Forty years ago Louis Hartz surveyed American political thought in his classic The Liberal Tradition in America. He concluded that American politics was based on a broad liberal consensus made possible by a unique American historical experience, a thesis that seemed to minimize the role of political conflict.Today, with conflict on the rise and with much of liberalism in disarray, James P. Young revisits these questions to reevaluate Hartz's interpretation of American politics. Young's treatment of key movements in our history, especially Puritanism and republicanism's early contribution to the Revolution and the Constitution, demonstrates in the spirit of Dewey and others that the liberal tradition is richer and more complex than Hartz and most contemporary theorists have allowed.The breadth of Young's account is unrivaled. Reconsidering American Liberalism gives voice not just to Locke, Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison, Lincoln, and Dewey but also to Rawls, Shklar, Kateb, Wolin, and Walzer. In addition to broad discussions of all the major figures in over 300 years of political thought?with Lincoln looming particularly large?Young touches upon modern feminism and conservatism, multiculturalism, postmodernism, rights-based liberalism, and social democracy. Out of these contemporary materials Young synthesizes a new position, a smarter and tougher liberalism not just forged from historical materials but reshaped in the rough and tumble of contemporary thought and politics.This exceptionally timely study is both a powerful survey of the whole of U.S. political thought and a trenchant critique of contemporary political debates. At a time of acrimony and confusion in our national politics, Young enables us to see that salvaging a viable future depends upon our understanding how we have reached this point.Never without his own opinions, Young is scrupulously fair to the widest range of thinkers and marvelously clear in getting to the heart of their ideas. Although his book is a substantial contribution to political theory and the history of ideas, it is always accessible and lively enough for the informed general reader. It is essential reading for anyone who cares about the future of U.S. political thought or, indeed, about the future of the country itself.
Table of Contents
Preface and Acknowledgments -- Introduction: The Role of Liberalism in American Politics -- The Ambiguous Legacy of Puritanism -- John Locke and the Theory of Liberal Constitutionalism -- Liberalism, Republicanism, and Revolution -- Liberalism, Republicanism, and the Constitution -- Defining the Constitutional Text and the Emergence of Party Politics -- Some Notes on Jacksonian Democracy -- Abolition and the Crisis of Liberalism -- Laissez-Faire Conservatism and the Legitimation of Corporate Capitalism -- The Dilemmas of Populist Reform -- The Problem of Progressivism -- The New Deal and the Apotheosis of Reform -- Liberalism in Search of New Directions -- Race, Gender, Difference, and Equality -- Liberalism in Retreat: The Conservative Critique -- Rights-Based Liberalism -- Problems of Liberalism: Rights, Economy, Community, and the State -- Conclusion