The New Deal: The National Level

By John Braeman; Robert H. Bremner et al. | Go to book overview

Introduction

Despite the passing years, debate over the New Deal continues unabated. But as the New Deal recedes farther into the past, the terms of that debate have changed. Few historians nowadays see Franklin D. Roosevelt as a power-mad demagogue who replaced the free enterprise system responsible for America's progress and greatness with a deadening creeping socialism. Not many more picture FDR as a courageous Saint George who slew the dragon of economic royalism, rescued the nation from depression, and erected a new regime of social justice. Most present-day students of the New Deal recognize its limited aims and even more limited achievements; a minority on the left even charge that the New Deal did no more than patch up and strengthen the old deal. The focus of the current debate is thus upon such questions as how new was the New Deal; what alternatives policymakers had; how successful was the Roosevelt administration in disciplining, liberalizing, and humanizing capitalism; and what was its long-term significance in shaping contemporary America.

One of the more hotly argued questions is to what extent Roosevelt's policies for combatting the Depression differed from Hoover's. In his review of the existing historiography, Albert U. Romasco of New York University shows how contemporary newspapermen and associates of Roosevelt, "liberal" historians such as Basil Rauch, Richard Hofstadter, and Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., and even "conservative" critics of the New Deal, all, for their differing purposes, postulated a sharp contrast between the two chief executives. "Each has been made a reference point for comprehending the other." On the other side has been a "dissenting" minority who stress "the similarities in the Hoover-Roosevelt policies."

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