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The American Liberal Tradition Reconsidered

The Contested Legacy of Louis Hartz

Edited by Mark Hulliung

April 2010
296 pages, 6 x 9
American Political Thought
Cloth ISBN 978-0-7006-1708-1, $34.95

Book cover imageOnce upon a time in America, Herbert Hoover accused Franklin D. Roosevelt of usurping the coveted label “liberal.” Nowadays, Republicans have so successfully stigmatized the word that even Democrats run from it. But in 1955, Louis Hartz offered perhaps the most famous interpretation of American history of the second half of the twentieth century in his book The Liberal Tradition in America, to which students of American political culture have found themselves returning time and again over the last several decades.

Hartz argued that America is inherently liberal, since it lacked a feudal heritage, was born middle class, and consequently did not develop either a strong conservative or socialist movement. Liberalism’s Lockean outlook was America’s one and only political philosophy, he believed.

In this new book, eight prominent scholars consider whether Hartz’s analysis should be repudiated or updated and whether a study of America as a “liberal society” is still a rewarding undertaking. Offering their own respective understandings of the significance of The Liberal Tradition in America in the worlds of yesterday and today, they reassess the Hartzian legacy after half a century while also addressing the triumphs, failures, trials, and tribulations of liberalism in America.
These eight distinguished scholars offer insights that are often critical of Hartz, representing a plurality of viewpoints that suggest no definitive conclusion as to the status today of his famous book. But although some may judge Hartz’s work as misguided, they affirm that his concern for the fate of liberal society is still with us.

These stimulating essays will reward all readers who seek a better understanding of both the Hartzian legacy and America’s brand of liberalism today. More than just engaging with Hartz, they bring their own views of the American liberal tradition to the fore.

“A substantial contribution that ably assesses where things stand more than fifty years after the publication of Hartz’s provocative reading of American history in The Liberal Tradition in America. Whatever its standing today, its impact was undeniably huge in its own day and its reassessment by Hulliung and his contributors is long overdue.”—Michael P. Zuckert, author of Launching Liberalism

MARK HULLIUNG is Richard Koret Professor of History at Brandeis University. His two most recent books are Citizens and Citoyens: Republicans and Liberals in America and France and The Social Contract in America: From the Revolution to the Present Age, also from Kansas. 


Richard J. Ellis
Willamette University

Alan Gibson
California State University, Chico

Mark Hulliung
Brandeis University

Desmond King
University of Oxford

James T. Kloppenberg
Harvard University

Carol Nackenoff
Swarthmore College

Rogers Smith
University of Pennsylvania

Marc Stears
University of Oxford

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