Illiberal America: A History

Steven Hahn

Norton , 2024

Agent: Sandra Dijkstra

A leading historian reframes the American past by uncovering a powerful illiberalism as deep-seated and motivating as the founding ideals.

If the 2017 Charlottesville protests and the January 6 Capitol assault made you think “That’s not us,” think again: in this stunning American history, Steven Hahn shows recurring episodes of racial, religious, and ethnic expulsion, and a localism suspicious of outsiders, including the federal government. Inspiring these events is an illiberalism in which community values override individual rights and hierarchy is superior to democracy.

Driven by popular movements, the courts, and legislation, illiberalism has long been embedded in everyday life. Before the Civil War, midwestern free states invoked community safety to enact laws denying Black people their civil rights. Progressive reformers such as Margaret Sanger harnessed theories of racial inequality and eugenics to advocate birth control in ethnic communities. And one enduring outcome of the 1960s was the illiberalism that George Wallace made politically mainstream. Here is America’s unexceptional history, its founding ideals in ongoing tension with illiberal beliefs.