- Progressive New World: How Settler Colonialism and Transpacific Exchange Shaped American Reform by Marilyn Lake
Progressivism in the United States was empowered as much by middle-class citizen-elites devoted to expanding responsible democracy as by the logics of nineteenth century settler colonialism. Nowhere served as a better model to progressives in California, New York, Boston, and Chicago than the so-called working man's paradise—the Australian colonies and, after 1901, the federated Commonwealth of Australia. Through a growing transpacific exchange of legal and social thought, people and publications brought Australian ideas into contact with American reformers. American reform in the early twentieth century thus had distinctly Australian features—the Australian ballot, the household living wage, women's suffrage, and the centrality of white citizenship. These are the central claims of Marilyn Lake's Progressive New World, her latest work exploring the many and substantial connections between the United States and Australia.
Lake's volume joins other recent works about the entanglements between the imperialism of the United States and "Greater American" political culture in the early twentieth century: A. G. Hopkins' American Empire: A Global History (2018) and Daniel Immerwahr's How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States (2019). [End Page 825] These works and others upon which they have built have shown that gilded age democracy and empire were not understood as opposites. Progressive New World provides even more connective tissue by exploring a particularly substantial intersection—a growing circulation of social and political thought between American reformers and their analogs in a recently federated Australia in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Crucially, Lake demonstrates that it was their shared settler colonial pasts that led American reformers to accept Australian models and to apply them to American reform. Progressives looked to Australia's success in advocating for modern social amenities like the minimum wage and more secure electoral practices like the secret ballot. Of course, Australians had implemented these reforms in order to secure a limited democracy. Early twentieth century Australian democracy was open only to those were deemed capable to participate in all of its forms. That necessarily meant the exclusion of racial, class, and cultural others such as immigrants and indigenous Australians. To turn-of-the-century Australians, the minimum wage, publicly-owned utilities, women's suffrage, and an emphasis on education as a precondition for the franchise was a national investment in white economic security. American progressives wished to accomplish the same goal in order to secure their own white man's country, Lake shows. Hence the transpacific exchange.
In the minds of many American progressives, that necessarily meant the exclusion of African Americans, Native Americans, immigrants, the poor, and many others. Yet it also meant promoting greater participation in government among those who fit the American racial and political ideal, including white women, as chapters 6 and 5 show clearly. American progressives' desire to implement reform through greater participation in local, regional, and federal government was also subject to these settler colonial logics. As an American journalist quoted by Lake puts it, "'state-help' would become 'self-help' but also, in the words of a suffragist from Colorado, it would promote 'the upward path of our common race'" (pp. 4, 8).
Lake's argument centers on a judicious selection from correspondence between key figures in Australia and the United States. Exchanges abound between well-known American figures, such as Theodore Roosevelt, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Carrie Chapman Catt, and their equally renowned Australian counterparts, Alfred Deakin, Henry Bourne Higgins, and Vida Goldstein. But among them will also be found the voices of many less well-known figures in both countries. For instance, although Australian scholars have long been [End Page 826] drawn to his writings, one of these voices that provides so much texture to Lake's treatment of transpacific progressivism is Charles Henry Pearson, who features prominently in the early chapters. His writings appealed to many of the leading...