New Deal

The New Deal Goes South

Franklin Roosevelt vs. civil rights.

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Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time, by Ira Katznelson, Liveright, 706 pages, $29.95.

Despite its subtitle, Ira Katznelson's Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time does not focus solely on New Deal policies. Instead, the book discusses a range of events in American and world history that took place during the Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman administrations. The topics sometimes seem almost randomly chosen, but a couple of themes emerge.

One is that, to an extent previously either ignored or underemphasized, politicians from the Jim Crow South controlled key committees in both houses of Congress, and therefore exerted a huge influence on the course of the New Deal. That part is true. Katznelson also indicates that the New Deal would have been more "progressive" but for the Southern Democrats. That part is more dubious.

As Katznelson acknowledges, Southern Democrats in the House and Senate tended to be extremely enthusiastic New Dealers and were among FDR's most loyal supporters on both domestic and foreign policy. And while Katznelson rightly points out that Southern political influence made it impossible for the New Deal to challenge the racial status quo in the South, he provides no evidence that the president wanted to challenge that status quo.

Indeed, perhaps the biggest disappointment in Fear Itself is Katznelson's missed opportunity to address an important and under-researched issue: how an early-20th-century economic progressivism that willingly accommodated segregation, eugenics, and other manifestations of racism evolved by the early 1960s into the racially tolerant liberalism we know today.

Fear Itself neglects this issue because Katznelson seems to assume that no explanation is needed. Like many modern American progressives, he writes as though, in the United States at least, economic statism inherently goes hand in hand with racial liberalism. But from the Civil War through the New Deal period there was no correlation between an American's views on economic policy and on civil rights. As late as 1952, Democratic presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson, who had a reputation as a liberal intellectual but a mixed record at best on civil rights issues, chose Alabama Sen. John Sparkman, a staunch Jim Crow supporter, as his running mate.

Katznelson is not much more insightful in discussing the late-1930s birth of a tentative coalition between Republican economic conservatives and Southern Democrats. Katznelson correctly asserts that southern politicians rebelled against President Roosevelt's attempt to align the wage structure of southern industry with the rest of the nation. FDR did this through a national minimum wage set to northern standards and by encouraging national unions that would set uniform wages.

Opposition to these policies did not, as Katznelson would have it, come solely or even primarily from a desire to preserve the racial status quo. Southern politicians were opposed because these policies were, and were designed to be, a threat to southern industry. The South had low capital investment, educated its youth in poor schools, and generally lacked air conditioning, which was still in its commercial infancy. The only advantage the South could offer employers was the region's low wages. As the historians Bruce Schulman and Gavin Wright have documented, FDR's attempt to create a national wage scale by government fiat represented an attempt to destroy southern industry at the behest of northern businesses and unions, which wanted to eliminate the South's low-wage competition.

Katznelson also fails to address the threat that federal wage policy posed to the livelihoods of millions of black workers who worked in southern industry, disproportionately in low-wage jobs. Tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of African Americans did lose their jobs thanks to the minimum wage established by the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act, and the rest were saved from unemployment only because World War II–inspired wage inflation kicked in before the act could be fully implemented.

This was hardly the only way that the New Deal didn't simply accommodate the Jim Crow order but further immiserated the lives of African Americans. Most important, the two Agricultural Adjustment Acts eliminated hundreds of thousands of African-American jobs. But, though Katznelson does address some less significant ways in which the New Deal hurt blacks, you won't learn that story from his book.

Katznelson's other major theme is a defense of Roosevelt from critics, left and right, who emphasize the New Deal's dictatorial elements. Katznelson acknowledges that New Deal economic planning was inspired in part by policies in Fascist Italy and that the New Deal tried to centralize economic authority in the executive branch. He attempts to explain the need for drastic measures by arguing that economic calamity threatened American democracy. And unlike Hitler and Mussolni, the author emphasizes, Roosevelt relied on powers duly granted to him by an elected Congress.

Katznelson's book neglects some of president's more controversial unilateral executive orders, such as Executive Order 6102, which required American to surrender their gold to the government; nor does it explore his effort to undermine the Supreme Court. Still, it's true that the United States navigated the 1930s with its democracy intact. But was American democracy ever really in jeopardy from the Great Depression?

