July 22, 2018


The First Nationalist: The Right makes its peace with Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal. (KEVIN D. WILLIAMSON, July 22, 2018, National Review)

Professor Samuel H. Beer of Harvard, once a speechwriter for Franklin Roosevelt, lived nearly a century, from 1911 to 2007. If he'd lived a bit longer, he might have made a good speechwriter for Donald Trump.

In 1979 (about the time of my first political memories: inflation and gasoline rationing), Professor Beer took to the pages of The New Republic to advise a struggling President Jimmy Carter, offering him a way forward: nationalism. Nationalism, he wrote, was the real theme of FDR's administration and of the New Deal. What Roosevelt was after wasn't a socialist-style redistribution of income but a redistribution of power: among competing economic and social groups, to be sure, but, most important, to Washington, with the national government guiding the nation in an unprecedentedly direct manner toward the national ends defined by the president. Professor Beer wrote:

Franklin Roosevelt's nationalism was, first, a doctrine of federal centralization. The principle of federal activism, which some have seen as the principal dividing line in American politics since the 1930s, was introduced by the New Deal. But Roosevelt called not only for the centralization of government, but also for the nationalization of politics.

Those masochists familiar with the grotesque thing currently calling itself The New Republic will be surprised to learn that, in the view of one of its most distinguished contributors, the great hope for progressive victories was to be found in nationalism, and that the great obstacle to progressive achievement was identity politics -- "pluralism," in the language of the time. As I have said on too many occasions, more Beer:

In recent years American politics has been distracted by a new and destructive pluralism. This new pluralism disorganizes public policy and sets group against group. Its paralyzing and disorienting effects challenge citizens, leaders and above all the president to elicit and affirm a new nationalism that will again put us in mind of what makes us a people and again give direction to our public affairs.

It is significant that my National Review colleague Conrad Black has in these pages and elsewhere made original and eloquent defenses of two American presidents: Franklin D. Roosevelt and Donald J. Trump. Black's biography Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom is one of the finest things ever written about Roosevelt, who emerges in Black's telling not as a lefty antecedent to Bernie Sanders but as a thoroughgoing nationalist, one committed to that "principle of federal activism" that Professor Beer wrote about, whose purpose was to bend the fractious political, regional, and economic blocs to a unified national purpose: recovering from the Depression, first, and then beating back savagery abroad. [...]

Goldberg's argument in Liberal Fascism was scorned by progressives (many of whom obviously had not actually read the book) who took his connection of progressivism to fascism as serving a merely pejorative purpose rather than a substantive one. But as Professor Beer wrote a generation ago, the question of federal activism is central to our politics, and nationalism is the spiritual energy of such activism. President Trump understands the federal government not as a guarantor of liberty but as an activist champion for American business interests, and nationalist hocus-pocus is deployed to prevent such inconvenient questions as why the interests of Americans who sell steel should trump the interests of Americans who buy steel, or why we should encourage automobile manufacturing rather than software engineering, commercial space exploration, or medical research.

Donald would have gladly kept the Jews out, maintained Jim Crow and put Japanese-Americans in cages.

Posted by at July 22, 2018 6:19 PM