Liberalism in America : rethinking liberal values, institutions, and policies

美國自由主義與其價值, 制度及政策的再思考

Student thesis: Master's Thesis

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  • Chak Kin TANG


Awarding Institution
Award date2 Oct 2009


The current inquiry takes a fresh look at the theory and practice of liberalism through a careful analysis of its values, institutions and policies. The United States has been chosen as the primary focus because it is a nation whose political and social institutions are allegedly founded on liberal principles. Central to this inquiry is the question of how liberal principles and practices have evolved, mutated or completely transformed in response to crises - from the social chaos of the Confederation era to the Wall Street meltdown we are witnessing today. Apart from analyzing liberalism from philosophical, economic and public administration perspectives, considerable emphasis has been placed on public policy issues which are discussed with respect to specific historical, social and political contexts. Louis Hartz’s conception of American liberalism as a homogeneous and continuous tradition is rejected in favor of a developmental view which better explains the radical ideological and institutional changes of liberalism in times of crisis. Accordingly, the development of liberalism can be divided in three different stages or "paradigms," namely: classical liberalism, modern liberalism and neoliberalism. Profoundly influenced by the political philosophy of John Locke, the classical liberalism of the Founding Fathers consisted of a core set of principles such as natural rights, equality, and limited government which were enshrined in the Constitution. By the late nineteenth century, however, the principles of liberal constitutionalism were under attack by a group of elitist reformers who wanted to harness the power of the state to promote "public interest." The effort of replacing limited constitutional government with the modern administrative state finally came to fruition in the 1930s when the entire nation was engulfed by the Great Depression. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal led to the consolidation of a new liberal paradigm characterized by consensus, pluralism, welfarism and Keynesian macroeconomic management. Nevertheless, government ineptitude in handling social and economic crises in the last third of the twentieth century, coupled with a series of public policy blunders, culminated in the breakdown of the postwar consensus, the rise of conservatism and the emergence of neoliberalism as a new political paradigm. This inquiry takes a critical look at the theoretical underpinnings as well as the practical efficacy of the three liberal paradigms with a specific focus on the role of government in each case.

    Research areas

  • Liberalism, United States