Northern Illinois University Press

American Liberalism and Ideological Change

Leonard Williams

"An imaginative essay that makes an important contribution to our understanding of both ideology and American liberalism."—Philip Abbott, Wayne State University

"Liberalism is in crisis," Leonard Williams observes in the first chapter of this challenging and intriguing book. "The most enduring public philosophy of our age has been criticized, defended, reconsidered, and by some, dismissed." Though ideologies may change, they change with great difficulty, as an examination of the recent history of American liberalism shows. Liberalism's history is marked by a sense of crisis and discontent, as well as a proliferation of critics and challengers. Despite the many competitors that liberalism now faces—including neoliberalism, neoconservatism, the New Right, communitarianism, and feminism—it remains our dominant public philosophy. Williams examines the arguments made by critics as they have sought to modify or replace liberalism, and he explains the process of both radical and limited degrees of ideological change.

Few studies of ideology and liberalism have focused on the phenomenon of ideological change. Starting from recent historical work that suggests the American political tradition is more multivocal than previously believed, Williams explores three approaches to ideological change—cultural transformation, oppositional politics, and conceptual critique. Each approach is then set in the context of theories of change drawn from such diverse disciplines as political science, sociology, history, and the philosophy of science.

Through a critique of recent political thought drawn in part from the works of Althusser, Gadamer, Habermas, and Ricoeur, the author concludes that ideological change is a complex, multidimensional process. He proposes an evolutionary theory of change. Since any new ideology must coexist with previously held values and ideas, Williams writes, ideological change is most likely to proceed through the revival of submerged, forgotten, or marginalized strains of the dominant tradition of American liberalism.

(1997) 179 pp.
ISBN: 978-0-87580-227-5
cloth $33.00

Table of Contents

1 Changing Liberalism
2 Interpretation, Critique, and the Problem of Ideological Change
3 Cultural Transformation
4 Oppositional Politics
5 Conceptual Critique
6 Theorizing Ideological Change

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ISBN: 978-0-87580-227-5
cloth $33.00