Abstract

Arthur Schlesinger's The Vital Center was a defense of liberalism that threw out ideas about optimism and progress. Schlesinger had learned from the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr and his pessimism about human nature and sin. Just look at the "Soviet experience" and "the rise of fascism," Schlesinger told his readers in 1949, and it's clear that humans are "imperfect" and that "the corruptions of power could unleash great evil in the world." Considering that I had been reading Christopher Lasch, it was ironic to hear Schlesinger speak of "limits" throughout the book. Also strange was Schlesinger's belief that liberal democracy required certain virtues from its citizens. OK, Schlesinger may not have used the term virtue, but he certainly embraced such characteristics as "intricacy," "ambiguity," "a sense of humility," and Max Weber's ethic of responsibility-all as an alternative to the mindless certitude and "fanaticism" expected from the subjects of totalitarian political rule. Schlesinger believed citizens of a liberal democracy needed to face the "anxiety" of modernity-a heroic challenge of its own sort. This was no empty "proceduralism" nor was it the liberalism devoid of values that communitarians and "populists" like Lasch derided.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1946-0910
Print ISSN
0012-3846
Pages
pp. 105-109
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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