In his new book, Fred Siegel rewrites the history of modern American liberalism. He posits that what we think of liberalism today began not with Progressivism or the New Deal but rather in the wake of the post-WWI disillusionment with American society. In the 1920s, the first writers and thinkers to call themselves liberals adopted the hostility to bourgeois life that had long characterized European intellectuals of both the left and the right. The aim of liberalism’s foundational writers and thinkers was to create an American aristocracy of sorts, to provide a sense of hierarchy and order associated with European statism.
Like communism, Fabianism, and fascism, modern liberalism – critical of both capitalism and democracy – was born of a new class of politically self-conscious intellectuals. They despised both the individual businessman's pursuit of profit and the conventional individual's pursuit of pleasure, both of which were made possible by the lineaments of the limited 19th Century state. Leading us to today’s liberalism which, Siegel argues, has displaced the old Main Street private sector middle class with a new middle class composed of public sector workers allied with crony capitalists and the country’s arbiters of style and taste.
Fred Siegel is a Senior Fellow of the Manhattan Institute's Center for State and Local Leadership, a City Journal contributing editor, and an expert on market-friendly public-policy solutions for urban governance. For many years he made his intellectual home at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York City. Before joining the faculty of Cooper Union, Mr. Siegel was a visiting professor of modern American history at the University of Paris. A former fellow at The Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, he is currently Scholar-in-Residence at Saint Francis College in Brooklyn.
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