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The Crisis of Liberalism: Prelude to Trump

By Fred Siegel
Telos 2020 ISBN: 978-0-914386-77-3
Michele Jacob
Director, Publicity
(646) 839-3387

About the Book

In The Crisis of Liberalism: Prelude to Trump, Fred Siegel leverages New York City to uncover the key political conflicts and social contradictions in American liberalism over the last century. This wide-ranging collection of essays critically recounts how passionate intellectual debates and then heated cultural struggles over how to realize "the good life" in the modern city emerged from the writings of early progressive "thought leaders." Herbert Croly and H. G. Wells once envisioned college graduates as a new elite that could pick up the project of enlightened democratic governance where the European aristocracy had failed. Yet, as Eric Hoffer observed, these graduates left top-notch schools as liberal technocrats wanting "power, lordship, and opportunities for imposing action."

The flaws in this approach expressed themselves most floridly in John Lindsay's New York, as his activist top-level experts and their many bottom-tier clients aligned themselves against the material aspirations and cultural values of the five boroughs' middle social strata. Lindsay's flashy limousine liberals were a preview of today's politically correct gentry liberalism. Its cultural programs over the past half-century, as Siegel shows, ultimately failed the downtrodden underclass and alienated middle-class New Yorkers trapped in economic stagnation after 9/11. While Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama sparred over policy minutiae in the heated 2008 Democratic Party primaries, both candidates neglected voters' worries, like illegal immigrants or China's emerging threats. This misdirection of the nation's and the city's politics by globalist technocratic liberals became the prelude to Donald Trump's angry nationalist reaction to put "America First."


“Fred Siegel is the last of the New York intellectuals and a prescient observer of the American political and intellectual scene. Whether Siegel is writing about New York politics, the impact of rioting on cities, the origins of the ‘top-down’ political coalition created by ‘gentry liberals,’ or the roots of liberals’ disdain for the middle class, these essays are deeply relevant to understanding the turbulence and divisions that plague our nation today.”
Vincent J. Cannato, author of The Ungovernable City: John Lindsay and His Struggle to Save New York

“Whether he’s deep-diving into the intellectual origins of modern American liberalism or bemoaning the destruction of his favorite Brooklyn restaurant in the New York riots of 1977, Fred Siegel’s work has a punchy, streetwise authority, born of academic knowledge and commonsense experience. Taken together, this collection of Siegel’s best essays and articles is a magisterial overview of the radical impulses and feckless politics that upended so much of American life in the 1960s and 1970s—only to emerge in toxic new forms today. If history doesn’t repeat itself, Siegel’s work shows us how it rhymes.”
E. J. McMahon, Senior Fellow, Empire Center for Public Policy

“Fred Siegel shows how progressive politics has turned into a partnership of the wealthy with (some of) the poor, while they both hold the middle and working classes in contempt. He explains how limousine liberals have come to treat good governance by elite experts as superior to self-government by the voters they call deplorable, and he traces how liberalism has come to this impasse through his astute analyses and insightful prose. Beautifully written, this book takes you on a guided tour through a century of American intellectual history and the politics of New York City, ground zero for progressive planning.”
Russell A. Berman, Walter A. Haas Professor in the Humanities, Stanford University

About the Author

Fred Siegel is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a City Journal contributing editor. He taught history and humanities at The Cooper Union for Science and Art for 30 years. Since his retirement he has been a Scholar in Residence at St. Francis College in Brooklyn. He is best known for The Prince of the City: Giuliani, New York, and the Genius of American Life (2005) and The Revolt against the Masses: How Liberalism has Undermined the Middle Class(2015).