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Freedom's Power: The True Force of Liberalismby Paul Starr
Synopses & Reviews
A Pulitzer Prize-winning author, journalist, and intellectual argues for liberalism as the only viable response to the political and economic challenges of the modern world.
Liberalism in America is in greater peril than at any other time in recent history. Conservatives treat it as an epithet, and even some liberals have confused it with sentimentality and socialism. But Paul Starr, one of America's leading intellectuals, claims that, properly understood, liberalism is a sturdy public philosophy, deeply rooted in our traditions, capable of making America a freer and more secure country.
"Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" remains as good a definition of liberalism's aims today as it was when Thomas Jefferson borrowed the language of John Locke for the Declaration of Independence. From its origins as constitutional liberalism in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, to the complexities of today's global political systems liberalism has provided the basis of the most prosperous and powerful states in the world. At a time when conservative policies are weakening America's long-term fiscal, economic, and international strength as well as its liberties, reinstating the power of liberalism is more urgent than ever.
"Part political theory and part intellectual history, this book tracks the development of liberalism as the world's dominant political tradition and argues for its continued ascendancy as the best guarantor of individual rights and prosperity on the global stage. Starr, a Princeton sociology and public affairs professor and founding editor of the American Prospect, explains modern liberalism as an evolutionary process, rooted in classical laissez-faire liberalism, and gradually accreting a greater role for the state to provide a social safety net, defend equal rights for all and institute true democratic pluralism. Defending liberalism from its socialist as well as its conservative critics, Starr sees his ideology as a middle path, harnessing the creative power of the free market while tempering some of its capriciousness. A central thesis is that '[t]he peculiar internal tension of liberal constitutions is that they constrain power even as they authorize it — that is, they attempt to curb the despotic power and ambitions of individual rulers and officials and, by doing so, to permit stronger systemic capacities.' The first section of the book discusses the causes and consequences of liberal revolutions in Britain, America and France, while later chapters cover recent events, including the 2006 congressional elections. Complex macroeconomic, demographic and philosophical trends are presented engagingly and understandably for casual readers and political buffs alike." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Only in the United States is 'liberal' a label for someone soft on communism, national defense and crime. The Liberal Democrats in the United Kingdom occupy the center between Labour on the left and the Conservatives on the right, and liberals in France favor free markets over the maintenance of the welfare state, much like our Republicans. Riding to the rescue of those still traumatized by 20 years... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) or more of successful demonization by the Republicans, Paul Starr, a professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton University and co-founder of the American Prospect, offers a lucid and well-informed explanation of the origins, history and current prospects of liberalism. Starr's achievement is not minor, for liberalism is devilishly difficult to pin down. It has two main sources that have flowed into very different channels over time: economic liberalism, which emphasizes the way free markets and property rights strengthen civil society and provide a counterweight to governmental tyranny; and political liberalism, which draws more attention to the right to vote, constitutional protections of citizens' rights and, ultimately, democracy. Economic liberals eventually became Republicans, political liberals Democrats. Starr has more in mind, however, than a useful historical survey; he aims to provide a guide for the present. Believing that American conservatives have failed to achieve much of substance while in power these past decades, he senses an 'opportunity to rebuild a political majority by showing how liberal ideas make sense for America and by reopening a conversation with people who believe that liberals have not shown any concern or respect for them.' He is much more successful at justifying liberal ideas than at reaching out to skeptics. He shows how liberal countries have long maintained a productive tension between constraining power on the one hand and authorizing it on the other. The revolutions in 17th-century England that limited monarchical power, for example, left English subjects paying higher taxes than any other people in Europe. By opening up power to progressively broader participation, liberal constitutions have subjected government to scrutiny, criticism and even resistance, and thus have helped to protect citizens against overweening bureaucracies. At the same time, they have made democratic states more legitimate and have enabled them to borrow, tax and, until recently, conscript more and more. Paradoxically, then, constitutionally limited states historically have wielded more power than despotic ones. England in the 1700s raised money for its wars at much lower rates of interest than did the absolutist French monarchy. Similarly, the Western democracies proved to be more than a match for Germany and Japan in World War II. Not only did constitutional states prove more adept at waging war, since they could raise more money and men, but war in turn also worked to democratize them further. Until the Persian Gulf War of 1991, major wars often had the effect of extending the franchise in the United States: to African Americans, at least in theory, after the Civil War; to women after World War I; and to 18-year-olds during the Vietnam War. Democratization and the expanding power of the state went together. Democratic liberalism works because it adapts well to new challenges. Over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, it