Recovery & Reformation
The following editorial first appeared in the November 17, 1933, issue of Commonweal.
As the first snow flurries of the winter begin to fall, and bitter winds out of the north grimly herald the approach of the worst struggle against cold and hunger and distress that the nation has ever faced, it is no mere coincidence that squalls of raucous criticism and real storms of discontent should break out against the President's program of recovery, and that ugly mutterings of revolt against his fundamental plan of national reformation should be heard. The farm strike in the Middle West is only the most spectacular of these signs of disappointment and reaction. There are indications that the dairymen of New York and Connecticut and Pennsylvania may again attempt a similar movement. The declaration of a coal strike in the Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, region, by a new union of miners, fighting not only against the operators but also against a rival union, is only one main instance of disturbed labor conditions throughout the country. Simultaneously with these events, there is apparent a widespread attack upon the NRA, not merely directed against details of its administration, but against it as a policy. Its total abandonment is urged in many quarters . A large number of newspapers have led the campaign of criticism, professing to be particularly alarmed by the alleged threat to the liberty of the press which they considered to be inherent in the NRA code for newspapers . The alarmist war-cries of "Sovietism," or "dictatorship," or "unconstitutional," have been raised vehemently and persistently.
So far as we have been able to judge, however, no alternative plan to that of the President has been proposed. If there is any concrete idea behind the outbreak of fault-finding, it apparently is pure reaction. The notion seems to be that if all the fads and follies foisted upon the country by idealistic (or socialistic) college professors, so strangely chosen by the President as advisers in place of practical business men and politicians, are swept away, all that would then be needed to return the country to prosperity would be to let the practical business men and politicians have a free hand to run the national affairs by hitching the economic and financial apparatus to the "natural forces of recovery" which are presumed to be reexerting themselves, and which may be safely relied upon if only the idealistic reformers are prevented from meddling with the affair.
That seems to be the idea—and the only discoverable one—back of the barrage of criticism. And it seems to us to be utterly futile. Of course, it is true, as the critics point out, that the recovery program is creaking and jarring, and here and there parts of it have broken down. It is also true that less than four million men and women have been restored to wage earning, and that many times that number are still unemployed . A hundred other accusations of the sort are true. Nevertheless, the really great fact which a thousand minor criticisms cannot alter, although they may disastrously conceal it for a time, still stands evident—namely, that President Roosevelt has gloriously led this nation toward a real reformation of its entire polity, and that the nation as a whole is aware of that fact, and is determined to go ahead with him, and under his leadership.
Among the flood of editorial comments upon the present situation, the most truly enlightening one which we have seen is in the pages of a foreign review, G. K.'s Weekly, of London. "The time has come for thoughtful observers to be discouraged about the experiment inaugurated by President Roosevelt," says G. K.'s Weekly, "as no doubt thoughtful observers were discouraged soon after Hercules began his attempts to cleanse the Augean stables ." The English observer disclaims any special knowledge of American conditions .
Like Will Rogers, all he knows about the situation is what he reads in the papers, and he knows enough about contemporary journalism not to trust in all he reads . But G. K. Chesterton's paper—like G. K. C. himself—possesses a philosophy by means of which to judge the events recorded by newspapers much more accurately than most of the newspapers can judge them. For that philosophy is solidly grounded upon Christian principles. It is a fundamental axiom of that philosophy that social justice—the welfare of the masses of mankind—is more important than the sort of national "prosperity" which means enormous wealth and socially perilous power for a few privileged cliques and classes, and poverty or destitution, or the permanent danger of poverty and destitution, to the masses of the people. That is also the philosophy which this journal holds. We believe that it also has become the dominant philosophy of the great masses of Americans, and that it finds its practical leader in President Roosevelt.
As G. K.'s Weekly goes on to say: "Since March last the United States have been transformed by an internal revolution of which President Roosevelt is the soul. The revolution has not succeeded—nor have many other revolutions in the past succeeded half way through. But there is this to be said for President Roosevelt and his advisers, that they have taken extravagant care throughout not to dangle before the eyes of the American people the glittering carrot of Utopia. If anything they have been pessimistic.... Yet it is something to have achieved that much of a revolution that is recognized as monumental though incomplete and hazardous, where the forces against any chance of success at all were overwhelming. For President Roosevelt has had to deal at once with unemployment, financial chaos, the opposition of vested interests, corruption in all organs of government, and all departments of commerce, European complications and vital developments in Asia."
The real name of the revolution not wrought but understood and led and directed by President Roosevelt is "reformation." Walt Whitman prophesied long ago that, "all changes in appearances are without avail, without a change in that which underlies all appearances." It is truly a reformation of the spirit which this nation seeks, and which its President is leading. Wonderful results have already come from his leadership. Greater results will come if that leadership is maintained. The inaugural address is the charter of that "internal revolution" which has occurred in the American nation. "Yes, the money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit."
If the President's program should be overthrown, either by panic among the people, or by stupid reaction, only a quasi-dictatorship of financial and industrial forces can be expected, as an alternative to the sheer chaos which simply returning to the old regime would mean. And that condition at its best would be worse than any discomforts or delays which the people may suffer in following President Roosevelt on the road of reformation.