Review: The Liberal Tradition In America

Louis Hartz’s The Liberal Tradition in America is the classic statement of the thesis that the United States has never had a dominant political tradition other than liberalism and that the liberal consensus is so powerful here that non-liberal ideologies are unable to flourish. In America, “liberalism” and “conservatism” are branches of the same liberal tradition. We’re all Lockeans.

First published in 1955, The Liberal Tradition in America argues that Americans are “born equal” because we have never had feudalism here. According to Hartz, socialism has failed to gain traction because of the strength of American liberalism. The same is true of Federalist conservatives, Whig conservatives and Southern reactionaries who all tried and failed to challenge liberalism.

I was sent a copy last fall by a friend who thought I would be interested in Hartz’s comments on the Southern Reactionary Enlightenment. It is a thought provoking book. I started reading it in the midst of the rise of the Alt-Right and Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election. If ever there was a time to revisit Louis Hartz’s liberal consensus, this is it.

Here are some reasons why I am skeptical of Hartz’s narrative:

1.) Generally speaking, the American colonies were founded before John Locke began to have a major impact on English political theory. Locke was born in 1632 and his Two Treatises of Government was published in 1689. In fact, Locke’s work was generally ignored in Britain for almost a century thereafter. Locke’s Second Treatise was first printed in America in Boston in 1773.

2.) The founding of the American colonies doesn’t fit the timeline of a Lockean America: Virginia (1607), Massachusetts (1620), New York (1624), New Hampshire (1629), Maryland (1632), Connecticut (1636), Rhode Island (1636), New Jersey (1664), Delaware (1664), Pennsylvania (1681), South Carolina (1670), North Carolina (1710), Georgia (1732). In the Caribbean, St. Kitts (1624), Barbados (1627), Nevis (1628), Montserrat and Antigua (1630s) and Jamaica (1655).

3.) John Locke was actually heavily involved in the founding of Carolina. He drafted the Grand Model for the Province of Carolina which included the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina. Far from becoming a model Lockean colony, the Carolinians shook off the Lords Proprietor and gained royal charters for North Carolina and South Carolina in 1719.

Under Locke’s constitution, the first planters were awarded 150 acres of land for every servant or slave brought to Carolina. By 1700, Carolina had abandoned freedom of religion, Anglicanism had become the established religion and the colony was well on its way to becoming a West Indian-style slave society. Locke himself profited from the slave trade as an investor in the Royal African Company.

4.) The history of Carolina shows that Locke’s impact was negligible. This was a place where local Indian tribes were sold into slavery in the Caribbean and where black slavery became the foundation of society. After the Stono Rebellion in 1739, the South Carolinians mounted the decapitated heads of slaves on stakes leading into Charleston. Slaves were executed by being burned at the stake in South Carolina until the 1830s when hanging became the preferred means of execution.

5.) The American colonies were founded for a variety of reasons that had nothing to do with Lockean liberalism. Massachusetts was a Puritan Errand into the Wilderness. Pennsylvania was a Holy Experiment of Quakers. Georgia was supposed to be a colony for the English poor. New York was a Dutch commercial entrepot. Virginia became a country gentleman’s paradise.

It seems to me that there is this older America which traces back to the colonial era and then there is the Whig liberalism of the American Revolution. The two have often been at odds. The rhetoric of liberal democracy has clashed with illiberal traditions inherited from the past.

The Southern Reactionary Enlightenment can be seen as the moment when abolitionists forced Southerners to wrestle with the contradiction between Jeffersonian liberalism and the South’s defense of slavery. John C. Calhoun attempted to defend slavery within the Lockean framework of states’ rights constitutionalism. After the war, Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stephens also penned defenses of the Confederacy on the grounds of states’ rights constitutionalism. At the same time, George Fitzhugh and several other Southern writers broke with Locke and Jeffersonianism altogether.

The Civil Rights Movement is another example of a time when Americans wrestled with the contradiction between the Lockean American Creed and the importance of whiteness in our traditional sense of national identity which we inherited from the colonial era. In that case, liberal ideology was invoked to decouple whiteness from Americanism. Shortly thereafter, the Sexual Revolution extended liberalism to women and the family. We’re dealing with the consequences in our own times.

America wasn’t always so liberal. We can look at the history of racialism, religion, slavery, segregation, Indian Removal, Manifest Destiny, eugenics, immigration restriction and patriarchy and see that the sphere of liberalism has grown over time as the doctrine has eliminated thorny contradictions. It hasn’t been three generations since liberalism invaded and shattered the family and free trade became an unquestionable dogma. Multiculturalism is an even more recent development.

