Studies in American Political Development


States, Race, and the Decline of New Deal Liberalism

Margaret Weir a1
a1 University of California, Berkeley

There is no escaping the New Deal's pivotal place in studies of twentieth-century American politics. Social scientists have vigorously debated the causes of the New Deal's distinctive features and continue to argue about its consequences for subsequent American political development. The predominant perspective advances a coherent linear history in which the central features of New Deal reform shape the understanding of political developments both before and after the 1930s. The era of Progressive reform is viewed as a precursor to the expanded public power and the practice of activist government that was consolidated in the 1930s. The Great Society is the effort to extend the benefits of liberal reform to African Americans, who had reaped only scant benefits from the central achievements of New Deal reform. When this effort went “too far,” it resulted in a far-reaching backlash against activist government. The “rise and fall” of a New Deal order that had the creation of active government at its core has thus provided a central narrative for the study of twentieth-century politics.