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American Burke: The Uncommon Liberalism of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Greg Weiner

Reviewed by Robert A. Cropf

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Divisive in rhetoric and elusive in ideology, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan is a problematic figure in recent American political history and thought. Moynihan considered himself a New Deal liberal, while author Greg Weiner likens him to the similarly controversial Edmund Burke, another statesmen who refused to conform neatly to ideological labels. The comparison is apt: the two politician/scholars indeed share numerous traits and personal characteristics. For all that, Weiner  proves to be only half successful in making a persuasive case for Moynihan as “America’s answer to Burke.” His description of Moynihan as a significant political figure with a coherent, well-developed philosophy permits close comparison with the Anglo-Irish parliamentarian. However, Weiner fails to make the case for Moynihan as a serious political thinker in the same league as Burke. Weiner nonetheless makes an important contribution by producing a nuanced and detailed analysis of how Moynihan’s political thought guided and shaped his career as a highly influential politician and policymaker.

Weiner’s central point is that Moynihan is the exemplar of “Burkean liberalism” in modern American politics. In making the case for Moynihan as political liberal, Weiner points to his subject’s lifelong dedication to the idea of government as bei

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