The '20s-Boom and Bust

SELICMAN, BEN B.

The '20's-Boom and Bust The Perils of Prosperity. By William E. Leuchtenberg. Chicago. 313 pp. $3.50. Reviewed by Ben B. Seligman Economist; contributor, "Dissent," "Commentary," "Diogenes" THE...

...T. S. Eliot, Van Wyck Brooks (the earlier version, not the mellow character of the Fifties), Harold Stearns, Sinclair Lewis and H. L. Mencken had set the tone for the period...
...Leuchtenberg shows that Wilson pretty much held his own at Versailles so far as bargaining was concerned, but that the errors he made The man who reads dictionaries G. MENNEN WILLIAMS Governor of Michigan, says: "As a public official I am called upon to read and respond to a vast volume of correspondence...
...There was said Randolph Bourne, "a peculiar congeniality between the war and these men...
...I think that the editors of this wonderful volume have caught the American language in its fullest glory...
...The word Webster alone is no guarantee of excellence...
...We got the simplicity, but little else...
...The big crash, in a spiritual as well as economic sense, came soon enough...
...Amid all this there exploded the most devastating war yet to hit mankind...
...With Andrew Mellon as Secretary of the Treasury, taxes were reduced enough to virtually do away with the progressive policies of the Wilson Administration...
...Certainly Eugene O'Neill, Maxwell Anderson, Ernest Heming-way, Paul Green and F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote of the agony and frustration that man suffered...
...In the main, the intellectual went to pieces because, as now, he had no program to offer...
...America was industrializing at a fast clip...
...I have found Webster's New World Dictionary to be of immeasurable assistance in both these tasks...
...Had he not raised so many idealistic flags he would have had fewer pennants to surrender...
...What else was there to write about...
...By 1920, we are told, the country's nerves were made "raw by the bitterness over the war, the debate on the League, the Red Scare and the postwar inflation...
...An army of businessmen and new public administrators got their first chance to demonstrate how to manage a recalcitrant economy...
...As the author hints' the second American industrial revolution did not compensate for the xenonphobia, the bootleggen, provincialism and fundamentalism...
...The Supreme Court made certain that labor unions knew their proper place in a prosperous middle-class society...
...But I'm not certain Leuchtenberg is right in chiding the writers for their obsession with failure, defeat and death...
...City slums, unassimilated newcomers, (still from Europe) and hospitalities among neigborhood groups were causing comment in the editorial pages...
...I must also deliver a number of public addresses...
...There are certainly important differences between the Palmer raids and Joe McCarthy's antics but enough similarity persists to give one paused Harding's victory in 1920 also promised a restoration of simplicity, honesty and integrity in government...
...Coolidge came in and made over the Government in the image of the respectable businessman...
...The brief history of the First World War is quickly and competently told in a few chapters...
...Here one can detect one of the parallels alluded to earlier...
...He had depended almost entirely on Wilsonism as so many were later to depend on the New Deal, and in a material society which reveled in the debase-merit of taste he could, only say that civilization was rotten...
...I believe it is one of the most useful tools I possess...
...By insisting on negotiations only with representatives of the German Republic, Wilson saved the Junker militarists from the stigma of defeat and provided the basis for the later Hitlerian myth that Germany had been stabbed in the back...
...This is clearly pertinent history...
...In a word, the natio,n had had enough of Wilsonism.' On reflection, doesn't this sound so much like 1952, when the country was also tired of a war it no longer cared for, and there had been a new kind of muckraking and a Red Scare and promises of "normalcy...
...As for Woodrow Wilson, I suspect that some of the specialists might question a few of Leuchtenberg's judgments...
...Don't be misled...
...It is as if the war and thev had been waiting for each other...
...Make sure you get "the experts' dictionary" ask for a WORLD Webster...
...The American President also allowed the enthusiasm of the European masses for his promise of freedom and liberty to blind him to the hard-headed, determined realpolitik of Lloyd George and Clemenceau...
...The disillusioned turned to matters other than politics...
...America's participation is aptly described as a case of innocents abroad...
...The old west was disappearing and class lines, although not rigid, were still clearly discernible...
...Parents were beginning to doubt that they could handle their children and social authority moved to that burgeoning Mecca on the West Coast Hollywood where a new power center was being added to the old ones of the Urban 400 and the Corporate Rich...
...Leuchtenberg starts his story just before the first World War...
...Why was this so...
...Leuchtenberg does well to remind us that it is all quite relevant to our own time and our own problems, which, as he says, are still unsolved...
...The war taught us much, as if to prepare for even greater things to come...
...As it was, he gave in enough so that a little band of vindictive Republicans were able to scuttle him the League of Nations and the Democratic party as well...
...The optimism with which America had begun the 20th century was dissipated as many of the heroes of the 1920s were brushed aside by a generation that found itself empty-handed in a world its parents had made...
...Yet William Leuchtenberg, a Columbia professor, has done just that in this sprightly history of the boom and bust Twenties...
...Herbert Croly sought solace in religion, as do some former politicians today...
...Perhaps because he knows of this time only by hearsay and through the archives, he has drawn so many parallels between his own day, the Age of Roosevelt and after and what went on before...
...Fate was kind to the good-hearted ex-Senator from Ohio: He passed on to his reward before his cronies were revealed to have plundered the nation's wealth...
...But they changed very much during these years...
...Leuchtenberg's recital of the cultural history of the time is a useful one...
...contributor, "Dissent," "Commentary," "Diogenes" THE MOST DANGEROUS business in the writing of history is to show that events repeat themselves...
...Walter Lippmann turned to ethics, presaging the later-day intellectualist concern with such pursuits as existentialism...
...After all it was a blotched civilization whose great contributions were the exploitation of Freud the cult of the bust and the creation of dual high ways that began five mite front one end of a town and ended five mile, out the other...
...I think particularly of those who pursue the task of making Wilson an idealist lost among rapacious European politicians...
...tired radicals took cattle-boats to Europe...
...WEBSTER'S NEW WORLD DICTIONARY 1,760 pages in various bindings, from $5.75 THE WORLD PUBLISHING COMPANY in other and ultimately more important matters were simply colossal...

Vol. 41 • November 1958 • No. 41


 
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