Running Steel, Running America: Race, Economic Policy and the Decline of Liberalism

By Judith Stein | Go to book overview

CONCLUSION

Steel and the History of Postwar America

the story of the steel industry can be an input for another industry, that of explaining postwar American history. The liberal tradition and the power of classes, usually labor and capital, are the two favorite paradigms of modern American history. The two frameworks come together around the idea of the weak state, a staple of the academy, if not of contemporary politicians. 1

The idea of the weak state propels some of the explanations of the decline of New Deal liberalism. I have assumed that the state and political culture were sufficiently potent to maintain liberalism during the postwar era. Others have argued that the flaws of the New Deal settlement overwhelmed its virtues and that by the end of World War II the future was determined. Alan Brinkley's analysis of New Deal economic liberalism, The End of Reform, is an excellent synthesis of this view. Brinkley argues that by the end of World War II the state was shorn of all policies but fiscal management and of all purposes but enhancing consumption. Liberals and the labor movement no longer aimed to reform capitalism, which had been the primary goal of the New Dealers. 2

The argument raises two questions. Is Brinkley's reading of the 1930s and 1940s correct? Second, if it is, did the state of the reform movement in 1945 determine subsequent history? Brinkley believes that the authentic New Deal goal was to "reshape . . . the structure of capitalism" by attacking "the extortionate methods of monopoly." 3 This judgment rests upon the thinking of selected New Deal bureaucrats, like Thurman Arnold, Adolph A. Berle, and Leon

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