Book Review – Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time by Ira Katznelson

This is possibly the most fascinating review of the New Deal Era I have ever read. Mr. Katznelson explores how the evil system of segregation and racism distorted the revolutionary impulse of the New Deal.

Mr. Katznelson explores the origins of the New Deal and the series of compromises that created the new America.

What he does, very well, is transport us to the time place and the specific challenges that liberal democracy was facing. In particular, confronted with gargantuan problems other societies were rejecting democracy in favor of totalitarianism. Among the over intellectualized élite the idea that liberal democracy could deal with the problems of the state was viewed as silliness.

And yet, somehow, the United States was able to use the power of the state and to keep democracy at the same time.

And for those of us who are watching the Republican Right tear the power of the state to protect the poor, this is a fascinating book because it shows how revolutionary that impulse to change the nature of government was.

What I found most fascinating though, was the impact of Racism on the New Deal. Throughout the period of the New Deal, the southern Democrats were key to getting legislation passed. And they were willing to support legislation as long as it never touched the evil system of segregation.

The Southern Democrats support of the New Deal was that they had poor white men they wanted to help. And their solution was to tax the rich Northern industrialist and transfer wealth south. However, nothing could be done to touch the evil system they had in place.

So for example, they were in favor of a minimum wage as long as it did not touch house maids and farmers. They were in favor of unions until the unions started championing equal wages for all. They were in favor of programs that gave block grants to states instead of national programs because block grants could be used to help the whites and keep everyone else out.

In fact, the entire project known as states rights was not about preserving the liberty of individual states, but rather the white man prerogative to keep their boot on the back of the neck of the non-white and women.

What is fascinating is how the South want to protect the white man’s right to be free, did not align with Naziism because Nazi’s restricted the white man’s freedom … An amazing tribute to the South’s ability to keep two conflicting thoughts in their head.

And lastly what is fascinating to me is why the South is so passionately in favor of military spending. The Southern states benefited immensely from the growth in the military industrial complex in the WWII and Cold War era, and supplemental military spending disproportionately favors them. In effect, the South hates jobs programs that benefit anyone but themselves. Unlike everyone else they wrap their job program in the American Flag.

Twice in the last 150 years has America attempted to reform the south, once in the post Civil War during reconstruction and once more in the 1960’s during the civil rights era. The sad reality is that during the most important revolutionary era, the failures of Reconstruction cost America bitterly.

Reading this book reminds me of how compromise with evil is necessary, but fighting evil is essential.

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