Paul Starr: Freedom's Power

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Starr, Paul. Freedom's Power: The True Force of Liberalism (New York: Basic Books, 2007)

Starr claims early on that "Both conservatives and liberals in the United States see themselves as bearers of the nation's founding ideals. This book argues that liberals have the better claim," (p. x, Preface) and bolsters this stance throughout the book. Starr categorizes liberalism as a kind of centrism between the poles of laissez-faire extremism on the Right and command economies on the Left, and notes that: 1920 some people who had called themselves "Progressives" were beginning to refer to themselves as "liberals." [...] After World War I, as many erstwhile Progressives grew wary of excessive state power, "liberal" had the additional merit of highlighting a connection to a long philosophical tradition that gave central importance to individual liberty. Liberalism was more than Progressivism renamed; it reflected a sense that the earlier movement was blind to the dangers of excessive state power. (p. 111)

While some conservatives lay claim to the moniker "classical liberalism" in an attempt to claim liberalism's foundation along with America's founding, it is a blindness to corporate power to which they succumb; they also aim to effectively blind others to this fact via misdirection. In analyzing the Right's demonization of the Left via the rhetoric of liberty, Starr writes:

After the fall of communism, "liberal" took the place of "communist" in the demonology of the American right. During the Cold War, despite McCarthyism, liberals and conservatives had been generally allied in their anticommunism, but conservatives now came to see liberals as their greatest adversaries and attacked them with greater venom than ever. "Now that the other 'Cold War' is over, the real cold war has begun," the neoconservative Irving Kristol wrote in 1993, referring to a "war" against liberalism (p. 185, "My Cold War," National Interest, Spring 1993, p. 141-4; reprinted in Neoconservatism: The Autobiography of an Idea, p. 486)

Here I have a quibble with Starr: the Right was demonizing liberalism long before the 1989 collapse of the Soviet Union. One obvious example is Reagan's 1964 "A Time for Choosing" speech, where he famously claimed "Well, the trouble with our liberal friends is not that they are ignorant, but that they know so much that isn't so." Perhaps that shouldn't count because Reagan called us "friends" while slandering us as delusional?

At any rate, Starr has penned a solid paean to liberalism; it joins Krugman's Conscience of a Liberal as the best of this year's crop.


Paul Starr's website

Starr's "Why Liberalism Works" (American Prospect. March 2007)

Starr writes about "The Democrats' Strategic Challenge" (American Prospect, Jan/Feb 2008)

Michael Lind's review of Freedom's Power at NYT

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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on December 31, 2007 11:57 AM.

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