Tag Archives: FDR

Pre-coffee thoughts on radicalism, the New Deal and looking past 2016

I gotta say, I really enjoy Dan Carlin. He’s better at history (check out his truly excellent Hardcore History series) than political analysis, and his thinking in Common Sense runs a bit conservative/Libertarian for my taste at times. But his “Martian perspective” is refreshing, and he opens up some interesting channels of thought.

In his latest episode of Common Sense (ep. 301), Carlin looks ahead to the 2020 election, given this year’s rebellion against both major parties. Should one of the establishment candidates succeed, the underlying distrust and dissatisfaction will only grow in intensity. What kind of candidates will rise to prominence THEN? It’s a disturbing thought to ponder, when you consider that the leading Republican candidate is surfing a populist wave of xenophobia, willful ignorance and race-baiting. What happens if the many voices who feel left out of the political process have another 4 years to stew in their rejection of mainstream politics?

It turns out that society is a cultural artifact, a fantasy castle in the clouds held aloft by our belief. As people start to see through the illusion, to recognize that it was not designed with them in mind, what are the real-world consequences to that loss of stability? The saga of the Bundys is, I believe, an outlier of things to come. Occupy Wall Street is another example of that sort of dissatisfaction. And since that protest withered away (or was choked off, depending on your sources) many more people actually live in tents on the street full-time. Desperation and anger have to be expressed, and if they are not channeled productively, those feelings will bubble over at inconvenient times and places. The Sanders campaign may be the last peaceful protest against economic inequality before the pitchforks and torches come out. None of us are any more than four or five meals from committing a crime.

It got me thinking about FDR. Perhaps at some point I’ll write about this in more depth, but it has been argued by better minds than mine that Roosevelt saved capitalism from itself, with an infusion of ‘socialism lite’. The system that existed in the post-WWI period was unsustainable, and during the Depression there was pressure from both the left and the right for radical solutions. Before WWII, both communism and fascism were openly espoused as utopian solutions, though after Pearl Harbor that changed dramatically. There’s a bit in Kurt Vonnegut’s “Jailbird” in which a character is blacklisted in the postwar period for communist leanings:

“All I had ever accused him of was membership in the Communist Party before the war, which I would have thought was about as damning for a member of the Depression generation as having stood in a breadline.”

Roosevelt’s level-headed response was essentially an inoculation against radicalism, and it is only now, as FDR’s work has been largely dismantled or defanged, that seemingly radical solutions are once again being widely considered. I leave it to you, Dear Reader, to interpret whether that is a good or bad thing. Certainly the safety net of the New Deal created a stability that forestalled any real revolutionary impulses for an entire generation, and even the tumult of the 1960s was more about building on that society than dismantling it. And the optimistic conservatism of the postwar period took a dim view of any contrarian voices suggesting that something was rotten at the very core of the Empire.

It remains to be seen then, what American truly needs; someone to steward a graceful descent from global Hegemon, or a race-car driver who will accelerate us all to “victory”, even if the finish line stands at a cliff.