TELOSscope: The Telos Press Blog

Taking Communism away from the Communists: The Origins of Modern American Liberalism

Modern liberalism has been defined conceptually as the experimental method applied to politics and as the mentality which insists that culture, not nature, puts the future of humanity in its own hands. In terms of American history, modern liberalism is presented as an adaptation of nineteenth-century laissez-faire liberal individualism to the growth of big business, and as an updated expression of Jacksonian animus to vested interests. There is something substantial in all of these approaches. But, even taken together, they leave out a great deal.

Modern liberalism has been compared favorably and unfavorably and even conflated with its competitors, communism, socialism, Fabianism, social democracy, anarchism, and fascism. What it has in common with its rivals is that it was a fully fledged ideology that effloresced at the turn of the twentieth century in opposition to the newly emergent worlds of mass production, mass politics, and mass culture. Of all these frameworks, social democracy was the only one that never descended into an “ism.” Social democracy satisfied a satiable hunger on the part of working people for a greater share of capitalism’s bounty. The others were in search of an unattainable quest for a secular soteriology, a political path to salvation.

Like communism, Fabianism, and fascism, modern liberalism was born of a new class of politically self-conscious intellectuals who despised both the individual businessman’s pursuit of profit and the conventional individual’s pursuit of pleasure, both of which were made possible by the lineaments of the limited nineteenth-century state. Like anarchism and social democracy, liberalism embraced heroes without enthroning supreme leaders. Like all but social democracy, liberalism was strongly influenced by the Nietzschean ideal of a true aristocracy that might serve as a counterpoint to what were seen as the debasements of modern commercial society shorn of traditional hierarchies.

Liberalism was far more intellectually permeable, and far more politically adaptable, than most of its competitors and more willing than all but the trade-union-tied social democrats to work through the existing government structures. These qualities brought it to the forefront of American life. But it nonetheless represents a distinct ethos often at odds with America’s democratic and capitalist traditions. The best short credo of liberalism came from the pen of the literary historian Vernon Parrington in the late 1920s. “Rid society of the dictatorship of the middle class,” Parrington insisted, referring to both democracy and capitalism, “and the artist and the scientist will erect in America a civilization that may become, what civilization was in earlier days, a thing to be respected.” Alienated from middle-class American life, liberalism drew on an idealized image of both organic pre-modern folkways and the harmony to come when it would re-establish the proper hierarchy of virtue in a post-bourgeois, post-democratic world.

Historically, the main streams of modern liberal ideology flowed from two very different headwaters, both of which emerged from the hot springs of World War I. The first, which took a culturally libertarian course, was a response to the excesses of Woodrow Wilson’s World War I propaganda campaign and to the 1919 “Red Scare,” an anti-Bolshevik fright fest that followed the war with mass arrests and deportations. Its bedrock assumption was that middle-class American society was an agent of repression that stifled the creativity of its intellectuals and artists. The second statist stream flowed from the government’s enhanced control of the economy during World War I. The War Industries Board created to supply the American Expeditionary Force in Europe inspired the liberal love affair with a planned economy of the sort that came to be represented by the Soviet Union. Its underlying assumption, even before the onset of the Great Depression, was that the American government, if it were turned over to the proper professionals, could be an agent of both economic and moral salvation. In its varied incarnations, liberalism embraced both the ideal of the spontaneous, culturally creative individual and government economic planning that depended on making people predictable. Over time the two streams converged as the chemically unstable admixture of cultural libertarianism and economic statism we recognize as contemporary liberalism. Different though they were and still are, the two streams flowed into the same river bed carved out by a common hostility to the middle-class mores associated with despoliations of democracy and by hopes for a Europeanized America led by a new aristocracy of talent.

The American thinkers who did the most to carve out the enduring assumptions and mental gestures that streamed into liberalism as an ideology were Herbert Croly, editor of The New Republic, and Randolph Bourne, a spirited young prophet of righteous anger. Bourne bitterly broke with The New Republic over American entry into World War I. He accused Croly and The New Republic of criminal naiveté in thinking that a war against Germany, which was much admired at the journal for its pioneering welfare state, could be turned to progressive ends. But despite this break between Croly with his slow-fire political piety and Bourne’s tendency to not so much live but burn intensely, they both argued eloquently in the tradition of John Stuart Mill and H.G. Wells for a clerisy, a secular priesthood that could Europeanize America. It’s a legacy that has not only endured but thrives down to the present

Herbert Croly, whose seminal 1907 book The Promise of American Life was the first manifesto of modern liberalism, is best remembered for proposing Hamiltonian means to obtaining Jeffersonian ends, a proposition admired by both Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt. His approach to liberalism, explained his economically oriented adept George Soule, was “more fundamental” than that of others who, like Croly wanted to reshape public institutions. What he wanted was to remake American life “for the purpose of liberating a large quantity and higher quality of American manhood and womanhood. What was important was the process of liberation of the personality, not mere achievement of honest city government, regulation of monopolies, or better conditions for labor.”

