|Questions for Discussion: Hoover v. FDR
Read and highlight Herbert Hoover’s “Rugged Individualism” speech and FDR’s “Speech to the Commonwealth Club” and prepare the following questions. Be able to quote directly from the documents in support of each of your responses.
How do Hoover and FDR differ in their definitions of justice, of liberty, and of good government? How do they differ in their approach to economic policy?
1. Note the dates on the two Hoover speeches. Did he have any reason to be optimistic at the time he gave his first speech? What critical events took place in the country in the time between these two speeches? Would you expect him to modify his views given the events of 1928-1932.
2. Discussing World War I in Paragraphs 2-3, Hoover comments, “For the preservation of the state the Federal Government became a centralized despotism which undertook unprecedented responsibilities, assumed autocratic powers, and took over the business of citizens.” What does he mean by this? What specific actions is he referring to? Does he agree with these actions? Think about the language he uses. How would you characterize it? Do you agree with his description of the actions of the federal government? Does this attitude toward the actions of the federal government sound familiar to you?
3. In Paragrah 4 he refers to fundamental Republican principles. What are these?
4. Take Paragraphs 5-8 one at a time and translate the ideas contained there into words you can understand.
What does Hoover fear regarding the government?
What role does Hoover believe to be appropriate for the federal government?
5. Identify the major economic policies of the Republican administrations of the 1920s and consider their impact on business and labor in particular. Do these actions actually reflect Hoover’s philosophy? Why or why not?
6. In Paragraph 7, Hoover states, “Every step of bureaucratizing of the business of our country poisons the very roots of liberalism that is political equality, free speech, free assembly, free press and equality of opportunity. It is not the road to more liberty, but to less liberty. Liberalism should not be striving to spread bureaucracy but striving to set bounds to it....” What does he mean by “bureaucratizing the business of our country?” Whose freedom is being limited by this bureaucratization?
7. Are there any instances where Hoover approves of government involvement in the economy? What do these have in common? Who benefits from these actions?
8. Do you agree with his comments in Paragraph 10?
9. Does Paragraph 11 appeal to reason or to emotion? Is it accurate? Who might disagree with it?
10. Characterize Hoover’s essential philosophy. What is his thesis?
11. What are the strengths and weaknesses of Hoover’s position?
1. Paragraphs 1-17 of the Roosevelt document recount the history of the U.S. through 1932. To a point he agrees with Hoover, that the nation was a haven for rugged individuals. Why was this? At what point, according to FDR did it all change?
2. What essential point does he make in Paragraph 18?
3. Paragraphs 20-23 directly contradict Hoover. Explain.
4. What is FDR’s solution to this problem?
5. In paragraphs 24-29 FDR offers a list of fundamental liberal policies. What are these?
6. See Paragraph 30. How does FDR’s definition of liberty differ from that of Hoover?
7. FDR has been accused by some of being too radical in this speech; others accuse him of being too conservative. Identify the most radical passages in this document. What passages would radicals interpret as conservative?
11. What are the strengths and weaknesses of FDR’s position?
12. These speeches are of lasting importance to the study of American political theory because they define the fundamental issue that continues to drive the debate between liberals and conservatives over what is justice, what is liberty, what is good government. What is Hoover’s position on these questions? What is FDR’s? Where do they disagree? Which of these positions makes the most sense to you?