front cover of American Catastrophe
American Catastrophe
Fundamentalism, Climate Change, Gun Rights, and the Rhetoric of Donald J. Trump
Luke Winslow
The Ohio State University Press, 2020
On the face of it, most of us would agree that catastrophe is harmful and avoiding it is key to human survival and progress. And yet, the planet warms, 30,000 more Americans are killed by guns each year, and Donald J. Trump creates political chaos with his rage tweets. American Catastrophe explores such examples to argue that, in fact, we live in an age where catastrophe not only functions as a dominant organizing rhetoric but further as an appealing and unifying force for many communities across America.
 
Luke Winslow introduces the rhetorical homology as a critical tool useful for understanding how catastrophic appeals unite Americans across disparate religious, ecological, cultural, and political spheres. More specifically, the four case study chapters examining Christian fundamentalism, anti-environmentalism, gun rights messaging, and the administration of Donald Trump reveal a consistent formal pattern oriented toward catastrophe. In teasing out this orientation toward catastrophe, Winslow offers a fresh, provocative, and insightful contribution to our most pressing social challenges.
 
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American Evangelicals and the 1960s
Edited by Axel R. Schäfer
University of Wisconsin Press, 2013
In the late 1970s, the New Christian Right emerged as a formidable political force, boldly announcing itself as a unified movement representing the views of a "moral majority." But that movement did not spring fully formed from its predecessors. American Evangelicals and the 1960s refutes the thesis that evangelical politics were a purely inflammatory backlash against the cultural and political upheaval of the decade.
            Bringing together fresh research and innovative interpretations, this book demonstrates that evangelicals actually participated in broader American developments during "the long 1960s," that the evangelical constituency was more diverse than often noted, and that the notion of right-wing evangelical politics as a backlash was a later creation serving the interests of both Republican-conservative alliances and their critics. Evangelicalism's involvement with—rather than its reaction against—the main social movements, public policy initiatives, and cultural transformations of the 1960s proved significant in its 1970s political ascendance. Twelve essays that range thematically from the oil industry to prison ministry and from American counterculture to the Second Vatican Council depict modern evangelicalism both as a religious movement with its own internal dynamics and as one fully integrated into general American history.
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America’s New Racial Battle Lines
Protect versus Repair
Rogers M. Smith and Desmond King
University of Chicago Press, 2024

A sobering portrait of the United States’s divided racial politics.

For nearly two decades, Rogers M. Smith and Desmond King have charted the shifting racial policy alliances that have shaped American politics across different eras. In America’s New Racial Battle Lines, they show that US racial policy debates are undergoing fundamental change. Disputes over colorblind versus race-conscious policies have given way to new lines of conflict. Today’s conservatives promise to protect traditionalist, predominantly white, Christian Americans against what they call the “radical” Left. Meanwhile, today’s progressives seek not just to integrate American institutions but to more fully transform and “repair” pervasive systemic racism.

Drawing on interviews with activists, surveys, social network analyses, and comprehensive reviews of federal, state, and local policies and advocacy groups, Smith and King map the memberships and goals of two rival racial policy alliances and delineate the contrasting stories each side tells. They also show that these increasingly polarized racial policy alliances are substantially funded on both the Left and Right.

Placing today’s conflicts in theoretical and historical perspectives, Smith and King analyze where these intensifying clashes may take the nation in the years ahead. They highlight the great potential for mounting violence, as well as the remaining possibilities for finding common ground.

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Beautiful Losers
Essays on the Failure of American Conservatism
Samuel Francis
University of Missouri Press, 1994

The 1992 presidential election campaign showed just how deep were the divisions within the Republican party.  In Beautiful Losers, Samuel Francis argues that the victory of the Democratic party marks not only the end of the Reagan-Bush era, but the failure of the American conservatism.

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Beyond Vietnam
The Politics of Protest in Massachusetts, 1974-1990
Robert Surbrug
University of Massachusetts Press, 2009
Narratives of the 1960s typically describe an ascending arc of political activism that peaked in 1968, then began a precipitous descent as the revolutionary dreams of the New Left failed to come to fruition. The May 1970 killings at Kent State often stand as an epitaph to a decade of protest, after which the principal story becomes the resurgence of the right.

In Beyond Vietnam: The Politics of Protest in Massachusetts, 1974–1990, Robert Surbrug challenges this prevailing paradigm by examining three protest movements that were direct descendants of Vietnam-era activism: the movement against nuclear energy; the nuclear weapons freeze movement; and the Central American solidarity movement. Drawing lessons from the successes and failures of the preceding era, these movements had a significant impact on the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, which itself had been undergoing major transformations in the wake of the 1960s.

By focusing on one state—Massachusetts—Surbrug is able to illuminate the interaction between the activist left and mainstream liberalism, showing how each influenced the other and how together they helped shape the politics of the 1970s and 1980s. During these years, Massachusetts emerged as a center of opposition to nuclear power, the continuing Cold War arms race, and Ronald Reagan's interventionist policies in Central America. The state's role in national policy was greatly enhanced by prominent political figures such as Senator Edward Kennedy, Speaker of the House Thomas "Tip" O'Neill, presidential candidate Governor Michael Dukakis, Vietnam veteran Senator John Kerry, and moderate Republican Silvio Conte.

What Beyond Vietnam shows is that the rise of the right in the aftermath of the 1960s was by no means a unilateral ascendancy. Instead it involved a bifurcation of American politics in which an increasingly strong conservative movement was vigorously contested by an activist left and a reinvigorated mainstream liberalism.
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Big Money Unleashed
The Campaign to Deregulate Election Spending
Ann Southworth
University of Chicago Press, 2023

The story of how the First Amendment became an obstacle to campaign finance regulation—a history that began much earlier than most imagine.

Americans across party lines believe that public policy is rigged in favor of those who wield big money in elections. Yet, legislators are restricted in addressing these concerns by a series of Supreme Court decisions finding that campaign finance regulations violate the First Amendment.

Big Money Unleashed argues that our current impasse is the result of a long-term process involving many players. Naturally, the justices played critical roles—but so did the attorneys who hatched the theories necessary to support the legal doctrine, the legal advocacy groups that advanced those arguments, the wealthy patrons who financed these efforts, and the networks through which they coordinated strategy and held the Court accountable.

Drawing from interviews, public records, and archival materials, Big Money Unleashed chronicles how these players borrowed a litigation strategy pioneered by the NAACP to dismantle racial segregation and used it to advance a very different type of cause.

[more]

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Bring the War Home
The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America
Kathleen Belew
Harvard University Press, 2018

A Guardian Best Book of the Year

“A gripping study of white power…Explosive.”
New York Times


“Helps explain how we got to today’s alt-right.”
—Terry Gross, Fresh Air


The white power movement in America wants a revolution.

Returning to a country ripped apart by a war they felt they were not allowed to win, a small group of Vietnam veterans and disgruntled civilians who shared their virulent anti-communism and potent sense of betrayal concluded that waging war on their own country was justified. The command structure of their covert movement gave women a prominent place. They operated with discipline, made tragic headlines in Waco, Ruby Ridge, and Oklahoma City, and are resurgent under President Trump. Based on a decade of deep immersion in previously classified FBI files and on extensive interviews, Bring the War Home tells the story of American paramilitarism and the birth of the alt-right.

“A much-needed and troubling revelation… The power of Belew’s book comes, in part, from the fact that it reveals a story about white-racist violence that we should all already know.”
The Nation

“Fascinating… Shows how hatred of the federal government, fears of communism, and racism all combined in white-power ideology and explains why our responses to the movement have long been woefully inadequate.”
Slate

“Superbly comprehensive…supplants all journalistic accounts of America’s resurgent white supremacism.”
—Pankaj Mishra, The Guardian

[more]

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Broken Government?
Edited by Iwan Morgan and Philip D. Davies
University of London Press, 2013

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Cancel Wars
How Universities Can Foster Free Speech, Promote Inclusion, and Renew Democracy
Sigal R. Ben-Porath
University of Chicago Press, 2023
An even-handed exploration of the polarized state of campus politics that suggests ways for schools and universities to encourage discourse across difference. 

College campuses have become flashpoints of the current culture war and, consequently, much ink has been spilled over the relationship between universities and the cultivation or coddling of young American minds. Philosopher Sigal R. Ben-Porath takes head-on arguments that infantilize students who speak out against violent and racist discourse on campus or rehash interpretations of the First Amendment. Ben-Porath sets out to demonstrate the role of the university in American society and, specifically, how it can model free speech in ways that promote democratic ideals.

In Cancel Wars, she argues that the escalating struggles over “cancel culture,” “safe spaces,” and free speech on campus are a manifestation of broader democratic erosion in the United States. At the same time, she takes a nuanced approach to the legitimate claims of harm put forward by those who are targeted by hate speech. Ben-Porath’s focus on the boundaries of acceptable speech (and on the disproportional impact that hate speech has on marginalized groups) sheds light on the responsibility of institutions to respond to extreme speech in ways that proactively establish conversations across difference. Establishing these conversations has profound implications for political discourse beyond the boundaries of collegiate institutions. If we can draw on the truth, expertise, and reliable sources of information that are within the work of academic institutions, we might harness the shared construction of knowledge that takes place at schools, colleges, and universities against truth decay. Of interest to teachers and school leaders, this book shows that by expanding and disseminating knowledge, universities can help rekindle the civic trust that is necessary for revitalizing democracy.
 
[more]

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Cancel Wars
How Universities Can Foster Free Speech, Promote Inclusion, and Renew Democracy
Sigal R. Ben-Porath
University of Chicago Press, 2023
This is the audiobook version of this book.

An even-handed exploration of the polarized state of campus politics that suggests ways for schools and universities to encourage discourse across difference. 


College campuses have become flashpoints of the current culture war and, consequently, much ink has been spilled over the relationship between universities and the cultivation or coddling of young American minds. Philosopher Sigal R. Ben-Porath takes head-on arguments that infantilize students who speak out against violent and racist discourse on campus or rehash interpretations of the First Amendment. Ben-Porath sets out to demonstrate the role of the university in American society and, specifically, how it can model free speech in ways that promote democratic ideals.

In Cancel Wars, she argues that the escalating struggles over “cancel culture,” “safe spaces,” and free speech on campus are a manifestation of broader democratic erosion in the United States. At the same time, she takes a nuanced approach to the legitimate claims of harm put forward by those who are targeted by hate speech. Ben-Porath’s focus on the boundaries of acceptable speech (and on the disproportional impact that hate speech has on marginalized groups) sheds light on the responsibility of institutions to respond to extreme speech in ways that proactively establish conversations across difference. Establishing these conversations has profound implications for political discourse beyond the boundaries of collegiate institutions. If we can draw on the truth, expertise, and reliable sources of information that are within the work of academic institutions, we might harness the shared construction of knowledge that takes place at schools, colleges, and universities against truth decay. Of interest to teachers and school leaders, this book shows that by expanding and disseminating knowledge, universities can help rekindle the civic trust that is necessary for revitalizing democracy.
 
[more]

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Christian
The Politics of a Word in America
Matthew Bowman
Harvard University Press, 2020

A Publishers Weekly Best Religion Book of the Year
A Choice Outstanding Academic Title


For many Americans, being Christian is central to their political outlook. Political Christianity is most often associated with the Religious Right, but the Christian faith has actually been a source of deep disagreement about what American society and government should look like. While some identify Christianity with Western civilization and unfettered individualism, others have maintained that Christian principles call for racial equality, international cooperation, and social justice. At once incisive and timely, Christian delves into the intersection of faith and political identity and offers an essential reconsideration of what it means to be Christian in America today.

“Bowman is fast establishing a reputation as a significant commentator on the culture and politics of the United States.”
Church Times

“Bowman looks to tease out how religious groups in American history have defined, used, and even wielded the word Christian as a means of understanding themselves and pressing for their own idiosyncratic visions of genuine faith and healthy democracy.”
Christian Century

“A fascinating examination of the twists and turns in American Christianity, showing that the current state of political/religious alignment was not necessarily inevitable, nor even probable.”
Deseret News

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Coming Out Republican
A History of the Gay Right
Neil J. Young
University of Chicago Press, 2024
A revelatory and comprehensive history of the gay Right from incisive political commentator Neil J. Young.

One of the most maligned, misunderstood, and even mocked constituencies in American politics, gay Republicans regularly face condemnation from both the LGBTQ+ community and their own political party. Yet they’ve been active and influential for decades. Gay conservatives were instrumental, for example, in ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and securing the legalization of same-sex marriage—but they also helped lay the groundwork for the rise of Donald Trump.

In Coming Out Republican, political historian and commentator Neil J. Young provides the first comprehensive history of the gay Right. From the 1950s up to the present day, Young excavates the multifarious origins, motivations, and evolutions of LGBTQ+ people who found their way to the institutions and networks of modern conservatism. Many on the gay Right have championed conservative values—like free markets, a strong national defense, and individual liberty—and believed that the Republican Party therefore offered LGBTQ+ people the best pathway to freedom. Meanwhile, that same party has actively and repeatedly demonized them. With his precise and provocative voice, Young details the complicated dynamics of being in—and yet never fully accepted into—the Republican Party.

Coming Out Republican provides striking insight into who LGBTQ+ conservatives are, what they want, and why many of them continue to align with a party whose rank and file largely seem to hate them. As the Republican Party renews its assaults on LGBTQ+ rights, understanding the significant history of the gay Right has never been more critical.
[more]

front cover of A Conspiratorial Life
A Conspiratorial Life
Robert Welch, the John Birch Society, and the Revolution of American Conservatism
Edward H. Miller
University of Chicago Press, 2021
The first full-scale biography of Robert Welch, who founded the John Birch Society and planted some of modern conservatism’s most insidious seeds.
 
