The Strange Death of American Liberalism

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Yale University Press, Jan 1, 2001 - Political Science - 200 pages
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In this provocative book, H. W. Brands confronts the vital question of why an ever-increasing number of Americans do not trust the federal government to improve their lives and to heal major social ills. How is it that government has come to be seen as the source of many of our problems, rather than the potential means of their solution? How has the word liberal become a term of abuse in American political discourse? From the Revolution on, argues Brands, Americans have been chronically skeptical of their government. This book succinetly traces this skepticism, demonstrating that it is only during periods of war that Americans have set aside their distrust and looked to their government to defend them. The Cold War, Brands shows, created an extended, and historically anomalous, period of dependence, thereby allowing for the massive expansion of the American welfare state. Since the 1970s, and the devastating blow dealt to Cold War ideology by America's defeat in Vietnam, Americans have returned to their characteristic distrust of government. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Brands contends, the fate of American liberalism was sealed - and we continue to live with the

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The strange death of American liberalism

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Brands (Texas A&M) is a prolific and versatile historian who has written books about the Revolutionary era (The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin), the late 19th and early 20th ... Read full review

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About the Author
Henry William Brands is an American historian and author of 22 books, co-author of 2 and editor of 4, he is also a Professor at the University of Texas at Austin. He graduated
from Stanford University in 1975 with a B.A. in history and from Jesuit High School in Portland, Oregon. One his most famous book is The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin (2000).
Introduction & Analysis
In this book the author tries to explain the causes of the failure of liberalism in modern America. By “liberalism,” Brands means the belief that government should not just protect life, liberty, and property, but should undertake programs designed to make life better. From the beginning of the book it is clear that the writer advocates liberalism, but the modern conception of liberalism and tries and disdains its challengers. The author is not going to prove the correctness of the liberalism but he wants to explain why he thinks it is dead. Brands is not sure about the date of liberalism death and he is confusing in this regard, once he says that liberalism has died in 1975 and then claims that it has died with the end of cold war. He believes that liberalism was possible because of the Cold War American felt that they needed a powerful central government to protect internationally and this led to trust in government. But breakdown in Vietnam, ending in 1975, changed the American people point of view toward government and made them skeptical of a big government and liberal standings of politicians.
Brands argues that liberalism is a political agreement that can only succeed in the U.S. during wartime. Only during war Americans give up distrust of the federal government and allow it to take over new responsibilities. Some Baby Boomers think that liberalism is a natural and permanent condition in U.S. politics, it just needs a revival the author believes that it is an illusion that has fooled them; while American wars were short so the big government was short-lived too, but the duration of the Cold War brought about more continuous intrusion of the central government into Americans' lives than ever. Brands says that always the growth in big government has corresponded with each of the major war, dating back to the American revolution, but after the wars people get so cynical toward big government. Conservatives are probably joyful to read this book because the author believes that conservatism is the natural state for Americans. Like most conservatives, Brands attaches liberalism to big government, yet mentions frequently how conservatives have welcomed big government in appropriate time.
Totally the author believes that liberalism is dead because people have lost their confidence in government and this death happens when the government grows and basic right of people and their freedom is at risk from the government which would intrude in peoples’ lives and restrict their freedom. Liberalism can be revived by restricting the central government, in fact liberalism in the US is a cyclic phenomenon, which fades away with growth in central government and reemerges with decline in central government.
The book is recommended to those who want to know about the two mainstream ideologies of the US society and politics, their effect on each other and on the US politics and society also conflicting essence of them regarding each other and complementary essence of them regarding making the American society. The book proposes an interesting thesis, decline in liberalism and growth in central government, during major American wars, which can be tested taking previous American wars in account and especially ensuing ones.

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About the author (2001)

H. W. Brands is Distinguished Professor of History and Ralph R. Thomas '21 Professor in Liberal Arts, Texas A&M University.

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