Liberalism’s ideological contradictions have drawn increasing attention from political theorists, historians, and literary critics. In Liberal Modernism, I argue that modernist authors began to respond to these tensions as early as the 1930s. My book project demonstrates how literary modernism, usually polarized as a canon of reactionary authors against a few recuperated radicals, played a central role in liberalism’s shift from a politics of crisis after the Great Depression to a politics of consensus in the Cold War. Whereas the realist novel provided a medium for disseminating liberal values in Victorian England, Liberal Modernism argues that modernist fiction’s irony and ambiguity made it a privileged medium for grappling with tensions in liberal thought that emerged in midcentury America. My project provides a thick sense of this era through a wide interdisciplinary archive, which includes legal case histories on reproductive reform and desegregation, Democratic Party campaign speeches, mass-market publications on social psychology, public criticism from the “little magazines,” tracts on political economy, and government propaganda on moral character.
As I revise my manuscript, I am also completing an article that examines the cultural politics of the questionnaire in early American culture, focusing on the way that Partisan Review adopted this dynamic technique to promote deliberative debate among its network of authors, critics, and readers. I have also recently completed a short essay on the enthusiastic (and problematic) post-Trump rediscovery of Sinclair Lewis’s dystopian novel It Can’t Happen Here (1935) among American liberals.