Though you may not know his name, Robert Welch (1899-1985)—founder of the John Birch Society—is easily one of the most significant architects of our current political moment. In A Conspiratorial Life, the first full-scale biography of Welch, Edward H. Miller delves deep into the life of an overlooked figure whose ideas nevertheless reshaped the American right.

A child prodigy who entered college at age 12, Welch became an unlikely candy magnate, founding the company that created Sugar Daddies, Junior Mints, and other famed confections. In 1958, he funneled his wealth into establishing the organization that would define his legacy and change the face of American politics: the John Birch Society. Though the group’s paranoiac right-wing nativism was dismissed by conservative thinkers like William F. Buckley, its ideas gradually moved from the far-right fringe into the mainstream. By exploring the development of Welch’s political worldview, A Conspiratorial Life shows how the John Birch Society’s rabid libertarianism—and its highly effective grassroots networking—became a profound, yet often ignored or derided influence on the modern Republican Party. Miller convincingly connects the accusatory conservatism of the midcentury John Birch Society to the inflammatory rhetoric of the Tea Party, the Trump administration, Q, and more. As this book makes clear, whether or not you know his name or what he accomplished, it’s hard to deny that we’re living in Robert Welch’s America.
 
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Countermobilization
Policy Feedback and Backlash in a Polarized Age
Eric M. Patashnik
University of Chicago Press, 2023

An essential look at how and why backlash movements are inherent to US policymaking.

The most successful policies not only solve problems. They also build supportive coalitions. Yet, sometimes, policies trigger backlash and mobilize opposition. Although backlash is not a new phenomenon, today’s political landscape is distinguished by the frequency and pervasiveness of backlash in nearly every area of US policymaking, from abortion rights to the Affordable Care Act.

Eric M. Patashnik develops a policy-centered theory of backlash that illuminates how policies stimulate backlashes by imposing losses, overreaching, or challenging existing arrangements to which people are strongly attached. Drawing on case studies of issues from immigration and trade to healthcare and gun control, Countermobilization shows that backlash politics is fueled by polarization, cultural shifts, and negative feedback from the activist government itself. It also offers crucial insights to help identify and navigate backlash risks.

[more]

front cover of Creating Conservatism
Creating Conservatism
Postwar Words that Made an American Movement
Michael J. Lee
Michigan State University Press, 2014
Creating Conservatism charts the vital role of canonical post–World War II (1945–1964) books in generating, guiding, and sustaining conservatism as a political force in the United States. Dedicated conservatives have argued for decades that the conservative movement was a product of print, rather than a march, a protest, or a pivotal moment of persecution. The Road to Serfdom, Ideas Have Consequences, Witness, The Conservative Mind, God and Man at Yale, The Conscience of a Conservative, and other mid-century texts became influential not only among conservative office-holders, office-seekers, and well-heeled donors but also at dinner tables, school board meetings, and neighborhood reading groups. These books are remarkable both because they enumerated conservative political positions and because their memorable language demonstrated how to take those positions—functioning, in essence, as debate handbooks. Taking an expansive approach, the author documents the wide influence of the conservative canon on traditionalist and libertarian conservatives. By exploring the varied uses to which each founding text has been put from the Cold War to the culture wars, Creating Conservatism generates original insights about the struggle over what it means to think and speak conservatively in America.
[more]

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Design for Liberty
Private Property, Public Administration, and the Rule of Law
Richard A. Epstein
Harvard University Press, 2011

Following a vast expansion in the twentieth century, government is beginning to creak at the joints under its enormous weight. The signs are clear: a bloated civil service, low approval ratings for Congress and the President, increasing federal-state conflict, rampant distrust of politicians and government officials, record state deficits, and major unrest among public employees.

In this compact, clearly written book, the noted legal scholar Richard Epstein advocates a much smaller federal government, arguing that our over-regulated state allows too much discretion on the part of regulators, which results in arbitrary, unfair decisions, rent-seeking, and other abuses. Epstein bases his classical liberalism on the twin pillars of the rule of law and of private contracts and property rights—an overarching structure that allows private property to keep its form regardless of changes in population, tastes, technology, and wealth. This structure also makes possible a restrained public administration to implement limited objectives. Government continues to play a key role as night-watchman, but with the added flexibility in revenues and expenditures to attend to national defense and infrastructure formation.

Although no legal system can eliminate the need for discretion in the management of both private and public affairs, predictable laws can cabin the zone of discretion and permit arbitrary decisions to be challenged. Joining a set of strong property rights with sound but limited public administration could strengthen the rule of law, with its virtues of neutrality, generality, clarity, consistency, and forward-lookingness, and reverse the contempt and cynicism that have overcome us.

[more]

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Educated by Initiative
The Effects of Direct Democracy on Citizens and Political Organizations in the American States
Daniel A. Smith and Caroline J. Tolbert
University of Michigan Press, 2004
"This body of research not only passes academic muster but is the best guidepost in existence for activists who are trying to use the ballot initiative process for larger policy and political objectives."
--Kristina Wilfore, Executive Director, Ballot Initiative Strategy Center and Foundation

Educated by Initiative moves beyond previous evaluations of public policy to emphasize the educational importance of the initiative process itself. Since a majority of ballots ultimately fail or get overturned by the courts, Smith and Tolbert suggest that the educational consequences of initiative voting may be more important than the outcomes of the ballots themselves. The result is a fascinating and thoroughly-researched book about how direct democracy teaches citizens about politics, voting, civic engagement and the influence of special interests and political parties. Designed to be accessible to anyone interested in the future of American democracy, the book includes boxes (titled "What Matters") that succinctly summarize the authors' data into easily readable analyses.

Daniel A. Smith is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Florida.

Caroline J. Tolbert is Associate Professor of Political Science at Kent State University.


[more]

front cover of The End of Liberalism
The End of Liberalism
Chilton Williamson
St. Augustine's Press, 2022
In the fourth title in the Dissident American Thought Today Series, Chilton Williamson takes on liberalism and reveals the 'faith' of the present Democratic Party as its own cultivated version of absurdity. This 'advanced liberalism' is not the liberalism of Mill, and it certainly no longer is the thinking man's party. If it were once true that conservatism is unimaginative and reactionary, the contrary is the picture of our times. Liberalism now asserts that human nature can and must be perfected, but without reference to nature. The age of the expert has been thrust upon the United States with the urgency of technique to be applied to coerce the vision of a perfect society and perfect human beings. 

Williamson observes that this liberalism to nevertheless be collapsing, given the obvious opposition to the idea that it is essential to modernity. Liberalism is ironically a kind of unyielding control, "a relativist persuasion that discourages and resists fixed beliefs and certainties and the idea of truth itself." Williamson offers commentary on the present state of liberal ideas and their crimes against better judgment, and vindicates conservatism from being labeled reactionary. Liberalism is exposed as a faith we cannot accept, for it contains nothing to be believed and what it says about the order of things is pure fiction. 
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The Evangelical Crackup?
The Future of the Evangelical-Republican Coalition
Edited by Paul Djupe and Ryan L. Claassen
Temple University Press, 2019

Explores a crucial question in American national politics: How durable is the close connection between the GOP and the evangelical movement?

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The Face of Peace
Government Pedagogy amid Disinformation in Colombia
Gwen Burnyeat
University of Chicago Press, 2022
A multi-scale ethnography of government pedagogy in Colombia and its impact on peace. 

Colombia’s 2016 peace agreement with the FARC guerrillas sought to end fifty years of war and won President Juan Manuel Santos the Nobel Peace Prize. Yet Colombian society rejected it in a polarizing referendum, amid an emotive disinformation campaign. Gwen Burnyeat joined the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace, the government institution responsible for peace negotiations, to observe and participate in an innovative “peace pedagogy” strategy to explain the agreement to Colombian society. Burnyeat’s multi-scale ethnography reveals the challenges government officials experienced communicating with skeptical audiences and translating the peace process for public opinion. She argues that the fatal flaw in the peace process lay in government-society relations, enmeshed in culturally liberal logics and shaped by the politics of international donors. The Face of Peace offers the Colombian case as a mirror to the global crisis of liberalism, shattering the fantasy of rationality that haunts liberal responses to “post-truth” politics.
[more]

front cover of Fascism Comes to America
Fascism Comes to America
A Century of Obsession in Politics and Culture
Bruce Kuklick
University of Chicago Press, 2022
A deeply relevant look at what fascism means to Americans.

From the time Mussolini took power in Italy in 1922, Americans have been obsessed with and brooded over the meaning of fascism and how it might migrate to the United States. Fascism Comes to America examines how we have viewed fascism overseas and its implications for our own country. Bruce Kuklick explores the rhetoric of politicians, who have used the language of fascism to smear opponents, and he looks at the discussions of pundits, the analyses of academics, and the displays of fascism in popular culture, including fiction, radio, TV, theater, and film. Kuklick argues that fascism has little informational meaning in the United States, but instead, it is used to denigrate or insult. For example, every political position has been besmirched as fascist. As a result, the term does not describe a phenomenon so much as it denounces what one does not like. Finally, in displaying fascism for most Americans, entertainment—and most importantly film—has been crucial in conveying to citizens what fascism is about. Fascism Comes to America has been enhanced by many illustrations that exhibit how fascism was absorbed into the US public consciousness.  
[more]

front cover of Fascism Comes to America
Fascism Comes to America
A Century of Obsession in Politics and Culture
Bruce Kuklick
University of Chicago Press, 2022
This is an auto-narrated audiobook version of this book.

A deeply relevant look at what fascism means to Americans.


From the time Mussolini took power in Italy in 1922, Americans have been obsessed with and brooded over the meaning of fascism and how it might migrate to the United States. Fascism Comes to America examines how we have viewed fascism overseas and its implications for our own country. Bruce Kuklick explores the rhetoric of politicians, who have used the language of fascism to smear opponents, and he looks at the discussions of pundits, the analyses of academics, and the displays of fascism in popular culture, including fiction, radio, TV, theater, and film. Kuklick argues that fascism has little informational meaning in the United States, but instead, it is used to denigrate or insult. For example, every political position has been besmirched as fascist. As a result, the term does not describe a phenomenon so much as it denounces what one does not like. Finally, in displaying fascism for most Americans, entertainment—and most importantly film—has been crucial in conveying to citizens what fascism is about. Fascism Comes to America has been enhanced by many illustrations that exhibit how fascism was absorbed into the US public consciousness.  
[more]

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Feminist Post-Liberalism
Judith A. Baer
Temple University Press, 2020

Feminism and liberalism need each other, argues Judith Baer. Her provocative book, Feminist Post-Liberalism, refutes both conservative and radical critiques. To make her case, she rejects classical liberalism in favor of a welfare—and possibly socialist—post-liberalism that will prevent capitalism and a concentration of power that reinforces male supremacy. Together, feminism and liberalism can better elucidate controversies in American politics, law, and society.

Baer emphasizes that tolerance and self-examination are virtues, but within both feminist and liberal thought these virtues have been carried to extremes. Feminist theory needs liberalism's respect for reason, while liberal theory needs to incorporate emotion. Liberalism focuses too narrowly on the individual, while feminism needs a dose of individualism.

Feminist Post-Liberalism includes anthropological foundations of male dominance to explore topics ranging from crime to cultural appropriation. Baer develops a theory that is true to the principles of both feminist and liberal ideologies.

[more]

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Freedom Not Yet
Liberation and the Next World Order
Kenneth Surin
Duke University Press, 2009
The neoliberal project in the West has created an increasingly polarized and impoverished world, to the point that the vast majority of its citizens require liberation from their present socioeconomic circumstances. The marxist theorist Kenneth Surin contends that innovation and change at the level of the political must occur in order to achieve this liberation, and for this endeavor marxist theory and philosophy are indispensable. In Freedom Not Yet, Surin analyzes the nature of our current global economic system, particularly with regard to the plight of less developed countries, and he discusses the possibilities of creating new political subjects necessary to establish and sustain a liberated world.

Surin begins by examining the current regime of accumulation—the global domination of financial markets over traditional industrial economies—which is used as an instrument for the subordination and dependency of poorer nations. He then moves to the constitution of subjectivity, or the way humans are produced as social beings, which he casts as the key arena in which struggles against dispossession occur. Surin critically engages with the major philosophical positions that have been posed as models of liberation, including Derrida’s notion of reciprocity between a subject and its other, a reinvigorated militancy in political reorientation based on the thinking of Badiou and Zizek, the nomad politics of Deleuze and Guattari, and the politics of the multitude suggested by Hardt and Negri. Finally, Surin specifies the material conditions needed for liberation from the economic, political, and social failures of our current system. Seeking to illuminate a route to a better life for the world’s poorer populations, Surin investigates the philosophical possibilities for a marxist or neo-marxist concept of liberation from capitalist exploitation and the regimes of power that support it.

[more]

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Friendship Fictions
The Rhetoric of Citizenship in the Liberal Imaginary
Michael A. Kaplan
University of Alabama Press, 2010
Friendship serves as a metaphor for citizenship and mirrors the individual’s participation in civic life. Friendship Fictions unravels key implications of this metaphor and demonstrates how it can transform liberal culture into a more just and democratic way of life.

A criticism often leveled at liberal democratic culture is its emphasis on the individual over community and private life over civic participation. However, liberal democratic culture has a more complicated relationship to notions of citizenship. As Michael Kaplan shows, citizenship comprises a major theme of popular entertainment, especially Hollywood film, and often takes the form of friendship narratives; and this is no accident. Examining the representations of citizenship-as-friendship in four Hollywood films (The Big Chill, Thelma & Louise, Lost in Translation, and Smoke), Kaplan argues that critics have misunderstood some of liberal democracy’s most significant features: its resilience, its capacity for self-revision, and the cultural resonance of its model of citizenship.
 
