Tuesday, March 26, 2013

"...the pompous futility of such a Congress..."

From Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal by William E. Leuchtenburg, Chapter 2:
It was frequently remarked in later years that Roosevelt saved the country from revolution. Yet the mood of the country during the winter of 1932-33 was not revolutionary. There was less an active demand for change than a disillusionment with parliamentary politics, so often the prelude to totalitarianism in Europe.

Many Americans came to despair of the whole political process, a contempt for Congress, for parties, for democratic institutions, which was caught by the relentless cynicism of Of Thee I Sing. "There is no doubt in the world," wrote William Dodd, "that both political parties have been bankrupted." The "lame duck" session from December, 1932, through February, 1933, further damaged the prestige of Congress. At a time of mounting crisis, Congress failed to produce a single important piece of economic legislation.

Many argued that the country could get out of the morass of indecision only by finding a leader and vesting in him dictatorial powers. Some favored an economic supercouncil which would ignore Congress and issue edicts; Henry Hazlitt proposed abandoning Congress for a directorate of twelve men. Others wished to confer on the new president the same arbitrary war powers Woodrow Wilson had been granted. Even businessmen favored granting Roosevelt dictatorial powers when he took office. Distressed by the chaotic competition in industries such as oil and textiles, alarmed by the outbursts of violence, convinced of the need for drastic budget slashing, they despaired of any leadership from Congress. "Of course we all realize that dictatorships and even semi-dictatorships in peace time are quite contrary to the spirit of American institutions and all that," remarked Barron's. "And yet -- well, a genial and lighthearted dictator might be a relief from the pompous futility of such a Congress as we have recently had... So we return repeatedly to the thought that a mild species of dictatorship will help us over the roughest spots in the road ahead."

(In case you were wondering why Hayek was all worked up over totalitarianism.)

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