Croly, said literary critic Edmund Wilson memorializing him, “was a kind of saint.” In another age he might have become the “founder of a religious order.” Instead he founded The New Republic, which became the primary political organ of the new liberalism. Croly, whose sanctimony was sometimes mocked as “Crolier than thou,” told Edmund Wilson that “he saw his culture as mainly French.” He was the first child in the United States whose parents christened him, so to speak, into the mid-nineteenth-century French intellectual August Comte’s “Religion of Humanity.” Comte’s concoction was designed to create a scientific, progressive, and comparably hierarchical alternative to Catholicism.

To attain that “religion of humanity,” Croly called for a Rousseau-like “reconstruction” of American ideals “on a platform of possible human perfectibility.” “What a democratic nation must do is not to accept human nature as it is, but to move it in the direction of improvement.” The people in this picture “are not sovereign . . . even when united in a majority.” His hope, however was that under inspired tutelage they can “become sovereign . . . in so far as they succeed on reaching and expressing a collective purpose,” and that purpose was a strong unified nation in which religion and politics were melded into “the religion of humanity,” which would be “a religion based not on conjecture but fact.” The famous closing lines of The Promise read: “The common citizen can become something of a saint and something of a hero” if “his exceptional fellow-countrymen” are able to “offer acceptable examples of heroism and saintliness.”

Randolph Bourne has long been revered for his opposition to World War I. As with Croly every generation receives new editions of his writings. But Bourne was not so much anti-war as in thrall to the German ideal of a collective spiritual greatness. Bourne, who died in 1918 at only 32, insisted that “German ideals are the only broad and seizing ones that have lived in the world in our generation. Mad and barbarous as they must seem to minds accustomed to much thinner and nicer fare, one must have withdrawn far within a provincial Anglo-Saxon shell not to feel the thrill of their sheer heroic power.” Art and politics, he insisted, ought to be one.

Traveling in Europe on the eve of World War I, Bourne was awed by “the joyous masses” who have “evolved a folk-culture.” By contrast, in America he was dismayed by what he saw as the “appalling slovenliness” and “ignorance of great masses in the city and country.” In the United States, the urban masses, as he saw it were “without taste, without standards but those of the mob.” The new immigrants became “the flotsam and jetsam of American life, the downward undertow of our civilization with its . . . leering cheapness and falseness of taste and spiritual outlook, the absence of mind and sincere feeling we see in our slovenly towns our vapid moving pictures, our popular novels, and the vacuous faces of crowds.” Here was the beginning of the critique of popular culture as the great prophylactic blocking the birth of an America remade by a revolution of sorts.

Bourne placed his hope in the hands “of a host of eager young missionaries swarming over the land, spreading the health knowledge, the knowledge of domestic science, of gardening, of tastefulness, that they have learned in school.” Bourne envisioned a modernized version of the Catholic priest, “a new type of teacher-engineer-community worker,” who could aestheticize society. “I begin to wonder,” he wrote, “whether there aren’t advantages in having administration of the State taken care of by a scientific body of men with a social sense, or perhaps an aesthetic-scientific idea of a desirable urban life. There really may be something in the German claim that this liberates energies for real freedom of thought.”

Croly and Bourne, the founding fathers of modern liberalism, hoped to create a re-founded regime that had broken from the “monarchism” of totemizing the Constitution. It would be led in large measure by “disinterested” intellectuals, poet-leaders, experts, and social scientists such as themselves. They saw such men and women as possessing a third eye that allowed them to see not only more of the world but the world in its proper perspective. And if their talents were not to be wasted or frustrated it was imperative that the conventional and often corrupt politics of middle-class capitalism be put in its place so that they might be given the recognition and power that was their due.

