Catholic Intellectuals and the Challenge of Democracy
By Jay P. Corrin
University of Notre Dame Press
571 pp.; $59.95

The collapse of Soviet communism in the late 1980s changed how American historians write history.  Even as certain radicals who came of age during the 1960s rejected Stalin and his legacy, the Bolshevik Revolution provided enough heroes (Trotsky, or perhaps even an early Lenin) to keep the dream of radical socialism alive.  Vague about what authentic socialism might look like, they were very clear that it would be something different from the welfare state that mainstream American liberals of the 1950s promoted as the closest possible approximation of industrial democracy.

With the fall of the Berlin wall, the formerly maligned welfare state took on a fresh glow not seen since the glory days of Richard Hofstadter.  Allan Dawley, a labor historian who had once argued that the ballot box was the coffin of class-consciousness, wrote a survey text that returned Progressive Era and New Deal reform to their privileged place in the liberal struggle for justice.  Daniel Rogers explored the connections between European socialism and the American welfare state.  Similarly, James Kloppenberg argued that an eclectic mix of early 20th-century intellectual movements, ranging from American pragmatism to Weberian sociology, should be understand as part of a general international movement toward social democracy, a third way or via media between state socialism and laissez-faire capitalism.

All of this may have made secular liberals and radicals feel at peace with the political developments of the late-20th century, but intellectually it is little more than an exercise in wishful thinking.  Those not content with the notion that ...

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