Jan 5, 2004 5:45 pm


I have been skimming Conrad Black’s tome, Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom . Many rightwingers have praised it including George Will, William F. Buckley Jr., and David Frum. Frum calls it a “great book – in my opinion, the single best, most useful, and most though-provoking biography we have of one of the most important presidents of the 20th century.”

Are we reading the same book? Thus far, I have seen little new or original in Black’s account that was not first said many years ago by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. For example, Black, like Schlesinger subscribes to the thesis that Roosevelt “saved” capitalism from itself and thus preserved it and American democracy from the extremes of fascism and communism. This always seemed to me to be a dubious claim. American voters were mad as hell in 1932 but I have not seen any persuasive evidence that they were ripe for a fascist or communist revolution.

Did they want a"third way" in the form of a statist New Deal? It is hard to say but FDR certainly did not present it to them that year. He talked out of both sides of his mouth promising to maintain the gold standard, cut the budget by 25 percent, while, at the same time, making vague pledges to"do something" for the unemployed. Hence, he could win the enthusiastic support of such diverse figures as H.L. Mencken, Stuart Chase, Henry Wallace, and Harry Byrd.

I have little to add to the insightful reviews of Jim Powell , Alex Tabarrok on the substance of the book. I will wait to read more before making broader conclusions. Perhaps there is more here than meets the eye.

For me, the most interesting question is a sociological one: why have conservative pundits been so loud in their praise of this book? To what extent are these kudos related to a post-Cold War trend among many conservatives (and libertarians) to embrace a Herculean view of the American state in foreign policy? Has their love affair with the state intervention in foreign affairs led them to take a more benign view of state intervention in domestic policy? More later....

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

David T.Beito - 1/7/2004

I will try to offer some more thoughts on the Butler accusations in a few days.

David T.Beito - 1/6/2004

Good point. I am aware of Butler's statements which were in 1933, not 1932. Having said that, I see like evidence that this amounted to very much in the end. For example, was there anyone in the military who ever seriously contemplated going along with such a plan? How much of it was just talk?

Having said that, the coup, such as it was, did not seem to be motivated by the dire economic conditions of the depression or dismay with the economic status quo (as was the case with Mussolini and Hitler) but rather was a respons to FDR's New Deal policies.

buermann - 1/6/2004

There's always Major General Smedley Butler's testimony to the House Un-American Committee over the fascist coup plot of 1933: