policy consistent with the norm of anti-imperialism, but also the norm of self-determination – the process by which a country determines its own statehood and chooses its own form of government. Both of these norms remain bedrocks of liberal theory today.

US relations with Mexico in this case show how institutional and normative domestic structures restrained the use of violent power. These institutional restraints can break down if the political culture of a society does not include a strong dose of liberal norms. For example, anti-statism (a belief that the power of the government should be limited) and anti-imperialism (a belief that conquest of foreign peoples is wrong) are liberal norms. A society infused by liberal norms has an added level of restraint above and beyond the purely institutional limitations on state power. A liberal citizenry will naturally oppose government actions that threaten individual liberty and choose represen- tatives that will act on liberal preferences. The institutional separation of powers in the United States allowed Wilson to block the interventionist efforts of Congress and others. The liberal norm of anti-imperialism restrained American expansion through the mechanisms of public opinion and the personal values of the president of the United States. Institutions and norms worked symbiotically. International opinion put additional pressure on American political leaders due to increasing trade opportunities with Latin American countries throughout the early 1900s. Precisely as liberal theory details, the absolute gains and opportunities offered by trade, together with preferences for self-determination and non-interference, acted as a restraint on US expansionism toward Mexico in this most imperial of periods in world history.

A core argument of liberalism is that concentrations of unaccountable violent power are the fundamental threat to individual liberty and must be restrained. The primary means of restraining power are institutions and norms at both domestic and international level. At the international level institutions and organisations limit the power of states by fostering cooperation and providing a means for imposing costs on states that violate international agreements. Economic institutions are particularly effective at fostering cooperation because of the substantial benefits that can be derived from economic interdependence. Finally, liberal norms add a further limitation on the use of power by shaping our understanding of what types of behaviour are appropriate. Today, it is clear that liberalism is not a ‘utopian’ theory describing a dream world of peace and happiness as it was once accused of being. It provides a consistent rejoinder to realism, firmly rooted in evidence and a deep theoretical tradition.

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Liberalism is a term that is much used and little understood. It is used in the political, religious, social, and intellectual arenas, often without definition. In a practical sense many individuals of a conservative bent would identify a Liberal as anyone more open-minded than they are. In fact, religious Liberalism involved a commitment to a central set of theological and religious propositions. These propositions, when worked out gave birth, in fact, to a new religion which retained orthodox terminology but radically redefined those terms to give them new meaning. For example, nineteenth century Scottish Old Testament scholar and theologian, W. Robertson Smith when told that he had been accused of denying the divinity of Christ, Smith responded by asking, “How can they accuse me of that? I’ve never denied the divinity of any man, let alone Jesus.”

Liberalism as a theological system did not arise in a vacuum, nor was its aim to destroy historic Christianity. Liberalism can only be understood in the historical and philosophical context out of which it arose. In a very real sense Liberalism as a system was trying to salvage something of Christianity from the ashes of the fire of the Enlightenment . B.B. Warfield observed of Liberalism near the turn of the century that it was Rationalism. But a Rationalism that was not the direct result of unbelief. Rather, it sprang from men who would hold to their Christian convictions in the face of a rising onslaught of unbelief which they perceive they were powerless to withstand. It was a movement arising from within the church and characterized by an effort to retain the essence of Christianity by surrendering the accretions and features that were no longer considered defensible in the modern world. 1 The rising tide of unbelief that confronted the founders of Liberalism was the Enlightenment .

The Roots of Liberalism

The Effects of the Enlightenment: (The Age of Reason The Aufklrung)

The Enlightenment was an intellectual movement during the eighteenth century which elevated human reason to near divine status and ascribed to it the ability to discern truth of all types without appeal to supernatural divine revelation. The movement has been termed as The Modern Paganism 2

The Enlightenment gave birth to much that we still see today as part of the modern mind. These features include:

1. The beginning of scientific history

2. Any truth must justify itself before the bar of reason

3. Nature is the primary source of answers to the fundamental questions of human existence

4. Freedom is necessary to advance progress and human welfare

5. Literary and historical criticism are necessary to determine the legitimacy of our historical legacy

6. The need for critical philosophy

7. Ethics as separate and independent from the authority of religion and theology.

8. A suspicion of and hostility to all truth claiming to be grounded in some kind of authority other than reason, e.g. tradition or divine revelation

9. Raising to the value of science as the avenue by which man can find truth.

10. Toleration as the highest value in matters of religion

11. A self-conscious continuation and expansion of the humanism first developed during the Renaissance 3

Philosophically during the Enlightenment man saw it as possible for him to reason his way to God. In a real sense this was the modern tower of Babel with all the hubris that implies.

During this age there arose a group of scholars who have come to be known as the Neologians (or Innovators). It was they who pioneered the work in biblical criticism, attacking the doctrine of biblical inspiration as it had been precisely articulated during the late Reformation period. The Neologians specifically assaulted traditional Protestant doctrines generally and Lutheran doctrines specifically. They attacked the supernaturalism of historic Christianity in general and such doctrines as the trinity, the deity of Christ, the atonement, the virgin birth, the resurrection, Chalcedonian Christology and the existence of Satan.

On another front this age saw the rise of Deism, which asserted while that God was indeed the creator, He had created a clockwork image universe which operated by natural law. God himself would not interfere with his creation, hence miracles became impossible because they would violate the inviolable laws of nature. Works appeared such as Christianity as Old as Time , arguing that Christianity merely republished the revelation of God which was available to man in nature. God himself was transcendent , separated, above and uninvolved in creation.

Immanuel Kant

Immanuel Kant marks the watershed between the Enlightenment and the Romantic period which followed. In a very real sense Kant is the last of the Enlightenment philosophers. But as an enlightenment philosopher his Critique of Pure Reason destroyed the hubris of the Enlightenment program of seeking all knowledge through the use of reason. Kant so revolutionized the way modern humanity thinks that philosophers still refer to “Kant’s Copernican Revolution.” As Copernicus changed the way scientists thought about the solar system, Kant revolutionized the way that modern man understands reality. Before Kant, philosophical epistemology had generally been divided into two camps, the idealists who saw ultimate reality in the mind (ratioalists) and the empiricists who said ultimate reality in the physical universe. Enlightenment philosophers debated the status of human knowledge empiricists arguing on the one hand that all knowledge came into the brain from the outside, with rationalists contending that knowledge arose out of the mind itself.

Kant asserted that neither side of the debate was right. Instead human knowledge arose from the interplay of incoming sensory data (absorbed through the five senses) and innate categories built into the human mind which processed that data and in turn made it “knowledge.” He further held that reality was to be divided into two realms, the phenomenal (the created order in which we live and which is open for us to experience) and the noumnenal (spiritual, metaphysical reality). According to Kant’s theory of knowledge the human mind is divided into categories. These included Quantity (unity, plurality, totality) , Quality (Reality, limitation, negation) , Relation (Inherence and subsistence, causality and dependence, community) , Modality (possibility-impossibility, existence-non-existence, necessity-contingency). These are the only categories possessed by the mind and thus the only categories by which to interpret data. Significantly, in Kant’s system there were no categories by which to receive data from the spiritual (noumenal) world. In this way, humanity is like the blind man. He has no organ to receive the light which surrounds him. He believes that light exists and things are there to be seen, but he has no faculty by which to perceive it. Since he is blind to noumenal reality of all types, man cannot know “the thing in itself.” All that can be known is things as they are experienced.

The Enlightenment Philosophers attempt to know God as he is in himself by reasoning up to Him. was, according to Kant, a vain attempt doomed from the outset. God inhabited the noumenal realm and thus could not be experienced by man. Kant did not entertain the possibility that God could break into the realm of history (the phenomenal realm) and reveal himself.

But Kant was not an atheist. He postulated the existence of God, but denied the possibility of any cognitive knowledge of him. It was man’s conscience that testified of God’s existence, and He was to be known through the realm of morality. Kant published another work Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone which set forth his conception that religion was to be reduced to the sphere of morality. For Kant this meant living by the categorical imperative -which he summarized in two maxims:

“Act only on that maxim whereby thou canst at the same time will that it should become a universal law.”

“Act as if the maxim of thy action were to become by thy will a universal law of nature.”

In other words, every action of humanity should be regulated in such a way that it would be morally profitable for humanity if were elevated to the status of law. In one sense this can be seen as a secularization of the Golden Rule.

Kant as a philosopher made no claims to being a Christian. Throughout his adult life was never known to utter the name of Jesus Christ, nor would he enter a Christian Church. When called upon to attend academic functions at the chapel of the University of Koenigsberg where he taught, he would march in his academic robes to the door of the chapel, then slip out of line and go home rather than enter the church.

Hegel: the philosopher of the nineteenth century

G.F.W. Hegel, a contemporary of Schleiermacher gave the dominant shape to idealistic philosophy during the nineteenth century. A philosopher of history and religion Hegel proposed that all of reality is the outworking of Spirit/Mind (Geist) . History is the objectification of Spirit, i.e . Spirit/Mind is working itself out in the historical process and as such history carries its own meaning. From this it follows that there is a continual upward progress in history. History is undergoing a continual cultural and rational (although not biological) evolution, being pushed and pulled forcing culture upward toward its final form by means of the dialectic . Hegel saw historical evolution in terms of a pendulum swing between opposites (thesis-antithesis) which resolved themselves (synthesis) in a position that was higher than either of the opposites. The synthesis then became a new thesis in the upward pull of the historical process.

Whereas philosophy had traditionally been occupied with the concept of BEING Hegel substituted the process of BECOMING. Because all of history was seen as the process of the objectification of Spirit , and human beings were a part of the historical process, all human knowledge was said to be Absolute Spirit thinking through human minds.

An example of how Hegel saw this dialectic working itself out can be seen in his philosophy of history. The original thesis was the Despotism of the ancient period. The antithesis to Despotism was seen as the democracy of ancient Greece. The higher synthesis of these opposing forces was understood as Aristocracy. Aristocracy in turn became the new thesis which was opposed by Monarchy.

Hegel cast his long shadow over the entire 19th century giving it an optimistic cast which dogmatically asserted the progress in history and the perfectibility of humanity. Barth comments , “. . .it was precisely when it (the nineteenth century) was utterly ruled and completely ruled by Hegel that the new age best understood itself, and it was then at all events that it best knew what it wanted.” 4 According to Barth, Hegel held sway until the catastrophe of 1914, World War I. His philosophy of history gave the structure adopted by the emerging schools of biblical criticism, as well as the mental cast to the entire century.

Hegel’s philosophy is the philosophy of self-confidence. 5 The optimistic slogan that characterized the late nineteenth century Liberalism, “Every day in every way we are getting better and better,” reflects that optimism.

Schleiermacher: Father of Liberal Theology


Friederich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher, the Father of Modern (Liberal) Theology and arguably the greatest theologian to live between the time of Calvin and Barth, was born into the intellectual ferment of the enlightenment and Kant’s criticism of its program. The son of a Reformed chaplain in the Prussian army, Shleiermacher was educated in the Pietism of the Moravians. From their fervent piety with its emphasis on the life in community and commitment to traditional Lutheran doctrine he received his early religious experiences. While studying with the Moravians he first read the Neologians ’ critique of historic Protestant orthodoxy. He was so impressed by their arguments that he left the Moravians and enrolled at Halle, a center of Neologian teaching. The young Friederich accepted the Neologians’ criticism of Lutheran orthodoxy, but rejected their rationalistic and moralistic substitute. About this time Schleiermacher was drawn into the Romantic movement which arose in reaction to the sterile critical and analytical rationalism of the eighteenth century. Romanticism stressed the intuitive and synthetic nature of human reason insisting that truth was to be gained by grasping the whole rather than by an abstract analysis of the parts.

Schleiermacher’s theological program proceeded under three premises (1) The validity of the Enlightenment criticism of dogmatic Protestant Orthodoxy, (2) Romantic Idealistic philosophy gives a better soil in which to ground the Christian faith than the shallow moralistic rationalism of the Enlightenment, (3) Christian theology can be interpreted in terms of romantic idealism and thus allow mankind to be both Christian and modern while being intellectually honest.

In viewing the Neologians’ critique of orthodoxy as correct and in light of Kant’s perceived destruction of the possibility of a rational knowledge of God, Schleiermacher influenced by Romanticism, found a new seat for religion and theology, one that could not be touched by enlightenment criticism--the Gefuhl (the feeling). This feeling is not to be understood as mere emotion. It is the deep inner sense of man that he exists in a relationship of absolute dependence upon God. It is his “god-consciousness” This is the center of religion and piety.

3. The piety which forms the basis of all ecclesiastical communions is, considered purely in itself, neither a knowing or a Doing, but a modification of feeling, or of immediate self-consciousness

4. The common element in all howsoever diverse expressions of piety, by which these are conjointly distinguished from all other feelings, or, in other words, the self-identical essence of piety, is this: the consciousness of being absolutely dependent, or, which is the same thing, of being in relation with God.

In taking this route, Schleiermacher turned the traditional theological method on its head. Rather than starting with any objective revelation, religion was seen at its core as subjective. Experience was seen as giving rise to doctrine rather than doctrine to experience. Theological statements no longer were perceived as describing objective reality, but rather as reflecting the way that the feeling of absolute dependence is related to God. It is this experience which is seen as the final authority in religion rather than the objective revelation of an inerrant Scripture. He says “Christian doctrines are accounts of the Christian religious affections set forth in speech..”

Despite having the potential for God-consciousness, humans are by their nature in a state of “god-forgetfulness” from which they are unable to save themselves. Redemption is found through the experience of Christ through the corporate life of the church. Redemption is "mystical, “centered in the personal communion of the believer with the fully god-conscious man Jesus Christ.

For Scheleiermacher, Jesus Christ was unique. Not that he was the God-man of historic orthodoxy, but rather in that he demonstrated in his life a perfect and uninterrupted God-consciousness,. He displayed the “veritable existence of God in him.” This was the redemption which Jesus accomplished. and brought to mankind. In this understanding the cross is not in a sacrificial atonement, but rather it is an example of Jesus’ willingness to enter into ‘sympathy with misery.’ Redemption was then the inner transformation of the individual from the state of God-forgetfulness to the state of God-consciousness. To put it another way, redemption is that state in which god-consciousness predominates over all else in life. Thus his theology was utterly Christocentric in that it was concerned with the example of Jesus as the perfectly god-conscious one.

