A Blog of the Global Justice Movement

Monday, October 27, 2008

In Praise of Roosevelt . . . No, the Other One

Today is the Sesquicentennial of the birth of Theodore Roosevelt. For those of you not "up" on the latest in archaic terminology, that means "Teddy" was born 150 years ago today. While many liberals view Theodore Roosevelt as the quintessential "Jingo," i.e., imperialist warmongering America-worshipper who hunted defenseless animals for food and sport, the fact is that during his life he was widely known as a "progressive." He espoused causes that were extraordinarily unpopular with the controlling wealthy elite, such as J. P. Morgan and other financial powers-that-be. For example, on whether any class has a special claim to virtue or consideration:
"We judge each man by his conduct, and not by his wealth or his social station; and we hold it to be our bounden duty to strive steadily to make and to keep this great American Commonwealth as a true democracy, and steadily to endeavor to shape our legislation and our social conditions so that there shall be a far nearer approach than at present toward equality of opportunity among men." (From the address given as temporary chairman of the New York Republican State Convention at Saratoga, September 27, 1910.)
What about worker ownership? While clearly pro-union, Roosevelt would have had no sympathy for many of today's unions that actively work to prevent workers from becoming owners, and in that way bringing together property rights and human rights:
"One of the prime objects which the Progressives have in view in seeking to secure the highest governmental efficiency of both the National and the State Governments is to safeguard and guarantee the vital interests of the wage-workers. We believe in property rights; normally and in the long run property rights and human rights coincide; but where they are at variance we are for human rights first and for property rights second." ("Nationalism and the Working Man," 1911)
We could quote Roosevelt at much greater length, but these bits are enough to give a flavor of his speeches and writings — and the blog format doesn't really do him justice. These quotes were taken from an obscure collection of Teddy's speeches and essays in his "collected works" compiled in 1926, "Volume XVII: Social Justice and Popular Rule," which CESJ has in its extended queue to republish as soon as it can be edited and annotated to explain the topical references that might puzzle the modern reader.

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