Thursday, October 1, 2015

On the Intellectual Roots of Modern Liberalism

On the Intellectual Roots of Modern Liberalism: After World War I, a swift dissolution of Progressivism occurred in the United States, which effectively divided liberals into two main groups. On one hand, there were the moral, middle-class types who pushed for prohibition, women's suffrage, and a general "leveling" of social classes. While on the other hand, there were the radical, elitist types who advocated the establishment of a new industrial "order" (or "lack of order") to guide the masses. And it was the latter of the two groups, which included folks like H. L. Mencken, Randolph Bourne, Emma Goldman, and Floyd Dell, whose ideas precipitated the kind of American liberalism that emerged in the 1960s. Of the four aforementioned candidates, perhaps the greatest example of "modern liberal" thinking in the 1920s was Mencken. His classically sarcastic reporting for The Baltimore Sun coupled with his general preference for anything European over anything American made him one of the first elitist snobs to garner mass attention in American society. In particular, Mencken took special pride in introducing the American public to radical European thinkers such as George Bernard Shaw and Friedrich Nietzsche, whom he believed epitomized modern liberal thought in an industrializing and urbanizing world.

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