The Lethal Center

The danger of quick-fix consensus.

Reason , August/September 1995

In 1949, a 32-year-old child of the New Deal wrote a book that sought to establish the limits of respectable political thought--of consensus and common sense--in the conformist post-World War II era. Positioning himself between the "Doughface progressives" who believed in the perfectibility of man and the "plutocratic reactionaries" who supported free markets, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. defined his own position in his book's title: The Vital Center. Summing up the spirit of his age, he wrote, "During most of my political consciousness this has been a New Deal country. I expect it will continue to be a New Deal country."