Ph.D. Octopus

Politics, media, music, capitalism, scholarship, and ephemera since 2010

Dueling quotes about liberalism

with 2 comments

Weiner snagged a good quote yesterday by Alfred Zimmern about liberalism.

Coincidently I happened upon a quote today about liberalism that struck me so much I wrote it down. Since we’re discussing early 20th century critiques of liberalism, I thought I’d share this one too.

It’s from Richard Fox’s biography of Reinhold Niebuhr. Niebuhr is writing to the New Republic in 1919, trying to come to terms with the failure of Wilsonian idealism in the wake of the disastrous treaty of Versailles.

“[Liberalism] lacks the spirit of enthusiasm, not to say, fanaticism, which is so necessary to move the world out of its beaten tracks. [It] is too intellectual and too little emotional to be an efficient force in history. It is the philosophy of the middle aged, lacking the fervency of youth and its willingness to take a chance and accept a challenge. It approaches the old order with friendly mien, tries to blindfold it and lead it upon a new track without hurting the old order’s feelings or losing its friendship. But the old order is never the doting fool that it seems to be. Either it humors and fools liberalism… or, if liberalism proves itself too persistent, it gets angry and gives the reformers a slap in the face. In the peace treaty the old order seems to have defended itself quite successfully by both methods. We need something less circumspect than liberalism to save the world.”

Supposedly Barack Obama is a big Neibuhr fan. If so, he might consider reading and re-reading that passage, especially the part about liberalism trying too hard not to hurt the feelings of the “old order.”


Written by Peter Wirzbicki

March 18, 2010 at 08:34

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. Dual away my two w’s. But I’ll call upon Arthur Lovejoy, who suggested the trouble with “liberalism,” among other such terms, may lie in its speciously appealing final three letters: “the doctrines or tendencies that are designated by familiar names ending in –ism or – ity…all these trouble-breeding and usually thought-obscuring terms”


    March 18, 2010 at 11:08

  2. […] people to engage in the political struggles necessary to realize its own utopian ideals. As Reinhold Niebuhr wrote of liberalism: “ it lacks the spirit of enthusiasm, not to say, fanaticism, which is so […]

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