For Kaplan, friendship—with its dynamic pacts, fluid alliances, and contingent communities—is one arena in which preconceptions about individual participation in civic life are contested and complicated. Friendship serves as a metaphor for citizenship and mirrors the individual’s participation in civic life. Friendship Fictions unravels key implications of this metaphor and demonstrates how it can transform liberal culture into a more just and democratic way of life.
[more]

front cover of From Blue to Red
From Blue to Red
The Rise of the GOP in Arkansas
John C. Davis
University of Arkansas Press, 2024
On the morning of Election Day 2010, Democrats occupied three of the four Arkansas seats in the US House of Representatives, both US Senate seats, all state constitutional offices, and decisive majorities in both chambers of the Arkansas General Assembly. By the time votes were counted that evening, it was clear that the balance of power had shifted. Within five years, Arkansas Republicans would hold all six US congressional positions and every state constitutional seat and claim growing supermajorities in both state chambers. Since then, Republicans have enjoyed robust electoral success in Arkansas—formerly the last remaining state of the “Solid South” held by Democrats.

John C. Davis’s From Blue to Red: The Rise of the GOP in Arkansas provides a rigorous yet accessible study of this partisan shift, tracking changes in voter preference at the top of the ticket in the 1960s, generational replacement in Arkansas’ political power structure in the 1990s, and the emergence of a more nationalized and polarized electorate in the 2000s, among other developments. From Blue to Red is a fascinating look at how Arkansas went from being one of the country’s most solidly Democratic states to one of its most ardently Republican in just a few years.
 
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From Noose to Needle
Capital Punishment and the Late Liberal State
Timothy V. Kaufman-Osborn
University of Michigan Press, 2002
From Noose to Needle contributes a new perspective on the controversial topic of capital punishment by asking how the conduct of state killing reveals broader contradictions in the contemporary liberal state, especially, but not exclusively, in the United States. Moving beyond more familiar legal and sociological approaches to this matter, Timothy V. Kaufman-Osborn asks several questions. Why do executions no longer take the form of public spectacles? Why are certain methods of execution considered barbaric? Why must the liberal state strictly segregate the imposition of a death sentence, whether by judge or jury, from its actual infliction, whether by a state official or an ordinary citizen? Why are women so infrequently sentenced to death and executed? How does the state seek to hide the suffering inflicted by capital punishment through its endorsement of a bio-medical conception of pain? How does the nearly-universal shift to lethal injection pose problems for the late liberal state by confusing its punitive and welfare responsibilities?
Drawing on a wide range of theoretical sources, including John Locke, Max Weber, Nicos Poulantzas, Friedrich Nietzsche, J. L. Austin, Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, Pierre Bourdieu, Elaine Scarry, and others, Kaufman-Osborn grounds his appropriation of these authors in analyses of specific recent executions, including that of Wesley Allan Dodd and Charles Campbell in Washington, Karla Faye Tucker in Texas, and Allen Lee Davis in Florida.
From Noose to Needle will be of interest to students of law, political theory, and sociology as well as more general readers interested in the troublesome issue of capital punishment.
Timothy V. Kaufman-Osborn is Baker Ferguson Professor of Politics and Leadership, Whitman College.
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Homo Americanus
The Rise of Totalitarian Democracy in America
Zbigniew Janowski
St. Augustine's Press, 2021
What is the man who cannot be known apart from his socio-political environment? As Zbigniew Janowski asserts, one does not ask who this man is, for he does not even know himself. This man is suppressed and separated, and not by Fascism or Communism. In present-day America this has been accomplished by democracy.

“Only someone shortsighted, or someone who values equality more than freedom, would deny that today’s citizens enjoy little or no freedom, particularly freedom of speech, and even less the ability to express openly or publicly the opinions that are not in conformity with what the majority considers acceptable at a given moment. It may sound paradoxical to contemporary ears, but a fight against totalitarianism must also mean a fight against the expansion of democracy.”

Janowski all at once brazen and out of bounds states what he calls the obvious and unthinkable truth: In the United States, we are already living in a totalitarian reality. The American citizen, the Homo Americanus, is an ideological being who is no longer good or bad, reasonable or irrational, proper or improper except when measured against the objectives of the dominating egalitarian mentality that American democracy has successfully incubated. American democracy has done what other despotic regimes have likewise achieved––namely, taken hold of the individual and forced him to renounce (or forget) his greatness, pursuit of virtue and his orientation toward history and Tradition. 

Homo Americanus, Janowski argues, has no mind or soul and he cannot tolerate diversity and indeed he now censors himself. Democracy is not benign, and we should fear its principles come by and applied ad hoc. It is deeply troublesome that in the way democracy moves today it gives critics no real insight into any trajectory of reason behind its motion, which is erratic and unmappable. The Homo Americanus is an ideological entity whose thought and even morality are forbidden from universal abstraction. 

Janowski mounts the offensive against what the American holds most sacred, and he does so in order to save him. After exposing the danger and the damage done, Janowski makes another startling proposal. It is a “diseased collective mind” that is the source of this ideology, the liberal anti-perspective that presses man into the image of the Homo Americanus, and its grip can only be broken through the recovery of instinct. Homo Americanus cannot be free again until he is himself again. That is, until the shadow that belongs only to him is restored, and he is thereby no longer alienated from others. Despite the condemnation Janowski seems to be levying on the citizen of the United States, he betrays a great hope and confidence that the means to shake ourselves awake from the bad dream are nevertheless in hand.

Janowski’s work is the next title in St. Augustine’s Press Dissident American Thought Today Series. It occupies a controversial overlapping terrain between the philosophical descriptions of liberalism as a tradition, psychology and the fundamentally influential critiques of democracy offered by Thucydides, Jefferson, Franklin, Tocqueville, Mill, Burke and more. More anecdotal than analytical, Janowski offers the contemporary proof that the reader is right to be scandalized by democracy and his or her own likeness of the Homo Americanus. Once upon a time it was the despicable Homo Sovieticus fruit of tyranny, but now we fear democratic society too might fall and all its citizens never be found again. 
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How the Tea Party Captured the GOP
Insurgent Factions in American Politics
Rachel M. Blum
University of Chicago Press, 2020
The rise of the Tea Party redefined both the Republican Party and how we think about intraparty conflict. What initially appeared to be an anti-Obama protest movement of fiscal conservatives matured into a faction that sought to increase its influence in the Republican Party by any means necessary. Tea Partiers captured the party’s organizational machinery and used it to replace established politicians with Tea Party–style Republicans, eventually laying the groundwork for the nomination and election of a candidate like Donald Trump.

In How the Tea Party Captured the GOP, Rachel Marie Blum approaches the Tea Party from the angle of party politics, explaining the Tea Party’s insurgent strategies as those of a party faction. Blum offers a novel theory of factions as miniature parties within parties, discussing how fringe groups can use factions to increase their political influence in the US two-party system. In this richly researched book, the author uncovers how the electoral losses of 2008 sparked disgruntled Republicans to form the Tea Party faction, and the strategies the Tea Party used to wage a systematic takeover of the Republican Party. This book not only illuminates how the Tea Party achieved its influence, but also provides a framework for identifying other factional insurgencies.
 
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How the Workers Became Muslims
Immigration, Culture, and Hegemonic Transformation in Europe
Ferruh Yilmaz
University of Michigan Press, 2016
Writing in the beginning of the 1980s, Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe explored possibilities for a new socialist strategy to capitalize on the period’s fragmented political and social conditions. Two and a half decades later, Ferruh Yilmaz acknowledges that the populist Far Right—not the socialist movement—has demonstrated greater facility in adopting successful hegemonic strategies along new structural lines Laclau and Mouffe imagined. Right-wing hegemonic strategy, Yilmaz argues, has led to the reconfiguration of internal fault lines in European societies.

Yilmaz’s primary case study is Danish immigration discourse, but his argument contextualizes his study in terms of questions of current concern across Europe, where right-wing groups that were long on the fringes of “legitimate” politics have managed to make significant gains with populations traditionally aligned with the Left. Specifically, Yilmaz argues that sociopolitical space has been transformed in the last three decades such that group classification has been destabilized to emphasize cultural rather than economic attributes.

According to this point-of-view, traditional European social and political splits are jettisoned for new “cultural” alliances pulling the political spectrum to the right, against the “corrosive” presence of Muslim immigrants, whose own social and political variety is flattened into an illusion of alien sameness.
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I Hate It Here, Please Vote for Me
Essays on Rural Political Decay
Matthew Ferrence
West Virginia University Press, 2024

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I the People
The Rhetoric of Conservative Populism in the United States
Paul Elliott Johnson
University of Alabama Press, 2022
A rhetorical examination of the rise of populist conservatism

I The People: The Rhetoric of Conservative Populism in the United States examines a variety of texts—ranging from speeches and campaign advertisements to news reports and political pamphlets—to outline the populist character of conservatism in the United States. Paul Elliott Johnson focuses on key inflection points in the development of populist conservatism, including its manifestation in the racially charged presidential election of 1964, its consolidation at the height of Ronald Reagan’s reelection campaign in 1984, and its character in successive moments that saw its fortunes wax and wane, including 1994, the Obama era, and the rise of Donald J. Trump. theorizing conservative populism as a rhetorical form, Johnson advances scholarship about populism away from a binary ideological framework while offering a useful lens for contextualizing scholarship on American conservatism. I The People emphasizes that the populist roots of conservative hegemony exercise a powerful constraining force on conservative intellectuals, whose power to shape and control the movement to which they belong is circumscribed by the form of its public-facing appeals.

The study also reframes scholarly understandings of the conservative tradition’s seeming multiplicity, especially the tendency to suggest an abiding conservative unease regarding capitalism, showing how racist hostility underwrote a compromise with an increasingly economized understanding of humanity. Johnson also contests the narrative that conservatives learned to practice identity politics from social progressives. From the beginning, conservatism’s public vernacular was a white and masculine identity politics reliant on a rhetoric of victimhood, whether critiquing the liberal Cold War consensus or President Barack Obama.
 
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Immigrants, Evangelicals, and Politics in an Era of Demographic Change
Janelle S. Wong
Russell Sage Foundation, 2018
As immigration from Asia and Latin America reshapes the demographic composition of the U.S., some analysts have anticipated the decline of conservative white evangelicals’ influence in politics. Yet, Donald Trump captured a larger share of the white evangelical vote in the 2016 election than any candidate in the previous four presidential elections. Why has the political clout of white evangelicals persisted at a time of increased racial and ethnic diversity? In Immigrants, Evangelicals, and Politics in an Era of Demographic Change, political scientist Janelle Wong examines a new generation of Asian American and Latino evangelicals and offers an account of why demographic change has not contributed to a political realignment.
 
Asian Americans and Latinos currently constitute 13 percent of evangelicals, and their churches are among the largest, fastest growing organizations in their communities. While evangelical identity is associated with conservative politics, Wong draws from national surveys and interviews to show that non-white evangelicals express political attitudes that are significantly less conservative than those of their white counterparts. Black, Asian American, and Latino evangelicals are much more likely to support policies such as expanded immigration rights, increased taxation of the wealthy, and government interventions to slow climate change. As Wong argues, non-white evangelicals’ experiences as members of racial or ethnic minority groups often lead them to adopt more progressive political views compared to their white counterparts.
 
However, despite their growth in numbers, non-white evangelicals—particularly Asian Americans and Latinos—are concentrated outside of swing states, have lower levels of political participation than white evangelicals, and are less likely to be targeted by political campaigns. As a result, white evangelicals dominate the evangelical policy agenda and are overrepresented at the polls. Also, many white evangelicals have adopted even more conservative political views in response to rapid demographic change, perceiving, for example, that discrimination against Christians now rivals discrimination against racial and ethnic minorities.
 
Wong demonstrates that immigrant evangelicals are neither “natural” Republicans nor “natural” Democrats. By examining the changing demographics of the evangelical movement, Immigrants, Evangelicals, and Politics in an Era of Demographic Change sheds light on an understudied constituency that has yet to find its political home.
 
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An Imperial Path to Modernity
Yoshino Sakuzō and a New Liberal Order in East Asia, 1905–1937
Jung-Sun N. Han
Harvard University Press, 2013

An Imperial Path to Modernity examines the role of liberal intellectuals in reshaping transnational ideas and internationalist aspirations into national values and imperial ambitions in early twentieth-century Japan. Perceiving the relationship between liberalism and the international world order, a cohort of Japanese thinkers conformed to liberal ideas and institutions to direct Japan’s transformation into a liberal empire in Asia. To sustain and rationalize the imperial enterprise, these Japanese liberals sought to make the domestic political stage less hostile to liberalism. Facilitating the creation of print-mediated public opinion, liberal intellectuals attempted to enlist the new middle class as a social ally in circulating liberal ideas and practices within Japan and throughout the empire.

In tracing the interconnections between liberalism and the imperial project, Jung-Sun N. Han focuses on the ideas and activities of Yoshino Sakuzo (1878–1933), who was and is remembered as a champion of prewar Japanese liberalism and Taisho democracy. Drawing insights from intellectual history, cultural studies, and international relations, this study argues that prewar Japanese liberalism grew out of the efforts of intellectuals such as Yoshino who worked to devise a transnational institution to govern the Japanese empire.

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An Intellectual in Public
Alan Wolfe
University of Michigan Press, 2004
A new collection of essays from one of the most courageous and honest thinkers writing today

"The question of the public intellectual is very much in the air again," writes Alan Wolfe. As one of our eminent social commentators, Wolfe should know; he's been writing, with fierce intellectual independence, about American public and private life since the 1960s.

In this new collection of essays spanning seven years of contributions to The New Republic, The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, and other prominent publications, Wolfe displays the courage necessary to write honestly—yet free of ideology, cant, and piety—about the things Americans take very seriously.

