Reviews

“Dauber’s recovery of this history of disaster relief and her new reading of the significance of the general welfare clause are both fascinating and impressive.” American Historical Review, February 2014

“Dauber’s book is a model of historical sociology. . . . For students and scholars of the U.S. welfare state, it will be an indispensable and provocative resource. For students of historical sociology, it is a lesson in how to build a multifaceted case for a simple, but wide-reaching, argument, treating several types of historical materials in several important institutional settings. . . . Her analysis of the New Deal adds a great deal of texture to more recent critical histories, such as Ira Katznelson’s When Affirmative Action Was White, and analytic heft to cultural analyses of policy, such as is found in the work of Anne Ingram and Helen Schneider. She further shows us that our paradoxical and often-unequal welfare state is rooted in a contradictory tradition that spans judicial, legislative, and even popular consciousness.” Qualitative Sociology, December 2013

“A marvelous, deeply researched history of the largely forgotten role of federal disaster relief in the historical development of the American welfare state. Michele Landis Dauber shows very creatively how the Great Depression came to be understood as a single, monolithic event—as a disaster—that justified new and expansive forms of relief. Political scientists and historians will have to contend with her central argument: that the New Deal was less the product of a ‘constitutional revolution’ than ordinary lawyering from long-settled precedents.”—Michael Willrich, author of Pox: An American History

“In difficult economic times, how can a nation mobilize support for the relief of poverty? Michele Dauber’s The Sympathetic State illuminates this question in an original and powerful way. Studying Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s political rhetoric and his use of the arts during the New Deal, Dauber shows that the construction of public sympathy is a complicated task, involving fact-based reasoning, but also involving the emotions and the imagination. Roosevelt was not just a canny social planner, he was also a genius of the heart. And that, Dauber’s analysis implies, is what we sorely need today. This is an important, valuable, and amazing book.”—Martha C. Nussbaum, University of Chicago

The Sympathetic State is a revisionist history for our contested present. As Dauber masterfully shows, the more than two-hundred-year history of federal disaster relief indicates that national social policies fit comfortably with long-standing American constitutional traditions. You cannot fully understand current debates—or where they might yet go—until you read this book.”—Jacob Hacker, Yale University, author of The Divided Welfare State.

The Sympathetic State forces fundamental revisions in how we think about the history of America’s welfare state. Contrary to what almost all other historians have written, Michele Landis Dauber’s brilliant book demonstrates that, since the earliest days of the nation, the Constitution has provided through its General Welfare clause a powerful justification for frequent extensions of federal cash relief and for constructing the nation’s welfare state. This is history with a crucial message for the American public as well as for historians.”—Michael B. Katz, University of Pennsylvania, author of The Price of Citizenship

“Conventional wisdom conceptualizes the New Deal as a turning point in American history that significantly expanded federal spending authority in service of the general welfare. In this meticulously researched new book, Professor Michele Landis Dauber challenges the conventional narrative, uncovering a long history of federal disaster relief preceding the New Deal. Dauber tells a story of how the New Deal’s architects, including President Franklin Roosevelt himself, ingeniously framed the Depression as a national disaster and the New Deal as relief to Depression victims. The United States’ complicated history of welfare spending does not reflect a push-and-pull between small-government conservatives and liberal proponents of a welfare state — Dauber’s research in fact reveals a steady national commitment to providing for those in need. Instead, American welfare spending is grounded in changing conceptions of what constitutes a disaster and who qualifies as its victims. The Sympathetic State resonates well beyond its pages, suggesting that the perceived moral culpability of claimants largely determines the viability of claims to government resources. Dauber’s narrative and the central insight it contains should be of special interest to policymakers and legal thinkers alike.”Harvard Law Review

“To sum up, there are many reasons to pick up this book, including Dauber’s accessible and engaging prose, her evocative descriptions of historical actors (lawyer and economist Barbara Nachtrieb Armstrong practically jumps off the page), and her creative use of legal-historical sources…This is legal history at its best.”—Karen Tani, The Disaster Relief Precedent, Jotwell

“Dauber notes that “disaster turns on its head the ordinary American moral economy of individualism and fate in which we feel comfortable leaving people to the circumstances in which they find themselves, no matter how deprived.” Perhaps this formula should have been provided to members of the U.S. Congress during the recent debate of disaster funding for the victims of Hurricane Sandy. Moreover, it is a formula that should be heeded as we continue the experience the effects of the greatest recession since the 1930s.” Joel Rubin, National Association of Social Workers Book Reviews

“This book complements the literature on the US welfare state by situating its origin with disaster relief appropriations that Congress authorized beginning after the inception of the nation. Countering explanations positing the welfare state as an abrupt departure from constitutional precedent finally approved by the Supreme Court during the New Deal, Michele Landis Dauber argues convincingly that public relief had long been authorized through the General Welfare Clause and details how New Deal lawyers focused on disaster relief in constructing an incremental argument for various provisions of the Social Security Act. Highly recommended.”American Library Association Choice Magazine

“Now comes a study that might’ve helped Obama build his narrative bridge between crisis and reform. In The Sympathetic State, Stanford University professor Michele Landis Dauber looks at the stories Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his allies told in order to sell the New Deal—to the public, sure, but also to a harsher audience, the Supreme Court, which would end up deciding its fate.” Chicago Reader

“The [Affordable Health Care Act] was the most notable expansion of the welfare state in decades. It was no coincidence that it relied on the congressional power to tax and spend for the general welfare. The same powers were used to justify the creation of much of the welfare state during the New Deal, with the general welfare given an equally broad definition. That much is well known. What Dauber adds, however, is evidence that the breadth of these powers was not a New Deal creation. Instead, she argues, the broad conception of the general welfare grew out of the long history of federal disaster relief, which Congress and the public had always viewed as being appropriate for preserving public health and safety. But her evidence sheds new light on how our modern welfare state and our modern views of federalism have evolved in tandem. Indeed, disaster relief provided the first seeds of the welfare state and its constitutional framework.”Washington Monthly

“We learn in The Sympathetic State that Congress dispensed federal funds in more than one hundred resolutions to help citizens recover from disaster or other circumstances beyond their control, from the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794 to the 1827 Alexandria Fire. With these precedents in mind, Roosevelt and others argued that the Depression was a “disaster” and that relief was constitutional and the morally right thing to do. Superbly written and researched, The Sympathetic State deserves the highest praise for bringing the welfare conversation full circle.” —ForeWord

“What is important about Michele Landis Dauber’s work is to point out that debates over disaster relief have been part and parcel of American politics from the beginning.” —Sanford Levinson, University of Texas Law School

“In the wake of the October storm, no one was in the mood to talk about privatization or ‘austerity’ in the context of disaster relief. A one-time fierce critic of President Obama, New Jersey’s governor Chris Christie greeted the president warmly and toured devastated regions with him. And in November, Christie said New Jersey would seek $29.4 billion in federal disaster aid. This episode underscored the thesis of a new book by Michele Landis Dauber, The Sympathetic State. Dauber argues that, despite American enthusiasm for laissez-faire economics and reputation for flinty individualism, disaster relief, when we are talking about individuals blamelessly stricken, has been popular with every section of the country, and among every population, literally from the beginning of the Republic. What’s more, she argues that the moral logic of disaster relief has historically spilled over into other areas, shaping our constitutional history and public policies far more than most scholars have acknowledged.” Chronicle of Higher Education