When America Was Great: The Fighting Faith of Postwar Liberalism

Kevin Mattson, Author Routledge $32.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-415-94775-6
According to Mattson, Ronald Reagan's 1988 Republican Convention address crowned a long campaign to turn the word ""liberal"" into a dreaded insult. In this volume, the prolific scholar of the Left defends what he views as an embattled faith under attack from both sides, with the hope that ""a better understanding of liberalism can improve current political discussion."" Mattson demonstrates the dynamism of the tradition by examining the views and trajectories of leading Cold War liberal thinkers, ""eggheads"" like economist John Kenneth Galbraith, historian Arthur Schlesinger, journalist James Wechsler and Christian theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. Wedged between the Henry Wallace-led progressives on the Left and Senator Joe McCarthy on the Right, these men negotiated intellectual and practical challenges like communism, conservation, civil rights, Vietnam and the balancing of principles with power. They defined the ""Fighting Faith,"" Mattson writes, during a time of great upheaval through their passionate commitment to the ideals of America and their willingness to criticize it. Mattson's thoroughly researched accounts and clear prose provide a strong sense of his protagonists, though at times extensive reporting overshadows limited analysis. He betrays his own liberal pride, but highlights his characters' weaknesses, including muddled beliefs like ""countervailing power"" of labor against business interests and ""cycles of history"" between conservative and liberal orientations of the polity. Mattson also cedes ground to liberalism's critics, admitting that his egghead elite ""traveled in a world of white men"" and that because ""liberalism embraces complexity and nuance over simple sloganeering, it is a foreign language to the shouting world of pundits."" Yet, by failing to extrapolate his implications to the present day, Mattson falls short of his primary goal.
Reviewed on: 09/27/2004
Release date: 09/01/2004
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 244 pages - 978-0-203-02104-0
Paperback - 256 pages - 978-0-415-94776-3
Ebook - 256 pages - 978-1-135-93676-1
Ebook - 256 pages - 978-1-135-93675-4
Ebook - 256 pages - 978-1-135-93671-6
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