Wolfe thinks big; indeed, the essays in An Intellectual in Public confront many of the most controversial issues of our time: country, God, race, sex, material consumption, and left and right. Beginning and ending the book are original essays describing the public intellectual's role, and how Wolfe believes that role ought to be filled.

An Intellectual in Public is not only a demonstration of Wolfe's pointed analytical skills but a testament to his belief that "severely ideological thinking" is inappropriate for some of our most difficult problems, and that "neither the right nor the left can speak for all of America."

Alan Wolfe is the director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life and also Professor of Political Science at Boston College. He is the author of over a dozen books, including One Nation After All: What Middle Class Americans Really Think About: God, Country, Family, Racism, Welfare, Immigration, Homosexuality, Work, the Right, the Left and Each Other.

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The Intellectual Life of Edmund Burke
David Bromwich
Harvard University Press, 2014

David Bromwich’s portrait of statesman Edmund Burke (1730–1797) is the first biography to attend to the complexity of Burke’s thought as it emerges in both the major writings and private correspondence. The public and private writings cannot be easily dissociated, nor should they be. For Burke—a thinker, writer, and politician—the principles of politics were merely those of morality enlarged. Bromwich reads Burke’s career as an imperfect attempt to organize an honorable life in the dense medium he knew politics to be.

This intellectual biography examines the first three decades of Burke’s professional life. His protest against the cruelties of English society and his criticism of all unchecked power laid the groundwork for his later attacks on abuses of government in India, Ireland, and France. Bromwich allows us to see the youthful skeptic, wary of a social contract based on “nature”; the theorist of love and fear in relation to “the sublime and beautiful”; the advocate of civil liberty, even in the face of civil disorder; the architect of economic reform; and the agitator for peace with America. However multiple and various Burke’s campaigns, a single-mindedness of commitment always drove him.

Burke is commonly seen as the father of modern conservatism. Bromwich reveals the matter to be far more subtle and interesting. Burke was a defender of the rights of disfranchised minorities and an opponent of militarism. His politics diverge from those of any modern party, but all parties would be wiser for acquaintance with his writing and thoughts.

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John Rawls
The Path to a Theory of Justice
Andrius Gališanka
Harvard University Press, 2019

An engaging account of the titan of political philosophy and the development of his most important work, A Theory of Justice, coming at a moment when its ideas are sorely needed.

It is hard to overestimate the influence of John Rawls on political philosophy and theory over the last half-century. His books have sold millions of copies worldwide, and he is one of the few philosophers whose work is known in the corridors of power as well as in the halls of academe. Rawls is most famous for the development of his view of “justice as fairness,” articulated most forcefully in his best-known work, A Theory of Justice. In it he develops a liberalism focused on improving the fate of the least advantaged, and attempts to demonstrate that, despite our differences, agreement on basic political institutions is both possible and achievable.

Critics have maintained that Rawls’s view is unrealistic and ultimately undemocratic. In this incisive new intellectual biography, Andrius Gališanka argues that in misunderstanding the origins and development of Rawls’s central argument, previous narratives fail to explain the novelty of his philosophical approach and so misunderstand the political vision he made prevalent. Gališanka draws on newly available archives of Rawls’s unpublished essays and personal papers to clarify the justifications Rawls offered for his assumption of basic moral agreement. Gališanka’s intellectual-historical approach reveals a philosopher struggling toward humbler claims than critics allege.

To engage with Rawls’s search for agreement is particularly valuable at this political juncture. By providing insight into the origins, aims, and arguments of A Theory of Justice, Gališanka’s John Rawls will allow us to consider the philosopher’s most important and influential work with fresh eyes.

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Judging Inequality
State Supreme Courts and the Inequality Crisis
James L. Gibson
Russell Sage Foundation, 2021
Social scientists have convincingly documented soaring levels of political, legal, economic, and social inequality in the United States. Missing from this picture of rampant inequality, however, is any attention to the significant role of state law and courts in establishing policies that either ameliorate or exacerbate inequality. In Judging Inequality, political scientists James L. Gibson and Michael J. Nelson demonstrate the influential role of the fifty state supreme courts in shaping the widespread inequalities that define America today, focusing on court-made public policy on issues ranging from educational equity and adequacy to LGBT rights to access to justice to worker’s rights. 
 
Drawing on an analysis of an original database of nearly 6,000 decisions made by over 900 judges on 50 state supreme courts over a quarter century, Judging Inequality documents two ways that state high courts have crafted policies relevant to inequality: through substantive policy decisions that fail to advance equality and by rulings favoring more privileged litigants (typically known as “upperdogs”). The authors discover that whether court-sanctioned policies lead to greater or lesser inequality depends on the ideologies of the justices serving on these high benches, the policy preferences of their constituents (the people of their state), and the institutional structures that determine who becomes a judge as well as who decides whether those individuals remain in office. 
 
Gibson and Nelson decisively reject the conventional theory that state supreme courts tend to protect underdog litigants from the wrath of majorities. Instead, the authors demonstrate that the ideological compositions of state supreme courts most often mirror the dominant political coalition in their state at a given point in time. As a result, state supreme courts are unlikely to stand as an independent force against the rise of inequality in the United States, instead making decisions compatible with the preferences of political elites already in power. At least at the state high court level, the myth of judicial independence truly is a myth. 
 
Judging Inequality offers a comprehensive examination of the powerful role that state supreme courts play in shaping public policies pertinent to inequality. This volume is a landmark contribution to scholarly work on the intersection of American jurisprudence and inequality, one that essentially rewrites the “conventional wisdom” on the role of courts in America’s democracy. 
 
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Law and Illiberalism
Edited by Austin Sarat, Lawrence Douglas, and Martha Merrill Umphrey
University of Massachusetts Press, 2022

Does the law shield citizens from authoritarian regimes? Are the core beliefs of classical liberalism—namely the rights of all individuals and constraints on state power—still protected by law? Liberalism and its expansion of rights could not exist without the legal system, and unsurprisingly, many scholars have explored the relationship between law and liberalism. However, the study of law and illiberalism is a relatively recent undertaking, a project that takes on urgency in light of the rise of authoritarian powers, among them Donald Trump’s administration, Viktor Orban’s Hungary, Recep Erdogan’s Turkey, and Jair Bolsanoro’s Brazil.

In this volume, six penetrating essays explore the dynamics of the law and illiberal quests for power, examining the anti-liberalism of neoliberalism; the weaponization of “free speech”; the role of the administrative state in current crises of liberal democracy; the broad and unstoppable assault on facts, truth, and reality; and the rise of conspiracism leading up to the Capitol insurrection. In addition to the editors, contributors include Sharon Krause, Elizabeth Anker, Jeremy Kessler, Lee McIntyre, and Nancy Rosenblum.

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Leftism Reinvented
Western Parties from Socialism to Neoliberalism
Stephanie L. Mudge
Harvard University Press, 2018

Left-leaning political parties play an important role as representatives of the poor and disempowered. They once did so by promising protections from the forces of capital and the market’s tendencies to produce inequality. But in the 1990s they gave up on protection, asking voters to adapt to a market-driven world. Meanwhile, new, extreme parties began to promise economic protections of their own—albeit in an angry, anti-immigrant tone.

To better understand today’s strange new political world, Stephanie L. Mudge’s Leftism Reinvented analyzes the history of the Swedish and German Social Democrats, the British Labour Party, and the American Democratic Party. Breaking with an assumption that parties simply respond to forces beyond their control, Mudge argues that left parties’ changing promises expressed the worldviews of different kinds of experts. To understand how left parties speak, we have to understand the people who speak for them.

Leftism Reinvented shows how Keynesian economists came to speak for left parties by the early 1960s. These economists saw their task in terms of discretionary, politically-sensitive economic management. But in the 1980s a new kind of economist, who viewed the advancement of markets as left parties’ main task, came to the fore. Meanwhile, as voters’ loyalties to left parties waned, professional strategists were called upon to “spin” party messages. Ultimately, left parties undermined themselves, leaving a representative vacuum in their wake. Leftism Reinvented raises new questions about the roles and responsibilities of left parties—and their experts—in politics today.

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Liberal Education and Citizenship in a Free Society
Justin Buckley Dyer
University of Missouri Press, 2023
The liberal arts university has been in decline since well before the virtualization of campus life, increasingly inviting public skepticism about its viability as an institution of personal, civ­ic, and professional growth. New technologies that might have brought people together have instead frustrated the university’s capacity to foster thoughtful citizenship among tomorrow’s lead­ers and exacerbated socioeconomic inequalities that are poison­ing America’s civic culture.

With Liberal Education and Citizenship in a Free Society, a collec­tion of 19 original essays, editors Justin Dyer and Constantine Vassiliou present the work of a diverse group of scholars to assess the value of a liberal arts education in the face of market, technological, cultural, and political forces shaping higher learning today.
 
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Liberalism and Its Discontents
Alan Brinkley
Harvard University Press, 2000

How did liberalism, the great political tradition that from the New Deal to the 1960s seemed to dominate American politics, fall from favor so far and so fast? In this history of liberalism since the 1930s, a distinguished historian offers an eloquent account of postwar liberalism, where it came from, where it has gone, and why. The book supplies a crucial chapter in the history of twentieth-century American politics as well as a valuable and clear perspective on the state of our nation's politics today.

Liberalism and Its Discontents moves from a penetrating interpretation of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal to an analysis of the profound and frequently corrosive economic, social, and cultural changes that have undermined the liberal tradition. The book moves beyond an examination of the internal weaknesses of liberalism and the broad social and economic forces it faced to consider the role of alternative political traditions in liberalism's downfall. What emerges is a picture of a dominant political tradition far less uniform and stable--and far more complex and contested--than has been argued. The author offers as well a masterly assessment of how some of the leading historians of the postwar era explained (or failed to explain) liberalism and other political ideologies in the last half-century. He also makes clear how historical interpretation was itself a reflection of liberal assumptions that began to collapse more quickly and completely than almost any scholar could have imagined a generation ago. As both political history and a critique of that history, Liberalism and Its Discontents, based on extraordinary essays written over the last decade, leads to a new understanding of the shaping of modern America.

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Liberalism and Republicanism in the Historical Imagination
Joyce Appleby
Harvard University Press, 1992

Like dye cast into water, liberal assumptions color everything American, from ideas about human nature to fears about big government. Not the dreaded “L” word of the 1988 presidential campaign, liberalism in its historical context emerged from the modern faith in free inquiry, natural rights, economic liberty, and democratic government. Expressed in the nation-building acts of revolution and constitution-writing, liberalism both structured and limited Americans’ sense of reality for two centuries.

The nation’s scholars were unable to break away from liberalism’s pervasive hold on the American mind until the last generation—when they recovered the lost world of classical republicanism. Ornate, aristocratic, prescriptive, and concerned with the common good, this form of republicanism held sway among the founding fathers before the triumph of liberal thought, with its simple, egalitarian, rational, and individualistic emphasis. The two concepts, as Joyce Appleby shows, posed choices for eighteenth-century thinkers much as they have divided twentieth-century scholars.

Entering one of the liveliest debates in the scholarly world about our ideological roots, Appleby follows the labyrinthine controversies that these two perspectives have generated in their day and in ours. In doing so, she addresses the tensions that remain to be resolved in the democratic societies of the late twentieth century—the complex relations between individual and community, personal liberty and the common good, aspiration and practical wisdom.

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The Liberalism of Care
Community, Philosophy, and Ethics
Shawn C. Fraistat
University of Chicago Press, 2021
Attention to care in modern society has fallen out of view as an ethos of personal responsibility, free markets, and individualism has taken hold. The Liberalism of Care argues that contemporary liberalism is suffering from a crisis of care, manifest in a decaying sense of collective political responsibility for citizens’ well-being and for the most vulnerable members of our communities. Political scientist Shawn C. Fraistat argues that we have lost the political language of care, which, prior the nineteenth century, was commonly used to express these dimensions of political life.

To recover that language, Fraistat turns to three prominent philosophers—Plato, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and William Godwin—who illuminate the varied ways caring language and caring values have structured core debates in the history of Western political thought about the proper role of government, as well as the rights and responsibilities of citizens. The Liberalism of Care presents a distinctive vision for our liberal politics where political communities and citizens can utilize the ethic and practices of care to face practical challenges.
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Liberalism’s Religion
Cécile Laborde
Harvard University Press, 2017

Liberal societies conventionally treat religion as unique under the law, requiring both special protection (as in guarantees of free worship) and special containment (to keep religion and the state separate). But recently this idea that religion requires a legal exception has come under fire from those who argue that religion is no different from any other conception of the good, and the state should treat all such conceptions according to principles of neutrality and equal liberty. Cécile Laborde agrees with much of this liberal egalitarian critique, but she argues that a simple analogy between the good and religion misrepresents the complex relationships among religion, law, and the state. Religion serves as more than a statement of belief about what is true, or a code of moral and ethical conduct. It also refers to comprehensive ways of life, political theories of justice, modes of voluntary association, and vulnerable collective identities.

Disaggregating religion into its various dimensions, as Laborde does, has two clear advantages. First, it shows greater respect for ethical and social pluralism by ensuring that whatever treatment religion receives from the law, it receives because of features that it shares with nonreligious beliefs, conceptions, and identities. Second, it dispenses with the Western, Christian-inflected conception of religion that liberal political theory relies on, especially in dealing with the issue of separation between religion and state. As a result, Liberalism’s Religion offers a novel answer to the question: Can Western theories of secularism and religion be applied more universally in non-Western societies?

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Lincoln's Tragic Pragmatism
John Burt
Harvard University Press, 2013

A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice

In 1858, challenger Abraham Lincoln debated incumbent Stephen Douglas seven times in the race for a U.S. Senate seat from Illinois. More was at stake than slavery in those debates. In Lincoln’s Tragic Pragmatism, John Burt contends that the very legitimacy of democratic governance was on the line. In a United States stubbornly divided over ethical issues, the overarching question posed by the Lincoln-Douglas debates has not lost its urgency: Can a liberal political system be used to mediate moral disputes? And if it cannot, is violence inevitable?

