OAKLAND, Calif., March 16, 2009Amid a level of economic turmoil the world has not witnessed for decades, pundits and policy-makers alike are turning to history as a guide. Newspapers across the United States have hailed President Obamas $787 billion stimulus plan as the new New Deal. Will government spending really solve all of Americas problems?
Anyone curious about Washingtons current fiscal misadventures would do well to read the new paperback edition of Arthur A. Ekirch, Jr.s classic work, The Decline of American Liberalism (May 8, 2009 / The Independent Institute / $22.95), previously out of print since 1989. With a new foreword by Independent Institute Senior Fellow, renowned economist, and historian Robert Higgs, this prescient survey of American history is a must-read for anyone grappling with the sheer scale of government intervention.
Ekirchs quick-paced but thorough account of American governmental history from the Revolutionary War through Cold War McCarthyism is highly informative and a pleasure to read. The author focuses on the state of classical liberalism, which formed the bedrock of American civil society, and makes a compelling case that the countrys future depends upon our protection of this worldview.
Ekirch argues convincingly that liberalism in America was at its strongest during the Revolutionary War and has experienced a long yet bumpy decline ever since. He builds a solid basis for his thesis by providing one of the most practical definitions of liberalism to date, emphasizing that it is not a well-defined political or economic system, but a collection of ideas or principles which go to make up an attitude or habit of mind. In general, this mindset includes limited representative government and the widest possible freedom of the individual, while it supports more specific ideas of laissez-faire economics, constitutional government, national self-determination, and popular education.
The author has glowing words for the values of Americas first settlers: [I]n a land of seemingly boundless potential wealth, mercantilist notions of political economy began to yield the economic stage to a rising laissez-faire capitalism.
. . . The colonial period witnessed the successful working out of the experiment of a free people living in a free land. Then, chapter-by-chapter, Ekirch examines more than two centuries of the American liberal tradition. From the Federalists to Thomas Jefferson; from Jacksonian Democracy to the Civil War; from Reconstruction to the Progressive movement to wartime planning and government intervention in the economy; Ekirch covers it all with a keen eye to evaluating the true state of liberty in the United States.
Ekirch succeeds at presenting a rigorous analysis and a unique argument against government expansion with an absorbing yet professional tone. The resulting work deserves to be counted among the twentieth-century greats.
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