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The Liberal Tradition in America Paperback – July 29, 1991

7 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0156512695 ISBN-10: 0156512696 Edition: Second Edition

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About the Author

Louis Hartz was born in Youngstown, Ohio, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants, but grew up in Omaha, Nebraska. After graduating from Technical High School in Omaha, he attended Harvard University, financed partly by a scholarship from the Omaha World Herald .

Hartz graduated in 1940, spent a year traveling abroad on a fellowship, then returned to Harvard as a teaching fellow in 1942. He earned his doctorate in 1946 and became a full professor of government in 1956. Hartz was known at Harvard for his talented and charismatic teaching. He retired in 1974 due to ill health and spent his last years living in London, New Delhi, New York, then Istanbul, where he died.

Hartz is best known for his classic book The Liberal Tradition in America (1955) which presented an original view of America's past that sought to explain its conspicuous absence of ideologies. Hartz argued that American political development occurs within the context of an enduring, underlying Lockean liberal consensus, which has shaped and narrowed the landscape of possibilities for U.S. political thought and behavior. He attributed the triumph of the liberal worldview in America to its lack of a feudal past, and thus the absence of a struggle to overcome a conservative internal order; to its vast resources and open space; and to the liberal values of the original settlers, who represented only a narrow middle-class slice of European society. Hartz was chiefly concerned with explaining the failure of socialism to become established in America, and believed that Americans' pervasive, unthinking consensual acceptance of classic liberalism was the major barrier. Hartz thus firmly rejected Marxist ideas about the inevitability of class struggle.

In The Founding of New Societies (1964), Hartz developed the idea that the nations that developed from settler colonies were European "fragments" that in a sense froze the class structure and underlying ideology prevalent in the mother country at the time of their foundation, not experiencing the further evolution experienced in Europe. He considered Latin America and French Canada to be fragments of feudal Europe, the United States, English Canada, and Dutch South Africa to be liberal fragments, and Australia and English South Africa to be "radical" fragments (incorporating the non-Socialist working class radicalism of early 19th century Britain).


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Product Details

  • Series: Harvest Books
  • Paperback: 348 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; Second Edition edition (July 29, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156512696
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156512695
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #467,336 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 45 people found the following review helpful By R. J. Stroik on August 7, 2004
Format: Paperback
A retired professor in the history of ideas, I have before me the 1955 first edition. I turn to this book because of the enduring question why much of the world has a love/hate relationship with the United States of America. Much of the relationship is expressed in Thomas Jefferson's rationale for the Louisana Purchase, his idea of an "empire of liberty."

The history of the United States of America is a history of flight, first from Europe, than westward from the united colonies that declared their independence on July 4, 1776, all the way to the other end of the continent and beyond.

In the pursuit of individual liberty, manny of us fail to realize that freedom is the power to act, a power that marginalizes others, giving rise to continuing flight, the marginalized as immigrant.

But what of those people who can neither flee nor transform their own governments, feudal governments in alliance with our fragile planet's only superpower? For them the absence of flight becomes fight, the terrorism that frightens us.

As we near the 50th anniversary of THE LIBERAL TRADITION OF IN AMERICA in 2005, this book becomes must reading.

Ray Stroik
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Format: Paperback
Hartz makes an interesting argument that America's political thought developed differently than in Europe because America never had feudalism and its rigid social classes. He asks, "Can a people 'born free' ever understand peoples elsewhere that have to become so?" It's an interesting question even now, given the Arab Spring upheavals, the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, and a violent Ukranian separatist movement. Many Americans may wonder why democracy, which took root so strongly in the United States, seems to have such trouble flourishing elsewhere.

Unfortunately, Hartz's style is that of one one well-versed intellectual to another who is equally grounded in the subject. This book is a hard slog. Hartz throws out last names of thinkers without their first names or even the briefest explanation of who they are. Here's a sample sentence from page 77 of the 1955 edition: "Obviously Sylvain Marechal, the author of this Babeuviste document, wanted to complete a social transformation already begun, and while there is no need to twist a religious collectivist dreamer like Winstanley into the French pattern, one can agree with Mr. Petegorsky that the Diggers cherished the same notion."
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Bennett Weiss on January 27, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Penetrating insights into how the vast majority of America has come to unquestioningly embrace the notion that our rights, particularly property rights, are the based on natural or God given and are immutable.

The problem is that Harzt writes very opaquely and assumes a post-graduate level of background from his reader.

This is must-read for all who sense a need to Un-Locke America and rethink the basics.

But it sure ain't an easy one.
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Louis Hartz’s “The Liberal Tradition in America” has become a hidden classic of American political and intellectual history. Hartz’s thesis is that the United States, as one of the only daughters of the liberal Enlightenment--is fundamentally a liberal nation. Despite the left-right divide of contemporary liberals and conservatives, most conservatives are a variant of liberal, and this is what Hartz highlights in the second half of his text.

Locke once said, “In the beginning, all the world was America” (Second Treatise of Government). Liberalism is a philosophy of property rights, individualism, and rationalism, often with close attachments to the idea of progress, market economics, and internationalism. Despite what one might read or listen to from ‘conservative’ media outlets, the contemporary Democratic Party and modern liberalism, as pre-eminent liberal political philosopher and Alan Wolfe has said of it, is essentially a modernized form of classical liberalism that still holds to these cornerstone liberal beliefs.

The uniqueness of America, in Hartz’s eyes, is that the United States never suffered from the baggage of Europe. Namely: no landed aristocracy, no Ancien Regime, no State Church, and no feudal (agrarian) heritage. Granted the Southern plantation owners are similar to the European aristocratic lineage and were tied to a form of agrarianism, and Protestantism was a “de-facto” religious heritage for the United States, even the Rural and Agrarian South didn’t exhibit the same tendencies of the European feudal, aristocratic, and agrarian tradition. Whereas European revolutionaries had to fight a social revolution AND a political revolution, Americans only had to fight a political revolution.
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