All Commentary
Friday, January 1, 1993

Liberalism in Contemporary America

The liberals call many shots in American opinion, sometimes inaccurately, always illiberally.

Liberalism, that cover word for the American Left, the powerful intellectual movement that has swept over this country through most of this century, takes a most optimistic regard of government interventionism from federal bank deposit insurance and Social Security in the New Deal days to the Environmental Protection Agency and national health insurance today. These liberals peddle—plainly but softly—a Planned Society.

Today their demigod Karl Marx has been put into the closet with the demise of Euro-communism, but their more recent demigod John Maynard Keynes has been resurrected so as to repeal the cycle of boom and bust once and for all. And for all their talk of “Democracy,” they elevate centralization and reduce the individual to a pawn on the chessboard of a New World Order.

Dwight Murphey, professor, lawyer, author of Understanding the Modern Predicament, does a splendid job dissecting liberalism. He does so mainly through reporting the stands and slants, including flip-flops, on current events of the flagship liberal journal, The New Republic, from its inception in 1914 to early 1985.

The Murphey strategy is sound. Events such as the Sixteenth Income Tax Amendment, World War I, Prohibition, the Great Depression, the New Deal, World War II, McCarthyism, the Eisenhower Administration, Vietnam, the new Left, Reaganism, and so on have to be liberally interpreted, even perhaps orchestrated, for the broader media. The New Republic and The Nation (also treated by Murphey) seemed to have given marching orders to such bigger circulation opinion makers as The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Time, Newsweek, CBS, ABC, NBC, and so on. This is liberal revisionism on the march, telling America what to think.

Dwight Murphey gives us quite an intellectual journey through the years as liberalism reveals relativism and dissimulation in the thoughts of such movement liberals as Woodrow Wilson, Herbert Croly, Thorstein Veblen, John Dewey, Stuart Chase, John Kenneth Galbraith, Robert Heilbroner, and Michael Harrington. Right along through the decades these thinkers have consistently departed from the role model of limited government set forth by the Founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. The Ninth Amendment, which reserves to the people powers not specifically delegated to the federal government, is foreign to them. They glorify the State. Liberty, which shares with liberal the same etymological roots in the Latin word liber meaning free, is hardly in their vocabulary.

No surprise, then, that the liberals long had quite a love affair with the Soviet Union even to the point of turning a blind eye to Stalin’s death-by-starvation of the Kulaks in the early 1930s. The Soviet Union, after all, was the zenith (or was it?) of a Planned Society and a counterforce to the rise of Nazi Germany. But the love affair turned sour, notes the author, with the Hitler-Stalin Mutual Nonaggression Pact of August 1939 which was quickly followed by Hitler’s invasion of Poland from the west, soon matched by Stalin’s invasion of Poland from the east. Once again, the editors of The New Republic had to cover their tracks.

Similarly The New Republic was initially very friendly to the takeover of Cuba by Fidel Castro. With the influence of writer-reporter Herbert Matthews of The New York Times who had interviewed Castro in his Sierra Maestra stronghold, The New Republic editors described Fidel in 1957 as “nationalistic, socialistic, anti- American, and noncommunist.” But by 1960 the magazine was forced to declare that “Communism has crossed the Atlantic and now squats 90 miles off-shore.”

So it goes, with the liberals calling many shots in American opinion, sometimes inaccurately, always illiberally. Historian Otto Scott decries in the foreword “the modern liberal tendency to shout down opposition, to engage in ad hominem methods of argument, [and] to engage in black-listing and censorship.”

Dwight Murphey’s labor of love is a contribution to right thinkers, telling them to continue to be on guard against the slings and arrows from the outrageous Left.

Dr. Peterson, an adjunct professor with the Heritage Foundation, holds the Lundy Chair of Business Philosophy at Campbell University, Buies Creek, North Carolina.

  • William H. Peterson (1921-2012) was an economist, businessman and author who wrote extensively on Austrian Economics. He completed his PhD at New York University in 1952 under the supervision of Ludwig von Mises.