In the wake of World War I, their heirs, liberal intellectuals such as Edmund Wilson, Harold Stearns, and Malcolm Cowley, were angry that capitalism had been all too successful. Its gushers of wealth were said to be strangling intellectual life in an America as the booboisie, in their catch-penny wisdom, had chosen men like Harding and Coolidge to be president. Liberal intellectuals, reflecting a strain of anti-modernism, looked to the relative backwardness of France as an alternative to American dynamism. In the thirties, capitalism was again deemed a failure, but this time because it was unable to deliver the economic goods. During the Depression, the Soviet Union, seen as the vanguard of the future, displaced France as the source of displaced patriotism. But different as the decades were, capitalism, democracy, and philistinism continued to be the enemy of right-thinking liberals.

The emotional valence associated with cultural liberalism was best expressed in Sinclair Lewis’s 1920 novel Main Street. Published just before “the back-slapping, glad handing” Warren G. Harding brought his cronies and their card games into the White House, it was the story of Carol Kennicot, a sensitive young woman trapped both by a nearly loveless marriage with a stodgy middle-class husband and by a dreary midwestern town dominated by Harding-like Rotarians. Described as more than a novel, but rather as an incident in American life, Main Street, “the most sensational event in twentieth-century American publishing history,” captured and amplified the sentiments of Americans who thought of themselves as members of a creative class stifled by the boosterism and “Babbitry” of middle-class lives driven by capitalist greed.

Where Lewis’s indictment of American business civilization was implied, the seminal 1921 collection of essays Civilization in the United States, edited by Bourne’s heir Harold Stearns, was a frontal assault. Stearns, the man who had done the most to explain why liberalism was different from the progressivism that had preceded it, conceived of the book’s essays as a collective denunciation of a supposedly Puritan America. “Life in this country,” explained one of the contributors, “is joyless and colorless, universally standardized, tawdry, uncreative, given over to the worship of wealth and machinery.” America’s material success, it was argued, was a reflection of its spiritual failure. “The wife of the American businessman,” it was explained, “finds him so sexually inadequate that she refuses to bear his children.” Waldo Frank, a prominent liberal, later explained, “We were all sworn foes of capitalism, not because we knew it would not work, but because we judged it, even in success, to be lethal to the human spirit.”

The contributors to Civilization in the United States, some of whom were Harvard men soon to become self-imposed exiles in France, were driven by resentment. The so-called “lost generation,” explained Malcolm Cowley, was “extremely class conscious.” They went to Europe “to free themselves from organized stupidity, to win their deserved place in the hierarchy of intellect.” They felt that their status in America’s business culture was, given their obviously exceptional intelligence and extraordinary talent, grossly inadequate. Their simmering anger at what they saw as the mediocrity of democratic life, led them to pioneer the now commonplace stance of blaming society for their personal failings. Animated by a version of the aristocratic spirit, they found the leveling egalitarianism of the United States an insult to their sense of self-importance.

For all the disillusion with Wilsonianism in international affairs, Americans emerged as the economic victors of World War I. While much of Europe was in ruins, the U.S. economy grew at a rate of 6 percent a year from 1921 to 1929. For most Americans, the 1920s were an era of extraordinary energy, a whitewater ride down a stream of innovations. Radio, the movies, jazz, baseball, and football gave American culture the kind of non-demonic dynamism unthinkable in the liberals’ beloved Europe. Prohibition notwithstanding, it was a time when the automobile and the washing machine gave people a greater sense of freedom.

But what looked like freedom and progress to most white Americans, was an affront to liberal intellectuals cultivating their own alienation. Increasingly conscious of themselves as a group, liberal writers and intellectuals, though more widely read that any time in the past, experienced the 1920s as a time when their art was confounded by American philistinism.

For liberals, the great revelation of the 1920s was that society at large, and not just the mores of the Bible Belters, was the source of their subjugation. Their disdain for Main Street was exceeded by their contempt for the detritus of urban popular culture. Referring to most Americans as “the herd” or “peasants,” they saw in the industrialism that raised standards of living only the “degradation” imposed by a country organized around the needs of the middle-class masses. The new popular culture of Broadway shows, movies, baseball, and Coney Island were all “makeshifts of despair,” part of the proof that “America is a joyless land.” America, explained Randolph Bourne, who had been attracted to the French proto-fascist Maurice Barres, was a land “without taste, without standards but those of the mob.” The liberal literary critic Van Wyck Brooks similarly compared the United States to a “primeval monster” “relentlessly concentrated in the appetite of the moment,” which knowing “nothing of its own vast, inert nerveless body, encrusted with parasites and half-indistinguishable from the slime in which it moves.”

