25 February 2012

Franklin D. Roosevelt on Problems of The Day: August 1932

One of the pivotal issues of the 1930's was 'regimentation' versus 'individualism.' The Republicans Herbert Hoover and Alf Landon that actions taken by the government in social and economic matters would lead to 'regimentation' and the loss of liberty, which for them was laissez-faire business as in the 1920's.

Roosevelt went on the attack, with the theme that liberty and political equality means little in the face of overwhelming inequality of economic and social power in what had become an oligarchy.

It is remarkable how little people understand of their own history, and the long debates that have occurred even in the memories of their own families.

"...I, too, believe in individualism; but I mean it in everything that the word implies.

I believe that our industrial and economic system is made for individual men and women, and not individual men and women for the benefit of the system.

I believe that the individual should have full liberty of action to make the most of himself; but I do not believe that in the name of that sacred word a few powerful interests should be permitted to make industrial cannon fodder of the lives of half of the population of the United States.

I believe in the sacredness of private property, which means that I do not believe that it should be subjected to the ruthless manipulation of professional gamblers in the stock markets and in the corporate system.

I share the President's [Hoover's] complaint against regimentation; but unlike him, I dislike it not only when it is carried on by an informal group, an unofficial group, amounting to an economic Government of the United States, but also when it is done by the Government of the United States itself.

I believe that the Government, without becoming a prying bureaucracy, can act as a check or counterbalance to this oligarchy so as to secure the chance to work and the safety of savings to men and women, rather than safety of exploitation to the exploiter, safety of manipulation to the financial manipulators, safety of unlicensed power to those who would speculate to the bitter end with the welfare and property of other people.

Yes, the word 'individualism' is a bitter word in the mouths of Republican leaders, who have fostered regimentation without stint or limit. Opposition to financial exploitation is a ghastly sham in men who have created, encouraged and brought into being the very power of exploitation.

We must go back to first principles; we must make American individualism what it was intended to be--quality of opportunity for all, the right of exploitation for none."

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Campaign Address, August 20, 1932