A Review of “The End of Reform” by Alan Brinkley

Alan Brinkley was born in Washington D.C. on June 2, of 1949. His parents are Ann Fischer and David Brinkley. Alan Brinkley is a professor at Columbia University.  He has taught there for over twenty years. He has written on the marks of World War I and the Great Depression in his work. In his time, he has received various awards. To briefly display his merit, he has been elected for the Sperber Prize, Jerome Levenson Teaching Prize, National Book Award, Great Teacher Award,  Ambassador Book Prize, along with many fellowship awards. Furthermore, he has also been nominated as a finalist of the Pulitzer Prize because of his book, The End of Reform. These are some of the many awards Brinkley has been accredited.  He has written books, essays, and biographies. His mythology or thesis of writing The End of Reform, is to discuss the New Deal, and educate on the American economy prior to, during and post-World War I and the Great Depression.

He states in the introduction that he felt a missing piece in history relaying the New deal and modern-day liberalism. I presume he created and published this book to occupy that vacant space he observed. My interpretation of his these derives from the details from critics and supporters of the New Deal. He relays the story of reformation for the American society. Lastly, he is blatant on the liberal viewing of the New Deal and the American economy following the Great Depression.

Chapter One: “The Crisis of New Deal Liberalism”, is where Brinkley gives a brief overview of Roosevelt’s victory in the election and his plans on the New Deal shortly after. He struggled with replenishing America. Nevertheless, he was successful. Brinkley spoke of people who were liberals and New Dealers. He details how remarkable Roosevelt’s victory was for them. They were all devoted to the New Deal. “They were not just a vindication of Franklin Roosevelt and his party they were a vindication of liberalism” (Brinkley, 15).  Roosevelt had an impact on his voters that brought him and his New Deal policies favoritism because he was reliable and relatable, “It seem to have alleviated the depression; because they have benefited from its relief and welfare programs; because the president himself had so effectively conveyed an image of strength and compassion,” (Brinkley, 17). These were the most exciting times for the Democratic Party. Brinkley illustrates to what degree the president received criticism for many of his New Deal gestures such as “The Court-Packing Plan”.

Chapter Two: “An Ordered Economic World”, discusses the stock market crash and how the country needed to restore “business confidence “, (Brinkley, 31). It highlights, and expresses, the circumstances that caused the stock market crash. According to Henry Morgenthau’s article, “the only way out was through restoring business confidence” (Brinkley 31). Critics of the New Deal named it “anti-business”. Roosevelt and the New Deal Administration were believed to have encouraged the investment into businesses. “The administration, Morgenthau and his allies believed, had not yet done enough to re-share the business community “, (Brinkley, 33). Roosevelt and the administration also focused on the rebuilding of the government and sheltering investment back into businesses.

Chapter Three: “The New Dealers and The Regulatory Impulse”, discusses Roosevelt’s fight for power within the Congress or administration. He especially battled on the topic of monopolies. “The problem was that monopolistic interests had used their power to raise prices artificially while keeping costs and wages low” (Brinkley, 48). Brinkley states that prices were at an immeasurable high the October prior to the crash. “Monopoly choked off opportunities for ordinary people to launch their own businesses” (Brinkley, 61). Monopoly had antagonized state freedom and its own power.  “The struggles against monopoly was a struggle for the preservation of individual freedom both freedom from monopoly power and freedom from the state” (Brinkley, 61). Lastly, Brinkley presented one of Roosevelt’s and the New Deal’s largest critics, Raymond Moley.

Chapter Four: “Spending and Consumption”, discusses the outside influences on the New Deal policies. For example, John Keynes and Simon Patten both outside economists, made comments about the American New Deal policies. Roosevelt was urged by Keynes to make the issue of recession of importance, and cause an increase of consumption.  “While Keynes own influence in America was relatively limited, in the winter of 1937-38 a set of ideas closely related to his own was emerging from other sources and was slowly gathering substantial support both within that administration itself and in the larger liberal community” (Brinkley, 66). The “Keynesian approach” differed from the “business confidence” and “monopoly power” approaches, it centered on the of boost consumption. Moral and social value was found in the idea of increasing consumption (Brinkley, 67). This became the approach utilized to rejuvenate the economy.

Chapter Five: “The Struggle for a Program”, is where Brinkley consults the ongoing battle of the policies and their up lifters. Roosevelt’s behavior now slowed the elevation of the New Deal Policies. “Nowhere was the combination of vacillation and eclecticism that characterized the New Deal policy in these months clearer than in the behavior in Franklin Roosevelts himself,” (Brinkley, 86). The President was indecisive of the next move for their country to solve the problem of recession. The advice he received conflicted one another and all he desired was a clear choice. Brinkley states the struggle Roosevelt underwent in hopes to find a direct program for relieving the recession. “Backers of the public spending as an antidote to the recession were somewhat less conspicuous but at least equally energetic” as the momentum of the monopolistic questioning (Brinkley, 94). Roosevelt opposed this momentum. He was suffering from his inner battle of decision.

Chapter Six: “The Anti- Monopoly Moment”, is where Brinkley states “the anti-monopoly crusade of the late 1930’s was, if not the most important, at least the most prominent of the public initiatives of the late New Deal” (Brinkley, 106). He details the attention Anti-monopolists experienced. Thurman Arnold is a name brought up various times within this chapter. “The Antitrust Laws,” Thurman Arnold wrote in the Folklore of Capitalism, “were the answer of a society which unconsciously felt the need of great organizations, and at the time had to deny them a place in the moral and logical ideology of the social structure” (Brinkley, 106). Arnold, intrigued by legal realist, was attracted to Yale University and their reputation. He focused on the Antitrust laws in his work. Th Antitrust Division, impacted all industries. “The Antitrust Division was mobilizing other, similarly massed” assaults on monopolistic practice in the food, transportation, automobile, aluminum, prescription drug, and insurance industries” (Brinkley, 112). Arnold’s impact with the Antitrust Division was significant. He was different than other anti-monopolists.

Chapter Seven: “Liberals Embattled”, is where Brinkley writes on the nations mood and Walter Lippman’s essays. Americans anticipated joining the war. It seems many urged or encouraged entering World War I and assumed it would have a positive impact on America. “Let us hope”, “that in the fires through we must pass, we shall be purged of the dross which has so nearly undone us, and that out of suffering the American spirit will come forth clean and bright again” (Brinkley 136). Brinkley discussed the perception of liberals, they too had an optimistic mentality following Pearl Harbor’s destruction. Some felt hateful towards liberals and communists according to Brinkley. “The most energetic forces of popular dissidence during the war were, instead, various groups on the right expressing their hostility toward both communists and liberals” (Brinkley, 153). Lastly, the issue of Civil Rights was brought forth by Brinkley in this chapter. America needed to increase rights for black Americans. “The American Negro is again watching for signs of what war and victory will mean in terms of opportunity and rights for him in his native land (Brinkley, 169).

Chapter Eight: “Mobilizing for War”, is when Brinkley writes about America preparing for World War I. Anti-Monopolists were unaware of what would happen to the American economy once the United States entered the war. Donald Nelson was welcomed by the liberals for various reason sand Brinkley highlights them within this chapter. “Liberals considered him almost one of their own, willing to stand up to the “economic royalists: and assert the power of the state over the Fractious private economy” (Brinkley, 183). Monopolies brought forth another controversy, dollar-a-year men. They are “executives who had official appointments in the war bureaucracy but who continued to receive their corporate salaries” (Brinkley, 190).  Magazines of liberals commented and displayed how disloyal dollar-a-year Republicans were.

Chapter Nine: “The New Unionism and the New Liberalism”, discusses how the war brought forth an increase in the work field. Liberal views were drifting about the “political economy” according to Brinkley. This chapter discussed how the war would impact employment and the American economy. Also, how the outcome of the war would be effected by a reliant and sufficient workforce. Robert Patterson, the United States Secretary of War, gained the interests of New Dealists and Donald Nelson. This is the time that the country searched for “industrial democracy” as Brinkley calls it.

Chapter Ten: “Planning for Full Employment” is where Brinkley introduces the readers of this chapter to Archibald Macleish, a poet, playwright, and essayists. Brinkley states that Macleish wanted to draw attention to the future after the war. Employment was the nation’s largest problem after World War I. The goal was to redeem the employment and economy in ways better than it was prior to the war. The G.I. Bill, also recognized as the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, was passed and it surfaced challenges.

My perception and interpretation of “The End of Reform”, by Alan Brinkley, sees it as worthwhile. I learned plenty about the goals of Americans and Congress in bettering America’s economy, with the New Deal. Brinkley is educational regarding America’s preparation or adjustment for World War I. The manner Brinkley teaches or relays this historical information to his reader is highly comprehensible. It is apparent why he received the awards he has. The language in this book is simple to understand yet, appeals to a scholarly audience.  The book occupies the spaciousness he wished to occupy (as stated in the introduction). His work most certainly contributes to U.S. history. Brinkley was successful in completing what he set out to accomplish.


photo courtesy of Columbia University


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