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The Concept of Modern Republicanism Explained

Rujuta Patil Feb 26, 2020
Modern republicanism refers to the period of the 1950s when republican conservatism was balanced against democratic liberalism under Eisenhower's presidency. This story elaborates on this concept for you.
Happy Days

The Eisenhower years are remembered as the 'happy days'. There was no war or depression-like scenario then.
The political system in the United States has its own unique characteristics due to the two-party system. As we know, the Democratic and the Republican parties constitute the dominant parties in the country.
The Democratic party, or the left-of-center, and the Republican party, or the right-of-center, are associated with the ideas of liberal and conservative respectively.
Republicanism has characterized the American political ethos since the times of its formation. The founding fathers advocated republicanism as a core value. A political variant of this republicanism, the Modern Republicanism, evolved during the beginning of the Cold War era.


President Harry S. Truman had presented the policy of 'Fair Deal', proposals put forth to carry forward the 'New Deal' liberalism. Significant ones were regarding aid to education, universal health insurance, fair employment practices, etc.
Eisenhower, during the campaign of the 1952 Presidential elections opposed the Truman Administration's Fair Deal program, but not like the traditional conservative republicans. The extremist Republicans were totally against Truman's policy; in fact, they had even asked for the elimination of the New Deal program.
These extremist Republicans were also known as the Old Guard. They wanted government regulation to be completely withdrawn. Eisenhower, on winning the elections, had brought the Republicans back after a long span of almost two decades.

Definition of Modern Republicanism

It refers to the moderate policies of the Eisenhower Administration that sought a balance between government intervention on one side, and individual freedom and market economy on the other side.
This meant that the government would take care of an individual's liberty, and let the market economy foster too, without extensive government regulation. The government would also undertake welfare activities to ensure security and assistance to the old, needy, and deceased, including the unemployed.
The vision was to lead the country - 'down the middle of the road between the unfettered power of concentrated wealth... and the unbridled power of statism or partisan interests'. 
Eisenhower criticized Harry Truman's Fair Deal program, which gave immense power to the state, however, not to the extent of ruling them out completely. He ordered for several social welfare programs, but with a watchful eye on the expenses. The base of the New Deal and Fair Deal programs was admitted and built on further.
This change in the pattern of governance was termed as 'dynamic conservatism', or also 'modern Republicanism'. He explained this to be, 'conservative when it comes to money, liberal when it comes to human beings'.

Modern Republicanism Implied

The government sought after balancing the budget, as it tried to match the expense and revenue figures in the federal budget, after years of deficit mostly accrued due to the post-depression impact from the past decades.

Extension of the social security program

✦ Increase in minimum wages of workers, cutting down on taxes

✦ Supporting the construction of low income housing

✦ A semi-liberal approach in financial and domestic affairs, and conservative approach in foreign affairs
✦ The Eisenhower administration established the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare at the cabinet level

✦ Control over offshore oil lands was transferred from the federal government to the states

✦ Private development of energy sources was also permitted

It was an attempt where traditional Republican conservatism could counterpoise Democratic liberalism. Technically, it was a limited government, which also reflected the nation's mood. This kind of government gained popularity among the voters.
It is said that President Eisenhower is one of the few American presidents who enjoyed popularity till the end of his presidential term.

Significance of Modern Republicanism

The balancing act was appreciated by the people after a long period of intensive government control and welfare for almost twenty years. Modern Republicanism, though seen as an extension of Roosevelt and Truman's policies to some extent, also shows a stark deviance from the same. Eisenhower also initiated the Presidential role being reduced.
During the second term of President Eisenhower, he used his veto power to block programs that demanded higher amounts of expenses. But domestic spending rose considerably as compared to the initial years. Nevertheless, if we look at the overall picture, the federal expenditure as a percentage of the country's GDP had declined by 2 percent.
With a few mild recessions slowing the economy down during the 1950s, the economic growth was strong. It was accompanied with low inflation rates of 2 percent or less. As far as the budgets are concerned, three of the eight budgets showed deficits.

Although poverty persisted, many workers earned higher wages resulting in higher purchasing power. Personal income had shown an increase of 45 percent.