This is a review of history of liberalism in USA as a product and political movement of self-conscious intellectuals directed against widely based democracy of uneducated and unrefined masses. This history starts a bit earlier then usual dating of progressive / liberal movement – not at the beginning of XX century, but a couple decades earlier when ideas of natural intellectual aristocracy start taking hold over minds of educated and semi-educated individuals.
The movement‘s objective was and is to overthrow “dictatorship of middle class” in America and establish rule of “the best and brightest” defined as individuals who successfully achieved accreditation from institutions accepted by other “intellectuals” as qualified to grand such accreditation: universities, especially ivy league universities, high brow publications, bureaucratic organizations of government, and all kinds of evaluation institutions created specifically for this purpose such as Oscars for cinema art, Pulitzers for journalism, Nobel for just about everything, and such. Since this accreditation in normal market economy does not necessarily could be easily converted into wealth, the paramount objective of the movement is to obtain control of violent machinery of the state and force transfer of resources from unwashed masses that created resources in the first place to control of “intellectuals”.
So far the movement was very successful, tremendously increasing size and role of government in American life. However this success was paid for by dramatic decrease in vitality of American economy and, consequently, levels of prosperity of American population. It seems that lately it got pretty close to achieving a tipping point when American Middle classes either rise to fight this enemy of their prosperity or will be destroyed by increasingly powerful bureaucracy that will inevitably will lead to additional and probably dramatic decrease in wealth and quality of life for vast majority of people including low level accredited “intellectuals”.
The beginning of contemporary liberalism came after Civil war massive industrialization that created the new rich. These new rich moved to the national scene in mass, but they were deeply resented by old gentry who was running country before. It took a few dozen years to produce forefathers of the movement: E.L. Godkin – founder of “Nation”, Henry Adams son of John Quincy and author of “Education of Henry Adams”, H.G.Wells author of Science fiction books, Herbert Croly founder of “The New Republic” and author of “The promise of American life”, Randolph Bourne author of “Youth and Life”, and Henry Mencken who made his name with books about plays of Bernard Shaw, and, obviously, Bernard Shaw himself.
All these individuals had similar world view saturated with contempt for regular people and hate to America as country where these contemptible regular people had power to live their lives the way they wanted and use resources they produced for their own purposes – the arrangement that severely limited intellectuals’ ability to direct development of society. Interestingly enough, this hate and contempt to democratic America was combined with admiration for Bismarck’s Germany, the country of all conquering bureaucracy that controlled society and provided social services appropriate for masses.
2. 1919: Betrayal and the Birth of Modern Liberalism
The idea here is that modern liberalism was born after WWI as rejection and even betrayal of progressivism. The progressives were aiming to improve democracy by reforms, while liberals rejected democracy as inappropriate form of government for contemporary world. The second term of Woodrow Wilson and red scare that actually was well justified, provided background necessary for this change. The milestone in change from improvement of America to contempt for America was collection of essays “Civilization in United States” written by elite Harvard graduates.
3. “Randolph Bourne Writing Novels” About Main Street
Bourne was a poet who hated America. This chapter is about a very popular novelist Sinclair Lewis and his novels saturated with the deep hate to American Bourgeois Middle Class, specifically the most famous of them “Main Street” and “Babbitt”.
4. Three Trials
These were: trial of Loeb and Leopold – two kids from rich Jewish families who killed a boy just from boredom and to prove their superiority after reading Nietzsche; Monkey trial about legality of teaching evolution; and Sacco and Vanzetti trial of two anarchists killing and robbing payroll guard. The point is made that intellectuals promote their agenda by using all three trials to prove that ideological complain can override the simple fact of each case: in Loeb case it was reasoning that killers were actually victims of society so their lives should be spared; in Scopes Monkey trial the whole case was intentionally initiated to reject ability of traditional society to maintain control over educational system; and in Sacco case the real fact were successfully overwritten by strife to make these two man into martyrs of labor movement.
5. Giants in Decline
This chapter traces fate of founding fathers of movement. Croly was disappointed with prospects of western civilization and eventually moved to support Mussolini and fascism before dying in 1930. Herbert Wells rejected both fascism and soviet communism, but for amazing reason of both these system being too democratic, that is having support of majority. Wells’ own ideas presented in “Open Conspiracy” were quite traditional – naturally born class of elite intellectuals ruling masses without any limitations whatsoever.
6. The Red Decade
It was decade of 1930s when western world was struggling through depression while intellectuals found example of bright future build in the Soviet Union with plan and control economy being superior to chaos of markets. The chapter brings in a number of Soviet supporters, propagandists, and enablers in USA who worked hard on behalf of Soviet Union as paradise for workers dutifully covering up truthful information about real Soviet Union as murderous totalitarian regime. Interestingly enough the common name for them at the time was “Penthouse Bolsheviks” that sounds a pretty close to contemporary “Limousine Liberals”.
7. The Passing Glory of the Vital Center
This is review of the next historical period of liberalism – post WWII development. It is mainly about Arthur Schlesinger and his ideas expressed in the book “Vital Center”. This strain of liberal / progressivism thinking was directed to distance itself from previous products of intellectuals – totalitarian Communist and Fascist regimes.
