This Article demonstrates three things. First, an examination of Berle’s work and thinking in this critical period reveals the ways in which public problems and the need to “know capitalism,” to borrow a phrase from Mary Furner, converged in the post-WWI era in remarkable and unprecedented ways that would shape New Deal and post-New Deal politics and policy. Berle’s gift for synthesizing evidence and constructing narratives that explained complex events were particularly well suited to this era that prized the expert. Second, identifying a problem and developing a persuasive narrative is one thing, but finding solutions is another. Berle joined in a collective effort to “grope”—to use a term he employed often—for new ways of ordering the relationship between the state, shareholders, managers, workers, and the corporation. In a related and third point, a close examination of this critical period in Berle’s intellectual development helps us to better understand Berle’s embrace of the corporation as a progressive and stabilizing force in the post-WWII era. The Berle of the pre-New Deal period was ideologically predisposed to more associational—rather than statist—solutions to public problems. As the Great Depression took hold, Berle recognized the necessity of government taking on new powers, but his correspondence and writings prior to the Roosevelt administration reveal someone never at ease with precisely how the state should regulate the corporation. When post-WWII concerns about the inevitable return to the Great Depression failed to materialize, Berle returned to this more associational approach and celebrated the ensuing prosperity as a victory for now socially responsible corporate managers who had taken the lessons of the Great Depression to heart.
Mark Hendrickson, “In Time of Stress, a Civilization Pauses to Take Stock of Itself”: Adolf A. Berle and the Modern Corporation from the New Era to 1933, 42 SEATTLE U. L. REV. 361 (2019).
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