Synopses & Reviews
Even as unemployment rates soared during the Great Depression, FDRandrsquo;s relief and social security programs faced attacks in Congress and the courts on the legitimacy of federal aid to the growing population of poor. In response, New Dealers pointed to a long traditionandmdash;dating back to 1790 and now largely forgottenandmdash;of federal aid to victims of disaster. In The Sympathetic State, Michele Landis Dauber recovers this crucial aspect of American history, tracing the roots of the modern American welfare state beyond the New Deal and the Progressive Era back to the earliest days of the republic when relief was forthcoming for the victims of wars, fires, floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes.and#160;Drawing on a variety of materials, including newspapers, legal briefs, political speeches, the art and literature of the time, and letters from thousands of ordinary Americans, Dauber shows that while this long history of government disaster relief has faded from our memory today, it was extremely well known to advocates for an expanded role for the national government in the 1930s, including the Social Security Act. Making this connection required framing the Great Depression as a disaster afflicting citizens though no fault of their own. Dauber argues that the disaster paradigm, though successful in defending the New Deal, would ultimately come back to haunt advocates for social welfare. By not making a more radical case for relief, proponents of the New Deal helped create the weak, uniquely American welfare state we have todayandmdash;one torn between the desire to come to the aid of those suffering and the deeply rooted suspicion that those in need are responsible for their own deprivation.and#160;Contrary to conventional thought, the history of federal disaster relief is one of remarkable consistency, despite significant political and ideological change. Dauberandrsquo;s pathbreaking and highly readable book uncovers the historical origins of the modern American welfare state.
andldquo;A marvelous, deeply researched history of the largely forgotten role of federal disaster relief in the historical development of the American welfare state. Michele Landis Dauber shows very creatively how the Great Depression came to be understood as a single, monolithic eventandmdash;as a disasterandmdash;that justified new and expansive forms of relief. Political scientists and historians will have to contend with her central argument: that the New Deal was less the product of a andlsquo;constitutional revolutionandrsquo; than ordinary lawyering from long-settled precedents.andrdquo;
andldquo;In difficult economic times, how can a nation mobilize support for the relief of poverty? Michele Dauber's The Sympathetic State
illuminates this question in an original and powerful way. Studying Franklin Delano Roosevelt's political rhetoric and his use of the arts during the New Deal, Dauber shows that the construction of public sympathy is a complicated task, involving fact-based reasoning, but also involving the emotions and the imagination. Roosevelt was not just a canny social planner, he was also a genius of the heart. And that, Dauber's analysis implies, is what we sorely need today.and#160; This is an important, valuable, and amazing book.andrdquo;
andquot;The Sympathetic State forces fundamental revisions in how we think about the history of Americaandrsquo;s welfare state. Contrary to what almost all other historians have written, Michele Landis Dauberandrsquo;s brilliant book demonstrates that, since the earliest days of the nation, the Constitution has provided through its General Welfare clause a powerful justification for frequent extensions of federal cash relief and for constructing the nationandrsquo;s welfare state. This is history with a crucial message for the American public as well as for historians.andquot;
andldquo;The Sympathetic State is a revisionist history for our contested present. As Dauber masterfully shows, the more than two-hundred-year history of federal disaster relief indicates that national social policies fit comfortably with longstanding American constitutional traditions. You cannot fully understand current debatesandmdash;or where they might yet goandmdash;until you read this book.andrdquo;
andquot;Now comes a study that might've helped Obama build his narrative bridge between crisis and reform. In The Sympathetic State
, Stanford University professor Michele Landis Dauber looks at the stories Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his allies told in order to sell the New Dealandmdash;to the public, sure, but also to a harsher audience, the Supreme Court, which would end up deciding its fate.andquot;
andquot;What is important about Michele Landis Dauber's work is to point out that debates over disaster relief have been part and parcel of American politics from the beginning.andquot;
"In the wake of the October storm, no one was in the mood to talk about privatization or 'austerity' in the context of disaster relief. A one-time fierce critic of President Obama, New Jersey's governor Chris Christie greeted the president warmly and toured devastated regions with him. And in November, Christie said New Jersey would seek $29.4 billion in federal disaster aid. This episode underscored the thesis of a new book by Michele Landis Dauber, The Sympathetic State. Dauber argues that, despite American enthusiasm for laissez-faire economics and reputation for flinty individualism, disaster relief, when we are talking about individuals blamelessly stricken, has been popular with every section of the country, and among every population, literally from the beginning of the Republic. What's more, she argues that the moral logic of disaster relief has historically spilled over into other areas, shaping our constitutional history and public policies far more than most scholars have acknowledged."
