from Theodore Roosevelt, “Socialism, II — Where We Can Work with Socialists” (Outlook 27 March 1909).
I have copied below a couple representative excerpts from part II of Theodore Roosevelt’s 1909 essay on socialism published in the Outlook in 1909. I have to admit, he caught me off guard a bit. I was expecting way more fiery anti-socialist rhetoric and for him to go for the throat throughout, but Roosevelt mostly steers a middle course here (and in part I, too, published a week earlier) between what he sees as the excesses of individualism and those of socialism.
My reason for reading the two pieces in the first place was to look at TR’s understanding of what socialism might do to the family (many more things to read in TR on this), and let’s just say it’s not good, according to TR and others, but more on that later, perhaps. Mostly, I like the moderate angle TR takes on the politics of labeling policy as “socialistic” and then rejecting it on those weak, definitional grounds, and not, as one should, taking a good hard look at the policy itself and asking reason- and values-based questions about it. I think it’s worth sharing. I’m not a huge fan of Teddy (look into his nativism, if you’d like one of my reasons), but I admire his ethical pragmatism here.
It is true that the doctrines of communistic Socialism, if consistently followed, mean the ultimate annihilation of civilization. Yet the converse is also true. Ruin faces us if we decline steadily to try to reshape our whole civilization in accordance with the law of service, and if we permit ourselves to be misled by any empirical or academic consideration into refusing to exert the common power of the community where only collective action can do what individualism has left undone, or can remedy the wrongs done by an unrestricted and ill-regulated individualism.
Every public man, every reformer, is bound to refuse to dismiss these schemes with the shallow statement that they are “Socialistic;” for such an attitude is one of mere mischievous dogmatism. There are communities in which our system of State education is still resisted and condemned as Socialism; and we have seen within the past two years in this country men who were themselves directors in National banks, which were supervised by the Government, object to such supervision of railways by the Government on the ground that it was “Socialistic.” An employers’ liability law is no more Socialistic than a fire department; the regulation of railway rates is by no means as Socialistic as the digging and enlarging of the Erie Canal at the expense of the State. A proper compensation law would merely distribute over the entire industry the shock of accident or disease, instead of limiting it to the unfortunate individual on whom, through no fault of his, it happened to faIl. As communities become more thickly settled and their lives more complex, it grows ever more and more necessary for some of the work formerly performed by individuals, each for himself, to be performed by the community for the community as a whole. Isolated farms need no complicated system of sewerage; but this does not mean that public control of sewerage in a great city should be resisted on the ground that it tends toward Socialism. Let each proposition be treated on its own merits, soberly and cautiously, but without any of that rigidity of mind which fears all reform.
We cannot afford to subscribe to the doctrine, equally hard and foolish, that the welfare of the children in the tenement-house district is no concern of the community as a whole. If the child of the thronged city cannot live in decent surroundings, have teaching, have room to play, have good water and clean air, then not only wiII he suffer, but in the next generation the whole community will to a greater or less degree share his suffering.