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The Decline of American Liberalism Paperback – 1967


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--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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About the Author

Arthur A. Ekirch Jr. was a leading scholar of American intellectual history and a professor emeritus of history at the State University of New York–Albany. He is the author of numerous books, including The American Democratic TraditionThe Civilian and the Military, and Man and Nature in America.
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 401 pages
  • Publisher: Atheneum; 1st edition (1967)
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0007E6ZSK
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #9,378,237 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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30 of 33 people found the following review helpful By David M. Dougherty VINE VOICE on October 14, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This review is on the 2009 edition, although I did not compare it to the earlier editions of 1955 and 1966. At any rate the ideas are not new, but the events in 2009 where American politicians and the Presidency have taken the United States on a giant leap to the left and collectivism (Socialism, Marxism and big government) have made this book more important than ever.

The gist of the matter is that liberalism as originally defined in the 18th century and earlier meant limited government and a maximum of individual liberty for the population of a country to determine its own and individual way of life. As the author states, the apogee of this movement was reached shortly after the American Revolution and began to decline after the Jefferson Presidency. The publisher of this work, the Independent Institute, has published a number of works from the viewpoint of maximizing individual liberty, most notable Eland's book selecting the best presidents by virtue of their governing least and maximizing individual liberty. In line with this thinking, Presidents like Wilson, Roosevelt and Obama rank among the worst as they increase the size of the Federal Government, reduce individual liberty, and move the country towards collectivism.

Today, liberals no longer espouse the liberal philosophy of the 18th century -- libertarians do (as much as possible.) Liberals have sought to maximize social engineering, creating a massive government bureaucracy dedicated to governing the lives of American citizens supposedly for their own good. One of their heroes, Walter Lippmann even adressed the idea that social engineering needed to be extended into procreation in that actions needed to be taken to assure the "best" Americans breed while undesirables do not.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Kindle Customer on September 6, 2006
Format: Paperback
Ekirch tells the history of the liberal ideal in America, from the founding though to the end of the Second World War. Both modern Conservatices and Liberals will find this book fascinating as he traces the ideal of individual liberty, democratic rule and how it has stood up through a revolutionary war, a civil war, two world wars, the depression, and civil rights. The author leaves you holding mixed feelings by the end of the book - you can't help but bemoan the obvious fact that civil liberties have and will probably continue to erode with every new challenge that befalls America, but at the same time the country seems to be blessed with some kind of resiliency that allows itself to weather and at least sustain the endless attack on the individual.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Anders Johnson on April 20, 2010
Format: Paperback
Nobel laureate Gary Becker is known to observe that people have an inherent bias against free markets, because the notion that individuals acting in self-interest often produce better results on behalf of their fellow citizens than public agencies directed by democratically elected officials, however evident, is "just too counter-intuitive." In "The Decline of American Liberalism," Ekirch does for history what Becker and his colleagues have done for economics: provide a robust intellectual defense in favor of liberty.

While this might be considered a fringe interpretation of history, it is by no means hyperbolic, polemic, distorted or reactionary. By all appearances, and judging by the comments of professional historians, it is impeccably researched and largely dispassionate in its portrayal of events and attitudes. It continuously acknowledges the mainstream view, even if only to manifest the naïveté thereof in some cases.

In fact, I was tempted to put this book down halfway into it, as it had thus far seemed a rather pedestrian rehash of the usual Jeffersonian vs. Hamiltonian and pro-slavery vs. abolitionist historical narrative that I was taught in school. But that all changes beginning with post Civil War reconstruction. The vast degree to which wealth and privilege then began being permanently transferred from individuals to corporations under the guise of new citizen entitlements (which in many cases merely displaced the jurisdiction of states to administer such entitlements, thereby effectively nullifying the individual's previous right to opt out by relocating) is truly astounding, and almost wholly discounted by mainstream history as I know it.

There is still an unacknowledged elephant in the room, however.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Robert Kirk VINE VOICE on February 27, 2012
Format: Paperback
I simply found this book extremely interesting and had a hard time putting it down. The author incorporates most of the major US history events and relates to the social acceptance of rights. One strange thing to consider, in 1955, the word "liberalism" is probably considered more what today we call a "conservative". It takes a bit of getting use to. But I thought the most interesting idea he wrote about was the founding fathers (specifically T. Jefferson) and what it meant to have human rights (and state rights). He wrote that T. Jefferson was more about rights until he himself became president. I wonder if the reality of politics makes one feel one way then the office of president gives them a reality check. Another interesting point was how the US Constitution gave the Federal govt so much power while the spirit of the revolution was freedom for the individual (and individual state). In summary, a wonderful book for all of us that love freedom.
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