Liberal Humanism

Politically, Herblock was a second generation New Deal Liberal and he maintained that political orientation throughout his career. He admired FDR’s hands-on attitude and any political leader who led by example, who worked for the unemployed, tried to provide for those who had nothing and constantly thought about “the other guy.”1Haynes Johnson and Harry L. Katz, Herblock: The Life and Work of the Great Political Cartoonist (Washington D.C.: W.W.Norton & Co., 2009), 44.

“His basic message,” described by Charles Press, “has been fairly consistent: this crew of conservatives and others opposing the good common sense of New Deal reforms are just ignorant or a little stupid and are blinded by misguided selfishness. Hopefully, they can be educated out of it.”2Charles Press, The Political Cartoon (London: Associated University Press Inc., 1981), 304-306. Education is the key. It was a topic he felt strongly about throughout his career. He depicted ridiculously packed schoolhouses, or children literally as sardines in a can, coupled with statements that the little girl off to school was, as one caption read, “In The Fourth Grade, Third Shift, Second Layer.”

There is a note of wry hope in his message though. His cartoons clearly suggest that the system was not hopelessly corrupt, only that humans are just occasionally weak and selfishly stupid because they are so often ignorant about their best interests. What America needs is a series of common sense structural reforms that will be devised by non-partisan experts to stymie the power and greed of politicians and businessmen and encourage the innate goodness in all men. This is to be achieved by bringing in expertise and democratizing the process further. He sincerely believed that an informed, engaged electorate was the truest safeguard for an energized democracy.3Johnson and Katz, Herblock, 40.

political cartoonists…wish the country well by illustrating how dumb it can be

The necessity of getting able men in public office was a recurring theme in Block’s work. If the right people were in the right job and we allowed them to fulfill the duties they were educated and trained to do, Block believed America could be the great country we strive to be.4Herbert Block, The Herblock Book (Boston: Beacon Press, 1952), 97.

Herblock was an internationalist and did not believe that domestic and foreign policy were two separate entities. They need to be developed together because each one affects the other.5Johnson and Katz, Herblock, 71. Subsequently, he acknowledges he was a believer and a supporter of the Marshall Plan because he believed that by helping others we helped ourselves.6Herblock, The Herblock Book, 75-82. He berated Congress for not giving grain to India when the people of that country were starving. Block argued in his book that non-military programs cost less but, unfortunately, have a harder time passing on Capitol Hill.

Everyone can visualize an ally (A) pointing gun (B) at enemy (C). A gun goes bang! The economic programs that support the arms program just go chug chug. And the technical assistance programs that help to prevent Communism don’t make any noise at all. But they help win people, who are still the most important items in the world despite all the latest gadgets.7Herblock, The Herblock Book, 171.

Block’s cartoons were based on the notion that, when revealed to not be living up to its ideals, America would and could straighten out. That’s what political cartoonists do. They wish the country well by illustrating how dumb it can be.

1Haynes Johnson and Harry L. Katz, Herblock: The Life and Work of the Great Political Cartoonist (Washington D.C.: W.W.Norton & Co., 2009), 44.

2Charles Press, The Political Cartoon (London: Associated University Press Inc., 1981), 304-306.

3Johnson and Katz, Herblock, 40.

4Herbert Block, The Herblock Book (Boston: Beacon Press, 1952), 97.

5Johnson and Katz, Herblock, 71.

6Herblock, The Herblock Book, 75-82.

7Ibid., 171.