[T]he basic foundations of autocracy, whether it be class government or capitalism in the sense that a few men through unrestrained control of property determine the welfare of great numbers, is as far apart from the rightful expression of American individualism as the two poles. -from American Individualism Before he became president of the United States, Herbert Hoover organized massive programs to feed the starving after World War I. This compact treatise is the result of his experience in Europe, a defense of a moderate American liberalism that springs from the kindness, intelligence, and generosity of the people... and a call for the world to follow this example. Hoover would find this optimistic and munificent philosophy, published in 1922, sorely challenged only a few years later, when his new presidency was faced with the stock-market crash of 1929 and the resulting economic depression. With its peek inside the thinking that would eventually bring down Hoover's presidency, this is a remarkable little book, a reminder that the best of intentions aren't always enough. The 31st President of the United States, HERBERT HOOVER (1874-1964) was born in Iowa, educated at Stanford University, and made a fortune in mining interests. He was instrumental in numerous international war-relief efforts. He served as secretary of commerce under Presidents Harding and Coolidge, and was elected to the Oval Office in 1928.
In late 1921, then secretary of commerce Herbert Hoover decided to distill from his experiences a coherent understanding of the American experiment he cherished. The result was the 1922 book American Individualism. In it, Hoover expounded and vigorously defended what has come to be called American exceptionalism: the set of beliefs and values that still makes America unique. He argued that America can make steady, sure progress if we preserve our individualism, preserve and stimulate the initiative of our people, insist on and maintain the safeguards to equality of opportunity, and honor service as a part of our national character. American Individualism asserts that equal opportunity for individuals to develop their abilities is "the sole source of progress" and the fundamental impulse behind American civilization for three—now four—centuries. More than ninety years have passed since this book was first published; it is clear, in retrospect, that the volume was partly motivated by the political controversies of the time. But American Individualism is not simply a product of a dim and receding past. To a considerable degree the ideological battles of Hoover's era are the battles of our own, and the interpretations we make of our past—particularly the years between 1921 and 1933—will mold our perspective on the crises of the present.