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The Virtues of Liberalism Paperback – September 21, 2000

ISBN-13: 978-0195140569 ISBN-10: 0195140567 Edition: 1st

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Editorial Reviews


"An important book. With great learning, clarity, and passion, Kloppenberg has given us a fresh and richer understanding of the historical meanings of liberalism, and he has done so in a manner that exemplifies the very virtues he so effectively elucidates."--Thomas Bender, New York University

"These essays on the history of political argument in the United States constitute both a scholarly contribution and a distinctive political intervention in contemporary discussions of liberalism. Kloppenberg's liberalism is much closer to European social democracy than to what is attacked or defended in most of today's disputes about the 'l-word.' Kloppenberg is one of the best historians now working on any aspect of the intellectual history of the United States."--David A. Hollinger, University of California at Berkeley

"Everyone interested in the past, present, and potential of liberalism should read this passionate book. It sparkles."--Laura Kalman, University of California at Santa Barbara

"This book is indispensable for lawyers, political theorists, and others who look to history to uncover cultural resources for reviving progressive politics. Kloppenberg's nuanced readings of the interrelationships of republican, religious, and liberal themes in American politics are never schematic; yet they are framed with an eye towards the future as well as the past. Subtle, thorough, engaged: this book offers a pragmatism more chastened than Dewey's but still hopeful for the future."--Joan Williams, Washington College of Law, American University

"James Kloppenberg has written a scholarly book at odds with the temper of the times...Kloppenberg has crafted his essays on American political thought in clear, self-contained, unpretentious prose...Kloppenberg, who does not hesitate to proclaim in the opening pages his devotion to a principled liberalism, a prudent progressivism, and a non-doctrinaire pragmatism, provides in their name an intelligent and learned overview of the conflicting elements and multivalent ideas that, his book demonstrates, have constituted American political thought from before the birth of the republic...learned and thoughtful essays."--The Boston Review of Books

About the Author

James T. Kloppenberg is Charles Warren Professor of American History at Harvard University. He is co-editor, with Richard Wightman Fox, of A Companion to American Thought (1995), and author of Uncertain Victory: Social Democracy and Progressivism in European and American Thought, 1870-1920 (Oxford University Press, 1986), which was awarded the Merle Curti Prize in intellectual history by the Organization of Americam Historians.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (September 21, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195140567
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195140569
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 0.6 x 5.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,094,461 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

James T. Kloppenberg is the Charles Warren Professor of American History at Harvard. A native of Denver, Colorado, he was educated at Dartmouth (AB 1973) and Stanford (MA 1977, PhD 1980). He and his wife Mary have lived in Wellesley, MA, since 1980. Kloppenberg has held fellowships from the Danforth, Whiting, and Guggenheim foundations, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and has been a visiting professor at the University of Cambridge and the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris. In recognition of his teaching, he has been named a Harvard College Professor and awarded the Levinson Prize by the Harvard Undergraduate Council. His books deal with politics and ideas in Europe and America from the seventeenth century to the present.

Customer Reviews

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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By J. Grattan VINE VOICE on April 17, 2001
Format: Hardcover
In a series of essays the author challenges the notion that historically the American polity is best described as rights-bearing individuals pursuing self-interests to the exclusion of other social and political considerations which is the very definition of classical liberalism. A major focus is on the religious and republican strands of thought that have been historically interwoven into our basically liberal culture and thereby makes our liberalism "virtuous."
Duty and responsibility to the larger community have always been a part of Christian and moral thought. Adam Smith, often invoked by present-day free-marketeers, was a Scottish moral philosopher who saw the market as a means to broader social goods. Christianity has often emphasized the essential equality and brotherhood of men and the requirement of participating in the life of the community.
Republicanism is usually associated with public-spirited, independent, virtuous citizens who view centralized power as corrupting. The Jeffersonian small, land-owning farmer epitomizes the republican virtuous citizen which accounts for the early American fear of the rise of manufacturing because the factory system created a class of dependent laborers.
In other words, the author maintains that our political philosophy has always been a juggling act balancing the liberal basics of freedom versus duty to the community and of self-interests or wealth accumulation versus equality.
According to the author, pragmatism, a philosophy often associated with John Dewey, is the approach to take in making political or social decisions. It is a philosophy that eschews absolutes and depends largely on actual social experiences to arrive at solutions and accommodates our various strands of political thought.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By R. Albin TOP 500 REVIEWER on August 7, 2010
Format: Paperback
This is a collection of essays by the well known historian James Kloppenberg. These essays were written over a period of years and the focus and quality of the essays very somewhat. The best essays are devoted to Kloppenberg's specialty, American intellectual history, and are generally insightful. For example, Kloppenberg has a very nice discussion and analysis on the relative importance of the traditions of civic republicanism versus Locke's influence in the Revolutionary and early Republican ears. Major scholarly work by Bailyn, Gordon Wood, and Pocock resulted in an emphasis on the civic republican tradition and a relative downgrading of the influence of the liberal tradition represented by Locke. In a very thoughtful and well written analysis, Kloppenberg offers a nice re-evaluation of the liberal tradition and argues very well for a more syncretic approach by the Founders. He argues as well for a greater contribution of religious thought as well. Kloppenberg also has some nice dicussions of de Toqueville as a thinker and how he has been treated by subsequent generations. The discussions of John Dewey, a particular interest of Kloppenberg's, are illuminating. Kloppenberg is a very good writer and careful scholar. Some of these essays are worth reading just for the excellent bibliographies, which direct readers to what appears to be very interesting primary and secondary works. Throughout these essays, Kloppenberg is concerned with demonstrating the plurality of American thought, particularly political thought. While he is careful not to overemphasize the civic republican tradition, he clearly sees the civic republican ideal of an engaged, socially sympathetic, and virtuous citizenry as an important counter-balance to more atomistic liberalism.Read more ›
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By greg taylor VINE VOICE on April 17, 2005
Format: Paperback
As the reviewer below mentions, this is a collection of articles that Kloppenberg has published at different times over the years. I agree with the reviewer below that there is some overlap between the articles. In fact, the whole argument would have been greatly strengthened by just rewriting the articles as a new book. Kvetch, kvetch, kvetch.

Yes, it could be better but what we have here is one of the strongest combinations of historiography and actual history possible. There are so many virtues to this book that to complain that it could be better would be downright inane of me.

Kloppenberg is exploring several themes in the course of these articles. The first is that the past is messier than it is usually presented as being. There is a tendency in much historical writing to want to simplify that messiness in order to argue a particular point. Thus the whole republicanism-liberalism debate. Kloppenberg wants us to accept that our founders drew from multiple traditions including Protestantism, republicanism, an early liberalism restraint by natural law and the Scottish Enlightenment. They themselves saw these traditions as largely compatible. They were not interested in intellectual consistency as much as working through the issues of the times within the institutions they were trying to create. They tried to balance competing values and interests. Gosh, just like we do.

His second major theme is the centrality of religion to all American thought but especially to our political thought. "The language of religion...was pivotal in enlisting the allegiance of eighteenth-century Americans to the republican cause. Thomas Paine was an American hero when he sprinkled Common Sense with biblical allusions...
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