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    Arthur Schlesinger Jr, Liberalism in America: A Note for Europeans

    Johnathan R. Razorback
    Johnathan R. Razorback

    Messages : 7712
    Date d'inscription : 12/08/2013
    Localisation : France

    Arthur Schlesinger Jr, Liberalism in America: A Note for Europeans Empty Arthur Schlesinger Jr, Liberalism in America: A Note for Europeans

    Message par Johnathan R. Razorback le Lun 17 Juil - 15:33



    "Liberalism in the American usage has little in common with the word as used in the politics of any European country, save possibly Britain. Liberalism in America has been a party of social progress rather than of intellectual doctrine, committed to ends rather than to methods. When a laissez-faire policy seemed best calculated to achieve the liberal objective of equality of opportunity for all -- as it did in the time of Jefferson -- liberals believed, in the Jeffersonian phrase, that that government is best which governs least. But, when the growing complexity of industrial conditions required increasing government intervention in order to assure more equal opportunities, the liberal tradition, faithful to the goal rather than to the dogma, altered its view of the state.

    The process of redefining liberalism in terms of the social needs of the 20th century was conducted by Theodore Roosevelt and his New Nationalism, Woodrow Wilson and his New Freedom, and Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal. Out of these three great reform periods there emerged the conception of a social welfare state, in which the national government had the express obligation to maintain high levels of employment in the economy, to supervise standards of life and labor, to regulate the methods of business competition, and to establish comprehensive patterns of social security. This liberal conception won, in a sense, its greatest triumph in the election o[ 1952 when the Republican party, as the party of conservatism, accepted as permanent the changes wrought in the American scene by a generation of liberal reform.

    The ideological content of modern American liberalism has been less coherent than its political and administrative evolution. The two Roosevelts and Wilson were ideologists only in the broadest and loosest sense. Their oratory dealt in mood and in program rather than in philosophy; and, with inspired eclecticism, they drew on all types and sources for their ideas and policies. In the 1920's, however, a liberal ideology did begin to crystallize, deriving its main tenets from the philosophy of John Dewey and from the economics of Thorstein Veblen. Dewey, with his faith in human rationality and in the power of the creative intelligence, gave this ideological liberalism a strong belief in the efficacy of overhead social planning; and this bent was reinforced by Veblen, who detested the price system and the free market and thought that the economy could be far more efficiently and sensibly operated by a junta or soviet of engineers.

    This liberal ideology, with its commitment to central governmental planning, was shattered, however, by the experience of the New Deal. Men in the Dewey-Veblen tradition tended to regard the New Dealers as hopeless improvisers and opportunists, engaged in the futile patching of an old system when they should have been consecrated to the triumphant creation of a new one. But in time it began to appear that the somewhat helter-skelter, catch-as- catch-can improvisations of the New Deal were more true to the helter-skelter, catch-as-catch-can conditions of American society than any rational central Gosplan could have been. What at first seemed the vices of pragmatism and expediency in the New Deal came later to be regarded as among its greatest virtues. (Pertinent references to John Dewey may be found in William Whyte's Organization Man.)

    In this process, Dewey and Veblen lost their hold on American liberalism. They have been more or less replaced in recent years as guiding influences by Reinhold Niebuhr and John Maynard Keynes. Niebuhr, the neo-orthodox theologian, has provided a more realistic and searching picture of man than Dewey's image of a rational and cooperative planner. The Niebuhr restatement of the Christian conception of human nature has made it easier for the present generation to understand the suprarational extremities of cruelty and of sacrifice in this tragic century. And Keynes has made available a far more useful, flexible, and intelligent set of economic ideas than those of Veblen. The Keynesian emphasis on indirect controls -- on fiscal and monetary policy -- rather than on direct, physical, quantitative controls of the Veblen type has persuaded American liberalism that central economic management may be reconciled with the decentralization of decision and the technical advantages of a price system and a free market.

    The broad liberal objective is a balanced and flexible "mixed economy," thus seeking to occupy that middle ground between capitalism and socialism whose viability has so long been denied by both capitalists and socialists. American liberalism, it should be emphasized, is antisocialist, where socialism retains its classical connotation of state ownership of the basic means of production and distribution. This is partly because American liberals doubt whether bases for political opposition and freedom can survive when all power is vested in the state; liberty, if it is to be guaranteed by anything but the self-restraint of the rulers, must have resources of its own inaccessible to the state. And the antisocialism of American liberals derives also from an estimate of the administrative difficulties of a socialist system. If substantial abundance and equality of opportunity can be achieved through a system of mixed enterprise, why throw up a rigid and oppressive structure of state bureaucracy? The humane, as distinct from the institutional, goals of socialism can be better achieved, American liberals feel, through diversifying ownership rather than concentrating it.

    American liberalism believes that in this respect it has made a major contribution to the grand strategy of freedom. Where both capitalists and socialists in the 1930's were trying to narrow the choice to either/or -- either laissez-faire capitalism or bureaucratic socialism -- the New Deal persisted in its vigorous faith that human intelligence and social experiment could work out a stable foundation for freedom in a context of security and for security in a context of freedom. That faith remains the best hope of free society today.

    Contemporary American liberalism thus has no overpowering mystique. It lacks a rhapsodic sense. It has jettisoned many illusions. Its temper is realistic, even skeptical. Its objectives are limited. It is mistrustful of utopianism, perfectionism, and maximalism. It abhors the maudlin sloganism of the popular front of the '30's. It refuses to believe that lofty aspiration excuses cruel oppression. In particular, it lacks patience for those who can pronounce societies "progressive" which develop huge and terrible systems of forced labor and deny freedom of expression and movement to the bulk of their populations.

    Some Europeans feel that this realistic mood is an expression of weariness and defeat, if not a confession of cowardice. Yet American liberalism feels that realism is the source of strength, and that illusion, while productive of momentary enthusiasm, will be in the end a source of catastrophe. And American liberalism can point to concrete national gains even in the period of the cold war -- to the great strides toward achieving better opportunities for Negroes, to the maintenance of high levels of employment, to the extension of the system of social security, to the eventual defeat of Senator McCarthy; not to speak of such extraordinary world initiatives as the Marshall Plan and Point Four.

    Even under a conservative administration, these liberal impulses will continue to have effect. Even the Republican party, on the whole, is "conservative" only in the special American sense. For all its tendencies toward ignorance and self-righteousness, that party is far from blind reactions and will, in the end, accept the arbitrament of reason and debate.

    One can understand how the excesses of certain American politicians in recent years may have shaken world faith in the essential liberality of the American political tradition. Yet that tradition and its liberality rest on something deeper and solider than official rhetoric or pious hope. American liberalism, in the broad sense, is an expression of the total national experience -- a fact which will doubtless become evident to the world again when American liberalism, in the more restricted sense, returns to political power.

    « La question n’est pas de constater que les gens vivent plus ou moins pauvrement, mais toujours d’une manière qui leur échappe. »
    -Guy Debord, Critique de la séparation (1961).

      La date/heure actuelle est Dim 17 Jan - 12:52