The Strange Death of American Liberalism

H.W. Brands

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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 succinctly 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 consequences of its demise.

H. W. Brands is Distinguished Professor of History and Ralph R. Thomas ’21 Professor in Liberal Arts, Texas A&M University. He is the author of numerous books, including T.R.: The Last Romantic and The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin.

“An engaging and judiciously researched book. It offers a compelling historical explanation for the current state of political discourse in America.”—Douglas Brinkley, director, Eisenhower Center for American Studies at the University of New Orleans

“H.W. Brands has once again written a lucid, brisk, accessible, incisively argued book with laser-like focus on a major historical question involving America’s recent past: ‘what killed liberalism?’”—Michael Sherry, author of In the Shadow of War

“A marvelous work of historical scholarship and political analysis. H. W. Brands has a keen eye for the telling quote and arresting story. His argument, that the Cold War breathed life into liberalism and the Cold War’s end killed it off, is bound to engage and challenge readers across disciplines and the entire political spectrum. This is public scholarship at its best.”—Robert D. Schulzinger, Professor of History and Director of the International Affairs Program, University of Colorado, Boulder

“[A] crisp, accessible argument.”—Booklist

“In this provocative book, 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?”—Forthcoming Books & Journals

“A brilliant autopsy of a dearly departed American political tradition. . . . [A] provocative essay. . . . Brands’s argument, carefully made and easily followed, will be of interest to a wide range of readers.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Brands writes history with a vast, sweeping and yet somehow still meticulously detailed brush. Working in a reasonably chronological fashion, he scopes out the case against liberalism from American Revolutionary times straight through the present day, stopping at nearly every presidency along the way to define and bolster his argument.”—Christy Setzer, NationalJournal.com

“Brands’ work contributes mightily to the discussion of what liberalism is. He succeeds with great verve and style.”—David Turner, Raleigh News and Observer

“This is a genuinely thought-provoking book and anyone interested in American history will want to come to terms with it.”—Virginia Quarterly Review

ISBN: 9780300090215
Publication Date: October 11, 2001
224 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4