A few fascistic figures such as Father Coughlin and Huey Long (both of whom make only brief cameos in Fear Itself) had significant followings in the 1930s, and the Communist Party reached a membership zenith. But the U.S. suffered little domestic political violence in the decade, and no undemocratic movement achieved any real traction. None of the other Anglosphere nations—Australia, Canada, Great Britain, New Zealand—faced a serious threat to its democracy in the 1930s, even without an FDR at the helm. The idea that FDR's embrace of soft fascism was necessary to preserve American democracy seems speculative at best, and a distortion of history to suit the author's affection for FDR's policies at worst. If Katznelson had made more of an effort to show how the New Deal affects modern times, and less time making excuses for Roosevelt's most questionable political choices, this would have been a much better book.

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  1. Why do these people always assume that racists are anti-redistributionists.

    Its been my experience that racists love them some welfare – just for themselves and not for others.

    1. Yeah, one of the reasons the Nazis picked the Jews to murder is that the Jews had lots of shit to take. From gold teeth to succesful businesses, the stalwart soldiers of the Aryan race lined their pockets with the plunder of the subhumans.

      Envy is the deadliest of all sins.

      1. Last week or so I said to my wife ” I think dogs are motivated primarily by envy.”.

        We have five in-house dogs. I had just watched one of them abandon a treat in order to steal an identical treat from one of the other dogs.

        Her reply: “How does that make them different from people?”.

        1. How often do you pet one and the other four come over demanding attention also?

    2. Lots of white nationalists are just socialists. They even supported Obama ffs.

      1. Yup. Here in Quebec that’s what they are: Nationalist-socialist-xenophobic.

        But shhhh. Don’t tell them that. They think because they love Italian food and salsa and line dancing they’re “open and tolerant.”

      2. Yep. Go to Stormfront and you can count the capitalists on one hand.

    3. Why do these people always assume that racists are anti-redistributionists.

      Because they’re fucking morons.

      Jim Crow economics were fundamentally anti-market fascism. And yet the same idiots actually believe that Jim Crow was the result of free markets.

      1. “And yet the same idiots actually believe that Jim Crow was the result of free markets.”

        Yep, let’s make a law enforcing segregation and call it a free market!

      2. I’ve had them tell me on numerous occasions that slavery was free-market capitalism run wild.

    4. Its been my experience that racists love them some welfare – just for themselves and not for others.

      Don’t forget about the racists who view those ‘others’ as requiring special advantages because they are inferior, incapable of controlling their own impulses or be responsible for their own behavior. You know, like pets or domesticated animals.

    1. So, I guess fatkinis just basically fail to cover a small section of midriff, but otherwise are similar to one-piece bathing suits in their coverage. So what is the damn point?

      1. whoever makes Spanx one-pieces will rake it in

    2. I linked that from the DM like last week or something. Please try to keep up.

      1. I must have blacked out on seeing your link.

        1. No. That was my penis that caused you to blackout.

  2. the racially tolerant liberalism we know today.

    lol!

    1. “how an early-20th-century economic progressivism that willingly accommodated segregation, eugenics, and other manifestations of racism evolved by the early 1960s into the racially tolerant liberalism we know today”

      That’s news to Tony, who set a cross on fire by the interstate last Saturday.

      1. That was a lower-case “t”, for “tolerance”.

    2. Yeah, I was chuckling about that too. The people who call themselves liberals today would be more aptly described as fascist and are anything but racially tolerant.

      1. Today’s liberals recognize that other races are inherently inferior to whites, which is why they support quotas and other measures to give those poor subhumans a fair chance.

      2. I don’t know. I’d say they are largely tolerant, but insultingly paternalistic.

  3. That part is true. Katznelson also indicates that the New Deal would have been more “progressive” but for the Southern Democrats.

    I’m sure the author thinks that this was a sad thing, but one wonders what a “more progressive” FDR administration would have looked like. Democracy in the US, such as it is, might have faced an actual threat had there not been some obstruction from somewhere. Times of severe economic dislocation are fertile ground for authoritarian “saviors” and proggies so often reveal themselves in that their support for FDR’s policies totally ignores the anti-democratic forces that moved them. (That is when they are not cheering this on.)

  4. but one wonders what a “more progressive” FDR administration would have looked like

    I think it would have looked at lot like this.

    1. Agreed, but I fear she is not long for life.

      1. It’s sad that Tunisia just doesn’t get it. “We don’t want those fundamentalist Islamic crazies threatening our freedom, but no Hos allowed!”

        1. Islam is in desperate need, I believe, for some kind of Reformation to avoid being in perpetual conflict with, well, the rest of the planet. I wish her, and people like her, all the luck in the world, but there will be a price to pay if it ever happens, given the structure of the religion and it’s resistance to change.

          Relatively speaking the “Islamic World” tends to have its greatest success the less strictly Sharia is applied to the body politic, and I think there are a growing number of Muslims that recognise this, but they face a seriously uphill challenge, at the moment.