Waldo Frank’s widely discussed 1927 New Republic essay “The Drug on the Market” depicted an American “enslaved” by the idea of progress. “We are proud,” said a mocking Frank, who had been born to wealth, “of the short-cuts” such as the “newspapers, telephones and radios” with which “we clutter and sterilize our world.” Like Europe’s reactionary modernists, such as D.H. Lawrence and Wyndham Lewis, he was angered by the movement of the masses onto the social stage. “In a democracy,” he complains, “where castes are vague, where money-power has few manifest badges of dress or standard of living; where indeed millionaire and clerk go to the same movie, read the same books, travel the same roads, and where intellectual distinctions must be carefully concealed,” it is the “herd” that rules. In a similar vein, he wrote of the “secretly controlled affair of baseball” in which Babe Ruth’s home runs are “an effort on the part of the machine to connect with the crowd.” “Babe Ruth,” he concludes “is the demagogue of the game.” A few years later, after side trips into mysticism and the authenticity of Hispanic and Native American culture, he would be an ardent Communist.

The influential Stuart Chase, also of The New Republic, shared similar sentiments. Chase argued that American abundance produced “illth,” a term he had borrowed from the nineteenth-century British gothicist John Ruskin, who argued that capitalist wealth produced social and mental disorders. By contrast, Chase was enamored of both the supposed harmony of organic Oaxacan Indian Village life—”Mexicans Know How to Play” read the title of an article he wrote for Harpers—and the Republic of Mexico Planning Commission. Both handicrafts and state planning, which he saw as aesthetically and morally harmonious, avoided the plague of modern economic individualism. “Capitalism,” wrote Chase, “is at heart irreligious. . . . Great political movements have usually been grounded in collectivism, in the brotherhood of man, leaving laissez-faire, in the last analysis, a cold and ferocious anti-Christ.”

American liberals were generally enthusiastic about the Bolshevik Revolution. President Wilson’s keen reaction led Russian War Commissar Leon Trotsky to coin the phrase “fellow traveler.” Trotsky was mistaken about Wilson, but he could have been describing Lincoln Steffens, the most influential liberal journalist of the era. While the denizens of Greenwich Village saw the Bolsheviks as the bohemians of a “holy Russia” nurturing the artistic imagination, Steffens, after three brief pilgrimages to the Soviet Union, wrote in the Nation of a “new culture, an economic, scientific, not moral culture.” The Bolsheviks and not the Americans, Steffens explained, were the true pragmatists; they were conducting a grand experiment by setting “up a dictatorship supported by a small trained minority, to make and maintain for generations a scientific arrangement of economic forces which would result in economic democracy first and political democracy last.” It was in anticipation of one of his trips that he famously wrote “I’ve been over into the future and it works.”

By the early 1920s, cultural liberals, the initial poetic phase of the Russian Revolution having passed into the prose of governing, temporarily lost interest in the Soviet Union. “The introduction of machinery into Russia,” explained Greenwich Villager Floyd Dell, “is not the sort of change to warm our hearts. . . . Far from it. The American intelligentsia has a deep sentimental attachment to barbarism and savagery, preferably of a nomadic sort.”

But while the intelligentsia’s interests temporarily strayed, those of the technocrats did not. World War I, explained Randolph Bourne, revealed a generation of experts “trained up in the pragmatic dispensation,” who “have absorbed the secret of scientific method as applied to political administration.” They are, he explained, “a whole new force in American life.” In the 1920s these experts thought that their city planning methods could, if given the opportunity, transform the physical and hence, as they saw it, moral conditions of American slums. In criminology their counterparts, applying germ theory to the social world, argued that if given support their clinical methods could cure criminality. But like the planners and criminologists, social workers, progressive educators, labor and religious leaders, as well as birth control advocates, felt they weren’t being given their due in 1920s America. They responded with pilgrimages to the Soviet Union where the scientific approach to social problems was said to be creating a new and superior society.