Louis Hartz was certainly right that American liberalism, conservatism and libertarianism all belong to the same American liberal tradition. They are all rooted in Locke. In some ways, the Alt-Right is a break with the liberal tradition. In other ways, it is firmly grounded in America’s illiberal traditions which Hartz was quick to gloss over. In particular, he was quick to dismiss the Southern Reactionary Enlightenment which was only put down by the most destructive war in our history. If Americans were all Lockeans, how does Hartz explain the dissolution of the Union over slavery?

Liberalism has coasted along for centuries on the ballast of the non-liberal past. We once had a common racial, cultural and religious identity which for a long time kept its worst excesses in check. Now that America is nothing but liberal values, the social fabric is being torn in multiple directions. The racial and cultural tear has produced the Alt-Right which has rejected liberalism.

The Southern Reactionary Enlightenment is worth exploring in greater detail because of its parallels to our own times. Just as the abolitionists once forced antebellum Southerners to choose between their liberalism and self preservation, the progressive Left is forcing White Americans today to choose between liberal democracy and a White minority America. Romantic nationalism has filled the void created by alienation. Fire-Eaters once again confront the menace of “Black Republicanism” in its 21st century. The proposition that “all men are not created equal” was the Cornerstone of the Confederacy.

Louis Hartz failed to imagine that the sweeping consequences of the Civil Rights Movement would one day lead to a revival of interest in Thomas Carlyle, George Fitzhugh and the European Reaction. Perhaps America never developed a strong reactionary movement – except for that time in the 1850s in the South – because the necessary destabilizing conditions weren’t there? Maybe abandoning any form of racial, ethnic, religious or cultural solidarity will be destabilizing enough to do the trick?

17 Comments

  1. Any notions about the so-called rights of man, equality or liberty have to be tossed away once you confer citizenship on women and coloreds.

  2. There was no Southern Reactionary Enlightenment. It was all just opportunism. When there was no success with the states’ rights approach, the Carlyle approach was tried. The only thing that Fitzhugh and the others cared about was Negro slavery, i.e., keeping it.

  3. Jews have rewritten American history since their ascendancy in the 1930’s and 1940’s. (((Louis Hartz))), of Russian Jewish descent, should never be trusted with American political history.

  4. Cycles of history.

    We are on a “rightward” tack now due to the excesses of the Left.

    Had the Left accepted the post war utopia, they could gave stayed in power forever. Sadly, politics doesn’t work that way as young bucks are always going to further extremes in the battle for precious “attention”.

    Should we aim for another cycle of history, ie should the right allow itself to go to insane extremes which would necessitate a leftward reaction?

    I don’t support that. We should aim for a lasting Order so that we can get humanity to the stars before we brown out or get replaced by machines.

  5. Moly said that “the enemy is your own capacity for suicidal self delusion.”

    Liberal tradition? Just a danderous mirage.

  6. You know? To hell with Locke. In Kevin Swanson’s book “Apostate-the man who destroyed the Christian West,” he noted on his chapter on Locke:

    “John Locke was an indispensable link in the chain of apostasy in Europe and America. By his powerful ideas and influence, John Locke we can to court question commitments that had rained in the Western world for almost 1500 years.”

    And while “… there is little debate concerning John Locke’s significant influence on modern democracy, however it is perhaps more instructive to identify the type of influence Locke had on the formation of the American republic… Consider the following quote from a modern scholar:

    ‘Locke’s attack on innate ideas was part and parcel of his anti-authoritarianism and his emphasis on the importance of free and autonomous inquiry… Bishop Stillingfleet, the most prominent of Locke’s early critics, claimed that Locke’s new way of ideas would lead to skepticism and that his account of substance undermined the doctrine of the Trinity. Locke denied this, but given that we have good reason to hold that Locke was an anti-Trinitarian, we have some reason to doubt that this denial is sincere.'”

    As Swanson’s conclusion noted “…of highest importance is a man’s epistemological system, because it is so fundamental to his religion and politics. If the foundations are compromised, then the super-structure will suffer the consequences. Undoubtedly, it was Locke’s confidence in [depraved] human reason that led him to doubt the doctrine of the Trinity. ”

    Folks, It never is a question of “religion or no religion.” It is always a question of “Whose religion?” It’s about time we jettisoned the bullshit of the [sic] Enlightenment, the tabula rasa, and the false belief that ‘all men are created equal.’ Because it’s all a pack of lies. And Locke is burning in hell, for his contribution to that pack.

  7. Yep, Locke was wonderful guy. He created the consept that every communist madness is something like natural law. “”Equality”” something like gravity. It just exists, like it or not. And what exists and what not ,it is exclusive right for communists to decide.

