Remembering The Forgotten Man

Having entered the interesting period of life known as “semi-retirement”, I finally am finding time to catch up on some of the unread books on the shelf. This time it was The Forgotten Man, A New History of The Great Depression, by Amity Shlaes, published in 2007. It is a substantial work at 396 pages with many more pages devoted to a “Cast of Characters”, Timeline, Bibliographic Notes, and more. For those of us who are fascinated by the events that shaped our parents’ lives and created the modern world, The Forgotten Man is indispensable. For those who accept the “standard history” of that time period, it may be disturbing: as always in dealing with human affairs, there is more to the story than at first meets the eye.

The Forgotten Man

Perhaps the best summary of the book is hinted at in the title. Every student of the period is familiar with FDR’s “Forgotten Man” speech and with the recurrent use of the term to refer to the poor and unemployed, cast as victims of capitalism and big business, victims who need to be rescued by big government.

These unhappy times call for the building of plans that rest upon the forgotten, the unorganized but the indispensable units of economic power . . . that put their faith once more in the Forgotten Man at the bottom of the economic pyramid.

–Gov. Franklin Roosevelt of New York, radio address in Albany, April 7, 1932

The irony is that the phrase originally had a quite different meaning in the work of a Yale professor named William Graham Sumner in 1883:

As soon as A observes something which seems to him to be wrong, from which X is suffering, A talks it over with B, and A and B then propose to get a law passed to remedy the evil and help X. Their law always proposes to determine what C shall do for X, or in the better case, what A, B, and C shall do for X. . . . What I want to do is to look up C. I want to show you what manner of man he is. I call him the Forgotten Man. Perhaps the appellation is not strictly correct. He is the man who never is thought of. . . .

 He works, he votes, generally he prays–but he always pays. . . .

That really is the crux of the matter, the changed identification of the Forgotten Man that became an excuse for dramatic expansion of the federal government and greatly increased meddling and experimentation with what had been a mostly free market, with A and B rushing to help X, ignoring C, and becoming even more rich and powerful in the process. And the help for X? The government apologists are fond of saying, “it did create jobs”, right? Well, as the author points out, “what really stands out when you step back from the 1930s picture is not how much the New Deal public works achieved. It is how little. Notwithstanding the largest peacetime appropriation in the history of the world, the New Deal recovery remained incomplete right through the 1930s.”

This very interesting book follows the lives of key individuals in America from the late twenties to the eve of World War II, with a Coda to tell what happened later to the main characters. There is also an Afterword in the paperback edition which weighs the pluses and minuses of the New Dealers’ programs, pointing out that the merits of jobs created and projects completed need to be “weighed against damage that comes when officials create projects and jobs for political reasons. . . . In fact, infrastructure spending is often just a nicer name for what we used to call pork. Given the depth of modern capital markets, the New Deal’s old argument that ‘only the government can afford this’ looks particularly weak.”

Shlaes’ book is especially pertinent to us now as we deal once again with the perennial problem of the proper role and size of government. The Forgotten Man is a well written, free-flowing delight to read which can make a significant contribution to solving that problem.



Defending America


In 1993 Newt Gingrich produced a wonderful video course called Renewing American Civilization. My wife and I had the privilege to serve as local representatives of the course, persuading two local public TV stations to broadcast it (one of them re-broadcast it six times). We felt this was quite an accomplishment, especially in liberal Portland, Oregon. The course is still available from Amazon and well worth reviewing:

Now Professor Gingrich has created a new online course, Defending America. I have not worked through the course yet, but it promises to be a thoughtful, timely, and useful update on the state of our beloved country, the “culture wars”, and how best to preserve all that is true, good, and beautiful in our civilization. The six lessons are titled “Poisoning The Melting Pot”, “Faith Under Attack”, “Destruction of Opportunity”, “Thought Police Run Amok”, “Defending the 2nd Amendment”, and “Draining the Swamp”. The titles alone say, “This is going to be good!” Find out more here:


Best Wishes!

Synopsis of FBI Corruption

Joseph DiGenova is one of the nation’s premier lawyers. One of his recent speeches was published in the February issue of Hillsdale College’s Imprimis. This is an excellent review of the sorry state of the modern FBI leadership, not to be confused with the rank and file agents, most of whom must be pulling their hair at recent events. Well worth the read:


Education vs. Schooling


Years ago I published a quarterly newsletter called The Kithara. An article there pointed out the great damage done by Dewey and others when they changed education (satisfying the need of the individual for knowledge and understanding, thus creating useful and productive members of society who could think for themselves) into schooling (indoctrinating children in the current “progressive” dogma, thus creating obedient citizens who let their leaders think for them). The difference is profound.


An Ideal Home Library

From time immemorial, education has been the responsibility of the family and basics were taught by parents, including reading as well as principles of successful living, moral uprightness, and work.  This was supplemented with tutors and schools as opportunity and resources permitted. Reading and writing were recognized as necessary for communication and to have access to the scriptures, newspapers, and literature. An educated American in the 18th and 19th centuries was expected to be familiar with The Bible, Plutarch’s Lives, and Shakespeare. This system worked well enough that literacy rates at the time of the American Revolution are estimated at over 90%, and nearly 100% in Boston.

Education was a necessary precursor for the success of the American experiment in self-government. Recognizing this fact and the need to create good citizens, local governments instituted schools to better provide for children of families without the means to hire tutors or private schools; these were the public schools. They also functioned quite well for a long time, eventually becoming nearly universal, taking over many of the educational functions of families, and displacing private teachers. Despite the best efforts of generations of devoted public school teachers to aid and protect their pupils, politicians and ideologues recognized almost from the beginning that public schools with their naïve, captive audiences could be effective tools for indoctrination and social experimentation. In the process they necessarily devoted less and less time and resources to the actual acquiring of basic knowledge and useful skills. Alas!

1924 schoolroom

Elementary School About 1924

Chester Finn, a tireless champion of school reform for many years, recently wrote a fine article about the failure of one of those social experiments that started in the late 1980s and which even now corrupts discourse on the subject. It is well worth looking at:


Best Wishes!



Town and Country

Though born in a sizable city, Portland, Oregon, I am grateful to have been raised in the country. Even when we moved back to Portland while I was in Junior High School, it was not Portland per se, but a rural suburb. The sense of connection to the land and love for it that I grew up with have only been reinforced by the intervening years and travels. It is at least partly a sense of reverence and appreciation for God’s creations, but it is also an appreciation for the character that country life fosters. Like most things, this turns out to have political implications as well.

Victor Davis Hanson explored this concept in an essay linked below. It is well worth reading, not just for the political explanation, but also for the historical references:

A New World Order

Niall Ferguson has published a brilliant and insightful essay on foreign policy in which the prospects for international order in our day are compared to those of Roosevelt. No, not that one, Teddy. Though long, it is well worth reading.

Donald Trump’s New World Order


Understanding Propaganda

The disgusting bias of the major news media in the recent election may give us pause to consider the difference between journalism and propaganda.

Those of a certain age will recall classes in school–yes, public schools–about how Nazis and Communists and other -ists manipulate their messages to mislead the masses. That was during the height of the cold war and was important so the American people could more easily discern truth from error. More recent generations have not been given such information, just as they have long since stopped hiding under desks during air-raid warnings.

In the end, all such tools, just as the -isms which use them, are means to a common end: the exercise of power by one group over another. This was one of the themes of my book, All Enlisted, and is perhaps the dominant theme of all history.

An excellent review of how journalism becomes corrupted follows: