Thursday, December 29, 2011

Knowlede in the progressive movement?

I have been reading The Age of Reform by Richard Hofstadter. In the second section of the book, dealing with the Progressive era leading up to the First World War, among other topics, Hofstadter focuses on the changes which led Protestant ministers, college faculty and lawyers to become progressives.

After the Civil War, the United States economy changed, most notably through the development of large corporations in manufacturing, transportation and energy. Hofstadter also cites the rise of universities, both empowering a new class of social scientists as public intellectuals and radically transforming the education of lawyers. The results included a reduction of the power of the ministry, (a reduction of the authority given to mugwumps, the business leaders in small communities and owners of small businesses), and a change in the legal profession which resulted in a few lawyers becoming more affluent than their predecessors while many lost status as compared with earlier lawyers. Hofstadter traces the progressive politics of large numbers of these professionals to the change in their social and economic status.

I find the idea that "where you stand depends on where you sit" to be quite persuasive. On the other hand, I tend to give more weight to the abuses of the plutocracy and the anger that those abuses engendered in the rest of the population than does Hofstadter. I also wonder whether there was not an important difference in the knowledge system, including better education of these professionals, better systems for the dissemination of knowledge, and a stronger class of people investigating what was happening and disseminating the information that they found.

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