“Understanding how liberals and conservatives differ, from conception on…”
Eric O’Donnell in Harvard Magazine:
How did Franklin Delano Roosevelt ’04, born in 1882 to a privileged, aristocratic life in New York’s Hudson River Valley, become a liberal reformer? Historians have proposed several possibilities. It may have been the example of his father, who stood alone as one of the only Democrats in the Roosevelt family at the time. Perhaps it was the influence of his headmaster at Groton, who preached the gospel of social responsibility. Some say it was his struggle with polio, which gave him knowledge of suffering. Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. ’38, Jf ’43, believes that one of the most powerful forces was FDR’s admiration for his larger-than-life fifth cousin, Theodore Roosevelt, A.B. 1880. “FDR was a Democrat, whereas Theodore Roosevelt was a Republican, but TR was a progressive Republican,” Schlesinger says. “He believed in government, he believed in public action to open up careers and to expand opportunities for the not-so-well-off. I think FDR imbibed that from TR.”
But the forces at work were unpredictable. “TR’s own sons, for example, did not assume the progressive Republicanism of their father,” Schlesinger says. What caused them to adopt different politics? After a pause, Schlesinger proposes an answer: “A mysterious chemistry, if you will.”
At Harvard and elsewhere, researchers in political science, sociology, psychology, and even genetics are attempting to assay this mysterious chemistry.