andquot;We learn in The Sympathetic State
that Congress dispensed federal funds in more than one hundred resolutions to help citizens recover from disaster or other circumstances beyond their control, from the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794 to the 1827 Alexandria Fire. With these precedents in mind, Roosevelt and others argued that the Depression was a andldquo;disasterandrdquo; and that relief was constitutional and the morally right thing to do. Superbly written and researched, The Sympathetic State
deserves the highest praise for bringing the welfare conversation full circle.andquot;
andldquo;Among the notable events of 2012 were Hurricane Sandy and the Supreme Court decision upholding Obamacare. The two did not seem to have much in common. Yet there is a deep historical linkage between the welfare state (in this case Obamacare), constitutional law (the Supreme Courtandrsquo;s decision to uphold that law), and natural disaster. In her new book, The Sympathetic State, Michele Landis Dauber does not discuss these events directly, but her research allows us to see some surprising connections.andrdquo;
andldquo;This book complements the literature on the US welfare state by situating its origin with disaster relief appropriations that Congress authorized beginning after the inception of the nation. Countering explanations positing the welfare state as an abrupt departure from constitutional precedent finally approved by the Supreme Court during the New Deal, Michele Landis Dauber argues convincingly that public relief had long been authorized through the General Welfare Clause and details how New Deal lawyers focused on disaster relief in constructing an incremental argument for various provisions of the Social Security Act. Highly recommended.andquot;
and#8220;In this meticulously researched new book, Michele Landis Dauber challenges the conventional narrative, uncovering a long history of federal disaster relief preceding the New Deal. . . . The Sympathetic State resonates well beyond its pages, suggesting that the perceived moral culpability of claimants largely determines the viability of claims to government resources. Dauberand#8217;s narrative and the central insight it contains should be of special interest to policymakers and legal thinkers alike.and#8221;
and#8220;One canand#8217;t help but admire Dauberand#8217;s craft: she masterfully blends social, cultural, political, and legal history to tell a story that feels both fresh and fundamentally correct. . . . This is legal history at its best.and#8221;
and#8220;Dauberand#8217;s book is a model of historical sociology. . . . For students and scholars of the U.S. welfare state, it will be an indispensable and provocative resource. For students of historical sociology, it is a lesson in how to build a multifaceted case for a simple, but wide-reaching, argument, treating several types of historical materials in several important institutional settings. . . . Her analysis of the New Deal adds a great deal of texture to more recent critical histories, such as Ira Katznelsonand#8217;s When Affirmative Action was White, and analytic heft to cultural analyses of policy, such as is found in the work of Anne Ingram and Helen Schneider. She further shows us that our paradoxical and often-unequal welfare state is rooted in a contradictory tradition that spans judicial, legislative, and even popular consciousness.and#8221;
"Dauber's recovery of this history of disaster relief and her new reading of the significance of the general welfare clause are both fascinating and impressive."
and#160;andldquo;Given the breadth of research on the origins of the American welfare state, it can mark a significant scholarly achievement to uncover anything new on the topicandmdash;let alone to identify missing pieces that challenge conventional understandings. Yet in Dauberandrsquo;s The Sympathetic State, we are treated to such an innovative book. . . . [Dauberandrsquo;s] keen insights will make this profound book a matter of serious inquiry and a source for political inspiration for many years to come.andrdquo;
andldquo;Dauberand#39;s argument is fresh, well-supported, clearly articulated and powerfully suggests an emerging historiography of nineteenth-century government that emphasizes its surprising activism with a more established historiography on the limits of the New Deal. Where another historian surveying the history of American disaster relief might instinctively look for turning points and crystallizing moments, Dauber, a law professor, looks for persistent patterns, exploring the fundamental character of the American political regime. The authorand#39;s analysis to the quasi-judicial approach that Congress has brought to the task of evaluating relief claims is fascinating and largely persuasive.andrdquo;
About the Author
Michele Landis Dauber
is professor of law and (by courtesy) sociology, as well as the Bernard D. Bergreen Faculty Scholar at Stanford University.
Table of Contents
List of Figures and Tables
Dedication: A Human Contrivance
INTRODUCTION / Disaster Relief and the Welfare State
ONE / Building the Sympathetic StateTWO / InnovationsTHREE / The Spreading DeltaFOUR / Crafting the DepressionFIVE / The Bomb-Proof PowerSIX / The Well-Beaten PathSEVEN / We Lost Our All
POSTSCRIPT / Living in a Sympathetic State