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  • Who Owns America? A New Declaration of Independence

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    There was a time in the Depression of the 1930s when conservative thought sprang from the dire concrete reality of that terrible era, not from abstractions.

    They did not use the word “conservative” very often, preferring to call themselves “decentralists” or “agrarians.” Eclectic in background, they were columnists, poets, historians, literary figures, economists, theologians, and civic advocates. In 1936, Herbert Agar, a prominent author, foreign correspondent, and columnist for the Louisville Courier-Journal and Alan Tate, poet and social commentator, brought a selection of their writings together in a now nearly forgotten book: Who Owns America? A New Declaration of Independence.

    In his 1999 foreword to the reissued edition, historian Edward S. Shapiro called Who Owns America? “one of the most significant conservative books published in the United States during the 1930s” for its “message of demographic, political, and economic decentralization and the widespread ownership of property” in opposition “to the growth of corporate farming, the decay of the small town, and the expansion of centralized political and economic authority.”

    It is not easy today to convey the intense belief of many activists and intellectuals in the ’30s concerning the necessity and inevitability of radical change. Among the best known are the different advocacies that swirled around Franklin Roosevelt’s liberal New Deal years. Norman Thomas, the Socialist Party’s frequent presidential candidate, was pushing FDR toward government health insurance, unemployment compensation, Social Security, and labor union rights.

    Then there were the “spread the wealth” movements of popular figures like Sen. Huey Long and radio personalities like Father Coughlin and, in contrast, the Wall Streeters’ own challenge: the attempt to save capitalism from President Roosevelt, whom they called a “traitor to his class.”

    In this mix, there was espoused a political economy for grassroots America that neither Wall Street nor the socialists nor the New Dealers would find acceptable. It came largely out of the agrarian South, casting a baleful eye on both Wall Street and Washington, D.C. To these decentralists, the concentrated power of bigness would produce its plutocratic injustices whether regulated through the centralization of political authority in Washington or left to its own cyclical failures. They were quite aware of both the corporate state fast maturing in Italy and Nazi Germany and the Marxists in the Soviet Union constructing another form of concentrated power with an ideology favoring centralized bigness in the state economy. They warned that either approach would produce …read more

    Source: The American Conservative