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Hoover’s Surprising New Friends

July 2024
1min read

Historical reputations have strange, chafneleonlike lives, changing hues with changing times. Herbert Hoover has long occupied a prominent role m the demonology of American liberalism. It would seem natural, therefore, that the historians of the New Left, who are unsparingly critical of most of the nation’s past leaders, would be even harsher in their judgment of the Great Engineer. Tel astonishingly enough, Hoover’s views have won respect from some “revisionist” historians, as the remarks below reveal. Professor William Appleman Williams, of Oregon State University, one of the earliest New Left scholars, was asked by AMERICAN HERIT AGE for a comment on the foregoing article and replied with the following estimate of Hoover—which leads to intriguing speculations on what other once-condemned American conservatives may become tomorrow’s revisionist heroes .

The inside truth is that H. C. Hoover is also H. C. Coney. Both were men caught up in doing what they had to do, and both had a handle on part of the truth. Coney was right. Children and women and men need to be helped when the system ( any system) fails to reward their commitment and their labor. Indeed, they must be helped: he was beautiful in the way he cut through to his truth and did what he had to do.

But Hoover was also right. He recognized a crucial point before it was demonstrated. That was his beauty, though we have never fully understood it—or honored him. Hoover told us that if we (the neighbors of the stricken) cannot be roused to provide such help, and if the way the government helps them in lieu of our direct assistance is not handled very carefully, then make no mistake and play no games: there will be hell to pay for the help they get.

Hoover perceived the outlines of that inferno. He feared there would be bureaucratic statism that would devalue the human beings it claimed to save; that there would be imperialism in the name of welfare; and that there would be violence in the name of peace. We now know those were legitimate fears.

That does not change the need for direct relief. But it does help us understand more fully why H. C. Coney could tighten the screws on H. C. Hoover. And it does give us more to turn over in our minds as we reflect on the episode.

The point is to get both truths together. Meaning that unless you and I decide that she and he are at least as important as us, then we all are going down the memory hole together. The time is long past for passing the buck to the government.

William Appleman Williams

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