Dwight D. Eisenhower: Soldier, President, Statesman

By Joann P. Krieg | Go to book overview

10
The Philosophy Underlying Eisenhower's Economic Policies

Raymond J. Saulnier

It is sometimes difficult to identify a philosophy or ideology underlying a President's or an administration's policies other than to say that they are motivated by pragmatic considerations. It has been said of pragmatism, however, that it is less a philosophy than a method of doing without one, and to say that President Dwight D. Eisenhower was a pragmatist not only says little that would distinguish him from anyone else in the presidency of the United States, but also misses completely any notion of the deeply held convictions that underlay the strong positions he took on crucial questions of economic strategy. For in Eisenhower's case, economic questions were approached from a definite philosophy to which pragmatic considerations were then attached. It is useful to separate the two aspects in order to better appreciate their interplay.

First, the philosophy was individualism, in the American style. At its center was a concept of the individual as independent and self-reliant, with a whole battery of inherent rights enjoyed in conjunction with equally formidable responsibilities. There was no room in this for governmental paternalism; much less was there room in it for socialism or any other species of collectivism.

Second, in matters of government, Eisenhower was decentralist. Armed with the secret ballot and adequately informed, citizens could take care of themselves in exercising their voting franchise. Again, with the proviso that they were adequately informed, they could be relied on to resolve questions sensibly and constructively. Thus, in a whole host of areas, the government best positioned to act constructively was the government closest to the people. Foreign policy was the business of the central government, as were defense policy and policies in a number of other key areas. But in many areas, such as education, the Eisenhower administration maintained that responsibility should rest mainly on local government. Local administration would avoid that absentee control over policy which

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