This book is an interpretation of our recent political past. It offers an explanation of the rise and decline of postwar liberalism, a creed that was vitally concerned with civil rights. Partly because of such special concern, liberalism inspired in many a daring vision of social justice and, by the end of the 1960s, inspired in many more a reaction of loathing and contempt. To explain the rise of this ideology, John Frederick Martin has drawn from numerous archives and interviews and assessed the contributions of Truman, Stevenson, Kefauver, Harriman, Kennedy, and Johnson. To explain its decline, he has analyzed the reaction to the liberals’ government–the sentiments aroused by busing, affirmative action, Model Cities, and the militance of blacks, Democrats, and white ethnics. Though varying in their intent, these responses shared a dislike of the liberals’ treatment of minorities and a dread of government power–a dread made stronger by the antiwar movement and the Watergate scandal–and thereby discredited the very ends and means of the liberal program. By the early 1970s, Martin argues, it was no surprise that a politics of consumerism–pivoting on the rights of the average citizen, not of the deprived citizen, and eschewing government power–had replaced the liberal ideology. Placing this narrative in a larger context, Martin explains the importance of the race issue in previous liberal movements and composes an interpretation of the whole of American liberalism as well as of its latest stage and the Democrats’ recent ordeal.
Introduction -- Liberalism and American History -- The Contradictions of Liberalism -- The Limits of Liberalism -- The Limits of Reform -- The New Deal -- Civil Rights and the Liberal Triumph -- The Fair Deal -- The Truce of 1952 -- The Resumption of Conflict -- The 1956 Campaign -- The Liberal Triumph -- Civil Rights and the Liberal Failure -- Beyond Liberalism -- Liberalism Reassessed -- The Postliberal World