Which work of American liberal political thought has held up best?

Having said A, one must say B.  Ezra Klein poses this question and receives many responses.  I’ll nominate William Appleman Williams’s The Tragedy of American Foreign Policy, Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation, Richard Rorty on cruelty, Michael Walzer’s Spheres of Justice, and Harold Cruse’s Crisis of the Negro Intellectual.  Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail deserves consideration although it does not exactly fit the category.  Rachel Carson wrote an important book but not really a good book.  Carol Gilligan is an interesting dark horse selection.

Jane Jacobs, by the way, might win either prize if you are allowed to count her as either a conservative or a liberal.  But which is she?  John Dewey and Walter Lippmann are two other figures who could be nominated for either prize.

If you think this list beats the conservative one, you are right.  Note, however, that the conservative list excluded economics (and libertarians), which is where most of the contributions have come on the Right over the last fifty years.  Plus the all-important Chicago School focused on ideas and articles, not books.  So the comparison is not as lopsided as these posts, taken alone, might indicate.

Just a few weeks ago, Bryan Caplan and I decided that Rawls’s Theory of Justice wins the prize for "least Hansonian book ever."  For all the evident philosophic care, in the final analysis Rawls was just making stuff up.

What are your nominations?

Addendum: Thinking back, Wilson’s On Human Nature might be a good pick for the conservative prize, even though I do not believe Wilson is himself a conservative.


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