Did F.D.R. Escape Wilson's Failure?
Idealism vs. Power Politics in American Foreign Policy
Great men are an encumbrance as well as an inspiration to the nations and the parties they lead. British Conservatism can ill dispense with Winston Churchill, but his continued leadership prevents the younger Tory politicians from working out their own ideas, and too often diverts the party from its natural line of advance. Similarly, it may be contended. Franklin D. Roosevelt in an even more remarkable way still dominates American politics five years after his death, and, in particular, frustrates the development of American liberalism. To assess his life’s work is not merely the erudite pursuit of the academic historian, but a task to be undertaken by anyone concerned to restate the principles either of American foreign policy or of the progressive movement. For the Roosevelt myth—and the raging controversy among those who claim to be his heirs—is proving even more inhibiting than a live and kicking Winston Churchill.
Is it true that, with a few more years of active life, Roosevelt could have achieved the ends of his foreign policy and fashioned a world of harmonious Big Three cooperation; or did his death come after he had unwittingly betrayed the freedoms he had so brilliantly enunciated? Did he will the right end but use the wrong means and the wrong men to accomplish it; or was there, implicit in the end itself, a fatal surrender of moral principle and deviation from the American tradition? Was the world New Deal which he envisaged a tacit capitulation to old-fashioned power politics; or does it remain today the goal, however remote, of democratic statesmanship? Even when all the documents have been studied, there will be no final answer to these questions; for they involve judgments of value which transcend mere assessment of facts. But if American foreign policy and, in particular, Anglo-American relations, are to be firmly based, some answer, however provisional, must be given by each one of us. We cannot evade Roosevelt. Even from his grave, he challenges us to understand him, if we are to understand ourselves.
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