The Pragmatic Revolt in American History: Carl Becker and Charles Beard

By Cushing Strout | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SEVEN
The Devil's Adversary

CHARLE's BEARD's reputation was born in controversy, and it was characteristic that on his death he left historians a legacy of bitter dispute about his last two books. Though they were as provocative of passion as his study of the Constitution, the scandalized and the delighted had, for the most part, changed roles this time. Whereas in 1913 the conservatives had been horrified at what they thought was Beard's muckraking of the Constitution and its framers, while the reformers had concluded that Beard had shown American government to be ripe for change, thirty-five years later the conservatives hailed Beard as an ally and the liberals lamented his woeful fall from grace. The fundamental changes had taken place, however, not so much in Beard as in history; as always he maintained his independence. Those reactionary members of the America First Committee who found oil to feed their fires of hatred in Beard's indictment of President Roosevelt's foreign policy were far more widely separated from his spirit than even the socialist and progressive reformers had been in the period before the first World War. The practical categories of the political world are not complex enough to contain his mind; when they are applied to it, his point of view escapes them. Like Becker, Beard must be seen as a philosophical historian trying to pick his way through the tangled jungle of the modern world.

The impact of two world wars on Beard, as on Becker, produced a troubled search for intellectual orientation; like Becker, Beard also constructed a theory of progress as an ally of liberalism; and

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