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A Fierce Discontent: The Rise and Fall of…
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A Fierce Discontent: The Rise and Fall of the Progressive Movement in… (édition 2005)

par Michael McGerr (Auteur)

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The Progressive Era, a few brief decades around the turn of the last century, still burns in American memory for its outsized personalities: Theodore Roosevelt, whose energy glinted through his pince-nez; Carry Nation, who smashed saloons with her axe and helped stop an entire nation from drinking; women suffragists, who marched in the streets until they finally achieved the vote; Andrew Carnegie and the super-rich, who spent unheard-of sums of money and became the wealthiest class of Americans since the Revolution. Yet the full story of those decades is far more than the sum of its characters. In Michael McGerr's A Fierce Discontent America's great political upheaval is brilliantly explored as the root cause of our modern political malaise.The Progressive Era witnessed the nation's most convulsive upheaval, a time of radicalism far beyond the Revolution or anything since. In response to the birth of modern America, with its first large-scale businesses, newly dominant cities, and an explosion of wealth, one small group of middle-class Americans seized control of the nation and attempted to remake society from bottom to top. Everything was open to question -- family life, sex roles, race relations, morals, leisure pursuits, and politics. For a time, it seemed as if the middle-class utopians would cause a revolution.They accomplished an astonishing range of triumphs. From the 1890s to the 1910s, as American soldiers fought a war to make the world safe for democracy, reformers managed to outlaw alcohol, close down vice districts, win the right to vote for women, launch the income tax, take over the railroads, and raise feverish hopes of making new men and women for a new century.Yet the progressive movement collapsed even more spectacularly as the war came to an end amid race riots, strikes, high inflation, and a frenzied Red scare. It is an astonishing and moving story.McGerr argues convincingly that the expectations raised by the progressives' utopian hopes have nagged at us ever since. Our current, less-than-epic politics must inevitably disappoint a nation that once thought in epic terms. The New Deal, World War II, the Cold War, the Great Society, and now the war on terrorism have each entailed ambitious plans for America; and each has had dramatic impacts on policy and society. But the failure of the progressive movement set boundaries around the aspirations of all of these efforts. None of them was as ambitious, as openly determined to transform people and create utopia, as the progressive movement. We have been forced to think modestly ever since that age of bold reform. For all of us, right, center, and left, the age of "fierce discontent" is long over.… (plus d'informations)
Membre:graphianixie
Titre:A Fierce Discontent: The Rise and Fall of the Progressive Movement in America, 1870-1920
Auteurs:Michael McGerr (Auteur)
Info:Oxford University Press (2005), 395 pages
Collections:Votre bibliothèque
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Mots-clés:History, Social Science, Politics, box 50

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A Fierce Discontent: The Rise and Fall of the Progressive Movement in America, 1870-1920 par Michael McGerr

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In A Fierce Discontent: The Rise and Fall of the Progressive Movement in America, Michael McGerr argues “that progressivism created much of our contemporary political predicament. The epic of reform at the dawn of the twentieth century helps explain the less-than-epic politics at the dawn of the twenty-first. Progressivism, the creed of a crusading middle class, offered the promise of utopianism – and generated the inevitable letdown of unrealistic expectations” (pg. xiv). He shifts the historiography to look “at four quintessential progressive battles: to change other people; to end class conflict; to control big business; and to segregate society” (pg. xv). While McGerr focuses on the usual historical actors, he also draws upon the experiences of Jane Addams and her parents, Russian immigrants Golub and Rahel, and the Garland family.
McGerr ties the beginning of the Progressive Era to the Victorian middle class’ discontent with the upper class’ lavish lifestyle. He writes, “By the turn of the century, middle-class men and women, radicalized and resolute, were ready to sweep aside the upper ten and build a new, progressive America” (pg. 39). Alongside this conflict, “across Victorian America, women demanded new opportunities outside the home” (pg. 51). While the era witnessed many disparate conflicts, “the progressives, driven by their project to transform relations between men and women, end class conflict, and make the nation more middle-class, were almost always in the thick of the fighting” (pg. 79). McGerr demonstrates that progressives’ utopian idealism did not extend to race relations. He writes, “There were limits to the progressives’ optimistic faith in transforming other people. Segregation revealed both a sense of realism and an underlying pessimism in the middle class. Even as they labored urgently to end the differences between classes, the progressives felt some social differences would not be erased for many years. And some differences, they believed, could not be erased at all” (pg. 183). This led to an acceptance of Southern Jim Crow segregation and Northern segregation. McGerr traces the decline of progressivism to new entertainments and pleasure-seeking activities in the early 1900s (pg. 260) coupled with the Red Scare (pg. 306) and the “reemergence of political conservatism after years of defeat and demoralization” in the 1920 election (pg. 310). In his conclusion, McGerr argues that the failure of progressivism limited policies that appeared to take similar approaches, such as the New Deal or the Great Society.
A Fierce Discontent draws upon social, political, and economic history and resembles Eric Foner’s Reconstruction in that it primarily synthesizes much of the previous research on the subject while offering a new perspective through his use of vignettes, like that of Rahel Golub, that differ from the usual top-down approach to the Progressive Era. ( )
  DarthDeverell | Mar 17, 2017 |
Good Overview of the Progressive Movement: McGerr's book is a valuable resource on helping to define who the progressives were and what they wanted to accomplish. The Progressives were at their peak in influence from the late 19th Century until the end of World War I, from Theodore Roosevelt's administration to Woodrow Wilson's administration. As McGerr stated, Progressives wanted to transform Americans into their own image of a middle class society, uplifting the poorest workers while chastising the wealthiest. It is this transformative vision that makes the Progressive movement stand out from most other political movements in our country's history. In addition to transforming Americans, McGerr says Progressives wanted to end class conflict, use government to control big businesses, and use segregation to help implement their objectives successfully.

