From Publishers Weekly
According to Mattson, Ronald Reagans 1988 Republican Convention address crowned a long campaign to turn the word "liberal" into a dreaded insult. In this volume, the prolific scholar of the Left defends what he views as an embattled faith under attack from both sides, with the hope that "a better understanding of liberalism can improve current political discussion." Mattson demonstrates the dynamism of the tradition by examining the views and trajectories of leading Cold War liberal thinkers, "eggheads" like economist John Kenneth Galbraith, historian Arthur Schlesinger, journalist James Wechsler and Christian theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. Wedged between the Henry Wallace-led progressives on the Left and Senator Joe McCarthy on the Right, these men negotiated intellectual and practical challenges like communism, conservation, civil rights, Vietnam and the balancing of principles with power. They defined the "Fighting Faith," Mattson writes, during a time of great upheaval through their passionate commitment to the ideals of America and their willingness to criticize it. Mattsons thoroughly researched accounts and clear prose provide a strong sense of his protagonists, though at times extensive reporting overshadows limited analysis. He betrays his own liberal pride, but highlights his characters weaknesses, including muddled beliefs like "countervailing power" of labor against business interests and "cycles of history" between conservative and liberal orientations of the polity. Mattson also cedes ground to liberalisms critics, admitting that his egghead elite "traveled in a world of white men" and that because "liberalism embraces complexity and nuance over simple sloganeering, it is a foreign language to the shouting world of pundits." Yet, by failing to extrapolate his implications to the present day, Mattson falls short of his primary goal.
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Kevin Mattson's When America Was Great demands our attention. His liberals - Niebuhr, Schlesinger, Galbraith, and others--fought for reform and a vital center against the conservatism of the postwar years. Mattson chronicles the programs, ideas, and personalities, without ignoring the problems, of these often-underappreciated liberals. Most importantly, his liberal tradition promises to be both relevant and necessary for us today.George Cotkin, Author of Existential America
Kevin Mattson is one of the foremost historians reminding us of the forgotten importance of midcentury liberal values in the United States. This well-written volume is a valuable study of key thinkers at the time, most of whom have yet to receive such gifted assessment. Mattson's book arrives at an opportune time because some of the issues facing the liberals in this book are similar to what is being faced by Americans today: how best to preserve liberal freedom in the face of illiberal threats both from abroad and within
.Neil Jumonville, William Warren Rogers Professor of History, Florida State University and the author of Critical Crossings: The New York Intellectuals in Postwar America
A learned, provocative case for the sound, reflective cause of liberalism in our age of unchallenged conservatism.
.John Patrick Diggins, Distinguished Professor of History and author of The Rise and Fall of the American Left
Those on the radical left and the conservative right have both shown a disdain for the liberalism professor Kevin Mattson shows a nostalgia for in the sophisticated When America was Great: The Fighting Faith of Postwar Liberalism. In the new book from Routledge, Mattson writes of a group of intellectuals and leaders who embraced a pragmatic liberal vision for America, thinkers and doers like Arthur Schlessinger Jr. and Adlai Stevenson. Mattson stresses that America, which could learn so much from studying this intellectual history, is in danger of forgetting the movement all together.
.Chicago Free Press
Thought-provoking and important, this work challenges us to reexamine what we were, what we have lost, and where we wish to go as a nation. If liberalism has become a dirty word in today's politics, Mattson demonstrates how the liberalism of the post-World War II generation shaped the course of American and world history, placing the United States at the center of world affairs..Library Journal, November 15, 2004
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