The Cause: The Fight for American Liberalism from Franklin Roosevelt to Barack Obama

The Cause: The Fight for American Liberalism from Franklin Roosevelt to Barack Obama

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by Eric Alterman, Kevin Mattson
     
 

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The definitive history of American postwar liberalism, told through the lens of those who brought it to life.

Liberalism stands proudly at the center of American politics and culture. Driven by passion for social justice, tempered by respect for the difficulty of change, liberals have struggled to end economic inequality, racial discrimination, and

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Overview

The definitive history of American postwar liberalism, told through the lens of those who brought it to life.

Liberalism stands proudly at the center of American politics and culture. Driven by passion for social justice, tempered by respect for the difficulty of change, liberals have struggled to end economic inequality, racial discrimination, and political repression. Liberals have fueled their cause with the promise of American life and visions of national greatness, seeking to transform the White House; the halls of Congress, the courts, the worlds of entertainment, law, media, and the course of public opinion. Bestselling author, journalist, and historian Eric Alterman, together with historian Kevin Mattson, traces the history of liberal ideals through the lives and struggles of fascinating personalities. The Cause tells the remarkable story of politicians, intellectuals, visionaries, activists, and public personalities battling for the heart and soul of the nation.

The first full-scale treatment of postwar liberalism, The Cause offers an epic saga driven by stories of grand aspirations, principled ambitions, tragic flaws, and the ironies of history of the people who fought for America to live up to the highest ideals of its history.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this ambitious work, journalist Alterman (Kabuki Democracy) and historian Mattson (When America Was Great) present an encyclopedic history of liberalism, a movement devoted to equality, justice, and freedom, and a powerful engine of change in the 20th century. With a huge cast ranging from political to cultural figures as diverse as Reinhold Niebuhr, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Lyndon Johnson, Gloria Steinem, Richard Rorty, Bruce Springsteen, and many, many more, the authors tell the tortured story of the liberal fight for social justice. Against the backdrop of the lives and works of these men and women, they undertake an exhaustive exposition of legislation, election campaigns, foreign policy decisions, theoretical books and journals, and other cultural artifacts. The liberal devotion to rationality leads to the problem of “how to inspire passion for a philosophy that itself distrust passion.” Alterman and Mattson suggest that, in our current era, liberalism has “pledged itself to rationality in a political culture in which anti-intellectualism runs rampant,” and in which the enemies of liberalism are effectively mobilizing populist fear and ignorance. Though the book loses narrative focus due to the slew of mini-biographies spliced throughout, it remains an illuminating history of postwar politics, international relations, culture, and philosophy—all in one scrupulously researched volume. Agent: Tina Bennett, Janklow & Nesbit. (Apr.)
The Boston Globe
The New York Times Editors’ Choice

“What a relief it is, then, to read Eric Alterman’s superb new book The Cause.”

Yale Alumni Magazine
The Cause is at its best in its deft articulation of the inseparability of liberalism’s strengths and weaknesses.”
The History News Network
The Cause provides an ample arsenal of information to remind liberals that theirs is the side of virtue.”
Sullivan County Democrat
“Witty…. Simply by telling this story it reminds us that liberal has always been and remains one of the ways of being a patriotic, constructive American.”
Library Journal
So many books lately on the rise of the Right, but here, finally, is a history of postwar liberalism. Media critic, political columnist (e.g., The Nation), CUNY journalism professor, and best-selling author (e.g., Why We're Liberal), Alterman joins with Ohio University professor Mattson to define liberalism through the individuals who have shaped it over the last decades. Important for current events readers except in really red states.
Kirkus Reviews
A liberal columnist and a professor examine the zigzag route of liberal politics since the New Deal. Before the book was finished, Mattson (Contemporary History/Ohio Univ.; "What the Heck Are You Up To, Mr. President?": Jimmy Carter, America's "Malaise," and the Speech that Should Have Changed the Country, 2009, etc.) left the partnership with the Nation contributor Alterman (Kabuki Democracy: The System vs. Barack Obama, 2011, etc.), who wrote the final draft. A chronicle of liberalism's successes and failures, the text travels the labyrinthine road from the New Deal to the rise (and fall) of unionism, the theorists of the 1940s and '50s (Dean Acheson, George Kennan), the battle against McCarthyism and the failures of Adlai Stevenson, whom Alterman writes helped create the notion of the effete intellectual. The author then charts the rise of the Kennedys, the tragic assassinations of the '60s, civil rights and Lyndon Johnson, Betty Friedan and the feminist movement, the campaign and electoral failures of Eugene McCarthy, McGovern, Carter, Dukakis, Gore and Kerry. Alterman pauses often to visit relevant cultural history--the emergence of influential journals, Mailer's writing, DeVoto's criticism, Elia Kazan's films, Cheever's stories, the various liberal contributions of actor Sidney Poitier, novelist William Styron, filmmaker Oliver Stone and--in a long section--rocker Bruce Springsteen. Alterman points out continually how liberals have often been their own worst enemies--failing to stand up to the violence of the far left in the '60s, fearing being branded "anti-American" in the face of war (Iraq), failing to confront the Tea Party and the ever-more-rightward GOP. Unfortunately, Alterman too often quotes others and only rarely flashes the scimitar wit he displays in the Nation. Thorough and thoughtful, but with dense scholarly foliage that needs pruning.
From the Publisher
 “The story Alterman tells is . . . worth restating given the strenuous . . . campaign by conservatives to rewrite the entire history of liberalism. . . . Alterman works hard to correct the record.” — New York Times Book Review

“Alterman’s magnum opus… All aspects of liberalism are surveyed, from the culture of Hollywood movies to the civil rights movement to intellectual debates.… In this way, Alterman’s book stands as the definitive work on its subject.”  — San Francisco Chronicle

 “What a relief it is…to read Eric Alterman’s superb new book, THE CAUSE: The Fight for American Liberalism From Franklin Roosevelt to Barack Obama. [I]f your goal is to learn about, and understand, one of this country’s most potent political forces, this book belongs in your hands.”  — Boston Globe

“…an intellectual (and actual) history of liberalism that even [Lionel] Trilling would approve of…coherent and excellent….”  — Daily Beast

“…an impressive history, with profiles of leaders both famous and unfamiliar, and detailing legislative and cultural battles that highlight the advancement of the cause. Readers interested in liberal politics and sociopolitical history will most appreciate the authors’ extensive research.”  — Library Journal

“…an illuminating history of postwar politics, international relations, culture, and philosophy—all in one scrupulously researched volume.”  — Publishers Weekly

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780670023431
Publisher:
Penguin Group (USA)
Publication date:
04/12/2012
Pages:
576
Product dimensions:
6.56(w) x 9.32(h) x 1.70(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

Eric Alterman is a bestselling author and Distinguished Professor of English and Journalism at Brooklyn College and CUNY Graduate School of Journalism; a columnist for The Nation, The Forward, and The Daily Beast; and a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, the Nation Institute, and the World Policy Institute. He lives in New York City.
Kevin Mattson is the Connor Study Professor of Contemporary History at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, where he lives.

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