The New Deal and Its Legacy: Critique and Reappraisal

By Robert Eden | Go to book overview

10 Morton J. Frisch

An Appraisal of Roosevelt's Legacy: How the Moderate Welfare State Transcended the Tension Between Progressivism and Socialism

"A moderate welfare state does not quarrel with inequalities per se, but with entrenched economic disparaties which threaten to crush those of ability and effort. (This is what FDR meant by 'economic royalism.') The moderate welfare state, like the action of 'equal opportunity' itself. . . does not deny--indeed, it presupposes--that public policy should promote equal chances to achieve unequal things, and to reap the fruits thereof. . .It neither questions the reality of distinctions or merit, nor doubts that those are ipso facto distinctions of worth."

Clifford Orwin, "Welfare and the New Dignity," The Public Interest 71 (Spring 1983)

Roosevelt's New Deal has been described by some as "the prologue to Communism in America," and in order to substantiate that view, his critics have emphasized that he was fomenting class war by talking about the great industrial and financial interests as money changers and economic royalists. As a matter of fact, Roosevelt leveled the charge of money changers against big industry and finance in his First Inaugural Address, and complained about economic royalists in his second presidential campaign, giving the impression of a conspiracy on their part. His rhetoric clearly exaggerated the existing state of the danger, at least from them, but his intention was to expose the threat to capitalism by exaggerating it. That he wanted to appeal to popular prejudice is not at all surprising, considering the resistance of powerful moneyed interests to his programs and policies, but there is no suggestion here that Roosevelt ever intended to undermine the tradition. He surely reinterpreted the tradition profoundly, for there is no doubt that the welfare state goes well beyond anything the framers of the Constitution might have envisioned. But Roosevelt, the states-

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