The Rise and Fall of the People's Century: Henry A. Wallace and American Liberalism, 1941-1948

By Norman D. Markowitz | Go to book overview
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Prelude to the
People's Century

"The day will come," prophesied Henry A. Wallace in 1935, "when this world will be more secure, when people who ask only to live a good life here and make a living will not be driven to meanness and to littleness, to a calculated denial of their highest capacities, and to hate. We live by these ancient standards of withdrawal and denial in a world bursting with potential abundance. The fears, coupled with the narrowness and hatred of our forefathers, are embodied in our political and educational institutions and bred in our bones. It will only be a little at a time that we can work ourselves free." 1

In these words Henry Wallace captured the essential reform vision of twentieth-century social liberals-the vision of a society evolving toward higher levels of material security and spiritual freedom, gradually overcoming the vestiges of competitive institutions and values. For Wallace, as for most American reformers, this vision centered around the creation of a vaguely defined cooperative commonwealth, a society in which use and need would replace profit and the personal relationships and ethical values of preindustrial America would be united with the material advantages of industrial civilization.

Defining the cooperative commonwealth as a middle path between capitalism and socialism, Wallace accepted capitalism in the present in the belief that the development of science and technology would modify its competitive and debasing

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