8. How Highbrows Killed Culture and Paved the Path to the 1960s
This is a story of 50s and liberal’s successful attack against American mass culture and consumerism. Two books from 1930s played a significant role in this attack: Aldous Huxley’s “The Brave New World” and Jose Ortega y Gusset’s “Revolt of masses”. Especially interesting is account of how mass culture moved to merge with classical culture through series of Great Books, TV performances of classic plays, and other attempts to bring high culture to masses. These attempts ended when intellectuals start mocking the combination of middle class with high culture and made a significant and successful effort to devalue such high culture in order to avoid any intellectual equalization with middle class.
9.Not a New Left but a New Class
This chapter is about 1960s when intellectuals moved to the next step of their battle against middle class using their prevalence in education to indoctrinate young generation move away from traditional values into tender hug of New Left. Galbraith provided the ideological foundation in his book “The Affluent Society”. In it intellectuals found their place as class of managers and technocrats superior to entrepreneurs and small business owners. It was also the time when pseudo scientific bureaucrats massively moved into politics first in Kennedy and then in Johnson administration. There is also an interesting reference to Eric Hoffer who identified this movement as the New Class aspiring to substitute old aristocracy and put themselves firmly on the top of masses.
10. From Jim Crow to Crow Jim
The point in this chapter is made that liberalism of 1960s was simultaneously statist and libertarian. It was striving to expand big government run by technocrats / bureaucrats and remove racial and cultural barriers. This went through a brief period of general agreement on colorless society, and then moved on to the new racism this time with superiority of black skin and inferiority of white. Paradoxically well-established white liberals for whom it seems gave license to expand government and correspondingly their power over middle class enthusiastically supported this switch.
This is review of tumultuous period of 1970s from initial far left liberal push of McGovern complain through republican big government of Richard Nixon who created a bunch of new federal administrations and such a pearl of liberalism as affirmative action, crash of Nixon administration in Watergate and return of one party rule of democrats with Jimmy Carter and completely democratic congress. 1970s was a time when failed rebels of 1960s got older and moved in mass into government, technocracy, and education. The big government supported businesses especially finance and other areas where many of intellectuals could find secure returns on their education relatively isolated from market. During these years leftists consolidated their views around ideology of big government and big business isolated from market and prepared foundation of their future massive offensive with objective to transform America into some kind of semi-socialist paradise where the best and brightest would make decisions in common interest and on behalf of everybody and where this contemptible middle class would be finally put in the low place where it belongs.
12. Progressives Against Progress: The Rise of Gentry Liberalism
This small chapter describes development of alliance between traditional liberalism and environmentalism that kind of provided “scientific” foundation for restrictions on growth of prosperity of middle class.
13. “The Philosophical Crisis of American Liberalism’?
This is description of philosophical transformation of Democratic Party from party of saloonkeepers, segregationists, private sector unions, and middle class workers with objective to provide protection and support to these groups within framework of market capitalism into party of government employees, public sector unions, and big government-protected businesses with objective to maximize control over all generated resources in hands of government leaving remnants of free market only in areas which government has problem to handle. At this point in late 1980s middle class was still too strong so technocratic liberal Dukakis went down to defeat due to damage inflicted on the middle class by liberal law non-enforcement politics, but philosophical framework for contemporary liberal / progressive ideology was pretty much settled down.
14. The Clinton Interregnum
Small chapter on Clinton years when liberal white house managed to accommodate republican legislature providing for relatively calm and prosperous period of economic prosperity. It also helped a lot that USSR fall apart so there were no serious external challenges.
15. Gentry Liberals and Public-Sector Unions to the Fore
This is a little bit more detailed description of formation of alliance between Democratic Party and Public employees Unions.
16. What Are Our Convictions?
This is an interesting question. In 2000s the left liberals of Democratic Party consolidated on mainly negative platform of opposing Bush II administration. With economy doing relatively well and Bush promoting republican version of expansion of big government, the main point become failure to limit wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Financial crisis caused by big government intervention into financial markets ironically opened way to power for truly Leftist technocratic liberal wing of Democratic Party.
17. Conclusion: Obama Versus Main Street
The final chapter is about Obama, his administration and personality. Quite a bit of space dedicated to Obama’s successful reelection complain of 2012 when he won despite poor economy and lack of success in anything that he tried to do except for growth of government power. The conclusion seems to be that bureaucratic version of social democracy remains the only one of all isms of XX century that is still standing and there is no visible alternative to this arrangement.
My Take on It:
After a century of struggle BUPs (bureaucrats and politicians) finally arrived. With successful reelection of Obama administration, its nearly complete control over Democratic Party, and, despite Republican Party’s control of Congress, American liberal totalitarians seems finally have an opportunity to transform America in what they want it to be – docile government employees, protected against risks and prosperity of the free market, diligently working to implement great visions of the Best and Brightest. Fortunately it is not going to happen.
The one thing that inevitably comes with BUPs (bureaucrats and politicians) taking control over economy and/or any part of it is dramatic decrease in quality and quantity of goods and services generated. We can see it in every one of parts of American economy taken over by BUPs over the last hundred years: railroads, communications during AT&T monopoly, air travel during Aeronautics board control, education, home mortgage industry, and now healthcare services.
It is not obvious, but I think that we are on the brink of dramatic changes and real transformation of America because of a simple fact that this country populated by people who do not like and do not accept long term decreases in their quality of life. They already feel that exactly such decrease is happening now and they are becoming restless. Eventually, and probably pretty soon the young activist part of middle class will overcome remnants of educational indoctrination they were subjected to in schools and colleges and turn against people who brought this plaque of big government on them – liberal intellectuals and their Democratic party.
It’s going to be fun to watch.