A World of Hope, A World of Fear

Henry A. Wallace, Reinhold Niebuhr, and American Liberalism

Mark L. Kleinman

Mark Kleinman juxtaposes the intellectual and professional lives of two key figures in post–World War II American history, Henry Wallace and Reinhold Niebuhr, to explore a fatal division in American liberal thinking about domestic politics and international relations during and after the war. This division over whether it was desirable to cooperate with the Soviet Union has had a profound impact on contemporary American domestic politics and foreign policy. Wallace, FDR’s secretary of agriculture and later vice president,  advocated a foreign policy philosophy that did not rule out a cooperative relationship with the Soviet Union. Niebuhr, however, an internationally respected Protestant theologian, and political commentator, was a classic cold war liberal who categorically rejected the possibility of cooperation with any communists either at home or abroad. Niebuhr shared Wallace’s liberal domestic philosophy, but in the postwar years their different positions on foreign policy matters hardened into opposition.

The first part of the book explores the sources—personal, political, cultural—of Wallace’s and Niebuhr’s conflicting positions. The second part carries the story from 1942, when this split in the liberal community was minor, to 1948, when Wallace ran for president on the Progressive Party ticket. His overwhelming defeat not only ended Wallace’s political career but also underscored the defeat of “popular front” positions. Kleinman argues that cold war liberalism subsequently dominated American foreign policy to the extent that debate was impossible. Liberals who supported Wallace’s position felt they could not engage in any kind of public debate for fear of being labeled a fools or communist dupes. It was not until the Vietnam War that Americans challenged and helped to change their country’s relentless anticommunist position.

Mark L. Kleinman was an associate professor of history at the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh. He is now living and working in Sacramento, California.

May 2000
368 pp.  6 x 9

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