The Public Interest

Liberalism and the national idea

Samuel H. Beer

Fall 1966

A few years ago, while preparing a talk on liberalism, I thought I would look back before the 1930’s in order to see what leading figures in our past had taken the term to mean. To my surprise, I found that they almost never used it. I learned, for instance, to Herbert Croly, who, as author of The Promise of American Life and founder of The New Republic, could surely be regarded as one of the principal voices of liberalism in this century. Only very occasionally in that book, which was written between 1905 and 1909, did he use the term “liberal” or “liberalism.” No more frequently he spoke of conservatism, and then only as one of two extremes, of which the other was radicalism.

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