Future of Liberalism

September 15, 1971

Report Outline
Liberalism's Fall from Dominance
Making Of The Liberal Philosophy
Prospects for Liberal Revival in 1970s
Special Focus

Liberalism's Fall from Dominance

Tarnishing of Liberalism's Image in Past Decade

Liberalism was the dominant political, economic, and social philosophy in the United States for more than a generation. Now, however, liberalism's halo has been tarnished. Aspirants for public office, in consequence, tend to avoid labeling themselves and their programs as liberal. In this way, they try to divorce themselves from the disappointing results of many programs that liberal leaders once instituted with fanfare. Moreover, the assumptions of these leaders about America's role in the world have come under fierce attack as public disenchantment with the Viet Nam War has grown. This attack on the foreign policy of liberal administrations comes largely from the left; other attacks come from the right. The collapse of liberalism has left a huge vacuum as the nation prepares for election year 1972.

Leslie Dunbar, a foundation executive, said of liberals: “The political left sneers at them, Negro polemicists bait them, segregationists snarl at them, and the political right accuses them of every sin.” Of persons asked by the Gallup Poll for their preference as to conservatism or liberalism, those who favored liberalism declined, between 1963 and 1970, from 49 to 28 per cent. Conservatives, however, did not win a corresponding increase; their proportion of the total remained almost constant, 46 per cent in 1963 and 45 per cent in 1970. The undecided category rose from 5 to 27 per cent, reflecting a switch of many former liberals to the undecided status.

Intellectuals, who had stood in the forefront of liberalism, defected in considerable numbers in the 1960s. They included Dwight Macdonald, ideologue of sweeping social change; Norman Podhoretz, editor of Commentary; Irving Kristol, co-editor of The Public Interest; and Nathan Glazer, Harvard sociologist. Meanwhile, conservatives such as William F. Buckley Jr., James Burnham, and Russell Kirk imparted an intellectual cachet to anti-liberal positions and contributed to liberalism's displacement.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Sep. 15, 1971  Future of Liberalism
Nov. 04, 1970  The New Humanism
Oct. 15, 1969  Science and Society
Jun. 11, 1969  Eastern Religions and Western Man
Conservatism and Liberalism