The Reactionary Utopian
                      May 29, 2007

by Joe Sobran

     The other day a writer I greatly esteem, lauding a 
new biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt, wrote a sentence 
that left me near apoplexy: that "of Roosevelt's 
greatness there can be no question."

     In the first place, I think it's always risky to say 
there is no room for a second opinion on matters where 
second opinions are common among intelligent and 
sensitive people. Think of all the Bush administration 
spokesmen who said not only that Saddam Hussein's Iraq 
posed a danger to this country, but, more fatally, that 
there was "no doubt" of this.

     Well, millions saw room for doubt. I was only one of 
them. It was presumptuous to assert a consensus where 
none existed; and anyway, today's consensus -- what 
Everybody Knows -- can evaporate mighty fast tomorrow.

     So I think it is overreaching a bit to say that 
there is no question of the greatness of the man who gave 
the world the atomic bomb, made war on civilian 
populations, befriended Stalin's Soviet Union, lied 
flagrantly to the public, vandalized the Constitution, 
centralized power, illegally put innocent American 
citizens into concentration camps, debased the currency 
... you get the drift. There is in fact some question as 
to his greatness and always has been. Was he elected 
unanimously? To read the encomia, you'd think he faced no 
rational opposition from those who remembered this 
country's historical principles.

     Nor does the new biography (if the review is any 
guide) give any evidence to warrant the verdict of 
"greatness" outweighing Roosevelt's notorious crimes. It 
seems to offer one more mere list of crises that he, as 
they say, "led the nation through."

     What a vacuous expression! But how else can he be 
praised? Think of the ludicrous debates over his memorial 
a few years ago. Should it show his wheelchair? His 
cigarette holder? In the end, about all that was left of 
him was his famous "jaunty grin." His more fatuous 
admirers never omit mention of that "jaunty grin," which 
seems to have ended the Great Depression.

     Put it this way: In what respect did Roosevelt leave 
this country, or Europe, freer than it had been before 
him? Of course emotional eulogies followed his death. But 
after 62 years, it is high time they stopped.

     Monarchy is long gone, but many Americans still want 
to worship their allegedly great leaders. Popular polls 
rank John Kennedy near the top of the list, a judgment 
few sober historians share. The spirit of AMERICAN IDOL 
isn't confined to talentless singers. It animates 
American democracy.

     As a mental exercise, read the most serious thinkers 
among the American Founders -- Jefferson, Madison, and 
Hamilton -- and try to imagine how they would have 
evaluated Roosevelt and his legacy. They fell far this 
side of perfection, but they listened to themselves and 
measured their words carefully. I don't think anyone 
would call them childish. None of them ranked jauntiness 
high among the republican virtues.

     I know of no indication that Roosevelt ever studied 
or even read THE FEDERALIST PAPERS. If he did, they 
certainly left no impression on him. He governed as if 
they had never been written. It is impossible to imagine 
him conversing intelligently with their authors. Their 
whole spirit was alien to him.

     Consider one passage from Federalist No. 62, written 
by Madison: "It will be of little avail to the people 
that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the 
laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so 
incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be 
repealed or revised before they are promulg[at]ed, or 
undergo such incessant changes that no man who knows what 
the law is to-day can guess what it will be to-morrow. 
Law is defined to be a rule of action; but how can that 
be a rule, which is little known and less fixed?"

     Right or wrong, some real thought went into these 
words; and they are worth reflecting on before you set 
about building a utopia.

     Now try to square that with the barrage of New Deal 
legislation, modeled on Italian fascism, which is always 
cited among Roosevelt's great achievements. Yet his 
celebrants speak as if he had known, built on, and 
superseded the work of this republic's Founders, none of 
which is remotely the case.

     For them, his "greatness" is simply a given. No 


Read this column on-line at 

Copyright (c) 2007 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate, This column may not be published in 
print or Internet publications without express permission 
of Griffin Internet Syndicate. You may forward it to 
interested individuals if you use this entire page, 
including the following disclaimer:

"SOBRAN'S and Joe Sobran's columns are available 
by subscription. For details and samples, see, write, or call 800-513-5053."