Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. – New Deal Apologist

By: Thomas E. Brewton

The recent death of Professor Schlesinger brings to mind his wonderfully well-written historical surveys. It also reminds us of the misguided liberalism he ardently espoused.

Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., was a history professor at Harvard and the City University of New York, twice winner of the Pulitzer Prize for works of history, and a member of President John F. Kennedy’s White House staff.

His life-long devotion to liberal-Progressivism came partly from his family background, and partly from his undergraduate education at Harvard. When he received his degree in 1938, Harvard was in the vanguard of the relatively small number of atheistic and secular universities that were educating the Eastern liberal establishment.

Among his many historical analyses, one of the best known is The Age of Roosevelt, a three-volume, worshipful panegyric to the vast liberal-socialistic changes wrought by President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.

Franklin Roosevelt was himself a Harvard graduate, trained during the university’s transition from Christianity to socialism. In December, 1933, FDR adopted the collectivist, statist economic doctrines of British economist John Maynard Keynes’s, which prescribed massive Federal spending on anything, whether it produced useful products or not. Deficit spending, at unprecedented peacetime levels, was based on the Keynesian presumption that private businesses had failed and that henceforward the Federal government would have permanently to fund the major part of employment and economic activity.

Keynes was also a palpable influence on the climate of opinion at Harvard during Schlesinger’s undergraduate years there. Harvard was the launching pad for Keynesian economics in the United States, and Professor Alvin Hansen was the foremost Keynesian exponent in this country.

Between 1933 and 1940, the New Deal nationalized agriculture, promoted the expansion of membership and power of communist-led labor unions, and pushed businesses into the National Recovery Administration (NRA), an imitative version of Mussolini’s Fascist state corporatism.

In The Vital Center (1949) and The Politics of Hope (1963) Schlesinger depicted such actions, the creeping socialism of English Fabians, as a moderate and responsible mean between a failed conservatism and a revolutionary, radical socialism. He described Teddy Roosevelt’s New Nationalism, Woodrow Wilson’s New Freedom, and Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal as continuations of the 19th century’s Progress that presumably was leading mankind toward social perfection.

New Deal liberals he saw as the party of hope, of commitment to change to meet the problems created by ongoing economic and scientific dislocations. Anyone reading The Age of Roosevelt would come away believing that the New Deal had greatly improved business conditions and had effectively ended the Depression.

That picture, however, was a white-wash job. Statistics from the Federal Reserve Board and the Bureau of Labor Statistics relate a far bleaker reality. For eight years under the New Deal, unemployment averaged in the teens, more than twice today’s number. In 1939, the seventh year of the New Deal, unemployment averaged 16.7% for the entire year, almost four times as high as the 4.6% rate in January of 2007.

The Fed’s index of industrial production moved downward more often than up. Compared to the 1923-25 index base, industrial production was down 29% at the end of the New Deal’s first year. In 1939, when the economy was gearing up for the impending World War II, industrial production was still 8% below the level of fourteen years earlier.

Compare those numbers to our most recent recession, from the peak in 1999 to the bottom in 2001, when industrial production declined only about 1.75%.

There is no way to avoid the conclusion that the New Deal’s chaotic, anti-business programs produced the worst economic performance, for the longest time on record in the United States.

Professor Schlesinger wrote that liberalism is not socialism, because it rejects the “…classical connotation of state ownership of the basic means of production and distribution.”

This, however, was an intellectually dishonest dodge. Henri de Saint-Simon and Auguste Comte, who first codified socialism as a coherent doctrine, explicitly identified government regulation alone as both the essential element of socialism, and as sufficient to effect it. The social engineering mechanisms they proposed were precisely the sort that were imposed in the 1930s New Deal: a managed currency; control of farm output and prices; regulation of industrial output, prices, and wage rates; steeply-graduated income tax rates; welfare-state benefits, and, as an outgrowth, PC control of education, so that only liberal-socialist doctrine might be taught.

Despite Professor Schlesinger’s characterization of it as moderate and centrist, liberal-Progressivism is today moving rapidly toward nihilism, the “anything goes” doctrine of anarchist Mikhail Bakunin, aimed at letting sensual gratification be the only guide to conduct and thought in an atomized, every-man-for-himself society, devoid of moral and political consensus.

Thomas E. Brewton is a staff writer for the New Media Alliance, Inc. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets. His weblog is THE VIEW FROM 1776 –

About The Author Thomas E. Brewton:
Thomas E. Brewton is a staff writer for the New Media Alliance, Inc. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets.

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