February 13, 2013

Amity Shlaes on Coolidge

Filed under: Books, History, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 11:21

Ed Driscoll has an interview with author Amity Shlaes at PJMedia:

MR. DRISCOLL: How long after finishing The Forgotten Man did you start work on Coolidge, and how did you do your research?

MS. SHLAES: I think I started working on Coolidge while I was writing The Forgotten Man because I wrote one draft of Forgotten Man, this history in the 1930s. And then I thought well, this doesn’t work narratively because I didn’t describe what the change was from; where they started, what were their premises. Their premises were the premises of the ’20s and, you know, the ’20s premises were maybe smaller government is better, maybe still the pendulum of government action, reduce uncertainty in the policy environment so that a business can go forward. All these ideas were ideas from the ’20s, and whose ideas were they? Well, they were Calvin Coolidge’s and before Coolidge, Harding’s ideas. But mostly Coolidge’s, I think he’s the hero of the ’20s.

So I went back at the very last minute with Forgotten Man and put Coolidge in and he felt just right. I really liked him. And I thought well, we don’t — we don’t appreciate him much and what I learned in that short look for writing the new beginning to Forgotten Man made me want to go back and give him his own show.

MR. DRISCOLL: Coolidge is sadly remembered today by many people for only one quote and that’s “The business of America is business,” which is actually a bastardization of what Coolidge really said. Could you place that quote into context?

MS. SHLAES: Yes, that’s from a nice speech to newspaper people, actually. And he says the chief business of America is business, and he also says the chief ideal of Americans is idealism. So there’s a yoking together of two concepts, if you go back and read the whole speech, and it’s not fair to paint him as a only capitalism or capitalism to the exclusion of other areas. He’s not like Ayn Rand, for example, because he always tends to bring in the spiritual — other spheres in — and he doesn’t think only capitalism always prevails. He sees a balance. What he doesn’t like is when capitalism or business intrudes upon spiritual. And that’s very different from modern libertarianism.

So anyway it’s all there and that’s — he was extremely idealistic and extremely spiritual, some would say pious. Herbert Hoover called him a fundamentalist, and that was not a compliment coming from Herbert Hoover.

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