From the Revolution on, argues Brands, Americans have been chronically skeptical of their government. This book succinctly traces this skepticism, demonstrating that it is only during periods of war that Americans have set aside their distrust and looked to their government to defend them.
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The Cold War, Brands shows, created an extended—and historically anomalous—period of dependence, thereby allowing for the massive expansion of the American welfare state. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in , Brands contends, the fate of American liberalism was sealed—and we continue to live with the consequences of its demise.
Brands, Distinguished Professor and Melbern G. A useful tonic to liberals who underestimate the difficulty of passing new government programs.
Readings and rhetoric on the literary front
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Today, surfers on the Internet can encounter numerous anti-Government websites posted by libertarians, advocates of free enterprise, militia groups and the like. Like a powerful spotlight projected onto a dark landscape, his account leaves much in shadow but illuminates important features of the terrain.
His discussion of the symbiotic relationship between the Cold War and modern liberalism is particularly good. Harry Truman created the national security state while simultaneously pursuing a liberal domestic agenda. But, he argues, it was in the s, under Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican, that New Deal liberalism truly became institutionalised.
Rather than seeking to roll back liberalism, Eisenhower presided over the extension of Social Security benefits to ten million predominantly black agricultural and domestic workers who had initially been excluded from the programme at the insistence of powerful Southern Democrats in Congress. He also launched the largest Federal public works programme in American history, the building of the interstate highway system. This dramatic exercise of national power was justified by the need to create routes for the swift evacuation of urban residents in the event of nuclear war although the more mundane interests of construction companies, suburban developers and automobile manufacturers certainly contributed.
Unprecedented Federal expenditure to upgrade American schooling an area traditionally left to individual states was explained by the need to catch up with the Soviets after Sputnik. Although Brands admits that Johnson never explicitly connected his Great Society programmes with the Cold War, it was more than a coincidence, he feels, that the same President who launched a massive expansion of New Deal programmes also fought the largest American war since World War Two.
It was under Nixon that the protection of the environment became a major Federal priority, school integration was seriously implemented in the South, and a small army of safety inspectors entered American workplaces. Nixon even proposed to replace welfare with a Federally guaranteed annual income. Nixon, as we know, destroyed his Presidency by the snooping, lying and obstructions of justice he set in train.
Liberals by this time had forgotten their own earlier complicity in CIA coups, FBI efforts to spy on and disrupt peaceful domestic protest movements, foreign assassination plots and the cynical manipulation of the press and public opinion. Perhaps Cold War liberalism was, in the end, an oxymoron, since the Cold War inevitably was fought in a profoundly illiberal manner.
If this analysis is correct, liberalism had only itself to blame for its own demise. With government having discredited itself, it is easy to understand why Americans lost faith in it. Ronald Reagan revived the Cold War during his first term in office, but this did not help reanimate liberalism.
Reagan fashioned a potent political appeal from anti-liberalism — lower taxes, thinly-disguised racism, reduced regulation of the economy and hostility to organised labour. Please enter your username or email address. You will receive a link to create a new password via email.
Modern liberalism in the United States - Wikipedia
Username or email. Reset password Go back. Brands Yale. Wishful thinking, to be sure, but might it be true? After all, since the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, the country has demanded and gotten aggressive federal action.
Should-Read: Henry Farrell: The Strange Death of Anglo-American Liberalism
For H. Brands, all of this might have been predicted. As he argues in The Strange Death of American Liberalism —a book completed well before the events of September 11—faith in government has never come easily to Americans, with one key exception: wartime. For Brands, whose own libertarian distaste for big government peeks through on occasion, this is no cause for regret. But today we are at war once again, and the American people have turned expectantly to Washington.
But is Brands right?