Ritschl: Theological Agnosticism

The second major stream in classic Liberalism (which synonomous with Liberalism in its later form) was established by Albrect Ritschl. Whereas Schleiermacher was mystic, seeing the center of religion in the feeling, Ritschl was more closely tied to Kant and saw religion in terms of morality and personal effort in establishing the Kingdom of God (a moral ethical Kingdom). According to Ritschl,

Christianity is the monotheistic, completely spiritual and ethical religion., which, on the basis of the life of its Founder as redeeming and establishing the kingdom of God, consists in the freedom of the children of God, includes the impulse to conduct form the motive of live, the intention of which is the moral organization of mankind, and the filial relation to God as well as in the kingdom of God lays the foundation of blessedness. (Justification and Reconciliation , III., ET 1900, 13)

Religious truth in the Ritschlian conception became different in kind from all other knowledge it involved moral-ethical judgments which were subjectively determined by the individual. The system surrendered rational knowledge of God and things divine. In its place it substituted, as the essence of Christianity, a subjectively verified personal theism, a devotion to the Man Jesus Christ as the revealer of God and His kingdom, and a subjection to His moral-ethical principles.

Employing the epistemology of Kant (as modified by Lotze) as a foundation, Ritschlianism sought to separate religion and theology from philosophy and metaphysics, founding religion strictly upon phenomenological experience. Kant had asserted that the only knowledge available to mankind was that of experience, the phenomenological. With this proposition the Ritschlians agreed. "Theology without metaphysics" became the watchword of the entire school. 6 Following in the Kantian tradition, the Ritschlians asserted that human knowledge was strictly limited to the world of the phenomena, a world which included the realm of verifiable history and the realm of personal experience. Knowledge of God as He was in Himself, His essence and attributes fell outside the possibility of human experience, so , no positive assertions concerning His nature could be made . This was how Ritschlianism represented a "theological agnosticism." 7 Ritschl himself asserted (with Kant) that man could not know things "in themselves" but only on their phenomenological relations. 8 Since man had no categories by which to perceive God in the world, knowledge of Him fell outside the realm of the "theoretic" (scientific/empirical). Since Ritschlianism was strictly empirical, the value of historical study was elevated as a means by which one could discover God's revelation in history: the person of Jesus Christ. 9

Revelation of God and certainty in religion for the Ritschlians took place when one was confronted with the historic person of Jesus Christ 10 . The truth communicated in this revelation was not "theoretic" (scientific) but "religious." Such a distinction divorced faith from reason. According to the Ritschlians the two realms had to be kept entirely separate. 11 Religious truth was no longer to be found in objective, verifiable propositions but in the realm of the subjective experience, in " value judgments ". These " value judgments " were of a different nature than scientific knowledge. They gave no definite objective propositional knowledge, rather they set forth their subjective value for the individual. 12 For example, the existence of God could not be rationally demonstrated. But since man needed Him, that was proof that He existed. 13 However, nothing could be inferred concerning His nature, attributes, or His relationship to the world. 14 The God of the Christian might be Jesus Christ, " . . or he may believe in one or another kind of God. His God may not be Christian at all. It may be Jewish, as Jesus' God was. It may be neo-Platonic. It may be Stoic or Hindu. It may be Deistic." 15 One could not communicate objective truth about God from his revelation in Jesus Christ the most one could say was that in Jesus Christ one received the impression that God was present and active before him. 16 Thus, religious knowledge (in the objective sense) became the common shared experience of God . 17

The whole enterprise was one of religious positivism. It began with the data of experience, the experience which the individual had with the historic Christ. That experience included the freedom and deliverance He imparted to the individual by virtue of His life and teachings. This deliverance could not be denied since it was within the realm of the individual's experience. But the enterprise also ended there. Although it professed to meet Christ in the pages of Scripture, it denied any knowledge of His preexistence, His atoning death, or second coming. Although Jesus was afforded the title "Son of God" and had divinity ascribed to Him, these were but titles of honor, communicating no ontological reality. Such knowledge was beyond the realm of experience. 18

Ritschl believes Christ to be God because in Him he is conscious of a power lifting him above himself, into a new world of peace and strength. Why this should be he cannot tell, nor can he give an answer to the man who asks him for an explanation of the fact of his experience. Enough that he point to Christ as the one through whom he has received deliverance, leaving it to the other to make the test, try the experiment for himself. 19

Since knowledge in the system was limited to phenomena, Ritschlianism was adamantly anti-mystic. It denied the soul any direct access to God . 20 From the perspective of Ritschlianism the aim of mysticism was,

. . . ontologically unsound in that it involves getting back of phenomena to the noumenal. That one may assume a noumenon back of phenomena is of course true but that one can hold valid communion with it--that one can press back beyond phenomena and come into direct touch with it is a delusion. 21

God was seen as personal yet unknowable in any real sense. Knowledge of God was mediated through the person of Jesus Christ as He appeared in history. 22 Looking back of Christ to God was a vain proposition. Communion with Him involved, not mystic rapture, but moral effort on behalf of His kingdom.

To commune with God is to enter into his purpose as revealed in Christ--to make them our own and to fulfill them increasingly and to gain the inspiration and the power which come from knowing that they are God's will. . . . Genuine communion with God to the Christian is the conscious and glad fulfilling of God's purposes. 23

Comparative Religions/History of Religions School


Another development which took place within the context of Liberalism was the birth of the study of comparative religions. Two factors underlie this new discipline which proved to be another threat to the distinctiveness of Christianity. The first was Romanticism. Romantic philosophy led to a curiosity about and appreciation for other peoples’ religions as authentic ways of expressing the human experience. The second factor was the increase of knowledge which came as a result of the colonization of the world by the Western European powers. Vast amounts of new knowledge about the world and competing cultures and their native religions became available. The burgeoning science of archaeology opened the past and now allowed for the Bible to be studied against its cultural milieu in a way that had not heretofore been possible.

These two factors combined to form a new area of scientific study, comparative religions. All religions were seen in their most basic form to lead to one truth (God) and to promote a common ethic of love for one’s neighbor. In Germany, comparative religions took the form of the History of Religions school which studied the religions of the nations surrounding Israel and concluded that Israelite religion had taken elements of the surrounding pagan beliefs and placed these within a structure of monotheism. For example, Israel’s tradition of creation and the flood were said to have been borrowed from the Babylonian Genesis and the epic of Gilgamesh.

The History of Religions school was hostile to Ritschlianism for Ritschl’s lack of sensitivity to the historical background of both Christianity and Judaism. It held that Biblical faith in both its Old and New Testament expressions was not distinct and a result of supernatural revelation, but represented humanity’s evolving conceptions about God and religion.

Adolf von Harnack

Harnack represents the apex of Liberal theology. He was the greatest historian of Christianity of the generation and his work has set a standard for scholarship for the succeeding century. His History of Dogma has been the definitive work on the subject since its publication. Harnack operated totally within the framework of Liberalism, seeing the pristine purity of the gospel as having been corrupted even within the New Testament era, transforming Christianity from the religion of Jesus to the religion about Jesus. Further corruption took place in the succeeding centuries as Christianity moved out of its Jewish background and confronted the Hellenistic world. Controversies over the trinity and the two natures of the incarnate Christ hopelessly confused the Gospel message in Hellenistic philosophy. He argued that the task of the theologian was to get back to the kernel of the gospel by stripping away the husks of Hellenism to find what was real and permanent.

Specifically, the Gospel was seen as having nothing to do with the Person of the Son. It dealt with the Father only. 24 In this understanding, Jesus' preaching demanded "no other belief in his person and no other attachments to it than is contained in the keeping of his commandments." 25 Any doctrine of the Person of Christ was totally foreign to His ideas. Such doctrine lay not in the teachings of Christ Himself, but in the modifications introduced by His followers, especially Paul.

Harnack held that it was through the work of Paul that the man Jesus Christ was first seen to have more than human stature. It was he who was seen to have introduced modifications to Christianity by which the simple gospel of Jesus was ultimately replaced by adherence to doctrines relating to the Person of Christ. Moreover, Paul was seen as having been the one who first invested the death and resurrection of Christ with redemptive significance.

If redemption is to be traced to Christ's person and work, everything would seem to depend on a right understanding of this person together with what he accomplished. The formation of a correct theory of and about Christ threatens to assume the position of chief importance, and to pervert the majesty and simplicity of the Gospel . 26

In his brief but important work, What is Christianity? , Harnack distilled the essence of Christianity as, The Fatherhood of God, The Brotherhood of Man and the infinite value of the human soul. The kingdom he contended was an internal affair of the heart.

Social Gospel

The Social Gospel was the Liberal Protestant attempt to apply biblical principles to the problems associated with emerging urbanization . Key is that it saw the Kingdom as a social/political entity

Late nineteenth century America underwent profound sociological upheaval. The industrial revolution had thrust the problems of urban society upon a nation that had heretofore been primarily rural. As the problems of dynamic sociological revolution manifested themselves in the slums and work houses, the individualistic gospel of revivalism had little to say to the problems that faced the urban dwellers every day. Walter Rauschenbusch spent eleven years in the “Hell’s Kitchen” area of New York city ministering among the German speaking immigrants. Here he saw poverty, injustice and oppression. This led him to rethink the implications of the gospel and articulate A Theology of the Social Gospel. His premise was that

The social gospel is the old message of salvation, but enlarged and intensified. The individualistic gospel has taught us to see the sinfulness of every human heart and has inspired us with faith in the willingness and power of God tot save every soul that comes to him, But it has not given us an adequate understanding of the sinfulness of the social order and its share in the sins of all individuals within it. It has not evoked faith in the will and power of God to redeem the permanent institutions of human society from their inherited guilt of oppression and extortion. Both our sense of sin and out faith in salvation have fallen short of the realities under its teaching. The social gospel seeks to bring men under repentance for their collective sins and to create a more sensitive and more modern conscience. It calls for the faith of the old prophets who believed in the salvation of nations. 27

While Rauschenbusch was relatively conservative in his theological outlook, those who took up his mantle saw the message the gospel and the task of the church as working to end human suffering and establish social justice.

Major Theological Propositions of Liberalism

God is the loving immanent Father in constant communion with his creation and working within it rather than upon it to bring it to the perfection for which it is destined. God is the loving father who corrects his children but is not retributive in His punishment. “. . . The idea of an immanent God, which is the God of evolution, is infinitely grander than the occasional wonder-worker who is the God of an old theology.” 28 Such a position breached the traditional barrier between the natural and the supernatural. “Miracle is only the religious name for an event. Every event, even the most natural and common, is a miracle if it lends itself to a controlingly religious interpretation. To me all is miracle” 29

No longer was man seen as radically sinful and in need of redemption. Rather he is in some sense in communion with God.. There was no infinite qualitative distinction between God and man. God was even to be known in measure and by analogy through study of the human personality. Emphasis was placed upon human freedom and ability to do all that God required, and eternity was interpreted as immortality of the spirit rather than the resurrection of the body.


Liberal Protestantism rediscovered the humanity of Christ, a truth that had been in practice ignored in previous generations. But, Liberalism went beyond a rediscovery of Christ’s humanity to a denial of his ontological deity. Instead of the incarnate God-man, Jesus Christ became the perfect man who has attained divine status because of his perfect piety (god-consciousness). Jesus is the supreme example of God indwelling man. There is no qualitative distinction between Jesus and the rest of humanity. The distinction is quantitative He is more full of God that other humans.

Religious authority:

Whereas previous generations had seen the Bible as the ultimate practical authority for the Christian, Liberalism made authority wholly subjective based on individual spiritual experience. Ultimate authority was not to be found in any external source, Bible, Church, or tradition, but on the individual’s reason, conscience and intuition. The Bible became the record of man’s evolving religious conceptions. The New Testament was normative only in the teachings of Jesus. The rest of the New Testament falls victim to changing the focus of the gospel from the religion of Jesus to a religion about Jesus.


Man is confronted with salvation in the person of Jesus. By following his teachings and the example of his life one enters into communion with him.

The Kingdom:

This is a moral kingdom with God ruling in the hearts of humans. The kingdom is also manifested in society by the establishment of justice and righteousness in the political sphere. It will be finally established as God works through man in the historical process.

The guiding principles of were distilled by Harnack in his What is Christianity? These were:

1. Universal Fatherhood of God

2. Universal Brotherhood of Man

3. Infinite value of the individual human soul

Additionally, Jesus Christ served as the Supreme example, the man who was perfectly God-conscious at all times, in whom God was perfectly immanent. HE lived his life by a "higher righteousness" governed by the law of love, independent of religious worship & technical observance. He lived out in his life the perfect example of which we may all become.


The term modernism was first used of a movement within Roman Catholicism and pointed to a mentality that was similar to Liberal Protestantism. However, in the United States the term came to be applied to the radical edge of liberal theology (beginning c.1910) . Whereas earlier liberalism was a kind of pathetic salvage movement trying to save the essence of Christianity from the ashes of the Enlightenment, Modernism posed a direct challenge to evangelical Protestantism and fostered a full scale response in the form of Fundamentalism. In the early decades of the twentieth century, the American religious scene was wracked with the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy. Progressively effected were Congregationalism, Episcopalianism Northern Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist bodies so that by about 1930 many of these bodies were seen to have been “taken over.” This pitted those defenders of historic Christianity against the rising tide of a new “theology” that rejected the normative status of the Bible and even of Jesus Christ . In this Modernism signaled a step beyond Liberalism.

As a movement Modernism embraced the Enlightenment, an optimistic view of history based on the radical immanentism of God which saw the Holy Spirit as operative within both nature and culture perfecting them. This concept marked a direct dependence on Hegel’s philosophy history. The division between secular culture and the sacred were seen as invalid because the Holy Spirit was seen as operative in both realms making “the kingdoms of this world become the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Modernism emphasized autonomous human reason focusing on humanity’s freedom and self determination and it gave a religious authorization to modern efforts of man to improve his lot by relying on his own inherent goodness. The radical power of sin and evil were minimized to the level of inconvenience. Truth was seen in the latest findings of science rather than in any supernatural revelation or in any historic person. In this Modernism represented a step beyond Liberalism.

