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Visions of ProgressVisions of Progress

The Left-Liberal Tradition in America

Doug Rossinow

Narrated by Stephen Bowlby

Available from Audible

Book published by University of Pennsylvania Press

Liberals and leftists in the United States have not always been estranged from one another as they are today. Historian Doug Rossinow examines how the cooperation and the creative tension between left-wing radicals and liberal reformers advanced many of the most important political values of the 20th century, including free speech, freedom of conscience, and racial equality.

Visions of Progress chronicles the broad alliances of radical and liberal figures who were driven by a particular concept of social progress — a transformative vision in which the country would become not simply wealthier or a bit fairer, but fundamentally more democratic, just, and united. Believers in this vision — from the settlement-house pioneer Jane Addams and the civil rights leader W. E. B. Du Bois in the 1890s and after, to the founders of the ACLU in the 1920s, to Minnesota Governor Floyd Olson and assorted labor-union radicals in the 1930s, to New Dealer Henry Wallace in the 1940s — belonged to a left-liberal tradition in America. They helped push political leaders, including Presidents Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Harry Truman, toward reforms that made the goals of opportunity and security real for ever more Americans. Yet, during the Cold War era of the 1950s and '60s, leftists and liberals came to view one another as enemies, and their influential alliance all but vanished.

Visions of Progress revisits the period between the 1880s and the 1940s, when reformers and radicals worked together along a middle path between the revolutionary left and establishment liberalism. Rossinow takes the story up to the present, showing how the progressive connection was lost and explaining the consequences that followed. This book introduces today's progressives to their historical predecessors, while offering an ambitious reinterpretation of issues in American political history.

Doug Rossinow is Associate Professor of History at Metropolitan State University and the author of The Politics of Authenticity: Liberalism, Christianity, and the New Left in America.


“A fresh and highly learned examination of an essential part of U.S. political history; one that offers illuminating insights for students into the important but frequently neglected topic of liberals, leftists, and the tortured relations between the two.”

—Eric Alterman, author of What Liberal Media? and When Presidents Lie

Visions of Progress makes an important contribution to historical scholarship by tracing a left-liberal tradition that defies easy categorization as either radical or reformist and by recognizing that tradition's key role in the political changes of the twentieth century.”

Reviews in American History

“A forceful, deeply informed account of left-liberal political thought since the 1880s written from a fresh, appreciative perspective.... Rossinow gives us a new map of how liberal and left reformers came together through the 1940s and moved apart thereafter. He makes a persuasive case that the American reform tradition owed its vitality to the cooperation and synergy between its liberal and left wings.”

—Dorothy Ross, Johns Hopkins University

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University Press Audiobooks