How did Hoover attempt to balance his belief in rugged individualism with economic needs?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

As a firm believer in rugged individualism, Hoover argued that people should ideally take care of themselves and their families instead of expecting government to do it for them. But because of the enormous economic crisis of the Great Depression that simply wasn't possible for millions of Americans.

So Hoover...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

As a firm believer in rugged individualism, Hoover argued that people should ideally take care of themselves and their families instead of expecting government to do it for them. But because of the enormous economic crisis of the Great Depression that simply wasn't possible for millions of Americans.

So Hoover attempted to alleviate growing levels of poverty by giving government funds to organizations such as the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, which was set up to try and stimulate business investment, in the hope of creating much-needed jobs. Hoover also established a Home Loan Bank to provide government help to the beleaguered construction sector.

All of these measures and more constituted indirect government involvement in meeting the pressing needs of business and society. Hoover still clung tenaciously to the belief that direct government help would sap the moral fiber of the individual and create a culture of dependency.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Hoover was generally more interested in encouraging churches and local charities to help poor folks during the economic depression than creating government programs and social safety nets. Like FDR, he also pushed the images of poor white Appalachians over the images of poor black folks and other poor folks of color, which only served to continue to humanize white folks over folks of color during the economic crisis. Hoover's belief in "rugged individualism" also played into the using of images of poor Appalachian whites as the face of poverty and those who need empathy over other disenfranchised people. Hoover instituted some government projects but did not institute programs that directly attempted to lift people out of poverty. Rather, his programs were more aimed at stimulating the economy, which made life better for the owning classes.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Hoover was a believer in the idea of "rugged individualism"—that people had to rely only on themselves with minimal help from the federal government. However, when the Great Depression began in 1929, this idea was challenged, as many Americans faced unprecedented need.

To meet this need, Hoover wanted to rely on private volunteers, and he set up a federal organization to marshal the responses of individuals and private aid groups. Later, he also organized the largest public works project to date, but it was small in comparison to the later public works projects that Franklin Roosevelt would launch. He also established the Reconstruction Finance Corporation to provide loans to private businesses. His goal was to help private industry alleviate suffering and provide jobs for the unemployed, thereby trying to balance his belief in "rugged individualism" with the needs of Americans during the Great Depression.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Although Pres. Hoover is often caricatured as someone who did nothing to try to end the Depression, this is not accurate. While he did believe in "rugged individualism, " he also tried to do various things to fix the economic problems of the Depression.  As time went by, his attempts involved more and more government intervention.

At first, Hoover tried solutions that were more in keeping with rugged individualism.  He tried, for example, to persuade local charities to do more to help the poor.  This is in keeping with conserative principles that say society (not the government) should help those in need.

However, as it became clearer that the Depression was too deep for that sort of fix, Hoover increased the role of government.  For example, he created the Reconstruction Finance Corporation to lend money to banks.  He spent more on public works (the Hoover Dam, for example) than previous presidents.  Many of his ideas were used by FDR in the New Deal -- it is just that Hoover did not take them as far as FDR did because he did not want to expand the government too much.

So Hoover was not a do-nothing president.  He did balance his belief in individualism with the recognition that the government had to do something to help end the Depression.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team