Getting the Left Right: The Transformation, Decline, and Reformation of American Liberalism

Thomas Spragens
The University Press of Kansas
2009

American liberalism has much to be proud of. It is largely responsible for the democratization of political power during the nineteenth century and the harnessing of buccaneer capitalism, for the New Deal's social safety nets and the civil rights legislation of the 1960s. But as the social agenda and perceived snobbery of postsixties liberalism alienated the working classes whose interests liberalism had previously championed, "liberal" soon became a dirty word on the political landscape.

Noted scholar Thomas Spragens seeks to uncover the animating purposes, changes, problems, and prospects of liberalism as it is understood in today's political discourse. For if liberalism is to regain its rightful standing, he argues, it needs to recover its populist heart-to recommit itself to the ideal of government of, by, and for the people envisioned by Lincoln.

Blending political theory with astute analysis of the contemporary scene, Spragens steps back from the "high liberalism" of John Rawls, Ronald Dworkin, and others, arguing instead that the success of liberalism hinges upon its recognition of the limits of social justice and its rededication to the core values of popular self-rule and universal self-realization especially the capacity of ordinary citizens for personal development through education, occupation, and the practice of politics itself.