    We here in Eastern Europe fought back this narrative. For example, central thesis of Locke, “equality” should define what most people accociate with this word. Not some communist lunacy.

    We must take back control over narrative. Whatever word meaning is defined by popular opinion, not by communist seeking excuse for some horror act.

    When some liberal talks me about “”equality”” then I always claim, that the word “”equality” means for me that because 200 million victims of communism are dead then it,s about time for liberals to be “equal” with their victims….it means, also dead. Now it,s our time to be “”equal”” with mr. Locke . Our dreams must be universal law.

  8. I think the author Hartz is RIGHT about John Locke. By the 1770’s the Virginia Elites had split in philosophies. The descendent group represented by Washington and the Lee Family were TRADITIONAL ANGLICANISM. The ascendant group represented by Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry and James Madison were influenced by Philosophy and for them Faith in God through Christ was just another form of moral understanding. The philosophies of Lock, Descartes, Voltaire, Rousseau, Spinoza, Plato, Socrates, Aristotle and the writings of Cicero were to these men their WORDS OF THE GODS.

    The American Revolution brings us face to face with a conundrum. At this point New England was the Bible Belt and Old Virginia was trending heavily secular, except in the mountains where the Scots Irish were filling in and settling. About this time the first real group of Liberals developed in Massachusetts, called the Unitarian/Universalists who were rebelling against the Congregationalists strict Calvinism. This group of Liberal Yankees joins with the Jeffersonians in establishing THE UNITED STATES. The Conservatives like Washington and Lee were left largely to do what Conservatives do best, FIGHT.

    Following the war the Liberal New Englanders and the Jeffersonians fracture over the scope of government. The New Englanders couldn’t abandon their Calvinistic control freak ways, they wanted a Government that guarded traditions completely and totally and pomp and circumstance should be observed. The Jeffersonian’s wanted Individualism to rule. The New Englanders thus enter into an alliance with the Conservatives ie Washington/Lee in the new government. Although the Jeffersonians largely write our laws, our first two Presidents are conservative.

    Jeffersonians take control in 1801 but something slowly begins to happen. As the west opens up, the liberal philosophical notions of Jeffersonianism begin to die and they are replaced by a strict Christian individualism that only could come from a Southern Man. This is the heritage of the Scots-Irish. Thus by the time of Andrew Jackson, although Jackson would claim Jefferson as the head of the party, it must be remembered that Jefferson didn’t care for Andy as Andy represented a fusion of traditionalism militarism and individualism.

    During the Jacksonian Era the Universalists and New England Calvinists and their idea of perfectionism goes into self-destruction. As these people become largely an urban phenomenon during the 1820’s, they end up controlling state governments in the Midwest and New York. Although in most Midwestern states they are a minority of the total population, their urbanism and high education/money gives them a decided advantage over the poor Scots-Irish and German farmers who make up the bulk of the population. They are able with this power to direct everyone’s thinking and raise up the children in the schoolhouses, imbue them with their notions. Although these liberals reject individualism altogether, they begin pressing this idea that humanity is the same and that we must all be one universal race, although few will endorse miscegnation, that would get them lynched. That subject remains below the radar.

    The failed War For Southern Independence and Lincoln’s assassination sees these Universalist/New England types given almost total control of the government. As this happens a peculiar thing happens in the Midwest. A new generation of Conservatives who are in a sense PRO-WHITE PRO-CHRISTIANITY begin to rise up. After 1877 this new group becomes powerful enough in the Republican Party to drive out most of the Abolitionist Left but not before the Abolitionist Left had amended the Constitution to enshrine their victories.

    All through this period of time a certain race of people grows in power and funds both sides. The Jews during this period side almost exclusively with the Democrats and Southerners, because Jefferson opened the borders to them and Slavery meant lots of $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$. First two Jewish Senators were Democrats. After slavery ended, scared of a backlash many became Republicans and suddenly trotted out their Lincoln buttons. This ended when Reconstruction ended. From the records I have seen since Reconstruction ended, only Republicans to win the Jewish vote were McKinley in 1896 and 1900, Roosevelt in 1904 and Harding in 1920 won the Jewish Vote though Harding only won it because the Jews gave 38% of their support to Socialist Eugene Debs.

    Teddy Roosevelt’s Rooseveltian Progressivism was heavily tinged with ideas of White Supremacy and American Nationalism. Teddy’s world view and in 1912 his declaration that the US Supreme Court’s decisions should be allowed to be overturned by the vote of the people made the Jews and the Democrats push hard for Woodrow Wilson. Wilson ushered in present-day Jew toadying Liberalism.

