Saturday, April 9, 2011

Brinkley - Liberalism and Its Discontents

Brinkley, Alan. Liberalism and Its Discontents. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1998.

Brinkley explains liberalism in a series of collected essays, suggesting the changing nature of liberalism throughout the 20th century and the resulting difficulty in pinning it down with a specific definition. Nonetheless, I'll try to synthesize a definition: liberalism is the belief that the government can improve inefficiencies in the free market to the benefit of business, while simultaneously alleviating the effects of market downturns as well as supporting the poorest members of the nation. In foreign policy, the liberal state seeks to spread both the nation's ideals and interests through a combination of diplomacy and military power.

Chapter 1 - FDR had some serious mother issues - his mother was controlling, and he tried to resist her throughout his life. His relationship with Eleanor was professional and never intimate after she discovered his affair at the end of the 1910s. He admired TR and strove to follow in his footsteps. Polio was huge. His efforts to overcome its affects through effort and denial revealed his character. Overall, his personality was overly friendly and thus extremely evasive. It was hard to know the real FDR, and Brinkley suggests that perhaps no one ever did.
Chapter 2 - The New Deal had no core ideology. It was a series of experiments designed by the experts FDR brought in to the White House.
Chapter 3 - In 1937 many thought that the Depression was ending and it was time to roll back. The ensuing recession ended those ideas. World War II and the Cold War solidified the massive new state
Chapter 4 - The New Deal coalition made the Democratic party once again a national party. It no longer had to play the politics of race to win in the south, thus setting up JFK and LBJ to take on Civil Rights.
Chapter 7 - A helpful essay on historiography of the Interwar years.
Chapter 10 - Henry Stimson and John J. McCloy represent members of the liberal establishment: non-politicians who played a large role in the government, particularly in foreign policy.
Chapter 12 - A brief synthesis of Isserman combined with an explanation of the New Left.
Chapter 14 - After 1968, the parties sought to gain control of their political conventions, turning them from exciting, unpredictable sites of politicking to scripted, ordered declarations of the pre-ordained candidates.
Chapter 15 - Oral Roberts represents how one religious figure emphasized that American Christians could be good Christians and still pursue prosperity in America.
Chapter 16 - A helpful synthesis of American conservatism, particularly the new Reagan right.

Helpful Quote
"...[the National Resources Planning Board of World War II showed] how the "planing" ideal was shifting away from the vision of a rationally ordered economy (prominent in the early 1930s), away too from the idea ofthe activist regulatroy state (a central feature of late 1930s reform) and toward the concept of compensatory action. Planning would enable govenrment to stiumlate economic growth through fiscal policies." (p.56)

"Brinkley writes with some "skepticism about the progressive assumptions of much twentieth-century political history," an atti- tude evident in his first book, Voices of Protest (1982). There Brinkley argued that a "popu- list" resistance to centralized wealth and power, speaking on behalf of family, community, and local self-determination, survived long beyond the nineteenth century, into the 1930s, as a counterweight to the nationalizing and bu- reaucratizing trends widely assumed by liberal historians to have made the Rooseveltian wel- fare state inevitable. "The Late New Deal" similarly casts doubt on the self-assurance of liberal historians by disclosing great uncer- tainty and indeterminacy in the substance and development of liberal ideals. Amid economic and political setbacks, Brinkley finds, New Deal reformers tacked and swayed, moving away from their initial aspiration to build a new, harmonious political economy toward successively more limited visions. If thorough reconstruction was unachievable, they opted instead for a strong regulatory state fighting monopoly-before turning to a roughly Key- nesian program of government-sustained eco- nomic growth. Finally, they adopted an even more modest program trusting in the dyna- mism of capitalism itself to fund public relief and social insurance programs as mere acces- sories to the marketplace. Besides establishing a limited welfare state, Brinkley concludes, "the New Deal is also important for the op- tions it foreclosed, for the way it tried to take certain paths and failed in trying, for how it delegitimized certain concepts of the state even as it was legitimizing others."

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