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Special to Poemless and Drew -- and _you_, too!

by proximity1 Mon Jun 12th, 2006 at 08:45:17 AM EST

 Eureka!

 A while ago poemless wrote in
The Classroom of your mind : "I feel nothing I've read to date has adequately prepared me for this insanity I see around me. I can look within my heart and all, but surely some French philosopher or Italian novelist has more insight than this 31 year old American girl."

 There is in that felt need something of the same impulses which drove me to start up the "Intro to ' Europe as a buffer" diary.

 I had been looking for some useful frame in which to place and organize some of the most important political movements going on now all around us--this includes the left bank of the Atlantic particularly, but also the right bank, too.

 


 In that thread, I got some very helpful critical comments from Gary J on how to view some of the socio-political interactions between the political élites and the "just regular folks" of the early US.  

The "Euro as a buffer" effort, still in gestation, was itself the offspring of the frustration that prompted
"Arbitrary and secretive use of power...." .  In the responses that drew, was Robert's very apt reading suggestion of Richard T. Hughes' Myths America Lives By .  That looked like exactly the sort of analysis I was trying to find.  Meanwhile, I garnered Drew's interest in the topic of the diary and he's now waiting for the promised follow up. [coming soon, then, some additions based on Hofstadter's picture of the American populist and progressive period from the 1890s to the 1940s.]

The only trouble was that there is no readily-available copy at any library I have access to and I'm not ready to plunk down the change for the book + postage from abroad.

But, in the wee hours of this morning, when I couldn't sleep, I happened on not only the very thing that shall suit my needs for this same historical framing, but, also, I'm convinced, the reading suggestion that shall be a bull's eye one in response to poemless's request cited above.  I pulled out from the bottom of a stack of books beside my bed, Richard Hofstadter's Age of Reform and opened it to the introduction and began to read.

  Within the space of a few paragraphs, I recognized that I had the historial analysis I'd been looking for and lacking without the book by Hughes.

So, Poemless, perhaps alongside your reading of The Communist Manifesto what may in fact best place your searching questions (as it did mine) into a helpful frame is not a French philosopher's work nor that of an Italian novelist but, rather, an American historian-- to be precise, the introduction to Hofstadter's Age of Reform .  That is what I urge you to find and have a look at as soon as possible.  Unless I'm very much mistaken, your reaction shall be the same as mine: Eureka!


The center of attention in these pages is neither the political campaigns, the enactments of legislatures, the decisions of courts, nor the work of regulatory commissions, but the ideas of the participants--their conceptions of what was wrong, the changes they sought, and the techniques they thought desirable.  My theme, then, is the conception the participants had of their own work, and the place it would occupy in the larger stream of our history.  While my book is, in this sense, primarily a study of political thinking and pf political moods, it is not a study of our high culture, but of the kind of thinking that impinged most directly upon the ordinary politically conscious citizen.  Morton G. White, in his Social Thought in America has analyzed the impact of the Progressive era upon more advanced speculation in philosophy, political theory, sociology, and history.  My chief concern is not with such work, not with the best but with the most characteristic thinking, with the middlebrow writers, and with the issues as they were presented in the popular magazines, the muckraking articles, the campaign speeches, and the essays of the representative journalists and influential publicists. "
 --p. 6 of the introduction, The Age of Reform , Richard Hofstadter, 1956, Random House, New York [and winner of the 1956 Pulitzer Prize for History].

 The period in which Hofstadter is interested is--that which encompasses his title's "Age of Reform" (in the U.S.), is 1890 to 1940--that is, from the post-civil war rise of industrial expansion through the prime of Franklin Roosevelt's "New Deal".

 What you'll find in that depiction of R.H. are manifold parallels with our own turbulent times--a period of middle-class questioning and unrest; a period of growing calls for popular participation.

 The useful parallels shall leap out at you from every page, if not from every line.
 

Display:
The Progressive Era was a very strange one in American history.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Mon Jun 12th, 2006 at 10:03:36 AM EST
I agree.  

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire
by p------- on Mon Jun 12th, 2006 at 06:03:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I suppose I should respond.  

Interesting recommendation.  That's not really what I was getting at (more about that later) but if you like that you might want to check out Studs Terkel, who collects oral histories of the people, celebrities and average joes, who played/play a part in progressive movements and the Progressive Era in America.  And of course there is Howard Zinn.

I think it is important to know about these moments in history, of course, but since you refered to my question, I should clarify that this genre isn't really what I was after.  For several reasons.  It is more specific to a certain time and place than I prefer.  Plus, it is sepcific to an American time and place, and while I have no doubt parallels are jumping off the page at you, it does appear that we are in a brand new unique place in American history.  We have possibly been as cruel, unjust, desperate, etc. in the past, but all of the factors in play now make it unlikely that we can rectify the situation by re-creating the Progressive Era.  

