“Liberalism” as a word has been stolen by by modern progressives. When we use it to refer to a philosophy of individual rights and free markets, we have to modify it: “liberalism in the European sense,” or “nineteenth-century liberalism.” This hedging is weak, but many of us persist in it out of a curious lack of self-confidence. Not only do we know that the label has been stolen; we also doubt whether we deserve it any longer. The non-Left doesn’t know whether it is possible to promulgate liberal policy of the classic variety any longer. After all, there are plenty of progressive heroes in our past, but not very many truly liberal heroes. This dearth of well-known champions makes one think that liberalism has perhaps failed practically in the United States and may even be unworthy of revival.
The United States has, however, had liberal periods before, even in the modern era. The least remembered of these ...
Amity Shlaes is a senior fellow in economic history at the Council on Foreign Relations
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