“John Burt has written a work that every serious student of Lincoln will have to read...Burt refracts Lincoln through the philosophy of Kant, Rawls and contemporary liberal political theory. His is very much a Lincoln for our time.”
—Steven B. Smith, New York Times Book Review

“I'm making space on my overstuffed shelves for Lincoln’s Tragic Pragmatism. This is a book I expect to be picking up and thumbing through for years to come.”
—Jim Cullen, History News Network

“Burt treats the [Lincoln-Douglas] debates as being far more significant than an election contest between two candidates. The debates represent profound statements of political philosophy and speak to the continuing challenges the U.S. faces in resolving divisive moral conflicts.”
—E. C. Sands, Choice

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Literary Criticism
A Concise Political History
Joseph North
Harvard University Press, 2017

Literary Criticism offers a concise overview of literary studies in the English-speaking world from the early twentieth century to the present. Joseph North steps back from the usual tangle of figures, schools, and movements in order to analyze the intellectual paradigms that underpinned them. The result is a radically new account of the discipline’s development, together with a trenchant argument about where its political future lies.

People in today’s literature departments often assume that their work is politically progressive, especially when compared with the work of early- and mid-twentieth-century critics. North’s view is less cheering. For when understood in relation to the longer arc of the discipline, the current historicist and contextualist mode in literary studies represents a step to the Right. Since the global turn to neoliberalism in the late 1970s, all the major movements within literary studies have been diagnostic rather than interventionist in character: scholars have developed sophisticated techniques for analyzing culture, but they have retreated from systematic attempts to transform it. In this respect, the political potential of current literary scholarship compares poorly with that of earlier critical modes, which, for all their faults, at least had a programmatic commitment to cultural change.

Yet neoliberalism is now in crisis—a crisis that presents opportunities as well as dangers. North argues that the creation of a genuinely interventionist criticism is one of the central tasks facing those on the Left of the discipline today.

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The Long Civil War in the North Georgia Mountains
Confederate Nationalism, Sectionalism, and White Supremacy in Bartow County, Georgia
Keith Hebert
University of Tennessee Press, 2021

Civil War historians have long noted that support for the Confederacy in the antebellum South tended to align with geography: those who lived in towns, along railroads, and on land suited for large-scale farming tended to side with the Confederacy, while those who lived a more isolated existence and made their livings by subsistence farming and bartering usually remained Unionist. Bartow County in northwest Georgia, with its distinctive terrain of valley, piedmont, and Appalachian hill country, is an ideal microcosm to examine these issues.

Keith S. Hébert examines the rise and precipitous fall of Confederate nationalism in Bartow County, a shared experience among many counties in the upland South. Hébert’s story tells us much about the war’s origins, Confederate defeat, and the enduring legacy of white supremacy in these rural areas. Although no major battles were fought in Bartow County, Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign saw Federal troops occupying the area, testing the loyalties of Bartow County soldiers serving in the Army of Tennessee and elsewhere. As the home front collapsed, they had to decide if they should remain in the army and fight or return home to protect their families and property. Locals hardly knew whom to trust as Unionists and Confederates—from both home and afar—engaged in guerilla warfare, stole resources from citizens, and made the war a confusing trap rather than a struggle for an emergent nation.

Drawing on the primary source record of newspapers, letters, diaries, and official documents from the county, Hébert compellingly works personalized vignettes into a scholarly study of developments from the advent of war through Reconstruction and the decades following. The Long Civil War in the North Georgia Mountains solidifies recent scholarship about the war in southern Appalachia and opens a window into a community deeply divided by civil war.

KEITH S. HÉBERT, assistant professor of history at Auburn University, was formerly state historian at the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Historic Preservation Division. His writing has appeared in The Georgia Historical Quarterly and Reconstructing Appalachia: The Civil War’s Aftermath.

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Making Sense of American Liberalism
Edited by Jonathan Bell and Timothy Stanley
University of Illinois Press, 2012
This collection of thoughtful and timely essays offers refreshing and intelligent new perspectives on postwar American liberalism. Sophisticated yet accessible, Making Sense of American Liberalism challenges popular myths about liberalism in the United States. The volume presents the Democratic Party and liberal reform efforts such as civil rights, feminism, labor, and environmentalism as a more united, more radical force than has been depicted in scholarship and the media emphasizing the decline and disunity of the left.
 
Distinguished contributors assess the problems liberals have confronted in the twentieth century, examine their strategies for reform, and chart the successes and potential for future liberal reform.
 
Contributors are Anthony J. Badger, Jonathan Bell, Lizabeth Cohen, Susan Hartmann, Ella Howard, Bruce Miroff, Nelson Lichtenstein, Doug Rossinow, Timothy Stanley, and Timothy Thurber.
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Men without Work
Post-Pandemic Edition (2022)
Eberstadt, Nicholas
Templeton Press, 2022
Nicholas Eberstadt’s landmark 2016 study, Men without Work, cast a spotlight on the collapse of work for men in modern America. Rosy reports of low unemployment rates and “full or near full employment” conditions, he contends, were overlooking a quiet, continuing crisis: Depression-era work rates for American men of “prime working age” (25–54).
   The grim truth: over six million prime-age men were neither working nor looking for work. Conventional unemployment measures ignored these labor force dropouts, but their ranks had been rising relentlessly for half a century. Eberstadt’s unflinching analysis was, in the words of The New York Times, “an unsettling portrait not just of male unemployment, but also of lives deeply alienated from civil society.”
   The famed American work ethic was once near universal: men of sound mind and body took pride in contributing to their communities and families. No longer, warned Eberstadt. And now—six years and one catastrophic pandemic later—the problem has not only worsened: it has seemingly been spreading among prime-age women and workers over fifty-five.
   In a brand new introduction, Eberstadt explains how the government’s response to Covid-19 inadvertently exacerbated the flight from work in America. From indiscriminate pandemic shutdowns to almost unconditional “unemployment” benefits, Americans were essentially paid not to work.
   Thus today, despite the vaccine rollouts, inexplicable numbers of working age men and women are sitting on the sidelines while over 11 million jobs go unfilled. Current low rates of unemployment, touted by pundits and politicians, are grievously misleading. The truth is that fewer prime-age American men are looking for readily available work than at any previous juncture in our history. And others may be catching the “Men Without Work” virus too.
   Given the devastating economic impact of the Covid calamity and the unforeseen aftershocks yet to come, this reissue of Eberstadt’s groundbreaking work is timelier than ever.
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A Milwaukee Woman's Life on the Left
The Autobiography of Meta Berger
Meta Berger
Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2001
Wife, mother, schoolteacher, and politician, Meta Schlichting Berger became an activist at a time when women's role in public life -- indeed, evne their right to vote -- was hotly contested. Telling her story in her own words, Meta Berger reveals her transformation from a traditional wife and mother to an activist who held elective office for thirty years.
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Moral Issues
How Public Opinion on Abortion and Gay Rights Affects American Religion and Politics
Paul Goren and Christopher Chapp
University of Chicago Press

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Moral Politics
How Liberals and Conservatives Think, Third Edition
George Lakoff
University of Chicago Press, 2016
When Moral Politics was first published two decades ago, it redefined how Americans think and talk about politics through the lens of cognitive political psychology. Today, George Lakoff’s classic text has become all the more relevant, as liberals and conservatives have come to hold even more vigorously opposed views of the world, with the underlying assumptions of their respective worldviews at the level of basic morality. Even more so than when Lakoff wrote, liberals and conservatives simply have very different, deeply held beliefs about what is right and wrong.

Lakoff reveals radically different but remarkably consistent conceptions of morality on both the left and right. Moral worldviews, like most deep ways of understanding the world, are unconscious—part of our “hard-wired” brain circuitry. When confronted with facts that don’t fit our moral worldview, our brains work automatically and unconsciously to ignore or reject these facts, and it takes extraordinary openness and awareness of this phenomenon to pay critical attention to the vast number of facts we are presented with each day. For this new edition, Lakoff has added a new preface and afterword, extending his observations to major ideological conflicts since the book's original publication, from the Affordable Care Act to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the recent financial crisis, and the effects of global warming. One might have hoped such massive changes would bring people together, but the reverse has actually happened; the divide between liberals and conservatives has become stronger and more virulent.

To have any hope of bringing mutual respect to the current social and political divide, we need to clearly understand the problem and make it part of our contemporary public discourse. Moral Politics offers a much-needed wake-up call to both the left and the right.
 
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Narcissist Nation
Reflections of a Blue-State Conservative
George J. Marlin
St. Augustine's Press, 2011

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Neoconservatism
The Biography of a Movement
Justin Vaïsse
Harvard University Press, 2010

Neoconservatism has undergone a transformation that has made a clear identity almost impossible to capture. The Republican foreign policy operatives of the George W. Bush era seem far removed from the early liberal intellectuals who focused on domestic issues. Justin Vaïsse offers the first comprehensive history of neoconservatism, exploring the connections between a changing and multifaceted school of thought, a loose network of thinkers and activists, and American political life in turbulent times.

In an insightful portrait of the neoconservatives and their impact on public life, Vaïsse frames the movement in three distinct ages: the New York intellectuals who reacted against the 1960s leftists; the “Scoop Jackson Democrats,” who tried to preserve a mix of hawkish anticommunism abroad and social progress at home but failed to recapture the soul of the Democratic Party; and the “Neocons” of the 1990s and 2000s, who are no longer either liberals or Democrats. He covers neglected figures of this history such as Pat Moynihan, Eugene Rostow, Lane Kirkland, and Bayard Rustin, and offers new historical insight into two largely overlooked organizations, the Coalition for a Democratic Majority and the Committee on the Present Danger. He illuminates core developments, including the split of liberalism in the 1960s, and the shifting relationship between partisan affiliation and foreign policy positions.

Vaïsse gives neoconservatism its due as a complex movement and predicts it will remain an influential force in the American political landscape.

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The Next Conservatism
Paul M. Weyrich and William S. Lind
St. Augustine's Press, 2009

Since November’s election, conservative columnists have filled the op-ed pages with calls for a new conservative agenda. In The Next Conservatism, two of the conservative movement’s best-known thinkers, Paul M. Weyrich and William S. Lind, offer exactly that. More, they offer a new kind of conservative agenda, one that reaches far beyond politics to grapple with the sources of our nation’s cultural decay.
     The Next Conservatism recognizes that culture is more powerful than politics. Nevertheless, it offers an engaging menu of political reforms, all under the rubric of “Restore the Republic!” No enthusiasts of Imperial America at home or abroad, Weyrich and Lind seek limited government, jealous guardianship of civil liberties, and a Washington liberated from the power of the New Class, the interests that feed off our nation’s decay. To these frequent conservative themes, Weyrich and Lind offer something new: a warning of a general crisis of legitimacy of the state itself, which can lead to a Hobbesian state of anarchy. How might we save the state while avoiding the jaws of Leviathan? The Next Conservatism offers innovative ways to thread that needle.
    Meanwhile, what of America’s culture? Did its decay over the past half-century “just happen”? Weyrich and Lind argue no; rather, much of our degradation was deliberate, the work of the poisonous ideology of cultural Marxism, aka “Political Correctness.” The Next Conservatism takes the reader on a fascinating historical tour of the origins of Political Correctness in the infamous Frankfurt School, a gathering of heretical Marxists whose goal from the outset was the destruction of Western culture.
     Weyrich and Lind then proceed to “deconstruct” the left’s program for America, debunking Feminism, “racism,” and environmentalism along the way. Reflecting the thought of Russell Kirk, The Next Conservatism condemns ideologies left and right, calling instead for a return to traditional ways of living, ways that reflect wisdom accumulated generation by generation. Only thus, they argue, can conservatives win a culture war many regard as hopelessly lost.
     Old ways, in turn, lead to a Next Conservatism appropriate for hard times. Virtue, Weyrich and Lind offer, is to be found in modest living, not conspicuous consumption. The Next Conservative agenda rejects environmentalism but includes conservation, the return of the family farm, New Urbanism and the revival of such ‘oldies but goodies” as streetcars and passenger trains. A new theme, Retroculture, sums up a conservatism that recognizes that what worked in the past can work again today, and in the future as well. Our ancestors were no fools, the authors suggest, and “Back to the Future!” can serve as a powerful conservative rallying cry.
     Having laid the political and cultural groundwork, The Next Conservatism then turns to conservative governance. In foreign policy, the authors call for minimizing foreign entanglements, though with a strong national defense and a military reform to adapt to face Fourth Generation warfare rather than the Second Generation America adheres to. For the economy, the authors call for repairing and expanding our national infrastructure, sound money, and protecting American industry, seeing labor as a potential ally. In both national security and economic security, the authors insist that good governance include moral security; drawing from the New Urbanism, they offer a “moral transect” that allows everyone to do what he wants, but not always where he wants. The public square, they suggest, should be safe for families.
     Respecting the careful limits on government power a restored republic would embody, The Next Conservatism calls for redeeming America not through legislation but through a new conservative movement. Unlike the old movement, the next conservative movement would be a league of people who pledged to live their lives by the old rules. While conservatives would remain engaged in politics, they would rely on a vastly more powerful force of example, the examples of lives lived well in traditional ways. This next conservative movement would appeal far beyond the ranks of political conservatives, to all Americans who know that something has gone tragically wrong in the life of our nation.
     The Next Conservatism offers a vision of vast sweep, far beyond anything coming out of Washington. At a time when most Americans find life growing more difficult, it proposes a path to a new America that is also the old America, the good, comfortable America we had and have lost.