In the U.S. Modernism as a movement found its impetus from Shailer Matthews and the Chicago School (University of Chicago). Matthews used a sociohistorical approach to religion arguing that religion is functional in that it helps people to make sense of the environment in which they find themselves and that theology is “transcendantlaized politics” arising out of the church’s interaction with its particular culture. This meant that Christianity had to be “modernized” in every age in order to remain a live option for each new generation.. As a movement Modernism went into decline in the 1930s under the attacks of Neo-Orthodoxy but key ideas found revival during the radicalism of the 1960s.


Immanentism: loss of personality of God: radical immanentanism that became panentheism denied miracles

Christianity had historically asserted the doctrine of God’s omnipresence, i.e. that he was present everywhere in the created order while remaining separate form it. The new stress on divine immanence in the world did not represent a return to the classical doctrine of omnipresence. Omnipresence as it had been traditionally understood emphasized the distinction between God and the world, whereas immanence implied an "intimate relationship, that the universe and God are in some sense truly one." 30 Thus, a thoroughgoing doctrine of immanence led to a denial of the supernatural as traditionally understood. There were not two realms, a natural and a supernatural, but one. Nor were there miracles in the sense of God breaking into the natural order for God was not perceived as being “out there” to break in rather, all was miraculous for God was in all.

Lack of a doctrine of sin:

Coupled with this loss of divine transcendence there was an accompanying elevation of the position of man. No longer was he viewed as depraved and separated from God. Rather there was a blending of the distinction between God and man, a blending which emphasized not human sinfulness but human perfectibility. It was a view of man which Machen called "essentially pagan ." 31

The catch phrase of liberalism: “Every day in Every way we are getting better and better.” gives clear evidence that the doctrine of man propounded by Liberalism was a return to the Pelagianism of the fourth century. Sin was treated as a minor peccadillo rather than a radical evil which necessitated the incarnation and atonement.

Lack of need for conversion/moralistic salvation: redemption as mystical communion with Christ in the community of the church or in establishing the kingdom of God on earth

Lack of an authoritative Bible: The rise of Biblical criticism

The rise of Biblical criticism in the mid to late nineteenth century represented a wholesale attack on the Sola Scruiptura foundation of the Protestant faith and the theology of the post-Reformation period which had articulated a precisely defined doctrine of inerrancy. In some of these explanations the doctrine of inspiration and inerrancy was extended even to the vowel pointing of the Hebrew text. The biblical critics blasted such doctrines. The rise of textual criticism shook the confidence of many as to the accurate transmission and preservation of the text. Literary (Higher) higher criticism applied to the Bible the methods of literary analysis used in secular documents. However the critics looked at the books of the Bible itself and concluded from their anti-supernaturalistic presuppositions for example that Moses did not write the Pentateuch. In the New Testament, the work of Strauss, Baur and others purported to demonstrate that much of the New Testament was to be dated from the second century, rather than arising from the hands of the apostles writing as Jesus’ authorized representatives. This all served to undermine the unique character and authority of the Bible both in the scholarly as well as in the worshipping community. No longer was it possible to proclaim “Thus saith the Lord.” This destroyed the possibility of the rational certainty of the faith.

Loss of uniqueness of Christ: The quest of the historical (merely human) Jesus

The identity and status of Jesus during the nineteenth century underwent continual revision. David F. Strauss first attacked the supernatural in the NT as mere myth. This launched the 19th century quest of the historical Jesus which has been described as Liberalism “looking back through nineteen centuries of Catholic darkness [and seeing] only the reflection of a Liberal Protestant face . . . at the bottom of a deep well.”

The Jesus of Liberalism, bore little resemblance to the Church's historic understanding of Jesus Christ as having both human and divine natures joined organically in one person. This was largely due to the radical empiricism that the Liberal school applied to the area of religious truth. This empiricism eliminated all but phenomenological data from any truth claim. As this method was applied to Christological doctrine a great reduction transpired. Rather than affirm the historic formulations, a "form of the dynamic Monarchianism of Paul of Samosota [was] revived by Harnack and his followers." 32

Any metaphysical speculation about the two natures of Christ was seen as nonsense. A history of Christological doctrine could not rid one "of the impression that the whole fabric of ecclesiastical Christology [was] a thing absolutely outside the concrete personality of Jesus Christ." 33 The starting place had to be the historical Christ, the "person" Jesus. 34 Any assertion that Jesus was not limited by His cultural milieu and environment as any other individual was limited by his own cultural peculiarities, would be to assert that He was a "specter". 35 In their eyes, to be a human implied a complete human body, soul and human personality. 36 That Jesus was fully human but only human became the sine qua non upon which the Ritschlian understanding of Christ was built. This man Jesus was the One who was to be found in the pages of the gospels.

Jesus became the great example. He was the founder of a religion who embodied in His own life what He taught concerning God. 37 In contrast to the majority of mankind, who came to a knowledge of God through some sort of crisis experience, this God-knowledge was in Jesus from the beginning, flowing naturally from Him "as though it could not do otherwise, like a spring from the depths of the earth, clear and unchecked in its flow." 38 The means by which Jesus achieved this God-consciousness and His resulting mission to spread the kingdom of God among mankind was beyond human comprehension it was "his secret, and no psychology will ever fathom it." 39

"Knowledge of God" . . . marks the sphere of Divine Sonship. It is in this knowledge that he came to know the sacred Being who rules the heaven and earth as Father, as his Father. The consciousness which he possessed of being the Son of God is, therefore, nothing but the practical consequence of knowing God as the Father and as his Father. Rightly understood, the name of Son means nothing but the knowledge of God. 40

In Jesus' own understanding, His God-knowledge was unique. He knew God "in a way in which no one ever knew Him before." 41 It was this unique God-knowledge which constituted Him the Son of God. It was also from this knowledge that his vocation flowed. Jesus knew that it was "his vocation to communicate this knowledge of God to others by word and by deed--and with it the knowledge that men are God's children." 42

Whether we shall call Christ divine depends on what we mean by God. If God is substance then Christ is not divine for there is no evidence of divine substance in him. If God is purpose then this does make Christ divine for there is nothing higher than his purpose. Christ's divinity is a conclusion not a presupposition. Yet it is not immaterial whether we call him divine or not. Such an interpretation has importance as showing our conception of God. It does not hurt Christ to not be called divine. If we recognize his supremacy that is enough. But if we do not call him divine it is because we have another and unchristian idea of God. We seek in God something not found in Christ. We get God elsewhere than from Christ. This procedure is due to the unfortunate fact that our theology is not christianized. 43

Activity is society centered ignoring personal spirituality

As Liberalism developed in America it took on a decidedly activist cast. The social Gospel sought to right social injustice, but at the expense of a recognition of personal sin and emphasis upon personal piety. The church was the Public Church but it ignored the personal aspects of the gospel and faith. This led to a natural blending of the message of the church with the agenda of secularly dominated political systems, making the agendas often indistinguishable.


J. Gresham Machen denied that Liberalism was Christianity. Whereas Christianity was rooted in supernaturalism, Liberalism was rooted in naturalism. Liberalism as a religious system, was "the chief modern rival of Christianity" which was at every point opposed to historic Christianity. 44

“A God without wrath,
led men without sin,
into a kingdom without judgment
through the ministrations of
a Christ without a cross.”


C. Brown, Philosophy and the Christian Faith .

A. von Harnack, What is Christianity ?

J. Dillenberger & C. Welch, Protestant Christianity Interpreted Through Its Development .

K. Cauthen, The Impact of American Religious Liberalism .

L. Averill, American Theology in the Liberal Tradition .

W. R. Hutchinson, The Modernist Impulse in American Protestantism .

D. E. Miller The Case for Liberal Christianity .

1 B. B. Warfield, "The Latest Phase of Historical Rationalism," Studies in Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981), p. 591.

2 Peter Gay, The Enlightenment: An Interpretation , The Rise of Modern Paganism , (New York: W.W. Norton, 1977).

3 Bernard Ramm, After Fundamentalism, (New York: Harper & Row, 1983) 4-5.

4 Karl Barth, Protestant Theology in the Nineteenth Century , (Valley Forge:Judson Press), 386.

6 James Orr, The Ritschlian Theology and The Evangelical Faith (New York: Thomas Whittaker, n.d.), p. 57.

7 A.B. Bruce noted that this agnosticism was not absolute, but a severe restriction of the knowledge of God attainable to man. ( AJT 1:1-2.) Cf. Hutchison, The Modernist Impulse in American Protestantism (New York: Oxford, 1976), pp. 122-132.

8 Albrecht Ritschl, The Christian Doctrine of Justification and Reconciliation , [eds.] H. R. Mackintosh and A. B. Macaulay (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1900), pp. 18-20

9 It is not without significance that both Harnack and McGiffert were primarily historians, who undertook to clear away the accretions of Greek metaphysical speculations from Christianity in order to discover the pristine gospel taught by Christ apart from philosophical considerations.

10 McGiffert, Christianity as History and Faith , pp. 172-178. By the "historic" person of Christ was understood the record of the life and teachings as presented in the pages of Scripture. The record of Scripture was seen as only historical, it was not divinely inspired and authoritative (see McGiffert, Apostolic Age, pp. 15-35 116-121). Furthermore, the strict empiricism of the Ritschlians led them to deny the reality of miracles. Historical criticism became a matter of indifference since faith in Christ did not rest on any particular facet of Christ's life and teaching, but rather the "total impression of His person." Therefore criticism could not affect the fact that the individual had experienced Christ. (William Adams Brown, Essence of Christianity, p. 261.)

11 Ritschl, Doctrine of Justification , p. 207.

12 Ritschl, Doctrine of Justification , pp. 207, 225.

13 J. H. W. Stuckenberg, "The Theology of Albrecht Ritschl," AJT 2 (1899):276.

14 Bruce, "Theological Agnosticism," p. 4.

15 A. C. McGiffert, Christianity As History and Faith (New York: Scribner's, 1934), p. 145.

16 William Adams Brown, The Essence of Christianity (New York: Scribner's, 1902), p. 257.

17 Orr, Expository Essays , p. 8.

18 Adolf Harnack, What is Christianity ? (New York: Putnam, 1902), p. 131.

19 W. A. Brown, Essence of Christianity , pp. 260- 261.

20 Orr, Expository Essays , p. 63.

21 McGiffert, Christianity as History and Faith , p. 176.

22 The restriction of religious knowledge to the Person of Jesus Christ was arbitrary. No attempt was made to show how or why Jesus had received a special knowledge of God. Rather it was an a priori assumption. (Sutckenberg, "The Theology of Ritschl," pp. 276-277.)

23 McGiffert, Christianity as History and Faith , pp. 177-178.

25 Ibid., p. 129. Cf. McGiffert, p. 120. "But again when we assert our faith in the Lordship of Jesus, we declare that his moral standards and principles are the highest known to us, and we believe that they are the moral standards and principles of God himself. . . This was Jesus' ethical message to the world: 'Ye are all brethren,' 'Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.'"

26 Harnack, p. 186. (Italics original.)

27 Walter Rauchenbusch, A Theology for the Social Gospel (New York, 1917) 5.

28 Henry Drummond, Ascent of Man (New York, 1894), 334.

29 F. Schleiermacher, On Religion , 88.

30 Ibid. p. 202. This insistence on the unity of God and creation led to a panentheism which at times became out and out pantheism. (Bernard Ramm, "The Fortunes of Theology from Schleiermacher to Barth," Tensions in Contemporary Theology , Eds. Stanley N. Gundry and Alan F. Johnson [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1976], p. 19

31 Machen, Christianity and Liberalism , p. 65.

32 Charles A. Briggs, The Fundamental Christian Faith , (New York: Scribner's, 1913), p. 267.

33 Adolf von Harnack, What is Christianity? (London: Williams and Norgate, 1904), p. 234.

34 A. C. McGiffert, Christianity as History and Faith (New York: Scribner's, 1934), p. 107.

35 Harnack, What is Christianity?, p. 12.

39 Ibid. p. 132. McGiffert asserted of Jesus' kingdom mission: "The secret of Christ's permanent hold upon the world is largely this, that he saw visions loftier, more compelling and more enduring than those seen by other men before or since. . . . Jesus brought the vision of a divine Father who careth even for the meanest." (p. 235.)

40 Harnack, p. 131. (Italics original.)

42 Ibid. Cf. McGiffert, pp. 118, 306-307.

44 J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977 reprint), p. 2.

What are Liberalism and Conservatism? An Introduction.

To recover the summary above, but this time in more detail.

Liberalism, the left-wing ideology of liberty and equality (the Principles of Democracy), and its opposition philosophy conservatism, the right-wing ideology of authority and order, hierarchy, and tradition (the Principles of Monarchy / Aristocracy), are statements on human rights, social issues, economics, liberty and equality, and the role of government.

The Classical and Social Forms of Liberalism and Conservatisim

When liberty is favored we call it “classical liberalism“, when authority favored we call it “classical conservatism“, when equality is favored we call it “social liberalism“, and when hierarchy and inequality is favored we call it “social conservatism“.

In other words the classical forms consider positions on liberty and authority, and the social forms consider positions on social hierarchy and social equality.

Sphere of political action Liberal Left-Wing The Left-Right Balance Conservative Right-Wing
Liberty Favoring Freedom (Classical Liberalism) Balanced Liberty Favoring Authority (Classical Conservatism)
Equality Favoring Collectives (Social Liberalism) Balanced Equality Favoring Individuals (Social Conservatism)

Or, to show the conservative perspective (both these charts say the same thing from different “frames of reference“):

SPHERE OF ACTION Not Conservative Enough / Too Liberal The Liberal-Conservative Mean Overly Conservative / Not Liberal Enough
Authority Favoring Liberty Balanced Authority Favoring Authority
Hierarchy, Order, and Tradition Favoring Equality Balanced Hierarchy, Order, and Tradition Favoring Inequality (Social Hierarchy)

Putting it together, this time using the terms left and right, it looks like this:

Paradigms / Main Thesis LEFT: Not Conservative Enough / Too Liberal The Left-Right Mean RIGHT: Overly Conservative / Not Liberal Enough
Liberty vs. Authority (“the liberty paradigm“) Favoring Liberty / Classically Liberal Balanced Liberty/Authority Favoring Authority / Classically Conservative
Equality vs. Hierarchy, Order, and Tradition (“the equality paradigm“) Favoring Social Equality ( Collective Focused) / Socially Liberal Balanced Equality/Hierarchy Favoring Inequality ( Individual Focused) / Socially Conservative

As you can see the tension between the classical and social forms creates four unique stances that can be held as an overarching ideology and/or per-issue.

