The New Deal and Its Legacy: Critique and Reappraisal

By Robert Eden | Go to book overview

1
Introduction: A Legacy of Questions

Robert Eden

This book is a joint effort to reassess the New Deal project at the level of principle and in light of its consequences. It consists in the main of inquiries into the political thought of the New Deal architects of our present institutions-- preeminently the thought of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The chapters were written independently of one another from quite different perspectives. This chapter attempts to show how they may together inform and illuminate public controversy over the principles, political methods, and institutions that came out of the New Deal. As a companion to the volume as a whole, this chapter is designed to introduce the essayists and articulate the problems they pose for one another, on the hypothesis that this course should disclose some of the more challenging questions the New Deal poses for us all. 1

Many studies of public policy written on the United States during the past forty years could have borne the title of this volume. The same could be said of much social criticism that appeared in these decades, and of several of the best essays in American political thought. For in the broadest sense, the legacy of the New Deal is the American regime as we have known it for nearly two generations. Yet despite intense critical reflection and incessant effort at reform, until recently the origins or foundings of our current political and constitutional arrangements in the New Deal were not subjected to sufficiently critical scrutiny; to most influential observers, they did not appear particularly problematic or question-worthy. The reason for renewed attention, however, is fairly clear: the public is almost as deeply divided by the programmatic legacy of the New Deal today as it was by the Depression in the thirties. It is to this fresh public interest and concern that these essays are addressed.

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