The political values and vision that animate The American Liberal Review's aims.
The American Liberal Review’s mission is to promote a political worldview steeped in the inspiring tradition of reform and achievement: progressive liberalism. (Sometimes known, in some circles, as a broadly inclusive democratic left-liberalism, or in Europe, as social liberalism.) It is a worldview that arose out of a public philosophy of enlightened reform and social progress that animated three significant, reform-oriented political epochs of great historical importance: American Progressivism at the turn of the last century, British New Liberalism of the Edwardian era, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal liberalism of the 1930s.
Progressive liberalism is a reformist political tradition and public philosophy that maintains a fidelity to the foundational liberal creed of liberty (with an expansive understanding of the idea). While, at the same time, it never loses sight of the fact that to stay relevant it must evolve and adapt its means (with a degree of intelligent, pragmatic flexibility), over time, to new sets of opportunities and challenges. This adaptability gives full meaning to progressive liberalism’s timeless ends that keeps faith to its original credo of meaningful human freedom and emancipation, and enlightened, social progress.
Now, this project of modern progressive liberalism embraced, among other things, the following: (1) Keynesian-style managed capitalism (demand-centric, socially minded and rule-bound mixed economies of public goods and private initiatives-private enterprises); (2) universal-based social investments that gave rise to cradle-to-grave social safety nets; (3) a robust embrace of the role of positive government (as the repository of both the national will and public interest) as the democratic tool of public action to meet the demands that arise from the national interest; and (4) a concern to inclusively open political and social spaces for marginalized groups in society. All of which highlights the pragmatic nature of progressive liberalism to deftly balance two compelling values: the maximization of individual freedom in its fullest sense (comprised of both positive and negative liberty) and social responsibility that’s attuned to the public needs of the commonweal that arise from the demands of a modern pluralist society. This balance implicitly recognizes the social dimension of liberty—and the inherent danger to freedom, broadly understood, posed by a constellation of undemocratic institutions; concentrated power wielded by narrow, elite special interests; and unaccountable forces of both public and private power (e.g., an imperial presidency, unrestrained corporate power, tyrannical majorities or minorities, etc.) that all can threaten the political, economic, and civil well-being of society.
As such, the recognition of progressive liberalism’s adroit balancing act of a fidelity to values and ends, and the pragmatic flexibility of means to realize timeless goals is at the heart of what it means to be a progressive liberal. In light of this, it is no wonder that the late postwar public intellectual and liberal historian, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., once described the American liberal creed as the following:
“Liberalism in America has been a party of social progress rather than of intellectual doctrine, committed to ends rather than to methods. When a laissez-faire policy seemed best calculated to achieve the liberal objective of equality of opportunity for all—as it did in the time of Jefferson—liberals believed, in the Jeffersonian phrase, that that government is best which governs least. But, when the growing complexity of industrial conditions required increasing government intervention in order to assure more equal opportunities, the liberal tradition, faithful to the goal rather than to the dogma, altered its view of the state.”
Hence, from its early roots nearly 130 years ago to today, progressive liberalism (or democratic left-liberalism) continues to stand for the following main (foundational) values: liberty, community, fraternity, universality, and equality (both political equality and a vibrant economic equality of opportunity-treatment). In essence, it emphasizes several key elements as critical for the advancement of progressive liberalism: (1) visionary, bold reform; (2) a democratic accountable populism; (3) economic justice and security; (4) progressive internationalism; (5) engaged, participatory civic citizenship and democratic, deliberative reason; (6) egalitarian freedom and fairness; and (7) the sensible balance that constrains both the tyranny of the majority (by protecting individual autonomy and individual rights to cultivate an ethos of healthy individualism and self-expression) and the tyranny of the minority (by promoting universalist communitarian values expressing the will of the common good and national interest)—the constraints of which, in tandem, give full meaning to both negative freedom (freedom from harm) and positive freedom (freedom to develop).
Now, in a broader historical and presence sense, the public philosophy of progressive liberalism arises out of popular struggles, at home and abroad, for engaged democracy full of vitality and a participatory economy that incorporate a myriad of democratic liberal values and reformist currents. These currents encompass seven historical and present movements. First, the American Populists‘ politics of anti-special interest (i.e., moneyed interests) agrarian democracy of the late 19th century. Second, the Progressive Era‘s focus on a dispassionate politics of anti-sectionalism and professionalized social reforms. Third, the global labor movement’s enduring appeal to grassroots economic justice through democratic trade unionism (that provides a collective, organized voice for workers). Fourth, the expansive reform-oriented liberty and freedom of British New Liberalism (i.e., social liberalism) of the Edwardian period. Fifth, the bold, experimental spirit of innovative, pragmatic, and social justice politics under FDR’s New Deal. Sixth, the qualitative liberalism of JFK’s New Frontier and LBJ’s Great Society, and their pro-reform presidencies that sought to improve the quality of life in an age marked by prosperity and social change. Seventh, the modern, practical and moral insights of the foundational values of egalitarian solidarity, community, cooperation, sustainability, and universality that have animated the democratic, popular-based left-wing reform traditions of contemporary green and social-democratic movements around the world.
