As I continue to inch my way through American Conservatism: An Enclycopedia (ISI Books, 2006), I’ll highlight interesting entries that catch my eye.

Today’s highlight is Scott Zentner’s discussion of the New Deal, which “may be understood as the birth of the welfare or administrative state in America.”

The New Deal reversed the longstanding American opposition to centralized administration. The traditional Jeffersonian view required that the central government should be empowered to undertake only those things necessary for the common good of the Union as a whole, such as national defense. Americans traditionally believed that state and local governments were better suited to handle economic regulation, which concerned primarily private and parochial interests. The New Deal, on the other hand, made the federal government the arbiter of such interests by reversing the principle of decentralized administration. This meant that the central government would no involve itself in the economic and social lives of individual Americans.

Later, Zentner adds:

The New Deal established a series of welfare benefits that have come to be known as entitlements. Widespread acceptance of the notion of entitlements is one measure of the transformation of the idea of republicanism that occurred during the New Deal. Roosevelt’s concept of “enlightened administration” facilitated the belief that each individual is entitled to positive assistance from the central government.