Charles Abrams (1902-1970) stood at the center of the policies, problems, and politics surrounding urban planning, housing reform, and the public and private interests involved in the expansion of the American state. He uniquely combined in one person the often divergent roles of "public" and "policy" intellectual. As a "public intellectual," Abrams's voice reached the American public through the pages of The Nation, The New Leader, and The New York Times, with accessible explanations of civil rights legislation, mortgage financing, government policies, and urban renewal. As a "policy intellectual," he helped to create the New York Housing Authority, lobbied President Kennedy to issue an executive order barring discrimination in federally subsidized housing projects, and combated the growing threat of a federally initiated "business welfare state."
Housing and the Democratic Ideal is the only comprehensive work on Charles Abrams to date. Though structured as a narrative biography, this book also uses Abrams's experiences as a lens through which we can better understand the development of American social policy and state expansion during the twentieth century. In his left-leaning critique of centrist liberalism, Abrams took aim at the use of fiscal and monetary policies to achieve social objectives -- a practice that allowed business interests to maximize private profits at the expense of public benefits. His growing concern over racial discrimination prefigured its emergence as a highly contested aspect of the American state.
A. Scott Henderson not only provides clear insight into Abrams's role in American policymaking and his individual achievements as a pioneering civil rights lawyer, scholar, and urban reformer, but also offers an in-depth analysis of modern state-building and the government-private sector relations ushered in by the New Deal.