A spirited defense of American liberalism that proves every bit as engaging and cantankerous (and wordy) as its subtitle. Appalled by the sudden emergence of the word ""liberal"" as slanderous invective during the 1988 presidential campaign, Barash (Psychology/Univ. of Washington; The Great Outdoors, 1989, etc.) contends that the ""L word"" represents not only ""the best political philosophy ever developed"" but the defining ""American political principle."" Part history, part analysis, but overwhelmingly and proudly ""a manifesto,"" this quirky yet unfailingly energetic call-to-arms manages to be alternately adroit and heavy-handed. Particularly deft is Barash's argument that the very triumph of 18th-century liberalism, combining new democratic and capitalist ideals to counter authoritarian monarchies, led to the adherents of capitalism (whom he sees as precursors of modern conservatives) embracing an ""antagonistic"" antigovernment ideal, dedicating themselves to ""a humanization of capitalism."" Today, Barash says, conservatives, ""uncomfortable with democracy,"" mix ""complacency and cruelty"" in upholding the ""values of greed, selfishness and shortsightedness."" As for liberals...well, they're a bit too ""nice,"" he says, prone to guilt because of their extreme sensitivity, and such dedicated relativists that they can sound a bit fuzzy. Seeking to break through this ""naively optimistic"" haze, Barash can sound annoyingly absolutist (attacking his targets as fatally muddled in such diverse areas as international affairs, economics, and civil liberties), but he can also be refreshing, bold, and winningly fervent--as in his suggestion that liberalism need not be repackaged to make its ease, that liberals ""don't need nco so much as brio."" A well-timed clarion call that ultimately mirrors its own picture of the philosophy it celebrates--messy, vital, infuriating, and invigorating.