Perhaps it's because I'm partial to fiction & philosophy, but I'm really looking for those universal lessons, lessons reiterated by people throughout history.  It's my nature to get this much more profoundly from, say, Camus, than Howard Zinn.  Histories are full of facts, theories are full of theory, but I guess I'm looking for insight, perspective, something about the human condition.  Something more abstract, or if actual history, something broader (Nations and Nationalism, etc.) or narrow (a personal account of the French Resistance.)  

But mostly I'm one of those people who think poets have as much to teach us as historians.

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire

by p------- on Mon Jun 12th, 2006 at 06:23:33 PM EST

P:
 ...I'm really looking for those universal lessons, lessons reiterated by people throughout history. ...

 Histories are full of facts, theories are full of theory, but I guess I'm looking for insight, perspective, something about the human condition. ...

 You're now reading The Communist Manifesto; very well.  Question: why did that document, which literally set the world on fire in so much of the rest of the world, find so little resonance with the American people of the late 19th century?

RH:
"The side of the left in American political history--that is, the side of popular causes and reform--had always been free of the need or obligation to combat feudal traditions and entrenched aristocracies.  It had neither revolutionary traditions, in the bourgeois sense ( the American Revolution itself was a legalistic and socially conservative affair), nor proletarianism and social democracy of the kind familiar in all the great countries of the West in the late nineteenth century."


P:
...it does appear that we are in a brand new unique place in American history. ...


RH:
The political and moral codes of the immigrant masses of the cities, of the political bosses, of labor leaders, of intellectuals and administrators, now clashed with the old notions of economic morality.  Some of the social strata and many of the social types that had seen great merit in the more limited reforms of the Progressive era found themselves in a bewildering new situation and, especially after the passing of the most critical depression years, grew increasingly offended by the novelties with which they were surrounded.


"During the last three decades of the nineteenth century, a revolution took place in international communications."


RH:
"It is evident that Western Populism was, among other things, the outgrowth of a period of incredible expansion, one of the greatest in the world history of agriculture."


RH:
"As we review these aspects of Populist emotion, an odd parallel obtrudes itself.  Where else in American thought during this period do we find this militancy and nationalism, the apocalyptic forebodings and drafts of world-political strategies, this hatred of big businessmen, bankers, and trusts, these fears of immigrants and urban workmen, even this occasional toying with anti-Semitic rhetoric?"


RH:
During the late 1880's and the 90's there emerged in the eastern United Statesa small imperialist elite representing, in general, the same type that had once been Mugwumps, whose spokesmen were such solid and respectable gentlemen as Henry and Brooks Adams, Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Cabot Lodge, John Hay, and Albert J. Beveridge.  While the silverites were raging openly and earnestly against the bankers and the Jews, Brooks and Adams were expressing in their sardonic and morosely cynical correspondence the same feelings, acknowledging with bemused irony their kinship at this point with the mob.  While Populist Congressmen and newspapers called for war with England or Spain, Roosevelt and Lodge did the same, and while Mrs. Lease projected her grandiose schemes of world partition and tropical colonization, men like Roosevelt, Lodge, Beveridge, and Mahan proposed more realistic plans for the conquest of markets and the annexation of territory."


RH:
Whenever an important change takes place in modern society, large sections of the intellectuals, the professional and opinion-making classes, see the drift of events and throw their weight on the side of what they feel is progress and reform.  In few historical movements have these classes played a more striking role than in Progressivism.  While those intellectuals and professional men who supported Progressive causes no doubt did so in part for reasons that they shared with other members of the middle classes, their view of things was also influenced by marked changes within the professions themselves and by changes in their social position brought about by the growing complexity of society and by the status revolution."


RH:
"It was in the Progressive era that the urban consumer first stepped forward as a serious and self-conscious factor in American social politics. 'We hear a great deal about the class-consciousness of labor,' wrote Walter Lippmann in 1914. 'My own observation is that in America today consumers'-consciousness is growing very much faster.' "

and, finally, here is one which we ought to lend perhaps a good deal more attention to:


RH:
"War has always been the Nemesis of the liberal tradition in America. ...

"Periodically war has written the last scene to some drama begun by the popular side of the party struggle."



"In such an environment it is not surprising that the ills of technology should seem curable only through the application of more technology..." John W Aldridge
by proximity1 on Tue Jun 13th, 2006 at 09:28:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]


 "I suppose I should respond."

  Silly, silly, silly me!

"In such an environment it is not surprising that the ills of technology should seem curable only through the application of more technology..." John W Aldridge

by proximity1 on Tue Jun 13th, 2006 at 01:22:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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