What Roosevelt Thought: The Social and Political Ideas of Franklin D. Roosevelt

By Thomas H. Greer | Go to book overview

10
Roosevelt: Radical or Conservative?

SOME SENSE -- AND A DEAL OF NONSENSE -- have been written in the past few years on the subject of conservatism, spelled with a small or a large "C." The swing of the pendulum in American politics has given the word "conservative" a connotation of superiority; it has become preferred semantic garb-what the "well-dressed citizen should wear." This shift is harmless enough, but it has been accompanied by a frantic search to discover what a conservative really is (and always has been). This investigation, which has resulted mainly in assigning new meanings to old words, has tended more to confuse than clarify.

The reason for the confusion is not far to seek: there is probably no such thing as a "conservative" or a "liberal" in a substantive sense. What some writers have done is to construct an "ideal" type, label it conservative, and associate with it the nobler names of history. The latter part of this process is not easy; it requires a sliding scale of exceptions to the ideal, subtle reservations, and ingenious selection of data.

This is not to say that words like "conservative" and "liberal" are without significance. Relative to a given time and place, these terms can mean something pretty definite. They have been used, they are used, and they will continue to be used. But they function poorly as "universals." Even for a given time and place, the word conservative or

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