A new history shows how FDR developed a vision of national security focused not just on protecting Americans against physical attack but also on ensuring their economic well-being—and how the nascent conservative movement won the battle to narrow its meaning, durably reshaping US politics.
Americans take for granted that national security comprises physical defense against attacks. But the concept of national security once meant something more. Franklin Roosevelt’s vision for national security, Peter Roady argues, promised an alternate path for the United States by devoting as much attention to economic want as to foreign threats. The Contest over National Security shows how a burgeoning conservative movement and power-hungry foreign policy establishment together defeated FDR’s plans for a comprehensive national security state and inaugurated the narrower approach to national security that has dominated ever since.
In the 1930s, Roosevelt and his advisors, hoping to save the United States from fascism and communism, argued that national security entailed protection from both physical attack and economic want. Roosevelt’s opponents responded by promoting a more limited national security state privileging military defense over domestic economic policy. Conservatives brought numerous concerns to bear through an enormous public relations offensive, asserting not just that Roosevelt’s plans threatened individual freedom but also that the government was less competent than the private sector and incapable of delivering economic security.
This contest to define the government’s national security responsibilities in law and in the public mind, Roady reveals, explains why the United States developed separate and imbalanced national security and welfare states, with far-reaching consequences. By recovering FDR’s forgotten vision, Roady restores a more expansive understanding of national security’s meanings as Americans today face the great challenges of their times.
A compelling demonstration of the power of words and persuasion. Roady’s account of the post–New Deal eclipse of ‘security’ as a domestic policy imperative is a must-read for anyone interested in the past and future of the national security state.
Peter Roady’s insightful, capacious book offers us new ways of thinking about the history of the concept of national security. By showing us an era when the idea of security was politically contested, he asks us what it might truly mean to live in a safer and freer world.
National security ranks among the most potent ideas in American politics. Peter Roady gives us a revelatory account of the concept’s origins and evolution. The Contest over National Security ought to be required reading for anyone interested—or involved—in the work of government.
In this carefully researched, crisply written new history of the 1930s and 1940s, Peter Roady explains how definitions of US national security, which President Franklin D. Roosevelt initially described in sweeping terms, became artificially constrained. In doing so, Roady paves the way for improved conversations about the true meanings of national and global security in today’s precarious world.
The concept and language of national security have considerable power in US history and current politics, but their meaning is not fixed. As scholars and citizens alike, we should have a clearer sense of what it has meant and could mean for the people of the United States to enjoy greater security. Weighing in on a number of vital debates, The Contest over National Security is diligently researched and persuasively argued—an excellent book that will be important not only to historians but to the larger world of serious readers.
- 320 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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