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The Republican Party in the Age of Roosevelt: Sources of Anti-Government Conservatism in the United States.

The Republican Party in the Age of Roosevelt: Sources of Anti-Government Conservatism in the United States. By Elliot A. Rosen. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014. 229 pp.

In this prodigiously researched, well-crafted, and lucid study, Elliot A. Rosen explores the emergence during the 1930s of antigovernment conservatism as a salient strand of Republican Party identity in the United States. The book, the third volume in Rosen's trilogy analyzing the New Deal and its opposition, joins Hoover, Roosevelt and the Brains Trust: From Depression to New Deal (New York: Columbia University Press, 1977) and Roosevelt, the Great Depression, and the Economics of Recovery (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2007) in illuminating the competing approaches of Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Republican stalwart Herbert Hoover toward economic recovery and impending world war during the 1930s. Where Roosevelt promoted activist government and a regulatory state to remedy the Great Depression, Hoover represented the conservative leadership of his party in defending austerity, a balanced budget, and enhanced power for individuals, states, and corporations. Where Roosevelt steered the nation toward a seemingly inevitable war, Republican leaders largely accepted "Nazi dominance of Europe and its terms of trade, which depended on autarchy or self-sufficiency" (p. xii). Hoover and Robert Taft came to symbolize what became a prevailing antigovernment sentiment within the party. By contrast, Roosevelt's Republican challenger Wendell Willkie emerged as an "interloper who challenged the party's resistance to advanced thought in foreign affairs and domestic issues" by pressing for civil rights, acceptance of industrial unionism, and the advent of an internationalist peacekeeping role for the United States. "In the last analysis, Willkie, who died in late 1944, lost the fight against the party reactionaries," who persisted well into the twenty-first century in their struggle to roll back the New Deal and its legacies (p. 6). In this sense, Willkie represented an alternative possibility for a moderate mainstream Republican identity--but only a weak one, given the ultimate ascendency within the party of the acolytes of Taft and Hoover.

The work's chief contributions to the literature are threefold. First, the book illuminates the history of American politics during a crucial decade, revealing the conflict between Hoover and Roosevelt as symbolic of deep crevices in the American political landscape. Second, it analyzes with special clarity the history of the Republican Party, tracing that organization's shift from its prior identity as the party of progressivism and strong central government to an entity marked by increasingly antistatist convictions and a strong emphasis on states' rights. Third, Rosen proposes that the 1930s in some ways served as a crucible for the subsequent development, both within the mainstream of the party and along its fringes, of an extremist variant of antigovernment nationalism that has, in the twenty-first century, found expression in the Tea Party movement.

This latter contention is suggested, rather than systematically developed in the study, and as both Ronald P. Formisano and Jill Lepore have shown (Formisano, The Tea Party: A Brief History [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 2012] and Lepore, The Whites of their Eyes: The Tea Party's Revolution and the Battle over American History [Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010}), the Tea Party's political antecedents can be located as far back as the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, long before Hoover's Ark of the Covenant (1934) heralded a political declaration of war on the New Deal. What neither of these other books do, however, is to demonstrate how crucial anti-New Deal backlash has been in shaping the Republican Party's history and identity, both in the center and on the margins, since the 1930s. Formisano and Lepore offer a helpful bird's-eye view of the issue. Rosen brings us up close for a detailed understanding of how historical contingency and long-term trends converge to shape the present as well as the past.

The book is extensively researched in almost 60 collections at more than two dozen archives in the United States and Great Britain. The scope of that scholarly effort is evident in the clarity of insight and analysis that marks the study throughout.

--Deborah Kisatsky

Assumption College
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Author:Kisatsky, Deborah
Publication:Presidential Studies Quarterly
Article Type:Book review
Date:Aug 29, 2015
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