American Liberalism’s Rightward Shift

From 1932 to 1952 the Republican Party was unable to win a presidential election in the United States of America. The economic model that they had championed for much of the 1920s and which had only been partially abandoned by Herbert Hoover in 1931-32 was ditched far too late and was replaced firstly by Roosevelt’s New Deal policies and then the enormous state intervention required by the Second World War. The economist Yanis Varoufakis succinctly summed up the outcome of the conflict when he said that fascism was crushed by a combination of Stalin and the New Deal. The close cooperative relationship between the USA and the USSR during the Second World War was part of the strategy that Republicans, bereft of an alternative economic offer, used to unpick Democrat hegemony by the early 1950s. The idea that the world events of the Cold War and America’s safety and survival (which became a more acute question after the first evidence emerged on Labor Day 1949 of the detonation of a Soviet atomic bomb), were explained by traitors in the White House and State Department gained widespread currency across America and was a powerful device for attacking the incumbent party. This podcast shows how the right set the tone in post war America and the liberal centre left enthusiastically tried to immitate it. Notionally liberal figures such as Daniel Bell, who would undertake an ideological journey to the right during the 1960s saw the Cold War as a conflict that needed to be fought with brutality and illiberal methods overseas and domestically. Previous liberal ideas about freedoms of expression and association were abandoned as illiberalism became the favoured means of protecting a notionally liberal democracy.

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