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In Context, They Had Cause to Fear


The ripples radiating from Barry’s inaugural address have revealed something about another famous address. FDR’s first inaugural offered the powerful rhetoric, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” A fan of speeches but no fan of Roosevelt, I’ve never paid attention to what the rich old cripple actually said:

This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself-nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.

In other words, he told the country to bend over so he could drive. FDR solicited support not for policies, but for personality. Those who might not agree with either were painted as the weak and fearful impediment to the relief his wise leadership was prepared to deliver.

In a nation founded on a principle that all men are created equal, and that just government must be of the people, it seems disturbing that this scion of the elite so boldly worked to put himself over the people.

The people in 1933 had something to fear after all.

H/T: Newmark’s Door