What Was Liberalism? The Past, Present and Promise of a Noble Idea

James Traub. Basic, $30 (320p) ISBN 978-1-541-61685-1
A once glorious, now besieged creed gets a searching critique in this shrewd political history. Journalist Traub (John Quincy Adams: Militant Spirit) explores liberalism’s development through the ideas of leading theoreticians, from James Madison’s model of limited, constitutional, sometimes antimajoritarian government, to John Stuart Mill’s brief for unfettered personal liberty, to the 20th-century Progressives’ program for an expansive state that tames market capitalism with regulation, provisioning of public goods, and social insurance. His survey culminates in liberalism’s postwar triumphs against fascism and then communism in Europe, and in furthering civil rights in the United States, where it became America’s “civic religion.” He then charts liberalism’s decline as flagging welfare and regulatory states were challenged by resurgent free-market dogmas, globalization brought economic upheaval and insecurity to Western workers, and liberal cosmopolitanism clashed with traditional worldviews. The result, he argues, is the Trump-ian populist backlash against bedrock liberal tenets of inclusiveness, individual rights, and reasoned debate. Writing in elegant, aphoristic prose, Traub’s trenchant analysis takes populist discontents seriously, particularly on the topic of immigration—“It is not at all clear that pious Syrians can become progressive Swedes”—while defending liberalism’s core values. The result is a clear-eyed, timely discussion that illuminates both liberalism’s humanity and its hubris. Agent: Andrew Wylie, Wylie Agency. (Sept.)
Reviewed on : 08/08/2019
Release date: 09/24/2019
Genre: Nonfiction
Ebook - 978-1-5416-1684-4
Compact Disc - 978-1-5491-0118-2
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