McGerr is effective in adding the human dimension to his history of Progressivism. The Garlands, young Rahel Golub and her immigrant family, the Bradley-Martins and others are all used to give an image of who some of the wage laborers, upper class and progressive reformers were. The reformers include many of the standard names like Hull-House founder Jane Addams, salon smashing Carrie Nation, Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, and a host of other reformers in all different strata of society. Many organizations that formed to support the various agendas of the Progressive movement are also mentioned, including the Anti-Saloon League, the Country Life Commission, and others that represented various Progressive causes.

I felt the author was most focused on and interested in the Progressive belief in transforming other people to conform to this middle class vision of society and he handles the issue very ably. Whether it be their dislike of rugged individualism or their crusades against personal vices like divorce and alcohol or their belief in the promises of education, the Progressives truly believed people could be changed and molded into their way of thinking. While a bold and radical idea, it is also naive and arrogant. As time revealed, people grew tired and resistant to the Progressive idea of changing people's attitudes and way of living. Times had changed with technological innovations like the automobile and new recreational and leisure activities that allowed for a new sense of personal freedom. The effects of World War I and the new challenges in a post-war society also added to the decline of Progressive ideals.

Surprisingly, I didn't think the author gave a lot of attention to more of the legislative accomplishments of the Progressive Era, especially during the Wilson Administration, but overall as well. He mentioned many topics that led to enacted legislation, but generally with little detail. McGerr is quite good in showing the larger picture and how people reacted to the movement and how external factors effected its progression and or decline. The social aspects of the Progressive movement are his clear strong points. From a political standpoint I think the author was more sympathetic to the more radical reformers who wanted greater, more broad-sweeping reform. He shows the Progressives for who they were and what they hoped to achieve, with their strengths and their flaws. I think he is right in assessing the times we live in as a bit disappointing politically. But as he stated, that is one of the consequences of the Progressive Era with its high hopes and expectations, expectations that realistically could never be accomplished.

The Progressives can be credited for bringing many political, economic and social issues to the forefront of public debate as well as leaving a legacy of some very notable legislative accomplishments that endure to this day. Ultimately, they could not overcome the innate belief held by so many concerning the importance of the individual and that person's belief in being allowed to achieve whatever type of life and way of living they felt entitled to pursue without other individuals, groups or government telling them how to live. As McGerr stated in his conclusion, the Progressives overreached; they tried to accomplish too much. The backlash it produced has led other leaders as well as a large section of the population to approach any mention of reform, at least in relation to individuals, with a justifiable amount of caution.
1 voter mugwump2 | Nov 29, 2008 |
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The Progressive Era, a few brief decades around the turn of the last century, still burns in American memory for its outsized personalities: Theodore Roosevelt, whose energy glinted through his pince-nez; Carry Nation, who smashed saloons with her axe and helped stop an entire nation from drinking; women suffragists, who marched in the streets until they finally achieved the vote; Andrew Carnegie and the super-rich, who spent unheard-of sums of money and became the wealthiest class of Americans since the Revolution. Yet the full story of those decades is far more than the sum of its characters. In Michael McGerr's A Fierce Discontent America's great political upheaval is brilliantly explored as the root cause of our modern political malaise.The Progressive Era witnessed the nation's most convulsive upheaval, a time of radicalism far beyond the Revolution or anything since. In response to the birth of modern America, with its first large-scale businesses, newly dominant cities, and an explosion of wealth, one small group of middle-class Americans seized control of the nation and attempted to remake society from bottom to top. Everything was open to question -- family life, sex roles, race relations, morals, leisure pursuits, and politics. For a time, it seemed as if the middle-class utopians would cause a revolution.They accomplished an astonishing range of triumphs. From the 1890s to the 1910s, as American soldiers fought a war to make the world safe for democracy, reformers managed to outlaw alcohol, close down vice districts, win the right to vote for women, launch the income tax, take over the railroads, and raise feverish hopes of making new men and women for a new century.Yet the progressive movement collapsed even more spectacularly as the war came to an end amid race riots, strikes, high inflation, and a frenzied Red scare. It is an astonishing and moving story.McGerr argues convincingly that the expectations raised by the progressives' utopian hopes have nagged at us ever since. Our current, less-than-epic politics must inevitably disappoint a nation that once thought in epic terms. The New Deal, World War II, the Cold War, the Great Society, and now the war on terrorism have each entailed ambitious plans for America; and each has had dramatic impacts on policy and society. But the failure of the progressive movement set boundaries around the aspirations of all of these efforts. None of them was as ambitious, as openly determined to transform people and create utopia, as the progressive movement. We have been forced to think modestly ever since that age of bold reform. For all of us, right, center, and left, the age of "fierce discontent" is long over.

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