At a time when liberalism is in disarray, this vastly illuminating book locates the origins of its crisis. Those origins, says Alan Brinkley, are paradoxically situated during the second term of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whose New Deal had made liberalism a fixture of American politics and society. The End of Reform shows how the liberalism of the early New Deal—which set out to repair and, if necessary, restructure America’s economy—gave way to its contemporary counterpart, which is less hostile to corporate capitalism and more solicitous of individual rights. Clearly and dramatically, Brinkley identifies the personalities and events responsible for this transformation while pointing to the broader trends in American society that made the politics of reform increasingly popular. It is both a major reinterpretation of the New Deal and a crucial map of the road to today’s political landscape.
A central tenet of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, at least through 1937, was the belief that government's mission is to counterbalance the structural flaws and inequalities of modern industrial capitalism. But in FDR's second term, argues Columbia professor of American history Brinkley (Voices of Protest), this goal was abandoned, and after 1945 liberals turned away from the early New Deal's experiments in statist planning and antimonopoly crusades. Instead, a new liberalism that has since dominated much of American political life embraced the belief that the key to a successful society is economic growth through high consumption. Brinkley identifies the hallmarks of this new liberalism as commitment to a compensatory welfare system, Keynesian fiscal policies for increasing public spending and a ``rights-based'' emphasis on personal liberties and entitlements for various groups. The author provides a revealing look at FDR's inner circle, weighing its members' rhetoric against their accomplishments and against the ideological attenuation of New Deal philosophy.