 

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No Right Turn
Conservative Politics in a Liberal America
David T. Courtwright
Harvard University Press, 2010

Few question the “right turn” America took after 1966, when liberal political power began to wane. But if they did, No Right Turn suggests, they might discover that all was not really “right” with the conservative golden age. A provocative overview of a half century of American politics, the book takes a hard look at the counterrevolutionary dreams of liberalism’s enemies—to overturn people’s reliance on expanding government, reverse the moral and sexual revolutions, and win the Culture War—and finds them largely unfulfilled.

David Courtwright deftly profiles celebrated and controversial figures, from Clare Boothe Luce, Barry Goldwater, and the Kennedy brothers to Jerry Falwell, David Stockman, and Lee Atwater. He shows us Richard Nixon’s keen talent for turning popular anxieties about morality and federal meddling to Republican advantage—and his inability to translate this advantage into reactionary policies. Corporate interests, boomer lifestyles, and the media weighed heavily against Nixon and his successors, who placated their base with high-profile attacks on crime, drugs, and welfare dependency. Meanwhile, religious conservatives floundered on abortion and school prayer, obscenity, gay rights, and legalized vices like gambling, and fiscal conservatives watched in dismay as the bills mounted.

We see how President Reagan’s mélange of big government, strong defense, lower taxes, higher deficits, mass imprisonment, and patriotic symbolism proved an illusory form of conservatism. Ultimately, conservatives themselves rebelled against George W. Bush’s profligate brand of Reaganism. Courtwright’s account is both surprising and compelling, a bracing argument against some of our most cherished clichés about recent American history.

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Not Thinking like a Liberal
Raymond Geuss
Harvard University Press, 2022

In a compelling meditation on the ideas that shape our lives, one of the world’s most provocative and creative philosophers explains how his eccentric early years influenced his lifelong critique of liberalism.

Liberalism is so amorphous and pervasive that for most people in the West it is background noise, the natural state of affairs. But there are nooks and crannies in every society where the prevailing winds don’t blow. Raymond Geuss grew up some distance from the cultural mainstream and recounts here the unusual perspective he absorbed: one in which liberal capitalism was synonymous with moral emptiness and political complacency.

Not Thinking like a Liberal is a concise tour of diverse intellectual currents—from the Counter-Reformation and communism to pragmatism and critical theory—that shaped Geuss’s skeptical stance toward liberalism. The bright young son of a deeply Catholic steelworker, Geuss was admitted in 1959 to an unusual boarding school on the outskirts of Philadelphia. Outside was Eisenhower’s America. Inside Geuss was schooled by Hungarian priests who tried to immunize students against the twin dangers of oppressive communism and vapid liberal capitalism. From there Geuss went on to university in New York in the early days of the Vietnam War and to West Germany, where critical theory was experiencing a major revival.

This is not a repeatable journey. In tracing it, Geuss reminds us of the futility of abstracting lessons from context and of seeking a universal view from nowhere. At the same time, he examines the rise and fall of major political theories of the past sixty years. An incisive thinker attuned to both the history and the future of ideas, Geuss looks beyond the horrors of authoritarianism and the shallow freedom of liberalism to glimpse a world of genuinely new possibilities.

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Once Upon a Time in Texas
A Liberal in the Lone Star State
By David Richards
University of Texas Press, 2002

Once upon a time in Texas...there were liberal activists of various stripes who sought to make the state more tolerant and more tolerable. David Richards was one of them. In this fast-paced, often humorous memoir, he remembers the players, the strategy sessions, the legal and political battles, and the wins and losses that brought significant gains in civil rights, voter rights, labor law, and civil liberties to the people of Texas from the 1950s to the 1990s.

In his work as a lawyer, Richards was involved in cases covering voters' rights, school finance reform, and a myriad of civil liberties and free speech cases. In telling these stories, he vividly evokes the "glory days" of Austin liberalism, when a who's who of Texas activists plotted strategy at watering holes such as Scholz Garden and the Armadillo World Headquarters. Likewise, he offers vivid portraits of liberal politicians from Ralph Yarborough to Ann Richards (his former wife), progressive journalists such as Molly Ivins and the Texas Observer staff, and the hippies, hellraisers, and musicians who all challenged Texas's conservative status quo.

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The Ordinary Virtues
Moral Order in a Divided World
Michael Ignatieff
Harvard University Press, 2017

Winner of the Zócalo Book Prize
A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice


“Combines powerful moral arguments with superb storytelling.”
New Statesman

What moral values do we hold in common? As globalization draws us together economically, are the things we value converging or diverging? These twin questions led Michael Ignatieff to embark on a three-year, eight-nation journey in search of an answer. What we share, he found, are what he calls “ordinary virtues”: tolerance, forgiveness, trust, and resilience. When conflicts break out, these virtues are easily exploited by the politics of fear and exclusion, reserved for one’s own group but denied to others. Yet these ordinary virtues are the key to healing and reconciliation on both a local and global scale.

“Makes for illuminating reading.”
—Simon Winchester, New York Review of Books

“Engaging, articulate and richly descriptive… Ignatieff’s deft histories, vivid sketches and fascinating interviews are the soul of this important book.”
Times Literary Supplement

“Deserves praise for wrestling with the devolution of our moral worlds over recent decades.”
Los Angeles Review of Books

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The Other Side of the Sixties
Young Americans for Freedom and the Rise of Conservative Politics
Andrew III, John A
Rutgers University Press, 1997
What were young conservatives doing in the 1960s while SDS and SNCC were working to move the political center to the left? The Other Side of the Sixties offers a gripping account of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), an organization that became a leading force in promoting conservative ideas and that helped lay the groundwork for today's conservatism. John Andrew has mined unique archival material to document YAF's efforts to form a viable organization, define a new conservatism, attack the liberal establishment, and seize control of the Republican party, all while battling voter hostility and internal factionalism. The author also uncovers the Kennedy administration's use of the IRS to subvert YAF and other right-wing organizations through tax audits and investigations. By painting a more balanced portrait of political thinking in the sixties, Andrew offers a new and much needed look at the ideological atmosphere of a vibrant decade.
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Our Common Bonds
Using What Americans Share to Help Bridge the Partisan Divide
Matthew Levendusky
University of Chicago Press, 2023
A compelling exploration of concrete strategies to reduce partisan animosity by building on what Democrats and Republicans have in common.  
 
One of the defining features of twenty-first-century American politics is the rise of affective polarization: Americans increasingly not only disagree with those from the other party but distrust and dislike them as well. This has toxic downstream consequences for both politics and social relationships. Is there any solution?  
 
Our Common Bonds
shows that—although there is no silver bullet that will eradicate partisan animosity—there are concrete interventions that can reduce it. Matthew Levendusky argues that partisan animosity stems in part from partisans’ misperceptions of one another. Democrats and Republicans think they have nothing in common, but this is not true. Drawing on survey and experimental evidence, the book shows that it is possible to help partisans reframe the lens through which they evaluate the out-party by priming commonalities—specifically, shared identities outside of politics, cross-party friendships, and common issue positions and values identified through civil cross-party dialogue.  Doing so lessons partisan animosity, and it can even reduce ideological polarization. The book discusses what these findings mean for real-world efforts to bridge the partisan divide.   
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Our Fritz
Emperor Frederick III and the Political Culture of Imperial Germany
Frank Lorenz Müller
Harvard University Press, 2011

On June 15, 1888, a mere ninety-nine days after ascending the throne to become king of Prussia and German emperor, Frederick III succumbed to throat cancer. Europeans were spellbound by the cruel fate nobly borne by the voiceless Fritz, who for more than two decades had been celebrated as a military hero and loved as a kindly gentleman. A number of grief-stricken individuals reportedly offered to sacrifice their own healthy larynxes to save the ailing emperor.

Frank Lorenz Müller, in the first comprehensive life of Frederick III ever written, reconstructs how the hugely popular persona of “Our Fritz” was created and used for various political purposes before and after the emperor’s tragic death. Sandwiched between the reign of his ninety-year-old father and the calamitous rule of his own son, the future emperor William II, Frederick III served as a canvas onto which different political forces projected their hopes and fears for Germany's future. The book moves beyond the myth that Frederick’s humane liberalism would have built a lasting Anglo-German partnership, perhaps even preventing World War I, and beyond the castigations and exaggerations of parties with a different agenda. Surrounded by an unforgettable cast of characters that includes the emperor’s widely hated English wife, Vicky—daughter of Queen Victoria—and the scheming Otto von Bismarck, Frederick III offers in death as well as in life a revealing, poignant glimpse of Prussia, Germany, and the European world that his son would help to shatter.

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Paramilitarism and Neoliberalism
Violent Systems of Capital Accumulation in Colombia and Beyond
Jasmin Hristov
Pluto Press, 2016

The people of Colombia have, for the last fifty years, been subject to a specific form of violence: paramilitarism. An embodiment of the underbelly of global capitalist accumulation, this form of pervasive violence expresses the exacerbation of social inequalities and class formation under capitalism. In Paramilitarism and Neoliberalism, Jasmin Hristov theorises this extreme expression in light of forced displacement, labour repression, subjugation of social movements, decentralisation of violence, drug trafficking and the emergence of a variety of para-institutional armed actors across Latin America.

The activities of paramilitary groups in the post­demobilisation era, their involvement in human rights violations, and their multi­level support networks inside major state institutions are documented, with a particular emphasis on violent dispossession and illegal land appropriation that has benefited agroindustries and mining enterprises. Hristov engages in a Marxist political economy approach, combined with a global sociological perspective, allowing for an expansive and deep-reaching understanding of paramilitarism as a phenomenon with many faces, ultimately illustrating how it is increasingly becoming the coercive counterpart of global capital.

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Partisan Hostility and American Democracy
Explaining Political Divisions and When They Matter
James N. Druckman, Samara Klar, Yanna Krupnikov, Matthew Levendusky, and John Barry Ryan
University of Chicago Press, 2024

An unflinching examination of the effects and boundaries of partisan animosity.

For generations, experts argued that American politics needed cohesive parties to function effectively. Now many fear that strong partisan views, particularly hostility to the opposing party, are damaging democracy. Is partisanship as dangerous as we fear it is?

To provide an answer, this book offers a nuanced evaluation of when and how partisan animosity matters in today’s highly charged, dynamic political environment, drawing on panel data from some of the most tumultuous years in recent American history, 2019 through 2021. The authors show that partisanship powerfully shapes political behaviors, but its effects are conditional, not constant. Instead, it is most powerful when politicians send clear signals and when an issue is unlikely to bring direct personal consequences. In the absence of these conditions, other factors often dominate decision-making.

The authors argue that while partisan hostility has degraded US politics—for example, politicizing previously non-political issues and undermining compromise—it is not in itself an existential threat. As their research shows, the future of American democracy depends on how politicians, more than ordinary voters, behave.

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Pillars of Justice
Lawyers and the Liberal Tradition
Owen Fiss
Harvard University Press, 2017

Pillars of Justice explores the purpose and possibilities of life in the law through moving accounts of thirteen lawyers who shaped the legal world during the past half century.

Some, such as Thurgood Marshall, were Supreme Court Justices. Others, like John Doar and Burke Marshall, set the civil rights policies of the federal government during the 1960s. Some, including Harry Kalven and Catharine MacKinnon, have taught at the greatest law schools of the nation and nourished the liberalism rooted in the civil rights era. Jurists from abroad—Aharon Barak, for example—were responsible for the rise of the human rights movement that today carries the burden of advancing liberal values. These lawyers came from diverse backgrounds and held various political views. What unites them is a deep, abiding commitment to Brown v. Board of Education as an exceptional moment in the life of the law—a willingness to move mountains, if need be, to ensure that we are living up to our best selves. In tracing how these lawyers over a period of fifty years used the Brown ruling and its spirit as a beacon to guide their endeavors, this history tells the epic story of the liberal tradition in the law.

For Owen Fiss, one of the country’s leading constitutional theorists, the people described were mentors, colleagues, friends. In his portraits, Fiss tries to identify the unique qualities of mind and character that made these individuals so important to the institutions and legal principles they served.

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The Politics of Petulance
America in an Age of Immaturity
Alan Wolfe
University of Chicago Press, 2018
How did we get into this mess? Every morning, many Americans ask this as, with a cringe, they pick up their phones and look to see what terrible thing President Trump has just said or done. Regardless of what he’s complaining about or whom he’s attacking, a second question comes hard on the heels of the first: How on earth do we get out of this?
 
Alan Wolfe has an answer. In The Politics of Petulance he argues that the core of our problem isn’t Trump himself—it’s that we are mired in an age of political immaturity. That immaturity is not grounded in any one ideology, nor is it a function of age or education. It’s in an abdication of valuing the character of would-be leaders; it’s in a failure to acknowledge, even welcome the complexity of government and society; and it’s in a loss of the ability to be skeptical without being suspicious. In 2016, many Americans were offered tantalizingly simple answers to complicated problems, and, like children being offered a lunch of Pop Rocks and Coke, they reflexively—and mindlessly—accepted.
 
The good news, such as it is, is that we’ve been here before. Wolfe reminds us that we know how to grow up and face down Trump and other demagogues. Wolfe reinvigorates the tradition of public engagement exemplified by midcentury intellectuals such as Richard Hofstadter, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Lionel Trilling—and he draws lessons from their battles with McCarthyism and conspiratorial paranoia. Wolfe mounts a powerful case that we can learn from them to forge a new path for political intervention today.
 
Wolfe has been thinking and writing about American life and politics for decades. He sees this moment as one of real risk. But he’s not throwing up his hands; he’s bracing us. We’ve faced demagogues before. We can find the intellectual maturity to fight back. Yes we can.
 
