Three Variations on American Liberalism

Peter Kuryla

in American Thought and Culture in the 21st Century

Published by Edinburgh University Press

Published in print October 2008 | ISBN: 9780748626014
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780748670673 | DOI:
Three Variations on American Liberalism

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The focus of this chapter is on the contours of contemporary liberal thought. Tracing the historical roots of liberalism, the author, Peter Kuryla, considers the challenges to liberal thought following the Vietnam War and liberal disillusionment with US foreign policy leading up to the Iraq War. The author identifies three dominant strands of liberal thought: pragmatic, rights-based, and polemical liberalism. The chapter argues that contemporary pragmatic or pluralist liberalism echoes the tough liberalism of the early Cold War, whereas the right-based liberalism associated with the thought of John Rawls places emphasis on individual human rights in the face of the decline of civic culture. Kuryla sees the third strand of polemical liberalism clearly evident in the documentary filmmaker Michael Moore’s impassioned attacks on Republican ideology and the Bush administration, and argues that its adversarial nature needs to be tempered by a positive programmatic effort if it is to survive the early years of the century.

Keywords: Liberal Thought; Pragmatism; Pluralism; Rights-based; Polemical; John Rawls; Michael Moore

Chapter.  6784 words. 

Subjects: Cultural Studies

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