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The CanadianReview of American Studies, Volume 12,No. 2, Fall 1981 The ProgressiveEra: Revisited and Rejuvenated Jl'hn Whiteclay Chambers, II. The 'J}ranny of Change: 4menca inthe Progressive Era, 1900-1917. New York: St.Martin's Press, 1980.280 + vii pp. James R.Green. Grass-Roots Socialism: Radical \fovements in the Southwest, 1895-1943. Baton Rouge: Louisiana StateUniversity Press, 1978.450 + xxiv pp. Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones.Violence and Reform in American H1:ft01:v. New York: New Viewpoints, 1978. 242 +X pp. !min andDebi Unger. The Vulnerable Yew:~: The United States, 1896-1917. New York: New York University Press, 1978. 205 + vii pp. Graham Adams, Jr. Progressivism in America has never ceased to fascinate historians. We are now witnessing the emergence of a new school of interpretation which once againchanges our image of the nation as it entered the twentieth century. Th(! Vulnerable Years by Irwin and Debi Unger, and The Tyranny of Change byJohnWhiteclay Chambers, II, present challenging overviews of progressivism ; Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones's Violence and Reform inAmerican Histo,y and James R. Green's Grass-Roots Socialism examine the roles played by violence andradicalism during this same period. Over the past thirty years several major scholars have influenced our understanding of the Progressive age. George E. Mowry and Richard Hofstadterbelieve that it represented an attempt by various status-conscious groups within the middle class and the old upper class to protect themselves fromthe twin evils of uncontrolled big business and potentially radical big labor. According to Samuel Haber, Robert H. Wiebe and Samuel Hays, however , progressivism displayed wider dimensions. In response to the uncertaintiesand discords produced by industrialism, they stated, the movement imposed new orderly bureaucratic values such as those of continuity, regularity ,functionality and rationality which set the tone for the whole era. As representativesof New Left thought in the 1960s, Gabriel Kolko and James Weinstein declared that progressivism signalled the ultimate triumph not of 246 Graham Adams, Jr. the middle class but of a corporate elite which consciously strove tostabiliz and control the existing social order. Other writers such as J. Josep~ Huthmacher and John D. Buenker stressed the importance of the cityprole: tariat and the immigrant as formative influences on the era. David P.Thelen viewed the movement as that of consumer oriented citizens protestingcorporate arrogance. One scholar, Peter Filene, deplored what the Ungershme called this ''historiographic babel" (p. 101) and denied the existence ofan\ progressive "movement" at all; he urged historians to abandon the concep;, Most of these observers turned in a negative report card on progressivism. pointing out that it had failed either to control big business or to advance the cause of political democracy. In recent years new viewpoints about progressivism have appearedin various articles and essays. Lewis L. Gould in The Progressive Era (1974l.for example, edited a collection of writings which represented fresh thinkin,, about the period. Insofar as it is possible to discover common ground amon~ these newer scholars, it is notable that they all rejected the middle-class status theory and the corporate elite thesis. More often they tended toagree with Thelen that the drive for change stemmed from all classes as a resulto[ the poverty, inequalities, social dislocations and insecurity caused bythe great depression of 1893-96. Historians Melvin G. Holli and LewisGould, for example, tended to agree with Stanley P.Caine that "fear of a recurrence of the conflict-ridden 1890s was a leitmotif in the lives of many progressives" (p. 32). Where their predecessors downgraded progressivism, these analysts regarded the age as one of vigor, exuberance and accomplishment. ToGould. the breadth of achievement of the progressives appeared "substantial and impressive" (p. v). As Thomas McCraw pointed out, only the achievementsof the Founding Fathers and those of the New Dealers outranked those ofthe progressives. These and other commentators had not yet achieved a ne\\ synthesis but they were working toward placing the Progressive era intoa more balanced perspective. In dealing with the origins of progressivism, the Ungers and Chambers stand out clearly as members of this new school. For the Ungers, progresĀ· sivism started when a majority of the population began to feel increasing!~ vulnerable to vested interests which had gained control of economic...


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