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Producers, Parasites, Patriots
Race and the New Right-Wing Politics of Precarity
Daniel Martinez HoSang
University of Minnesota Press, 2019

The shifting meaning of race and class in the age of Trump
 

The profound concentration of economic power in the United States in recent decades has produced surprising new forms of racialization. In Producers, Parasites, Patriots, Daniel Martinez HoSang and Joseph E. Lowndes show that while racial subordination is an enduring feature of U.S. political history, it continually changes in response to shifting economic and political conditions, interests, and structures. 

The authors document the changing politics of race and class in the age of Trump across a broad range of phenomena, showing how new forms of racialization work to alter the economic protections of whiteness while promoting some conservatives of color as models of the neoliberal regime. Through careful analyses of diverse political sites and conflicts—racially charged elections, attacks on public-sector unions, new forms of white precarity, the rise of black and brown political elites, militia uprisings, multiculturalism on the far right—they highlight new, interwoven deployments of race in the ascendant age of inequality. Using the concept of “racial transposition,” the authors demonstrate how racial meanings and signification can be transferred from one group to another to shore up both neoliberalism and racial hierarchy.

From the militia movement to the Alt-Right to the mainstream Republican Party, Producers, Parasites, Patriots brings to light the changing role of race in right-wing politics.

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Rac(e)Ing To The Right
Selected Essays George S. Schuyler
George S. Schuyler
University of Tennessee Press, 2001
“Rac(e)ing to the Right is a great read and brings overdue attention to one of the most popular and controversial African American writers in history. . . . These writings reveal both the presence and the limits of conservatism in the African American intellectual tradition.”—Jeffrey A. Tucker, University of Rochester

From the 1920s to the 1970s, George S. Schuyler was one of the country’s most prolific—and controversial—observers of African American life. As journalist, socialist, novelist, right-wing conservative, and, finally, political outcast, his thought was rife with insight and contradiction. Until now, only Schuyler’s fiction has found its way back into print. Rac(e)ing to the Right is the first collection of his political and cultural criticism.

The essays gathered by Jeffrey Leak encompass three key periods of Schuyler’s development. The first section follows his literary evolution in the 1920s and 1930s, during which time he deserted the U.S. Army and briefly became a member of the Socialist Party. Part II reveals his shift toward political conservatism in response to World War II and the perceived threat of Communism. Part III covers the civil rights movement of the 1960s—an era that prompted some of his most extreme and volatile critiques of black leadership and liberal ideology. The book includes many essays that are not well known as well as pieces that have never before been published. One notable example is the first printed transcript of Schuyler’s 1961 debate on the Black Muslims with Malcolm X, James Baldwin, and C. Eric Lincoln.

Because African American experience is more often than not associated with liberalism and the left, the idea of a black conservative strikes many as an anomaly. Schuyler’s writings, however, force us to broaden and rethink our political and cultural conceptions. At times misguided, at times prophetic, his work expands our understanding of black intellectual thought in the twentieth century.

The Editor: Jeffrey B. Leak is assistant professor of African American literature at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He has published articles and reviews in Callaloo, African American Review, and The Oxford Companion to African American Literature.
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Radical American Partisanship
Mapping Violent Hostility, Its Causes, and the Consequences for Democracy
Nathan P. Kalmoe and Lilliana Mason
University of Chicago Press, 2022
Radical partisanship among ordinary Americans is rising, and it poses grave risks for the prospects of American democracy.
 
Political violence is rising in the United States, with Republicans and Democrats divided along racial and ethnic lines that spurred massive bloodshed and democratic collapse earlier in the nation’s history. The January 6, 2021 insurrection and the partisan responses that ensued are a vivid illustration of how deep these currents run. How did American politics become so divided that we cannot agree on how to categorize an attack on our own Capitol?

For over four years, through a series of surveys and experiments, Nathan P. Kalmoe and Lilliana Mason have been studying radicalism among ordinary American partisans. In this groundbreaking book, they draw on new evidence—as well as insights from history, psychology, and political science—to put our present partisan fractiousness in context and to explain broad patterns of political and social change. Early chapters reveal the scope of the problem, who radical partisans are, and trends over time, while later chapters identify the conditions that partisans say justify violence and test how elections, political violence, and messages from leaders enflame or pacify radical views. Kalmoe and Mason find that ordinary partisanship is far more dangerous than pundits and scholars have recognized. However, these findings are not a forecast of inevitable doom; the current climate also brings opportunities to confront democratic threats head-on and to create a more inclusive politics. Timely and thought-provoking, Radical American Partisanship is vital reading for understanding our current political landscape.
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Rebels All!
Rebels All! A Short History of the Conservative Mind in Postwar America
Mattson, Kevin
Rutgers University Press, 2008

Outstanding Academic Title of 2008

Do you ever wonder why conservative pundits drop the word “faggot” or talk about killing and then Christianizing Muslims abroad?  Do you wonder why the right’s spokespeople seem so confrontational, rude, and over-the-top recently?  Does it seem strange that conservative books have such apocalyptic titles?  Do you marvel at why conservative writers trumpeted the “rebel” qualities of George W. Bush just a few years back? 

There is no doubt that the style of the political right today is tough, brash, and by many accounts, not very conservative sounding. After all, isn’t conservatism supposed to be about maintaining standards, upholding civility, and frowning upon rebellion? Historian Kevin Mattson explains the apparent contradictions of the party in this fresh examination of the postwar conservative mind. Examining a big cast of characters that includes William F. Buckley, Whittaker Chambers, Norman Podhoretz, Irving Kristol, Kevin Phillips, David Brooks, and others, Mattson shows how right-wing intellectuals have always, but in different ways, played to the populist and rowdy tendencies in America’s political culture. He boldly compares the conservative intellectual movement to the radical utopians among the New Left of the 1960s and he explains how conservatism has ingested central features of American culture, including a distrust of sophistication and intellectualism and a love of popular culture, sensation, shock, and celebrity.

Both a work of history and political criticism, Rebels All! shows how the conservative mind made itself appealing, but also points to its endemic problems. Mattson’s conclusion outlines how a recast liberalism should respond to the conservative ascendancy that has marked our politics for the last thirty years.

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front cover of Reconceiving Liberalism
Reconceiving Liberalism
Dilemmas of Contemporary Liberal Public Policy
Oren M. Levin-Waldman
University of Pittsburgh Press, 1996

Levin-Waldman argues that if American public policy were to be evaluated against a different set of principles—ones more closely aligned with core liberal values, especially the common good—liberalism would be in greater harmony with contemporary public opinion and thought.

Liberalism rests on a moral vision of what constitutes the good life and a set of principles that can measure whether public policy accords with society's underlying philosophical principles.  Levin-Waldman faults modern liberalism for obscuring these principles through a misplaced reliance on neutrality. Liberalism, he contends, appears to have diverged from mainstream perceptions of traditional American values because policy is debated and formulated within the confines of this neutrality standard.

Levin-Waldman develops a new methodology intended to take us away from the usual cost-benefit analysis and move us closer to assessing public policies in terms of what best serves the common good.
 

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The Republican Reversal
Conservatives and the Environment from Nixon to Trump
James Morton Turner and Andrew C. Isenberg
Harvard University Press, 2018

Not long ago, Republicans could take pride in their party’s tradition of environmental leadership. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the GOP helped to create the Environmental Protection Agency, extend the Clean Air Act, and protect endangered species. Today, as Republicans denounce climate change as a “hoax” and seek to dismantle the environmental regulatory state they worked to build, we are left to wonder: What happened?

In The Republican Reversal, James Morton Turner and Andrew C. Isenberg show that the party’s transformation began in the late 1970s, with the emergence of a new alliance of pro-business, libertarian, and anti-federalist voters. This coalition came about through a concerted effort by politicians and business leaders, abetted by intellectuals and policy experts, to link the commercial interests of big corporate donors with states’-rights activism and Main Street regulatory distrust. Fiscal conservatives embraced cost-benefit analysis to counter earlier models of environmental policy making, and business tycoons funded think tanks to denounce federal environmental regulation as economically harmful, constitutionally suspect, and unchristian, thereby appealing to evangelical views of man’s God-given dominion of the Earth.

As Turner and Isenberg make clear, the conservative abdication of environmental concern stands out as one of the most profound turnabouts in modern American political history, critical to our understanding of the GOP’s modern success. The Republican reversal on the environment is emblematic of an unwavering faith in the market, skepticism of scientific and technocratic elites, and belief in American exceptionalism that have become the party’s distinguishing characteristics.

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The Resurgence of Conservatism in Anglo-American Democracies
Barry Cooper, Allan Kornberg, and William Mishler, eds.
Duke University Press, 1987
This work presents analyses by experts on the rise of anew tide of conservative governments in the United States, Canada, and Great Britain in an attempt to find what, if any, common ideologies and programs unite them, with what results, in terms of institutional change and policy direction, have been, and what are the prospects for permanent change.
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The Return of Resentment
The Rise and Decline and Rise Again of a Political Emotion
Robert A. Schneider
University of Chicago Press, 2023
Charts the long history of resentment, from its emergence to its establishment as the word of the moment.
 
The term “resentment,” often casually paired with words like “hatred,” “rage,” and “fear,” has dominated US news analysis since November 2016. Despite its increased use, this word seems to defy easy categorization. Does “resentment” describe many interlocking sentiments, or is it just another way of saying “anger”? Does it suggest an irrational grievance, as opposed to a legitimate callout of injustice? Does it imply political leanings, or is it nonpartisan by nature?
 
In The Return of Resentment, Robert A. Schneider explores these questions and more, moving from eighteenth-century Britain to the aftermath of the French Revolution to social movements throughout the twentieth century. Drawing on a wide range of writers, thinkers, and historical experiences, Schneider illustrates how resentment has morphed across time, coming to express a collective sentiment felt by people and movements across the political spectrum. In this history, we discover resentment’s modernity and its ambiguity—how it can be used to dismiss legitimate critique and explain away violence, but also convey a moral stance that demands recognition. Schneider anatomizes the many ways resentment has been used to label present-day movements, from followers of Trump and supporters of Brexit to radical Islamicists and proponents of identity politics. Addressing our contemporary political situation in a novel way, The Return of Resentment challenges us to think critically about the roles different emotions play in politics.
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Right On?
Political Change and Continuity in George W. Bush's America
Edited by Iwan Morgan, Philip D. Davies
University of London Press, 2006

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Righting the American Dream
How the Media Mainstreamed Reagan's Evangelical Vision
Diane Winston
University of Chicago Press, 2023
A provocative new history of how the news media facilitated the Reagan Revolution and the rise of the religious Right.
 
After two years in the White House, an aging and increasingly unpopular Ronald Reagan looked like a one-term president, but in 1983 something changed. Reagan spoke of his embattled agenda as a spiritual rather than a political project and cast his vision for limited government and market economics as the natural outworking of religious conviction. The news media broadcast this message with enthusiasm, and white evangelicals rallied to the president’s cause. With their support, Reagan won reelection and continued to dismantle the welfare state, unraveling a political consensus that stood for half a century.

In Righting the American Dream, Diane Winston reveals how support for Reagan emerged from a new religious vision of American identity circulating in the popular press. Through four key events—the “evil empire” speech, AIDS outbreak, invasion of Grenada, and rise in American poverty rates—Winston shows that many journalists uncritically adopted Reagan’s religious rhetoric and ultimately mainstreamed otherwise unpopular evangelical ideas about individual responsibility. The result is a provocative new account of how Reagan together with the press turned America to the right and initiated a social revolution that continues today.
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Rising Star
The Meaning of Nikki Haley, Trump’s Unlikely Ambassador
Jason A. Kirk
University of Arkansas Press, 2021
Nikki Haley has been an emerging force in American politics, her star power burnished over a decade that has seen her move from the national spotlight to the global stage. In Rising Star, political scientist Jason A. Kirk analyzes her ascendance in the Republican Party, from her governorship of South Carolina—during which she faced extraordinary challenges in a state reckoning with tragedy, race, and its own history—to her elevated profile as Donald Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, where, as the daughter of immigrants and a woman of color, she became the face of his America First policy to the world. In considering a wide range of perspectives, Kirk illuminates how the combination of Haley’s political talents and her identity as an Indian American, Christian, southern woman has made her an unlikely bridge between the Trump years and the GOP’s embattled path forward.
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The Road from Mont Pèlerin
The Making of the Neoliberal Thought Collective, With a New Preface
Philip Mirowski
Harvard University Press, 2015

Although modern neoliberalism was born at the “Colloque Walter Lippmann” in 1938, it only came into its own with the founding of the Mont Pèlerin Society, a partisan “thought collective,” in Vevey, Switzerland, in 1947. Its original membership was made up of transnational economists and intellectuals, including Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, George Stigler, Karl Popper, Michael Polanyi, and Luigi Einaudi. From this small beginning, their ideas spread throughout the world, fostering, among other things, the political platforms of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan and the Washington Consensus.

The Road from Mont Pèlerin presents the key debates and conflicts that occurred among neoliberal scholars and their political and corporate allies regarding trade unions, development economics, antitrust policies, and the influence of philanthropy. The book captures the depth and complexity of the neoliberal “thought collective” while examining the numerous ways that neoliberal discourse has come to shape the global economy.

The Road from Mont Pèlerin is indispensable for anyone wishing to gain an understanding of neoliberalism, whether as an end in itself or as a means for constructing alternative, non-neoliberal futures.”
—Daniel Kinderman, Critical Policy Studies

“If you work on post-war history of economics, there is almost no reason not to read this book.”
—Ross B. Emmett, Journal of the History of Economic Thought

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Rock of Ages
Subcultural Religious Identity and Public Opinion among Young Evangelicals
Jeremiah J. Castle
Temple University Press, 2019

Evangelicals and Republicans have been powerful—and active—allies in American politics since the 1970s. But as public opinions have changed, are young evangelicals’ political identities and attitudes on key issues changing too? And if so, why? In Rock of Ages, Jeremiah Castle answers these questions to understand their important implications for American politics and society. 

