In 1831, the British parliamentarian MacAulay addressed the British Parliament on the subject of the hotly-contested reform bill of that year, which would rationalize the British parliamentary system and increase middle-class involvement in politics. He argued that in order to maintain the basic stability of the political system of Britain–at the time, unusually stable compared to that Britain’s long-time rival France, which had only two years before overthrown its conservative king Charles X for the liberal-minded Louis-Philippe–the British political system needed to be modified so as to include the rising middle classes. Middle class households, MacAulay argued, were just as suited by education and temperament to partake in political life as their upper class counterparts, and indeed the middle and upper classes shared many interests in common as both were concerned with the protection of their property. However, if the British political system was not reformed to give the middle classes representation, there was a strong possibility that they might ally themselves with working-class radicals who would be more than willing to destroy the entire British political system. In short, to conserve the basic structure of British society a moderate degree of change was necessary.
Similarly, despite the radical underpinnings at the base of the New Deal, the package of reforms introduced by President Roosevelt over his first term were fundamentally conservative. Although the United States’ capitalist economy was widely seen as having exhausted its domestic territorial frontiers, and the bulk of American public opinion agreed with the Roosevelt Administration that American capitalism needed to be substantially reformed in order to limit the large inequalities of wealth and irresponsible spending seen as the root causes of the Great Depression, the root assumption of New Deal reforms was that the American system was fundamentally sound. The United States’ poverty was seen not as a natural outcome of capitalism and democracy, but rather as an instance of capitalism and democracy faltering, needing only reforms to make them once again serve the American people in an entirely new urban-industrial era.
This question is still fiercely debated. A brief conclusion can be reached that the New Deal simply shifted towards a state-regulated capitalism. Given the decentralization and diversity of American political life, and the experience of other stable democratic states with comparable experiences, it is quite unlikely that either capitalism or democracy were at serious risk, though it is quite possible that contemporaries would have legitimately feared a deterioration on the German or Japanese models. Americans were too individualistic for socialism to be preferred; indeed, they reacted to the New Deal by viewing it as a highly individualistic relationship, not a matter of state bureaucracy. The basic market institutions of capitalism were retained, only modified.