Sunday, April 28, 2013

My Amazon Book Review on Ira Katznelson's, "Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time"

There have been thousands of books written on Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal. Instead of focusing on the executive branch, Katznelson shifts the focus to the Congress, particularly the southern Democrats who dominated the caucus and chaired the major committees. The author convincingly demonstrates that when the southerners were with him, Presidents Roosevelt and Truman got what they wanted. Conversely when the southerners opposed the Adminstration, the New and Fair Deals floundered. It is here where Katznelson makes an important contribution to our understanding of the New Deal and the early postwar era.

With respect to domestic policy, Katznelson views the approach the southerner took through the prism of race. Specifically where the southerners feared the underpinnings of the Jim Crow south were under attackl they backed away from Roosevelt. Although I largely agree with that thesis, the major failing of the book in my opinion, is that Katznelson ignored the Jacksonian roots of the southern Democrats then sitting in Congress. At its founding the Jacksonian Democrats were both racist domestically and hawkish with respect to foreign policy. Thus while the southerners, opposed Roosevelt dometically after 1938, they stood by him and later Truman in supporting the foreign and defense polcies of the emerging national security state.

I would recommend "Fear Itself..." to both serious students of American history and the casual reader interested in how much the the institutions we now take for granted came into being.

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