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Like the Gettysburg Address, President Roosevelt's Third Inaugural was brief, simple, non-demagogic. Perhaps, too, like Lincoln's remarks, it will be long remembered-its measured cadences applauded by later generations, as if in rebuke to Monday's undemonstrative throngs.
Intertwined in that Third Inaugural were two strands, expressing the domestic and the foreign purposes of the President and of this Administration. To balance his warning that "The hopes of the republic cannot forever tolerate either undeserved poverty or self-serving wealth" there was an equal emphasis that "In this day the task of the people is to save the nation from disruption from without." And it seemed somehow that the President spoke of both purposes when he proclaimed, "We do not retreat. We are not content to stand still. As Americans, we go forward, in the service of our country, by the will of God."
That has lately become the constant refrain of many another of this country's progressives. From Herbert Agar on alphabetically down the list, they have proclaimed-with Harvard's most distinguished son-that the Fight for Freedom "must and will" be fought simultaneously on two fronts: abroad against soul-cramping fascism, at home against poverty and reaction. This war, they urge, is not a barrier against social progress, but a path to it. Paraphrasing Herbert Croly, they hail the Promise of American Strife.
It is not difficult to fathom their mental processes. War, obviously, is a powerful stimulant to collective action under government leadership for a common purpose. The conquest of poverty requires similar action. Why not support the war, they reason, and utilize its mechanisms for purposes of social justice once the conflict is over, or even while it is still going on.
A quick look at Britain bolsters the courage of the War Liberals, for it would appear that a democratizing process is really under way there. Labor has increased its voice in the government councils, taxation is having a levelling effect, and the morale of the old reactionary ruling group seems to have been shaken. Peer and pauper are getting to know each other in the chummy atmosphere of a bomb shelter.
Whether this democratization is real it is still too early to say; the impending conscription of British labor must give even America's War Liberals pause. But there is still a stronger reason to regard the Two-Front argument as a liberal obfuscation so far as America is concerned. For we have had no Dunkirk to frighten our economic ruling group; nor have we a single, unified, political labor movement with recognized leaders ready to step into the government. Consequently, to America the war has thus far meant the strengthening of the hand of the economic royalist; a halting of social progress, and a burst of labor-baiting "patriotic" hysteria in and out of the halls of Congress; it has, in short, more nearly resembled Taps than Reveille for the New Deal.
The night, of course, is not entirely black. President Roosevelt's administration had a New Deal beginning and it may well have a New Deal end. But at the moment the prospects for progress are not bright. It is possible to argue that Hitler's defeat is essential to the political and military security of the United States-and if that were clearly the case, his conquest, even by actual belligerency, would come first. But to assert, as the President and his Liberals are doing, that War and Social Progress go hand in hand, is either dangerous self-hypnosis or deliberate deception.
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