The New Deal: Economic Crisis and Social Democracy
How did the party of Franklin D. Roosevelt, which built a modern welfare state that was arguably one of the only successful social democracies at the outset of WWII, help to create the dramatically rearranged neoliberal society we see today? The New Deal is often cited as a golden age for progressive politics in America. In the mid-1930s, with business conservatism discredited because of the Great Depression, political figures across the ideological spectrum vied to transform American capitalism during what many considered to be a revolutionary moment. A tenuous left-liberal coalition formed around Franklin D. Roosevelt and served as the basis for a broadly Keynesian consensus on political economy by the end of WWII. Yet, the “New Deal coalition” was, from the very start, roiled by contradiction, relying as it did not only on the cooperation of disparate left and labor groups, but also on a Congressional oligarchy of hardcore segregationists and the tacit or explicit maintenance of anti-Black legislation and exclusion. How can we understand the success, fragility, and ultimate demise of the New Deal? And, what can a study of the context and history of the New Deal teach us about social democratic politics and possibilities in the seemingly waning days of neoliberal hegemony?
In this course, we will focus on the “rise and fall of the New Deal Order,” to borrow the title of an influential volume, and consider what the ideologies, movements, and institutions of the 1930s have to teach us about our own volatile political moment. We’ll trace the economic and social crisis of the Depression and the range of political responses that rose to address it. We’ll then explore the strengths and weaknesses of the Roosevelt presidency, from its “alphabet soup” of Federal agencies and accidental Keynesianism to the forging of a labor-liberal coalition that incorporated a generation of immigrants even as it excluded Black Americans in crucial policy respects. A key theme will also be cultural and political alternatives offered by the Thirties Left, articulated in both nationalist and internationalist terms. Finally, we will consider how America’s rise to global hegemony during and after WWII preempted a more labor-liberal version of the New Deal, championed by Henry Wallace and FDR’s Second Bill of Rights in 1944. The resulting liberal nationalism of the Cold War set the stage for the hollowing out of social democracy beginning in the 1970s, with long-term consequences for the political horizon of progressive policies in the Democratic Party of Joe Biden. Readings for the course will be drawn from influential academic accounts, classic and contemporary, by Richard Hofstadter, Ira Katznelson, Michael Denning, Alan Brinkley, Liz Cohen, Judith Stein, and Philip Mirowski as well as primary sources by key intellectuals and political figures in the era, including FDR, Edmund Wilson, Sidney Hook, Huey P. Long, Richard Wright, Muriel Rukeyser, Clement Greenberg, Carey McWilliams, Henry Wallace, and others.
Course ScheduleTuesday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
March 02 — March 23, 2021