Liberalism and Conservatism in the Economic Forms

From here we can also consider economic issues in terms of left-right politics and add a bit more complexity, like this:

Left-Right Paradigms / Main Thesis / Sphere of Action Left Thesis / Antithesis The Left-Right Mean Right Thesis / Antithesis
Liberty-Authority (Classical Political Left-Right) Liberty in Terms of Issues of State (like classical liberalism) Balanced Liberty-Authority Authority in Terms of Issues of State (like classical conservatism)
Equality-Hierarchy (Social Left-Right) Equality in Terms of Social Issues (like social liberalism) Balanced Equality-Hierarchy Social Hierarchy in Terms of Social Issues (like social conservatism)
Liberty-Authority (Classical Economic Left-Right) Liberty in Terms of Economic Issues (like economic classical liberalism) Balanced Economic Liberty-Authority Authority and Order in Terms of Economic Issues (like economic classical conservatism)
Equality-Hierarchy (Social Economic Left-Right) Equality in Terms of Economic Issues (like economic social liberalism) Balanced Economic Equality-Hierarchy Social Hierarchy and Tradition in Terms of Economic Issues (like economic social conservatism)

As you can see then, liberal and conservative are just names that denote general A…B stances on political issues.

Despite the simplicity, people have mixed views in real life, and there is a lot of complexities that arise from this. With that said, if you understand the basics, then the complexities are much easier to get. With that in mind, the next section will cover some values fundamental to each of our four identities.

TIP: If one were to balance Liberalism with Republicanism, and Democracy with Aristocracy, perhaps by separating historically overpowered powers, one would be expected to approach the “left-right mean” AKA correctness AKA balance. What a novel idea, why didn’t anyone think of… oh, wait. The philosophical point of the United States and the U.K. and the west in general. #ThanksLiberalism….

TIP: Liberal and conservative ideology can generally be thought to be based around questions like, “how much government control is necessary to ensure a just state”, “what natural rights do people have in nature and how does this relate to civil society and the law” (the social contract), “what is the purpose of government in civil society should it be used in order to maximize equality or restrained in order to maximize liberty?

Understanding The Values of Classical and Social Liberalism and Conservatism

Above are the basics, below are some specific values of classical and social liberalism and conservatism.

  • Examples of Classical Liberal Values: Economic freedom, free trade, individual liberty, property rights, freedom of religion, separation of church and state, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, the right to a fair trial. They champion essential Human Rights (like those found in the Bill of Rights), but not necessarily at the cost of using too much governmental power.
  • Examples of Social Liberal Values: Equal pay for equal work, anti-slavery, women’s right to choose, LGBT rights, gender equality, healthcare as a right, pro-safety-net, anti-economic inequality, pro-globalism, fair-trade, pro-union, workers’ rights. They champion Universal Human Rights, even if that means “big government.” Social liberalism is closely related to “Progressivism“, but it is not “the same” as “Socialism” (although the two ideologies do share some planks). [6][7]
  • Examples of Classical Conservative Values: Economic planning, state-based trade, social and class-based hierarchy, no individual property rights, state-based religion, protectionist, nationalist, no separation of church and state, limited freedom of speech, limited freedom of assembly, no right to a fair trial. They stand against Human Rights not found essential to the state or social structure.
  • Examples of Social Conservative Values. Restrictions on immigration, a pushback against the social programs (of all types), decentralization of the federal policy, restoration of controls upon free trade, greater emphasis upon nationalism and isolationism, pro social hierarchy in terms of gender, ethnicity, and race. They stand against “big socially progressive government” (they are anti-social liberalism). Social conservatism is closely related to Paleoconservatism, but it is not “the same” as “Fascism” (although the two ideologies do share some planks). [8]

TIP: The terms liberal and conservative are essentially synonymous with the political left and right where liberal is left and conservative is right. Learn more about the political left and right.

Understanding the Modern American Liberal and Conservative Identities

Now that we have the basics down, it will help to understand how these relate to the modern American political parties that we confusingly call “liberal” and “conservative” (by understanding the American identities as an example, you’ll be able to better understand any global party).

The Liberal and Conservative Ideology of the “Big Tents” Democrat and Republican

The major U.S. parties are both “Big Tents” of different factions. Each “tent” consists of different ideological factions, who come together out of the need to win elections in a two-party system, but who have unique values and take different positions on voter-issues, but share some core ideology. With that in mind:

  • Generally speaking, modern American Republicans are classically liberal (in terms of some individual liberties), classically conservative (in terms of using state power), socially conservative (in terms of their position on social equality and social programs), but not socially liberal in most cases. Issue-by-issue their stance can change, but generally they tend to err toward social conservatism, and thus are a right-wing party.
  • Likewise, modern American liberals are classically liberal (in terms of some individual liberties), classically conservative (in terms of using state power), socially liberal (in terms of their position on social equality and social programs), but not socially conservative in most cases. Issue-by-issue their stance can change, but generally they tend to err toward social liberalism, and thus are a left-wing party.

Thus, the main difference is that American liberals are socially liberal, and American conservatives are socially conservative. Otherwise, they are both classically liberal and classically conservative to some degree.

The Liberal and Conservative Ideology of the Factions and Third Parties

With the above in mind, to reiterate, each major party is best thought of as a coalition of factions (although which factions were in which party have changed over time, and thus so have the basic ideologies of the parties see “the parties changed“).

In terms of major factions, we can very roughly say:

Neoliberals and Neocons are “establishment” liberals and conservatives who are the “more classically conservative” and “pro business” factions of the major parties.

Then, each party has a populist faction, where the left-wing Democratic Party populists (like Bernie) are generally more “classically liberal” and “socially liberal” than Neoliberals, and the right-wing populists (like the Tea Party) are generally more “classically liberal” and “socially conservative”.

Meanwhile, third parties also have unique liberal and conservative stances. Socialist and Green parties are “more socially liberal” than Democrats, Libertarians are more “classically liberal” than both parties, and Paleocons and Constitutionalists are more “classically liberal” and “socially conservative” than Republicans.

FACT: Most Americans are a type of liberal. In that they are generally classically liberal in terms of their belief in the types of rights and liberties laid out in the Bill of Rights. It is rare that a Westerner would prefer a society structured like a traditional absolutist Monarchy with a state religion and limited individual liberties. Instead most American conservatives are generally types of liberal-conservatives with at least a classical liberal streak.

TIP: Here we should note that real life stances should be considered per-issue, each form typically comes in conservative, moderate, progressive, and radical forms, each generally comes in an elite (often implying pro-business) and populist form, and that real life political factions typically have a mixed-ideology (although we can generally describe a given faction in broad terms like progressive left-wing social liberal populist, or moderate right-wing pro-business conservative, it helps to use more specific terms).

TIP: Consider also, stances tend to change depending on what “sphere of politics” were are discussing, as liberalism and conservatism can have different connotations in economics, than they do in social politics, than they do when discussing liberties and rights. For example: an economic liberal (one who spends liberally or believes in free-markets) and a social liberal (a liberal who supports spending on social issues) are very different things. Likewise, a fiscal conservative (one who believes in balancing budgets) is very different than a social conservative (who doesn’t want progressive action on social issues).


The modern liberal philosophy strongly endorses public spending on programs such as education, health care and welfare. Important social issues during the first part of the 21st century include economic inequality (wealth and income), [5] voting rights for minorities, [6] affirmative action, [7] reproductive and other women's rights, [8] support for LGBT rights, [9] [10] and immigration reform. [11] [12] Modern liberalism took shape during the 20th century, with roots in Theodore Roosevelt's Square Deal and New Nationalism, Woodrow Wilson's New Freedom, Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, Harry S. Truman's Fair Deal, John F. Kennedy's New Frontier and Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society. Modern liberals oppose conservatives on most but not all issues. Although historically related to social liberalism and progressivism, the current relationship between liberal and progressive viewpoints is debated. [13] [14] [15] [16] [17] [18] Modern liberalism is typically associated with the Democratic Party while modern conservatism is typically associated with the Republican Party. [19]

In 1941, Franklin D. Roosevelt defined a liberal party in the following terms:

The liberal party believes that, as new conditions and problems arise beyond the power of men and women to meet as individuals, it becomes the duty of the Government itself to find new remedies with which to meet them. The liberal party insists that the Government has the definite duty to use all its power and resources to meet new social problems with new social controls—to ensure to the average person the right to his own economic and political life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. [20]

In 1960, John F. Kennedy defined a liberal as follows:

What do our opponents mean when they apply to us the label, "Liberal"? If by "Liberal" they mean, as they want people to believe, someone who is soft in his policies abroad, who is against local government, and who is unconcerned with the taxpayer's dollar, then the record of this party and its members demonstrate that we are not that kind of "Liberal." But, if by a "Liberal," they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people—their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties—someone who believes that we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a "Liberal," then I'm proud to say that I'm a "Liberal." [21] [22]

Keynesian economic theory has played an important role in the economic philosophy of modern liberals. [23] Modern liberals generally believe that national prosperity requires government management of the macroeconomy in order to keep unemployment low, inflation in check and growth high. [ citation needed ] They also value institutions that defend against economic inequality. In The Conscience of a Liberal, Paul Krugman writes: "I believe in a relatively equal society, supported by institutions that limit extremes of wealth and poverty. I believe in democracy, civil liberties, and the rule of law. That makes me a liberal, and I'm proud of it". [24] Modern liberals often point to the widespread prosperity enjoyed under a mixed economy in the years since World War II. [25] [26] They believe liberty exists when access to necessities like health care and economic opportunity are available to all [27] and they champion the protection of the environment. [28] [29]

American versus European usage of liberalism Edit

Today, liberalism is used differently in different countries. One of the greatest contrasts is between the usage in the United States and usage in Europe. According to Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. (writing in 1956), "[l]iberalism in the American usage has little in common with the word as used in the politics of any European country, save possibly Britain". [30] In Europe, liberalism usually means what is sometimes called classical liberalism, a commitment to limited government, laissez-faire economics and unalienable individual rights. This classical liberalism sometimes more closely corresponds to the American definition of libertarianism, although some distinguish between classical liberalism and libertarianism. [31]

In the United States, the general term liberalism almost always refers to modern liberalism, a more social variant of classical liberalism. In Europe, this social liberalism is closer to European social democracy, although the original form is advocated by some liberal parties in Europe as well as with the Beveridge Group faction within the Liberal Democrats, the Liberals, the Danish Social Liberal Party, the Democratic Movement and the Italian Republican Party.

Demographics of American liberals Edit

A 2005 Pew Research Center study found that liberals were the most educated ideological demographic and were tied with the conservative sub-group of the enterprisers for the most affluent group. Of those who identified as liberal, 49% were college graduates and 41% had household incomes exceeding $75,000, compared to 27% and 28% as the national average, respectively. [32] Liberalism has become the dominant political ideology in academia, with 44–62% identifying as liberal, depending on the exact wording of the survey. This compares with 40–46% liberal identification in surveys from 1969 to 1984. [33] The social sciences and humanities were most liberal whereas business and engineering departments were the least liberal, although even in the business departments liberals outnumbered conservatives by two to one. [34] This feeds the common question of whether liberals are on average more educated than conservatives, their political counterparts. Two Zogby surveys from 2008 and 2010 affirm that self-identified liberals tend to go to college more than self-identified conservatives. Polls have found that young Americans are considerably more liberal than the general population. [35] As of 2009, 30% of the 18–29 cohort was liberal. [35] In 2011, this had changed to 28%, with moderates picking up the two percent. [36]

A 2015 Gallup poll found that socially liberal views have consistently been on the rise in the United States since 1999. [37] As of 2015, there is a roughly equal number of socially liberal Americans and socially conservative Americans (31% each) and the socially liberal trend continues to rise. [37] In early 2016, Gallup found that more Americans identified as ideologically conservative (37%) or moderate (35%) rather than liberal (24%), but that liberalism has slowly been gaining ground since 1992, standing at a 24-year high. [38]

21st century issues Edit

In early 21st century political discourse in the United States, liberalism has come to include support for reproductive rights for women, including abortion, [39] affirmative action for minority groups historically discriminated against, [40] multilateralism and support for international institutions, [41] support for individual rights over corporate interests, [42] support for universal health care for Americans (with a single-payer option), support for LGBTQ+ rights and marriage equality and opposition to tax cuts for the rich. [43]

Historian and advocate of liberalism Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. had explored in-depth the heritage of Jacksonian democracy in its influence on Franklin D. Roosevelt. [44] Robert V. Remini, the biographer of Andrew Jackson, also said:

Jacksonian Democracy, then, stretches the concept of democracy about as far as it can go and still remain workable. [. ] As such it has inspired much of the dynamic and dramatic events of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in American history—Populism, Progressivism, the New and Fair Deals, and the programs of the New Frontier and Great Society to mention the most obvious. [45]

In 1956, Schlesinger said that liberalism in the United States includes both a laissez-faire form and a government intervention form. He holds that liberalism in the United States is aimed toward achieving equality of opportunity for all, but it is the means of achieving this that changes depending on the circumstances. He says that the "process of redefining liberalism in terms of the social needs of the 20th century was conducted by Theodore Roosevelt and his New Nationalism, Woodrow Wilson and his New Freedom, and Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal. Out of these three reform periods there emerged the conception of a social welfare state, in which the national government had the express obligation to maintain high levels of employment in the economy, to supervise standards of life and labor, to regulate the methods of business competition, and to establish comprehensive patterns of social security". [30]

Some make the distinction between American classical liberalism and the new liberalism, better known as social liberalism. [46]

Progressive Era Edit

The progressive movement emerged in the 1890s and included intellectual reformers typified by sociologist Lester Frank Ward and economist Richard T. Ely. [47] They transformed Victorian liberalism, retaining its commitment to civil liberties and individual rights while casting off its advocacy of laissez-faire economics. Ward helped define what would become the modern welfare state after 1933. [48] These often supported the growing working-class labor unions and sometimes even the socialists to their left. The Social Gospel movement was a Protestant intellectual movement that helped shape liberalism, especially from the 1890s to the 1920s. It applied Christian ethics to social problems, especially issues of social justice such as economic inequality, poverty, alcoholism, crime, racial tensions, slums, unclean environment, child labor, inadequate labor unions, poor schools and the danger of war. [49] Lyndon B. Johnson's parents were active in the Social Gospel and had a lifetime commitment to it, for he sought to transform social problems into moral problems. This helps explain his longtime commitment to social justice as exemplified by the Great Society and his commitment to racial equality. The Social Gospel explicitly inspired his foreign-policy approach to a sort of Christian internationalism and nation building. [50] In philosophy and education, John Dewey was highly influential. [51]