successfully insisted that governments spend more on education and social welfare, regulate the market to overcome its vagaries, deregulate culture and expand civil liberties. And liberalism did so without producing the economic ruin, moral anarchy or political tyranny predicted by conservatives. Indeed, many of these changes — Social Security, Medicare, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Americans With Disabilities Act — are now so well established that no political party dares publicly endorse their dismantling. We are in that sense all liberals now, whether we want to admit it or not. Although Starr recognizes that those who rebelled against liberalism in the United States felt disrespected by the liberal elite, he pays too little attention to this emotional side of the debate. In an alarmingly colossal understatement, he says of the 1960s, 'The experience of that time did give rise to some legitimate concerns about what liberalism stands for and whether it works.' Liberalism's revival now depends not just on reaffirming its core values and achievements, as Starr does so insightfully, but also on repairing relations with lower-middle-class voters whose religiosity, anxieties about globalization and fears of rapid social change were often dismissed by liberal leaders. To be right is never enough in politics; to appear condescending is fatal. " Reviewed by Lynn Hunt, author of 'Inventing Human Rights', Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"In this wonderfully thoughtful and thought-provoking book, Paul Starr offers the wisdom and courage needed to return America to its liberal roots and fulfill its liberal ideals. His call for a bolder and more confident liberalism — strong enough to reverse the widening inequalities and increasing insecurities of our people, and the go-it-alone bellicosity of our foreign policy — must be read and heeded." Robert Reich, Former Secretary of Labor
"Freedom's Power is an impressive achievement that deserves to be pondered by the critics of contemporary American liberalism no less than by its supporters." New York Times
"In discussing the development of classical liberalism and modern democratic liberalism, Starr ranges far and wide over English, French, and American history....He believes that liberalism can regain a national majority by looking at domestic bread-and-butter issues in terms of the national interest rather than the objectives of specific interest groups and by recommitting to a multilateral approach to foreign policy." Library Journal
"An informed and eloquent case for liberalism as the American way." Kirkus Reviews
Book News Annotation:
Starr (sociology and public affairs, Princeton U.) writes in defense of modern democratic liberalism, arguing that it is better able to allow society to "achieve both greater power and greater freedom" than its political rivals. Half of his work consists of a history of the evolution of liberalism from constitutionally limited monarchies through the Cold War that is designed to demonstrate liberalism's superiority as a political ideology. The second half of the text consists of his thoughts on what modern democratic liberalism and liberal internationalism should attempt to achieve in the domestic and international arenas should it regain the reins of power in the United States. Annotation ©2007 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Liberalism in America has been under siege. Conservatives now treat it as an epithet, and some progressives spurn it as well. But, according to Paul Starr, liberalism is a sturdy public philosophy, deeply rooted in our traditions and capable of making America and the world freer and more secure.
At a time when conservative policies are weakening America's long-term fiscal, economic, and international strength as well as its liberties, the liberal project is more urgent than ever. Freedom's Power shows why liberalism works — and how it can work for America again.
To learn more, visit www.freedomspower.com
At a time when conservative policies are weakening America, Freedoms Power shows why liberalism works-and how it can work again.
An award-winning scholar challenges the intellectuals of the baby-boom generation to shake off a decade's worth of complacency and reclaim the mantle of social justice.
Liberalism in America is under siege. Conservatives now treat it as an epithet and even some progressives spurn it. But according to Paul Starr, liberalism is a sturdy public philosophy, deeply rooted in our traditions, capable of making America and the world more free and secure.Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” remains as good and concise a definition of liberalisms aims today as it was when Thomas Jefferson borrowed the language of John Locke for the Declaration of Independence. What distinguishes liberalism, however, is not just high aspirations but strikingly effective principles for the creation and control of power. From its origins as constitutional liberalism in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the liberal project has provided the basis of the most prosperous and powerful states in the world. Modern democratic liberalism has carried forward the constitutional liberal tradition by favoring a more inclusive and egalitarian conception of liberty and opportunity. It has responded to threats to freedom and the public good from excessive concentrations of private power, while maintaining a dynamic market economy. And it has shown how government can respond to economic crisis and injustice—yet keep arbitrary power in check—by providing stronger guarantees of civil liberties and equal rights. At a time when conservative policies are weakening Americas long-term fiscal, economic, and international strength as well as its liberties, liberalism is more urgent than ever. Freedoms Power shows why liberalism works—and how it can work for America again.
About the Author
Paul Starr is Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs at Princeton University and its Woodrow Wilson School of Public Affairs. He is the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Social Transformation of American Medicine and The Creation of the Media. Starr is the co-founder and editor of The American Prospect. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey.
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