Liberalism in the United States

Liberalism in the United States

Liberalism in the United States is a broad political and philosophical mindset, favoring individual liberty, and opposing restrictions on liberty, whether they come from established religion, from government regulation, or from the existing class structure. ["Liberalism in America: A Note for Europeans", Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., in "The Politics of Hope", Donna Zajoin, editor, Riverside Press, 1962, ISBN 0-9747644-8-5. ] Liberalism in the United States takes various forms, ranging from classical liberalism to social liberalism to neoliberalism.

The United States Declaration of Independence speaks of "unalienable rights" to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness", which can be identified as ideals of classical liberalism, [Richardson, James L. "Contending Liberalisms in World Politics: Ideology and Power" (2001), Lynne Rienner Publishers.] (though Locke wrote of property as an inalienable right, while Jefferson wrote "the pursuit of happiness") and asserts that government may exist only with the "consent of the governed"; the Preamble to the Constitution enumerates among its purposes to "secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity"; the Bill of Rights contains numerous measures guaranteeing individual freedom, both from the authority of the state and from the tyranny of the majority; and the Reconstruction Amendments after the Civil War freed the slaves and aimed to extend to them and to their descendants the same rights as other Americans. [ "The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States", Roger Pilon, editor, Cato Institute, 2000, ISBN 1-882577-98-1 ] "Liberalism" in the sense of John Locke and freedom to acquire property, was a parallel concept. Historians debate how much it contradicted or reinforced republicanism.

The term "liberalism" in the United States today most often refers to Modern liberalism, a political current that reached its high-water marks with Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal, and Lyndon Johnson's Great Society. It is a form of social liberalism, combining support for government social programs, progressive taxation, and moderate Keynesianism with a broad concept of rights, which sometimes include a right to education and health care. However, this is by no means the only contemporary American political current that draws heavily on the liberal tradition. Libertarianism is often said to be generally resembling, though not necessarily identical to, American "classical liberalism". Libertarians advocate laissez-faire doctrines of political and economic liberalism, equality before the law, individual freedom and self-reliance.

Common ground

Liberals share a belief in individual rights, free enterprise, representative democracy, and the rule of law. In this sense, almost all Americans accept liberal ideals, so much so that it is easy to forget how revolutionary these ideals were when the American Constitution was written. Within this broad definition of liberalism, there are several competing philosophies.

Varieties of liberalism

Liberalism in the United States takes several distinct forms. Modern liberalism, which favors government intervention in some cases, takes a different approach to economics from classical liberalism, which favors a pure free market.

Classical liberalism

Classical liberalism in the United States (also called "laissez-faire liberalism"Adams, Ian, "Political Ideology Today" (2002), Manchester University Press, page 20] ) believes that a free market economy is the most productive and that religious opinions have no place in politics. It may be represented by Henry David Thoreau's statement "that government is best which governs least." Classical liberalism is a philosophy of individualism and self-responsibility. Classical liberals in the United States believe that if the economy is left to the natural forces of supply and demand, rather than these being determined by government intervention, it results in the most abundant satisfaction of human wants. Modern classical liberals oppose the concept of a welfare state. They also oppose government restriction on individual liberty.

Modern liberalism

Herbert Croly (1869 – 1930), philosopher and political theorist, was the first to effectively combine classical liberal theory with progressive philosophy to form what would come to be known as "American" liberalism; Maury Maverick was to summarize the combination as "freedom "plus" groceries." Croly presented the case for a mixed economy, increased spending on education, and the creation of a society based on the "brotherhood of mankind." Croly founded the periodical "The New Republic" to present his ideas.

His ideas influenced the political views of both Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. 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. In "The Techniques of Democracy" (1915) he argued against both dogmatic individualism and dogmatic socialism.

Demographics of Liberals

Liberalism remains most popular among those in academia and liberals commonly tend to be highly educated and relatively affluent. According to recent surveys, between 19 and 26 percent of the American electorate self-identify as liberal, versus moderate or conservative. [, although paleoliberals such as Peter Beinart exist to this day.

Liberals and Vietnam

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 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.

Vietnam could be called a "liberal war", part of the strategy of containment of Soviet Communism. In the 1960 presidential campaign, the liberal Kennedy was more hawkish on Southeast Asia than the more conservative Nixon. Although it can be argued that the war expanded only under the less liberal Johnson, there was enormous continuity of their cabinets.

As opposition to the war grew, a large portion of that opposition came from within liberal ranks. In 1968, the Dump Johnson movement forced Democratic President Johnson out of the race for his own party's nomination for the presidency. Assassination removed Robert Kennedy from contention and Vice President Hubert Humphrey emerged from the disastrous 1968 Democratic National Convention with the presidential nomination of a deeply divided party. The party's right wing had seceded to run Alabama governor George Wallace, and some on the left chose to sit out the election rather than vote for a man so closely associated with the Johnson administration (and with Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley). The result was a narrow victory for Republican Richard Nixon, a man who, although a California native, was largely regarded as from the old Northeast Republican Establishment, and quite liberal in many areas himself. Nixon enacted many liberal policies, including the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency, establishing the Drug Enforcement Agency, normalizing relations with Communist China, and starting the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks to reduce ballistic missile availability.

Nixon and the liberal consensus

While the differences between Nixon and the liberals are obvious – the liberal wing of his own party favored politicians like Nelson Rockefeller and William Scranton, and Nixon overtly placed an emphasis on "law and order" over civil liberties, and Nixon's Enemies List was 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, Noam Chomsky has called Nixon, "in many respects the last liberal president." []

Although liberals turned increasingly against the Vietnam War, to the point of running the very dovish George McGovern for President in 1972, the war had, as noted above, been of largely liberal origin. Similarly, while many liberals condemned actions such as the Nixon administrations support for the 1973 Chilean coup, it was not entirely dissimilar to the Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961 or the marine landing in the Dominican Republic in 1965.