In 1900–1920, liberals called themselves progressives. They rallied behind Republicans led by Theodore Roosevelt and Robert M. La Follette as well as Democrats led by William Jennings Bryan and Woodrow Wilson to fight corruption, waste and big trusts (monopolies). They stressed ideals of social justice and the use of government to solve social and economic problems. Settlement workers such as Jane Addams were leaders of the liberal tradition. [52] There was a tension between sympathy with labor unions and the goal to apply scientific expertise by disinterested experts. When liberals became anti-Communist in the 1940s, they purged leftists from the liberal movement. [53]

Political writer Herbert Croly helped to define the new liberalism through The New Republic magazine and numerous influential books. Croly presented the case for a planned economy, increased spending on education and the creation of a society based on the "brotherhood of mankind". His highly influential 1909 book The Promise of American Life proposed to raise the general standard of living by means of economic planning. Croly opposed aggressive unionization. In The Techniques of Democracy (1915), he also argued against both dogmatic individualism and dogmatic socialism. [54]

The historian Vernon Louis Parrington in 1928 won the Pulitzer Prize for Main Currents in American Thought. It was a highly influential intellectual history of America from the colonial era to the early 20th century. It was well written and passionate about the value of Jeffersonian democracy and helped identify and honor liberal heroes and their ideas and causes. [55] In 1930, Parrington argued: "For upwards of half a century creative political thinking in America was largely western agrarian, and from this source came those democratic ideas that were to provide the staple of a later liberalism". [56] In 1945, historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. argued in The Age of Jackson that liberalism also emerged from Jacksonian democracy and the labor radicalism of the Eastern cities, thereby linking it to the urban dimension of Roosevelt's New Deal. [57]

Liberal Republicans Edit

With its emphasis on a strong federal government over claims of state's rights, widespread entrepreneurship and individual freedom against the property rights of slave owners, Abraham Lincoln's presidency laid much of the groundwork for future liberal Republican governance. [58]

The Republican Party's liberal element in the early 20th century was typified by Theodore Roosevelt in the 1907–1912 period, although Roosevelt was more conservative at other points. Other liberal Republicans included Senator Robert M. La Follette and his sons in Wisconsin (from about 1900 to 1946) and Western leaders such as Senator Hiram Johnson in California, Senator George W. Norris in Nebraska, Senator Bronson M. Cutting in New Mexico, Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin in Montana and Senator William Borah in Idaho from about 1900 to about 1940. They were generally liberal in domestic policy as they supported unions [59] and much of the New Deal. However, they were intensely isolationist in foreign policy. [60] This element died out by the 1940s. Starting in the 1930s, a number of mostly Northeastern Republicans took modern liberal positions regarding labor unions, spending and New Deal policies. They included Governor Harold Stassen of Minnesota, [61] Governor Thomas E. Dewey of New York, Governor Earl Warren of California, [62] Senator Clifford P. Case of New Jersey, Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., of Massachusetts, Senator Prescott Bush of Connecticut (father of George H. W. Bush), Senator Jacob K. Javits of New York, Governor and later Senator Mark Hatfield of Oregon, Senator John Sherman Cooper of Kentucky, Senator George Aiken of Vermont, Governor William Scranton of Pennsylvania and Governor George Romney of Michigan. [63] The most notable of them all was Governor Nelson Rockefeller of New York. [64]

While the media often called them Rockefeller Republicans, the liberal Republicans never formed an organized movement or caucus and lacked a recognized leader. They promoted economic growth and high state and federal spending while accepting high taxes and much liberal legislation, with the provision they could administer it more efficiently. They opposed the Democratic big city machines while welcoming support from labor unions and big businesses alike. Religion was not high on their agenda, but they were strong believers in civil rights for African-Americans and women's rights and most liberals were pro-choice. They were also strong environmentalists and supported higher education. In foreign policy, they were internationalists, throwing their support to the moderate [65] Dwight D. Eisenhower over the conservative leader Robert A. Taft in 1952. They were often called "the Eastern Establishment" by conservatives such as Barry Goldwater. [66] The Goldwater conservatives fought this establishment, defeated Rockefeller in the 1964 primaries and eventually retired most of its members, although some such as Senator Charles Goodell and Mayor John Lindsay in New York became Democrats. [67] As President, Richard Nixon adopted many of the liberals' positions regarding the environment, welfare and the arts. After Congressman John B. Anderson of Illinois bolted the party in 1980 and ran as an independent against Reagan, the liberal Republicans element faded away. Their old strongholds in the Northeast are now mostly held by Democrats. [68]

New Deal Edit

President Franklin D. Roosevelt came to office in 1933 amid the economic calamity of the Great Depression, offering the nation a New Deal intended to alleviate economic desperation and joblessness, provide greater opportunities and restore prosperity. His presidency was the longest in American history, lasting from 1933 to 1945 and marked by an increased role for the federal government in addressing the nation's economic and social problems. Work relief programs provided jobs, ambitious projects such as the Tennessee Valley Authority were created to promote economic development and a social security system was established. The Roosevelt administration was assisted in its endeavors by progressives in Congress, with the congressional midterm elections of 1934 returning a more radical House of Representatives that was prepared to support progressive, new liberal measures. [69] As noted by J. Richard Piper:

As the "new" liberalism crystallized into its dominant form by 1935, both houses of Congress continued to provide large voting majorities for public policies that were generally dubbed "liberal". Conservatives constituted a distinct congressional minority from 1933 to 1937 and appeared threatened with oblivion for a time. [70]

The Great Depression seemed over in 1936, but a relapse in 1937–1938 produced continued long-term unemployment. Full employment was reached with the total mobilization of the United States economic, social and military resources in World War II. At that point, the main relief programs such as the WPA and the CCC were ended. Arthur Herman argues that Roosevelt restored prosperity after 1940 by cooperating closely with big business, [71] although when asked "Do you think the attitude of the Roosevelt administration toward business is delaying business recovery?", the American people in 1939 responded "yes" by a margin of more than 2-to-1. [72]

The New Deal programs to relieve the Great Depression are generally regarded as a mixed success in ending unemployment. At the time, many New Deal programs, especially the CCC, were popular. Liberals hailed them for improving the life of the common citizen and for providing jobs for the unemployed, legal protection for labor unionists, modern utilities for rural America, living wages for the working poor and price stability for the family farmer. Economic progress for minorities, however, was hindered by discrimination, an issue often avoided by Roosevelt's administration. [73]

Relief, recovery and reform Edit

The New Deal consisted of three types of programs designed to produce relief, recovery and reform: [74]

  • Relief was the immediate effort to help the one-third of the population that was hardest hit by the depression. Roosevelt expanded Herbert Hoover's Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) work relief program and added the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), the Public Works Administration (PWA) and starting in 1935 the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Also in 1935, the Social Security Act (SSA) and unemployment insurance programs were added. Separate programs such as the Resettlement Administration and the Farm Security Administration were set up for relief in rural America.
  • Recovery was the goal of restoring the economy to pre-Depression levels. It involved greater spending of government funds in an effort to stimulate the economy, including deficit spending, dropping the gold standard and efforts to increase farm prices and foreign trade by lowering tariffs. Many programs were funded through a Hoover program of loans and loan guarantees, overseen by the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC).
  • Reform was based on the assumption that the depression was caused by the inherent instability of the market and that government intervention was necessary to rationalize and stabilize the economy and to balance the interests of farmers, businesses and labor. Reform measures included the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), regulation of Wall Street by the Securities Exchange Act (SEA), the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) for farm programs, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) insurance for bank deposits enacted through the Glass–Steagall Act of 1933 and the 1935 National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), also known as the Wagner Act, dealing with labor-management relations. Despite urgings by some New Dealers, there was no major antitrust program. Roosevelt opposed socialism in the sense of state ownership of the means of production and only one major program, namely the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), involved government ownership of the means of production (that is power plants and electrical grids). The conservatives feared the New Deal meant socialism and Roosevelt noted privately in 1934 that the "old line press harps increasingly on state socialism and demands the return to the good old days". [75]

Race Edit

The New Deal was racially segregated as blacks and whites rarely worked alongside each other in New Deal programs. The largest relief program by far was the WPA which operated segregated units as did its youth affiliate the NYA. [76] Blacks were hired by the WPA as supervisors in the North. Of 10,000 WPA supervisors in the South, only 11 were black. [77] In the first few weeks of operation, CCC camps in the North were integrated. By July 1935, all the camps in the United States were segregated and blacks were strictly limited in the supervisory roles they were assigned. [78] Kinker and Smith argue that "even the most prominent racial liberals in the New Deal did not dare to criticize Jim Crow". [79] Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes was one of the Roosevelt administration's most prominent supporters of blacks and was former president of the Chicago chapter of the NAACP. When Senator Josiah Bailey, Democrat of North Carolina, accused him in 1937 of trying to break down segregation laws, Ickes wrote him to deny it:

I think it is up to the states to work out their social problems if possible, and while I have always been interested in seeing that the Negro has a square deal, I have never dissipated my strength against the particular stone wall of segregation. I believe that wall will crumble when the Negro has brought himself to a high educational and economic status. [. ] Moreover, while there are no segregation laws in the North, there is segregation in fact and we might as well recognize this. [80] [81]

The New Deal's record came under attack by New Left historians in the 1960s for its pusillanimity in not attacking capitalism more vigorously, nor helping blacks achieve equality. The critics emphasize the absence of a philosophy of reform to explain the failure of New Dealers to attack fundamental social problems. They demonstrate the New Deal's commitment to save capitalism and its refusal to strip away private property. They detect a remoteness from the people and indifference to participatory democracy and call instead for more emphasis on conflict and exploitation. [82] [83]

Foreign policies of Franklin D. Roosevelt Edit

In international affairs, Roosevelt's presidency until 1938 reflected the isolationism that dominated practically all of American politics at the time. After 1938, he moved toward interventionism as the world hurtled toward war. [84] Liberals split on foreign policy as many followed Roosevelt while others such as John L. Lewis of the Congress of Industrial Organizations, historian Charles A. Beard and the Kennedy Family opposed him. However, Roosevelt added new conservative supporters such as Republicans Henry Stimson (who became his Secretary of War in 1940) and Wendell Willkie (who worked closely with Roosevelt after losing to him in the 1940s election). Anticipating the post-war period, Roosevelt strongly supported proposals to create a United Nations organization as a means of encouraging mutual cooperation to solve problems on the international stage. His commitment to internationalist ideals was in the tradition of Woodrow Wilson, except that Roosevelt learned from Wilson's mistakes regarding the League of Nations. For instance, Roosevelt included Republicans in shaping foreign policy and insisted the United States have a veto at the United Nations. [85]

Liberalism during the Cold War Edit

American liberalism of the Cold War era was the immediate heir to Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal and the somewhat more distant heir to the progressives of the early 20th century. Rossinow (2008) argues that after 1945 the left-liberal alliance that operated during the New Deal years split apart for good over the issue of Communism. Anti-Communist liberals led by Walter Reuther and Hubert Humphrey expelled the far-left from labor unions and the New Deal coalition and committed the Democratic Party to a strong Cold War policy typified by NATO and the containment of Communism. Liberals became committed to a quantitative goal of economic growth that accepted large near-monopolies such as General Motors and AT&T while rejecting the structural transformation dreamed of by earlier left-liberals. The far-left had its last hurrah in Henry A. Wallace's 1948 third-party presidential campaign. Wallace supported further New Deal reforms and opposed the Cold War, but his campaign was taken over by the far-left and Wallace retired from politics in disgust. [86]

Most prominent and constant among the positions of Cold War liberalism were the following: [86]

  • Support for a domestic economy built on a balance of power between labor (in the form of organized unions) and management (with a tendency to be more interested in large corporations than in small business).
  • A foreign policy focused on containing the Soviet Union and its allies.
  • The continuation and expansion of New Deal social welfare programs (in the broad sense of welfare, including programs such as Social Security).
  • An embrace of Keynesian economics. By way of compromise with political groupings to their right, this often became in practice military Keynesianism. [87]

In some ways, this resembled what in other countries was referred to as social democracy. However, American liberals never widely endorsed nationalization of industry like European social democrats, instead favoring regulation for public benefit.

