February 21, 2016

Franklin Roosevelt

PBS American Experience




Franklin Roosevelt (1882 – 1945):
[The] only thing we have to fear is fear itself …

[There] must be an end to a conduct in banking and in business which too often has given to a sacred trust the likeness of callous and selfish wrongdoing. …

[In] our progress toward a resumption of work we require two safeguards against a return of the evils of the old order:
  • there must be a strict supervision of all banking and credits and investments, so that there will be an end to speculation with other people's money; and
  • there must be provision for an adequate but sound currency. …

[We] now realize as we have never realized before, our interdependence on each other …
[That] we cannot merely take but we must give as well …
(First Inauguration Address, 4 March 1933)

A few timid people, who fear progress, will try to give you new and strange names for what we are doing.
Sometimes they will call it 'Fascism.'
And sometimes 'Communism.' …
And sometimes 'Socialism.'
But in so doing, they are trying to make very complex and theoretical something that is really very simple and very practical.
I believe in practical explanations and in practical policies …

[The] simplest way … to judge recovery lies in the plain facts of your own individual situation.
Are you better off than you were last year?
Are your debts less burdensome?
Is your bank account more secure?
Are your working conditions better?
Is your faith in your own individual future more firmly grounded. …

Plausible self-seekers and theoretical die-hards will tell you of the loss of individual liberty.
[Again,] answer this question out of the facts of your own life.
Have you lost any of your rights or liberty or constitutional freedom of action and choice?
(Fireside Chat, No 117, 28 June 1934)

[We] struggle with the old enemies [—] business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism [and] sectionalism …
We know … that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.
Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. …

[There are] those who disparage their fellow citizens on the relief rolls.
They say that those on relief are not merely jobless — that they are worthless.
Their solution for the relief problem is to end relief — to purge the rolls by starvation. …

[It] is my deep conviction that democracy cannot live without … a sense of justice and of moral purpose.
(The Second New Deal, 31 October 1936)

Henry Fletcher (1873 – 1959) [Chairman, Republican National Committee, 1934-6]:
The New Deal is government from above.
It is based on the proposition that the people cannot manage their own affairs and that a government bureaucracy must manage for them. …
(David Grubin, FDR, 1994)

Alistair Cooke (1908 – 2004)


[Roosevelt's National Recovery Act] galvanized the country.
It made such an enormous difference.
[When] I went around the country in 1933 … the whole mood had changed.
There was still the poverty … but [the people] felt somebody was looking out for them. …
It was an example of absolutely magnetic leadership that's never been touched since.
(Pebble Mill at One, BBC Television)

In the month before his inauguration, banks were failing every hour, and for two weeks gold and currency were being withdrawn at the appalling rate of $15 million a day.
The government, which had lent over $850 million to the banks, now started to lend heavily to the railroads.
On March 4, 1933, the day of his inauguration, Roosevelt [closed] every bank in the country.
(p 329)

He … shoved through Congress huge federal loans for public works, and at the same time [gave the industrial worker] the right to organize and bargain.
He handed out hard dollars to the unemployed and took three million youngsters off the streets to build highways and plant ten million trees.
He mobilized actors in the federal theater and … hired unemployed scholars, writers, and local historians to produce several hundred … guidebooks to the states.
He stopped the automatic production of groaning farm surpluses, … built enormous dams to hold the flooding of the great river valleys, [and] conserved the soil of the worn-out South …
In all … he established once [and] for all the federal government's right to plan economic and social welfare on a national scale [— just] as the great corporations had done for their industries …
(p 331)

I believe he saved the capitalist system …
(p 332)

(Alistair Cooke's America, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2003)


Isaiah Berlin (1909 – 1997)


… Roosevelt stands out principally by his astonishing appetite for life and by his apparently complete freedom from fear of the future; as a man who welcomed the future eagerly as such, and conveyed the feeling that whatever the times might bring, all would be grist to his mill, nothing would be too formidable or crushing to be subdued and used and moulded into the pattern of the new and unpredictable forms of life into the building of which he, Roosevelt, and his allies and devoted subordinates would throw themselves with unheard-of energy and gusto.
(p 615)

So passionate a faith in the future, so untroubled a confidence in one's power to mould it, when it is allied to a capacity for realistic appraisal of its true contours, implies an exceptionally sensitive awareness, conscious or half-conscious, of the tendencies of one's milieu, of the desires, hopes, fears, loves, hatreds of the human beings who compose it, of what are impersonally described as social and individual 'trends'.
Roosevelt had this sensibility developed to the point of genius. …
His sense, not only of the movement of American public opinion but of the general direction in which the larger human society of his time was moving, was what is called uncanny.
The inner currents, the tremors and complicated convolutions of this movement seemed to register themselves within his nervous system with a kind of seismographical accuracy. …

Peoples far beyond the frontiers of the United States rightly looked to him as the most genuine and unswerving spokesman of democracy of his time, the most contemporary, the most outward-looking, the boldest, most imaginative, most large-spirited, free from the obsessions of an inner life, with an unparalleled capacity for creating confidence in the power of his insight, his foresight, and his capacity genuinely to identify himself with the ideals of humble people.
(p 615)

[He was] the herald of the bright and cloudless civilisation of the future …
(p 617)

In a despondent world which appeared divided between wicked and fatally efficient fanatics marching to destroy, and bewildered populations on the run, unenthusiastic martyrs in a cause they could not define, he believed in his own ability, so long as he was at the controls, to stem this terrible tide.
He had all the character and energy and skill of the dictators, and he was on our side.
He was, in his opinions and public action, every inch a democrat. …

What the Germans thought Hitler to be, Hitler, in fact, largely was, and what free men in Europe and in America and in Asia and in Africa and in Australia, and wherever else the rudiments of political thought stirred at all — what all these felt Roosevelt to be, he in fact was.
He was the greatest leader of democracy, the greatest champion of social progress in the twentieth century.
(pp 634-5)

But Roosevelt's greatest service to mankind (after ensuring the victory against the enemies of freedom) consists in the fact that he showed that it is possible to be politically effective and yet benevolent and human: that the fierce left- and right-wing propaganda of the 1930s, according to which the conquest and retention of political power is not compatible with human qualities, but necessarily demands from those who pursue it seriously the sacrifice of their lives upon the altar of some ruthless ideology, or the practice of despotism — this propaganda, which filled the art and talk of the day, was simply untrue.
Roosevelt's example strengthened democracy everywhere, that is to say the view
  • that the promotion of social justice and individual liberty does not necessarily mean the end of all efficient government;
  • that power and order are not identical with a strait-jacket of doctrine, whether economic or political;
  • that it is possible to reconcile individual liberty — a loose texture of society — with the indispensable minimum of organising and authority; and
  • [that] in this belief lies what [Abraham Lincoln] once described as 'the last best hope of earth'.
(p 636)

(The Proper Study of Mankind, Vintage, 2013)