Schlesinger and the Decline of Liberalism

Andrew J. Bacevich in the Boston Review:

51eucQhvpJL._SX258_BO1 204 203 200_Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., the subject of a briskly readable and instructive new biography, would probably have taken issue with its title. He did not see himself as a chronicler of empire or as an agent of imperial ambition. The cause to which he devoted his professional life was the promotion of U.S. liberalism, in his view “the vital center” of U.S. politics.

As a prodigiously gifted historian, Schlesinger celebrated the achievements of those he deemed liberalism’s greatest champions, notably Andrew Jackson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the martyred Kennedy brothers. As a skillful polemicist, he inveighed against those he saw as enemies of liberalism, whether on the communist left or the Republican right. As a Democratic operative, he worked behind the scenes, counseling office seekers of a liberal persuasion and drafting speeches for candidates he deemed likely to advance the cause (and perhaps his own fortunes).

Arthur Schlesinger lived a rich and consequential life, and had fun along the way. He died just a decade ago at the ripe old age of eighty-nine. Yet as this account makes abundantly clear, Schlesinger comes to us from an altogether different time, far removed from our own in terms of attitudes, aspirations, and fears. Indeed, Donald Trump’s elevation to the office once occupied by Schlesinger’s heroes signifies the repudiation of all that Schlesinger, as scholar and public intellectual, held dear.

More here.