In the 1950s and 1960s, both major American political parties included liberal and conservative factions. The Democratic Party included the Northern and Western liberals on one hand and the generally conservative Southern whites on the other. Difficult to classify were the Northern big city Democratic political machines. The urban machines had supported New Deal economic policies, but they faded with the coming of prosperity and the assimilation of ethnic groups. Nearly all collapsed by the 1960s in the face of racial violence in the cities [88] The Republican Party included the moderate-to-liberal Wall Street and the moderate-to-conservative Main Street. The more liberal wing, strongest in the Northeast, was far more supportive of New Deal programs, labor unions and an internationalist foreign policy. [89] Support for anti-Communism sometimes came at the expense of civil liberties. For example, ADA co-founder and archetypal Cold War liberal Hubert Humphrey unsuccessfully sponsored in 1950 a Senate bill to establish detention centers where those declared subversive by the President could be held without trial. [90] Nonetheless, liberals opposed McCarthyism and were central to McCarthy's downfall. [91]

In domestic policy during the Fifth Party System (1932–1966), liberals seldom had full control of government, but conservatives never had full control in that period either. According to Jonathan Bernstein, neither liberals nor Democrats controlled the House of Representatives very often from 1939 through 1957, although a 1958 landslide gave liberals real majorities in both houses of Congress for the first time in twenty years. However, Rules Committee reforms and others were carried out following this landslide as liberals saw that House procedures "still prevented them from using that majority". The conservative coalition was also important (if not dominant) from 1967 through 1974, although Congress had a liberal Democratic majority from 1985 to 1994. As also noted by Bernstein, "there have only been a handful of years (Franklin D. Roosevelt's first term, 1961-1966, Jimmy Carter's presidency, and the first two years of Clinton's and Barack Obama's presidencies) when there were clear, working liberal majorities in the House, the Senate and the White House". [92]

Harry S. Truman's Fair Deal Edit

Until he became president, liberals generally did not see Harry S. Truman as one of their own, viewing him as a Democratic Party hack. However, liberal politicians and liberal organizations such as the unions and Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) supported Truman's liberal Fair Deal proposals to continue and expand the New Deal. Alonzo Hamby argues that the Fair Deal reflected the vital center approach to liberalism which rejected totalitarianism, was suspicious of excessive concentrations of government power, and honored the New Deal as an effort to achieve a progressive capitalist system. Solidly based upon the New Deal tradition in its advocacy of wide-ranging social legislation, the Fair Deal differed enough to claim a separate identity. The depression did not return after the war and the Fair Deal faced prosperity and an optimistic future. The Fair Dealers thought in terms of abundance rather than depression scarcity. Economist Leon Keyserling argued that the liberal task was to spread the benefits of abundance throughout society by stimulating economic growth. Agriculture Secretary Charles F. Brannan wanted to unleash the benefits of agricultural abundance and to encourage the development of an urban-rural Democratic coalition. However, the "Brannan Plan" was defeated by his unrealistic confidence in the possibility of uniting urban labor and farm owners who distrusted rural insurgency. The conservative coalition of Northern Republicans and Southern Democrats in Congress effectively blocked the Fair Deal and nearly all liberal legislation from the late 1930s to 1960. [93] The Korean War made military spending the nation's priority. [94]

In the 1960s, Stanford University historian Barton Bernstein repudiated Truman for failing to carry forward the New Deal agenda and for excessive anti-Communism at home. [95]

1950s Edit

Combating conservatism was not high on the liberal agenda, for the liberal ideology was so intellectually dominant by 1950 that the literary critic Lionel Trilling could note that "liberalism is not only the dominant but even the sole intellectual tradition [. ]. [T]here are no conservative or reactionary ideas in circulation". [96]

Most historians see liberalism in the doldrums in the 1950s, with the old spark of New Deal dreams overshadowed by the glitzy complacency and conservatism of the Eisenhower years. Adlai Stevenson II lost in two landslides and presented few new liberal proposals apart from a suggestion for a worldwide ban on nuclear tests. As Barry Karl noted, Stevenson "has suffered more at hands of the admirers he failed than he ever did from the enemies who defeated him". [97] Many liberals bemoan the willingness of Democratic leaders Lyndon B. Johnson and Sam Rayburn to collaborate in Congress with Eisenhower and the commitment of the AFL–CIO unions and most liberal spokesmen such as Senators Hubert Humphrey and Paul Douglas to anti-Communism at home and abroad. They decry the weak attention most liberals paid to the nascent civil rights movement. [98]

Liberal coalition Edit

Politically, starting in the late 1940s there was a powerful labor–liberal coalition with strong grassroots support, energetic well-funded organizations and a cadre of supporters in Congress. [99] On labor side was the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) which merged into the AFL–CIO in 1955, [100] the United Auto Workers (UAW), [101] union lobbyists and the Committee on Political Education (COPE) [102] which organized turnout campaigns and publicity at elections. Walter Reuther of the UAW was the leader of liberalism in the labor movement and his autoworkers generously funded the cause. [103]

Key liberal leaders in Congress included Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota, [106] Paul Douglas of Illinois, [107] Henry Jackson of Washington, [108] Walter Mondale of Minnesota [109] and Claude Pepper of Florida in the Senate [110] Leaders in the House included Representatives Frank Thompson of New Jersey, Richard Bolling of Missouri and other members of the Democratic Study Group. [111] Although for years they had largely been frustrated by the conservative coalition, the liberal coalition suddenly came to power in 1963 and were ready with proposals that became central to the Great Society. [112]

Humphrey's liberal legacy is bolstered by his early leadership in civil rights, and undermined by his long support of the Vietnam War. His biographer Arnold Offner says he was, "the most successful legislator in the nation’s history and a powerful voice for equal justice for all." [113] Offner states that Humphrey was:

A major force for nearly every important liberal policy initiative. putting civil rights on his party’s and the nation’s agenda [in 1948] for decades to come. As senator he proposed legislation to effect national health insurance, for aid to poor nations, immigration and income tax reform, a Job Corps, the Peace Corps, the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, and the path breaking 1963 Limited Test Ban Treaty. [He provided] masterful stewardship of the historic 1964 Civil Rights Act through the Senate. [114]

Intellectuals Edit

Intellectuals and writers were an important component of the coalition at this point. [115] Many writers, especially historians, became prominent spokesmen for liberalism and were frequently called upon for public lectures and for popular essays on political topics by magazines such as The New Republic, Saturday Review, The Atlantic Monthly and Harpers. [116] Also active in the arena of ideas were literary critics [117] such as Lionel Trilling and Alfred Kazin, economists [118] such as Alvin Hansen, John Kenneth Galbraith, [119] James Tobin and Paul Samuelson as well as political scientists such as Robert A. Dahl and Seymour Martin Lipset and sociologists such as David Riesman and Daniel Patrick Moynihan. [120] Representative was the historian Henry Steele Commager, who felt a duty to teach his fellow citizens how liberalism was the foundation of American values. He believed that an educated public that understands American history would support liberal programs, especially internationalism and the New Deal. Commager was representative of a whole generation of like-minded historians who were widely read by the general public, including Allan Nevins, Daniel Boorstin, Richard Hofstadter and C. Vann Woodward. [121] Perhaps the most prominent of all was Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., whose books on Andrew Jackson and on Roosevelt and the Kennedy brothers as well as his many essays and his work with liberal organizations and in the White House itself under Kennedy emphasized the ideological history of American liberalism, especially as made concrete by a long tradition of powerful liberal Presidents. [122]

Commager's biographer Neil Jumonville has argued that this style of influential public history has been lost in the 21st century because political correctness has rejected Commager's open marketplace of tough ideas. Jumonville says history now comprises abstruse deconstruction by experts, with statistics instead of stories and is now comprehensible only to the initiated while ethnocentrism rules in place of common identity. [123] Other experts have traced the relative decline of intellectuals to their concern race, ethnicity and gender [124] and scholarly antiquarianism. [125]

Great Society: 1964–1968 Edit

The climax of liberalism came in the mid-1960s with the success of President Lyndon B. Johnson (1963–1969) in securing congressional passage of his Great Society programs, including civil rights, the end of segregation, Medicare, extension of welfare, federal aid to education at all levels, subsidies for the arts and humanities, environmental activism and a series of programs designed to wipe out poverty. [126] [127] According to historian Joseph Crespino:

It has become a staple of twentieth-century historiography that Cold War concerns were at the root of a number of progressive political accomplishments in the postwar period: a high progressive marginal tax rate that helped fund the arms race and contributed to broad income equality bipartisan support for far-reaching civil rights legislation that transformed politics and society in the American South, which had long given the lie to America’s egalitarian ethos bipartisan support for overturning an explicitly racist immigration system that had been in place since the 1920s and free health care for the elderly and the poor, a partial fulfillment of one of the unaccomplished goals of the New Deal era. The list could go on. [128]

As recent historians have explained:

Gradually, liberal intellectuals crafted a new vision for achieving economic and social justice. The liberalism of the early 1960s contained no hint of radicalism, little disposition to revive new deal era crusades against concentrated economic power, and no intention to fan class passions or redistribute wealth or restructure existing institutions. Internationally it was strongly anti-Communist. It aimed to defend the free world, to encourage economic growth at home, and to ensure that the resulting plenty was fairly distributed. Their agenda-much influenced by Keynesian economic theory-envisioned massive public expenditure that would speed economic growth, thus providing the public resources to fund larger welfare, housing, health, and educational programs. [129]

Johnson was rewarded with an electoral landslide in 1964 against conservative Barry Goldwater which broke the decades-long control of Congress by the conservative coalition. However, the Republicans bounced back in 1966 and as the Democratic Party splintered five ways Republicans elected Richard Nixon in 1968. Faced with a generally liberal Democratic Congress during his presidency, [130] Nixon used his power over executive agencies to obstruct the authorization of programs that he was opposed to. As noted by one observer, Nixon "claimed the authority to 'impound,' or withhold, money Congress appropriated to support them". [130]

Nevertheless, Nixon largely continued the New Deal and Great Society programs he inherited. [131] Conservative reaction would come with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. [132]

Liberals and civil rights Edit

Cold War liberalism emerged at a time when most African-Americans, especially in the South, were politically and economically disenfranchised. Beginning with To Secure These Rights, an official report issued by the Truman White House in 1947, self-proclaimed liberals increasingly embraced the civil rights movement. In 1948, President Truman desegregated the armed forces and the Democrats inserted a strong civil rights plank or provision in the Democratic Party platform. Black activists, most prominently Martin Luther King Jr., escalated the bearer agitation throughout the South, especially in Birmingham, Alabama during the 1963 Birmingham campaign, where brutal police tactics outraged national television audiences. The civil rights movement climaxed in the March on Washington in August 1963, where King gave his dramatic "I Have a Dream" speech, culminating in the events of the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches. The activism put civil rights at the very top of the liberal political agenda and facilitated passage of the decisive Civil Rights Act of 1964 which permanently ended segregation in the United States and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which guaranteed blacks the right to vote, with strong enforcement provisions throughout the South handled by the federal Department of Justice. [133] [134]

During the mid-1960s, relations between white liberals and the civil rights movement became increasingly strained as civil rights leaders accused liberal politicians of temporizing and procrastinating. Although President Kennedy sent federal troops to compel the University of Mississippi to admit African-American James Meredith in 1962 and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. toned down the 1963 March on Washington at Kennedy's behest, the failure to seat the delegates of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party at the 1964 Democratic National Convention indicated a growing rift. President Johnson could not understand why the rather impressive civil rights laws passed under his leadership had failed to immunize Northern and Western cities from rioting. At the same time, the civil rights movement itself was becoming fractured. By 1966, a Black Power movement had emerged. Black Power advocates accused white liberals of trying to control the civil rights agenda. Proponents of Black Power wanted African-Americans to follow an ethnic model for obtaining power, [ citation needed ] not unlike that of Democratic political machines in large cities. This put them on a collision course with urban machine politicians. On its most extreme edges, the Black Power movement contained racial separatists who wanted to give up on integration altogether—a program that could not be endorsed by American liberals of any race. The mere existence of such individuals (who always got more media attention than their actual numbers might have warranted) contributed to white backlash against liberals and civil rights activists. [134]

Liberals were latecomers to the movement for equal rights for women. Generally, they agreed with Eleanor Roosevelt that women needed special protections, especially regarding hours of work, night work and physically heavy work. [135] The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) had first been proposed in the 1920s by Alice Paul and appealed primarily to middle-class career women. At the Democratic National Convention in 1960, a proposal to endorse the ERA was rejected after it met explicit opposition from liberal groups including labor unions, AFL–CIO, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Americans for Democratic Action (ADA), American Federation of Teachers, American Nurses Association, the Women's Division of the Methodist Church and the National Councils of Jewish, Catholic, and Negro Women. [136]

Neoconservatives Edit

Some liberals moved to the right and became neoconservatives in the 1970s. Many were animated by foreign policy, taking a strong anti-Soviet and pro-Israel position as typified by Commentary, a Jewish magazine. [137] Many had been supporters of Senator Henry M. Jackson, who was noted for his strong positions in favor of labor and against Communism. Many neoconservatives joined the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush and attacked liberalism vocally in both the popular media and scholarly publications. [138]

Under attack from the New Left Edit

Liberalism came under attack from both the New Left in the early 1960s and the right in the late 1960s. Kazin (1998) says: "The liberals who anxiously turned back the assault of the postwar Right were confronted in the 1960s by a very different adversary: a radical movement led, in the main, by their own children, the white "New Left". [139] This new element, says Kazin, worked to "topple the corrupted liberal order". [140] As Maurice Isserman notes, the New Left "came to use the word 'liberal' as a political epithet". [141] Slack (2013) argues that the New Left was more broadly speaking the political component of a break with liberalism that took place across several academic fields, namely philosophy, psychology and sociology. In philosophy, existentialism and neo-Marxism rejected the instrumentalism of John Dewey in psychology, Wilhelm Reich, Paul Goodman, Herbert Marcuse and Norman O. Brown rejected Sigmund Freud's teaching of repression and sublimation and in sociology, C. Wright Mills rejected the pragmatism of Dewey for the teachings of Max Weber. [142] [143]

The attack was not confined to the United States as the New Left was a worldwide movement with strength in parts of Western Europe as well as Japan. For example, massive demonstrations in France denounced American imperialism and its helpers in Western European governments. [144] [145]

The main activity of the New Left became opposition to United States involvement in the Vietnam War as conducted by liberal President Lyndon B. Johnson. The anti-war movement escalated the rhetorical heat as violence broke out on both sides. The climax came in sustained protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Liberals fought back, with Zbigniew Brzezinski, chief foreign policy advisor of the 1968 Humphrey campaign, saying the New Left "threatened American liberalism" in a manner reminiscent of McCarthyism. [146] While the New Left considered Humphrey a war criminal, Nixon attacked him as the New Left's enabler—a man with "a personal attitude of indulgence and permissiveness toward the lawless". [147] Beinart concludes that "with the country divided against itself, contempt for Hubert Humphrey was the one thing on which left and right could agree". [148]

After 1968, the New Left lost strength and the more serious attacks on liberalism came from the right. Nevertheless, the liberal ideology lost its attractiveness. Liberal commentator E. J. Dionne contends: "If liberal ideology began to crumble intellectually in the 1960s it did so in part because the New Left represented a highly articulate and able wrecking crew". [149]

Liberals and the Vietnam War Edit

While the civil rights movement isolated liberals from their erstwhile allies, the Vietnam War threw a wedge into the liberal ranks, dividing pro-war hawks such as Senator Henry M. Jackson from doves such as 1972 presidential candidate Senator George McGovern. As the war became the leading political issue of the day, agreement on domestic matters was not enough to hold the liberal consensus together. [150]

In the 1960 presidential campaign, John F. Kennedy was liberal in domestic policy, but conservative on foreign policy, calling for a more aggressive stance against Communism than his opponent Richard Nixon.

