The New Deal and Its Legacy: Critique and Reappraisal

By Robert Eden | Go to book overview

Preface

Early in the spring of 1985, the Department of History and Political Science of Hillsdale College, in conjunction with the Center for Constructive Alternatives, published an invitation for paper proposals in several scholarly journals. The original invitation may serve as a measure by which to judge the current volume:

November 1986 will mark the fiftieth anniversary of Franklin Roosevelt's election to a second term as President of the United States. To many students of American politics, this election represents a critical moment in a critical phase of our history, the moment when the American people in effect ratified the leadership of an administration which advanced a new interpretation of traditional American ideals. Already in 1932, Roosevelt had called for "a reappraisal of values" or a "redefinition in terms of a changing and growing social order" of the rights proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence; in 1936, America seemed to answer this call.

To what degree Roosevelt's reappraisal of the American political tradition forms the basis of contemporary American politics is a difficult question; to address it adequately one must first ask whether the bewildering complex of policies we associate with the New Deal indeed rested on any coherent philosophy. In any case, the discontinuities between the New Deal and later versions of liberalism often seem at least as impressive as the continuities. Indeed, such discontinuities led many observers, beginning in the 1960s, to point to signs of decay in the public philosophy of the New Deal and of the political order associated with it, and to anticipate the emergence of a new alignment of parties and interests and of a new interpretation of the character and purpose of American democracy.

The question whether such a realignment is now in progress is an open one. Although the Republicans have improved their position considerably under Reagan's leadership, it is far from clear that they have laid the foundations for long-term dominance or that they have clearly defined their position with respect to the legacy of the New Deal. (Is Reagan a "New Deal conservative," as Samuel H. Beer has argued?) As for the Democrats, the disarray of their party is not a hypothesis of political scientists but a fact openly avowed

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