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Quotes / The '40s

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For left-to-liberal intellectuals from the thirties, the knowledge of the atrocities being committed in Stalinist Russia was an especially shattering “reality-check.” Gradually but unmistakably, the tone of liberal thought underwent a radical change or reversal.

By the time he was writing his 1948 study of the work of Herman Melville, Richard Chase could speak of the ways in which Melville spoke to the “new liberalism,” the vanguard of which Chase occupied. Bad, “old” liberalism was facile, unimaginative, wavering in its rejection of totalitarianism. The new liberalism, on the other hand, was bracingly new: unequivocally opposed to totalitarianism and the fuller, broader account of human motives it provided; determined to speak of “progress,” “history,” and “the liberation of the masses”...Because conservative dogma seemed confirmed by the recent war, left-to-liberal intellectuals scrambled, in essay after essay, to explain recent history as a lesson in innocence and naiveté, in heated opposition to the “unalloyed” liberalism that coursed through U.S. culture, leaving a “dangerous innocence” in its wake.


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