LIBERTY IN AMERICA 1600 TO THE PRESENT by Oscar Handlin

LIBERTY IN AMERICA 1600 TO THE PRESENT

Vol. IV, Liberty and Equality 1920-1990
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 The fourth and final volume in the Handlins' monumental study (Liberty in Expansion, 1989, etc.) of the development of liberty in American history. Like earlier books in their series, this volume explores a cohesive theme: ``the forces that narrowed or expanded peoples' ability to act'' in the period after 1920. The authors divide their survey into three parts. In the first, ``The World Made Safe--For Despair, 19201950,'' they trace the transformations in the relationship between Americans and their government wrought by the successive shocks of the Depression, the New Deal (and the vast governmental bureaucracy created by it), and the Second World War. While often still embracing the traditional American view of the limited role and powers of government, Americans came to view the government as playing a significant role in creating conditions in which both liberty and equality could thrive. In the second section, ``Leveling Out, 19501970,'' the authors sketch how entitlement programs like the Great Society, changes in social mores, and increasing emphasis on self-gratification failed to relieve tensions between the demand for equality and the desire for liberty. Furthermore, the drive to achieve equality of results (as opposed to equality of opportunity) for women and members of ethnic and racial minorities undermined the traditional idea of liberty by ``shift[ing] emphasis away from the merits of individuals to entitlements as group members.'' In their last section, ``Equality's Challenge,'' the authors sketch a troubling portrait of a society in which a superabundance of material wealth and an almost anarchic emphasis on liberation from social and moral constraints have not prevented widespread despair and unhappiness. Eloquently though lugubriously, the Handlins point out the paradoxes of a society in which a deteriorating moral consensus and a quest for equality of result have undermined both liberty and equality.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-06-017513-7
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1994