For the most part, they returned from “the workers state” with enormous admiration for what could be done when capitalism and capitalists had been displaced. Social workers saw it as Jane Addams Hull House writ massive; planners and engineers saw an example of what could done if they were freed from greedy shareholders; progressive educators saw all of Russia as a John Dewey-like experimental school; religious leaders saw a selfless Puritanism; birth-control advocates saw what they thought could be done in a country not stifled by Puritans and Catholics; and labor leaders were warmly greeted by men who called them comrade. The saintly social worker Jane Addams called the Russian Revolution “the greatest social experiment in history.” And America’s most influential liberal, John Dewey, the philosopher of pragmatism, saw “a release of human powers on such an unprecedented scale that that it is of incalculable significance . . . for the world.”

In 1927 Chase visited the Soviet Union as part of an entourage of rising young liberals that included Roger Baldwin of the ACLU, Paul Douglas, the labor economist and future Illinois senator, and Rex Tugwell, the economic planner who would become part of FDR’s Brain Trust. As far as the visitors knew, their trip had been arranged by a non-communist trade union organization. They were unaware that the journey, including a six and a quarter hour meeting with Stalin, had been arranged by a front for the Soviet Union. Douglas saw in the Soviet Union “a new religion,” which he said “strengthened my faith in socialism.” Chase compared what he was seeing to what must have “scorched the face of the curious onlooker” when “the flaming sword of Allah [had] come over the plains of Mecca.” This fixed firmament of religious certainty meant for Chase that “Russia . . . will solve for all practical purposes the economic problem.”

While Chase was in the Soviet Union, his wife, Margaret Chase, was a diurnally dutiful picketer on the protest lines, denouncing the upcoming execution of Sacco and Vanzetti. She was similarly unaware that her activities have been planned out by representatives of the Soviet Union.

Nicola Sacco and Bartolemeo Vanzetti were two Italian-American anarchists arrested in 1920 during the waning days of the Red Scare for the murder of two men in the course of a Braintree, Massachusetts, factory payroll holdup. The case initially invoked minimal interest. Two anarchist comrades named Joseph Ettor and Arturo Giovannitti who had been framed for murder during the famed 1912 Lawrence, Massachusetts, strike argued, to scant effect, that Sacco and Vanzetti had been similarly set up. A socialist reporter famously asserted, “There’s no story in it. Just two wops in a jam.” The Communists were equally dismissive at the time, but seven years later when Sacco and Vanzetti were facing execution Stalin called their case the most important event since the October Revolution.

Anarchist bombings, including one in Paris that killed twenty, did little to arouse support for the doomed men. But in 1925 the American Communist Party took up the case of the guilty (as shown by the ballistics evidence) Sacco and the questionably guilty Vanzetti (who was already in jail after a conviction in an earlier robbery). They turned it into an international cause in part by orchestrating passionate support from American liberals who saw in it an opportunity to redress the many injustices of imposed by the Red Scare of 1919–20. The defense cleverly placed first the Red Scare itself and then the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on trial. That was a cause that united virtually all liberals, communists, anarchists, and upper-class reformers in what was the first example of a top-bottom political alliance of the sort that has since become far more common.

Subscribe to Telos

Sacco and Vanzetti, playing their part well, were turned into characters in a passion play: “Dago Christs” persecuted by the “White Terror’s” machinery of repression and mass hysteria, not for any crime but for their radical beliefs. Sacco and Vanzetti, their lawyers argued in a conspiracy theory for which there was a conspicuous lack of substantiation, were the victims of a vast plot organized by both local and federal authorities. Their committed defenders, such as the future Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, rightly noted examples of judicial and prosecutorial misconduct, so that many liberals would rally behind them in opposition to an unfair trial rather than their innocence narrowly defined. Nonetheless, a passionate counter-frenzy emerged proclaiming their innocence as revealed truth. The talented writer Haywood Hale Broun, who had chafed under the empty “hullabaloo” of the mid-20s, explained (writing about himself in the third person) that “For years [Broun] had complained with some reason of an inability to work up a satisfactory amount of hate. And now he had it . . . ”

Sacco and Vanzetti’s supporters overlooked not only the evidence that anarchist threats of dynamite had been use to intimidate witnesses against their heroes, but also the revealing statement by Vanzetti to the governor, arguing by inference that his sort of violence was morally justified. “Only the slaves,” Vanzetti insisted referring to the workers, “have the right to violence to free themselves; only the violence that frees is legitimate and holy.”

