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Friday, March 23, 2007

Arthur Ekirch's The Decline of American Liberalism

I like revisiting classic, and unfortunately forgotten, works in the (classical) liberal, or libertarian, canon. This pays several dividends. For one, it brings great books to the attention of people who never knew they existed. Moreover, old books often contain insights and information you can find nowhere else. Murray Rothbard was fond of pointing out that, contrary to what people assume, knowledge does not advance inexorably "onward and upward." Important things can be omitted, overlooked, and forgotten. Consequently, later books on a subject can be less complete than earlier books. So it is wrong to think that the older books need not be consulted because subsequent work incorporates everything of value from the past.

I first became acquainted with the late Arthur A. Ekirch Jr.'s The Decline of American Liberalism in my college days. The book was first published in 1955, then reissued in 1967. It was a History Book Club selection and, I've been told, a contender for a national book award. Ekirch wrote nine other books, including Ideologies and Utopias: The Impact of the New Deal on American Thought (1971) and The Civilian and the Military (1972), especially relevant today....

Ekirch wrote for the intelligent nonspecialist, and his work sets the standard for accessible scholarship. The Decline of American Liberalism is a great place to start because it provides a readable look at the whole of American political-economic-intellectual history in under 400 pages. I highly recommend it.

Read the rest of this week's TGIF column, "Arthur Ekirch's The Decline of American Liberalism," at the Foundation for Economic Education website.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.


Bob Hodges said...


Great column. I actually checked out Ekirch's book from the university library last week to use in writing my thesis. Fun coincidence.


Sheldon Richman said...

Thanks. I expect you'll enjoy the book. Let me know.