Polemics & Exchanges

On Blaming Bryan

In “Don’t Blame Bryan!” (Reactionary Radicals/Radical Reactionaries, October), Jeff Taylor takes Michael Kazin to task for identifying William Jennings Bryan as the man who built the ideological bridge between 19th-century laissez-faire government and the modern liberal welfare state birthed by Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  Dr. Taylor writes: “[Kazin] offers no detailed evidence to support this claim beyond a laundry list of Bryan-endorsed reforms.”  This is like saying that there is no evidence against a murderer beyond the testimony of 20 or so eyewitnesses to the crime!

I will concede that it is unfortunate to lump such a man as Bryan, who had both values and ability, with the valueless hustlers and snake-oil salesmen, typified by FDR, of the modern welfare state.  Nonetheless, it was the Progressives, whose greatest representative was Bryan, who began the transformation of our government and society from limited and free to socialist-totalitarian and no longer free.  To be sure, the Progressives wished to use the government to do good, yet this is the foil of every demagogue and demagogic movement that has made its appearance among us but failed to recognize the timeless truth that government can act in society, constructively and legitimately, only in a negative sense.  Government...

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