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New Deal Historiography


Three major strains of writings about FDR and the New Deal:

        1: The New Deal was hostile to traditional American values such as liberty

                and individualism and was taking America toward a socialistic

                welfare state

        2: The New Deal was the heir of previous reform movements such as

                Jeffersonian-Republicanism, Populism, Progressive; and the changes

                in America’s economy rendered older values obsolete

        3: The New Deal was a sham cover-up of the need for more fundamental

                change in the economy; by altering capitalism FDR was saving it

                from its demise and the inevitability of the socialist state


Progressive School: Henry Steele Commager; Arthur M Schlesinger Jr.

        New Deal is another phase in the struggle against monopoly and special

                interests by “the people”

        The New Deal was revolutionary in the sense that it signaled the

                acceptance of government’s responsibility for the people’s welfare

                and the justifiability of governmental intervention

        Only appeared radical because of the speed of reform and the sharp

                contrast  between the Harding to Hoover policies of hands-off

        New Deal was an integral part of the liberal tradition and the liberal-

                conservative cycle of American history

        New Deal was bound to have happened anyway as various groups became

                alienated from society in the 20’s 

        The Depression gave the New Deal its unique character among liberal


        Major goal was to use the power of government to improve the common

                man’s life and to save the capitalist system by eliminating the

                obvious defects in it and to avoid radical solution of revolution


Conservative View:

        New Deal was a violent departure from traditional values which rejected

                everything that was positive in American political tradition

        New Deal caused an erosion of state and Congressional authority (which

                was concentrated in the Presidency) and the creation of a staggering

                federal debt

        The New Deal is in no way a continuation of the liberal tradition because

                previous movements had viewed govt. as an obstacle to further

                democratization and smashing of privilege; and viewed society as

                relatively healthy

        The New Deal viewed govt. as a necessary initiator of changes to cure a

                sick society, govt. has a positive, critical role in this reform


        Switched traditional roles of liberals (emphasizing concrete needs of

                groups instead of appealing to morality and arousing the indignation

                of the people) and conservatives (moral critics of radical nature of

                the New Deal instead of realism and effort to preserve institutions)

        Rexford Tugwell: Roosevelt had a grand opportunity to make sweeping

                changes but he failed to use rational planning in New Deal programs

                (he was too pragmatic and short term in his thinking)


Neo-Conservative: Heinz Eulau

        New Deal was not a reflection of ideological and class conflict, was not a

                crusade, and was not the product of rational ideology

        Instead, the New Deal was evidence of the maturity of America’s economy

                and politics because it tried to solve problems through adjustment,

                compromise, and integration NOT by ideological solutions or



1960’s and the “New Left”:

        If the New Deal had modified and humanized America, why is there still

                racism and poverty? If it gave America a better role in world affairs

                how did we get caught by wars in Asia?

        Liberal reforms didn’t transform the system, they conserved and protected

                corporate capitalism; it didn’t redistribute power, or help the

                majority of the lowest sectors of society; it didn’t reduce racial



Ellis W. Hawley:

        Americans were committed to two, incompatible value systems:

                Liberty and freedom (which implies competition in socio-economics)

                Rationality and order (and wealth, progress, and abundance arose

                        from big business which created this)

        The New Deal embodied this contradiction: anti-monopoly but rational