From Eric Alterman’s April 30 Nation column, “The Fight for American Liberalism,” emphasis and notes added:
Liberal politics, Michael Walzer observes, is difficult “because it offers so few emotional rewards…it lacks warmth and intimacy.” Without universal foundations—Lionel Trilling termed it “a large tendency rather than a concise body of doctrine”—liberalism can offer only narratives of sacrifice and common purpose, ones that can often be trumped by the tales of the right …
[See Walzer, Michael. Radical Principles: Reflections of an Unreconstructed Democrat. Basic Books, 1980, 69,68: “A liberal nation can have no collective purpose …. Liberalism, even at its most permissive, is a hard politics because it offers to few emotional rewards; the liberal state is not a home for its citizens; it lacks warmth and intimacy.”]
[See Townsley, Jeremy. “Walzer, Citizenship, Globalization and Global Public Goods,” citing Veit Bader, “Citizenship and Exclusion: Radical Democracy, Community, and Justice. Or, what is Wrong with Communitarianism?”Political Theory 23 (1995): 218: “…neighborhoods, clubs and families … are ‘warm, horizontal [communities] … based on consent’ whereas states are ‘cold vertical institutions, based not on free entry but on enforced membership and physical violence. Strictly speaking, [states] are not associations at all, but institutions.'”]
… To be a “liberal” is to be a child of the Enlightenment… Liberalism insists that individuals take hold of their fate and shape it …
… If both [FDR and Reagan] met with mixed success in policy terms, both nevertheless were able to reshape political culture because the optimism and self-confidence of the visions they offered captured the imagination of a majority of Americans, particularly the young.
If their fortunes are ever to revive, liberals must find a way to recapture this simultaneously militant and optimistic spirit. The “larger message” for what Roosevelt called “the liberal party” was a clear and simple one: “As new conditions and problems arise beyond the power of men and women to meet as individuals, it becomes the duty of the Government itself to find new remedies with which to meet them.” Add to this John Dewey’s precept that “government should regularly intervene to help equalize conditions between the wealthy and the poor, between the overprivileged and the underprivileged,” while acknowledging Reinhold Niebuhr’s prescient call for “humility” in all such undertakings, and you have a concise, compelling statement of what it means—then as now—to call oneself an “American liberal.”
When liberals lose confidence in their ability to lead Americans toward the fulfillment of this vision, they lose their reason for being liberals. If the history of liberalism has a single lesson to teach us, it is that what liberals have to fear most—far more than conservatives—is fear itself.
So, the cold state is to provide what the individual cannot? Where do the real downsides of government fit in here? A return to the FDR past is insufficient/unrealistic, and doesn’t acknowledge the truths of conservative views.
In terms of the basic principles Roger Conner and I are developing for looking at political situations: in evaluating Alterman’s presentation, and evaluating the liberal vision, a key step is seeing them from opposing/different perspectives, starting with the assumption these other views are valid.