So in 1934 the group formed to stand up for ideas that had been called liberal for most of the preceding century. Its members weren’t anarchists. In its literature, the League said it “thoroughly recognizes the obligations of our government to come to the relief of the men and women who are in distress through no fault of their own.”
But they were passionate champions of economic liberty. “There is one very clear lesson to be learned from history — namely, that governmental disregard for property rights soon leads to disregard for other rights,” one of its pamphlets declared. “A bureaucracy or despotism that robs citizens of their property does not like to be haunted by its victims.”
Alas, the League was a boon to FDR. With the press unabashedly on his side and the Depression still raging, it was easy to demonize the League as nothing more than malefactors of great wealth bent on protecting their privilege.
Donald Trump’s victory in the Republican primaries, as well as socialist Bernie Sanders’ lesser but very significant success at dragging the Democratic Party leftward, indicate that we may be in a 1930s moment again. Trump has made it eminently clear that his attachment to the Republican Party — never mind conservative principles — is entirely instrumental. He says he wants to turn the GOP into a “worker’s party,” which, even without the sinister connotations, suggests something much closer to New Dealism than traditional conservatism.
Americans interested in neither nationalism nor socialism are once more entering an era of political homelessness. Trump won partly because too few took him seriously for too long; the “movement” needs to get moving and make fresher arguments for timeless principles.