This short book was written by Herbert Hoover in 1922, approximately 6 years before he was elected President of the United States. It is only 72 pages and one can read the entire book in about an hour.
In this book, Hoover attempts to explain to Europe what American Individualism is all about. Europe had just finished World War I and there was a lot of upheaval as a result. In writing this book, Hoover is looking at American Individualism through the prism of the progressive movement.
Hoover had seen the abuses of big corporations, party bosses, and labor groups. He saw how Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft used the Bully Pulpit to expand government in order to reign in these abuses with regulation. The income tax had been passed and America was living under prohibition. Hoover is happy with these changes.
In my mind, one of the problems with this book is that Hoover attempts to use the language of our founding fathers who sought liberty and justice for all, and he adds the concepts of bigger government as outlined by the progressive movement. These additions are subtitle but they are interwoven throughout the book.
One thing that Hoover did in this book that I really liked was how he put American Individualism on a political ideology separate and apart from the various world ideologies. He clearly believes that American Individualism does not get its roots from communism, socialism, syndicalism, capitalism, and autocracy. He argues that American Individualism cannot be classified by popular phrases like “plutocracy”, “proletariat”, or “middle class”.
Hoover acknowledges that everyone is born with different intelligence, character, ability, and ambition levels. These different levels can result in abuses. He argues that in order for American Individualism to succeed there must be equal opportunity for all. This equal opportunity for all can be realized through four natural checks on an individual. These four checks are philosophical, political, economical, or spiritual.
In reaching his conclusions on how politics creates checks upon American Individualism, Hoover makes the fundamental mistake of calling America a democracy. He correctly identifies democracy as the mass that does not think but only feels and he says that democracy is the mob functioning in a world of emotion.
Hoover praises the progressive movement that listened to the mob and created government bureaucracies to curb the abuses because some people had more intelligence, ability, and ambition. Hoover thought that these expansions of government regulation were a proper form of checks upon American Individualism.
Hoover did acknowledge that there were those who thought regulations were wrong and not the proper way of solving the problems from the abuses of greed. Hoover explained that 40 years prior to him writing the book, that most problems could be taken care of by the local sheriff. However, because of the growth of American industry, it was necessary for the government to reign in these large corporations that were able to operate across multiple jurisdictions.
Because of Herbert Hoover’s strong support for the progressive movement, this book does not properly lay out what American Individualism is and thus it fails in laying out the groundwork to curb abuses. America had just gone through a troubling time and the progressives thought that they had solved the problem. However, hindsight reveals that massive government regulations did not solve the abuses of greed. All the progressive movement did was kick the can down the road.
American Individualism can only thrive in a society where the individual has liberty and stimulation to achievement. The regulatory environment that we find ourselves in today often limits the stimulation to achieve. Hoover, Roosevelt, and Taft did not have the solution and it is time that America goes back to the foundations that the founding fathers gave us so that we can understand how to pursue liberty and justice for all.
As an interesting side note, my copy of American Individualism was actually signed by Herbert Hoover.