As such, it is modern liberalism’s aforementioned progressive precepts, along with its inspiring achievements in social reform, which inspire The American Liberal Review’s mission. It is a mission that encompasses the following values: (1) the political ethos of engaged citizenship, civic republicanism, and deliberative democracy; (2) fairness, justice, and robust universal-oriented egalitarian solidarity in formulating political, social and economic citizenship; and (3) open, free and inclusive societies.
Now these values are the bases that inform the outlook of The American Liberal Review in its advocacy for eight vital components that are critical for the vibrant health of progressive democracy. Those components are the following: (1) democratic, inclusive pluralism; (2) dispassionate debate and reason in the affairs of public deliberation, policy-making, and governance; (3) fair, sustainable global trade and commerce; (4) democratic trade unionism; (5) transparent and accountable participatory democracy that empowers the citizenry to take an active role in the political affairs of society; (6) a bottom-up, participatory social market (with an emphasis on economic democracy) that’s accountable to the public in a manner oriented beyond shareholders to include stakeholders; (7) bold, visionary, creative, transformative, and practical-minded social reform guided by John Dewey‘s notions of principled pragmatism that responds to the demands of democracy without ideological dogmatism; and (8) a foreign affairs vision that combines the best features of progressive pragmatism and multilateral liberal internationalism tempered by anti-hubristic instincts of Niebuhrian realism and restraint.
Fundamentally, The American Liberal Review is an online journal that seeks to promote progressive-oriented liberal ideas and political values which, throughout progressive liberalism’s rich history of achievement and reform, have animated social reformers and public intellectuals, as well as politicians and activists alike. It is a liberalism inspired by the great American tradition of progressive ideas, activism, and politics of the following: John Dewey, Herbert David Croly, Louis Brandeis, Theodore Roosevelt, Robert (“Fighting Bob”) La Follette, Thorstein Veblen, Henry Demarest Lloyd, Jane Addams, Randolph Bourne, George Norris, Franklin D. Roosevelt and New Deal liberalism, Eleanor Roosevelt, Frances Perkins, Thurman Arnold, Leon H. Keyserling and integrative liberalism, Reinhold Niebuhr, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., John Kenneth Galbraith, Walter Reuther and his vision of social trade unionism, Henry Steele Commager and his inspiring legacy as an engaged liberal scholar-activist at the forefront of both civil rights and civil liberties, Martin Luther King, Jr. and his moral call for social redemption that arose out of integrationist, prophetic liberalism, Allard Lowenstein, John F. Kennedy and the idealism of the New Frontier, Robert F. Kennedy and his appeal to unite marginalized working-class and poor communities of all races, Edward M. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and the domestic liberalism of the Great Society, Hubert Humphrey, John Rawls, William Julius Wilson, Arnold Kaufman and his notion of participatory democracy, Ralph Yarborough and his populist Southern “people’s” lunch pale liberalism, John Patrick Diggins, Paul Douglas (the accomplished academic-turned-crusading liberal of the U.S. Senate, i.e., the Sen. Warren of the mid-20th century), Albert O. Hirschman, Bella Abzug, Richard Rorty, Cesar Chavez, Phillip Burton, Betty Friedan, Robert Kuttner, Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz, E. J. Dionne, Van Jones, Robert Reich, Bayard Rustin, Cornel West, Bill Moyers, and Elizabeth Warren.
And because of its cosmopolitan and broad-minded orientation, progressive American liberalism is also intellectually indebted to, and politically animated by, the profound philosophical insights of global liberals today and throughout history such as the following: John Stuart Mill, Thomas Hill Green, Lord Robert Skidelsky, Leonard Trelawny Hobhouse (who, in 1911, published the seminal tome, Liberalism, that distilled the social liberal/New Liberal/progressive liberal creed), John Atkinson Hobson, John Maynard Keynes, Karl Polanyi, Sir William Beveridge, Amartya Sen, Bertrand Russell, David Lloyd George, Lester B. Pearson, and Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
In closing, The American Liberal Review seeks to carry the torch of modern American liberalism’s history of progressive achievement and social reform forward in the 21st century to renew a much-needed spirit of enlightened, humanitarian progress and social justice. And, in the process, the progressive website hopes to play a constructive part in contributing to the ongoing project by American liberals to renew a bold, creative liberalism that is full of political confidence, substantive vitality, and a dynamic moral vision.
(Photo info/credit: President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, U.S. Attorney General Robert Francis Kennedy, and U.S. Senator Edward Moore Kennedy outside the Oval Office, White House, Washington, D.C. [August 28, 1963]. Photo by Cecil Stoughton (1920-2008), White House Photographs, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. Image cropped by The American Liberal Review. Copyright status: Public domain.)