The political dominance of the liberal consensus, even into the Nixon years, can best be seen in policies such as the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency or 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 the People's Republic of China and his policy of "detente" 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 Nixon, through his Supreme Court appointments, effectively ended a decades-long expansion under U.S. 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.

Liberal consensus, 1970 to the present day

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 U.S. 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 of moderation after the defeat of arch-liberal George McGovern in 1972.

Meanwhile, in the Republican ranks, a new wing of the party emerged. The libertarian Goldwater Republicans laid the groundwork for, and partially fed in to the Reagan Republicans.clarifyme In 1980, Ronald Reagan was the Republican party's Presidential nominee. More centrist groups such as the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) were on equal footing with liberals for control of the Democratic Party in this time. The centrist-liberal alliance of the federal level Democrats lasted through the 1980s, but declined in the 1990s when more conservative political figures sided with the Republican party.

The voting maps to the right show the outcome of the 2004 presidential election, before and after the population of each county is taken into account.

Quotations by some of the prominent advocates of liberalism in early America United States

Thomas Paine wrote,:"Society in every state is a blessing, but Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil." [ Thomas Paine, "Common Sense", Dover, 1997, ISBN 0-486-29602-4 ]

John Adams wrote,:"Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right... and a desire to know; but besides this, they have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge, I mean of the characters and conduct of their rulers." [ John Adams, "A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law", in "Political Writings of John Adams", George Peek, Jr. editor, Macmillan, 1954 ISBN 0-672-60010-2 ]

Samuel Adams wrote,:"Driven from every other corner of the earth, freedom of thought and the right of private judgment in matters of conscience direct their course to this happy country as their last asylum." [ Samuel Adams, speech, Philadelphia, August 1, 1776, in "The Writings of Samuel Adams,, 2003 ISBN 1-4043-4693-7 ]

Patrick Henry wrote,:"That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence,; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other. [ Patrick Henry, Virginia Bill of Rights, 1776, in "Origins of the Bill of Rights", Leonard Levy, editor, Yale University Press, 2001 ISBN 0-300-08901-5 ]

Thomas Jefferson wrote:
:"Were it left to me to have a government with no newspapers, or newspapers with no government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter." [ Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Colonel Edward Carrington, January 16, 1787, in "Thomas Jefferson : Writings : Autobiography / Notes on the State of Virginia / Public and Private Papers / Addresses / Letters", Merrill D. Peterson, editor, Library of America, 1984, ISBN 0-940450-16-X ] :"Experience declares that man is the only animal which devours his own kind; for I can apply no milder term... to the general prey of the rich upon the poor." [ Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Colonel Edward Carrington, January 16, 1787, ibid. ] :"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." [ Thomas Jefferson, letter to Colonel Charles Yancey, January 6, 1816, ibid. ]

ome positions associated with liberalism in the United States

*individual freedom
*unalienable human and natural rights
*freedom of speech and the press
*separation of church and state
*equality of opportunity for all regardless of race, age, religion, income, sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity
*freedom of information; the right to know what the government is doing
*the rule of law; the equal protection of the law
*higher concern for the environment and worker rights than market forces
*the value to society of working people [ "To protect the workers in their inalienable rights to a higher and better life...the right to be full sharers in the abundance which is the result of their brain and brawn, and the civilization which they are the founders and the mainstay... ." Samuel Gompers, Speech (1898) ]
*social security, universal health care, and the provision of support to poor workers & families
*progressive taxation
*reluctance to use military force in a rash and hasty manner
*woman's right to choose to have an abortion
*proclivity toward supporting "home" issues versus foreign
*proclivity toward supporting federal power versus state power
*proclivity toward supporting public education versus private
*right of citizens to have legally recognized marriages/unions regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity

Liberal thinkers and leaders in the United States

Some notable figures in the history of both modern and classical liberalism in the United States include:
*Samuel Adams (1722 - 1803)
*Thomas Jefferson (1743 - 1826)
*James Madison (1751 - 1836)
*Thomas Paine (1737 - 1809)
*Patrick Henry (1736 - 1799)
*John Quincy Adams (1767 - 1848)

Some notable figures in the history of modern liberalism in the United States include:

*John Dewey (1859 – 1952)
*Herbert Croly (1869 – 1930)
*Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882 – 1945)
*Eleanor Roosevelt (1884 – 1962)
*Harry Hopkins (1890 – 1946)
*Earl Warren (1891 – 1974)
*William O. Douglas (1898 – 1980)
*Adlai Stevenson (1900 – 1965)
*Lyndon B. Johnson (1908 – 1973)
*John Kenneth Galbraith (1908 – 2006)
*Hubert Humphrey (1911 – 1978)
*John F. Kennedy (1917 – 1963)
*Arthur Schlesinger Jr. (1917 – 2007)
*John Rawls (1921 – 2002)
*George McGovern (1922 – )
*Jimmy Carter (1924 – )
*Robert F. Kennedy (1925 – 1968)
*Coretta Scott King (1927 – 2006)
*Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929 – 1968)
*Richard Rorty (1931 – 2007)
*Ted Kennedy (1932 – )
*Barbara Jordan (1936 – 1996)
*Paul Wellstone (1944 – 2002)
*Robert Reich (1946 – )
*Al Gore (1948 – )
*Amy Gutmann (1949 – )
*Barack Obama (1961 – )

ee also

*Economic interventionism
*Progressive Christianity
*Progressivism in the United States
*Conservatism in the United States


* Lewis H. Lapham, "Tentacles of Rage" in "Harper's", September 2004, p. 31-41.

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