United States' political culture was born liberal in the
eighteenth century. Liberal ideology was characterized by
competitive individualism, the right to private property,
limited government, and a free market. Liberalism also generated
a faith in the ability of humankind to be rational. It also
encouraged civil liberties and social tolerance. This ideology
took hold in United States, forming an umbrella-like consensus,
owing to specific historical conditions. Those conditions
included the Protestant basis of the early settlements,
the existence of a "Lockean" wilderness, the widespread
ownership of property by white settlers and the absence
of a competing feudal tradition. Liberal tenets were promoted
during the American Revolution and were also incorporated
in the U.S. constitution. These central traits, known as
"classical liberalism," rationalized nineteenth century
competitive capitalism represented by small-scale agriculture,
manufacturing and commercial enterprises.
However, since the late-nineteenth
century the United States (and the world) economy has evolved
to where it is dominated by monopolistic corporations which
have global economic interests. The multinational corporations,
by implication, subordinated the competitive economic sector,
while the ownership of these firms became increasinglyconcen-trated
and centralized. Further, monopoly capitalism transformed
U.S. society into an urban/suburban-based political-economy,
with the vast majority of citizens wage-earners and consumers.
The U.S. economy was also subjected to numerous crises and
contradictions. These developments, inherent to capitalism,
were manifested by recessionand depression, disparity of
wealth and income, irrational production (waste) and environmental
pollution. The fact of capitalism's proclivity to crisis,
in fact, forced the U.S. state, beginning in the 1930's,
to expand and intervene into the economy guided by Keynesian
policies, in an attempt to maintain the economic stability.
This completely redefined the structure and characteristics
of the U.S. state. Moreover, in 1945 the United States assumed
global economic and military hegemony creating inter-national
goals and priorities.
during the 1930's and 1940's liberalism was redefined and
adapted to adjust to the developments described above. This,
in effect, caused classical liberalism to be turned inside
out. The result was liberalism was remade to support the
development (and expansion) of a modern welfare-capitalist
state. Thus "classical liberalism" was no longer the dominant
ideology in American politics. By the late-1940's "corporate
liberalism" was dominant represented by two new variants
which Edward S. Greenberg labels Modern Liberalism and Modern
Conservatism. These positions, which identified with (and
were linked to) the interests of multinational corporations
and banks, promoted the U.S. state playing an active role
in the economy and society in an effort to expand capitalism.
During the height of the United States' post-war hegemony
the major difference between the Modern Liberal and the
Modern Conservative was over the acceptable degree of intervention
(or reform) needed (or desired) to advance dominant capitalist
interests and maintain social welfare. Inherent to this
difference was the conservative's emphasis on "economic
freedom" and the liberal's emphasis on "civil liberties."
This underscores the unresolved (and ongoing) tension in
liberalism between the values of property and equality.
premise of this argument is that throughout United States
history a specific interpretation of liberalism has the
centrist position in the political culture. As Greenberg
argues, liberalism was consciously woven into the constitution
by the Founding Fathers and is the basis of the American
political system. Furthermore, the political center has
been flanked (on the right and the left) by complementary
and/or competing ideologies influenced in some way by the
liberal tradition. This implies that all the ideologies
existent in the society are affected by mainstream liberalism.
This is seen in the primacy of the centrist-dominated two-party
system and the general support among most Americans for
private property, a market- based economy and individualism.
There is a point, however, at the extremes of the umbrella
of liberalism when the respective positions are no longer
liberal, either on the right becoming an American brand
of fascism (reactive, illiberal, totalitarian and militarist)
or socialism on the left (public ownership of the means
of production, production for need rather than profit, participatory
democracy, collective responses to tasks and problems, etc.)
centrist position, during a period of relative economic
stability, represents a political project which has consensus
support among dominant interests in, and around, the U.S.
