[VIRTUAL] Progressive Ideals and Political Realities since World War II 

The Columbia Alumni Association of Washington, D.C. presents Professor Leon Fink '70 of the University of Illinois at Chicago in conversation with Adam Kushner, Outlook Editor of the Washington Post, suggesting new directions for a progressive American foreign policy.

Date: Wednesday, January 26, 2022 at 6:30 - 8:00pm 
Location: Virtual via Zoom.

In the decades following World War II, American liberals had a vision for the world. Their ambitions would not stop at the water’s edge: progressive internationalism, they believed, could help peoples everywhere achieve democracy, prosperity, and freedom. Chastened in part by the failures of these grand aspirations, in recent years liberals and the Left have retreated from such idealism. Today, as a beleaguered United States confronts a series of crises, does the postwar liberal tradition offer any useful lessons for American engagement with the world? 

The historian Leon Fink examines key cases of progressive influence on postwar U.S. foreign policy, tracing the tension between liberal aspirations and the political realities that stymie them. From the reconstruction of post-Nazi West Germany to the struggle against apartheid, he shows how American liberals joined global allies in pursuit of an expansive political, social, and economic vision. Even as liberal internationalism brought such successes to the world, it also stumbled against domestic politics or was blind to the contradictions in capitalist development and the power of competing nationalist identities. A diplomatic history that emphasizes the roles of social class, labor movements, race, and grassroots activism, Undoing the Liberal World Order suggests new directions for a progressive American foreign policy.

Time will be allocated for Q&A. This program is part of the ColumbiaDC CUP series.


Leon Fink is distinguished professor of history emeritus at the University of Illinois at Chicago and senior resident scholar at Georgetown University’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor. He is the editor of the journalLabor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas, and his many books include, most recently,Labor Justice Across the Americas(2017).


Adam B. Kushner is the editor of Outlook, the Washington Post’s home for ideas, essays, arguments, and book criticism. Previously, he was the editor of National Journal magazine, a senior editor for foreign affairs at Newsweek and a managing editor at the New Republic. He is a New Orleans evangelist and native. Mr. Kushner has a BA in the study of antiquity from Columbia University.


Offering a broad analysis of left-liberal approaches to foreign policy in the second half of the twentieth century, this is a gripping book that manages to elicit a vision of postwar liberalism as a global project and to suggest some of the real difficulties that it encountered.


For questions, contact Miyako Yerick at programs@columbiadc.org