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A Dissenting Current Within Progressivism

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by Casey N. Blake
I hope I'm not the only contributor who finds it hard
to keep up with the pace of the blogosphere. To
respond to Eric Rauchway's second post on
progressivism and liberalism of a couple of days ago,
I would say that the differences between our
respective readings of Walter Lippmann are more
significant than they might immediately appear. As
much I hate to disagree with my friend James
Kloppenberg, I think Herbert Croly's later writings
from the 1910s and 1920s represent an important
departure from his early work and are of far greater
value than anything Lippmann wrote for whatever
"usable past" we might seek to retrieve from the
Progressive era. Croly's later position was close to
that of figures on the left and populist fringes of
the Progressive movement--Jane Addams, Randolph Bourne,
John Dewey, Mary Parker Follett, and Walter
Rauschenbusch--in its concern for the fate of social
solidarity and civic culture in modern America and its
critique of the industrial degradation of work. In
this regard, Croly and the other figures I have
mentioned were the bearers of the late-Victorian,
liberal-Protestant mutualism Michael McGerr describes
in his important book, A Fierce Discontent: The Rise
and Fall of the Progressive Movement in America,
1870-1920
.

I discussed McGerr's book and two excellent recent
biographies of Addams and Rauschenbusch in an essay
on "The Lost World of American Progressive Reform" in
the fall 2005 issue of Raritan.

Among the many advantages of this dissenting current
within progressivism, as an alternative to both
Lippmann's politics and New Deal liberalism, is its
refusal to sever moral issues from public policy, its
receptivity to religious traditions as resources for
political commitment, and its skepticism about the
regulatory state as the primary instrument of reform.
Too much has changed since the turn of the last
century to recuperate this tradition in its entirety,
but I still contend that it has more to offer at this
moment than the technocratic politics of Drift and
Mastery.

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