government. These interests include multinational corporations
and banks, policy planning organizations and "think tanks,"
and the establishment media. Nicos Poulantzas has called
these combined interests a "power bloc." The centrist position
also defines the legitimate (acceptable) boundaries of debate
within the political arena. For example, it is not acceptable
in the United States to advocate public ownership of corporations
or socialized medicine, although in most Western industrialized
countries these policies have been commonplace since World
War II. Nor in the area of foreign policy is it acceptable
to claim that the United States is an aggressive imperialist
state with global designs; although many people through-out
the world believe, from first-hand experience, that is the
case. On another level, in the 1970's and 1980's, the acceptable
debate in the United States was over what percentage the
military budget should be increased or decreased and the
legality of covert methods used in the Third World, rather
than whether U.S. military spending and its global presence
is necessary or, for that matter, truly in the interest
of all of its citizens. The writer further suggests the
center of the liberal spectrum can be shifted depending
on political and/or economic exigencies caused by disruption/s
and/or crises. This implies that the consensus political
project and the parameters of acceptable discussion or/and
debate changes also. However, it must be recognized that
the extreme edges of the umbrella basically stays in the
same place. Thus, the center can be shifted, either to the
right or the left. This dynamic can be observed by examining
post-war U.S. policies.
Since World War II there has been
six distinct phases of liberalism in the United States,
and in each phase the center was situated at a different
point along the liberal spectrum. The first phase was between
1945 and 1968, when there was a period of consensus support
in the United States for the further expansion of the U.S.
state (government) and the pursuit of domestic and international
policies based on the "open door" and anti-communism. The
second phase was between 1968 and 1979 and was characterized
by instability and transition. This was reflected in a breakdown
of consensus, which witnessed the emergence of struggles
among interests in, and around, the U.S. state over the
direction and form U.S. foreign and domestic policy should
take. This instability was caused by political and economic
crises, which challenged Washington's domestic authority
and global dominance. The struggles for influence over U.S.
policy persisted until 1979 when a third phase occurred.
A new consensus was adopted, positing the center significantly
to the right of where it had been situated before 1968.
This, by implication, redefined the ideological positions
flanked to the right and the left. This represented a fourth
stage dominated by the Reagan administrations control of
the White House. That administration was supported by a
loose coalition of both Eastern Establishment forces and
the ultra-conservative Sun-Belt interests. The major objective
of Reagan was to “roll back \”nationalist regimes throughout
the world through military destablization and the implemention
of neo-liberal economic policies (deregulation, privatization,
fifth phase began in 1986, causing the unraveling of the
previous consensus and creating a new transitional period
dominated by the Rockefeller-dominated Eastern Establishment.
The most significant domestic development was the collapse
of the stock market in October 1987. However, economic matters
were put on hold as the United States orchestrated the “management
of the ends of the Cold War” leading to the collapse
of the Soviet Union and the Eastern European regimes. The
objective of the United States was the institution of “free
market” neo-liberal economic policies in those societies.
As a means to assert United States global hegemony in the
immediate “post-Cold War” period the Bush administration
carried out the “Gulf War” designed to contain
the Iraqi government headed by Saddam Hussein and to signal
to the rest of the world the United States was still the
global hegemon. Despite Bush’s popularity, the economy
went into recession and he was defeated in the 1992 Presidential
elections. This period signaled a fifth stage in the post-War
“liberal”arrangement. Here we would like to
lay out the range of political-ideological positions in
United States starting in 2000.
||Two Treatises of Government, (Many editions);
||The Wealth of Nations, (Many editions)
||Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, (1942)
||The Great Transformation, (1944)
||The American Political Tradition, (1948)
||The Liberal Tradition in America, (1955)
||The Evolution of Liberalism, (1963)
||Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy, (1966)
||Political Power and Social Classes, (1968)
||The Corporate Ideal and the Liberal State, (1969)
|G. William Domhoff
||Who Rules America?, (1968)
||The Pursuit of Loneliness, (1970)
|Richard P. Young
||"Liberalism: The American Creed"
|Edward S. Greenberg and Richard P.Young
||American Politics Reconsidered, (1973)
||The Rise and Decline of Western Liberalism, (1984)
|Robert N. Bellah et.al.
||Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Contentment
in American Life, (1985)
|Edward S. Greenberg
||"The Cultural Milieu: Liberalism"
|Edward S. Greenberg
||The American Political System, (1989), pp. 36-51.