Arnold, Thurman

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Thurman Wesley Arnold (June 2, 1891–November 7, 1969), lawyer, social theorist, and government official, was born in Laramie, Wyoming. After earning a bachelor's degree from Princeton in 1911 and a law degree from Harvard in 1914, Arnold took up the practice of law in Chicago. Following military service in Europe, he returned to Laramie and entered local politics. He won election to the Wyoming House of Representatives in 1921, and served as its sole Democratic member. He later served as the mayor of Laramie. In 1927, he was appointed Dean of the University of West Virginia Law School. From this post, he launched an ambitious program of procedural reforms in the state's courts. Arnold was called to a professorship at the Yale Law School in 1930. His activities there included the publication of two books—Symbols of Government (1935) and The Folklore of Capitalism (1937)—that gained a national audience.

Arnold emerged on the Washington scene in 1938 when he was appointed to head the antitrust division at the Department of Justice. His qualifications for this post were not immediately evident; in The Folklore of Capitalism he had ridiculed antitrust laws as largely symbolic exercises in "economic meaninglessness" that enabled politicians to mount "crusades, which were utterly futile but enormously picturesque, and which paid big dividends in personal prestige." Once in office, however, he embarked on a vigorous campaign of anti-trust enforcement. During his five-year tenure, he initiated nearly half of the proceedings brought under the Sherman Act during the first fifty-three years of its existence and he increased the division's professional staff nearly five-fold. Far more than had any of his predecessors, Arnold brought criminal indictments against perceived antitrust violators, but was prepared to drop them in favor of consent decrees when alleged offenders agreed to change their behavior. Arnold was convinced that his attacks on market power in price-making contributed to increased production and employment. In 1941, when economic mobilization for war was pending, he maintained that antitrust enforcement was essential "to prevent restrictions of production, particularly conspiracies which are blocking the defense effort."

Arnold was never part of President Roosevelt's inner circle of policy advisers. He was brought to Washington when the Temporary National Economic Committee's investigations into business practices were underway, and senior members of Roosevelt's economic team were uncertain about the future direction of industrial policy. For a time, Arnold was allowed to operate with a relatively free hand. However, longstanding veterans of the New Deal's economic bureaucracy, such as Leon Henderson, became increasingly dissatisfied with Arnold's publicity-seeking and with the economic perspective that informed his decisions. After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941, when policy makers were attempting to promote business-government cooperation, little welcome was left for Arnold's approach. In 1943, he was effectively kicked upstairs with an appointment to the U. S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, a position from which he resigned in 1945.

Arnold then returned to the private practice of law. In the early 1950s, he again came into national prominence when representing a number of persons whose loyalty had been challenged during the McCarthy period.


Arnold, Thurman. The Bottlenecks of Business. 1940.

Arnold, Thurman. Fair Fights and Foul: A Dissenting Lawyer's Life. 1965.

Hawley, Ellis W. The New Deal and the Problem of Monopoly: A Study in Economic Ambivalence. 1966.

Kearney, Edward M. Thurman Arnold, Social Critic: The Satirical Challenge to Orthodoxy. 1970.

William J. Barber