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POLITICS

  By CARROLL QUIGLEY, Ph.D. 

Appeared in the 1957 edition of the SFS yearbook Protocol.

  

 We cannot compare the domestic politics of 1957 with the political situation of 1932 for the simple reason that they are not comparable. In 1932 we were in the depths of the world depression, while in 1957 we are still near the peak of a boom. If any comparison is to be made, it must be between 1929 and 1957. In these two years we find a business boom still climbing, the hectic social atmosphere which goes along with spending beyond our means and keeping up with the Jones', in the White House a Republican administration symbolized by a great man (in the earlier period a "Great Engineer" who was also a "Great Humanitarian," today a "Great General" who is also a "Great Pacifier"). And in both years, while Wall Street poured out securities, Detroit poured out automobiles and, over it all, the Federal Reserve Board, in hesitant and indecisive fashion, made motions toward restraining the inflation by nudging up the discount rate. Yes, at first glance 1957 looks much like 1929.
 
But really things are not the same. The superficial appearance may be similar, but the whole tone and above all the minds of the people are different. The difference arises from two things: in 1957 we have lived through the world depression and World War II. And as a consequence the gaiety and heady optimism of 1929 are replaced by the secret worries and fears beneath today's surface appearance. This change is reflected in the fact that the graduate of June 1929 was eager to get out into the prosperity rat-race, while the graduate of June 1957 is hesitant to leave the relative quiet of academic life. The goal of the new alumnus has shifted from riches to security.
 
The great change in American domestic life goes back to the New Deal. The Republican Administration of 1929 was an alliance of Wall Street and heavy industry lording it over unorganized labor, disorganized farmers, resentful commercial interests, and sheep-like consumers. The selfishness of its policies combined with its totally unrealistic economic and (above all) financial ideas to lead America to economic collapse. The Republican Administration of 1957 is again an alliance of Wall Street and heavy industry but, with one exception, the rest of the picture is different.  Consumers remain ignorant, unorganized, sheep-like, and exploited; but labor is organized, alert, and powerful; commercial interests are much better informed, more independent from financial controls; and, in most circles, economic and financial ideas are so much better than the dangers of economic collapse are remote. The big  changes are to be found in the relative shift in power of financial groups and farmers. In 1929, the bankers were at the top of the heap, guiding and exhorting on the basis of completely erroneous theories; today, bankers have been reduced from master of all to servant of the rest and have much more adequate ideas of their own role and functions.
 
The greatest Structural change is to be found in the position of the farmer. In 1929 the typical American farmers were tenants who had lived less than two years on the same land, had neither electricity nor plumbing, and were largely ignorant of the influences which trapped them between high industrial prices, low farm prices, high interest rates, and an exploitative distributive system for farm commodities. Resentful of their fate, they were politically helpless because the memory of the Civil War divided them between Southern farmers, who would vote only Democratic, and Western farmers, who would vote Republican or for a third-party but would never vote Democratic. In 1957, as a consequence of the New Deal, the farmer owns his own land, has electricity, plumbing and at least one car, can get reasonable interest rates, is fully aware of the parity ratio between farm prices and industrial prices, and is only moderately exploited by high cost of distribution of farm produce. The events of the last quarter century have pushed the memory of the Civil War far enough away so that farmers are able to unite their voting impact on either parry. No longer is the Southern farmer a social outcast if he votes Republican, and even less resentment is directed at the Western farmer who votes Democratic. The chief consequence of all this is that the Republicans control the White House, but not the Congress, in 1957, and the Farm Bloc independents and third-parry movements of the 1920's are no more.
 
The diminishing bitterness of Civil War sectionalism which allowed the two great farming areas to come together to support the New Deal in the 1930's and to support Eisenhower in the 1950's is reflected in a number of other trends.  A quarter of a century ago most negroes automatically voted Republican and most Catholics voted Democratic.  In spite of this fact, as the election of 1928 clearly showed, the Democratic South would not support a Catholic for President.
 
Today these old antipathies have greatly weakened. On a class, sectional, racial, or religious basis our country is much more homogeneous, the lesser political parties and lunatic fringes have become insignificant, the two major parties are very much more alike and both are closer to the middle of the road. And underneath all of this, the older social and economic system which was exploitative and class-orientated has been replaced, as a New Deal heritage, by a pluralist and cooperative system functioning as a balance among heavy industry, finance, consumers industry, commercial groups, organized labor, organized farmers, and, unfortunately, disorganized consumers. As an  economic, social, and political system it has much to recommend it. It is prosperous; it is powerful; it has refuted all the Liberal Cassandras, Marxist revolutionaries, and motley prophets of doom of twenty-five or mote years ago. The chief things that it needs is some salt in the stew -- a seasoning of idealism and heightened spiritual awareness which the Class of 1957 might well seek to provide.

 

Scans of original

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