Castle develops his own theory of public opinion among young evangelicals to predict and explain their political attitudes and voting behavior. Relying on both survey data and his own interviews with evangelical college students, he shows that while some young evangelicals may be more liberal in their attitudes on some issues, most are just as firmly Republican, conservative, and pro-life on abortion as the previous generation. 

Rock of Ages considers not only what makes young evangelicals different from the previous generation, but also what that means for both the church and American politics.

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Ronald Reagan and the House Democrats
Gridlock, Partisanship, and the Fiscal Crisis
Karl Gerard Brandt
University of Missouri Press, 2009
When Democrats in the House of Representatives locked horns with President Ronald Reagan over the latter’s fiscal policies, the ensuing conflict reinforced the seismic shift in the political landscape that the 1980 election had brought. Karl Brandt now tells the story of how the New Deal Democratic coalition was able to sustain itself in the face of an unprecedented Republican assault—in a conflict whose reverberations are still being felt today.
            After a bipartisan conservative House coalition passed Reagan’s budget and tax cuts in 1981, conservative Democrats became worried about the increasingly large deficits produced by Reaganomics and questioned the administration’s spending priorities. In one of the few studies of congressional politics in the 1980s, Brandt describes the House Democratic leadership’s efforts to rebuild party unity while facing challenges from conservative Democrats, the Reagan administration, and the emerging fiscal crisis. He tells how Democrats worked hard to rein in party conservatives, to craft consensus-oriented policies palatable to all Democrats, and over the coming years to force the president and the Senate to compromise over fiscal policy.
            Drawing on primary source materials unavailable in the 1980s—including transcripts from closed-door meetings and internal House documents—Brandt chronicles the events that resulted in the deepening of the fiscal crisis, examines the growth of an intensely partisan political environment, and provides insight into the dynamics of creating a national budget. He cuts through conservative rhetoric to show how Reagan’s fiscal policies deepened federal deficits and reveals how the partisan struggles of the Reagan years redefined the Democrats along more centrist lines.
            When the dust had settled, the Democratic Party had become more unified in the face of budget conflict and had proved that it could practice fiscal conservatism and make tough budget choices when necessary. Carefully argued and thoroughly researched, Brandt’s work brings historical perspective to this important chapter in recent history as it explores conflicting visions of the economy, American society, and the very future of the nation.
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A Second Look at First Things
A Case for Conservative Politics: The Hadley Arkes Festschrift
Francis J. Beckwith
St. Augustine's Press, 2013

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The Social Contract in the Ruins
Natural Law and Government by Consent
Paul R. DeHart
University of Missouri Press, 2024

Most scholars who write on social contract and classical natural law perceive an irreconcilable tension between them. Social contract theory is widely considered the political-theoretic concomitant of modern philosophy. Against the regnant view, The Social Contract in the Ruins, argues that all attempts to ground political authority and obligation in agreement alone are logically self-defeating. Political authority and obligation require an antecedent moral ground. But this moral ground cannot be constructed by human agreement or created by sheer will—human or divine. All accounts of morality as constructed or made collapse into self-referential incoherence. Only an uncreated, real good can coherently ground political authority and obligation or the proposition that rightful government depends on the consent of the governed. Government by consent requires classical natural law for its very coherence. 

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Superfluous Southerners
Cultural Conservatism and the South, 1920-1990
John J. Langdale III
University of Missouri Press, 2012
In Superfluous Southerners, John J. Langdale III tells the story of traditionalist conservatism and its boundaries in twentieth-century America. Because this time period encompasses both the rise of the modern conservative movement and the demise of southern regional distinctiveness, it affords an ideal setting both for observing the potentiality of American conservatism and for understanding the fate of the traditionalist “man of letters.” Langdale uses the intellectual and literary histories of John Crowe Ransom, Donald Davidson, and Allen Tate—the three principal contributors to the Agrarian manifesto I’ll Take My Stand—and of their three most remarkable intellectual descendants—Cleanth Brooks, Richard Weaver, and Melvin Bradford—to explore these issues.
Langdale begins his study with some observations on the nature of American exceptionalism and the intrinsic barriers which it presents to the traditionalist conservative imagination. While works like Louis Menand’s The Metaphysical Club have traced the origins of modern pragmatic liberalism during the late nineteenth century, the nature of conservative thought in postbellum America remains less completely understood. Accordingly, Langdale considers the origins of the New Humanism movement at the turn of the twentieth century, then turning to the manner in which midwesterners Irving Babbitt and Paul Elmer Moore stirred the imagination of the southern Agrarians during the 1920s.
After the publication of I’ll Take My Stand in 1930, Agrarianism splintered into three distinct modes of traditionalist conservatism: John Crowe Ransom sought refuge in literary criticism, Donald Davidson in sectionalism, and Allen Tate in an image of the religious-wayfarer as a custodian of language. Langdale traces the expansion of these modes of traditionalism by succeeding generations of southerners. Following World War II, Cleanth Brooks further refined the tradition of literary criticism, while Richard Weaver elaborated the tradition of sectionalism. However, both Brooks and Weaver distinctively furthered Tate’s notion that the integrity of language remained the fundamental concern of traditionalist conservatism.
Langdale concludes his study with a consideration of neoconservative opposition to M.E. Bradford’s proposed 1980 nomination as head of the National Endowment for the Humanities and its significance for the southern man of letters in what was becoming postmodern and postsouthern America. Though the post–World War II ascendance of neoconservatism drastically altered American intellectual history, the descendants of traditionalism remained largely superfluous to this purportedly conservative revival which had far more in common with pragmatic liberalism than with normative conservatism.
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The Theology of Liberalism
Eric Nelson
Harvard University Press, 2019

One of our most important political theorists pulls the philosophical rug out from under modern liberalism, then tries to place it on a more secure footing.

We think of modern liberalism as the novel product of a world reinvented on a secular basis after 1945. In The Theology of Liberalism, one of the country’s most important political theorists argues that we could hardly be more wrong. Eric Nelson contends that the tradition of liberal political philosophy founded by John Rawls is, however unwittingly, the product of ancient theological debates about justice and evil. Once we understand this, he suggests, we can recognize the deep incoherence of various forms of liberal political philosophy that have emerged in Rawls’s wake.

Nelson starts by noting that today’s liberal political philosophers treat the unequal distribution of social and natural advantages as morally arbitrary. This arbitrariness, they claim, diminishes our moral responsibility for our actions. Some even argue that we are not morally responsible when our own choices and efforts produce inequalities. In defending such views, Nelson writes, modern liberals have implicitly taken up positions in an age-old debate about whether the nature of the created world is consistent with the justice of God. Strikingly, their commitments diverge sharply from those of their proto-liberal predecessors, who rejected the notion of moral arbitrariness in favor of what was called Pelagianism—the view that beings created and judged by a just God must be capable of freedom and merit. Nelson reconstructs this earlier “liberal” position and shows that Rawls’s philosophy derived from his self-conscious repudiation of Pelagianism. In closing, Nelson sketches a way out of the argumentative maze for liberals who wish to emerge with commitments to freedom and equality intact.

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Transformations and Crisis of Liberalism in Argentina, 1930–1955
Jorge A. Nallim
University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012
In this original study, Jorge A. Nállim chronicles the decline of liberalism in Argentina during the volatile period between two military coups—the 1930 overthrow of
Hipólito Yrigoyen and the deposing of Juan Perón in 1955. While historians have primarily focused on liberalism in economic or political contexts, Nállim instead documents a wide range of locations where liberalism was claimed and ultimately marginalized in the pursuit of individual agendas.

Nállim shows how concepts of liberalism were espoused by various groups who “invented traditions” to legitimatize their methods of political, religious, class, intellectual, or cultural hegemony. In these deeply fractured and corrupt processes, liberalism lost political favor and alienated the public. These events also set the table for Peronism and stifled the future of progressive liberalism in Argentina.

Nállim describes the main political parties of the period and deconstructs their liberal discourses. He also examines major cultural institutions and shows how each attached liberalism to their cause.

Nállim compares and contrasts the events in Argentina to those in other Latin American nations and reveals their links to international developments. While critics have positioned the rhetoric of liberalism during this period as one of decadence or irrelevance, Nállim instead shows it to be a vital and complex factor in the metamorphosis of modern history in Argentina and Latin America as well.

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Unmaking the Public University
Christopher Newfield
Harvard University Press, 2008

An essential American dream—equal access to higher education—was becoming a reality with the GI Bill and civil rights movements after World War II. But this vital American promise has been broken. Christopher Newfield argues that the financial and political crises of public universities are not the result of economic downturns or of ultimately valuable restructuring, but of a conservative campaign to end public education’s democratizing influence on American society. Unmaking the Public University is the story of how conservatives have maligned and restructured public universities, deceiving the public to serve their own ends. It is a deep and revealing analysis that is long overdue.

Newfield carefully describes how this campaign operated, using extensive research into public university archives. He launches the story with the expansive vision of an equitable and creative America that emerged from the post-war boom in college access, and traces the gradual emergence of the anti-egalitarian “corporate university,” practices that ranged from racial policies to research budgeting. Newfield shows that the culture wars have actually been an economic war that a conservative coalition in business, government, and academia have waged on that economically necessary but often independent group, the college-educated middle class. Newfield’s research exposes the crucial fact that the culture wars have functioned as a kind of neutron bomb, one that pulverizes the social and culture claims of college grads while leaving their technical expertise untouched. Unmaking the Public University incisively sets the record straight, describing a forty-year economic war waged on the college-educated public, and awakening us to a vision of social development shared by scientists and humanists alike.

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front cover of Why Are Professors Liberal and Why Do Conservatives Care?
Why Are Professors Liberal and Why Do Conservatives Care?
Neil Gross
Harvard University Press, 2013

Some observers see American academia as a bastion of leftist groupthink that indoctrinates students and silences conservative voices. Others see a protected enclave that naturally produces free-thinking, progressive intellectuals. Both views are self-serving, says Neil Gross, but neither is correct. Why Are Professors Liberal and Why Do Conservatives Care? explains how academic liberalism became a self-reproducing phenomenon, and why Americans on both the left and right should take notice.

Academia employs a higher percentage of liberals than nearly any other profession. But the usual explanations—hiring bias against conservatives, correlations of liberal ideology with high intelligence—do not hold up to scrutiny. Drawing on a range of original research, statistics, and interviews, Gross argues that “political typing” plays an overlooked role in shaping academic liberalism. For historical reasons, the professoriate developed a reputation for liberal politics early in the twentieth century. As this perception spread, it exerted a self-selecting influence on bright young liberals, while deterring equally promising conservatives. Most professors’ political views formed well before they stepped behind the lectern for the first time.

Why Are Professors Liberal and Why Do Conservatives Care? shows how studying the political sympathies of professors and their critics can shed light not only on academic life but on American politics, where the modern conservative movement was built in no small part around opposition to the “liberal elite” in higher education. This divide between academic liberals and nonacademic conservatives makes accord on issues as diverse as climate change, immigration, and foreign policy more difficult.

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The Worker
Dominion and Form
Ernst Jünger, Edited by Laurence Paul Hemming, Translated from the German by Bogdan Costea and Laurence Paul Hemming
Northwestern University Press, 2017
Written in 1932, just before the fall of the Weimar Republic and on the eve of the Nazi accession to power, Ernst Jünger’s The Worker: Dominion and Form articulates a trenchant critique of bourgeois liberalism and seeks to identify the form characteristic of the modern age. Jünger’s analyses, written in critical dialogue with Marx, are inspired by a profound intuition of the movement of history and an insightful interpretation of Nietzsche’s philosophy.

Martin Heidegger considered Jünger “the only genuine follower of Nietzsche,” singularly providing “an interpretation which took shape in the domain of that metaphysics which already determines our epoch, even against our knowledge; this metaphysics is Nietzsche's doctrine of the ‘will to power.’” In The Worker, Jünger examines some of the defining questions of that epoch: the nature of individuality, society, and the state; morality, justice, and law; and the relationships between freedom and power and between technology and nature.

This work, appearing in its entirety in English translation for the first time, is an important contribution to debates on work, technology, and politics by one of the most controversial German intellectuals of the twentieth century. Not merely of historical interest, The Worker carries a vital message for contemporary debates about world economy, political stability, and equality in our own age, one marked by unsettling parallels to the 1930s.
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Yesterday
A New History of Nostalgia
Tobias Becker
Harvard University Press, 2023

A sweeping reassessment of our longing for the past, from the rise of “retro” to the rhetoric of Brexit and Trump.

Nostalgia has a bad reputation. Its critics dismiss it as mere sentimentality or, worse, a dangerous yearning for an imagined age of purity. And nostalgia is routinely blamed for trivializing the past and obscuring its ugly sides. In Yesterday, Tobias Becker offers a more nuanced and sympathetic view. Surveying the successive waves of nostalgia that swept the United States and Europe after the Second World War, he shows that longing for the past is more complex and sometimes more beneficial than it seems.

The current meaning of “nostalgia” is surprisingly recent: until the 1960s, it usually just meant homesickness, in keeping with the original Greek word. Linking popular culture to postwar politics in the United States, Great Britain, and Germany, Becker explains the shift in meaning. He also responds to arguments against nostalgia, showing its critics as often shortsighted in their own ways as they defend an idea of progress no less naïve than the wistfulness they denounce. All too often, nostalgia itself is criticized, as if its merit did not depend on which specific past one longs for.

Taking its title from one of the most popular songs of all time, and grounded in extensive research, Yesterday offers a rigorous and entertaining perspective on divisive issues in culture and politics. Whether we are revisiting, reviving, reliving, reenacting, or regressing, and whether these activities find expression in politics, music, fashion, or family history, nostalgia is inevitable. It is also powerful, not only serving to define the past but also orienting us toward the future we will create.

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