    Republican Jew Worship largely is a product of Southern Republicans of the Baptist bent. Sad but true.

    This gets you to 2017

      • Brad the history of Jews in American politics is a very strange subject indeed. In 1860 Baltimore was probably near the top of Powerful Jewish cities. When Newt Gingrich wrote his book GETTYSBURG A NOVEL OF THE CIVIL WAR which i read, an interesting part trots out where Gingrich names the Jew in an off-handed way.

        Following the Yankee defeat at Gettysburg, Lee manages to occupy Baltimore and forms a rump government that gives Maryland her rightful deserved 14th Star (WHY DAVIS NEVER GAVE MARYLAND A STAR I WILL NEVER KNOW OR UNDERSTAND. THAT SEEMED TO ME LIKE A SLAP IN THE FACE TO THE MARYLANDERS BY THE CSA). The odd part of the story is is that this government’s power is Jewish finance. The Jews of Baltimore, represented by a fictional rabbi are the driving force and Lee attends Shabbat dinner with them. Of course at this point Mr. Benjamin makes an appearance.

        I am not exactly sure as to WHY Newt put this part about the Jews into the book but this is very interesting. Before the war, the Jews almost to a man either supported the South or stayed silent. Lincoln’s support was almost all White Gentile and tended to be of the Calvinist Protestant variety with the rest of the groups thrown in. Of course Lincoln, out of fear that the Jews would involve their brothers heavily on the South’s side repeals Grants Order (I think this was a Merchant moment either repeal it or we financially crash you).

        The reality of the history Newts book aside is how quickly everything changed. By 1864 suddenly the Jews become Lincoln supporters and every book written by a Jewish author after this point tends to paint the Jews as all heavy Republican Northern supporters, when in fact business wise, the Jews took a financial bath when the CSA went down. Of course the Jews heavily supported Reconstruction and descended upon Dixie like a plague of locusts opening up Dry Good Stores giving easy credit to keep everyone tied to them like Serfs. They only waited for the coast to be clear to come back to the Democratic Party and push for their Bank and Income Tax.

        The odd part is that the Democrats in 1896 like the Republicans in 2016 were the victims of a Coup. William Jennings Bryan caused the Jews to defect en masse to the Republicans, but they returned to the fold in 1908 by and large when the Republicans failed to give them their Bank and Income Tax.

        I wish to God someone would write a good book on this and try to lay out the Jews role in this entire mess.

        Hunter I wrote this on another post. In a perfect world the South would have kicked New England out of the Union in 1815 or in another scenario the South would have overthrown the US Government in 1860 and made Breckinridge the President and executed all the Yankee politicians and then began the reforms. The sad thing was in 1815 the Southrons were the America First nationalists and in 1860 the Conservatives like Davis, Lee Jackson, and the others would have probably ended up supporting Lincoln and condemning the coup.This was the Catch-22. According to a book on the KGC I read there were some members proposing a coup but it was scuttled because the Southern politicians would have joined with the Yankees against them. Only the clear thinkers like Rhett, Fitzhugh and Ruffin would have supported such an undertaking. PITY

          • The very strange part of that whole thing was that Lincoln’s economic polices were completely ANTI-MARXIST. The Homestead Act was the idea that you could simply show up and take land and farm it and it was yours. Marxists saw all land as owned in kind by the Government and driving off the indigenous wouldn’t have been allowed. The Morrill Tariff was also Anti-Marxist as under Marxism Free Trade is considered a leveller. Ironically the Primitive Jeffersonian Capitalism as practiced by the Southern Confederacy was more in line with Marxist trade policy than the North.

            I am of the belief that Marx hoped that somehow by freeing the Slaves it would cause the United States to Collapse and then Communism would come into play here, the Marxists and Revolutionaries had brought over thousands of their people since Thomas Jefferson’s time and they were chomping at the bit to overthrow our society. My take on Lincoln always was that the Jews put him up to do a job, but he gave them only part of what they wanted and his increasing independence on certain issues made him a liability. Every cause needs a Martyr so I believe Judah P Benjamin who was likely a Rothschild Double Agent, commissioned the hit and then got out of North America and watched from afar. Lincoln’s murder stifled any potential investigations into the war and it for a time closed the door on any talk of the legality of secession.

            I know many will have a problem with that but thats how I see it

          • Byzantine perhaps but why not?

            It’s a novel ready thesis if you so choose.

  9. If Trump proposed and implemented a Single Payer healthcare system and closed down 3rd World Migration to the US he’d be President For Life.

    So much for liberalism.

  10. I’m delighted the OC is gaining wider recognition. Your presentations and analysis of factual history is a treasure!

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