Studies in American Political Development

Commemorative Panel

Hartz and Minds: The Liberal Tradition after the Cold War

Catherine A. Holland a1
a1 University of Missouri

The Liberal Tradition in America is truly an exceptional book. Its conceptual framework has been widely criticized as wrongheaded, and each of its organizing theses has been held to be historically inaccurate. Nonetheless, it continues to figure as a central text for scholars in political studies and American studies. We teach it regularly in graduate seminars, allow the problems it raises to shape our research agendas, and organize symposia to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of its publication. Indeed, it is tempting to suggest that, if nothing else, Louis Hartz long ago proved that it is more desirable to be interesting than to be right. To that end, I write here to register an appreciation of his work even as I acknowledge the aptness of much of the criticism to which it has been subjected. To my mind, a Hartz who has been refined and reframed by decades of criticism can still offer valuable insight into America and America's engagement with the world, particularly in a moment of caustic political and sharp economic divisions that would seem to belie the consensus he emphasized, and in the midst of the emergence of forthrightly illiberal doctrines shaping both American domestic and foreign policy.