Most people over the age of 50 learned in college that modern liberalism is the end of a continuous line beginning with Populism in the 1890s through Progressivism in the early years of the 20th Century to the New Deal and now to the present day “Modern Liberalism.” Fred Siegel argues in his new book, The Revolt Against the Masses, how liberalism has undermined the middle class, that this notion of how modern Liberalism came to be as it is presently constituted is entirely wrong. There was no straight-line progression. Rather, Siegal says, what we think of as Liberalism today began in the wake of the end of World War I and the disillusionment with America that followed among intellectuals, especially their hostility to the middle class. Some may recall H.L. Mencken’s definition of Democracy, which he called, “a bunch of jackasses worshiping jackals.”
Leading among the disillusioned intellectuals was H.G. Wells, H.L. Mencken, Herbert Croly and Randolph Bourne. Most everyone has heard of Wells and Mencken, probably even read some of their writings and certainly have read some of what has been written about them. Randolph Bourne, who died during World War I, and Herbert Croly, who died in 1930, are less well known.
Croly and Walter Lippman, with the financial support of Dorothy Whitney, founded the New Republic magazine in 1914. Croly was the editor until he died in 1930. Croly despised the traditional American ethic of “rugged individualism,” and advocated a society based upon elite professional leadership in his seminal work, The Promise of American Life.
Randolph Bourne died more than forty years before Tom Hayden founded Students for a Democratic Society and, with several other disaffected young radicals and “red-diaper” babies, wrote the Port Huron Statement. These events seemed to mirror closely with Borne’s vision of an “army of youth” that would emerge as a “New Class.” The political generation that came of age in the turmoil of the 1960’s seemed to be taking instruction from Bourne’ even if they had never heard of him. Like him, they were disdainful of the political lethargy of the American middle class which they blamed for racism in America, the war in Vietnam, and sexual repression.
Like Communism, Fabianism, and Fascism, modern Liberalism began as a vanguard movement of politically self conscious intellectuals critical of mass democracy.
Below is a 56-minute video of Fred Siegel discussing his book and how modern Liberalism with its upper-lip-curled contempt for capitalism, profit and individual success has and continues to undermine the hopes and dreams of middle class America, the “Boobosie,” in H.L. Mencken’s vocabulary.