The Republican Party in the Age of Roosevelt: Sources of Anti-Government Conservatism in the United States

By Kisatsky, Deborah | Presidential Studies Quarterly, September 2015 | Go to article overview

The Republican Party in the Age of Roosevelt: Sources of Anti-Government Conservatism in the United States


Kisatsky, Deborah, Presidential Studies Quarterly


The Republican Party in the Age of Roosevelt: Sources of Anti-Government Conservatism in the United States. By Elliot A. Rosen. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014. 229 pp.

In this prodigiously researched, well-crafted, and lucid study, Elliot A. Rosen explores the emergence during the 1930s of antigovernment conservatism as a salient strand of Republican Party identity in the United States. The book, the third volume in Rosen's trilogy analyzing the New Deal and its opposition, joins Hoover, Roosevelt and the Brains Trust: From Depression to New Deal (New York: Columbia University Press, 1977) and Roosevelt, the Great Depression, and the Economics of Recovery (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2007) in illuminating the competing approaches of Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Republican stalwart Herbert Hoover toward economic recovery and impending world war during the 1930s. Where Roosevelt promoted activist government and a regulatory state to remedy the Great Depression, Hoover represented the conservative leadership of his party in defending austerity, a balanced budget, and enhanced power for individuals, states, and corporations. Where Roosevelt steered the nation toward a seemingly inevitable war, Republican leaders largely accepted "Nazi dominance of Europe and its terms of trade, which depended on autarchy or self-sufficiency" (p. xii). Hoover and Robert Taft came to symbolize what became a prevailing antigovernment sentiment within the party. By contrast, Roosevelt's Republican challenger Wendell Willkie emerged as an "interloper who challenged the party's resistance to advanced thought in foreign affairs and domestic issues" by pressing for civil rights, acceptance of industrial unionism, and the advent of an internationalist peacekeeping role for the United States. "In the last analysis, Willkie, who died in late 1944, lost the fight against the party reactionaries," who persisted well into the twenty-first century in their struggle to roll back the New Deal and its legacies (p. 6). In this sense, Willkie represented an alternative possibility for a moderate mainstream Republican identity--but only a weak one, given the ultimate ascendency within the party of the acolytes of Taft and Hoover. …

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