Herbert Hoover and the New Deal

Herbert Hoover’s memoir written in the 1940’s and 50’s had lain in vault until discovered in 2009. It is now being published under the title, The Crusade Years, 1933–1955. This is from a review of the book:

Now came the final phase of Hoover’s career: his remarkable ex-presidency. For the next thirty-one and one-half years, in fair political weather and foul, the former chief executive became, in his self-image, a crusader—a tireless and very visible castigator of the dominant political trends of his day. He behaved as a committed ideological warrior more persistently and more fervently than any other former president in our history.

Why? Most of all, it was because Hoover perceived in the New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt not a moderate and pragmatic response to economic distress but something more sinister: a revolutionary transformation in America’s political economy and constitutional order. Having espied the unpalatable future, Hoover could not bring himself to acquiesce.

Here is an excerpt from the review. The first paragraph is by the editor, George Nash, the remainder is Hoover himself.

Editor’s note: The paragraphs below are taken from the earliest extant fragment of Hoover’s memoirs relating to his post-presidential years. He probably composed it by hand in September 1944. In this brief essay he identified the poisonous ‘philosophical error’ that had come to dominate American politics during the New Deal years, an error he deemed it his moral duty to combat.

The period from 1933 to 1938 in America was dominated by a clash in philosophical ideas to which I felt it was my duty to apply every bit of strength I possessed. I was convinced that a great error had come into liberal thinking, which threatened to destroy the magnificent civilization which intellectual and spiritual freedom had builded and which was its impulse to progress. . . .

The error in ideas came first in the form of Socialism but had made little progress prior to the first World War. The root of the error was that government operation of economic instrumentalities, or government direction of their operation other than establishment of rules of conduct, could short-cut all human ills and produce immediate Utopia. This gigantic poison of liberty received a great impulse from the government agencies created to mobilize the whole energies of peoples in total war. Here the impulses of patriotism to produce and labor and the fear of the enemy were substituted for free will. After the war the inevitable flood of misery, of impoverishment and frustration furnished the hotbed for the growth of this gigantic error. It developed over Europe in various forms—all from the same root. Communism, Fascism, and the milder forms of Statism, were heralded by well-meaning and generous-minded men as to the new road to life. They were joined by demagogs and seekers-for-power. The ultimate end was slavery, whether in Communistic or Fascist form. This philosophic error had spread mildly in American thinking, but attained no dangerous proportions until the world-wide depression struck us with all its violence, misery and exposure of wrong-doing.

It was certain in my mind that the New Deal was but one form of this same error in ideas and that it was my job to fight it. But fighting a philosophic idea among a people who had never thought in these channels was not only a difficult thing in itself, but one must contend with demagogic promises of Utopia to a suffering people and the obvious needs of reform in the system itself.

The American people at large had scarcely heard the word ideology. They had developed and they had lived and breathed a way of life without defining it as an ‘ideology.’