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