Fifty years ago, in the preface to The Liberal Imagination, Lionel Trilling wrote his once-famous assessment of the place occupied by liberalism in American intellectual life. This is the key passage:

In the United States at this time liberalism is not only the dominant but even the sole intellectual tradition. For it is the plain fact that nowadays there are no conservative or reactionary ideas in general circulation. This does not mean, of course, that there is no impulse to conservatism or to reaction. Such impulses are certainly very strong, perhaps even stronger than most of us know. But the conservative impulse and the reactionary impulse do not, with some isolated and some ecclesiastical exceptions, express themselves in ideas but only in action or in irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas.
Notwithstanding the undisguised condescension in Trilling’s tone—a ...

 

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