“Liberalism is too often merely a way of speaking.”
—Oscar I. Janowsky
Until the day he died in April 1964, John T. Flynn insisted that he was a liberal. Once, that self-designation had not been controversial. This was a man who, as a member of the New York City Board of Higher Education in the 1930’s, had fought the conservative president of City University for the rights of student radicals. So closely had Flynn been identified with mainstream liberalism in that era that he was awarded a weekly column in the New Republic. By the time Flynn retired from journalism in 1960, however, he had become a pariah to his erstwhile friends on the left and a hero to the John Birch Society. To the end, he maintained that his principles had not changed: It was the political landscape of the entire country that had shifted under his feet. He was right.
For that reason, Ashland University history professor John E. Moser subtitles his new book John T. Flynn and the Transformation of American Liberalism. Hard as it may be to believe today, there was a time when 20th-century American liberalism was not sympathetic to communism, beholden to executive power, or committed to the export of democracy by force of arms. And now that soi-disant conservatives have themselves taken up these causes (or at least two of the three),...