Fear Itself

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Stephanie Seal Walters, Spring 2016

According to Ira Katznelson in her book Fear Itself, the South was FDR's worst enemy when it came to the New Deal. The South, concerned that federal regulation and interference in the economy would kill capitalism, fought FDR at every turn when it came to passing New Deal legislation. Katznelson argues that FDR and Truman were trapped in what she called a "Southern Cage" which kept the New Deal from being more complete and extending into the depths that FDR initially intended. The book specifically focuses on the politics of the 1930s and political relationships in congress.

In order to understand the fight with FDR and Southern legislatures, Katznelson believes that it is important to understand the South and why it was so completely different from the American Pacific, the Mid-West, and the North East. According to Katznelson, the South still distrusted the American Federal government over Reconstruction. Additionally, the South was concerned that federal regulation or "too much help" would effectively end capitalism in the United States and change local southern culture. In essence, the South saw FDR and his New Deal as an affront to Southern values.

Rebecca Adams , Spring 2016

In his book Katznelson provides a revision of the traditional celebratory account of the New Deal. Instead of focusing on the accomplishments of FDR he looks closely at the often overlooked Southern Democrats in Congress and their massive influence on New Deal legislation. By redefining the dates of the New Deal, beginning with FDR’s election and ending with Eisenhower’s election Katznelson is able to reveal a historically significant transformation of the Democratic Party in the South as they began to ally more often with Republicans. She examines the fear and racism that gripped the nation as FDR took office: the fear that liberal democracy would fail to help the country out of the Depression (especially in light of successes of dictators in other countries) and the racism exhibited by the Southern Democrats in Congress who wielded great power to force compromises that both stunted and warped the New Deal’s intended goals. Without the support of Southern Congressmen, the New Deal would not have been as successful BUT unfortunately that support came with racism and the intent of southern congressmen to maintain their racial system at all costs.

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