FDRís New Deal, In Utero
by C.J. Maloney
by CJ Maloney
by CJ Maloney: Internet
Lovers! Know Your Enemy: Cass†Sunstein
start with ideas.
does it say about a man when he comes across as a scoundrel in a
book, even when beloved by the author? That question came to mind
repeatedly while I was reading Paul Fusfeldís The
Economic Thought of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Origins of the
New Deal. Well-written and engaging, Fusfeldís in-depth
study of FDRís intellectual growth is, to my mind, one of the most
important studies of the man and, by extension, the New Deal and
the birth of modern America.
scion of landed aristocrats from New Yorkís Hudson Valley, young
Franklin was raised up in a cocoon of luxury. Much of the family
fortune had come through running opium into China (p. 9), a not
ironic fact since FDR himself would become the slayer of (alcohol)
Prohibition. Sent at an early age to the exclusive prep school at
Groton where he "took an active interest in the debating society"
(p. 21) FDRís intellectual growth, and all that was to come from
it, began at Harvard, where "his teachersÖwere not men who
believed in a laissez faire society." (p. 33)
the origins of his political maturation, FDR always considered his
cousin Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson as "his political
preceptors." (p. 38) He took to heart his cousinís belief that
"every man holds his property subject to the general right
of the community to regulate its use" (p. 42), and Wilsonís
1913 political tract The
New Freedom became a blueprint for much of FDRís
political philosophy. (p. 54)
into an unabashedly collectivist and materialist "progressive,"
and with his head filled with "economics" of the Harvard
variety, by the time he ran for president in 1932 FDR was so poorly
educated that he believed "economic laws are not made by nature,
they are made by human beings." (p. 229) Having contracted
a raging infection of hubris along with his college degree, his
proposed solution for every perceived social ill was "planning"
on a national scale.
concern for the individual rights such "planning" would
trample was non-existent in his mind, as "the struggle for
liberty of the community rather than the liberty of the individual"
was his goal, and "by liberty we mean happiness and prosperity"
(p. 49), not freedom. Fusfeld takes note that "FDR did not
suggest any limits on the power of the state or any reserved areas
of personal liberty." (p. 51) The New Deal would prove as much.
such a reactionary outlook, itís not surprising to find FDR sneering
"itís all very well to talk of the sanctity of private property"
(p. 97), as respecting such limits would get in the way of his Big
Plans; government in his view was "an agencyÖto promote and
guide all the people into better ways of living." (p. 99) Humility
and allowing othersí freedom to choose were not FDRís strong points
nor, as the author freely admits, was economics. The FDR administration
would prove itself to be a fatal mix of ignorance, hubris and a
sordid addiction to power.
sympathy with his close advisor Rexford Tugwellís urge to "make
America over," FDRís fanaticism over the "back
to the land" movement, which he described as "the
great fundamental of making country life in every way as desirable
as city life" (p.124), pops up repeatedly throughout the book.
An ardent believer in the reordering and blending of rural and city
life through a "more even" distribution of the population,
he believed "the undirected mushroom growth of our cities and
towns must be contained." (p. 133) This deeply held conviction
would lead directly to the building of Arthurdale and the creation
of the Division of Subsistence Homesteads, one of the New Dealís
most influential projects.
written though the book undoubtedly is, the authorís efforts to
absolve every transgression of FDRís are too obvious, and, due to
the FDRís character, too often put in an appearance. For one example
(concerning FDRís use of the Panic of 1920 to attack "speculative
middlemen" as the cause of price inflation) the most Fusfeld
can muster in response is to call it "a clear example of his
political disingenuousness. His letters at the timeÖindicate he
was well aware of the basic causes of inflation." (p. 75)
another example of FDRís "disingenuousness" the book shows
that for his 1932 campaign platform he called for a sound currency
(gold), balanced budgets, and the elimination of "special advantages,
special favors, special privileges wherever possible." (p.
246) Desperate to judge FDR on his words, the author states "nothing
shows better how far Roosevelt was from the socialists than this
statement" (p. 246), completely ignoring the fact that FDR
immediately broke everyone of those promises upon taking the presidency.
Words are cheap.
in FDRís case, often misleading, as just a few pages later the author
lets slip that "(FDRís) utterances are not good guides to his
thinking" (p. 254), which is a polite way of saying the man
was a habitual liar. It gets to the point you almost feel sorry
for Fusfeld and his inability to control his hero worship, never
more so than when he claims "FDR did not advocate a system
of comprehensive central planning for the entire economy" (p.
254) after he had just spent an entire book proving the contrary.
used the crisis of the Great Depression to full advantage. No president,
before or since, has had such a cult of personality built about
him. He was the most pure, unadulterated politician we have ever
seen, with a preternatural ability to sniff out political opportunity
like a dog after a meat bone. His wish, "I favor economic planning
not for this period alone, but for our needs for a long time to
come" (p. 204) is embodied in everything we are, and 78 years
after he founded our nation, and 67 years after he breathed his
last, we grasp onto his New Deal as tightly as ever.
still a student at Harvard FDR confided his disagreement with a
political maneuver of his cousin Teddy, "I think that the President
made a serious mistakeÖto make the Executive power stronger than
Congress. (It is) bound to be a bad thing, especially when a man
of weaker personality succeeds him in office." (p. 266, note
3) It was to be the sad culmination of his lifeís work that FDR
himself would become that very man.
is the father of our nation, and by this time America can scarce
imagine any other world than the one he created for us. It is high
time we took him down from the pedestal he sits on and examine more
closely the man he truly was. Buried deep in the footnotes of Fusfeldís
book is an appraisal of FDR by a contemporary who described him
as, "An opportunist who did every act from the standpoint of
how it would benefit him politically; he had no standard of right
or wrong in the ordinary sense." (p.2 59, note 3)
book is an excellent place to begin bringing FDR back down to earth
Ė even if the author never meant it to be.
[send him mail] lives and
works in New York City. All opinions expressed are his alone. He
for Liberty & Power on the History News Network website and
His first book is Back
to the Land (Arthurdale, FDRís New Deal, and the Costs of Economic
© 2011 by LewRockwell.com. Permission to reprint in whole or in
part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.
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