Paid Advertisement Ilild American Income Life Insurance Company BERNARD RAPOPORT Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer CONFUSION BY GEORGE PACKER Part 1 Qtyi part of my summer reading cures for liberalism. One jteclp4t.activist government; another a colorblind, thrialiM -W,,Others an affirmation of democratic univer of civio’reptiblitanism, a program of economic pop tous mix of autonomy, diversity, and solidarity. I Thall of them, even ones that contradicted others or adictory. In public philosophy anything seems possi e reading such books can be completely persuasive, but tend to melt away, like daydreams in the afternoon heat, ember the verbal formula that had been so kt t ime ago. dean history, and there the effect was the opposite. fact, reform looks like a rare and fragile thing, in the narrow straits between money power and always the outcome of particular conditions that can and none more so than the New Deal, which seems ike an extraordinary subplot in the American story of acked up by the Bill of Rights. o had reason to know, said that the reform ry twenty years and is lucky to last a single advice of his young assistant assistant secretary took Wilson’s words to Deal on a fast tradk. Roosevelt’s moment of op htly longer than Wilson’s then it , too , was gone. 912, campaigning in New Haven, Wilson con ‘..fias been troubling liberals ever since. In the had become tremendously complex, and the atened individual freedom in a new way. He re Jefferson had warned against excessive goy n the activities of citizens, a warning that had emocratic Party ever since. By raising the spirit of erson, Wilson was admitting that modern conditions, posed a can t with inherited valuesthat the rise of trusts presented a difficult for Democrats. Then he proceeded rhetorically to untie it: It i feel confident that if Jefferson were living in our day he elvhat we see: that the individual is caught in a great con ed nexus of all sorts of complicated circumstances, and that to let ne is to leave him helpless against the obstacles with which he has to contend; and that, therefore, law in our day must come to the assistance of the individual. It must come to his assistance to see that he gets fair play; that is all, but that is much…. Freedom today is mething more than being let alone.’ Modern life, especially the practices of large corporations, had made government interference in the economy necessary for freedomthe “New Freedom.” With this insight a progressive could remain a Jeffersonian, Wilson had seen the dilemma, acknowledged it, and deftly resolved it. He had also scored points on the stump. By couching the problem of trusts as a matter of restoring freedom to the individual, Wilson was positioning himself against Theodore Roosevelt, whose brand of progressivism accepted the fact of increasing bigness in American life, proposing to use government to regulate or take over monopoly but not break it up. T.R.’s intellectual champion, Herbert Croly, had already antici pated Wilson’s argument and refuted it three years earlier, in his book, The Promise of American Life: “The central government in its policy toward the large corporations must adopt one of two courses. Either it must discriminate in their favor or it must discriminate against them. The third alternativethat of being what is called ‘impartiarhas no real existence.” In other words, Wilson’s idea of eliminating unfair trade practices and reverting to an older system of free economic individualism, in which government took no sides, was a fantasy. Trusts existed because of fair play and equal rights; bigness was inescapable. Social justice required enlarging the state, not reducing the corporations. “Thus the Jeffersonian principle of national irresponsibility can no longer be maintained by those Democrats who sincerely believe that the inequalities of power gen erated in the American economic and political system are dangerous to the integrity of the democratic state.” Wilson won the argument in 1912. But the dilemma refused to be resolved so easily. New Freedom reforms like the Federal Trade Commission ended up regulating monopoly instead of competition. After America entered the European war in 1917, the War Industries Board undertook the first large-scale nationalization of the economy. The wartime Espionage Act deprived individual freedoms like no piece of legislation since the Alien and Sedition Act of 1798, which Jefferson ran against in 1800. By 1918 events, conditions, and his own choices had Wilson presiding over a vastly more powerful national state, far closer to Roosevelt and Croly’s New Nationalism than to the New Freedom. A decade and a half later, the New Deal accelerated and consolidated the trend. For the better part of the twentieth century, Herbert Croly won the argument. But the worm turned again, and the ghosts of Jefferson and Jackson came back to haunt their party. Since the 1960s, the traditional Democratic slogan of “Equal rights for all, special privileges for none” has worked against liberals and in favor of conservatives. Individualism turns out to be a value Americans won’t turn over to “national purpose” quite so willingly as Croly imagined. Wilson’s dilemma remains unresolved. Liberals today face a problem indirectly inherited from the Progressive era and similar to Wilson’s in one way. He tried to carry the flag for nineteenth-century ideas in a new era of economic concentration; liberals now carry the flag for twentieth-century ideas in a new era of political decentralization nationally and economic concentration globally. Neither one of these two trends is hospitable to the social contract prevailing since the 1930s and its primary guarantor, the federal government. We are trying to remain New Dealers, as Wilson tried to remain a Jeffersonian, when it may no longer be possible. To be continued. Reprinted from the Fall 1997 issue of Dissent. NOVEMBER 7, 1997 12 THE TEXAS OBSERVER
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