Date of Award


Document Type

Honors Thesis (Open Access)


Colby College. Government Dept.


Joseph R. Reisert

Second Advisor

Jennifer A. Yoder


I explore the main currents of postwar American liberalism. One, sociological, emerged in response to the danger of mass movements. Articulated primarily by political sociologists and psychologists and ascendant from the mid-fifties till the mid-seventies, it heralded the "end of ideology." It emphasized stability, elitism, positive science and pluralism; it recast normatively sound politics as logrolling and hard bargaining. I argue that these normative features, attractive when considered in isolation, taken together led to a vicious ad hominem style in accounting for views outside the postwar consensus. It used pseudo-scientific literature in labeling populists, Progressives, Taft conservatives, Goldwaterites, the New Left and others "pathological," viz. mentally ill. Hence, "therapeutic discourse." I argue that philosophical liberalism, which reasserts the role of political theory in working out norms and adjudicating disagreement, is a more profitable way of thinking about and defending from critics liberalism. I take the philosopher John Rawls as the tradition's modern representative. This inquiry is important because the themes of sociological liberalism are making a comeback in American public discourse, and with them perhaps the baggage of therapeutic discourse. I present a cautionary tale.


therapeutic discourse, liberalism, end of ideology, authoritarian personality, Daniel Bell, John Rawls