One of the rare liberal dissenters from what soon became quasi-religious dogma was the revered Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who had been saved by postal inspectors from a bomb that had been mailed to him. Implored to throw his judicial weight into halting their impending executions, Holmes commented tartly, “my prejudices are against the convictions but they are stronger still against the run of the shriekers. The lovers of justice have emphasized their love by blowing up a building or two.” As for the intellectuals, their case “wasn’t a matter of reason but simply shrieking because the world is not the world they want—a trouble most of us feel in some way.” The intellectuals, he concluded, “seem to have gotten hysterical and to have lost their sense of proportion.”

The consequences of the case were profound. Emotionally and politically it was the hinge on which many liberals swung towards communism after the 1929 crash. The liberal Robert Morss Lovett, who would become a fellow traveler in the 1930s, wrote that nothing since the disillusionment following World War I has “so shaken the liberal’s belief in the workings for equal justice of free institutions.” Their execution made it impossible, Lovett insisted, “to deny the existence of the Class War in the United States.” The literary critic Granville Hicks drew a related inference. He noted, “It was practically all my neighbors in Northampton except for the other members of the college faculty” who thought the verdict justified. “The battle,” Hicks concluded, “was between the intellectuals and everybody else.” But intellectuals soon found powerful new allies and a compelling foreign alternative to American life.

By 1931 capitalism was seen as having failed the pragmatic test—it didn’t work. In 1931 and 1932, destitute farmers raided grocery stores, threatened judges, and terrorized sheriffs and creditors, while veterans marched on Washington for better pensions and labor unrest mounted. Columbia University’s influential and conservative president, Nicholas Murray Butler, warned the country that the “final test of capitalism” was at hand. For liberals like Edmund Wilson and “to the writers and artists of (his) generation who had grown up in the shadow of the Big Business era and had always resented its barbarism, . . . these depression years were not depressing but stimulating.” “One couldn’t help being exhilarated,” exulted Wilson, “at the sudden unexpected collapse of that stupid gigantic fraud,” American capitalism. But what to do with the opportunity to overthrow America’s business civilization? The sense of crisis produced an intense interest in the Soviet Union. In 1931 almost as many books on the Soviet Union appeared as had between published in the prior thirteen years since the Bolshevik Revolution.

But the one book that stood out, Lincoln Steffens’s Autobiography, described as “possibly the most influential book of the 1930s,” was strictly speaking not about the Soviet Union. Steffens didn’t preach communism; rather, speaking to the generation of post-1919 liberals, he argued that all efforts at reform in America were hopeless. The business economy, or the “system” as he called it (anticipating 1960s radicals), was the source of all corruption. It had to be replaced root and branch. Here, thanks to Steffens, was an American path to communism. For “younger people,” explained literary critic Granville Hicks, “the Autobiography was the one true map of the American economic wilderness,” and they “regarded his words as marching orders.”

Influenced by the way Steffens seemed to make sense of the economic disaster, the early 1930s saw mass conversions to communism—or, in the language of the time, people “went left.” In the 1920s the same artists, critics, professors, and ballet dancers had, explained Eugene Lyons, gone in for “Dadaism, surrealism, symbolism, lost generation antics and what not. . . . they had defied the bourgeoisie with lower-case letters, stuttering sentences and chopped up female torsos scattered on canvas.” But with the Depression they went slumming, “trading in their prosperity bohemianism for proletarian bohemianism.” At the height of the pro-Soviet sentiment among the “creative class,” during the years of the Popular Front, “penthouse Bolshevism,” a precursor to 1960s radical chic, became all the rage.

In the 1920s New Republic editor and sometimes mystic Waldo Frank had sought “the dynamic force making for revolution” in dying pre-modern cultures and “a small band of gallant writers.” In the 1930s he embraced Marx. “I accept him wholly,” said the convert. Frank, explains Richard Ellis, had found in the proletariat a class that was, in Marxian terms, thoroughly modern and yet had “not been hopelessly corrupted by the . . . capitalistic order.” The same people described by Frank and other writers in the 1920s as “philistine hordes” were redeemed in liberal eyes once they became suffering supplicants suitable for molding by their betters.

Other policy-minded liberals, such as Stuart Chase and George Soule, developed what they called a “hard-boiled” critique of America’s market economy. America’s problem, they argued, was the “chaos of capitalism.” They admired the Soviet Union and were inspired by the supposed success of the Soviet Five-Year Plan but thought it an inexact model for the far m

Comments are closed.