standard for significant social change is apparently socialism (virtually equal distribution of income, elimination of racial discrimination, democratic decision-making in industry), his essay offers us a truism. If any change short of socialism is conservative, then of course the New Deal was conservative, a "failure." Bernstein's standard, the criticism runs, is totally unrealistic, and his condemnation of the New Deal correspondingly unhistorical.
This rejoinder to Bernstein, I think, does not quite dispense with his essay. It is true that he never clearly describes his standard for judging the New Deal (a vice common to historians), and occasionally his standard does appear to be some utopian social equality which no political movement has ever achieved. But there are places in the essay where it is apparent that Bernstein's standard is what was possible, not just desirable, in the conditions of the 1930s. He is impressed with the potential for innovation, sees the native American left as having enjoyed great advantages over the defenders of the status quo. In a setting of spontaneous leftward pressures from countless sources, the New Dealers charted a course on the right side of the politically navigable channel.
Here we have an issue fairly joined, a problem not simply of the intrusion of the author's irrelevant personal standards, but a problem in the counting and weighing of evidence. Is Bernstein justified in dismissing the New Deal's extensive political alterations so lightly, and giving such emphasis to the failure to make much change in economic areas such as income distribution or the battle against poverty? Is he justified in estimating the pressures for extensive social reform as having been quite so formidable? And was the conservative ideology of the New Dealers themselves the chief limit on social reform, rather than the political system, the Supreme Court, the intellectual inadequacies of hurried men, the sheer intractability of the problems? If the American economy today, along with American politics and social values, is dominated by a vigorous elite of huge corporations, is that result a direct product of the New Deal, or have other developments (such as World War II and the Cold War) intervened to shape the course of American history? These fundamental questions, always involved in the interpretative discussion of the New Deal, have been given new vitality by writers of pronounced radical views, such as Howard Zinn, Paul Conkin, and Barton J. Bernstein.
Writing from a liberal democratic consensus, many American historians in the past two decades have praised the Roosevelt administration for its nonideological flexibility and for its far-ranging reforms. To many historians, particularly those who reached intellectual maturity during the depression,1 the government's accomplishments, as well as the drama and passion, marked the decade as a watershed, as a dividing line in the American past.
Enamored of Franklin D. Roosevelt and recalling the bitter opposition to welfare measures and restraints upon business, many liberal historians have emphasized the New Deal's discontinuity with the immediate past. For them there was a "Roosevelt Revolution," or at the very least a dramatic achievement of a beneficent liberalism which had developed in fits and spurts during the preceding three decades.2 Rejecting earlier interpre-