Opposition to the war first emerged from the New Left and from black leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. By 1967, there was growing opposition from within liberal ranks, led in 1968 by Senators Eugene McCarthy and Robert F. Kennedy. After Democratic President Lyndon Johnson announced in March 1968 that he would not run for re-election, Kennedy and McCarthy fought each other for the nomination, with Kennedy besting McCarthy in a series of Democratic primaries. The assassination of Kennedy removed him from the race and Vice President Hubert Humphrey emerged from the disastrous 1968 Democratic National Convention with the presidential nomination of a deeply divided party. Meanwhile, Alabama Governor George Wallace announced his third-party run and pulled in many working-class whites in the rural South and big-city North, most of whom had been staunch Democrats. Liberals led by the labor unions focused their attacks on Wallace while Nixon led a unified Republican Party to victory.

Richard Nixon Edit

The chaos of 1968, a bitterly divided Democratic Party and bad blood between the New Left and the liberals gave Nixon the presidency. Nixon rhetorically attacked liberals, but in practice enacted many liberal policies and represented the more liberal wing of the Republican Party. Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency by executive order, expanded the national endowments for the arts and the humanities, began affirmative action policies, opened diplomatic relations with Communist China, starting the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks to reduce ballistic missile availability and turned the war over to South Vietnam. He withdrew all American combat troops by 1972, signed a peace treaty in 1973 and ended the draft. [151] Regardless of his policies, liberals hated Nixon and rejoiced when the Watergate scandal forced his resignation in 1974.

While the differences between Nixon and the liberals are obvious—the liberal wing of his own party favored politicians such as Nelson Rockefeller and William Scranton and Nixon overtly placed an emphasis on law and order over civil liberties, with Nixon's Enemies List being composed largely of liberals—in some ways the continuity of many of Nixon's policies with those of the Kennedy–Johnson years is more remarkable than the differences. Pointing at this continuity, New Left leader Noam Chomsky (himself on Nixon's enemies list) has called Nixon "in many respects the last liberal president". [152]

The political dominance of the liberal consensus even into the Nixon years can best be seen in policies such as the successful establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency or his failed proposal to replace the welfare system with a guaranteed annual income by way of a negative income tax. Affirmative action in its most quota-oriented form was a Nixon administration policy. The Nixon War on Drugs allocated two-thirds of its funds for treatment, a far higher ratio than was to be the case under any subsequent President, Republican or Democrat. Additionally, Nixon's normalization of diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China and his policy of détente with the Soviet Union were probably more popular with liberals than with his conservative base.

An opposing view offered by Cass R. Sunstein in The Second Bill of Rights (Basic Books, 2004, ISBN 0-465-08332-3) argues that through his Supreme Court appointments Nixon effectively ended a decades-long expansion of economic rights along the lines of those put forward in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948 by the United Nations General Assembly.

Labor unions Edit

Labor unions were central components of liberalism, operating through the New Deal coalition. [153] The unions gave strong support to the Vietnam War, thereby breaking with the blacks and with the intellectual and student wings of liberalism. From time to time, dissident groups such as the Progressive Alliance, the Citizen-Labor Energy Coalition and the National Labor Committee broke from the dominant AFL–CIO which they saw as too conservative. In 1995, the liberals managed to take control of the AFL–CIO under the leadership of John Sweeney of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Union membership in the private sector has fallen from 33% to 7%, with a resulting decline in political weight. In 2005, the SEIU, now led by Andy Stern, broke away from the AFL–CIO to form its own coalition, the Change to Win Federation, to support liberalism, including Barack Obama's policies, especially health care reform. Stern retired in 2010. [154] Regardless of the loss of numbers, unions have a long tradition and deep experience in organizing and continue at the state and national level to mobilize forces for liberal policies, especially regarding votes for liberal politicians, a graduated income tax, government spending on social programs, and support for unions. They also support the conservative position of protectionism. [155] Offsetting the decline in the private sector is a growth of unionization in the public sector. The membership of unions in the public sector such as teachers, police and city workers continues to rise, now covering 42% of local government workers. [156] The financial crisis that hit American states during the recession of 2008–2011 focused increasing attention on pension systems for government employees, with conservatives trying to reduce the pensions. [157]

Environmentalism Edit

A new unexpected political discourse emerged in the 1970s centered on the environment. [158] The debates did not fall neatly into a left–right dimension, for everyone proclaimed their support for the environment. Environmentalism appealed to the well-educated middle class, but it aroused fears among lumbermen, farmers, ranchers, blue collar workers, automobile companies and oil companies whose economic interests were threatened by new regulations. [159] As a result, conservatives tended to oppose environmentalism while liberals endorsed new measures to protect the environment. [160] Liberals supported the Wilderness Society and the Sierra Club and were sometimes successful in blocking efforts by lumber companies and oil drillers to expand operations. Environmental legislation limited the use of DDT, reduced acid rain and protected numerous animal and plant species. Within the environmental movement, there was a small radical element that favored direct action rather than legislation. [161] By the 21st century, debates over taking major action to reverse global warming by and dealing with carbon emissions were high on the agenda. Unlike Europe, where green parties play a growing role in politics, the environmental movement in the United States has given little support to third parties. [162]

End of the liberal consensus Edit

During the Nixon years and through the 1970s, the liberal consensus began to come apart and the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan as president marked the election of the first non-Keynesian administration and the first application of supply-side economics. The alliance with white Southern Democrats had been lost in the Civil Rights era. While the steady enfranchisement of African-Americans expanded the electorate to include many new voters sympathetic to liberal views, it was not quite enough to make up for the loss of some Southern Democrats. A tide of conservatism rose in response to perceived failures of liberal policies. [163] Organized labor, long a bulwark of the liberal consensus, was past the peak of its power in the United States and many unions had remained in favor of the Vietnam War even as liberal politicians increasingly turned against it.

In 1980, the leading liberal was Senator Ted Kennedy, who challenged incumbent President Jimmy Carter for the Democratic Party presidential nomination because Carter's failures had disenchanted liberals. Kennedy was decisively defeated, and in turn Carter was defeated by Ronald Reagan.

Historians often use 1979–1980 to date a philosophical realignment within the American electorate away from Democratic liberalism and toward Reagan Era conservatism. [164] [165] However, some liberals hold a minority view that there was no real shift and that Kennedy's defeat was merely by historical accident caused by his poor campaign, international crises and Carter's use of the incumbency. [166]

Abrams (2006) argues that the eclipse of liberalism was caused by a grass-roots populist revolt, often with a fundamentalist and anti-modern theme, abetted by corporations eager to weaken labor unions and the regulatory regime of the New Deal. The success of liberalism in the first place, he argues, came from efforts of a liberal elite that had entrenched itself in key social, political and especially judicial positions. These elites, Abrams contends, imposed their brand of liberalism from within some of the least democratic and most insulated institutions, especially the universities, foundations, independent regulatory agencies and the Supreme Court. With only a weak popular base, liberalism was vulnerable to a populist counter-revolution by the nation's democratic or majoritarian forces. [167]

Bill Clinton administration and the Third Way Edit

The term Third Way represents various political positions which try to reconcile right-wing and left-wing politics by advocating a varying synthesis of centre-right economic and left-leaning social policies. [168] Third Way was created as a serious re-evaluation of political policies within various center-left progressive movements in response to the ramifications of the collapse of international belief in the economic viability of the state economic interventionist policies that had previously been popularized by Keynesianism and the corresponding rise of popularity for neoliberalism and the New Right. [169] It supports the pursuit of greater egalitarianism in society through action to increase the distribution of skills, capacities, and productive endowments, while rejecting income redistribution as the means to achieve this. [170] It emphasizes commitment to balanced budgets, providing equal opportunity combined with an emphasis on personal responsibility, decentralization of government power to the lowest level possible, encouragement of public-private partnerships, improving labor supply, investment in human development, protection of social capital and protection of the environment. [171]

In the United States, Third Way adherents embrace fiscal conservatism to a greater extent than traditional social liberals and advocate some replacement of welfare with workfare and sometimes have a stronger preference for market solutions to traditional problems (as in pollution markets) while rejecting pure laissez-faire economics and other libertarian positions. The Third Way style of governing was firmly adopted and partly redefined during the presidency of Bill Clinton. [172] With respect to Presidents, the term Third Way was introduced by political scientist Stephen Skowronek, who wrote The Politics Presidents Make (1993, 1997 0-674-68937-2). [173] [174] Third Way Presidents "undermine the opposition by borrowing policies from it in an effort to seize the middle and with it to achieve political dominance. Think of Nixon's economic policies, which were a continuation of Johnson's "Great Society" Clinton's welfare reform and support of capital punishment and Obama's pragmatic centrism, reflected in his embrace, albeit very recent, of entitlements reform". [175]

After Tony Blair came to power in the United Kingdom, Clinton, Blair and other leading Third Way adherents organized conferences in 1997 to promote the Third Way philosophy at Chequers in England. [176] [177] In 2004, several veteran Democrats founded a new think tank in Washington, D.C. called Third Way which bills itself as a "strategy center for progressives". [178] Along with the Third Way think tank, the Democratic Leadership Council are also adherents of Third Way politics. [179]

The Third Way has been heavily criticized by many social democrats as well as anarchists, communists, socialists and democratic socialists in particular as a betrayal of left-wing values. The Democratic Leadership Council shut down in 2011. Commenting on the Democratic Leadership Council's waning influence, Politico characterized it as "the iconic centrist organization of the Clinton years" that "had long been fading from its mid-'90s political relevance, tarred by the left as a symbol of 'triangulation' at a moment when there's little appetite for intra-party warfare on the center-right". [180]

Specific definitions of Third Way policies may differ between Europe and the United States. [181]

Return of protest politics Edit

Republican and staunch conservative George W. Bush won the 2000 president election in a tightly contested race that included multiple recounts in the state of Florida. [182] The outcome was tied up in courts for a month until reaching the Supreme Court. [183] In the controversial ruling Bush v. Gore case on December 9, [184] the Supreme Court reversed a Florida Supreme Court decision ordering a third recount, essentially ending the dispute and resulting in Bush winning the presidency by electoral vote, although he lost the popular vote to Democrat and incumbent Vice President Al Gore. [185]

Bush's policies were deeply unpopular amongst American liberals, particularly his launching of the Iraq War which led to the return of massive protest politics in the form of opposition to the War in Iraq. Bush's approval rating went below the 50% mark in AP-Ipsos polling in December 2004. [186] Thereafter, his approval ratings and approval of his handling of domestic and foreign policy issues steadily dropped. Bush received heavy criticism for his handling of the Iraq War, his response to Hurricane Katrina and to the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse, NSA warrantless surveillance, the Plame affair and Guantanamo Bay detention camp controversies. [187] Polls conducted in 2006 showed an average of 37% approval ratings for Bush [188] which contributed to what Bush called the thumping of the Republican Party in the 2006 midterm elections. [189]

When the financial system verged on total collapse during the 2008 financial crisis, Bush pushed through large-scale rescue packages for banks and auto companies that some conservatives in Congress did not support and led some conservative commentators to criticize Bush for enacting legislation they saw as not conservative and more reminiscent of New Deal liberal ideology. [190] [191] [192]

In part due to backlash against the Bush administration, Barack Obama, seen by some as a liberal and progressive, [193] was elected to the presidency in 2008, the first African-American to hold the office. With a clear Democratic majority in both Houses of Congress, Obama managed to pass a $814 billion stimulus spending program, new regulations on investment firms and a law to expand health insurance coverage. [194] Led by the Tea Party movement, the Republicans won back control of one of the two Houses of Congress in the 2010 midterm elections. [195]

In reaction to ongoing financial crisis that began in 2008, protest politics continued into the Obama administration, most notably in the form of Occupy Wall Street. [196] The main issues are social and economic inequality, greed, corruption and the undue influence of corporations on government—particularly from the financial services sector. The Occupy Wall Street slogan "We are the 99%" addresses the growing income inequality and wealth distribution in the United States between the wealthiest 1% and the rest of the population. Although some of these were cited by liberal activists and Democrats, this information did not fully become a center of national attention until it was used as one of the ideas behind the movement itself. [197] A survey by Fordham University Department of Political Science found the protester's political affiliations to be overwhelmingly left-leaning, with 25% Democrat, 2% Republican, 11% Socialist, 11% Green Party, 12% Other and 39% independent. [198] While the survey also found that 80% of the protestors self-identified as slightly to extremely liberal, [198] Occupy Wall Street and the broader Occupy movement has been variously classified as a "liberation from liberalism" and even as having principles that "arise from scholarship on anarchy". [196] [199]

During a news conference on October 6, 2011, President Obama said: "I think it expresses the frustrations the American people feel, that we had the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, huge collateral damage all throughout the country [. ] and yet you're still seeing some of the same folks who acted irresponsibly trying to fight efforts to crack down on the abusive practices that got us into this in the first place". [200] [201] Some of the protests were seen as an attempt to address the Obama administration's double standard in dealing with Wall Street. [202]

Obama was re-elected President in November 2012, defeating Republican nominee Mitt Romney and sworn in for a second term on January 20, 2013. During his second term, Obama promoted domestic policies related to gun control in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and called for full equality for LGBT Americans while his administration filed briefs which urged the Supreme Court to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 and California's Proposition 8 as unconstitutional.

The shooting of Michael Brown and death of Eric Garner led to widespread protests (particularly in Ferguson, where Brown was shot) against perceived police militarization more generally and alleged police brutality against African-Americans more specifically. [203] [204]

Since the 1970s, there has been a concerted effort from both the left and right to color the word liberal with negative connotations. As those efforts succeeded more and more, progressives and their opponents took advantage of the negative meaning to great effect. In the 1988 presidential campaign, Republican George H. W. Bush joked about his opponent's refusal to own up to the "L-word label". When Michael Dukakis finally did declare himself a liberal, the Boston Globe headlined the story "Dukakis Uses L-Word". [205]

Conservative activists since the 1970s have employed liberal as an epithet, giving it an ominous or sinister connotation while invoking phrases like "free enterprise", "individual rights", "patriotic" and "the American way" to describe opponents of liberalism. [206] Historian John Lukacs noted in 2004 that then-President George W. Bush, confident that many Americans regarded liberal as a pejorative term, used it to label his political opponents during campaign speeches while his opponents subsequently avoided identifying themselves as liberal. [207] During the presidency of Gerald Ford, First Lady Betty Ford became known for her candid and outspoken liberal views in regard to the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), pro-choice on abortion, feminism, equal pay, decriminalization of certain drugs, gun control and civil rights. She was a vocal supporter and leader in the women's movement and Ford was also noted for bringing breast cancer awareness to national attention following her 1974 mastectomy. Her outspoken liberal views led to ridicule and opposition from the conservative wing of the Republican Party and by conservative activists who referred to Ford as "No Lady" and thought her actions were unbecoming of a First Lady in an increasingly conservative Republican Party.

