Thursday, March 19, 2009

We Have Nothing to Fear But Fear Itself

Upton Sinclair published an updated version of his 1915 anthology of social protest literature, “The Cry for Justice,” in 1963. I’m glad he did, because it gave him the opportunity to include Franklin Roosevelt’s 1933 Inaugural address, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” I was struck by how fresh and current it is. If President Obama had delivered this speech two months ago at his own inauguration, he would have had to change only a few words. Here is how Roosevelt addressed the financial crisis of his time:
“And yet our distress comes from no failure of substance. We are stricken by no plague of locusts. Compared with the perils which our forefathers conquered, because they believed and were not afraid, we have still much to be thankful for. Nature still offers her bounty and human efforts have multiplied it. Plenty is at our doorstep, but a generous use of it languishes in the very sight of the supply.

“Primarily, this is because the rulers of the exchange of mankind's goods have failed, through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence, have admitted their failure, and have abdicated. Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men.

“True, they have tried. But their efforts have been cast in the pattern of an outworn tradition. Faced by failure of credit, they have proposed only the lending of more money. Stripped of the lure of profit by which to induce our people to follow their false leadership, they have resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for restored confidence. They only know the rules of a generation of self-seekers. They have no vision, and when there is no vision the people perish.”
The entire speech is online on the American Rhetoric Web site, where you can also download an audio file and watch this 5-minute-long video of the address:

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