The Second Red Scare and the Unmaking of the New Deal Left

The Second Red Scare and the Unmaking of the New Deal Left

The Second Red Scare and the Unmaking of the New Deal Left

The Second Red Scare and the Unmaking of the New Deal Left


The loyalty investigations triggered by the Red Scare of the 1940s and 1950s marginalized many talented women and men who had entered government service during the Great Depression seeking to promote social democracy as a means to economic reform. Their influence over New Deal policymaking and their alliances with progressive labor and consumer movements elicited a powerful reaction from conservatives, who accused them of being subversives. Landon Storrs draws on newly declassified records of the federal employee loyalty program--created in response to fears that Communists were infiltrating the U. S. government--to reveal how disloyalty charges were used to silence these New Dealers and discredit their policies.

Because loyalty investigators rarely distinguished between Communists and other leftists, many noncommunist leftists were forced to leave government or deny their political views. Storrs finds that loyalty defendants were more numerous at higher ranks of the civil service than previously thought, and that many were women, or men with accomplished leftist wives. Uncovering a forceful left-feminist presence in the New Deal, she shows how opponents on the Right exploited popular hostility to powerful women and their "effeminate" spouses. The loyalty program not only destroyed many promising careers, it prohibited discussion of social democratic policy ideas in government circles, narrowing the scope of political discourse to this day.

Through a gripping narrative based on remarkable new sources, Storrs demonstrates how the Second Red Scare undermined the reform potential of the New Deal and crippled the American welfare state.


The Second Red Scare stunted the development of the American welfare state. In the 1940s and 1950s, conservatives in and out of government used concerns about Soviet espionage to remove from public service many officials who advocated regulatory and redistributive policies intended to strengthen democracy. The crusade against “Communists in government” had even more casualties than we thought. In addition to its well-known violation of civil liberties and destruction of careers, the Second Red Scare curbed the social democratic potential of the New Deal through its impact on policymakers who sought to mitigate the antidemocratic tendencies of unregulated capitalism.

This book examines a cohort of women and men who entered government service during the 1930s and 1940s and then were investigated under the federal employee loyalty program. Created in the early 1940s and formalized in 1947, the loyalty program ostensibly sought to prevent government employment of Communists, but it also drove out noncommunist leftists, who were more numerous in the higher ranks of the civil service than has been recognized. During the crises of the Great Depression and Second World War, service in the dynamic Roosevelt administration offered the luster and cachet—although not the financial rewards— that in other eras would be found on Wall Street or in Silicon Valley, and the federal government hired some of the nation’s most brilliant and ambitious talent. That high-powered group included some people who were inspired by the opportunity to forge policies they believed would prevent future depressions and wars by reducing inequalities—of class, race, and even gender—within the United States and abroad. Although a few of them were or had been members of the Communist Party, most never were. They did not dominate the policymaking arena, but their increasing influence provoked a powerful reaction from American conservatives. That reaction included exploiting Americans’ fear of Soviet espionage to ensnare left-leaning officials in investigations that either marginalized them or forced them toward the political center.

Some of the prominent people whose hitherto secret or little-known loyalty cases this book explores are Leon Keyserling and Mary Dublin Keyserling, Arthur Goldschmidt and Elizabeth Wickenden, Wilbur Cohen, Catherine Bauer, Esther and Oliver Peterson, Frieda Miller, Caroline Ware, David Demarest Lloyd, Thomas Blaisdell, and Paul R. Porter. The cumulative impact of their loyalty investigations and many others altered the general tone and content of the reform agenda and also affected . . .

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