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Making Liberalism New

American Intellectuals, Modern Literature, and the Rewriting of a Political Tradition

In Making Liberalism New, Ian Afflerbach traces the rise, revision, and fall of a modern liberalism in the United States, establishing this intellectual culture as distinct from classical predecessors as well as the neoliberalism that came to power by century's end. Drawing on a diverse archive that includes political philosophy, legal texts, studies of moral psychology, government propaganda, and presidential campaign materials, Afflerbach also delves into works by Tess Slesinger, Richard Wright, James Agee, John Dewey, Lionel Trilling, and Vladimir Nabokov. Throughout the book, he shows how a reciprocal pattern of influence between modernist literature and liberal intellectuals helped drive the remarkable writing and rewriting of this keyword in American political life.

From the 1930s into the 1960s, Afflerbach writes, modern American fiction exposed and interrogated central concerns in liberal culture, such as corporate ownership, reproductive rights, color-blind law, the tragic limits of social documentary, and the dangerous allure of a heroic style in political leaders. In response, liberal intellectuals borrowed key values from modernist culture—irony, tragedy, style—to reimagine the meaning and ambitions of American liberalism.

Drawing together political theory and literary history, Making Liberalism New argues that the rise of American liberal culture helped direct the priorities of modern literature. At the same time, it explains how the ironies of narrative form offer an ideal medium for readers to examine conceptual problems in liberal thought. These problems—from the abortion debate to the scope of executive power—remain an indelible feature of American politics.

About the Author

Ian Afflerbach (GAINESVILLE, GA) is an assistant professor of American literature at the University of North Georgia.

Endorsements

"Well written and lively throughout, Making Liberalism New is a pleasure to read."

- Michael Szalay, University of California, Irvine, author of Hip Figures: A Literary History of the Democratic Party

"Clear-eyed, illuminating, and deeply insightful, Making Liberalism New expertly challenges an altogether dominant academic narrative about liberalism's naïveté, cruelty, and simple-mindedness by demonstrating that 'modern liberalism' anticipated—and incorporated—every significant criticism launched against it by the contemporary Left. This book will enrich conversations about the relationship between liberalism and radicalism and will complicate the knee-jerk equivalency of liberalism with neoliberalism."

- Lisi Schoenbach, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, author of Pragmatic Modernism
Johns Hopkins University Press
Hopkins Studies in Modernism
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