Blood of the Liberals

George Packer, Author Farrar Straus Giroux $26 (405p) ISBN 978-0-374-25142-0
Journalist and novelist Packer (Central Square) illuminates the evolution of American liberalism by examining three generations of family history in this thoughtful, rueful work. Packer's maternal grandfather, George Huddleston (1869-1960), called himself ""a Thomas Jefferson Democrat"" and, as an Alabama congressman from 1915 to 1937, fought for the rights of poor people against the increasing power of big business. The author's father, Herbert Packer (1926-1972), member of the new intellectual middle class risen from impoverished immigrant roots, believed in the power of a liberal federal government run by educated professionals to foster a fairer society. Yet Huddleston ended his career as an anti-New Deal conservative, and Herbert Packer committed suicide three years after a stroke brought on in part by his conflicts as a Stanford University administrator with radical students who saw the rule of reason, in which he so fervently believed, as a facade erected by the military-industrial machine. The author, born in 1960, came of age in a society where liberalism was ""the L word,"" the creed of elitists and losers. The liberal postwar order, he notes, ""replaced economic issues, on which Democrats had been winning for two decades, with social ones, on which Republicans would win for most of the next four."" Politics is now so discredited that ""we're left to put our faith in God and the market, a pair of invisible hands."" Yet even as he perceptively analyzes liberalism's failings (with appropriate attention devoted to the personal particularities of his own family), Packer pays cogent tribute to the passion for racial and economic justice that are its lasting legacy. ""The liberal impulse,"" he asserts in a moving conclusion, ""still beats somewhere under our skin."" (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 07/31/2000
Release date: 08/01/2000
Paperback - 368 pages - 978-0-374-52778-5
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