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Struggles for Justice: Social Responsibility and the Liberal State Hardcover – September 1, 1991

3.8 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


A superb book, much the best general account of 20th century American history to have been published in many years. It seems to be a model of the new approaches to American history, especially for the ways in which it combines social and political history. Dawley does more to make sense of the general theme of social justice, the defining theme of the past couple of generations, than anyone else. The book is superbly well written and effectively organized. It should become the leading college text in its subject, and I hope that it will also find a large general audience, for it will be of real interest to the learned public. (Stanley N. Katz American Council of Learned Societies)

Historians have been calling for years for syntheses of the new scholarship of the last generation. Dawley has now provided one...He dusts democracy off and places it back where it belongs, at the center of the story...His argument helps restore balance to our conception of "progressivism" and to our understanding of the larger liberal world of which, he reminds us, democratic impulses were once (and we must hope remain) a vital part. (Alan Brinkley Times Literary Supplement)


Of the varieties of histories of the welfare state, this is now, by far, the best. It offers both a survey and a powerful, original interpretation. It is the first general book to take the question of gender seriously. (Linda Gordon, University of Wisconsin, Madison)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 558 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press (September 1, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674845803
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674845800
  • Product Dimensions: 1.8 x 6.5 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,511,231 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The main problem with this book is that it tries to tie everything for over fourty years leading up to the New Deal together. It is very valuable in showing the links between progressivism and the New Deal throughout the conservatism of the twenties. A comparison of the German and American political and economic systems is also valuable as it gives the book an international perspective that is often sorely lacking in studies of American history. It would be impossible for him to make the book much longer but within its nearly 600 pages he cannot give the myriad of social movements the respect that they deserve. Overall, it can be a good springboard for furthur study or just a brief overview of this fascinating era.
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Format: Hardcover
While I enjoyed this book, I acknowledge that it must have been hard for the author to write in as much detail as he did for the period he covered.

Lots was going on in the United States in that period of time. The country's founding myths included laissez faire ecomomics. Indeed, the author repeatedly compares the US to Germany. That can be a little disconcerting, except that it becomes clear at the end of the book why he did so: Europe (Germany) had an economic system which came about after a period of feudalism. The US didn't have that to deal with so "statism" was something Americans tended to despise.

The author covers so much in the barely 400 pages. In that period, we had Theodore Roosevelt, then William Howard Taft, then even Woodrow Wilson. While Wilsonians claim Wilson was a peacemaker, he'd had the Creele Commission (Committe on Public Information I think was its formal name) drum up support for the first World War. After that, the Red Scare, another Wilson creation, dominated the news.

All of these events molded how Americans thought of government intervention, about, in short, how we felt toward each other. There were strikes that were violently disrupted with private police forces and thugs from the government.

One of the reasons I appreciate the book is that I wish more of those events were covered more often in "mainstream" history books. Because they're not, we get a not-too-balanced view of US history. Ironically, while I was reading the book, I did a tour of the Anderson House in Washington, DC. The docent referred to how Isabel Anderson, a wealthy socialite of the early 20th century, opposed women's sufferage, I referred to part of the text which stated that women's sufferage was, in effect, a symbol of social change.
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Format: Paperback
This a brilliant book, but it tries to answer the wrong question. The question he asks is: "Why was there no socialism in the US". This assumes that socialism triumphed in Europe, whereas it fell flat on its face in the US. But this is dead wrong. What triumphed in Europe was social democracy, not socialism. Social democracy in virtually every country in Europe involved a coalition of big business, big labor and big government. Big business agreed to be heavily regulated in return for large direct and indirect subsidies, protection from domestic and foreign competition and labor strife, favorable commercial codes and product liability laws. Big labor got free vocational education (so did big business), the right to bargain collectively, job protection from competition within the labor market, high wages, good pensions and liberal working hours. In return they had to settle for high personal taxes. Was this socialism?

As Dawley points out, some of these themes rang through the Progressive movement, but ultimately failed.

My own view is that social democracy and the Progressive movement failed in America for two main reasons. First, "the origins of American politics" has made it impossible for Americans to believe in the model of a large benign government that has the obligation to help its citisens. Second, the same deeply rooted proto-American forces have created a national mindset that tends to see all economic, political and social relations in the light of competitive and not collaborative forces. Viewed from this perspective, cooperation between labor, big business and government was just not possible. No one wanted it, except for a few Progessive era intellectuals.
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