Charles A. Beard, an Intellectual Biography

By Ellen Nore | Go to book overview

11

The Great Depression
Modern Analysis and
Victorian Politics

More than twenty years ago William Appleman Williams wrote a thoughtful essay describing Beard as a "Tory-Radical," a man torn between concern for his fellow men and a personal and philosophic commitment to private property. Beard, Williams argued, did not "launch any frontal attack on private property," although he had "radical insights into the malfunctioning of the existing system." Speaking of Franklin Roosevelt and Beard, Williams concluded that "neither of them looked forward to socialism. " 1

It would seem certain that Beard did indeed look forward to the end of the profit system and that the programs he proposed during the Great Depression involved fundamental changes in the American system of government and economy. Yet he was not a Marxist. His understanding of the economic system was gained through absorbing the perspective of Thorstein Veblen, who saw the twentieth-century economy as a mechanical structure awaiting the corps of engineers who would run it in the public interest. Like Veblen, Beard did not see the state as a mere broker between capital and labor. In his view, the ideal state should convert the profit system into a means for producing goods not for profit but for use. Beard knew what he wanted—a decentralized socialism without a deadening state bureaucracy. In a narrow sense, he was attached to personal ownership where it did not threaten the goal of a high standard of living for most Americans, but his proposals went beyond a simple corporatism. He saw early that the programs of the New

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