          1. Eh, Islam used to be more moderate all around the world. But Saudi oil money allowed the Wahabbis to spread like a damn weed and drastically influence a lot of the more moderate strains of Islam around the globe.

            I’d argue that a more extreme/radical form of Islam that spread over the last half century was the Reformation.

            1. I’d argue that a more extreme/radical form of Islam that spread over the last half century was the Reformation Inquisition.

              Their Reformation is a long way off… of course Protestants burned witches and beaten slatterns as well.

              1. There is nothing inherently benign about anything called a “reformation”. This means just what it says. It’s a reform. A reformation of Islam take you back to a more fundamental (‘correct’) interpretation of what Islam is. The general idea is to clean up corruption and go back to the roots. It’s just that the roots of Islam were more about miligary conquest than the roots of most other religions. Add to that an ongoing command to continue to do so rather than conquest merely being a part of history and you have a problem.

          2. Islam is in desperate need, I believe, for some kind of Reformation

            We are witnessing Islam’s Reformation now.

            You aren’t going to like what it leads to.

    2. Rather than live in dumbfuckistan trying to turn red-eyed superstitious savages into civilized people, she should just bring her breasts and live at my house.

      1. I was going to make that offer, but you beat me to it, dammit. I will defer to you, but only if you swear to teach her the joys of making a tasty, tasty sandwich.

        /joke

    3. And it links to another article about supporters in Europe. In which one says, “”And we’ll fight against them. And our boobs will be stronger than their stones.”

      1. Sadly, they are wrong.

    4. “Fuck Your Morals”

      Awesome damn photo.

      1. What a clever and subtle way for her to make a point.

        I have looked her up on a number of sites and see that most publications, though they support her, blur her boobs out. *headsmack*

        1. Subtly is often lost on the aggressively stupid. Better a bludgeon than risk being ignored.

      2. Someone get her a raiser. I know she’s European, but still.

        1. Raiser….now there is a new one to me. I was just thinking that she could give me a ‘raiser’.

    5. The poor little priss pots. Town is unsafe and needing of protection, assaulted by a pair of tits.

    6. You know, sadly, this girl would be prosecuted in the US for similar crimes if she ran around topless.

  5. All joking aside that girl and her supporters are both courageous and incredibly dumb. Better that they protest by leaving. The rise of Islamic fanaticism has probably not reached it’s zenith. Leave that fucking shit hole, be a credit to your new home, and let those bastards stew in their own savagery.

    If they think that martyring themselves will accomplish anything, they are wrong. Most likely they will end up being murdered in the street by some cretin like the bald fucker that is kicking her in the photo. The crowds will cheer and the guy will get off with a warning ticket. It could even move things in the opposite direction, making it acceptable to assault women in the street for showing their faces.

    1. It turns out that, as Muslim-majority countries go, Tunisia is quite progressive. Much more Lebanon than Iran. If anyone, anywhere, is going to foment a western-style culture war that’s fought with words instead of bullets, Tunisia is an excellent choice of venue.

  6. In Spain there was revolution, here there was only shouting and confusion, and labor disturbances, sometimes violent, in otherwise peaceful cities.

    Tennessee Williams

  7. “…into the racially tolerant liberalism we know today.”

    That’s meant as sarcasm, right? I think today’s liberalism is racially tolerant only towards those whose views are in complete agreement. If you are a member of a minority group or a woman who disagrees with them on any important point, most feel justified to voice specifically racist or misogynistic condemnations without feeling any shame.

  8. “But from the Civil War through the New Deal period there was no correlation between an American’s views on economic policy and on civil rights.”

    This seems, from what I know an overly generous understatement. There was a correlation. It just tended to be that statism in economic policy was positively correlated with hostility to civil rights.

  9. If it weren’t so sick it’d be hilarious. Whatever ordinary folk think, Dem leaders continue to discriminate at least as much against their niggers as the KKK, and some of their most loyal supporters are the CBC niggers. It’s like WWII: some of Hitler’s most devoted followers were Jews, because it was OTHER Jews he was going to get, not them. Man has always been this depraved. It’s why we need a Saviour, God Who came in flesh as a Jew, Jesus Christ, to die for our sins. As our Founders said, without God, we’re fatally doomed. There’s only one race, the human race, but if there were such a thing as race and racism (there’s not), Dems would be vastly more devoted to it than the GOP, including the CBC, no matter their pretense to care fo its members, a self-serving lie Col. West well exposed. God save us.

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