Progressive reformers frequently spoke a moral language, bringing abstract moral laws to bear on the social, economic, and political turmoil of the early twentieth century. However, this form of moral discourse often proved ineffective for grasping the complexities of the time. In this essay I turn to Louis Brandeis’s progressive advocacy to uncover an alternative form of moral speech, one that was better attuned to the changing nature of society. As I argue, Brandeis articulated what one might call “transactional morality,” crafting a rhetoric that hinged upon the interconnection of morality, economics, and democratic citizenship. By infusing his moral speech with economic terminology and an abiding concern for civic participation, Brandeis directed the nation’s attention to the moral costs and benefits of an emerging industrial democracy. The result was a form of moral engagement that not only avoided the problems other progressives encountered but also reconfigured morality in response to radical social change.


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pp. 261-290
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