The founding fathers of modern American liberalism
Bradley Lecture
About This Event

Listen to Audio

Download Audio as MP3
Event Summary

According to Fred Siegel of the Manhattan Institute, post–World War 1 liberalism was characterized by intellectuals who saw themselves as vanguard leaders. Having given Bradley Lectures in 2000 and 2011, Siegel returned to AEI on Wednesday evening to discuss his latest book, "The Revolt Against the Masses." The post-Wilsonian move away from progressivism and toward modern liberalism provides the basis for the book's title.

Inspired by the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche, intellectual leaders such as H.G. Wells, H.L. Mencken, and Sinclair Lewis were hostile toward middle-class values, believing that the middle class was responsible for intellectuals' subjugation. They instead called for a new oligarchy; the hallmark of this liberalism, argued Siegel, was and continues to be a move toward centralization of government under an enlightened ruling class.

Siegel continued that these new liberals despised egalitarianism and republican democracy. In the years following World War I, this liberalism led organically into the communism of the 1930s. But Siegel continued that Arthur Schlesinger's and John Kenneth Galbraith's dislike of the common man, Harry Truman, and their embrace of the American royal, John F. Kennedy, was evidence of the endurance of that shift toward liberalism.

Siegel then commented on the current presidency, concluding that Barack Obama falls squarely into the liberal camp in that he is a favorite of the American intelligentsia and has shown disdain toward Americans who "cling to guns or religion."
--Jen Marsico

Event Description

For most well-educated Americans, the New Deal, or perhaps the Progressive Era along with the New Deal, was the source of American liberalism and the administrative state. But liberalism as an intellectual and cultural attitude took hold before the New Deal, in the immediate post–World War I reaction to the excesses of Wilsonian progressivism.

Join us for the January Bradley Lecture in which Fred Siegel will discuss liberalism in the context of his new book, “The Revolt Against the Masses: How Liberalism has Undermined the Middle Class” (Encounter Books, January 2014). Siegel will elucidate how seminal American liberals hoped for a more hierarchical America in which the power of the middle classes was curbed to make more room for people like themselves to lead the masses. He will further argue that the Obama administration is in part — with its emphasis on experts and intellectuals — a continuation of the attempt to Europeanize America.

If you are unable to attend, we welcome you to watch the event live on this page. Full video will be posted within 24 hours.


5:15 PM

5:30 PM
Karlyn Bowman, AEI

Fred Siegel, Manhattan Institute’s Center for Civic Innovation and St. Francis College

7:00 PM
Adjournment and Reception

Event Contact Information

For more information, please contact Laura Lalinde at [email protected], 202.862.5875.

Media Contact Information

For media inquiries, please contact [email protected], 202.862.5829.

Speaker Biographies

Karlyn Bowman compiles and analyzes American public opinion using available polling data on a variety of subjects, including the economy, taxes, the state of workers in America, environment and global warming, attitudes about homosexuality and gay marriage, the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement and free trade, the war in Iraq, and women's attitudes. In addition, she has studied and spoken about the evolution of American politics because of key demographic and geographic changes. She has often lectured on the role of think tanks in the United States.

Fred Siegel is the author of “The Revolt Against the Masses” (Encounter Books, January 2014), which rewrites the history of American liberalism. His previous book titled “The Prince of the City: Giuliani, New York and the Genius of American Life” (Encounter Books, 2005) received the cover review in The New York Times Book Review. Siegel’s 1995 “The Future Once Happened Here: New York, D.C., L.A. and the Fate of America’s Big Cities” (Encounter Books, 2000) was named by Peter Jennings as one of the 100 most important books about the US in the 20th century. Siegel, who has been a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, and has taught at the Sorbonne in Paris, is also a former senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute in Washington, DC. A professor at the Cooper Union for Science and Art from 1983–2009, he is currently both a scholar in residence at St. Francis College in Brooklyn, New York, and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. The former editor of The City Journal, he has written for The New Republic, The Atlantic, The Public Interest, Commentary, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Dissent, The Weekly Standard, The Washington Post Outlook section, and The Times Literary Supplement, as well as numerous academic publications. He has also appeared on television and radio, including on the PBS “News Hour,” CBS and ABC “Evening News,” CNN, MSNBC, and “The O’Reilly Factor.” Siegel, who was a senior adviser to Rudy Giuliani’s 1993 New York mayoral campaign and wrote the candidate’s path-breaking quality-of-life speech, gave Bradley Lectures at AEI in 2000 and 2011. He has written widely on American and European politics. He was described as “the historian of the American City” in a November 2011 profile in The Wall Street Journal, and his new book places the rise and fall of American liberalism in a city setting.

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine

What's new on AEI

AEI Election Watch 2014: What will happen and why it matters
image A nation divided by marriage
image Teaching reform
image Socialist party pushing $20 minimum wage defends $13-an-hour job listing
AEI Participants


AEI on Facebook