Ronald Reagan's ridicule of liberalism is credited with transforming the word liberal into a derogatory epithet that any politician seeking national office would avoid. [207] [208] His speechwriters repeatedly contrasted "liberals" and "real Americans". For example, Reagan's then-Secretary of the Interior James G. Watt said: "I never use the words Republicans and Democrats. It's liberals and Americans". Reagan warned the United States of modern secularists who condoned abortion, excused teenage sexuality, opposed school prayer and attenuated traditional American values. His conviction that there existed a single proper personal behavior, religious worldview, economic system and proper attitude toward nations and peoples not supporting American interests worldwide is credited by comparative literature scholar Betty Jean Craige with polarizing the United States. Reagan persuaded a large portion of the public to dismiss any sincere analyses of his administration's policies as politically motivated criticisms put forth by what he labeled a liberal media. [208]

When George H. W. Bush employed the word liberal as a derogatory epithet during his 1988 presidential campaign, [209] he described himself as a patriot and described his liberal opponents as unpatriotic. Bush referred to liberalism as "the L-word" and sought to demonize opposing presidential candidate Michael Dukakis by labeling Dukakis "the liberal governor" and by pigeonholing him as part of what Bush called "the L-crowd". Bush recognized that motivating voters to fear Dukakis as a risky, non-mainstream candidate generated political support for his own campaign. Bush's campaign also used issues of prayer to arouse suspicions that Dukakis was less devout in his religious convictions. Bush's running mate, vice presidential candidate Dan Quayle, said to Christians at the 1988 Republican National Convention: "It's always good to be with people who are real Americans". [208] Bill Clinton avoided association with liberal as a political label during his 1992 presidential campaign against Bush by moving closer to the political center. [209]

Reactions to shift Edit

Liberal Republicans have voiced disappointment over conservative attacks on liberalism. One example is former governor of Minnesota and founder of the Liberal Republican Club Elmer L. Andersen, who commented that it is "unfortunate today that 'liberal' is used as a derogatory term". [210] After the 1980s, fewer activists and politicians were willing to characterize themselves as liberals. Historian Kevin Boyle explains: "There was a time when liberalism was, in Arthur Schlesinger's words 'a fighting faith'. [. ] Over the last three decades, though, liberalism has become an object of ridicule, condemned for its misplaced idealism, vilified for its tendency to equivocate and compromise, and mocked for its embrace of political correctness. Now even the most ardent reformers run from the label, fearing the damage it will inflict". [211] Republican political consultant Arthur J. Finkelstein was recognized by Democratic political consultants for having employed a formula of branding someone as a liberal and engaging in name-calling by using the word liberal in negative television commercials as frequently as possible such as in a 1996 ad against Representative Jack Reed: "That's liberal. That's Jack Reed. That's wrong. Call liberal Jack Reed and tell him his record on welfare is just too liberal for you". [212]

Democratic candidates and political liberals have sometimes shied away from the word liberal, in some cases identifying instead with terms such as progressive or moderate. [213] [214] George W. Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney accused their opponents of liberal elitism, softness and pro-terrorism. [215] Conservative political commentators such as Rush Limbaugh consistently used the word "liberal" as a pejorative label. When liberals shifted to the word "progressive" to describe their beliefs, conservative radio host Glenn Beck used "progressive" as an abusive label. [216] Historian Godfrey Hodgson notes the following: "The word liberal itself has fallen into disrepute. Nothing is too bad for conservative bloggers and columnists—let alone radio hosts—to say about liberals. Democrats themselves run a mile from the 'L word' for fear of being seen as dangerously outside the mainstream. Conservative politicians and publicists, by dint of associating liberals with all manner of absurdity so that many sensible people hesitated to risk being tagged with the label of liberalism, succeeded in persuading the country that it was more conservative than it actually was". [217]

Labels vs. beliefs Edit

In 2008 liberal historian Eric Alterman claimed that barely 20% of Americans are willing to accept the word liberal as a political label, but that supermajorities of Americans actually favor liberal positions time and again. Alterman points out that resistance to the label liberal is not surprising due to billions of dollars poured into the denigration of the term. A 2004 poll conducted by the National Election Study found that only 35% of respondents questioned identifying as liberal compared to 55% identifying as conservative. A 2004 Pew poll found 19% of respondents identifying as liberal and 39% identifying as conservative, with the balance identifying as moderate. A 2006 poll found that 19% identified as liberal and 36% conservative. In 2005, self-identifying moderates polled by Louis Harris & Associates were found to share essentially the same political beliefs as self-identifying liberals but rejected the word liberal because of the vilification heaped on the word itself by conservatives. Alterman acknowledges political scientist Drew Westen's observation that for most Americans the word liberal now carries meanings such as "elite", "tax and spend" and "out of touch". [215]

Free speech Edit

American liberals describe themselves as open to change and receptive to new ideas. [218] For example, liberals typically accept ideas that some others reject, such as evolution and catastrophic anthropogenic climate change. [219] [220]

Liberals tend to oppose the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling in 2010 that a corporation's First Amendment right to free speech encompasses freedom to make unlimited independent expenditures for any political party, politician or lobbyist as they see fit. President Obama called it "a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans". [221]

Opposition to state socialism Edit

In general, liberalism opposes socialism when it is understood to mean an alternative to capitalism based on state ownership of the means of production. American liberals usually doubt that bases for political opposition and freedom can survive when power is vested in the state as it was under state-socialist regimes. In line with the "general pragmatic, empirical basis" of liberalism, American liberal philosophy embraces the idea that if substantial abundance and equality of opportunity can be achieved through a system of mixed ownership, then there is no need for a rigid and oppressive bureaucracy. [30] Since the 1950s, some liberal public intellectuals have moved further toward the allegation that free markets can provide better solutions than top-down economic planning when appropriately regulated. Economist Paul Krugman argued that in hitherto-state-dominated functions such as nation-scale energy distribution and telecommunications marketizations can improve efficiency dramatically. [222] He also defended a monetary policy—inflation targeting—saying that it "most nearly approaches the usual goal of modern stabilization policy, which is to provide adequate demand in a clean, unobtrusive way that does not distort the allocation of resources". These distortions are of a kind that war-time and postwar Keynesian economists had accepted as an inevitable byproduct of fiscal policies that selectively reduced certain consumer taxes and directed spending toward government-managed stimulus projects, even where these economists theorized at a contentious distance from some of Keynes's own, more hands-off, positions which tended to emphasize stimulating of business investment. [223] Thomas Friedman is a liberal journalist who generally defends free trade as more likely to improve the lot of both rich and poor countries. [224] [225]

Role of the state Edit

There is a fundamental split among liberals as to the role of the state. Historian H. W. Brands notes that "the growth of the state is, by perhaps the most common definition, the essence of modern American liberalism". [226] According to Paul Starr, "[l]iberal constitutions impose constraints on the power of any single public official or branch of government as well as the state as a whole". [227]

Morality Edit

According to cognitive linguist George Lakoff, liberal philosophy is based on five basic categories of morality. The first, the promotion of fairness, is generally described as an emphasis on empathy as a desirable trait. With this social contract based on the Golden Rule comes the rationale for many liberal positions. The second category is assistance to those who cannot assist themselves. A nurturing, philanthropic spirit is one that is considered good in liberal philosophy. This leads to the third category, namely the desire to protect those who cannot defend themselves. The fourth category is the importance of fulfilling one's life, allowing a person to experience all that they can. The fifth and final category is the importance of caring for oneself since only thus can one act to help others. [228]

Liberalism increasingly shaped American intellectual life in the 1930s and 1940s, thanks in large part to two major two-volume studies that were widely read by academics, advanced students, intellectuals and the general public, namely Charles A. Beard and Mary Beard's The Rise of American Civilization (2 vol. 1927) [229] and Vernon L. Parrington's Main Currents in American Thought (2 vol. 1927). The Beards exposed the material forces that shaped American history while Parrington focused on the material forces that shaped American literature. According to the Beards, virtually all political history involved the bitter conflict between the agrarians, farmers and workers led by the Jeffersonians and the capitalists led by the Hamiltonians. The Civil War marked a great triumph of the capitalists and comprised the Second American Revolution. Younger historians welcome the realistic approach that emphasized hardcore economic interest as a powerful force and downplayed the role of ideas. [230] Parrington spoke to the crises at hand. According to historian Ralph Gabriel:

Main Currents attempted to trace the history of liberalism in the American scene for citizens who were caught in a desperate predicament. It was an age in which American liberalism set the United States, through the New Deal, on a Democratic middle-of-the-road course between the contemporary extremisms of Europe, that of Communism on one hand, and of Fascism on the other. [. ] The style of Main Currents was powered by Parrington's dedication to the cause of humane liberalism, by his ultimate humanistic, democratic faith. He saw the democratic dreams of the romantic first half of the 19th century as the climax of an epic story toward which early Americans moved and from which later Americans fell away. [231]

Liberal readers immediately realized where they stood in the battle between Jeffersonian democracy and Hamiltonian privilege. [232] Neither the Beards nor Parrington paid any attention to slavery, race relations, or minorities. For example, the Beards "dismissed the agitations of the abolitionists as a small direct consequence because of their lack of appeal to the public". [233]

Princeton historian Eric F. Goldman helped define American liberalism for postwar generations of university students. The first edition of his most influential work appeared in 1952 with the publication of Rendezvous with Destiny: A History of Modern American Reform, covering reform efforts from the Grant years to the 1950s. For decades, it was a staple of the undergraduate curriculum in history, highly regarded for its style and its exposition of modern American liberalism. According to Priscilla Roberts:

Lively, well-written, and highly readable, it provided an overview of eight decades of reformers, complete with arresting vignettes of numerous individuals, and stressed the continuities among successful American reform movements. Writing at the height of the Cold War, he also argued that the fundamental liberal tradition of the United States was moderate, centrist, and incrementalist, and decidedly non-socialist and non-totalitarian. While broadly sympathetic to the cause of American reform, Goldman was far from uncritical toward his subjects, faulting progressives of World War I for their lukewarm reception of the League of Nations, American reformers of the 1920s for their emphasis on freedom of lifestyles rather than economic reform, and those of the 1930s for overly tolerant attitude toward Soviet Russia. His views of past American reformers encapsulated the conventional, liberal, centrist orthodoxy of the early 1950s, from its support for anti-communism and international activism abroad and New Deal-style big government at home, to its condemnation of McCarthyism. [234]

For the general public, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. was the most widely read historian, social critic and public intellectual. Schlesinger's work explored the history of Jacksonian era and especially 20th-century American liberalism. His major books focused on leaders such as Andrew Jackson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy. He was a White House aide to Kennedy and his A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House won the 1966 Pulitzer Prize. In 1968, Schlesinger wrote speeches for Robert F. Kennedy in 1968 and the biography Robert Kennedy and His Times. He later popularized the term imperial presidency, warning against excessive power in the White House as typified by Richard Nixon. Late in his career, he came to oppose multiculturalism. [235]

How confident are you in America's infrastructure?

At a time of struggle for racial justice and economic equality in America, the past has become a battleground.

Culture warriors are fighting over what children should be taught in history classes about racism and slavery. The very nature of America is up for debate as decades of progress toward becoming a more just society matter little, in the eyes of some left-wing activists, compared to persistent inequities in housing, income, policing and educational achievement.

These debates raise an unavoidable question: How might activists fuse their social movements to effective electoral politics? Legislating change is impossible without winning elections, and electoral victories are improbable unless social movements are as persuasive as they are passionate.

On this episode of the History As It Happens podcast, the liberal roots of the Republican Party are viewed as a historic example of taking ideas once considered radical into mainstream politics.

If today’s Republican Party — from Ronald Reagan to Donald Trump — is known for fighting the left in the Congress, courts and culture, the Republican Party of the 1850s rose to prominence by building on “the foundational left-wing social movement of the modern era,” which was the antislavery movement, according to Princeton historian Matthew Karp.

Four years after the major antislavery party in the U.S., the Free Soil Party in 1852, received barely 5% of the popular vote, the Republican Party had become the largest political force in the North, Mr. Karp said.

In 1856, the first Republican presidential candidate, John C. Fremont, lost to Democrat James Buchanan. In 1860, Abraham Lincoln became the first Republican to win the White House, a remarkable breakthrough considering anti-slavery forces had only recently been “consigned to the margins of national politics for over a generation, and regarded as zealots or freaks by most national politicians,” Mr. Karp said.

“The Republican Party emerged from the ashes of the Whig Party, principally,” Mr. Karp said, but “the ideological core of the party came from the small third-party tradition, figures like Salmon Chase and Joshua Giddings, anti-slavery radicals who had been in the Liberty or Free Soil Party.”

Unlike the Garrisonian abolitionists, who disdained and rejected electoral politics as a path toward progress, the anti-slavery Republicans of the mid-1850s embraced a radicalism “that shook the system to its root,” Mr. Karp said. “It was not anti-electoral, though. It believed in contesting elections and winning an anti-slavery majority.”

After the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which repealed the Missouri Compromise, the new Republicans sharpened their anti-slavery rhetoric. Their aim would be, as Abraham Lincoln later put it, to place slavery on a path to extinction.

The use of rhetoric and crafting of a successful political program was “an art, not a science,” Mr. Karp said.

Republicans could neither appear too radical nor too soft in their moral and political critique of slavery if they wished to win state and federal elections in the North. Pro-slavery Democrats and other critics attacked the Republicans for supporting Black civil rights and for being willing to risk disunion to end slavery.

“The lesson from the 1850s for the left, and I say this as someone on the left, is the fusion between a moral and material politics,” said Mr. Karp, reflecting on the current battles over racial justice as well as economic equality, i.e. universal health insurance or higher taxes for billionaires.

“If your political vision, no matter how noble and just and egalitarian in aspiration, is not capable of speaking also in material terms to the immediate and embodied self-interest of a majority in democratic politics, you are going to struggle. … To date, the left has struggled to achieve that political fusion,” despite public support for some liberal or progressive policies, Mr. Karp said.

For more of the conversation with Mr. Karp, who is writing a book on the origins of the Republican Party, listen to this episode of History As It Happens.

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