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26Historically Speaking · November 2002 Coming to Terms with the Third American Republic James Livingston Only in die United States do die losers , deviants, miscreants, and malcontents get to narrate the national experience. In historiographical time, for example, coming to terms widi die second American republic codified in die Fourteenth Amendment took almost a century. Why? Because the formative moment known as Reconstructionwas originallydefined byhistorians who identified with the good old causes of Southern honor and white supremacy. But an even better example is the historiographyofdie Progressive era, which qualifies, byall accounts, as an equally formative moment in die making of die nation. Here, too, professional historians who have proudly identified with the good old lost causes (especially, but not only Populism) have been able to define die momentin question , and to shape research agendas accordingly . In diis sense, coming to terms with die third American republic—the one that resides in die emergence of corporate capitalism , ca. 1890-1930—has been no less difficult dian coming to terms widi die second. Several years ago, in a graduate reading seminar that covered the period 1880 to 1930, 1 was reminded ofjust how difficult it has been for academic historians to acknowledge die legitimacy ofdiis diird republic. I assigned Richard Hofstadter's^ge ofReform (1955), a key text in die making ofdie discipline as well as an important interpretation of the Progressive era from which we can still learn a great deal. I knew diat die graduate students would be suspicious of a socalled consensus historian who was agnostic on die "democratic promise" of Populism. But I was not prepared for dieir refusal to considerthe possibilitythatHofstadterwrote from die Left—die possibility that we can be agnostic on die anti-monopoly tradition and yet keep die democratic faidi, or, whatis the same diing, that we can treat die relationship between corporate capitalism and social democracy as reciprocal radier dian antithetical. Their refusal taught me that diese possibilities cannot be contemplated, let alone realized, unless we learn to treat the historical fact ofcorporate capitalism as die source radier than die solvent ofa socialdemocratic promise, that is, until we acknowledge the legitimacy of the third American republic. We—historians and their constituents —need a new way of thinking about die 20di century. We need to be able to think about it as something other or more than the non-heroic residue of the Jane Addams tragedy staged in die 1890s, when die Populists were defeated, or in the 1940s, when die anti-corporate animus ofdie New Deal expired, die Congress of Industrial Organization settled for collective bargaining rather than workers' control of die assembly line, and intellectuals turned dieir backs on the unions if not die masses. We need a new way of thinking about progress in the Progressive era and after, particularly the "after" that is our own time. We also need a way ofdiinking diat doesn 't require diat we worship at die shrine of Theodore Roosevelt's "New Nationalism" in measuring progress in the Progressive era. We need, diat is, to get beyond a narrowly political, policy-relevant approach to the accomplishments of diis era; in this sense, we need to accredit recent social, cultural, intellectual, and women's history, and dius acknowledge die extraordinary innovations made "out of doors" in domains diat were, and that remain, invisible to professional politicians. And once we're out diere in civil society, we must getbeyond die reflexive critique ofconsumer culture, for its ideological function is to reinstate die model ofsubjectivity —die "man ofreason," the self-determiningproducer ofhimself—invented in die early modern period. In today's world, diis sort ofindependence is no longer possible. Progressive era intellectuals understood that the days of the self-sufficient, independent man were long gone. In the early 20th century, pragmatists and feminists converged on a "critique of the subject," demonstrating that the transcendental (Kantian) subject was a metaphysical conceit diat had lost its explanatory adequacy because it excluded any historical periodization of selfhood and remained resolutely male in both its theoretical expressions and practical applications. Pragmatists and feminists insisted diat diere was "no ego outside and behind die scene of action," as John Dewey put it: die autonomous...


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