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Today, historians still have a reason to argue Roosevelt’s tries to cope with a mission called the New Deal. However, they say American society was saved as a result of his reformist course that derived from the historical impasse. Various authors differently interpret the nature of Roosevelt’s measures. Liberal historians tend to refer to the New Deal as the third American Revolution that transformed the capitalist state in the nation-wide one. Conservative scientists argue that Roosevelt only strengthened the basic fundamental principles of America. Marxists, however, mostly recognizing the historical role of the New Deal, take it as capitalism rescue through reforms of the socialist revolution. However, there is a point of view which seems fair: Roosevelt's reforms contributed to a radical transformation of classical capitalism based on its connection with the process of socialization.
It does not mean American society has become socialistic as a result of the reform of President Roosevelt, but it ceased to be one of classical capitalism. The transformations also happened with a series of economic and social institutions and the rights recognized only in the first socialist social ideals. However, Roosevelt himself never sought for the alternative development for the country within the choice between capitalism and socialism. In his speeches, letters, he consistently advocated the separation of Americans’ generations, ‘rendezvous with destiny’, into two main schools of thought – liberal and conservative. Liberalism, interpreted by Roosevelt, strongly argued in favor of targeted democratic government's efforts to transform society uniting it around government in order to remedy the social and economic evils of all classes and strata. Here, liberalism is in contrast to conservatism which stated that the development of history was disposed to natural forces.
The research literature widely believes that Roosevelt was a pragmatist acting on a whim by trial and error. Moreover, it seems true that the president’s social experiments were the requirements of the day, but not consciously chosen ideals and goals. It appears that the analysis of the ideology and practice of the New Deal shows that his practical measures were often preceded by feasibility studies, which resulted from the demand of life, not from dogma. Roosevelt consciously moved along a transformative path. By the end of his presidency, not only liberal policies were filled with new qualities, but also the liberal ideology as a whole. However, auditing and improving liberalism that Roosevelt used did not involve specifying any theoretical authority. It has led to a belief among many researchers that the president-reformist was an absolute pragmatist.
Roosevelt was an ideologue collectivist: he put forward and, developed new ideas being not alone. He relied on a group of close advisers and intellectuals known as the ‘brain trust’. He defined the strategic goals of transformation, their main content. Members of the ‘brain trust’ saturated his plans with specific design, details; they acted as scientific experts. Roosevelt carefully created and edited all the projects prepared by the group in accordance with his speech recommendations.
Roosevelt actively responded to changing historical realities and insisted to act up to the demands of the day in practical politics. In the years of presidency, he repeatedly reminded Americans about the commitment to the fundamental liberal values specifically explaining what those meant. Moreover, he consistently demonstrated a commitment to the organic, transformation process that avoided revolutionary and radical jumps. Furthermore, it was supposed to improve and complement, but not in any case to abolish liberal values enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, the Federal Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. He interpreted this idea in the spirit of pragmatic philosophy stressing that innovation, both large and small, should not be carried out in accordance with the speculation and ideological clichés, but only in response to the demands of life.
The idea of social changes became Roosevelt’s favorite credo. Those should have been implemented without delay after they had matured. Additionally, the society and the government should have fulfilled only quite realistic, fully transparent and certain successful-to-be projects.
Led by Roosevelt, the Democratic Party significantly expanded its social base in the 30s. It has built a strong coalition of small and medium businesses with the workers, the Afro-American population, farmers and had every reason to claim to be the party of the middle class. This required its reorientation of ideological and tactical approaches to all segments of the society, not just the lower and the middle, but also higher. Roosevelt played huge, if not a decisive, role in this process.
However, Roosevelt’s requirement of the government’s non-class and non-partisan approach to human rights as to the socio-economic realities was not original to American politicians. The president’s attitude to the higher strata of society and monopolies was very controversial, but always critical. During his presidential campaign in 1932, Roosevelt explicitly blamed the economic crisis on the monopolies, this ‘economic oligarchy’, which had more than half of the nation's productive capacity in their hands. They approved high, inaccessible to most people, prices of goods, which resulted in the crisis of overproduction, suspension of production, unemployment, and poverty. On June 16, 1933, Roosevelt signed the National Industrial Recovery Act in accordance to which a monopoly controlled by the government had to follow the Code of Fair Competition. The document included standards of the amounts of raw materials and manufactured products, commodity prices and wages and was supposed to prevent further interruption, and allowed workers to maintain a tolerable existence.
Anti-monopoly liberal doctrine of Roosevelt led to the appearance of the idea of L. Brandeis and Woodrow Wilson. It aimed to make the Democratic Party a union of the middle class to win the unconditional support of the majority of the nation. To answer the question of whether Roosevelt was successful to practically implement what was beyond Wilson’s power is impossible. On the one hand, Roosevelt could not hold the unbundling of monopolies that would be a visible embodiment of antimonopoly, but on the other hand, he took real steps to limit the activities of corporations, monopolistic exploitation, and redistribution of the national cake in favor of the poor.
An important theme of the ideology and practice of the New Deal from the beginning was turning to the ‘forgotten man’. After 1935, this motif came to a leading position. One of the most dramatic Roosevelt’s departures from the canons of the old liberalism was the idea that wealth, property and income created by the efforts of a community of individuals rather than a capital needed to be allocated on a new and fair basis. Hence, there had to be a mechanism of wealth redistribution, which was administered by the state. One of the main channels of reallocation of wealth in favor of the forgotten Americans was developed by the state social insurance system. In 1935, two types of state social insurance, old age, and unemployment, were introduced in the United States. Although federal law on social insurance was limited, it was important since, for the first time, it turned a federal state into the guarantor of vital social rights of workers. It was a major breakthrough in the theory and practice of classical bourgeois social policy.
Another accomplishment was reached in the same year, namely, the federal Workplace Relations Act. It guaranteed workers the right to form trade unions, management and collective bargaining with employers and the right to strike. In 1938, the National Congress adopted legislation that determined a maximum working week with regard to industries that were the federal competence. All these actions corresponded to Roosevelt’s concept of ‘refueling pump’ that meant the redistribution of wealth in order to increase the workers’ purchasing power and mitigation and resorption of the crisis of overproduction. Therefore, the president’s ideology consciously chased egalitarian principles designed to rally the masses around the state and ensure the national unity on the basis of a qualitatively new social policy.
Roosevelt, both theoretically and practically, tried to change the terms of the social contract between the state and social classes in an effort to ensure that the interests of the people got a much fuller account and the ones of the monopolies were kept and structured. This concept of a new social contract was finished in the 40s when the president drafted the second Bill of Rights. If the first one guaranteed Americans political freedoms of speech, press, and assembly, the second was a guarantee of the right to work, paid vacation, housing, income, providing a competitive wage and health care. This project was based on the ideology of liberalism which meant its highest social democratization; however, a huge distance was between its proclamation and further implementation.
In general, Roosevelt succeeded in significant liberalism updating on the basis of its social-democratization. The president also achieved real progress in the practical implementation of new ideas. Overcoming doubts and using bold experiments, Roosevelt was not afraid to save and improve American capitalism by means of the measures that have traditionally been associated with socialism. However, thanks to the remarkable political intuition, he took from socialism as much as needed for resuscitation without crushing the American system. It is hard to say whether the New Deal was an absolute good. However, Roosevelt proved by word and deed that the alternative to capitalism or socialism was, in fact, false, that their ideas could be crossed and that society, thanks to the skillful social engineering, could well avoid the seemingly inevitable disasters, civil wars or bloody revolutions.
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- American History