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Professor George Klosko
Henry and Grace Doherty Professor of Politics, University of Virginia
The Jefferson Literary and Debating Society proudly hosted Professor George Klosko, the Henry and Grace Doherty Professor of Politics at the University of Virginia on Friday April 13 for a talk entitled "Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, and the American Welfare State.” Professor Klosko focuses his teaching, research, and writing on political theory and philosophy and wanted to base his talk around these same ideas.
In his introduction, Professor Klosko outlined the general topics and points he wanted to construct in his lecture. The talk would focus on the philosophical justification of the welfare state by discussing the theoretical underpinning of the Democrats and Republican parties’ definitions of rights and freedoms. After that, Professor Klosko outlined that he wanted to talk about Theodore Roosevelt and the Progressive Party platform from 1912, and then the justifications of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the Social Security Bill.
Professor Klosko used two clips to jump into the first part of his speech, he presented clips of Elizabeth Warren and Michelle Bachmann speaking about their respective parties’ beliefs on liberty. Warren focused on how no man could make it rich by himself while Bachmann stated that one should be able to keep all of what one earns in order to make it on one’s own. Professor Klosko then explained how this split is controlling the parties and their views over the philosophical justifications of the welfare state.
Next, Klosko brought in the example of “Obamacare” and liberty. He cited several sources such as the New York Times to bring in the on going debate about what the Supreme Court will rule on the legislation and how the justices were likely to write and rule along the lines described in the above dichotomy of political parties. The Declaration of Independence was cited as an explanation of “traditional liberty” and general values of rights given from god and the creation of a social contract to maintain them. Next. Professor Klosko brought in Theodore Roosevelt and the Progressive platform. He spoke primarily of legislation proposed against work hazards, child labor, and cruel hours then explained that these laws were intended to protect one’s home and life.
The talk then turned to discuss court cases that dealt with such legislation as mentioned above—legislation that toed the line of acting against the society’s concept of freedom. Klosko cited the 1905 case Lockner v. New York which dealt with a law limiting the hours of a night baker and whether that was a violation of free contract. Next, he mentioned Ives v. South Buffalo Railway and its issue of workmans compensation. Klosko then added that government and society needed legislation so that the individual did not get too weak but that it was also important to deal with conceptions of liberty and freedom. This point fit neatly into the earlier discussion of how the different political parties were opposing each other on issues like this because of their different conceptions of liberty—thus making them play the same game with different rules. Professor Klosko saw the need for government to balance human rights and property rights, expansive government protections and less government involvement.
Next, the talk turned to focus on Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Professor Klosko opened this section of the lecture with a discussion of “what is the state?” and then continued on to show its relationship with liberty. Klosko stated that, to FDR, the state was machinery for mutual aid and protection and that it’s duty was to care for citizens who could not care for themselves. Problems can arise when the state has to violate the traditional views of liberty in order to do this. When this happens, there need to be “new terms of the old social contract.” Cue FDR, who Klosko saw as changing and expanding economic rights such as property rights which were broken into “necessary” and “not necessary” subcategories. Professor Klosko identified security of home, security of livelihood, and security of social insurance as part of the so-called Second Bill of Rights. Even with this, Klosko indicated that FDR did not believe he was departing from traditional values and that economic rights are owed to the people by the government. In FDR’s Four Freedoms, Professor Klosko focused heavily on freedom of want because of how FDR would use liberal theory to attempt to justify it since this freedom depends on government intervention into daily life. Essentially, Klosko indicated that this was indeed a new conception of liberty more in the line of John Rawls and that FDR was truly attempting to hide the differences of his new conception of American freedom.
In conclusion, Professor Klosko brought it back to present day and the pressing issue of what was going on in the government as he spoke—two parties with two conceptions of liberty.
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