Dalrymple on Galbraith

In a novel approach to memorial lectures, Theodore Dalrymple sets about JK Galbraith, who is once again in vogue. It is an excellent essay (not that I needed much persuading).

Galbraith’s egotism and condescension toward most of the human race is evident in his admiration for Franklin D. Roosevelt-or rather, in the grounds for that admiration. Here he is in the preface to Name-Dropping, a singularly uninformative book of reminiscences of the great whom he met: “I turn now to Franklin Roosevelt, the first and in many ways the greatest of those I encountered over a lifetime. And the one, more than incidentally, who accorded me the most responsibility.” I think you would have to have a pretty tough carapace of self-regard not to recognize the absurdity of this, or to have the gall to commit it to print.

If your reaction to that is, “How unfair. Surely Galbraith was joking,” I can only say that you have not read much Galbraith.

At another point, Galbraith writes that Roosevelt saw the United States “as a vast estate extended out from his family home at Hyde Park, New York. For this he had responsibility, and particularly for the citizens and workers thereon.” A tree-planting program that Roosevelt initiated in the Plains states, for instance, was “the reaction of a great landlord, an obvious step to improve appearance and property values, a benign action for the tenantry.” Galbraith meant this as praise, which is not surprising, because his own attitude toward the country was similar. The people were sheep, and government, with Galbraith as advisor, was the shepherd.

I could just keep quoting. Better read it for yourself.

Clive Crook’s blog

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

I have been the FT's Washington columnist since April 2007. I moved from Britain to the US in 2005 to write for the Atlantic Monthly and the National Journal after 20 years working at the Economist, most recently as deputy editor. I write mainly about the intersection of politics and economics.

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